Archive for Friday, February 3, 2012

Brownback says no laws broken, as DA tells legislators to save records from dinner meetings at governor’s mansion

February 3, 2012, 8:01 a.m. Updated February 3, 2012, 4:17 p.m.


— Gov. Sam Brownback, a Republican, and scores of Republican legislators are the focus of an investigation into alleged violations of the state law that is aimed at ensuring that policy debate occur in the open, it was revealed Friday.

Shawnee County District Attorney Chad Taylor speaks to reporters on Friday about the start of an investigation into allegations of open meetings violations during dinners hosted by Gov. Sam Brownback for Republican legislators. Brownback has denied there were any improprieties.

Shawnee County District Attorney Chad Taylor speaks to reporters on Friday about the start of an investigation into allegations of open meetings violations during dinners hosted by Gov. Sam Brownback for Republican legislators. Brownback has denied there were any improprieties.

Acting on a complaint by the Topeka Capital-Journal, Shawnee County District Attorney Chad Taylor opened a probe into whether dinners that Brownback hosted at his official residence, the Cedar Crest mansion, for GOP legislators were in violation of the Kansas Open Meetings Act.

Brownback said there were no violations. "We will completely cooperate with any investigation, and I'm completely confident that they will show no wrongdoing," he said.

Taylor said his office planned to interview legislators who attended the dinners, and probably Brownback too.

"It is going to be a painstaking process," Taylor said.

The dispute is over a series of seven dinner meetings in January attended by only Republicans and closed to the public.

Generally, the Kansas Open Meetings Act prohibits a voting majority of a legislative body from discussing government business without providing public notice or access to the meetings. Violators of the law can face up to a $500 fine per incident.

Brownback's office conceded Friday that a majority of some legislative committees were present at some of the dinners.

But Brownback's Chief Counsel Caleb Stegall, in a letter to Taylor, argued that Brownback and his staff took precautions to make sure there were no violations of KOMA by reminding legislators they were prohibited from discussions by a majority of any committee about affairs of that committee.

Stegall said that at the meetings, Brownback went over policy points of his State of the State address.

"The dinners hosted by the governor at Cedar Crest were for the purpose of socializing and to give the governor an opportunity to inform the legislators as to his policy agenda for the year, and neither of those purposes violates KOMA," Stegall said.

But House Democratic Leader Paul Davis of Lawrence said that scenario was dubious. "I find it hard to believe the governor made his pitch and legislators just sat there stone-faced and didn't say a word. I imagine there were questions back and forth. Those things need to occur in a public forum," Davis said.

Taylor said his investigation will try to determine what happened at those meetings. He said Brownback is not subject to KOMA but legislators are.

In a letter sent to Brownback and all 165 legislators, Taylor ordered them "to preserve all potentially relevant evidence including but not limited to documents, records, tangible items and electronically stored information."

In that letter, Taylor states: "At one or more of these functions a quorum of a governing body was present and the complainant alleges that public business was discussed. Taken as true, the complainant has alleged facts sufficient to find that one or more of these state officials has violated KOMA."

The complaint alleges the meetings did violate KOMA.

"We are aware that the governor's office contends the meetings are social occasions, but also aware that many legislators admit that the business of the legislature was discussed in nearly all instances," Michael Merriam, an attorney representing the newspaper, said in the complaint.

"Indeed, it is difficult to see any legislative reason for a majority of any legislative committee to meet with the governor, especially during the legislative session with the governor's political agenda pending before such committees," Merriam said.

Senate Republican Leader Jay Scott Emler, R-Lindsborg, said he attended one of the dinners and that Brownback essentially went over positions he outlined in his State of the State speech. Emler said there was no discussion of particular bills.

Republicans also said it has been common practice for governors to invite legislators to Cedar Crest.

But Senate Democratic Leader Anthony Hensley of Topeka, who has served in the Legislature for more than 35 years, said previous governors did not invite a majority of specific committees. For example, he said, former Gov. Kathleen Sebelius would invite legislators in groups alphabetically.

Taylor, a Democrat, was asked to respond to expected criticism that the investigation was partisan in nature. Taylor said politics had nothing to do with it. Earlier, the Kansas Republican Party issued a statement saying that Democrats were trying to distract Kansans from more important issues.

Under the law, Taylor said, since the events in question happened in Shawnee County, the investigation had to be handled by either him or Kansas Attorney General Derek Schmidt, a Republican.

Taylor said he discussed the issue with Schmidt and it was decided Taylor would investigate because if there are any fines levied against legislators, Schmidt may have to defend them.


lawslady 3 years, 9 months ago

Before everyone goes completely off the rails on this one, please keep in mind that the act does NOT apply to a single individual who is not sitting on a public body's board/commission/committee/council, etc. Thus, even if the DA decides the open meeting law was violated, the Governor is not the one who violated it. He may have facilitated the violation (or not), but he is not himself subject to it. Otherwise, he'd be holding a meeting any time he spoke.

globehead 3 years, 9 months ago

Yes. That's exactly right. So often when we hear, "it was no violation of the law", it's a situation where if things were right it sure should have been.

yourworstnightmare 3 years, 9 months ago

"Brownback, a Republican, invited GOP lawmakers from 13 legislative committees to seven dinners in January, without formally notifying the public."

Whether or not this violates the Open Meetings Act is debatable, but it certainly seems like this was a mechanism to get everyone on the same page legislatively without being subject to public scrutiny and oversight. Literally behind closed doors, but the room might not have been smoke-filled.

This is following a pattern of Brownback's; making decisions unilaterally or without legislative deliberation and broad input.

lawslady 3 years, 9 months ago

Contrary to extremely popular belief, the open meeting law does not require notification of all meetings that are subject to the act - in general.

Rather, the open meeting law requires notification of meetings when someone has requested notification of the meetings of the particular public body in question. So a potentially important fact issue in this situation may be whether anyone (at all) has requested notification of the meetings of the committees in question.

Anyone who has spent any time around the State house is not the least surprised that this happened. There are a lot of behind closed door meetings, by all legislators and all committees of all parties and persuasions. It's generally a well known fact that a lot of the "business" of discussing (as well as writing and amending) potential new laws is done outside a public forum. Nothing new about that situation. What is somewhat new in this situation is that it involved the Governor (the holder of that office is often too savy to have discussions with a majority of any committee) and that the press is actually publicly complaining or pointing it out (the journalists have in the past shied away from calling attention to the extremely wide-spread practice of discussing legislative issues - strategies, bills, new laws, proposed measures etc. - behind closed doors, where the public cannot hear what is said - perhaps for fear they'd be shut out by legislators and never get another story again!).

pavlovs_dog 3 years, 9 months ago

What was there for them to meet about and discuss? They all got their instructions from ALEC a long time ago.

Michael LoBurgio 3 years, 9 months ago

ALEC Exposed Through the corporate-funded American Legislative Exchange Council, global corporations and state politicians vote behind closed doors to try to rewrite state laws that govern your rights. These so-called "model bills" reach into almost every area of American life and often directly benefit huge corporations.

Michael LoBurgio 3 years, 9 months ago

George Costanza reminds Sam Brownback, just remember, it's not a lie if you believe it.

Pretty soon the GOP will have to admit the bible is just a prop they use to get out the vote

Jan Rolls 3 years, 9 months ago

He was there and he is only confident and not positive. Who can trust him as he ran on the priority of creating jobs and he has done everything except help the unemployed.

question4u 3 years, 9 months ago

"I'm completely confident that they will show no wrongdoing,"

He was also "confident" that Kansas wouldn't lose its NEA and Mid-America Arts Alliance grants by eliminating the Kansas Arts Commission. When Brownback says that he's confident, no one else should be.

Brownback has built a record of holding secret meetings then trying to ram through changes before anyone else can point out the flaws in his logic. His tax plan and his plans for education and Medicaid reform are prime examples. Fortunately, the mean-spirited, self-serving aspects of his plans are so obvious that the secrecy beforehand was a pointless strategy. By now, whenever you hear "closed meetings" and "Brownback " in the same sentence, it's a good bet that some sort of idiocy will eventually be made public.

1983Hawk 3 years, 9 months ago

It'll be interesting to see whether "cooperating fully" with the investigation includes being placed under oath. Even if the governor is not subject to KOMA, lying under oath is a crime. Remember that Clinton was impeached for lying about having sex with an intern.

Bob_Keeshan 3 years, 9 months ago

Boy, that Caleb Stegall sure does like writing letters.

Hard to see what he hoped to gain by sending the letter to the Shawnee County DA as an investigation started.

Unless he was trying to intimidate Mr. Taylor. And given Stegall's past history, including as the crooked county attorney in Jefferson County, that is likely.

Bob_Keeshan 3 years, 9 months ago

“The law does not prohibit this and, in my view, we would be well advised not to create an atmosphere of fear through the presumption that (open meetings) violations may lurk around every legislative corner,” Stegall wrote.

"We" would be well advised. Who knew Chad Taylor worked for the Governor's counsel?

homechanger 3 years, 9 months ago

Bob yor calling Caleb a crooked county attorney. Prove it. Sounds like slander.

tomatogrower 3 years, 9 months ago

Like any of the guests are going to tell the truth about what was or was not discussed. They are all part of the same group.

booyalab 3 years, 9 months ago

Yeah, we should just stone them to be on the safe side.

booyalab 3 years, 9 months ago

I know whenever an LJWorld article begins with identifying someone as a republican, I'm in for a fair and objective piece.

Scott Tichenor 3 years, 9 months ago

"The dinners hosted by the governor at Cedar Crest were for the purpose of socializing and to give the governor an opportunity to inform the legislators as to his policy agenda for the year, and neither of those purposes violates KOMA," Stegall said.

Riiiiggghhhttttt. Got it.

psssst, hey buddy, want to buy the Kansas River bridge?

woodscolt 3 years, 9 months ago

Sammy,(the sammy with no measurable creditability" says " why, just trust us"

labmonkey 3 years, 9 months ago

At least he never dined with a partial-birth abortionist.

Fred Whitehead Jr. 3 years, 9 months ago

I cannot understand why this surprises anyone. It is no secret that Brownbackwards is out on a vendeta to create a theocracy in Kansas as a model for the other backwards states to follow. "If God be with us, who can be against us?" it says somewhere in their revision of the Holy Bible. We can expect this sort of untehical behavior on the part of all the Obama haters who are desparately afraid of the President being re-elected and the tea party thrown in the harbor (Any cities in Kansas have a suitable harbor??)

Joe Hyde 3 years, 9 months ago

A series of innocent "social gatherings" held in the Governor's mansion would not have a guest list personally approved by a Republican governor, where the only guests invited were Republican party legislators. No Democrats, no moderate Republicans, no public, no press in attendance. And during these "social gatherings" the governor expounds on his upcoming agenda and the guests just sit there silently sipping apple juice and smiling at one another?


Anybody who believes these weren't anything but secret political strategy meetings is also naive enough to believe that if fifty over-the-road truckers have their rigs parked overnight at Beto Junction, not a single one is back in his sleeper cab with a pencil and eraser, carefully cooking his log book.

pace 3 years, 9 months ago

Almost every official who has found to have violated the open meeting law has stated what they did, did not violate the open meeting law. It is usually just a slap and a training session. It is a slap in the face of the voters.

Carol Bowen 3 years, 9 months ago

If taxpayers paid for the dinners, then they were not social gatherings. That would be a misuse of public funds.

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