- Associated Press - Saturday, May 16, 2015

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) - Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback uses a private email address to communicate with his staff and others, a newspaper reported Saturday, raising concerns about the availability of much of his communication under the state’s open records law.

The Wichita Eagle (https://bit.ly/1FqxezX ) discovered the governor’s private email address after Brownback’s office released email records from several top administration officials at the newspaper’s request.

The email records showed Brownback uses a private email address, while his staffers use official government emails. The governor has previously said he also uses a private cellphone, which means his cellphone records are not public records. He has said he prefers to pay for the cellphone rather than have the state pay.

Brownback’s spokeswoman Eileen Hawley said in an email that Brownback “prefers to communicate in person or on the phone whenever possible.”

“However, when he does use email, he uses a personal email account,” she said. “Email sent by the governor to staff usually comes to those staff members’ state accounts.”

As the open records stands, Brownback’s emails to staff would be public records if the staff member were on a government account. But a media outlet or a person could obtain those records only by knowing which staffer Brownback had emailed and when. A person could not request the governor’s emails directly, making it significantly more difficult to search for the records.

The governor’s communications on private email with people outside government would not fall under the open records law at all.

Attorney General Derek Schmidt, a Republican, issued an opinion recently saying private emails from public officials fall outside the bounds of the Kansas Open Records Act, and he recommended that lawmakers fix the private email loophole. Two bills have been introduced into the state Legislature based Schmidt’s recommendations to make any email a public official sends within the course of their duties subject to the open records law, while other emails would remain exempt.

Doug Anstaett, executive director of the Kansas Press Association, criticized the governor’s private email use.

“It’s appalling that the state’s highest officer thinks operating outside the public realm is his right, and he believes that’s the best way to conduct public business,” Anstaett said.

Rep. John Carmichael, D-Wichita, said the open records law is a valuable tool.

“The purpose of the open records act is to provide for sunshine and open government - not government done behind closed doors in the proverbial smoke-filled room,” Carmichael said. “And what we see here is an example of the people’s business being done in an electronic smoke-filled room behind closed doors.”

Clay Barker, executive director of the Kansas Republican Party, which has frequently criticized Hillary Clinton over her use of private email when she was secretary of state, said he doesn’t know what Brownback’s rationale is for the private email.

“Maybe he just didn’t want his email address out there so he gets pounded with stuff,” Barker said. “You know, wasn’t trying to hide anything. But that’s just speculation on my part.”

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Information from: The Wichita (Kan.) Eagle, https://www.kansas.com


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