Rich Melton told his peers on the Gardner City Council he was disappointed that a city press release missed an opportunity to promote Gardner in a good light.
The press release, issued Oct. 26, noted that a majority of council members agreed to remove the “no gun” signs from city hall. The short release detailed a Kansas state law that required cities to remove the signs or seek an exemption to restrict concealed weapons in municipal buildings. It was a three paragraph press release, and it was vastly different from an initial draft created.
Melton said he requested that the city’s public information officer write a press release about a Facebook post Melton said went viral. Posted on Rep. Bill Sutton’s Facebook page, the post showed a photograph of Melton removing a “No Gun” sign from the door to city hall following the Oct. 19 meeting. The sign was removed before the policy took effect.
The first draft of the press release discussed the Facebook post.
“The city of Gardner is experiencing wide social media attention this week after its governing body voted to withdraw the city’s use of the exemption prohibiting the conceal carry of firearms within its city hall and other city facilities and properties,” the rough draft read.
Melton is quoted in the rough draft press release.
“We knew that the decision to take down the signs in city hall would not be supported by all, but we’re amazed at just how many people are in favor of the lift and that they may have taken the time to respond through social media to show their support,” he is quoted in the rough draft release.
The final draft did not include Melton’s quotes or mention of the Facebook post. Melton sent an email to city administrator Cheryl Harrison-Lee expressing his disappointment in the final release issued.
“While the information in the press release is correct, it completely misses the most exciting points,” Melton wrote. “…I think at some point in the future it would be beneficial if we had a meeting to go over future communications and how they might be handled better. If this is the best we can do with a PIO on staff we could have anyone write the play by play.”
During the Nov. 2 council meeting, Melton said he did not know he was not supposed to talk to city staff. Council rules don’t prohibit council members from speaking to city staff, but they do prohibit council members from directing city staff.
“I still think we missed an opportunity to promote Gardner in a good light,” Melton said during the Nov. 2 meeting. “I accept full responsibility for contacting (Daneeka Marshall-Oquendo, public information officer) directly, but I don’t think anything I did was wrong.”
Melton said more than 60,000 people had seen the Facebook post on Sutton’s campaign page and on Melton’s personal business page.
“I contacted her and said this picture is going viral,” Melton said. He said he didn’t want his name associated with it, but said the post should be used to promote Gardner.
“These numbers, if you’re familiar, these are phenomenal numbers in less than a week,” he said.
Council member Steve Shute took the photo of Melton removing the sign, but he said he didn’t think it was wise to use city staff to advocate for gun rights. Shute said while a large majority of Gardner residents likely support gun rights, council members are duty bound to serve those that don’t as well.
“There’s a divided community when it comes to gun rights,” Shute said. “The other 30 percent are visceral in their opposition to gun rights… Actively promoting a Second Amendment stance in a community that is a divided community may not be the best approach.”
Shute also said he was concerned that Melton was wearing a shirt that advertised his business in the photo. He wore a similar shirt at the Nov. 2 meeting.
“Though you may not have meant to promote your company, but it was there. There were two pieces here that could have been seen as a conflict of interest,” Shute said.
Emails received thru twi Kansas Open Records Requests can be viewed below and include the original drafted press release in dispute.