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  • Writer's pictureCharlene Sims, Journal staff

Commission member says he won't fully comply with KORA request

Updated: Jul 3

By Charlene Sims,

MOUND CITY – On Monday, July 1, Linn County commissioners Jim Johnson and Danny McCullough questioned the Kansas Open Records Act (KORA) request filed by the Linn County Journal. The Journal filed for all information on commissioners’ personal and private phones during the commission meetings.

The Journal KORA request, filed on May 29, contends that any time cellphones, including personal and county-issued phones, are being used in open session during public meetings, they are subject to KORA requirements. The KORA request was approved by the county counselor.

Included in that filing was any communication between the commissioners except for that protected by Kansas Open Meeting Act laws as permitted confidential communication including that information that is shared in an executive session.

Other information requested was all emails received by the commissioners during a specific time period, not just during the commission meeting, from specific individuals including those who have been present at commission meetings and have been vocal in opposition to zoning issues including solar utility installations and a rock quarry.

Commissioners Jim Johnson and Jason Hightower turned in their cellphones so the Information Technology Department could access requested information by the June 20 deadline.

Commission Chair Danny McCullough notified the county clerk that he was out of the state and would not be able to turn in his cellphone by the deadline. However, since returning to the area, McCullough has not turned in his phone and has engaged an attorney in the matter.

Johnson asked why previous KORA requests relied upon the honor system for phone information and this one went through the sheriff’s office. For the previous KORA requests employees and elected officials, specifically Commissioner Jason Hightower, were trusted to go through their own phones, record the calls and send screenshots. 

When asked in a phone call whether Johnson’s phone was requested a recent KORA request by opponents of solar farms, County Clerk David Lamb said he didn’t believe Johnson’s phone was included.

Lamb told Johnson, “We did not know that service was available before. This one was a much more detailed, specific time periods. And when I talked to information technology (IT), he said that he could look at emails through the county server but that the sheriff had a program. I talked to the sheriff and he said yes I could do it. So, I did not know those services were available before.

“I have another one pending, but we are trying to wrap this one up before we get too far into that one, because we’ll have a better estimate on the cost,” said Lamb.

“What was my concern was, it was just, I guess, the honor system,” said Johnson.

“Yeah, it was because we didn’t know that service was available at that point,” said Lamb.

“I probably shouldn’t comment on it, but I think it’s ridiculous that we have to turn our phones over to said employees, that we would have to sit in front of a judge with and defend,” McCullough said. “I just don’t agree with it. 

“So I know the newspapers wrote a few articles about it, and I have a personal reason that I am not turning my personal phone over. I’ll turn over everything else. So I have a county phone for a reason, and that’s all I should say.”

Roger Sims, publisher of the Journal, maintains that, because McCullough was communicating on both his personal and county cellphones during open sessions, those cellphones are part of the public record during that time.

He said since any paper document distributed to the commission during open sessions is part of public record, the same should hold true for cellphones. “That is especially true when a public official makes remarks and decisions based on text messages that official receives during the course of the meeting,” he added.

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