Voters rallied against the commissioner for his involvement in a violation of the Kansas Open Meetings Act and concerns that he or his family stood to financially benefit from a proposed wind farm. RWE AG, a multinational wind energy company based in Germany, is proposing to place 50 to 70 large wind turbines in the county.
Voters in a southeast Kansas rural community appear to have pulled off a rare feat.
Opponents of Labette County Commissioner Brian Kinzie ousted him in a special recall election on Dec. 7.
The election results won’t be official until the remaining two commissioners canvass the results on Monday. (Meanwhile, another county official will fill in for Kinzie.)
But any votes thrown out should be small and not nearly enough to overcome the election results of 831 in favor of the recall and 580 opposed.
“It’s all over,” Kinzie said in a phone interview.
Because of Kansas’ stringent recall laws, most recall efforts fail long before they make it to the ballot.
Voters rallied against the commissioner for his involvement in a violation of the Kansas Open Meetings Act and concerns that he or his family stood to financially benefit from a proposed wind farm.
RWE AG, a multinational wind energy company based in Germany, is proposing to place 50 to 70 large wind turbines in the county.
After Kinzie voted to start negotiations over a wind farm with RWE AG, Trace Goodwin, a former Labette County resident discouraged by the wind farm process he saw unfold where he lives in Neosho County, asked the Kansas Attorney General’s Office to look into a phone call Kinzie had a few days before with another commissioner.
The AG’s office found Kinzie and another commissioner, Cole Proehl, violated the Kansas Open Meetings Act by discussing county business in a phone call outside a public meeting.
The act prohibits a majority of a public body from discussing public business outside official meetings, and because the Labette County Commission only has three members, any two members constitute a majority.
Recall efforts started shortly after that.
There have also been talks about recalling Proehl, Goodwin said, but that had to wait until after the recall efforts against Kinzie.
Recalling in Kansas
Kansas has some of the most stringent laws in the nation for recalling officials.
First, state law only allows recall petitions to be circulated if the county’s top prosecutor – district attorney in some counties and county attorney in others – certifies that it meets legal grounds for a recall laid out in state law.
The only acceptable grounds to get a petition approved are conviction of a felony, misconduct in office or failure to perform duties prescribed by law. Misconduct is defined as a violation of law that impacts an official’s ability to perform their official duties.
In Kinzie’s case, the allegation of misconduct was supported by the AG’s office.
Supporters of a recall have to collect signatures equivalent to 40% of all the ballots cast in the most recent election for the office. They have 90 days to do it, and the state law has strict rules on how signatures can be gathered, including that signatures must be gathered in person. Petitions can be circulated only in the boundaries of the district where the official lives and only by official sponsors who have to register with the election office.
The petition must have a mandatory warning on it saying that it’s a class B misdemeanor to knowingly sign a fake name, to sign twice or to sign if you’re not a registered voter within the district where the recall is sought.
Goodwin had doubts that Kinzie’s opponents could gather the needed 1,202 valid signatures to force the special election, especially since they had to go door to door during the heat of the summer.
“I really didn’t think it was going to happen,” he said.
They were able to get 1,582 signatures.
Recall election gets ugly
The recall election came with a fair amount of divisiveness. Goodwin said Kinzie, who was his childhood barber, told lies during the recall campaign process. Kinzie also said the opposition told lies about him.
Goodwin is a member of Labette County Neighbors United, a group that started to educate people about wind farms then also added the effort of recalling Kinzie.
Posts on its Facebook page illustrate some of what unfolded: One talks about how they do not condone the string of Kinzie signs being vandalized; another talks about wanting to stop any more lies being spread by a person, and another tells people to “follow the money.”
Some questioned why, and who was backing Kinzie when he decided to run for commission again in 2020, amid discussion of the proposed wind farm, after taking several years off after running for three consecutive terms.
Kinzie said there’s no truth that the RWE AG encouraged him to do so.
During the recall campaign, full-page ads in the Parsons Sun and mailers in support of Kinzie were sponsored by the APA Landowner’s Action PAC.
Goodwin and others requested documents about the PAC from the Kansas Governmental Ethics Commission. A document emailed from the commission, which was forwarded to The Eagle, linked the PAC to Advanced Power Alliance, which has an RWE AG official sitting on its executive committee.
Kinzie said ads and mailers were done on his behalf by a company he never told to do anything and didn’t know anything about.
The recall has caused division within the community.
“This is a victory for the people of Labette County, and it’s a victory simply in the fact that they were able to use a democratic process, they were able to use their voice … to hold an elected official who was not representing them, who was lying to them, who was found to violate a law and they succeeded in holding that official accountable,” Goodwin said.
Goodwin said he just wants the community to be able to vote on the wind farm, and not just a few people. He said the footprint of the wind farm entails the property of more than 200 families.
Kinzie called the situation ridiculous before hanging up the phone on Saturday.
“The opposition can spread lies, they use social media as just totally crazy what they did, how they come down on you,” Kinzie said. “It’s gotten out of hand. If someone can’t do his job, in part of this cancel culture or whatever you want to call it, it’s just ridiculous. Who would want to run, who would want to be in there? Trying to do good for the county, we’ve done a lot of good things over the last 20 years. I put my heart and soul into it and they try to make me out to be some kind of a crook or something. It’s ridiculous.”
Contributing: Dion Lefler with The Eagle.
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