A Shawnee County District Court judge on Friday afternoon denied Gov. Sam Brownback’s effort to block disclosure of information about applicants seeking appointment to expanded county commission seats in Saline County.
The Salina Journal and The Associated Press in a lawsuit sought disclosure of information about applicants for vacancies on the Saline County Commission. The lawsuit was based on the Kansas Open Records Act.
Eileen Hawley, spokeswoman for the governor, said Friday, “We’re going to review the ruling in its entirety and evaluate what steps we might want to take.”
Besides the governor, Hawley and Kim Borchers, Brownback’s director of appointments, were defendants in the lawsuit.
Shawnee County District Judge Rebecca W. Crotty filed the ruling at 1:54 p.m. Friday.
The litigation centered on whether the KORA would force disclosure of all or part of the materials submitted by about 14 applicants to Brownback.
The governor was responsible for appointing two members to the Saline County Commission after it was expanded by voters in a Nov. 4 election from three to five members.
In part, the lawsuit sought disclosure of all who sought the Saline County Commission vacancies.
The 12-page court order doesn’t say when the records sought by the Salina Journal and the Associated Press will be made public.
The Salina Journal and the AP filed suit in January after the governor refused to reveal the identity of candidates seeking appointment to the two county commission posts.
The defendants had contended the requested records were exempt from the open records act and that Brownback wasn’t the custodian of the requested records.
Crotty said the requested county commission applications weren’t exempt under the open records law because the applications weren’t for state employment. But the governor did appoint the two applicants.
The judge also ruled the applications for the county commission posts weren’t “pre-decisional work” by the governor and aren’t protected by the open records law.
The governor had claimed he is entitled to exercise his executive appointment powers without intrusion under the protection of KORA, which protects the pre-decisional and deliberation process.
The governor also had objected to disclosing the applications because he contended personal information would be disclosed, which would constitute an invasion of personal privacy.
But the judge said personal information, such as Social Security numbers and driver’s license numbers, will be redacted from the applications.
As for the governor’s contention he isn’t the proper custodian of the applicant records, Crotty ruled that in the governor’s official capacity, any injunctive relief ordered by the district court applies to all employees of Brownback’s office, including Hawley and Borchers.
Finally, the governor contended the requested records were exempt based on an open records provision not to disclose correspondence between a public agency and a private individual.
“However, the applications for appointment are not ‘correspondence,’” Crotty ruled.
The Salina Journal requested applications for appointment and the AP requested a list of applicants with their hometowns and the applications.
“Neither the applications nor a list of applicants is protected as correspondence,” the judge wrote.
Earlier this week, Crotty said in Topeka after oral arguments by attorneys on both sides that few court precedents existed as guidance in the case, but she would ponder plaintiff lawyer Nathanael Berg’s request that she personally examine the documents before ruling.
At that time, Crotty hadn’t said when she intended to issue a ruling in the case.
The Topeka Capital-Journal is helping finance the lawsuit, but isn’t a formal party to the litigation.