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Archive for Sunday, December 2, 2012

The hunt for the governor’s texts and emails

December 2, 2012

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Oh, to be a fly on the wall behind the closed doors of Gov. Sam Brownback’s office during the final week of a contentious legislative session.

What the governor says in private — let alone what he thinks about the session — probably will remain a gubernatorial mystery.

But aside from his public comments, there is an electronic trail in the form of emails and text messages the governor sent and received during the legislature's final week. Whether the public will get a peek at that trail, however, is unclear, following an unresolved Kansas Open Records Act request filed by the Journal-World several months ago.

In June, the Journal-World filed a request with the governor’s office for all emails and text messages sent from and received by Brownback’s state email account and state-issued cell phone between May 14 and May 20, the week of the state legislative wrap-up session.

That request was originally denied, as a spokeswoman for Brownback said the governor had neither a state email account nor state cell phone.

“The governor does have a personal phone. However, he relies on staff for official communications,” said Sherriene Jones-Sontag, a Brownback spokeswoman.

The Journal-World then amended the request to include emails or text messages sent from any Brownback-owned accounts that the governor “uses to conduct state business.”

In August, the Governor’s office filed a formal request for a Kansas Attorney General’s opinion on the issue based on the “unique nature of the request and the lack of legal guidance from the courts or other authorities.”

The Attorney General’s Office, by statute, is tasked with monitoring compliance of the Kansas Open Record’s Act, and issues opinions on murky legal questions regarding the law.

According to the Kansas Open Records Act, “Public records are defined as any recorded information, regardless of form or characteristics, which is made, maintained or kept by or is in the possession of any public agency.” The act is not restricted to written communication, and includes records such as video or audio recordings.

During the past two months, Attorney General’s Office has not responded to numerous emails and voicemails from the Journal-World seeking updates on the request.

Numerous other states have dealt with similar requests for gubernatorial emails and texts during the past several years and, in general, openness of the records usually wins, said Gene Policinski, executive director of the Freedom Forum, a Washington, D.C.-based nonpartisan First Amendment advocacy organization.

For instance, in 2008, numerous media organizations requested the emails of then-Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin, who had just been tabbed as Sen. John McCain’s Republican presidential running mate. After a two-year delay, and following an initial cost estimate by Palin’s office of $15 million for the records, the emails were released in 2010 at a cost of less than $1,000. They were eventually posted in an electronic archive.

It comes down to the distinction between personal communication and communication being conducted in the public interest, regardless of which account the communication comes from, Policinski said.

“When public officials conduct official state business, they should be open for the public,” Policinski said.

The previous two Kansas governors, Kathleen Sebelius and Mark Parkinson, both had state-issued email accounts, said Douglas County Commissioner Mike Gaughan, who was on staff for each.

But some public officials, at the advice of political consultants, have eschewed official public accounts in preparation for the possibility that such information could be requested by the media, Policinski said.

“It’s a practice that runs counter to the spirit of open records laws,” he said.

That’s not to say that opening all communications from state officials serves a public interest, and Policinski said some personal communication — with family members, for instance — falls under a “zone of privacy” and should be exempt from public view.

Comments

somebodynew 2 years ago

OH, Please..... You really expect BB to follow the LAW. ??? What world do you live in?? Don't you know he only answers to god (aka Koch, AFP, 'christian' groups).

Heck, he knows best and he told god so. Can't be worried with some law......

Thomas Bryce 2 years ago

If there are no records to prove they are doing their jobs or they refuse to provide them, Why are they being paid? The fact that they purposely do not have state accounts in order to avoid disclosure of records should be a RED Flag to SOMEBODY that something is not on the up and up. Here we go again. Breaking Law in the Name of Christianity. As a christian, I am offended by how current Law makers use Christianity to justify their actions.

yourworstnightmare 2 years ago

We'll see if Kobach acts on this. I am doubtful.

yourworstnightmare 2 years ago

Right. I meant Derek "Dog" Schmidt, the AG.

KEITHMILES05 2 years ago

Brownie must ask the Kochs permission first.

Centerville 2 years ago

And we so enjoyed reading Sibelieus's emails!

webmocker 2 years ago

I suspect that those here who have jobs that require communicating by email have work accounts. That Brownback chose not to have a work email account makes his personal email account fair game.

brutus 2 years ago

We know what he is like. What is to be gained from this?

Old_Oread_Phart 2 years ago

Wilbur, hope you understand someone has records of your surfing from the library computers.

blindrabbit 2 years ago

If we got the copy, probably could not read it (them) , due to some ancient, bigoted, fundamentalist Christian dogma, perhaps from Opus Dei. Any spoken material was probably couched in some C-Street blather, undecipherable to common man.

Lenette Hamm 2 years ago

So much for all the "transparency" Brownback keeps talking about...

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