Five Southeast Kansas residents have filed a civil suit against the Labette County Commission and Commissioner Brian Kinzie individually relating to Kansas Open Meetings Act compliance and other issues.
The five, Kasey Wilson, Lindsey Wilson, Wayne Bozman, Carmaletta Bozman and Trace Goodwin, are seeking an injunction to prohibit county commissioners from communicating with one another other than in an open meeting. The Kansas Attorney General’s Office investigated KOMA violations and found that an April 27 phone call between Kinzie and Commissioner Cole Proehl violated KOMA. Commissioner Lonie Addis also called the other two commissioners, though his calls were not part of the complaint filed with the attorney general.
The next meeting after that phone call, Proehl introduced and Kinzie approved a resolution relating to negotiating points with a German utility company, RWE Renewables, that wants to develop a wind farm in the western half of Labette County. Proehl and Kinzie said they did not discuss the resolution, but Kinzie said they did talk in general terms about setbacks.
Because of the KOMA violation, the attorney general requires the commissioners to undergo an hour of KOMA training, which they will do Monday morning.
The lawsuit is also seeking to compel commissioners to announce in advance of public meetings all topics of discussion and resolutions to be introduced. If a resolution will be introduced, the suit wants that released to the public in advance of the meeting. The Kansas Open Records Act determines what records are open and closed in Kansas. As KORA relates to this request, a record is generally open once it’s distributed to members of a public board in an open meeting.
The suit also wants to keep commissioners from entering into any agreements with RWE without a unanimous vote of the board. Addis is opposed to the wind development. Proehl and Kinzie said they want to study the issue and determine its benefit to the entire county before deciding if they support the development. They also want to hear from RWE on what it can offer the county.
The lawsuit also seeks to stop Kinzie from interfering with a recall effort underway against him. The suit alleges he spread false claims about the limitations on who can validly sign the recall petition. Kinzie previously said that only people who voted for him could sign the recall petition.
Kansas law allows any registered 2nd District voter to sign the petition if they choose. The recall committee has to collect at least 1,202 valid signatures by Sept. 1. This number represents 40% of the people who voted for Kinzie at the 2020 general election.
The commission has a statutory time period to respond to the suit or to ask for an extension to file its answer. Kinzie still has the option to challenge the recall effort in court. He has 30 days from when the petition was filed, which was June 3.
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