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  • Writer's pictureJournal Staff Report

Journal files open records request on commission texts, emails

Updated: Jul 1

MOUND CITY – On Wednesday, May 29, the Linn County Journal submitted a Kansas Open Records Act (KORA) request that would release texts and emails received by the three members of the Linn County Commission, particularly during the times of selected commission meetings.

The request, filed for the Linn County Journal by Charlene Sims, requested that cell phone records from all three commissioners starting as early as July 1, 2023, until May 20, 2024, during the commission meeting hours, including texts, emails and records of telephone numbers of people who call and texts were from and made to during the commission meeting hours.

For Commissioner Jim Johnson that would include his private cell phone only because he does not keep a county-provided phone. For commissioners Jason Hightower and Danny McCullough it would include their private cellphones and county cellphones.

The requests also included all emails received by the commissioners during the above time period, not just during the commission meeting, from residents David Fisher, Mike White, Alison Hamilton, Mark Briggs, Emily Thies, Eric Thies, Stephanie Walker, and Sherri Gentry. Also, any emails to each other so Jim Johnson, Danny McCullough, and Jason Hightower are included.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                

The original request was for emails and texts dating back to mid-2023, however, that request was amended to extend back to over 20 specific dates for the meeting information during 2023 and 2024, including new 2024 dates of June 3, 10, and 17.

Following final approval of the request by the county’s legal counsel, commissioners were notified on the morning of Wednesday, June 19, that they were to submit their cell phones to the Linn County Sheriff’s Office by Thursday, according to County Clerk David Lamb.

Commissioner Jason Hightower submitted his cell phone to the sheriff’s office the same day of the notice, and Commission Jim Johnson submitted his by Thursday’s deadline.

Commission Chair Danny McCullough notified Lamb that he was out of the state and would not be able to submit his cell phone by the Thursday deadline.

According to Lamb, the information on the phones will be vetted so that it contains only the information requested. Also information dealing with information protected by state statute, including correspondence from the commission’s attorney, personnel information, security data and information usually discussed by commission in closed-door session will be redacted.

Lamb said he did not know how long it would take for county officials to process information downloaded from the phones and make it available to the Journal staff.

Journal publisher Roger Sims said the reason for the open records request was twofold. He said it has become apparent that some of the actions taken by the commission appeared to have been pre-planned outside of an open meeting or an executive session. If that was the case, it could be a violation of the Kansas Open Meetings Act (KOMA).

“We certainly hope that is not the case, but actions by the commission have indicated it might be a possibility,” Sims said.

“Our other concern is that commissioners are receiving texts and emails during open session without sharing that information,” he said. “That means that there are essentially two meetings running concurrent with each other – the meeting that the in-person and live-stream video audiences see and the other one that happens on commissioners’ cellphones.

“We are not privy to the discussions that happen on the cellphones even though they may affect how commissioners vote on policy decisions. We are also well aware that often members of the audience send text messages to commissioners in an attempt to influence their decisions.

“As the press, members of the public, and Linn County citizens we deserve to know about those otherwise private conversations. Also the voting public elects commissioners based on what they say they will do once in office. They are elected to make decisions that benefit the entire county, not who is sending them a text message.”

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