Independence Examiner, Thursday 04/18/02

Protesters call for more openness

by James Dornbrook
The Examiner

Bob WitbolsFeugen and Karen Turner, who recently won a Sunshine case against the Jackson County Office of Human Resources and Citizen Complaints, led a protest at the state of the county address on Wednesday.

They handed out leaflets and carried protest signs around the Jackson County Courthouse in Kansas City, where Jackson County Executive Katheryn Shields was about to give her address. The signs depicted pictures of Shields behind bars and said, "Shields: Sunshine law repeat offender" and "Say no to Shields' secrecy in government."

The protesters' leaflets stated that the Shields administration's staunch and inflexible defense of members of the citizen complaints office during the Sunshine lawsuit showed the administration would fight hard to defend secrecy.

The leaflets also stated, "Shields and her spokespersons have repeatedly refused to answer how much her defense against the Sunshine lawsuit has cost Jackson County taxpayers. This complete disregard for the Sunshine Law should not surprise us, for the Kansas City Star vs. Shields is even in the Attorney Generals' handbook on the Sunshine Law. It would appear that Katheryn Shields is a repeat offender, or at least learned nothing from her own experiences."

Representatives of the Shields administration have stated they were required by law to defend the complaints office and they couldn't reveal the amount spent defending the case because they don't keep records on this.

The protestors weren't buying these arguments.

"I guess what we're trying to say is that Shields should be open more than just once a year when she gives her state of the county address," said WitbolsFeugen. "The openness should be all the time. The citizens of the county need to know what is going on all the time."

Shields was well aware of the presence of WitbolsFeugen and Turner in the Legislative Chambers before her address. As WitbolsFeugen and Turner awaited, Sheriff's deputies approached them and confiscated their protest signs. WitbolsFeugen and Turner were not holding the signs up and were waiting quietly for the speech.

WitbolsFeugen and Turner did not resist, but said they believed it was within their rights to possess signs in a public building at a public meeting.

"I felt as if my civil rights were being violated," said Turner.

A short while after the signs were confiscated, Sheriff's deputies approached WitbolsFeugen and attempted to remove him from the seat he was in. He was sitting in Legislative Chairman Victor Callahan's seat, in front of the podium, right behind County Counselor Jane McQueeny. Callahan stepped in and told the deputies WitbolsFeugen was his guest and he had permission to sit in that seat. The deputies then left WitbolsFeugen alone.

"The reason I let him have my seat is because he is a true hero who fought for open government out of his own pocket. He should be commended for his actions," said Callahan. "It's incredible that (Shields) had his sign taken away and then went and discussed freedom and liberty during her speech."

Shields said taking the signs away wasn't a violation of anyone's rights because the speech was given in the Legislative Chambers. She said her actions were no different than if Rep. Karen McCarthy, 5th District, had given Shields her seat on the floor of Congress during the State of the Union address.

"Do you think President Bush would allow me to sit there with a protest sign right in his face while he was giving a speech?" asked Shields. "It just doesn't happen."

To reach James Dornbrook e-mail or call 350-6322.
Previous article.

Next article.

Return to list of news accounts.