The decision of three Gardner city council members to not attend the Sept. 5 council meeting led to the cancellation of the regular meeting and a work session.
Council members Steve Shute, Rich Melton and Lee Moore notified the city Tuesday afternoon that they would not be attending the Sept. 5 meetings, so the meetings were cancelled due to a lack of a quorum.
Melton did a live cast on social media stating he had been notified by e mail that the Hinkle Law Firm, LLC had indicated a harassment complaint had been filed by an unknown employee against unknown council members. Moore and Shute soon followed suit and, also on social media, declined to attend. All three indicated they had consulted a personal attorney.
Both Chris Morrow, mayor, and Kristina Harrison, council member, indicated they were available to attend and did not believe the correspondence they received made them believe they should not attend the meeting.
“I was actually looking forward to changes to an ordinance to provide local farmers an exemption to the existing truck routes and put to rest these discussions with the Gardner News and more importantly an executive session to find out what in the heck is going on,” wrote Harrison on social media. “But then again, I did not have a “personal” attorney providing my guidance.”
Gardner staff declined to comment on the nature of the alleged investigation. “We are unable to discuss personnel matters as they are confidential,” said Daneeka Marshall-Oquendo.
Council members are routinely advised personnel matters are confidential , and they receive annual training from Kutak Rock LLP on personnel policies, Marshall-Oquendo said.
However, the three council members who elected not to attend did make public statements regarding the alleged harassment complaint on various social media pages.
On his Steve Shute for Mayor page, Shute writes that he received notice that unspecified current members of the city council had been accused of harassment by a current city employee and that his legal representation advised him to take a precautionary step and limit interaction with all staff until the investigation is complete.
Responding to a question regarding the investigation’s timeline, Shute writes, “I hope that any investigation will take place in as expeditious a manner as possible so that we can continue with the regular business of the city.”
Both Melton and Moore have also indicated on social media they would not attend meetings until the investigation is complete. Moore writes, “I have decided it is not in the City’s or my best interest to attend meetings where staff may be present. Until I know the nature of the complaint and whether or not I have been implicated, I will simply not have contact with City Staff.”
Council members receive $319 per month whether or not they choose to attend meetings or interact with staff.
In another social media post, Shute writes, “Because Senior Staff members also attend meetings, any decision to attend those meetings would constitute a significant personal risk, and when weighed against my commitment to my city, my family and livelihood have to take precedence.”
As of Sept. 7, a special meeting to replace the cancelled meetings have not been scheduled. Only business that does not require council approval can continue.
Meetings can’t be called as long as there is not a quorum. The Governing Body Rules of Procedure (Chapter 5) states: “In all cases, it shall require four (4) members of the Council to constitute a quorum to do business; but a smaller number may adjourn from day to day, and may compel the attendance of absent members, in such a manner and under penalties as the Council by ordinance may have previously prescribed.”
According to city staff, there is no precedent for a quorum of council members to decline to attend, nor is there an effective policy to compel attendance.
There are no regulations regarding councilmember attendance at meetings. The Governing Body Rules of Procedure (Chapter 3) states: “It is important that all members commit to attending meetings to ensure that the business of the City can be conducted effectively and to ensure fairness to the public, other Council Members, and staff that attend the meetings. Members expecting to be absent from a meeting should notify the City Administrator prior to the meeting or, alternatively, the city Clerk, who will be responsible for notifying the Mayor prior to the start of any meeting.”
The Gardner News has made a Kansas Open Records request for applicable e-mails, and this story will be updated as information becomes available.