Special to The Hays Daily News

SALINA -- Time-consuming and costly litigation can be avoided if the Kansas governor's office will release the names of those seeking two new seats on the Saline County Commission, Salina Journal Editor and Publisher M. Olaf Frandsen said Friday.

"This could be resolved very simply without going to court," Frandsen said after a written request for the 13 applications was denied Friday. The governor's office earlier turned down a verbal request.

"But if the state wants to persist in withholding a record that is clearly in the public interest, then that's what we will have to do," he said.

If the name, position and salary of every state and local government employee is public record, how could the names of applicants to a public position be deemed an unwarranted invasion of privacy, he asked.

"It can't. It makes absolutely no sense, whatsoever," Frandsen said.

In the Nov. 4 election, Saline County residents voted to expand the commission from three to five districts. Applicants were interviewed by the governor's office Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday. The resolution to expand the districts from three to five passed the county commission Nov. 18, and the governor has 30 days to fill those positions.

On Tuesday, the Salina Journal faxed an open records request to obtain the names of those who applied to filled the two positions. The governor's office refused to release the applications or the names of the applicants.

Eileen Hawley, director of communications for the governor's office, denied the newspaper's request by email by citing the "personnel records" section of the Kansas Open Records Act. She could not be reached for further comment.

The act does allow the withholding of personnel records if there is an unwarranted invasion of privacy, Frandsen said.

He cited a Kansas attorney general's opinion that "clearly" says if a record contains some material that is required to be made public and some that can be withheld, it is the duty of the state agency to release portions of that documentation that is subject to the open records act.

"Under that theory, I have requested that she immediately provide us with the names of the applicants," he said.

He also said the applicants aren't yet employed by Saline County or the state of Kansas, therefore they are not personnel records.

"Sadly, the governor's office is trying to keep secret the names of applicants for a political career and is ignoring the open records act," he said.

In the appeal, Frandsen wrote:

"It is unfathomable that the name, and name alone, of anyone who actually works within state or local government, or who is an applicant for a position within state or local government, could remain a secret. To withhold that information clearly violates both the intent and spirit of the open records act."

The exemption to the act reads: "Personnel records, performance ratings or individually identifiable records pertaining to employees or applicants for employment, except that this exemption shall not apply to the names, positions, salaries or actual compensation employment contracts or employment-related contracts or agreements and lengths of service of officers and employees of public agencies once they are employed as such."

The newspaper's request for the names was verbally denied Monday. A written request was made Tuesday.