Emails obtained under a KORA request indicate members of the Gardner city council knowingly violated the Kansas Open Meetings Act.
A formal protest regarding the March 6  meeting was made by The Gardner News, but it has not yet been answered by staff or council,. However, a March 2 email indicates the “ordinance” (Resolution 1963)  had been prepared by Steve Shute, council president, prior to the meeting, even though it did not appear on the city’s published agenda.
In e-mail, Shute indicates he prepared an “ordinance” to amend personnel policies to be discussed in executive session; he also indicates he understands an explanatory statement need not be made publicly prior to the closed session. The newspaper’s protest had questioned why the council emerged from closed session and immediately approved Resolution 1963. Discussion of individual personnel is exempt from open meetings under state statute, but general policy must be formulated in open session.
Emails between Steve Shute, council president, and Chris Morrow, mayor, indicate 1963 was discussed in closed session. The e mails were obtained under a Kansas Open Records request for dates between Feb. 20 and March 7, 2017.
On March 2 at 12:29 p.m. Shute e mailed Morrow, “Per our conversation this morning, I would like to have the ordinance action regarding a change in the personnel policy (as outlined earlier in my special meeting request) added to the agenda meeting.  (Yes, I know we would need to have the executive session first to review Mr. Denk’s legal opinion, so it would have to be at the end of the meeting, after executive session.)
Also on March 2, at 11 a.m. Shute writes, “As I understand, per our discussion with Ryan Denk this morning, we don’t need to state that there would be action to follow in the event of the need for action to be taken after Executive Session and during open meeting. Can you please confirm with Ryan and get back to me as soon as possible on this?’
Denk is the city attorney, and on March 2, 1:03 p.m., he confirms Shute’s assessment. “He is correct,” Denk writes, in response to Shute’s question regarding alerting the public as to potential city policy changes and/or individual employee salary changes.
On March 6, Morrow wrote Shute at 1:02 p.m. “Thursday evening you emailed me (see below) that you would call me about a request you were interested in making on Friday morning, March 3. It’s now Monday afternoon March 6th, the day of our regularly scheduled city council meeting and I did not hear from you, not by phone, in person, or by email. I just want to be clear in advance of tonight’s meeting.”
A little later, March 6, at 3:12 p.m., Shute apologizes for the delay, saying he was busy with soccer games. He then continues, “ I will give you a call shortly, I did take the initiative to draft a couple of proposed ordinances to address the appeal issue and was planning on having them for review at tonight’s executive session. I would be happy to share these with you to get your thoughts.”
Although Shute refers to “ordinances” in the emails, the council adopted Resolution 1963 immediately after the March 6 closed session; it amends personnel policy to allow city council members to hear appeals, and appears to be in reaction to a request from Chief James Pruetting, Gardner police chief.
It is unclear from the e-mails why Shute drafted the personnel policy change as opposed to going thru regular channels and having staff draft it, or why the Res. 1963 could not be held for the next meeting to provide time for public review and staff vetting.
Other emails indicate conflict over amending the personnel policies had been ongoing for several weeks.  According to the city administrator’s contract, which was unanimously approved by the council last year, she is the head of personnel. Traditionally, elected officials have not involved themselves in personnel issues as they have limited knowledge or oversight of day to day activities, goals or policies and procedure.
According to emails  obtained, council members had requested a special meeting to amend personnel policies and discuss the appeal previously. As early as Feb. 28 at 4:41 pm. Morrow writes Shute and Todd Winters, city councilman, saying he will poll the governing body regarding a special meeting, and he warns, “One other thing. . . I am not sure that we will be able to discuss changes to the personnel policy in executive session, . . . . “
Several emails go back and forth, with Shute writing at 4:21 p.m. March 1, that he regrets Morrow’s decision not to hold a special meeting for personnel policies. “I am not at all pleased with the amount of obstructions, delays, mistruths, and outright defiance of the will of the Governing Body that you have displayed over the last six months, but particularly in this case,” he writes. “That situation will be rectified at the next regular meeting; however, the fact that you are playing with people’s livelihoods in this process is beyond reprehensible, and will be highly detrimental to us working together on other issues of the city going forward.” Although not specified, it appears the “livelihoods” referred to the police chief’s salary/bonus.
Morrow replied at 10:59 p.m. March 2, ”I’m disappointed to see you threaten to cause detriment to the work we are supposed to be accomplishing together, on behalf of the citizens of Gardner, simply because you failed to consider all the consequences of the actions you were requesting.” In the email, Morrow indicates the special meeting had not been called due to scheduling conflicts, publication requirements and time constraints for an ordinance modifying personnel policies.
“”If you want to question my truthfulness, do it, but do so at your own risk,” Morrow writes. “I will not stand idly by while being slandered or libeled.” And further “Finally, I am not at all pleased with the amount of hysterical and defamatory invective being hurled at me, by you, with great regularity. I hope you realize it is beneath the dignity of the office you hold.”
On March 22, the council adjourned into closed session and, upon return, Shute made several motions: to vacate Police Chief Pruetting’s written reprimand; amend his evaluation and make back pay retroactive.
After the motion to vacate the reprimand, and the motion to to change the evaluation and award back pay were approved, the council then made a approved a motion to waive time constraints established by Resolution 1963. The evaluation and reprimand that were changed were dated in January, and  Res. 1963 was effective March 6.
Morrow and Kristina Harrison, councilmember, had declined to participate in the closed session.