The city’s attorney billed Gardner about $400 in legal fees to review and write an opinion regarding the Oct. 19 council meeting and a subsequent opinion piece published in this newspaper.
Councilman Rich Melton, in an e-mail obtained under a Kansas Open Records Act, requested Ryan Denk, city attorney, review the council Oct. 19 meeting video to determine if the city had done anything illegal. The email referenced a Gardner News opinion piece that Melton took issue with.
Melton’s e mail was sent about 9 a.m. on Oct. 23, prior to the council’s Oct. 26 meeting, and apparently without knowledge or approval of the city’s administrator or full council, which is required under Gardner’s regulations.
In the brief email Melton references the opinion piece, “Our View: City committees could become vanity projects” and writes to Denk “Here is the story I referenced.” According to the McAnany, Van Cleave & Phillips invoice, Melton had apparently contacted the firm prior to the e mail and requested a legal opinion regarding the meeting and opinion piece.
Debate revolved around 12 words about halfway thru the editorial reminding council that age discrimination is illegal. The thrust of the editorial was that those Gardner residents who have previously served – sometimes older individuals – would bring a wealth of knowledge and historical perspective to proposed city advisory committees.
After reviewing the meeting video, a memo was provided indicating that the use of the phrase “old faces” was not made with respect to age but in reference to avoiding a status quo that might arise by giving “old” , or previous, members of the governing body a continued say in policy. The MVP invoice indicates it took 1.7 hours and cost $297.50 to review the video and prepare the memo. Other associated legal charges were about $100; however, city staff time is not included.
The debate became public when Melton posted a copy of the MVP memo on his social media page, and it was subsequently reposted by Councilmember Lee Moore on his social media page.
In further updated social media comments Nov. 24, Melton writes that the MVP invoice was paid by the city and replies to another comment, “If you are referring to me contacting the city attorney directly, I have no problem with my actions. Clearly Mr. Denk and the city administrator felt as I did that this could present a problem if it was not addressed.”
In other written comments regarding the legal review, Moore suggested The Gardner News should be required to pay the legal bills for Melton’s requested review, suggested the city have a cease and desist letter written regarding the newspaper’s editorial, and vaguely threatened that The Gardner News should not be the city’s official of public record.
A complete copy of the offending editorial is published on page 3 and titled “Our View: City committees could become vanity projects.”