Archive for Thursday, October 29, 2015

Kansas agency spokeswoman’s Facebook posting draws criticism

October 29, 2015

— The Kansas Department for Aging and Disability Services' spokeswoman faced criticism Wednesday over a Facebook posting referring to "slow learners" in attacking a proposal for a special course for college students struggling with state voter registration requirement.

The leader of a southeast Kansas nonprofit group providing services to the developmentally disabled called the posting insensitive and offensive. Also, state Senate Minority Leader Anthony Hensley, a Topeka Democrat, urged Republican Gov. Sam Brownback's administration to consider disciplinary action against KDADS spokeswoman Angela de Rocha.

De Rocha said the posting referred to college students, and agency Secretary Kari Bruffett said in an email that she did not read the comment as referring to the developmentally disabled.

"I've talked with Angela, and she is stunned her personal comments were taken that way," Bruffett wrote.

The comment was posted online in response to an Associated Press story about a League of Women Voters of Kansas proposal for a course to help college students with a state law requiring new voters to document their U.S. citizenship when registering. De Rocha posted her comment on an AP reporter's Facebook page Monday, under a link to the story.

"Do we want these slow learners voting?" de Rocha wrote, before describing the league as a "left-wing" organization.

At the end of September, more than 30,000 registrations were incomplete because the applicants had not complied with the requirement, championed by GOP conservatives.

The Wichita Eagle first reported on de Rocha's posting in a blog Monday. Tim Cunningham, executive director of Tri-Valley Developmental Services, in Chanute, emailed legislators from his area Wednesday, questioning whether de Rocha was suggesting that developmentally disabled adults be kept from voting. Cunningham copied in The Eagle's reporter.

Cunningham called on de Rocha to resign, prompting Bruffett's email response, which Cunningham forwarded to the AP.

Cunningham said he no longer thinks de Rocha needs to resign, but he remains "flabbergasted" by the language in her posting.

"It would be nice to have an apology," he said.

Hensley also issued a statement Wednesday decrying the posting and asking whether it represented the views of Brownback's administration. He called the de Rocha's posting "cruel" and "shameful" because of her position with a state agency serving the developmentally disabled.

Brownback spokeswoman Eileen Hawley said de Rocha's posting was a personal comment, adding that state employees do not give up their right to free speech when working for the government.

"Civic organizations and private citizens are welcome to propose and discuss ideas to further the flourishing of civil society in Kansas," Hawley said.

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