A Franklin County legislator said Friday his service in two elected offices — in the Kansas House and on the Wellsville school board — doesn’t represent a conflict of interest.
“I know a lot of people that sit on city councils and serve [as a state representative],” state Rep. Kevin Jones, R-Wellsville, said. “There are many people who hold more than one position as long as there’s not a conflict of interest.”
State officials initially seemed unclear about the legality of such dual-office holding, a situation made even more murky by recent Franklin County history.
For about two minutes April 17, Jeff Richards was Franklin County sheriff and an Ottawa city commissioner. The dual-office situation, which could have been seen as a conflict of interest, made for one of the shortest terms in Ottawa’s history when Richards resigned from the city just moments after being sworn in.
Citing state statute, former Ottawa Mayor Blake Jorgensen explained to residents at a city commission meeting that a person cannot simultaneously hold two elected offices. The reality of Kansas law associated with state legislators is more complicated, Kay Curtis, director of public affairs and legal publications for the Kansas Secretary of State office, said Friday.
“In the end, there’s no definitive answer,” Curtis said. “In general, whether a person can hold more than one office at the same time depends on whether the two offices are incompatible, which is kind of an analysis thing. It originates in common law, but you can also look to attorney general opinions, court cases and statutes.”
Those opinions, rulings and statues, however, do not directly relate to a state representative that also is holding a school board position, Curtis added. After consulting the deputy of elections, Curtis said she gathered several documents relating to duel-office holding. While no document provided an explicit answer, Curtis was able to cautiously conclude that there’s no law preventing Jones from holding both elected positions.
“If two offices are deemed incompatible, you can’t hold both and be objective. There are different ways to express it, but that’s the general rule,” Curtis said. “According to the writer of statutes — who I don’t know if that is the authority — there’s no general prohibition from holding dual offices. So you’d have to find a reason to not be able to [hold two or more offices.]”
In Richards’ case, officials were able to reference state statue K.S.A. 14-1302.
“No member of the board of commissioners shall hold any office of profit under the laws of any state or the United States, or hold any county or other city office,” the statue, which is provided via the archive of Kansas Statutes Annotated, reads, “nor shall the mayor or commissioner ever be elected or appointed to any office created by or the compensation of which was increased or fixed by the board of commissioners while he or she was a member thereof until after the expiration of at least two years after he or she had ceased to be a member of said board.”
Jones said Friday that a fellow school board member previously asked him about his eligibility to hold both offices. Immediately, Jones said, he called Richards who had recently familiarized him with such laws. (Richards had been appointed Franklin County sheriff by Gov. Sam Brownback to fill a vacancy, but not before winning re-election to his city commission seat in the April 2 election.)
“The first thing I did the next day was call Jeff,” Jones said. “The reason he didn’t keep his other office and do the sheriff is because he was on city commission and he’s taking on a county seat. ... For a school board member and a state representative there’s an in-between — there’s the state school board. The state school board is the separation between the local school board, local government and the state government. I had the same question.”
Jones added that he knows of several other legislators who also hold two elected offices. And as long as such offices don’t conflict, he’s OK with it, he said.
A freshman legislator, Jones said if a conflicting interest ever presented itself with a specific issue, he would recuse himself from the vote.
“If I was on the state board of education, and the local board of education, sure [it would be a conflict of interest],” Jones said. “If I was on the state board of education and a state representative, probably so. ... There’s conflicts of interest all over the place, if I didn’t have the state board of education in between the two.”