February 11, 2016

EDITORIAL: Elected officials skirt public at private tour

We’re always floored by how far politicians will go to keep the press away from their discussions.

They’ve done it again in Gardner.

Monday morning newly-elected members of the Gardner City Council, Mayor Dave Drovetta, city staff, and Chamber President Steve Devore were invited to tour the Coleman warehouse with Rep. Kevin Yoder, R-Kan.

The Kansas Open Meetings Act was not violated, because Larry Fotovich, Dennis Pugh and Chris Morrow had yet to be sworn in to their new positions on the council. Not only was the press not invited to the tour, we were not notified of the meeting.

We learned of it through our sources, and immediately requested to be included. That request was denied. According to Yoder staff members in Washington, D.C., Coleman officials did not want members of the press in attendance.

His local staff also said the event was organized by the Gardner officials, and they simply showed up to take part.

Whatever the case, elected officials should be leery of meetings in which the press is specifically excluded.

What could have been discussed in such a tour that wouldn’t be of interest to the people of this community? Why shouldn’t the community be represented in such a forum?

The oversight isn’t a matter of law – it’s a matter of ethics, and we question politicians who so willingly go along with such a meeting.

We give the benefit of the doubt to our newly elected officials. They didn’t know the press wasn’t invited.

But we take exception at the Mayor and city staff for organizing such an event under the cover of darkness. We also request that Rep. Kevin Yoder carefully consider attending such meetings in the future whether his staff or others arrange it. He promised not to conduct business as usual in Washington, and we expect him to uphold that standard at home as well.

We have trouble believing that the only thing discussed during the tour was the size of the boxes in the Coleman facility and the green initiatives that went into the building’s construction. City business as well as federal business was also likely on the agenda.

Unfortunately, we’ll never know.

A free people and her government operate best when bathed in sunshine. It’s time for local officials and their federal counterparts to not just open up the windows, but also the doors. The people demand to be invited in.


  1. I have always said the city’s transparency is as murky as an old farm pond after a hard rain – no way is it transparent and hasn’t been for years.

    Back in 2006 when the city was holding meetings on the intermodal, I asked City Mgr. Fairburn for the citizens to have a booth at City Hall when information was being distributed to citizens about the project. Citizens had a lot of information they wanted to share with those who would be so adversely affected – did the City provide that opportunity to the citizens – they sure didn’t. Citzens had to fight to get 30 minutes of time given to Claude Hobby to speak about the issue and then Mr. Hobby had to give 15 minutes of that time to Mr. Frizzell as an EPA employee who wanted to inform the citizens about the pollution involved. Dear ole Drovetta didn’t want to give time to Mr. Frizzell to provide any information to the citizens in my opinion. Who was allowed to give information during the Intermodal Review Committee meetings – the SW Jo. Co. Economic Development Corp., BNSF attorneys and front men and city elected officials and/or employees and the information given was truly controlled in my opinion. Nothing transparent about that one except perhaps the dirty, rotten politics involved.

    Another despicable example of lack of transparency is when Carol Lehman and Fairburn asked to meet with the County Commissioners two at a time to avoid a violation of the Open Meetings Act. They needed to say what they had to say in an Open Commissioner’s Meeting which would have been open to the people.

    I could give you example after example of lack of transparency and with the people never at the table but who really cares??????? Not enough people as evidenced in the low voter turnout at the last election. If you get another Bell, California government, it will be because of apathy of the people and who are responsible for most of their problems since they aren’t doing their jobs.

    The citizens are not holding the worthless politicans and bureaucrats accountable and responsible for the crud they are involved in – that is my opinion.

  2. If I’m putting the previous story and this editorial together correctly, the media was denied access to private property by the owner but granted access to public officials afterward. I don’t have a problem with that.

    I have no doubt that everyone was conspiring to do something evil such as cow tipping on the next full moon but let’s not pretend that such a conversation could only take place at the Coleman warehouse.

  3. It sounds to me like you, Robb, would not a problem with much of anything……tell us more since maybe I mistook your comments…….

  4. Are we surprised you’re “floored”. No. Are we surprised the GNS was denied access. No. You’re lucky the city includes you in anything. Your rants and raves about the city and city officials is ridiculous. Then your pathetic excuse for an attack dog Judith puts your nails in the coffin. Let us know where you’re having your pity party so we can stay away.

  5. Seriously???? says:

    The “newspaper” that supported Take Back Gardner’s attempt to change the City charter behind the backs of the citizens of this City is going admonish public officials for touring a local business? Seriously???

    OMG…Could you people at least ATTEMPT to appear to be a real news service and not a giant PR firm for the Thompson family?

    Hahahahahaha…What a joke!!!!!!!

  6. It’s nice to see that this publication at least publishes these stories, unlike other local blogs that fail to even report on newly elected council members being sworn in. Yoder is nothing more than “business as usual”. Get use to it. Questions need to be asked at the council level and Mr. Fotivich seems to understand that. I’m sure the next tour won’t be held in “secret”.

  7. As I have said on another article, this Council has their litmus test in place as to whether they will be providing the proper checks and balances that will provide protection for the citizens’ interests. When you shut the doors and put up the brick walls to the people, then you should have huge concerns but that is the way Drovetta and his crew have always operated and got by with it. It is up to the citizens to determine whether they want the same ole status quo, cronyism government – the choice and the responsibility is theirs but this Council could do much to bring things to where they should be – they have choices to be made too.

    In my opinion and as I have advised Council members previously, I believe that agenda should carry a two week lead time rather than a 1 1/2 day lead time that the citizens get now. I normally look at that agenda around noon on Friday and there is no way for me to do all of the research, ask my questions and get replies from the city by that Monday evening meeting. And that is just what Drovetta and his crew want. Ram the items through with as little discussion, inquiry, etc. as possible.

    I also want to make it extremely clear that all items on the Council agenda ARE NOT discussed in work sessions.

  8. Why has a tour became a political issue. It was done in a privately owned warehouse that is in operation. As a warehouse man myself I would not want 30 people walking around inside my facility while my team and myself are trying to do a job. It is a liability issue. Just imagine some photographer or writer walking backwards trips on something or steps in front of a forklift. Boom law suit. But on the upside if we lost a couple of politicians it would not be a bad thing.

  9. I would like to know the amount of taxpayer money it took to pay for Yoder and his staff to come out here to Gardner to tour this warehouse. He didn’t come for the citizens – he picked and chose who he was going to talk to or be around. What exactly was the purpose of this little trip??? Same old reasons most politicians come to their voting stomping grounds and those reasons are worthless to me.

    The only time I want to see a politician back home is when he has set up a meeting place for the people to come to talk to him personally about issues or to have Town Hall meetings which are open to ALL and all questions and comments are welcome and even some of those don’t accomplish a thing because as soon as that politician steps into his vehicle he has forgotten those people and their concerns. You will only be seeing him again around election time when he wants to sell himself to you again for his do nothing time in office.

    We have a long way to go before the people’s representation is in good working order – that is my opinion.

  10. @coleman/drovetta says:

    If you are a welfare recipient, your bank account and personal assets are open to scrutiny; it would seem if you are a corporate welfare recipient, as Coleman is, your records/etc. should be open. Or at least be accountable to the public.

  11. The effectiveness of abatements is certainly debatable but the manner in which Coleman obtained theirs was not welfare. The abatement was used by the City as a way to lure new business. An example of corporate welfare would be if Coleman had already been here and requested or strong armed abatement with the threat of leaving.

    Businesses are leaving Gardner left and right. It is important to know why so that the city can do what it can to prevent it from happening. It is just as important to know what role, if any, the city is playing in the success of those businesses that are stable and those that are thriving. As far as I am aware, Coleman is one of those businesses.

    Complain about politicians not caring and doing nothing all you want but it doesn’t apply here. For crying out loud… city staff, the city council, mayor and Rep. Yoder are addressing our local economy while acknowledging our high rate of taxation.

  12. And the title, “Elected officials skirt public at private tour” is a flat out lie. The media wasn’t invited because it wasn’t a photo-op. Once tipped off, the media was denied access to private property by the owner. The media was given access for interviews after the meeting/tour.

    So to summarize.. a group of politicians, city staff and others whose salaries are paid for by our taxes all got together to conduct business rather than do a bunch of happy handing and smiling for cameras. And some are complaining about this?

  13. Speechless says:

    I am sure that part of the reason that this was kinda hush hush is because of shooting in Tucson Arizona.

  14. Give me a break, Robb, there is so much you do not know about on the Coleman project or other deals given to Mr. Licausi, the developer or about the deals Coleman got in Wichita and hasn’t come thru on.

    Your example of corporate welfare has been very well used by the city when they took care of Tom Mertz and his TradeNet expansion. Citizens provided him with industrial revenue bonds which gives him low financing costs PLUS a SEVENTY PER CENT TAX BREAK. I asked Mr. Fairburn personally why we were providing all of this to Mr. Mertz and he told me it was to keep him here. Tom has always looked out for Tom and always will, just like all of the thieves. But Tom Mertz, past President of the School Board, has the audacity to tell me to my face that he is not concerned with kids dropping out of school because WE need more unskilled labor.

    Look at the benefit district deal the city gave to Licausi and First Federal Savings and Loan of Independence, Ks. on that property at the SE corner of 183rd St. and Center St. We, the citizens and all entities of the city, paid for the installation of water, electric and sewers on that property thru the use of general obligation bonds – developers should be paying for and taking care of these utilities on their own and then deeding the utilities to the city. The city put ME AND ALL CITIZENS on the line and at risk to take care of Mr. Licausi and others. Those takers will pay the city back for those costs thru a special assessment that is placed on their tax bill. But what happens if they don’t pay the special assessment – I’ll tell you what happens, all the citizens of Gardner, Ks. will have to come up with the money to pay for those bonds. Right now the city of Leawood has felt the backlash on some of these deals since the jerks are only paying the special assessment portion of their tax bill which the County allows them to do, but they AREN’T PAYING THEIR TAXES. Now how is that economic development paying out for the citizens – they aren’t getting one cent of the taxes they deserve. How long will it be before they don’t pay the special assessment? The takers aren’t here to help the citizens – they are here or try to come here to line their pockets in my opinion.

  15. If I am ignorant about Coleman and it’s relationship with Gardner it is not because I want to be. The more I and everyone else know about it the better. My perception can be summarized as:

    City lured Coleman with 50% abatement. Coleman accepted and built, thereby creating jobs. Coleman sits outside of town and you don’t hear a peep from them until late November or early December when they donate to the Mayor’s Christmas Tree Fund. Gardner gave, Gardner takes. Coleman took, Coleman gives.

    It is important to acknowledge separate issues. No person or entity gets things right or wrong 100% of the time. Even then, what determines “right” is usually a matter of opinion.

  16. Yes, Robb, it is evident you are ignorant of many things with respect to that Coleman project and other issues but it sounds like you are happy to stay that way and only see what you want to see. Fertile ground for the takers and the worthless politicians but very, very costly to citizens in so many ways.

  17. I also feel it is very arrogant for a company to shut the door to the press of a city whose citizens have provided them very low and easily accessible financing thru industrial revenue bonds and the handout of them only paying 50% of their taxes. I presume most have watched 60 Minutes and when those companies or entities won’t let the press in, then there usually is a reason for it and the reason is usually not good for the citizens.

    We will see what kind of corporate citizen Coleman will be here in Gardner in the coming years. I know already that they will hire temp employees in Nov. and lay them off in February and those jobs involve non-livable wages and no benefits. And I believe right now about 50% of those Coleman employees are hired thru a temp agency and those kinds of jobs will never provide financial stability to those workers and their families nor will it result in helping the community in the long run. I continue to do further research on labor practices of companies such as Coleman.

  18. (Smile)…..The anonymous, cowardly backstabber always comes alive when I bring out the truth……it is hard swallowing the truth for you I can tell………you show yourself once again for what you are……

  19. Judith, some of what I have seen you say does make me think but now you are attacking a corporations hiring practices shows how far out of touch you can be. Do you own a business? Have you hired employees? Did you pay them what other companies like yours pays or did you add 3 dollars an hour just because you are a great person. I am going to say that most warehouses do use temp agencies to fill lower positions, and even more so during the holidays. I myself have used temp agencies to fill part time positions. Hence the term temp. As far as wages go it is unfortunate that they are not paying more but unfortunately that is part of today’s economy. Try searching that, KMBC just did a story the other day on that. And why do people think media should be allowed to demand entry into a private business. The liability issue alone negates this possibility.

  20. Kevin, Kevin, Kevin……………you are either trying to cover for the labor practices of some of these companies or you don’t know what you are talking about – not sure which. However, you have not got what I am talking about and it may be because you don’t want to. Liability issues were not the reason Coleman kept the press from being involved in that tour in my opinion. Talk to those temporary employess personally, ask lots of questions of Coleman about their employees and when you get too close to the truth, they will throw the stone wall up – have seen it too many times in my lifetime to my liking.

    You can rationalize anything if that is your choice but it may not be too intelligent to do so or to buy into the rationalization.

  21. @point is says:

    Without government subsidies Coleman could not exist. If you don’t call it corporate welfare, it’s still a tax shift by any other name. Try to get an SBA loan and see if your books, and everything else, isn’t open for scrutiny. Gardner officials (at least former) do not have the business acument to make wise choices for their residents. Taxpayers pay the price. It would seem to me that the decision was not up to Coleman officials to close the tour. It would be an open records violation. Council members should know better. The question is, what did they have to hide?

  22. Meant open meetings. If that many councilmembers attended. they chose to violate the law. Isn’t that what the last crew was recalled for?

  23. Jerry L Kellogg Sr says:
  24. As far as I am concerned Yoder becomes another one of the Republican liars and hypocrites and here is why. I was at home on Saturday and received a phone call and I get a recording to tell me to stay on the line so I may be a part of Yoder’s “TOWN HALL MEETING”. I listened to his drivel for about 1 minute and hung up. Another propaganda meeting to run as he pleases and one where the people I doubt very much were ever able to voice their opinions and concerns. Politics are an expensive sideshow that is putting the average citizen into the poor house while these jerks are only building their resumes and working for the thieves – that is my opinion.

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