A closed Associated Student Government meeting held Tuesday to discuss the legal ramifications of the proposed impeachment of the group’s vice president may have violated the state’s open meetings act.
The meeting was held in the Preston Family Room in the Memorial Union and was convened so that lawyers present could answer senators’ questions about impeaching Michaela Todd, according to those who were present.
It was attended by most ASG senators, some administrators and two lawyers.
Michael Webb, ASG president, and Todd were also present.
“This meeting was not closed and anyone could have attended,” Webb said. “This meeting did not discuss official business, but was an open educational opportunity...The questions asked by those in attendance were not limited to any topic.”
However, senators that attended the meeting said they asked the lawyers questions about the impeachment of Todd and how the First Amendment factored into the situation.
It was during this meeting that the ASG Diversity and Inclusion committee was convinced to retract their call for the impeachment of Todd.
Although there is an exception to KORA for consultations with an attorney, those must take place with an attorney retained by the organization. These consultations may only be closed to the public after an open meeting begins and then the group votes to enter executive session.
Student governments at state universities are subject to the Kansas Open Meeting Act, which requires bodies to give notice and allow attendance to the public and press of meetings. No such notice was given for Tuesday’s meeting.
The Bulletin requested that Webb send notice of all ASG meetings in a Sept. 6 email to allow for coverage.
“Given that the ASG meetings are subject to the Kansas Open Meetings Act generally and given that The Bulletin has always received notice of meetings in the past, it appears to violate KOMA to have a meeting that should’ve been open, but it wasn’t,” said Max Kautsch, Kansas Press Association. “Any action that is taken by a governmental body in violation of the Kansas Open Meetings Act is voidable within 21 days.”
Lynn Hobson, dean of students, and Jim Williams, vice president of student affairs, were also in attendance.
Hobson could not be reached for comment.
Kevin Johnson, general council for the university, was one of the lawyers present.
“Regarding the meeting this past Tuesday, it was ASG’s meeting and they arranged everything,” Johnson said in an email to The Bulletin. “I was invited as a guest.”
The other attorney in attendance was Larry Putnam, a local attorney for Patton, Putman & Dean LLC, located at 605 Lincoln St., Putnam’s focus is real estate law, according to his website.
“The president called and said he was asked some legal questions by the senators and he didn’t know the answers to them (and) wondered if I could come and answer them,” Putnam said in an interview with The Bulletin.
Putnam said he was the ASG attorney for 40 years and retired a few years ago.
“The meeting it was basically just a Q&A time for senators to ask what similar matters that the legal counsel has seen over their time,” said Ariana Williams, ASG senator and junior chemistry major. “I know they did some research on similar issues. They just gave us a little bit of background information, what they had seen in similar court cases and if we had questions (they would answer)...It was just a very informational meeting.”
The move to impeach Todd came after she used the term “illegal alien” on a Facebook post that endorsed Kris Kobach for governor. She wrote that Kobach would “put Kansans first, not illegal aliens.”
“I don’t know anything about that (KOMA),” Ariana Williams said. “It was just a last minute thing...I think Michael probably emailed me the day of and was like ‘Hey if you want to come ask questions tonight, you can.’”
ASG was scheduled to have a senate meeting Nov. 15, but it was canceled due to safety concerns, according to an email Webb sent out to the student body. Some senators held an impromptu meeting to listen to student concerns, after students waited in the meeting’s location after the cancellation announcement.
ASG is not scheduled to meet again until Nov. 29.