Saturday, October 14, 2006
Kansas Attorney General Phill Kline: "So, he's not a criminal; he's just sleazy."
By Diane Silver
My 79-year-old mother doesn't mince words. When I happened to mention the controversy about Attorney General Phill Kline's run-in with the Kansas Open Meetings Act, she summed up her feelings quite nicely: "So, he's not a criminal," she said. "He's just sleazy."
Her comments are important. As a Kansas citizen, she is Kline's boss, just like me and like you if you happen to live in the Sunflower State.
However, we can't have any impact on what Kline or other state officials do if they don't conduct the public's business in public. We can't have an impact if we don't know what they're doing, or even know that they're meeting.
That's why Kline's apparent effort to slip past the Kansas Open Meetings Act in February 2005 is so disturbing. In a nutshell... he asked attorneys in his office about the law. He discovered that it would be a violation for him to meet secretly with four members of the six-member, ultra-conservative majority of the state Board of Education.
To avoid breaking the law, he met twice on the same day -- each time with three members of that radical majority. Note that number. It's important because it's just one short of the number needed to trigger a violation of the law.
Each meeting was behind closed doors. Each meeting was kept secret from the four moderate members of the board. And each meeting was kept secret from the public until it was uncovered in news reports.
You can read this post to get all the details.
I suspect that even Kline knows this is a lousy idea. Perhaps that's why he apparently attempted this week to misrepresent the words of Kansas Press Association attorney Mike Merriam.
In a chat at the Lawrence Journal-World, Kline tried to make it appear as if Merriam approved of his actions. In fact, Merriam was fighting against them.
I can't prove that Kline meant to lie about Merriam's position. Perhaps Kline just forgot that Merriam was his major opponent in the fight about the meetings. Perhaps it was just the heat of the moment. Perhaps it was a slip of the fingers on the computer keyboard during the Journal-World chat.
What's truly bizarre is that -- on the surface -- there is no reason for Kline to have met privately with only those members of the board who shared his religious philosophy. He could have just as easily attended a public meeting of the state board. Of course, that would only be true if he and the anti-evolution board members weren't attempting to hide something from the public and the rest of the board.
So, did Phill Kline break the law?
Nope, not a bit.
Should the citizens of Kansas be worried about his actions?