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Corn Growers Seek Probe of Open Meeting Violation

Cities of Marion, Hillsboro held secret sessions on atrazine lawsuit.

The Marion County Attorney has been asked to investigate alleged violations of the Kansas Open Records Act, and the Kansas Open Meetings Act by the cities of Marion and Hillsboro. Kansas Corn Growers Association Executive Director Jere White made the request last week.

The city councils of Marion and Hillsboro met in a closed session last month to discuss whether to enter into a lawsuit against the manufacturers of atrazine, a herbicide used by corn and grain sorghum farmers.

White requested from both cities copies of all materials relating to the health effects of atrazine that were provided to the Councils. The City of Hillsboro did not respond to the formal request, but in response to an earlier informal request, City Administrator Larry Paine said the documents were reviewed in executive session and were protected by attorney-client privilege. The City of Marion denied the existence of any documents.

"Although one city official denied the existence of documents, and another denied us access, these documents were provided to the local media," White said. "You can't pick and choose. You can't deny one person the documents, and then give them to someone else."

White also requested and did not receive a response to his request for a copy of the contract that the City of Hillsboro entered into with the law firm. In his letter to the county attorney, Susan Hobson, White also challenged the legality under the Kansas Open Meetings Act for two separate councils to meet together in executive session.

"I've served in local government myself and I understand how important it is to follow the open records and open meetings laws," White said. "We have tried to do things properly by making formal requests for information to the cities. When we were denied or ignored, we talked to the Kansas Attorney General's office which recommended asking the Marion County Attorney to investigate the matter."

The Kansas Corn Growers Association and Kansas Grain Sorghum Producers Association became involved when the two cities agreed to join in a lawsuit against the makers of atrazine. Both towns' water systems fall well below the 3 parts per billion drinking water standard for atrazine. City officials were reportedly told that atrazine is more dangerous at even lower levels. White, who has been involved in EPA's Special Review of atrazine since 1995, said he had not heard any substantiated research to back those claims.

"Basically you've got trial attorneys looking to make some money by convincing people their drinking water is unsafe," White said. "EPA sets stringent standards for safe drinking water and the water that is provided to the people of Marion and Hillsboro is well within those standards. Instead of taking the word of these Texas trial attorneys, the city councils should have also consulted with the Kansas Department of Health and Environment or EPA."

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