October 25, 2014

Council, Mayor under investigation for open meetings violations

Danedri Thompson

submissions@gardnernews.com

The Johnson County District Attorney’s Office is investigating members of the Gardner City Council and Mayor for at least two separate Kansas Open Meetings Act violations.

A spokesperson for the DA declined to comment about any specifics of the investigation including who filed the complaint, which council members are under investigation and when the investigation will be complete.

The Gardner News was able to confirm that an investigator from the DA’s office questioned at least two officials about a July 14 executive session and about a possible serial meeting violation related to an email.

During a July 14 work session, council member Larry Fotovich objected to going into executive session on five different occasions.

“I object to executive session. The discussion of overall salary structure is not an issue for executive session and should be discussed in the open session. It’s something that can be gotten as part of the Kansas Open Records Act and is not something that should be secret,” he said in open session prior to joining the council in executive session.

All other council members voted each time, four-to-one, in favor of retreating behind closed doors.

Fotovich declined to answer any questions for this story.

Comments

  1. Judith Rogers says:

    They need to look further into how this city government is run rather than just this issue……..they have needed a grand jury investigation clear back to 2005 in my opinion………..and I would be most happy to provide any and all information I have with respect to our city government……..Mr. Howe, just give me a call and let me determine whether you are really doing your job or if you are going thru politicial posturing that occurs every day in the poliical/government system………Mr. Howe are you spending taxpayer money for the right reasons or are you wasting taxpayer money while you play political games??? Time will tell……………

  2. Judith Rogers says:

    I would love to talk to Mr. Howe about how Lehman and Fairburn met with the County Commissioners two at a time to avoid a violation of the Open Meetings Act and I have proof of that one…………lots of things I would love to talk to Mr. Howe about………..

  3. Why is this town so concerned with secrecy?

  4. Sour grapes or just desserts? says:

    We need more information about this. And not just speculation from people who are still grinding old axes. Facts, please. And now.

    Questions include:

    1. Did someone request this investigation or did the DA’s office start it on their own?
    2. What events led to the investigation? What facts support those events?
    3. What faction is driving this?
    4. How did Gardner News know to ask the DA’s office about the investigation, much less report on it? Who let them in on it?

    Enough for now. If it’s true, prosecute ‘em. If it’s ambiguous, get the facts and let the voters decide. If it’s just someone playing sour grapes at imagined wrongs…well, the law or voters may need to get involved in that too.

  5. sick of the negative says:

    @?

    Why is this town so stuck on conspiracys?

  6. @sick

    Why is this town so stuck on vendettas?

  7. Bill Yothers says:

    WIth guys like Larry Fotovich and Dave Drovetta every consipiracy is a plausible conspiracy. How long to do we have to put up with these guys?

  8. sick of the negative says:

    @ Bill

    Drovetta 2 Fotovich 4

    years that is

  9. You seem to be able to form the perfect questions. Why don’t you call the DA’s office and ask? (I’m not trying to be smart, I’m serious.) I think most investigations are open, at least to some degree. Just like if you call the police you can find out if someone is arrested, although I don’t know that “tipsters” are named. (think tips hotline.) And if they’re guilty, what are they prosecuted for, and what is the sentence?

  10. and I would think the media would know about this the same way they know about anything else criminally related. Most of the info comes from PR people.

  11. Bill Yothers says:

    Years!!? Well, we’re screwed.

  12. I didn’t read this until late last night, so calling the DA’s office will have to wait.

    The article says that the DA won’t give more details. They won’t specify which council members are under investigation. Odd that they do mention the mayor.

    It would be easy to speculate on all the stuff we don’t know, but without the facts the speculation means nothing.

  13. Jerry L Kellogg Sr says:

    Kansas Statutes #75-4317 through 75-4320a constitute the Kansas Open Meetings Act (KOMA). Violations of KOMA are civil in nature, not criminal. Persons or groups violating KOMA may be civilly penalized, but cannot be sent to jail for KOMA violations. http://kansasstatutes.lesterama.org/Chapter_75/Article_43/

    Statute 75-4320: Penalties.(a) Any member of a body or agency subject to this act who knowingly violates any of the provisions of this act or who intentionally fails to furnish information as required by subsection (b) of K.S.A. 75-4318, and amendments thereto, shall be liable for the payment of a civil penalty in an action brought by the attorney general or county or district attorney, in a sum set by the court of not to exceed $500 for each violation. In addition, any binding action which is taken at a meeting not in substantial compliance with the provisions of this act shall be voidable in any action brought by the attorney general or county or district attorney in the district court of the county in which the meeting was held within 21 days of the meeting, and the court shall have jurisdiction to issue injunctions or writs of mandamus to enforce the provisions of this act.

    The website of the Kansas Attorney General has a section addressing frequently asked questions about the Kansas Open Meetings Act. In part:

    • What penalties may result from a violation of the KOMA? Up to $500 fine per violation (per member violating it); injunction/mandamus/declaratory order; voiding illegal action (if a public prosecutor files a petition within 21 days after the alleged violation); possible grounds for ouster or recall (separately pursued actions).

    • Are these penalties always imposed for violation of the KOMA? No. The courts rarely assess the fine provisions. Plus, in 1986, the Kansas Supreme Court created what are called “technical violations: “The court will not void any action and will overlook technical violations of the law if the spirit of the law has been met, there has been a good-faith effort to comply, there was substantial compliance with the KOMA, no one was prejudiced, and the public’s right to know had not been effectively denied.

    Questions about executive or closed sessions are discussed on the state Attorney General website at: http://www.ksag.org/page/4-executive-sessions-when-can-a-meeting-be-closed-and-matters-privately-discussed

  14. Jerry L Kellogg Sr says:

    Kansas Statutes #75-4317 through 75-4320a constitute the Kansas Open Meetings Act (KOMA). Violations of KOMA are civil in nature, not criminal. Persons or groups violating KOMA may be civilly penalized, but cannot be sent to jail for KOMA violations. kansasstatutes.lesterama.org/Chapter_75/Article_43/

    Statute 75-4320: Penalties.(a) Any member of a body or agency subject to this act who knowingly violates any of the provisions of this act or who intentionally fails to furnish information as required by subsection (b) of K.S.A. 75-4318, and amendments thereto, shall be liable for the payment of a civil penalty in an action brought by the attorney general or county or district attorney, in a sum set by the court of not to exceed $500 for each violation. In addition, any binding action which is taken at a meeting not in substantial compliance with the provisions of this act shall be voidable in any action brought by the attorney general or county or district attorney in the district court of the county in which the meeting was held within 21 days of the meeting, and the court shall have jurisdiction to issue injunctions or writs of mandamus to enforce the provisions of this act.

    The website of the Kansas Attorney General has a section addressing frequently asked questions about the Kansas Open Meetings Act. In part:

    • What penalties may result from a violation of the KOMA? Up to $500 fine per violation (per member violating it); injunction/mandamus/declaratory order; voiding illegal action (if a public prosecutor files a petition within 21 days after the alleged violation); possible grounds for ouster or recall (separately pursued actions).

    • Are these penalties always imposed for violation of the KOMA? No. The courts rarely assess the fine provisions. Plus, in 1986, the Kansas Supreme Court created what are called “technical violations: “The court will not void any action and will overlook technical violations of the law if the spirit of the law has been met, there has been a good-faith effort to comply, there was substantial compliance with the KOMA, no one was prejudiced, and the public’s right to know had not been effectively denied.

    Questions about executive or closed sessions are discussed on the state Attorney General website at http://www.ksag.org/page/4-executive-sessions-when-can-a-meeting-be-closed-and-matters-privately-discussed

  15. From the ksag.org faq page on KOMA:

    * Can a public body privately discuss an individual who works for the body?

    Yes. If that person is an employee of that body (or an applicant for employment) K.S.A. 75-4319(b) allows executive session discussions about individuals who are employed by the body holding that executive session discussion.

    * Does the KOMA require members of a public body to refrain from publicly revealing matters that were discussed while in executive sessions?

    No. Some other laws, or considerations such as fiduciary duty, personal privacy rights, or contracts, may require or influence such confidentiality. But the KOMA itself does not require that the topics listed in K.S.A. 75-4319 always be kept private.

    * Can a public body subject to the KOMA use executive sessions to discuss general employee related topics?

    No. The personnel exception in K.S.A. 75-4319(b) is intended to protect the privacy of individuals. Thus, if no individuals are being discussed, that exception to openness does not apply.

    From this we see that revealing details about employee negotiation discussed in executive session aren’t KOMA violations, but the considerations of privacy or confidentiality might be governed by other laws or ought to, at least, affect decisions to reveal personnel information.

  16. Judith Rogers says:

    You can have all the laws on the books to control the wheeling and dealing of the worthless, corrupt politicians/bureaucrats but you can see how they are followed and/or respected or how politicians in office enforce and prosecute the laws. And you have to look no further than your local city government and school district and those who support their immoral actions to know they do not govern for the average citizen – they govern however they please and on their time schedule. You reap what you sow. Another good example is to see how Kline is finally being held accountable for his lack of integrity and ethics – a slap on the hand but he does deserve to lose his license to practice law and I can only hope and pray he never returns to Kansas but what is most disgusting, in my opinion, is that he is teaching our youth.

    Just read this morning how Brownback is submitting a bill to the legislature this coming session about reform of school financing. If that gets thru plus if the people are stupid enough to vote for this local school bond issue in January or go along with the elimination of state income tax, then you will definitely be paying the piper in many, many ways and many will not be able to afford the increases coming down the pike.

  17. for taxes now, are you? says:

    Against laws?

  18. Thank Goodness says:

    It’s a good thing that Fotovich and Morrow ask questions and try to keep as much of the agenda public as possible. The Mayor has something to hide and is deeply afraid of losing his power hold.
    He is the king of manipulation. Always has been. The guy needs to go. He can’t keep his hands out of our pockets. He’s too slick to get caught, so we bide our time till his is up.

  19. Harry Truman said, the buck stops here. Maybe you’re not old enough to know that, but the problems always lay at the foot of the person in charge. Mr. Mayor, you need to stop blaming and start fixing things. Doesn’t matter who’s to blame, it’s your job to fix it. Lay your ego at the altar and do what’s right.

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