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

lunacydetector 3 years, 3 months ago

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

jafs 3 years, 3 months ago

Source for a similar act by Sebelius?

Lucy37000 3 years, 3 months ago

Sibelius had parties where the invitations were in alphabetical order, not committee order. Both Republicans and Democrats were invited. She was careful to respect KOMA.

You're either misinformed or you're making stuff up.

We haven't had a governor as 'unaware' as Brownback in my memory.

Though it is said that in the past there have been governors and legislators with unethical practices regarding the citizens' right to know.

KOMA wasn't created in a vacuum. It was put into law for a reason. That reason is that legislators and governors can't be trusted to be ethical on their own.

Sad state of affairs.

nativeson 3 years, 3 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.

jafs 3 years, 3 months ago

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

just_another_bozo_on_this_bus 3 years, 3 months ago

The far-right Republican agenda (and that's all there is these days) is to make it so that big business (and the politicians in their hire) can do whatever they want with complete impunity-- "catching" them won't even be an option.

Eileen Jones 3 years, 3 months ago

I think it's even worse: they know that even if they get caught, there will be no consequences.

Getaroom 3 years, 3 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.

Lucy37000 3 years, 3 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.

verity 3 years, 3 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.

Lucy37000 3 years, 3 months ago

No, Sister Margaret, PLEASE! Don't hit me, again!

verity 3 years, 3 months ago

Amidst all this gloom and doom, you made me laugh out loud! Thank you.

Lucy37000 3 years, 3 months ago

I'm not always respectful of my betters.

Here's an interesting thing I found out in tripping around the internet one day.

Many people grow up in the Catholic religion, and then they turn into a James Lee Burke, one of the great writers of our times. He has a lot of angst to get out and he does it wonderfully.

Or they become MSNBC hosts. Rachel Maddow. Chris Matthews. Keith Olbermann. And others.

Is there a lesson for us in that?

It probably means I should be upset with my parents for raising me to be a Baptist. But then, if I had ANY talent, I could probably capitalize on my lessons in that religion, too. Like, "Dancing is Satan's own handiwork." Stuff like that. I do love to dance.

Lucy37000 3 years, 3 months ago

It's my idea that it's somewhat like the cell phone/driving thing. You can't monitor all the illegal activity (where it's illegal) but once in a while you get lucky because they're too careless to hide it well.

When our government becomes so flagrant with their illegal activity because they do not care what we think... we may not be able to enforce the law but we can decide who we will not vote for ever again as long as we live.

In that way, they can be censored for it.

Governor Brownback has been flagrantly flaunting his lack of respect for the people of Kansas from the day he moved into Cedar Crest. Maybe he thinks he's right and most others are not. Fine. I know sometimes that actually does happen. But we put him in office, and we can take him out.

He probably has ambitions to win the next election, whether here or in Washington. The legislators also hope to win again unless they're ready to retire.

They should remember that we will not forget. It's now burned into my mind. I hope my vote counts next time.

Their philosophy seems to be that what's good for them is good for the state. I have a quote for them to consider:

There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio, Than are dreamt of in your philosophy. -Shakespeare

thebigspoon 3 years, 3 months ago

Perfectly good questions, Ag, and you have some good points. However, the law specifically forbids a "majority" ot the committee, board, whatever, from meeting without public input or notice. The point is to disallow policy being made and decisions set without the public being aware that said policy and decisions are up for discussion. Yes, it's still a good thing when interested parties talk with each other, but not when policy decisions are being made that allow no public input or monitoring. The issue here is that the "majority" of the committees were invited to a private, non-public event where even the possibility of impropriety raises strong questions.

Eileen Jones 3 years, 3 months ago

Understand that specific groups of persons - and only from one party - who represented majorities on specific committees - were invited.

Understand that this happened several times.

This was no casual chat at the grocery store.

This was not simply working after hours. Only certain members from one party were invited and the public was not. That is illegal.

Your points are valid but they do not apply to the meetings being discussed here.

Kendall Simmons 3 years, 3 months ago

We can't enforce it 100%. But...even though I realize it's naive in real life...we ought to be able to expect that people who are supposed to be people of integrity actually act like people of integrity. That they are able...and willing...to police themselves.

And, no...it''s NOT automatically "a good thing if/when an employee, public or private, does a bit of extra work in their off hours". Heck, you yourself quickly qualified that claim...although you apparently didn't realize that most private sector workers are hourly.

The deal is that most people doing "a bit of extra work in their off hours" are not doing it because they have some sort of brainstorm or are excited about what they're doing. Rather, they do it because they feel they have to. And that is not cool.

Keith 3 years, 3 months ago

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

Lucy37000 3 years, 3 months ago

Well, maybe the last FREE supper on Charles Koch's dime.

Eileen Jones 3 years, 3 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?

Eileen Jones 3 years, 3 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.

4getabouit 3 years, 3 months ago

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

Kirk Larson 3 years, 3 months ago

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

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