Topeka Kansas' former labor secretary tangled with Gov. Sam Brownback's top computer-systems administrator over a personnel issue just weeks before abruptly leaving the administration, internal emails show.
Since Labor Secretary Karin Brownlee's departure last month, she and Brownback's office haven't publicly discussed details of events leading to her exit.
The emails obtained by The Associated Press this week through an open records request are the first evidence to come to light afterward that Brownlee was at odds with another high-ranking administration official. The emails don't indicate whether the clash had anything to do with her departure.
The emails show Brownlee attempted to change the duties of a state Department of Labor employee, only to be rebuked by Anthony Schlinsog, the governor's chief information technology officer. Schlinsog told Brownlee in an email that she didn't have the authority to act alone because the employee reported to his office.
Schlinsog reports directly to the governor. Brownback gave Schlinsog's office oversight in November 2011 of all information technology staff in agencies under the governor's control, outside of state universities, describing the move as a way to promote efficiency and lower costs.
Brownlee initially declined to comment Thursday but said she might make a statement later. Brownback spokeswoman Sherriene Jones-Sontag also wouldn't comment, saying the matter remains a personnel issue. The governor's office wouldn't make Schlinsog available for an interview.
Brownlee assigned the employee in her department new duties in an Aug. 31 email, copying in Schlinsog, and he sent his reply less than 40 minutes later. Schlinsog told Brownlee that she had been told "on numerous occasions" that she couldn't unilaterally reassign the employee and suggested a meeting with either the governor or his chief of staff to settle the issue.
Three weeks later, Brownlee left the administration. She has said she was forced out and suggested she and the governor disagreed over how well the department was running. Brownback's did not offer a public explanation and did not thank her for her service.
Both Brownback and Brownlee are conservative Republicans, and Brownlee had served as labor secretary since Brownback took office in January 2011.
The Department of Labor determines when out-of-work Kansans are eligible for unemployment benefits, distributes those benefits to them and ensures that they are actively seeking new jobs. The agency also releases monthly reports on state's labor market and settles disputes between injured workers and employers over medical care and other benefits.
Just a week before Brownlee left, the administration touted her management, saying she'd streamlined the agency without sacrificing services. Since mid-2011, the Department of Labor has cut its overall staffing nearly 20 percent, shedding almost 150 positions, and its current operating budget of $492 million is less than half of what it was two years ago — though much of that reflects a decline in benefits.
Brownlee's dispute with Schlinsog involved duties for Sheryl Linton, a public service executive earning more than $68,000 a year, according to state records available online. In her Aug. 31 email to Linton, Brownlee told Linton that Linton would be reassigned to help with the ongoing validation of data about the state's unemployment benefits program, required by the federal government.
Brownlee told Linton that the change would occur on Sept. 10. The secretary sent the email at 3:50 p.m. Aug. 31.
"We need to update your position description to reflect this change," Brownlee wrote.
At 4:26 p.m., Schlinsog weighed in. He told Brownlee that Linton "clearly" reported to his Office of Information Technology Services and "her duties are not yours to reassign." In his email, he said his office had told Brownlee in June that Linton's duties "belonged in IT."
"We have never wavered from that stance," Schlinsog wrote. "But since you seem determined to press the issue, let's bring this up with Landon or the Governor at their earliest convenience for a 'final' determination."
Schlinsog copied in Landon Fulmer, the governor's chief of staff, on the email to Brownlee.
In November 2011, Brownback had issued an executive order directing all information technology directors and their staffs within executive branch agencies under his control, outside of state universities, to report directly to Schlinsog.