The Topeka Capital-Journal
Posted: February 10, 2015 - 3:18pm
By Jonathan Shorman
Communications almost entirely redacted by K-State
Gov. Sam Brownback’s administration kept lobbyists in the loop on its budget efforts weeks earlier than previously disclosed, newly released emails show. The communications also reveal state officials using personal email accounts on multiple occasions.
Emails obtained by The Topeka Capital-Journal through an open records request indicate lobbyists David Kensinger and Mark Dugan were included on an email thread about the budget on Dec. 6, along with top administration officials.
But the content of the emails remains hidden – shielded from public view by Kansas State University.
The Wichita Eagle first reported Kensinger and Dugan, who both served in the Brownback administration before becoming lobbyists, were given a preview of the budget in a Dec. 23 email. The newly disclosed emails show the two were given information more than two weeks before the Christmastime communication, however, and nearly six weeks before the proposed budget – which seeks to address a revenue deficit of hundreds of millions of dollars -- was officially unveiled to lawmakers and the public.
Many of the same individuals are included on both the Dec. 6 and Dec. 23 email threads. In addition to Kensinger and Dugan, they include Shawn Sullivan, the state budget director; Lt. Gov. Jeff Colyer; Landon Fulmer, then-Brownback’s chief of staff; Kenny Wilk, chair of the Kansas Board of Regents; Jon Hummel, Brownback’s new chief of staff; and Tim Keck, Colyer’s chief counsel; among others.
Also included on the threads is Kent Glasscock, president of the Kansas State University Institute for Commercialization. Glasscock at one time ranked among the most powerful men in state government, serving as Speaker of the House in the early 2000s.
The Capital-Journal requested K-State provide all emails between Glasscock and Sullivan from November through much of January. The university returned – at a cost of $91 -- 11 pages, with wide swaths of black ink, indicating redactions.
Any substantive information has been scrubbed from the documents. What is left are the email headings and superfluous text.
A Nov. 30 email from Glasscock to Wilk, with carbon copies to two of Sullivan’s email accounts, one of which appears to be a personal Yahoo account, indicates an upcoming meeting between the three.
“Thank you, Kenny and Shawn – see you tomorrow!” the email reads.
The rest of the page and the entire next page have been blacked out.
The next email is the Saturday, Dec. 6 email from Glasscock to Dugan, Kensinger, and administration officials. The email, with the subject line “Re: Budget Summary”, was sent at 2:03 p.m.
Colyer and Wilks received the email on their personal accounts. Emails sent from private accounts are not subject to the state’s open records law.
“Thank you, Shawn!” is the only text in the email not redacted. The rest of the page is blacked out.
The next email, sent from Keck, comes at 2:25 p.m., and references the popular K-State slogan “Every Man a Wildcat.”
“Thank you, Shawn! EMAW,” Keck writes.
Glasscock replies a minute later.
“:) !!,” he writes.
The records request produced no emails between Sullivan and Glasscock after that until Dec. 23. The email, sent at 7:12 p.m., is from Glasscock to Sullivan and other recipients, several who were also in the Dec. 6 thread.
“Shawn, Thank you so much. All the very best to you and the entire Brownback team. Onward and upward in 2015!” Glasscock writes.
The rest of the page is redacted. The email, with the subject line “Re: Budget Proposal” appears to be in response to the email originally disclosed by The Eagle. That email gave a multi-page outline of Brownback’s budget proposal – including changes to tax policy and education funding.
However, the email obtained by The Eagle, despite having been sent to Glasscock, was not included in the records provided to The Capital-Journal – either in a redacted or non-redacted form.
Asked about the redactions Tuesday morning, Hanna Manning, the university’s records custodian, indicated the university’s general counsel would be able to answer questions and that inquiries should be forwarded through her. The university has not yet replied.
In its heavy redactions of the emails, K-State primarily invoked an exception to the state’s open records laws that allows notes, preliminary drafts, research data in the process of analysis, memoranda and other records where “opinions are expressed or policies or actions are proposed” to be exempted from disclosure.
While the Kansas Open Records Act allows those records to be exempted from disclosure, it does not require it. K-State could have released the documents but chose not to do so.
Doug Anstaett, director of the Kansas Press Association, said the Legislature needs to change the open records act to make emails, whether from private or public accounts, open.
“This comes down to a question of whether government is open or closed. Eleven blacked-out pages is an absolute, in-your-face repudiation of open government,” Anstaett said.
“The citizens of Kansas don’t want this kind of secrecy. It’s about time some adults stepped forward and correct this situation.”
Sent a number of questions Tuesday, Eileen Hawley, Brownback's spokeswoman, offered a short response.
"As we have said before, the Governor consulted with a number of individuals throughout the course of budget discussions," Hawley said.
Glasscock, Kensinger and Dugan did not respond to requests for comment Tuesday.
The Capital-Journal reported last spring Kensinger was under FBI investigation in connection to whether confidantes of the governor were operating influence peddling operations, specifically in relation to KanCare contracts.
Kensinger at one point was Brownback’s chief of staff and campaign manager. Dugan has previously been Colyer’s chief of staff and also Brownback’s campaign manager.
Senate Minority Leader Anthony Hensley, D-Topeka, has been critical of the use of private email by government officials. On Tuesday, he blasted K-State’s handling of the records request.
“I think what the university has done is circumvented the law by redacting that information. That should be made available to the public, regardless of whether they were notes. They are official communications received by a state employee,” Hensley said.
Rep. Jim Ward, D-Wichita, proposed a measure in the House earlier in February that would have made some emails from private accounts subject to the Kansas Open Records Act. The proposal was defeated, 30-86.
Jonathan Shorman can be reached at (785) 295-5619 or firstname.lastname@example.org.