Archive for Saturday, September 15, 2012

Transcripts show Kansas lawmakers didn’t know meetings law

September 15, 2012


— Dozens of Kansas legislators questioned about private dinners with Gov. Sam Brownback at his official residence weren’t well-versed in the state’s Open Meetings Act, transcripts of their interviews show.

The lawmakers were interviewed as part of a prosecutor’s investigation of the dinners. Few had read the open meetings law, and most reported receiving no formal training on how to avoid violating it, the transcripts showed. They had little written guidance other than a section in their legislative guidebook.

Shawnee County District Attorney Chad Taylor released transcripts of interviews conducted by two deputies with 53 legislators regarding seven dinner meetings held in January at Cedar Crest, the governor’s residence. The lawmakers sat on 13 legislative committees and almost all were Republicans, like Brownback.

Taylor, a Democrat, concluded last month that legislators violated the Kansas Open Meetings Act, scolded them publicly and admonished them to become better informed about the law’s requirements. But he did not pursue further action, saying he could prove only “technical” violations.

An exchange between Taylor’s deputies and Rep. Joe Scapa, a Wichita Republican, was typical of the interviews, The Topeka Capital-Journal reported. Scapa was asked about two dinners to which he was invited, and he said the law wasn’t violated. Pressed to explain, he told Taylor’s deputies, “Because that’s what I believe.”

“I don’t know how to explain it to you, but that’s what I know,” Scapa said, according the transcript.

Despite not being well-versed in the Open Meetings Act, most of the legislators interviewed said they were confident they hadn’t violated it. Many said the dinners didn’t feel like “meetings” because food was served, and it was a social atmosphere.

When one of Taylor’s deputies asked Sen. Terrie Huntington, a Fairway Republican, whether she understood that the meetings law applied to social gatherings, she said, “I did not.”

The Open Meetings Act generally prohibits a majority of a legislative body from meeting without giving the public notice and access to the event. A gathering of a committee’s majority is a meeting if public business is discussed and lawmakers interact.

Officials who knowingly violate the law can be fined up to $500 per incident, though only a county prosecutor or the attorney general can seek such a sanction from a court. However, a prosecutor or private citizen also can go to court for an order for corrective action.

Doug Anstaett, executive director of the Kansas Press Association, said the “discussion” standard isn’t meant to limit legislators but ensure they’re consider all options in pursuing policy.

“Having members of the public involved during the discussion phase guarantees that all those options are considered,” Anstaett said. “It also leads to more buy-in from the public when tough decisions are made.”

Some of the legislators interviewed by Taylor’s deputies said that while they understood they could violate the law in social settings, they believed they’d have to take binding action or have detailed policy discussions.

Told by one of Taylor’s deputies that a mere discussion of business could be a violation, Sen. Susan Wagle, a Wichita Republican, said, “If you were to interpret it that broadly, then I would say all our social events violate the Open Meetings Act.”

Most of the legislators who were interviewed seemed receptive to the idea of more open meetings training, which was recommended by the district attorney’s office in its final report. Anstaett said the press association will help.

“We’re going to ask the attorney general to work with us, the cities and the counties to come up with new language that re-emphasizes the importance of meeting in the open,” Anstaett said. “I know the organizations that work with these local units of government are training their members on the law.”


Mike1949 5 years, 8 months ago

Seems to me that it is their job to know the open meetings laws? Anyone here disagrees? Most of all, the governor should know it in detail!

KS 5 years, 8 months ago

Mike - Do you know the details of the open meeting laws? I don't. There are thousands of laws on the books in Kansas. Are all the politicians supposed to know every one of them? I think you are looking for an excuse to rip these guys!

somebodynew 5 years, 8 months ago

KS - no I don't know all the laws on the books, BUT I do know the ones that directly affect my job and what I do everyday. (OK, I am not a lawyer so maybe I don't "know" the law.) These guys have training available to them at least once a year through the AG's Office if they care to go and it is what they should be dealing with everyday.

And Mike, I think the Gov does know the law and knew that it doesn't apply to him directly and thought he could "skirt" past it with the others. Seems it worked. "I don't recall" and "I didn't know" works for some people it seems.

globehead 5 years, 8 months ago

No. They should not know all of the laws. They most definitely should know the ones relating to their job functions. Open meeting laws should be very much on their minds when they have meetings with limited invitations. The governor should be also. He wanted to be President. Kathleen Sebelius just got tagged for a violation of the Hatch Act. I was once a state employee and we were keenly aware of the Hatch act. We were schooled on it every election cycle. Sebelius is an attorney. Brownback is too. He is governor, He was Senator. He wanted to be President. Yes, he of all people should be aware of open meeting laws. No question about that whatsoever. He was either sloppy or just didn't give a damn. He needs to adhere to laws too. He is not above them. None of them are. They need to be held, that is HELD, to a higher standard or they should be removed. No excuses whatsoever. None!

Thomas Bryce Jr. 5 years, 8 months ago

Gov. Sam knew the Law well. He had his attorneys help him break the Law Properly. GOP has made Skirting Law an Art Form.

tomatogrower 5 years, 8 months ago

I haven't seen many legislators do much of their job anyway. Republicans let ALEC write all their legislation, and Democrats are spending too much time trying to be nice to Republicans.

Thomas Bryce Jr. 5 years, 8 months ago

Ignorant of the Law or incompetent in their jobs.What a great choice. Neither look good for us as citizens of Kansas. We deserve better representation than this. This is Legislative Malpractice. Joe Scapa had the best explanation. He Believes! he was not guilty. That is all it takes. I guess if you Believe in the Lie then it is not a Lie.

jafs 5 years, 8 months ago

Ignorance of the law is no excuse.

At least that seems to apply to regular citizens - I guess there's an exception for legislators.

And, the idea that they'll explore all options isn't the only reason for meetings to be held publicly - it's also designed so that the public knows what legislators are considering, and is able to give their input and feedback during the process.

yourworstnightmare 5 years, 8 months ago

"Pressed to explain, he (Scapa) told Taylor’s deputies, “Because that’s what I believe.”"

That statement just about sums up the modern GOP tea party right wing populists.

Thomas Bryce Jr. 5 years, 8 months ago

I"believe", in my heart and soul, that The Good Lord never intended for me to have to pay taxes. Am I now exempt from paying Taxes? Thought so!

Shelley Bock 5 years, 8 months ago

I was going to come on here to make a comment that I can forgive legislators, Tea Bagger, Rino or Democrat, of being somewhat confused, misinformed or ignorant of these rules. I can understand that difficulty. Hopefully, they will review and apply what they've learned so that this type of error doesn't occur in the future.

Then, I read Mrs P's comments. She perceives that liberals get the breaks and that liberal judges give 'em that. And, not a word about the power of the right or misinformation or intolerance. And, if you don't like what's going on in Kansas, pack your bags and get out of the state.

I don't think she understands that the Islamic extremists in the Middle East are her philosophical brethren. "We don't like you or your thoughts, so get out of our world." Why is it that intolerant people draw lines in the sand to keep those that disagree with to keep them away? How scared and feeble they must be of differences of opinion. They don't really remember that this nation was founded on a compromise, the US Constitution, as different views were blended together.

"My way or the highway" seems to be the motto of the Tea Bagger party. And, of Mrs. P. Her definition that the "will of the People" in the next comment is as she defines it based on what she believes. If there is a "liberal" judiciary and a "liberal" President, isn't that a statement about what the "will of the people " is?

chootspa 5 years, 8 months ago

Ad hominems, red herrings, and straw mans, oh my!

Kate Rogge 5 years, 8 months ago

I'm a fifth generation Kansan, and our family will be here as liberal, conservative, and independent Kansans long after your family had become dust. If you hate Kansans so much, MrsPeenman, I encourage you to leave our state.

jafs 5 years, 8 months ago

Thank God we still have judges, so that we can hold the legislature accountable if they violate the Constitution.

I very much fear the "will of the people" advocates who seem to have little to no understanding of our Constitutional foundations.

Shelley Bock 5 years, 8 months ago

Or on those occasions when emotions generate "tyranny of the people" they don't understand the Constitution. Have you noted that the "will of the people" advocates always define the "will" as what they believe.

headdoctor 5 years, 8 months ago

It seems in more recent years the translation for understanding the Constitutional foundations by legislators is they make the law therefore they are above the court decisions and the laws. How many times have they thumbed their nose at the courts or made laws that they knew damn well before they were debated on were in part or whole unconstitutional? How much tax money have they just flushed down the drain defending those laws?

msezdsit 5 years, 8 months ago

"The lawmakers were interviewed as part of a prosecutor’s investigation of the dinners. Few had read the open meetings law, and most reported receiving no formal training on how to avoid violating it, the transcripts showed."

Lawmakers who don't know the law. Lawmakers who think "Why nobody told us". How about you knowing the law and behaving accordingly.

When these lawmakers make comments like this they spend their credibility and then why should we be expected to believe anything they say. What we do know is they violated the law to do exactly what the law was written to prohibit them from doing.

Shelley Bock 5 years, 8 months ago

Where did Mrs. Peenman go to? Am I missing her comments? Did she bail and eliminate them? Unfortunate that she gone. Her thoughts quickly created discussion. Maybe she's related to Mr. Montgomery from Manhattan who creates an objection then retracts it. I much more value someone with whom I disagree who stands by their comments rather than doing a "drive-by" and then disappearing.

Richard Heckler 5 years, 8 months ago

In Lawrence if one is a neighborhood activist most learn about the open meetings act

If one sits on a volunteer board or commission we are advised of the open meetings act

City Commissioners are aware of the open meetings act. Do they abide always? Ask them.

The Open Meetings Act has been around for quite some time. Kansas Legislators pleading ignorance smells like they were advised to do so. Kinda like Ronald Reagan could not recall anything regarding Iran-Contra illegal weapons smuggling operation.

Should ignorance fly as an excuse for breaking this law? No.

Mike Ford 5 years, 8 months ago

wow, again......where are the Four Troll Horseman we've come to expect idiocy, bigotry, and lunacy from in our conversations???? anyway the GOP doesn't know the law anyway.....

goodcountrypeople 5 years, 8 months ago

What better evidence that most people in the Sunflower State are frighteningly ignorant? Even the lawmakers here are totally clueless--maybe especially them.

costello 5 years, 8 months ago

Laws, like taxes, are for the little people.

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