Once unified in their efforts to oust former Gardner City Council members John Shepherd and Mary Peters from office, members of the Gardner Recall Committee say that individually, they disagree about Mayor Dave Drovetta’s appointment process to replace them.
Jared Taylor said that as a member of the recall committee, he believes Drovetta did what “the law said he should do” in seating Dan Newburg, who replaced Shepherd, and Kristina Harrison, who replaced Peters.
“Speaking from a committee standpoint, we think he performed his duties per the law and brought in people who he thought would be good in those positions,” Taylor said. “We commend the mayor on that.”
But speaking as an individual Gardner resident, Taylor said he disagrees with the expediency of Drovetta’s appointments. Drovetta had organized a town hall meeting on March 6 to introduce Harrison, then a nominee, and explain the appointment process in seeking and seating a second council member.
The town hall meeting came only days before the resignation of council member Dan Thompson, who Drovetta had asked to assist in the process of interviewing potential Council members.
“Personally, I think the mayor should have taken his time and had a more public process of how he selected those council members,” Taylor said. “I think it would have gone a long way to have the mayor ask a group of people go through the selection process and get more consensus as to who was nominated.
“(Gardner voters) didn’t feel like Peters or Shepherd listened to what they said,” he continued. “The mayor could have gone a long way in listening to what the public said, but he didn’t choose that route.”
Recall committee member Chuck Clark said that from a voter’s standpoint, he disagrees with Taylor’s personal opinion, and that he believes Drovetta had to act quickly to get the city’s business back on track after the recall election.
“I know we’re on different sides of this particular issue, but I thought it was important to get the city functioning,” Clark said. “The business of the town cannot come to a screeching halt. (Drovetta) has been very forthcoming with the impromptu town hall meeting he held. Given the short time frame, it was necessary, and it was a good deal.
“Jared is welcome to his opinion,” Clark said. “Mine is different from his on this particular situation.”
Taylor and Clark said it is too early to offer opinions on Harrison and Newburg, but Clark said he is heartened to see that neither of the mayoral appointees have been involved in the controversy surrounding the recall or intermodal issues.
“So far, I’m pleased,” Clark said. “What I didn’t want to see is this Hatfield and McCoy thing going politically in town, and I was hoping to see that the appointments would be people not entrenched on either side of that. I wanted to see people who didn’t bring a decade of political bad blood to the situation.”
Recall committee member Ryan Beasley said he hopes Newburg and Harrison are indeed those people.
“I would like to think so,” he said. “I would hope they are outsiders.”
He added that, like Taylor and Clark, he simply wants an end to the pain in the community and acknowledged the committee’s role in the contention that has split Gardner residents.
“I don’t like the division, even though we kind of caused it,” Beasley said.
Beasley said that although he believes Drovetta, at the March 6 town hall meeting, extended a hand to Gardner voters, he was surprised by the mayor’s appointment process and expected it to be similar to the way in which he was appointed to his current seat on the city’s Electric Utility Board.
“When I was appointed to the board, I went through the interview process with the mayor … and the president of the city council, as well as a member of the business community,” Beasley said. “I thought it was going to be that way. That’s what I envisioned.”
According to Gardner’s Municipal Code: “In case of a vacancy in the Council occurring by reason of resignation, death, or removal from office or from the City, the Mayor, by and with the advice and consent of the remaining Councilmembers, shall appoint a suitable elector to fill the vacancy until the next election for that office.”
Taylor, Clark and Beasley all said they have contacted Drovetta and voiced their opinions on the mayor’s appointment process. All three said Drovetta had written them back to thank them for their input.
A new organization emerges
Now that the results of the recall election have been certified by the Johnson County Election Office, Taylor said, the Gardner Recall Committee has become a new group which calls itself “Citizens for the Future of Gardner.”
“We hope to accomplish a couple of things,” Taylor said. “We hope to act as a watchdog group, to make sure our representatives are representing us. The second (purpose) is to taking a community focus and helping to rebuild the community. Hopefully, we can sponsor activities to help bring the community together.”
Taylor said the group may help with Festival on the Trails this year, or even sponsor a food drive for individuals and families in need.
Taylor said anyone is welcome to join the group, and that they even have a Facebook page.
When asked about the group, however, Clark said he believes it will focus more on civic activities and less on politics, even contradicting Taylor’s assertion that the group will act as “watchdogs.”
“We will be involved in city politics, but it’s not going to be a type of political watchdog group,” Clark said. “That’s not what it’s about. It’s about bringing the community together and doing civic work. We’re looking to work for a common good and not be really politically motivated.”
Beasley said he hopes Gardner residents will be receptive to the idea of a group designed to encourage involvement in one’s community, regardless of their beliefs on recent controversies.
“Our belief is that you don’t have to be on the city council to make a difference,” he said. “We’ve put together a group that people from both sides can take part in.”