Saturday, October 14, 2006

Clarification: Kansas Attorney General Phill Kline accused of violating open meetings act & lying during chat

By Diane Silver

In response to a comment, I'm writing to clarify my Oct. 12 post "Kansas Attorney General Phill Kline accused of violating open meetings act & lying during chat."

This is in response to a comment posted by someone calling himself (herself?) "just the facts." Justthefacts has so far refused to say who he or she is.

But here, in reality, ARE just the facts, based on the links and the information justthefacts provided and on my own research.

1. Everything in my previous post and the AP story it linked to was accurate.

2. The incident referred to in the post occurred in February 2005.

3. That month, and on the same day, Kline had two meetings with what were then members of the six-member ultra-conservative majority on the state Board of Education. Each meeting was held behind closed doors and each included three members of that radical majority. The four moderate board members were not invited.

4. Moderate board member Sue Gamble spoke to reporters and said those meetings violated, at the very least, the "spirit of the law." The law in question is the Kansas Open Meetings Act, which is designed to guarantee that the public's business occurs in public and not behind closed doors.

5. The Lawrence Journal-World reported on Feb. 10, 2005, that "Kline said he met with the conservative board members to discuss the school finance litigation and to mention that he would help them if they wanted to put stickers on science textbooks that said evolution was theory and not a fact."

6. Kline said at the time that he had not broken the law because the law requires that four members be present at a meeting, and only three were present. Kline was correct about the letter of the law.

7. Shawnee County District Attorney Robert Hecht investigated the incident and said in March, 2005, that Kline did not violate the open meetings act.

8. At that time, Kline continued to say that he had not broken the law, but he is quoted in the Topeka Capital-Journal as saying "In hindsight, I wouldn't have done this."

9. In an online chat on Oct. 9, 2006, via the Lawrence Journal-World, Kline was asked about the February 2005 closed-door meetings. Kline replied, in part:
The attorney for the Kansas Press Association stated of these meetings: "it is remarkable the length the Attorney General will go to to comply with the law." I believe that says it all.
Mike Merriam, the attorney for the Kansas Press Association, spoke to the Topeka Capital-Journal this week.
While Merriam said Tuesday that while he couldn't absolutely deny making such a statement, he has no recollection of it.

He said if he had made such a comment, it was either about some other matter or a "sarcastic reference" to Kline's "elaborate preparations to avoid the law."

"My view was, and is, that the serial meetings conducted by the board of education members with Mr. Kline were intentional violations of the Open Meetings Act," Merriam said. "Mr. Kline has no basis to cite me in support of his actions."

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