Archive for Saturday, February 12, 2005

Media demand disclosure of Kline’s meetings

Talks with conservative Board of Education members called ‘defiance’ of Open Meetings Act

February 12, 2005


— Six media organizations, including the Lawrence Journal-World, on Friday demanded that the State Board of Education members who met secretly with Atty. Gen. Phill Kline provide details on what occurred at those meetings, admit they violated the state open meetings law and promise not to do it again.

Mike Merriam, a Topeka attorney representing the media, said the meetings were "in intentional and direct defiance" of the Kansas Open Meetings Act and that a maneuver by Kline to comply with the law was a "crude attempt to skirt policy of the state of Kansas."

Merriam's comments were contained in a letter hand-delivered to the State Board of Education.

Kline and the six members of the Education Board who met with him have denied any wrongdoing.

The dispute is over meetings Kline held Tuesday with conservative members of the board, whose 10 members are split with conservatives holding a 6-4 majority over moderates.

Under the state's open meetings law, meetings with a majority of a quorum of a public board must be held in public. A quorum on the education board is six members, and a majority of that is four.

Kline held two meetings with three members each. He and members who attended those meetings said Kline discussed school finance litigation and a proposal to put stickers on science books that say evolution is a theory and not a fact.

Education board Vice Chairman John Bacon of Olathe said Kline didn't solicit their support on anything.

"We can ask questions but we can't discuss positions and say whether we approve or not," Bacon said.

Bacon said there was no violation of the open meetings law.

But Merriam said the secret meetings make it impossible for the public to determine what was said about government issues that should be discussed publicly.

"My understanding is that the same topics were discussed in each group; that the public is unable to determine the extent to which consensus was attempted for the obvious reason that the meetings were closed; that only those members who are widely considered conservative members of the Board were included, which also suggests attempted consensus, or at least like-minded discussion," Merriam said.

Kline has said he invited only the conservatives because he thought the moderates would prefer to speak with other officials.

Dan Biles, an attorney for the education board, said he was unaware that the meetings with Kline had been set up, until later when reports broke about them.

He said he didn't believe there was any violation of the open meetings law.

"This doesn't raise the hair on the back of my neck," Biles said.

In addition to the Journal-World, Merriam's letter was filed on behalf of The Associated Press, Hutchinson News, Kansas City Star, Salina Journal and Topeka Capital-Journal.

The six members who met with Kline were Bacon, Chairman Steve Abrams of Arkansas City, Kenneth Willard of Hutchinson, Connie Morris of St. Francis, Iris Van Meter of Thayer and Kathy Martin of Clay Center.

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