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Archive for Thursday, February 2, 2012

Dinner debate

It’s hard to imagine that dinner meetings at the governor’s mansion with Republican committee majorities were simple social gatherings.

February 2, 2012

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The story of how Republicans representing a majority of the members of various legislative bodies came to be invited to the Kansas governor’s residence for dinner and what they talked about while they were there continues to evolve.

The Kansas Press Association and the Topeka Capital-Journal plan to file a complaint claiming that discussions at the dinners violated the Kansas Open Meetings Act. The governor’s office says they did not. Whether or not the gatherings fell within the letter of that law, they should be of concern to Kansas residents.

In the days since the dinners came to light, the governor’s office has continued to add to the story in ways intended to deflect any blame from Gov. Sam Brownback. First, the governor’s communications director said there was no problem because the dinners were simply social gatherings.

When it was reported that Senate President Steve Morris had warned legislators at one dinner against violating the KOMA, the governor’s office followed up by saying Morris’ warning was made at the request of the governor, who told guests at all of the dinners that they should avoid discussing legislative business. The governor’s chief counsel also was careful to add that if there were any violations of the open meetings law, it would involve only legislators, not the governor, who is not a “body or agency of the state,” and therefore isn’t subject to that law.

The counsel’s contention is that once committee members were warned, the dinners became “information sessions” at which the governor could say whatever he wished to his guests. Although the governor’s attorney cited a 2009 attorney general’s opinion to justify his stand, a press association attorney pointed out that the opinion involved electronic communication and that applying it to a personal gathering is a stretch.

There also is some dispute about the facts of the case. Some legislators reportedly told the Capital-Journal that legislative issues were discussed at the dinners but didn’t mention being warned about the open meetings law.

According to the governor’s office, seven legislative dinners were held during January. The guest lists were not random. Each of the dinners targeted members of one, two or three specific committees. In all but one case, only the Republican members of those committees were invited. The one Democratic senator who received a dinner invitation didn’t attend because she thought it was a mistake. That seems to be a valid assumption.

In every case, the invited Republicans represented a majority of the committees targeted for the dinner. The KOMA prohibits a majority of a legislative body from coming together and discussing government business without public access or notice. Perhaps the gatherings skirted the law by having the governor state his position on various legislative matters to the committee members, who were warned not to talk about them until they left Cedar Crest, but the dinner meetings still have a sour taste.

If the governor wants to discuss public business with legislative committee members, all of the committee members — not just the Republicans — should be involved, and the discussions should take place in a public setting so the people of Kansas can know exactly what was being said. The Kansas Open Meetings Act is intended to protect that process, as well as the people’s right to know what their government is doing.

Comments

Kirk Larson 2 years, 2 months ago

The first rule of dinners at the governors mansion: don't talk about dinners at the governors mansion.

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4getabouit 2 years, 2 months ago

Face it. Sam is above the law. He answers to God, not the people.

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Stain 2 years, 2 months ago

How many times and in how many ways does Brownback have to break the law before the law is enforced? I'm not sure he should not be behind bars.

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Stain 2 years, 2 months ago

Brownback seems extremely out of the bounds of the law here. But in a Republican-dominated state can it be expected that an impartial investigation will result, and the truth will be found?

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Keith 2 years, 2 months ago

Assuming the outcry stops these, can we say the Gov has had his Last Supper?

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Agnostick 2 years, 2 months ago

I'm going to try to step away from the partisanship for a moment.

I understand, basically, the purpose and KOMA. I haven't read the details, but I understand the purpose, and why it's there.

That being said, two things come to mind:

1) How, practically, can this thing be enforced? Do we monitor all email traffic, for example, on both "official" and "personal" computers, email accounts, etc.? What about cell phone calls? Text messages? Standing outside in the grocery store parking lot? I'm probably a bit naive about how this all works, or is supposed to work, but I don't see it as practical that something like this can be enforced 100% of the time, on 100% of the people subject to it. Besides...

2) Isn't that a good thing if/when an employee, public or private, does a bit of extra work in their off hours? In the private sector, someone who puts in a few extra hours on something, someone so caught up in a project or idea that they work on a weekend or a long night to see their vision through fruition... that's a good thing, isn't it? And I know this is a cliché, but I'm reminded of the two, three, four guys sitting around over the round of drinks... someone grabs a cocktail napkin, things are scribbled out or rough diagram is made on the spot. The next work morning, things are formalized. Not all good ideas start out on cocktail napkins, and not all cocktail napkins bear good ideas... but it does happen.

Again, apologies for my naivete. I was just taught that a little extra work on a good idea can sometimes lead to great results.

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verity 2 years, 2 months ago

Silly, silly people. Sam doesn't have to obey worldly laws. Laws are only for common folks, not special people like Sam. He gets his instructions straight from God. God made him governor, remember? It doesn't matter what his approval rating is, God will reelect Sam along as he follows God's will.

How dare you question anything Sam does---you are questioning God himself, and you know how that always turns out.

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Lucy37000 2 years, 2 months ago

Our government in Kansas is now Koch Addicted, and it's not pretty.

You can bet the cravings of Charles Koch drive these men in the state house and Cedar Crest.

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Getaroom 2 years, 2 months ago

Well, with the support of Christ himself, you can only imagine how puffed up his ego must be by now! And with all the power hungry Faux Conservatives backing him up there is no limit to his/their shenanigans. And while slashes are being imposed here in Brownbakistan and we are counting budget dollars, I wonder just how much taxpayers paid for these "social dinner gatherings"? You know, we all must share in the burden of these difficult times and the national safety net is doing fine catching the poor, with only minor holes that need patching.

Port, cigars and prayer for all the fat cats please and thank you very much. Anything the Supreme Koch wants is fine.

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jafs 2 years, 2 months ago

This administration seems to operate along the lines of "Let's do what we can get away with, unless they catch us".

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nativeson 2 years, 2 months ago

Regardless of the actions of a former administration, this is another distraction that diverts time and energy away from the tasks at hand. The legislature is now in gear trying to wrangle over several bold proposals. Why have the appearance of impropriety? What the attorney's say is secondary, it hurts the administration.

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lunacydetector 2 years, 2 months ago

is brownback being accused of pulling a 'sebelius?' oh, the outcry

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Paul R Getto 2 years, 2 months ago

Good points, sir. It appears you understand KOMA, a law the Governor needs to study a bit more.

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