- Associated Press - Tuesday, June 16, 2015

Lawrence Journal-World, June 15

Employee issue: A legal case that started over the release of some KU emails is raising some broader issues about university employees.

Is the executive director of Kansas University’s Center for Applied Economics a KU employee or not?

The definition of Art Hall’s employment status still is in dispute in a legal proceeding seeking the release of Hall’s university emails, and the resolution of the dispute could have a significant impact on future operations at KU.

On one hand, an attorney for the students seeking the emails said the answer to the question is “stupidly simple.” Hall teaches KU students and has an office at KU. He is supervised by a KU administrator and his paychecks are signed by KU. An attorney for KU agreed, saying “I don’t know how you could reasonably conclude . that he does not work for KU.”

And yet, an attorney for Hall has created doubt about Hall’s employment status. The Center for Applied Economics is self-funded, the attorney argued, and Hall is not a public employee because his salary is funneled through the KU Endowment Association, a private entity.

All of this relates to the email issue because, if Hall is employed by KU, his emails likely are subject to release under the Kansas Records Act, but if he is not a public employee, those emails could be protected as private communication.

That uncertainty about Hall’s employment status has caused Douglas County District Court Judge James McCabria to declare that more evidence is needed to resolve disputed facts in the case and set a November trial date in the case.

The reason this case could have a broad impact at KU goes back to the contention that people who are paid by private funds that are funneled through the private KU Endowment Association may not qualify as KU employees. If that is the case, it could affect employees of a number of centers in the university that are funded by grants and private donations, not to mention all the distinguished faculty members who hold endowed professorships funded by private donors. If those people aren’t technically university employees, it would affect not only whether they are subject to the Open Records Act but also could have a significant impact on how they function in the university’s academic community. If privately paid faculty aren’t really KU employees, would they be subject to all the same rules that apply to other university faculty? Are they covered by the new social media rule approved by the Kansas Board of Regents? Should they be part of the state retirement system?

Depending on how it is resolved, this question of when a KU employee might not be a KU employee could have serious ramifications for the university.

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Manhattan Mercury, June 12

Candidates move early in Big First

There’s little danger that the Republican field for Kansas’ 1st Congressional District will ever be as crowded as the GOP field for U.S. president in 2016. The latter race already has 10 declared candidates and at least five more who are either waiting for the “right moment” to enter the race or are simply basking in media speculation about their possible candidacies.

Meanwhile, roughly 17 months before election day and a year before the filing deadline, the race for the Republican nomination to represent the Big First District already has three candidates. That’s almost enough people for another small town in a district dotted with them.

The first person to file was the incumbent, Tim Huelskamp. He’s long been an earlier filer, either to get that bit of paperwork out of the way or to deter qualified would-be candidates from entering.

It hasn’t been much of a deterrent this time around. Shortly after Rep. Huelskamp filed, Dr. Roger Marshall, an obstetrician from Great Bend, announced his candidacy. And this week, Alan LaPolice, who emerged from obscurity to pose a legitimate challenge to Rep. Huelskamp last year, said he will try again. Mr. LaPolice, who is a student retention specialist at Cloud County Community College in Concordia, won about 35,000 votes to 42,000 for Rep. Huelskamp in last year’s GOP primary despite having little money, little organization and little name recognition.

He entered the race in 2014 in part because he was appalled at the not ion that Rep. Huelskamp might run opposed and win by default. Mr. LaPolice is more prepared and better funded this time around.

What impact Dr. Marshall’s candidacy will have on the outcome will be interesting to watch, at least when voters start watching. An active citizen in Great Bend, Dr. Marshall describes himself as a Reagan Republican, which is rarely a bad idea. And in faulting the Affordable Care Act, EPA excesses and military drawdowns, he gives himself a chance.

As for the incumbent, Rep. Huelskamp is nothing if not resilient. Kicked off the influential House Agriculture Committee - a panel on which Kansans had sat for decades - he wears that showdown as a badge of honor. Rep. Huelskamp remains defiant of the status quo in Washington and cultivates his popularity among the tea party crowd.

And he might be figuring, perhaps correctly, that two - or more - GOP opponents will be easier to defeat than one.

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Topeka Capital-Journal, June 14

Topeka Fire Department studied enough

A recent news release from City Hall tells us another study concerning the Topeka Fire Department - to be conducted by the Washington, D.C.,-based Center for Public Safety Management LLC for the price of $14,200 - isn’t “just another study.”

Perhaps not, but the smell test indicates it may well be a response to kickback from firefighters and residents of some neighborhoods who rose is support of the status quo when it was suggested two fire houses would be closed and their manpower and equipment allocated to other fire houses.

The closings were part of a plan drafted by Fire Chief Greg Bailey in response to a 2014 study by local consultants Arnold Gordon and Leo Hafner, which indicated Topekans were paying more per capita for fire protection that residents of cities of similar size. That study also indicated the Topeka Fire Department had more employee than fire departments in comparable cities.

The news release, issued Thursday, said the Gordon and Hafner study was to be “a foundation upon which we based further discussion and review. This is the next phase of that process.

Funny, we don’t remember hearing that the 2014 study was just a “foundation.” And if it was, why did Bailey spend his time drafting a plan based on it before the “next phase” was initiated?

The news release also said the city had hired Emergency Services Consulting International, of Oregon, to conduct an update of a 2006 study on fire and rescue services deployment. That study will cost $14,638. The 2006 study recommended the city build one fire station, close one and move another - none of which has been done.

The combined cost of the two studies to be conducted isn’t exorbitant. The amount, $28,838, is hardly noticeable within the entire city budget, which is tentatively pegged at $256.74 million for 2106. But why spend the money?

Nothing has changed since the 2014 study and nothing has changed since the 2006 study. The city certainly hasn’t grown in area since either of those studies was completed and its population isn’t exactly booming - an optimist would say it is “stable” while a pessimist would say it is “static.”

City officials should have enough information on hand now to make any necessary decisions about the size and deployment of fire department’s assets.

Bailey’s response to the 2014 study was met with howls about threats to (filtered word) safety and increased response times.

Other cities, however, are capable of providing adequate fire protection at a lesser cost and with fewer personnel and equipment assets. There’s no reason to believe Topeka can’t do the same, without further study.

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Salina Journal, June 14

Your problem is in your mirror

As the Legislature stumbled its way through a record-setting session (Day 113 on Friday) dealing with a budget deficit, there was plenty of finger-pointing going on.

The most obvious person to blame for the state’s financial problem and the fact that the Legislature passed the largest tax increase in the state’s 154-year history was Gov. Sam Brownback. It was his income tax cuts in 2012 and 2013 that blew an estimated $800 million hole in the Kansas budget. It was also Brownback who stabbed in the back and removed from office reasonable, moderate GOP legislators and got them replaced with a bunch of people who can’t get along.

Then there’s the influence of outside money groups, such as Americans for Prosperity. If you’re a legislator and you got your job on the backing from such anti-tax groups, you’d be risking political suicide by voting to do the right thing and roll back Brownback’s income tax cuts, or to raise any taxes at all.

Brownback, special interest groups and politicians looking out only for themselves all are part of the toxic mix. But if you want to know who’s really to blame, look in the mirror.

We’re the ones who keep electing politicians who promise not to raise our taxes when that’s exactly what has to happen. You can make government more efficient, sure, but eventually the price of things goes up.

We’re the ones who keep electing people who vow to never compromise, who sign unrealistic pledges of no tax increases. And this is what we get.

As of Friday, nearly $1 million of your tax money had been spent on just the extra 23 days legislators spent in Topeka coming up with one cockamamie, harmful scheme after another to do anything but the right thing - undoing Brownback’s tax cuts.

The next time a politician seeks your vote by promising not to compromise or work with others, remember what that’s brought us. And if you vote for that candidate, don’t forget who’s to blame when we have a repeat of what happened this year in Topeka.

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