OSWEGO — A three-member recall committee filed a petition to recall 2nd District Labette County Commissioner Brian Kinzie on Thursday.
On Monday, Kinzie told The Sun he could not make a comment on the filing on the advice of counsel.
In its grounds for the recall, the committee — Mike Howerter, Ron Eggers and Richard Erickson — cited Kinzie’s violation of the Kansas Open Meetings Act on April 27 when he and Commissioner Cole Proehl discussed county business, though no action was taken at the time. On April 30, Proehl introduced and Kinzie approved a resolution setting negotiating points with the German utility company RWE looking to develop a wind farm in the western half of Labette County. Both Proehl and Kinzie said they did not discuss the resolution in that phone call, although setbacks — the distance between homes or property lines and wind turbines — were discussed generally.
The grounds for recall also mention Kinzie’s phone contact with an RWE representative outside of commission meetings and his alleged denials of those conversations.
The petition includes 39 names of people who will circulate the petition in the 2nd District, which is generally the western half of the county but includes precincts in Parsons.
County Clerk Gena Landis said petition circulators must gather signatures of 1,202 registered voters in the district. Their signatures and registration will be verified by the clerk’s office when the petition is returned. That number is based on a formula in state law that sets the signature count at 40% of people casting ballots in that commission seat’s most recent general election. In 2020, Kinzie had 3,004 votes in his race for the commission, when he was the only candidate.
Kinzie did comment on the recall during a commission discussion Monday after Commission Chairman Lonie Addis asked County Counselor Brian Johnson about it.
Johnson said he reviewed the submitted petition. He didn’t look at the petition for any purpose other than to see if the form used was correct.
He told The Sun he only checked to make sure the form met the sufficiency requirement in the law. The group used a form available on the Kansas Secretary of State’s website, which meets this requirement.
“I’m basically just approving the form, not the content. And that’s all I’m required to do at this point. And then I’m pretty much out of it,” Johnson said.
At Monday’s meeting, Kinzie said the people who sign the recall petition, “had to have voted for me in the last election,” a statement that doesn’t follow language in the law. His wife later posted on the Home Town Edna Facebook page that the petition with voter signatures will be a public record and the signatures may be published in the newspaper or on social media. She also wrote that only the signatures of voters who voted in the last election will be counted.
The law does not say that only 2nd District residents who voted or voted for the candidate in the recall effort would be counted.
“The recall committee may file the petition only if signed by registered electors in the state or in the election district of the state officer sought to be recalled equal in number to not less than 40% of the votes cast for all candidates for the office of the state officer sought to be recalled, such percentage to be based upon the last general election for the current term of office of the state officer sought to be recalled,” a portion of that law reads.
Johnson said the recall committee has 90 days to collect the signatures, which would mean the collection needs to be done by Sept. 1. If successful, the question about retaining Kinzie in office with a yes or no vote would go to a special election in the 2nd District.
Johnson said Kinzie or any “aggrieved party” has 30 days from Thursday to file an injunction in Labette County District Court to challenge the recall effort.
Howerter gave the Sun a statement explaining his involvement in the recall drive. He said he is opposed to wind development “because it’s not good or desirable for the people who live in those areas. It’s also my belief that Commissioner Kinzie is not supporting the overwhelming majority of the voters in his district who are also opposed to the windmills,” Howerter wrote.
He wrote that he decided to become active in this project when he learned about last year’s public meeting that Kinzie attended with an owner of a local cement company. The meeting occurred before Kinzie filed for office. Kinzie expressed “strong and vocal” support of the wind development at that meeting, and the things Kinzie said at the meeting “do not match what he is now saying,” Howerter wrote. Kinzie explained this issue in the commission meeting Monday. He said he was for the development in February 2020 but now as a commissioner he is conducting due diligence before deciding if he supports the development based on its benefit to the county and its residents.
“At the very least, I would like to see the three Labette County commissioners issue a strong statement requesting and urging the smaller Labette County cities to pass a three and one half mile protective barrier around their cities and schools that would prohibit windmills in those areas. This protective barrier would be similar to the one the Parsons City Commission has already passed. This three and one half mile protective barrier should include the cities of Mound Valley, Edna, Valeda, Bartlett, Oswego, Chetopa, Dennis and Altamont. The barrier will protect the rights of the people in this communities,” he wrote.
The last recall effort relating to the Labette County Commission was 31 years ago when a committee attempted to remove Commissioner Joe Renfro. Renfro challenged and a judge ruled the petition was invalid because notary publics failed to state dates that petition sponsors had signed.
That invalidated 512 signatures on the petition.