The County Commission and the Local Health Officer of Linn County, Kan., were recently the defendants in a Federal Lawsuit initiated by two Linn County residents and the Kansas Justice Institute, a law firm heavily involved in seeking out publicity through taking on high profile litigation around the state and region. The lawsuit challenged the right of the County to collect contact information to protect Linn County citizens in case of an infection. A week after filing the lawsuit, the plaintiffs dismissed it without any conclusive orders having been issued by the Court. Since that dismissal, the plaintiffs and the Justice Center, largely through the Linn County News and other media outlets, have publicly worked to create the impression that they accomplished something for the citizens of Linn County that could not have been accomplished otherwise and at less expense.
The editor of the Linn County News has styled herself a “Freedom Fighter” for her role in this exercise of publicity seeking. This self-congratulatory title overlooks the fact that no one in Linn County Government – not the County Commission, not the health officer, or anyone else – was seeking to take away freedom from her or any Linn County citizen. Rather, the Order challenged by this unnecessary lawsuit was one intended to help get Linn County businesses back in operation while protecting the employees and customers of those businesses in a totally unprecedented crisis situation.
The plaintiffs have attempted to leave the impression that the county or the county health officer took an adversarial position in regard to certain constitutional freedoms. They fail to state, or perhaps to even understand, that as soon as the County Commission and the county health officer became aware of concerns about elements of the Phase I plan, the county began steps to revise it to accommodate those concerns. They also fail to make it clear that the first notice the county had of their position and concerns was after they had already rushed to Federal District Court and filed their petition.
Why would the plaintiffs choose to file a suit that cost the taxpayers of Linn County money and time, rather than opening discussions with county officials about revising the Phase I order? Only they can really say, but their behavior and that of the Linn County News and the Kansas Justice Institute would support the idea that their goal was not the correction of a problem but the garnering of as much publicity as possible.
The order objected to by the plaintiffs was authorized by state statute; its intent was to protect Linn Countians and to facilitate the reopening of business in the county; and the attitude of the county leadership in regard to revising the order was clearly one of cooperation and flexibility. But rather than pointing out their areas of concern and working with the county to make clarifications and improvement, the plaintiffs rushed to file their lawsuit and to send out their news releases to draw attention to the straw man they had created. They had no discussion with or notice to the County Commission or the county health officer ... although there apparently was discussion between one or more of the plaintiffs and the current county attorney, James Brun, but he, like the plaintiffs, chose not to share that discussion with the County Commission.
The plaintiffs have implied, or perhaps even stated, that their decision to dismiss their lawsuit without receiving any supporting order from the judge was a “victory.” That is not the case.
But even if they had been victors, the losers are the people of Linn County who want and deserve leaders in government, politics and the media that work together to achieve the best possible outcome for the county, at the least unnecessary cost, and without regard to personal vindictiveness and the desire for attention.
Linn County Commission
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