Topeka The former head of the Kansas Arts Commission said Friday he believes Gov. Sam Brownback’s administration is working to remove him from the commission altogether because he’s been a public critic of Brownback’s role in making his state the first to eliminate its arts funding.
Henry Schwaller IV’s allegation is the latest episode in an ongoing dispute between arts advocates and the Republican administration, one that’s brought the governor criticism from national groups.
Brownback spokeswoman Sherriene Jones-Sontag said a Friday conversation between Schwaller and a Brownback staff member, which Schwaller sees as a sign of a move to oust him, was merely an effort to obtain commission records.
Schwaller, president of a Hays real estate investment firm and a local arts council, told The Associated Press that the request showed the administration is trying to find a reason to justify taking off the commission early. He was chairman until June, when Brownback replaced him, but his three-year term as a commission member doesn’t expire until the end of June 2013.
On Friday, he said, the governor’s appointments secretary questioned him about the whereabouts of records of past meetings in the possession of the commission’s staff and suggested Schwaller had mishandled them. Schwaller described the exchange as “hostile.”
“I believe they’re trying to establish that something inappropriate happened or that I was incompetent,” he told The Associated Press. “I do know where this is going.”
Brownback’s office declined to make his appointments secretary, Kim Borchers, available for an interview. But Jones-Sontag said Borchers was only trying to track down records of three commission meetings in May, so future commission members know what decisions were discussed.
“The commission needs to know, going forward, what was said or decided at those meetings,” she said.
Schwaller was a vocal critic of cost-saving moves pushed by the governor. Brownback proposed having arts programs rely far less on state funding, eliminating the commission’s taxpayer-financed staff and replacing the commission with a nonprofit foundation.
After legislators rejected those ideas, Brownback vetoed the $689,000 they set aside for the commission and its grants to artists and groups, along with a line in the current budget allowing the commission to retain its staff. But his actions didn’t eliminate the commission itself, or his power to name its 12 members.
In June, after one member’s departure, Brownback appointed Linda Browning Weis, a Manhattan real estate broker with an extensive background in music and music education, and made her chairwoman. She’s promised to work to retain federal funding and revise the state’s plans for promoting the arts.
Five commission members’ terms expired at the end of June, and another member resigned before then, allowing Brownback to appoint a majority of members. His staff had predicted the new members would be named by Friday, but said later an announcement wasn’t coming.
Arts advocates predict the state will lose up to $1.2 million in annual funds from the National Endowment for the Arts and the Mid-America Arts Alliance, a six-state group based in Kansas City, Mo.
Both the NEA and the regional alliance have said Kansas isn’t eligible for their dollars after Brownback’s actions. But state officials don’t see the NEA funding issues as settled.