July 21, 2024

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Gov. Kelly stonewalls records request on no-bid contracts

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Democrat Kansas Governor Laura Kelly has expressed long-standing opposition to the troubling practice of awarding no-bid contracts — government contracts let without a competitive process.  And indeed, upon assuming office she canceled several.  But so far, she won’t respond to an Open Records request asking whether she hired attorneys with no-bid contracts.

“For many years, I have voiced concern about the frequent use of ‘no-bid’ contracts under the previous administration,” Kelly said in a May 2019, release. “This practice bypasses the official state bidding process designed to ensure that contracts are transparent and in the best interests of Kansans.”

So when Kelly was interested in hiring an outside firm to defend her unconstitutional limits on church gatherings, the question then was, “did she let no-bid contracts, or put them out for competitive bid?”

The answer is — no one but Kelly and her administration and the law firms hired know. Kelly was represented by attorneys from Irigonegaray & Associates, of Topeka, and KU Law professor Lumen Mulligan of Lawrence. One of the attorneys — Pedro Irigonegaray — is a Kelly donor

Kansas Adjutant General David Weishaar was also named in the suit, and was represented by Cory R. Buck, of the Case Linden, PC, law firm of Kansas City, Missouri.

Dave Trabert, the CEO of the Kansas Policy Institute — which owns the Sentinel — sent several Kansas Open Records Act requests asking for just that information — and has been stonewalled.

On April 20, Trabert sent a request via email to Kelly’s Chief Counsel Clay Britton asking for: “All documents related to the hiring of the attorney, including but not limited to, the contract with the firm engaged;” and “All correspondence related to the competitive bids submitted for this hiring, including but not limited to, the request for proposal and all bids submitted.”

On April 21, Trabert received a form letter from Legal Assistant Dawn Knudtson acknowledging receipt of the request, but no further response.

A week later, on April 28, Trabert had no further response and sent an email asking for a timeline to receive the requested documents. The response — a day later — was a terse: “Thank you for your email. We are still working on your request. I will update you as soon as we have an estimate.”

On April 30, Trabert sent a further communication, noting this was a very simple request that should be easy to fulfill with a quick email search. 

“I’m sure everyone is busy but this seems like a simple request to fulfill,” Trabert wrote “Surely, you know whether the hiring of the attorney was put out for competitive bid. Are you willing to answer that question today?”

As of May 4 — two weeks since the original request — no information has been provided.  Trabert says he isn’t surprised.

“It’s a simple question.  Did she practice what she preaches?  Her failure to respond, especially to an Open Records request, tells me she probably doesn’t want the public to know what really happened.  I hope she decides to comply with our request soon but if not, we’re prepared to take whatever steps necessary to compel compliance with the law.”

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