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Novak diverted emails to private account

Emails county commissioner Dianne Novak forwarded to her own account among 69 items

Staff writer

A total of 69 records taken from commissioner Dianne Novak’s county-owned computer were released to Expedition Wind in response to the company’s April 22 Kansas Open Records request.

The wind farm company sought correspondence related to land use, zoning, wind energy, Expedition Wind, and Doyle or Stonebridge projects that Novak wrote in her capacity as commissioner from Feb. 1, 2019 until April 22.

It also sought the same correspondence from Novak’s personal email accounts, but Novak hired a lawyer and said her personal email correspondence is not included in the definition of a public record, county clerk Tina Spencer told Expedition in her response to the open records request.

Among the 69 items released to the county, most were emails Novak forwarded to her personal email account.

She is fighting to keep her personal emails from being disclosed.

Those items include Sharon Omstead’s response to a May, 2019 open records request Novak submitted to Omstead that told Novak some of the records she requested were not subject to open records disclosure.

The records also contain emails sent to commissioners by Amy Stutzman, who was charged with aggravated assault with a deadly weapon after a Dec. 5 incident in which she allegedly shot at the ground in front of surveyors hired by Expedition. Stutzman forwarded Novak a response from commissioner Kent Becker, who told her when she is ready to have a civil conversation “maybe we can talk.” Stutzman wrote “WOW” when she forwarded that to Novak.

Stutzman then sent all three commissioners an email saying, “It is a totally inappropriate response for an elected County Commissioner to send a threatening toned email to a resident. Every conversation I have had with anyone from the county has been recorded and there is NOTHING uncivil about them. Honest, yes but not uncivil.”

Novak forwarded each of the emails to and from Stutzman to her personal email account.

The records released by the county include numerous emails from both supporters and opponents of the wind farm.

Max Kautsch, legal consultant for the Kansas Press Association, said Novak is unlikely to have to provide her personal emails under Kansas open records laws because of the way the state attorney general has interpreted open records law.

“The AG’s office has interpreted the Kansas open records act so private emails generated by members of the governing body are not subject to disclosure under the KORA,” Kautsch said.

Kautsch said Novak forwarding emails from her county account to her personal account demonstrates she is doing public business from her personal account.

“Obtaining these records through KORA is going to be very difficult,” Kautsch said.

Expedition said they made the records request to obtain information needed in a lawsuit the company filed April 27 against wind farm opponent Randy Eitzen and five others who have a pending lawsuit against county commissioners over approval of permits for development of a wind farm in the southern portion of the county.

Last modified May 13, 2020

 

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