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Unusual circumstances allowed release of DA candidates’ job reviews

  • The Wichita Eagle
  • Published Saturday, July 28, 2012, at 5:22 p.m.
  • Updated Wednesday, July 2, 2014, at 9:47 a.m.

Unusual circumstances allowed The Eagle to obtain the job performance evaluations of the two Sedgwick County district attorney candidates, Marc Bennett and Kevin O’Connor.

Not only are they running for an elected office, they both have worked in the DA’s office.

That combination led District Attorney Nola Foulston to grant The Eagle’s request under the Kansas Open Records Act to release the evaluations.

She cited the portion of the statute that said an agency can choose to release documents “if privacy issues are outweighed by the public right to know.”

“We feel that was appropriate since they are both running for a very important law enforcement office,” Foulston said.

Bennett and O’Connor are candidates to replace Foulston, who is retiring, in the Aug. 7 Republican primary. No other candidates are running, so the primary will decide the next DA.

Bennett is working for Foulston now as a deputy DA, as O’Connor has done in the past.

Foulston is supporting Bennett to be her replacement. Bennett’s five reviews covered in the request were favorable. One of O’Connor’s three reviews obtained in the request was favorable.

“The release of the evaluations is proof positive that Nola Foulston is 100 percent behind Marc Bennett,” O’Connor said.

About a week before the open records request was made, Bennett voluntarily released his evaluations. O’Connor did not. The Eagle then made an open records request for both of the candidates’ evaluations.

Lyndon Vix, The Eagle’s attorney, said such requests are rarely made for public employees’ job evaluations and seldom granted. He said he’s never had a case in which job evaluations have been requested for someone running for an elected office.

Agencies usually decline to release information because the open records act says they don’t have to provide it, he said. But he noted the law also says the agencies don’t have to withhold it.

“For the most part, if agencies can find an exception, they will invoke it without even thinking about whether it’s a good idea or not to release it,” Vix said. “There is discretion in turning over records.

“I think in this instance the district attorney made a very proper decision because these are two people who are running for an elected office, and it would be in the public’s best interest to have the records revealed rather than shielded.”

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