GARNETT — The information a Garnett newspaper publisher said he is seeking from the Anderson County Attorney’s Office could fit on a postcard.
But obtaining that information has not been an easy task, Dane Hicks, Anderson County Review publisher, said.
Anderson County Attorney Brandon Jones reported to county commissioners June 24 he had investigated a complaint regarding a postcard mailed by opponents of a contentious $25 million hospital bond issue in April that did not include a “paid for by ...” line to attribute who funded it, as required by state election laws, Hicks said.
Jones, Ottawa, who also serves as Osage County attorney, told commissioners his probe required a search warrant of a small printing company, and led to a person who admitted to the mailing but claimed not to have known the action was illegal and said a third person actually provided the funds, Hicks said. Jones told commissioners he would not pursue charges against the individual because no criminal intent was involved, the publisher said.
In a letter to Anderson County commissioners, Hicks said Jones’ action conflicted with the spirit of state election laws, which demand openness and accountability in political campaigns. Hicks said whether or not charges were filed, the individual should still be forced to file a state-required contributor’s report with the Anderson County Clerk’s Office, and that his or her name should be public.
Hicks had asked county commissioners to have the county file suit against Jones to force him to produce the name, he said.
“The county counselor was hesitant to do that, and I’m waiting to hear back from the Kansas Association of Counties to see if there is some legal reason why [the county couldn’t file suit to force Jones to release the name],” Hicks said Wednesday afternoon.
Jones was in court Wednesday and could not be reached for comment.
“I was under the mistaken assumption that once the county attorney’s investigation was finished, the notes from his investigation would be public record, but I found out the county attorney is not obligated to release those notes under the [Kansas] Open Records Act,” Hicks said.
Hicks had discussions with Jones before he approached the county commission about taking action, he said.
“I had asked [Jones] for the information outright, but he declined,” Hicks said. “He could release the information if he wanted to, but he is within his legal bounds not to do so. I would like to get a court order to force him to release the individual’s name, but I think that’s probably a slim chance.”
The $25 million bond issue to build a new hospital passed by a slim margin, Hicks said.
“Basically, the hospital will be built in the backyard of the existing hospital [in Garnett], and they will move everything from the old hospital and tear it down,” Hicks said.
Hicks said the point he is trying to make in pursuing this action is that the public has a right to know who is contributing to political campaigns.
“It’s hard to understand the justification for a county attorney out-and-out allowing election laws to be violated,” Hicks said. “What message does this send to others in the future who may want to violate these laws?”