Kansas Candidates for Governor Differ on State Auditor Position
TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Two Democrats running for Kansas governor say they support the creation of a statewide office to handle complaints about government practices. Democrats Josh Svaty and Carl Brewer said they support establishment of a state auditor position after a Kansas City Star editorial on Sunday proposed it, the Wichita Eagle reported. Republican candidate and Secretary of State Kris Kobach opposes it. "I believe an open and accessible government begins with leaders who are willing to listen to each other and all Kansans to find solutions that work for everyone," Svaty said. "A state auditor will provide an unbiased leader for all Kansans to turn to with their concerns about their government." Brewer expressed concern about insulating the office from political pressure, but he supports the idea. Any new office with the power to prosecute would need strict rules and impartiality, he said. "Would the state auditor be protected from the whims of different administrations or majorities in the Legislature? We currently fail to fund our schools properly despite a constitutional requirement. How would funding be ensured?" Brewer said. Several states have auditors. In Missouri, the position is elected and partisan. The Kansas Legislature currently has an auditing arm, but it only investigates issues at the direction of a legislative committee. Kansas used to have an elected state auditor, but the position was eliminated in 1972. Creating an elected auditor position in Kansas would require amending the state constitution, which entails getting the approval of two-thirds of the Legislature and a majority of voters. Representative Jim Ward, the House Democratic leader and a candidate for governor, said Kansas needs more transparency and accountability in government, but he stopped short of supporting an auditor. "Before I would spend millions of taxpayer dollars on more employees, we need strong leaders who will demand transparency and accountability," Ward said. "That's the kind of governor I'll be." Ed O'Malley, a Republican entrepreneur, said more bureaucracy is not the solution. "The last thing the people of Kansas need is more bureaucracy and another government agency. It is better to simply fix what's broken, that is why I'm calling for a law to end the practice of unrecorded committee votes," Kobach said, referring to votes taken by legislative committees in which members' votes are not recorded. Lieutenant Governor Jeff Colyer, who will become governor if Brownback is confirmed to an ambassadorship, has not provided specific details about what he would do. His spokeswoman, Kara Fullmer, said Colyer "believes that transparency is vital for fostering trust in government. He looks forward to working to improve transparency when he becomes Governor." Ron Keefover, president of the Kansas Sunshine Coalition for Open Government, said the Legislature could establish a commission that would name an auditor to investigate transparency issues. "An elected position would raise questions of partisanship but I think other states have avoided it by having open government commissions established," Keefover said.
Kansas Regulators to Review Westar Merger with Great Plains
WICHITA, Kan. (AP) — Shareholders have overwhelmingly approved a proposed merger of Kansas's largest electric company with a Missouri firm. Kansas City, Missouri-based Great Plains Energy Inc. and Topeka-based Westar Energy Inc. announced in a news release Tuesday that more than 90 percent of the shares voted at each company approved the transaction. The companies announced the revised transaction in July after the Kansas Corporation Commission denied their original request in April, concluding the price was too high and would leave the combined utility financially weaker than the separate companies. This revised deal creating a company with a combined equity value of about $14 billion still requires regulatory approval. The commission issued an order today setting out a schedule next year that includes an evidentiary hearing March 19-27. Its order is due June 5.
Shawnee Prosecutor Declines to Release Police Shooting Video
TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — A Kansas prosecutor says it's not up to his office to allow a public viewing of body camera footage of the fatal police shooting of a black man unless a court proceeding makes the video part of the public record. The Topeka Capital-Journal reports that Shawnee County District Attorney Mike Kagay says the video could "affect people's opinions" of the September shooting of Dominique White in a Topeka park. The family's attorney, Gillian Cassell-Stiga, says the city of Topeka had agreed to privately show the footage to White's parents before saying they couldn't. The city cited a Kansas law that allows only heirs and executors access. City spokeswoman Molly Hadfield says officials are working with White's family to get an executor in place who could have access to the video.
Tyson Announces Proposed Chicken Plant in Tennessee; Kansas Plans Remain on Hold
WICHITA, Kan. (AP) — Tyson Foods Inc. says its plans for a chicken plant in Kansas remain on hold while it moves forward with its Tennessee project. The Springdale, Arkansas-based company announced Monday it would build a $300 million chicken production complex in Humboldt, Tennessee, that is expected to create more than 1,500 jobs when it begins operations in 2019. Tyson spokesman Worth Sparkman said Monday the company still has an interest in Kansas and will continue to consider potential sites in the state for expansion of its poultry business. Tyson had previously announced a poultry production plant outside Tonganoxie in September, but local officials withdrew their support amid vehement public opposition. Tyson then started looking elsewhere. Officials in Sedgwick County, Cloud County and in Coffeyville are still pursuing the project.
Grandview Plaza Police Chief Won't Face Charges
GRANDVIEW PLAZA, Kan. (AP) — A Kansas police chief arrested last month following a disturbance at his home will not face criminal charges. Geary County Sheriff Tony Wolf said in a news release Tuesday that an investigation concluded that Grandview Plaza Police Chief Shawn Peirano acted in defense of another person. Peirano was arrested October 22 after a report of a disturbance. The Topeka Capital-Journal reports that the incident involved Peirano and a person living with him who wasn't a spouse or immediate family member. A special prosecutor reviewed the case and asked the sheriff's department to conduct an investigation. Wolf says that investigation determined Peirano didn't commit a crime. Grandview Plaza is a town of 1,600 residents in eastern Kansas.
Illinois to Stay in Controversial Voter Database for Now
CHICAGO (AP) — Illinois election officials have decided the state will remain in a multi-state voter registration database that critics claim is inaccurate and could lead to security breaches. The Illinois State Board of Elections voted not to withdraw from the Kansas-run Interstate Voter Registration Crosscheck Program. However, the issue could come before the Illinois board again or through the Legislature, as some advocates have promised. Groups including the Chicago Lawyers' Committee for Civil Rights have raised concerns about the program run by Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach, who's also a vice chairman of President Trump's election fraud commission. Kansas's director of elections Bryan Caskey says officials are working on new security guidelines. Over two dozen states participate.
Attorney: Video Contradicts Police Account of Kansas Shooting
WICHITA, Kan. (AP) _ The widow of a Kansas man killed last month by a Barber County undersheriff has asked a court to release video and audio recordings that her attorney says show her husband was unarmed and trying to obey instructions when he was shot. Attorney Michael Kuckelman says recordings he viewed are troubling and the public has a right to see them. Kuckelman says that the video captures the Barber County sheriff telling the undersheriff minutes before Steven Myers was shot with a bean bag round on October 6 that with ``a little luck and he'll just pass out and die.'' The sheriff disabled his body camera after the shooting and instructed a deputy to disable his camera. The sheriff's office did not respond to a request for comment.
Apartment Construction on the Rise in Johnson County
OVERLAND PARK, Kan. (AP) — Apartment complexes are going up quickly around Johnson County, Kansas, and not everybody in the Kansas City suburb is happy about it. The Kansas City Star reports that Johnson County has seen nearly 7,200 new apartment units built since 2013. By comparison, just 2,700 were built in the previous five years. Multi-family building permits outpaced single family permits in Johnson County in 2015 and 2016. But some residents say the apartments that are changing the face of the suburb are an eyesore. As resident Mike Pezza says, "People do not want to look up at a high-rise."
Wichita to Reconsider Camera Traffic Tickets
WICHITA, Kan. (AP) — The city manager in Wichita says the city will likely cut back its use of security camera video for minor traffic violations in the Old Town area of the city. The Wichita Eagle reports that the video tickets were part of a pilot program that is ending after about three weeks. City Manager Robert Layton says he'll meet with Police Chief Gordon Ramsay this week to discuss how to use the camera system going forward. The ticketing system has led to a firestorm of criticism. The 70-camera network gives police observers nearly 100 percent video coverage of the Old Town bar and nightlife district.
Winter Wheat Condition Mostly Good as Kansas Harvest Wraps
WICHITA, Kan. (AP) — The condition of the emerging winter wheat crop in Kansas is mostly good but rain would be welcomed to help the crop. That is the latest assessment Monday from the National Agricultural Statistics Service. The agency reported that 12 percent of the wheat is in poor to very poor condition. About 32 percent is rated as fair with 51 percent in good and 5 percent in excellent shape. About 90 percent of the crop has now emerged. Harvest is wrapping up for the state's other fall crops. Soybean harvest is 96 percent complete and soybean harvest is 94 percent finished. About 86 percent of the sorghum has also been cut, along with 83 percent of the sunflowers.
Governor's Christmas Tree Arriving at Cedar Crest
TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — The governor's Christmas tree is arriving at Cedar Crest, the governor's residence, on a horse-drawn coach. The arrival is planned for 10:00 this (TUE) morning. The event is used to promote Kansas Christmas tree farms. Cedar Crest is the French architecture home to the governor and is the focal point of a 244-acre estate overlooking the Kansas River. The recently renovated estate features several ponds, gardens and hiking trails.
Wichita Priest Named Bishop for Jefferson City Diocese
WICHITA, Kan. (AP) — A Wichita priest has been named bishop of the Catholic diocese in Jefferson City, Missouri. The Wichita Eagle reports that Pope Francis has named the Reverend W. Shawn McKnight to lead the diocese in central Missouri. McKnight is pastor at the Church of the Magdalen in Wichita. He will succeed John Gaydos, who had been bishop in Jefferson City for 20 years. The Jefferson City diocese serves 81,000 Catholics, 95 parishes and 15 missions.
Jayhawks Strip Captaincy from Players After OU Brouhaha
LAWRENCE, Kan. (AP) — Baker Mayfield wasn't the only one to lose his captaincy after the Oklahoma quarterback's antics following last weekend's blowout victory over Kansas. Jayhawks coach David Beaty announced Tuesday that his captains — Dorance Armstrong Jr., Daniel Wise and Joe Dineen Jr. — were also stripped of their status. The trio refused to shake Mayfield's hand during the pregame coin-toss, which led to a game filled with vitriol. Mayfield was hit several times after the whistle, once earning a personal foul on Kansas, while the Heisman Trophy front-runner was caught grabbing his crotch and cursing at the Jayhawks' bench. Mayfield also will not start Saturday's regular-season finale for Oklahoma against West Virginia, though Beaty said his former captains will start against Oklahoma State.