Rich Melton, Gardner city council member, listens to council discuss his resolution to censure Chris Morrow, mayor, at the Feb. 6 council meeting. Photo courtesy of Rick Poppitz
Special to The Gardner News
There was a full house at the Gardner council meeting on Feb. 6, with most of those in attendance there to show support of Jim Pruetting, police chief. Also, a council member accused the mayor of misleading the governing body and citizens and proposed censure.
Phoning into executive session
Rich Melton, council member, questioned why he was not allowed to participate in executive session by phone from Las Vegas at the Jan. 17 council meeting.
Ryan Denk, city attorney, explained that there was no statute that directly forbids it, but it is common practice because confidentiality cannot be certain with someone on the phone.
Melton said Denk was calling his honor into question by saying he couldn’t be trusted when he says he’s in a room by himself.
Kristina Harrison, council member, later stated that phone participation had been discussed in past councils, and it has long been standard policy to not allow remote participation. She said that could always be changed, but it’s been precedent in the past.
Executive sessions are closed to the public under specific exemptions in the Kansas Open Meetings Act including personnel issues.
Resolution to censure
Melton next introduced a resolution to censure Chris Morrow, mayor, due to misrepresentation of facts to the governing body and citizens of Gardner.
Melton read the prepared text and handed out printed copies to the other council members.
Apparently ill, Melton wore a surgical mask and stocking cap throughout the meeting.
Melton, reading his proposed Resolution, said Morrow had “repeatedly misled the governing body and citizens of Gardner, both in Council Chambers and Executive Session.”
Council members had questions and concerns about proper procedure and protocol to be followed.
Denk, city attorney, said he would need to review the rules of order regarding censure.
Steve Shute, Harrison and Todd Winters, councilmembers, indicated they were not ready to vote on on the matter at this time. Shute made a motion, seconded by Lee Moore, councilman, to table the discussion to the next meeting, and council approved by voice vote.
In 2014 a resolution to censure a former council member was introduced and later withdrawn after council was told such an action might have violated due process and potentially create liability for defamation and libel. At that time, Denk said Roberts Rules of Order, the parliamentary procedure partially used by the city’s governing body, lays out a formal procedure for censuring a member of the body for acts of which the council was not a witness. In 2014, Denk said the full procedure would require the formation of a special committee, an investigation and a formal trial before the passage of a resolution of censure.
Council chamber was filled to capacity with members of the public who came to show support for Jim Pruetting, police chief. Public comments were moved to the top of the agenda to accommodate the turnout.
Moore had made several posts on social media requesting e mails and attendance to how support for Pruetting. About 40 e mails were obtained by The Gardner News under a Kansas Open Records request.
Seven people came forward to speak. The audience applauded each one when they finished.
Two of those, Kacy Dale and Norm Schutte, are members of the Citizens Police Advisory Board. Two others are residents of nearby cities who said they do business in Gardner.
All were angry about a comment made at the Jan. 3 meeting by Alan Abramovitz, human resources manager.
At that meeting, Abramovitz said the police chief had released information from a confidential internal document and told the other directors that – because of that – their trust in the chief should be reduced.
The speakers tonight all demanded apology from Abramovitz, the mayor and city administrator..
Contacted after the meeting, Pruetting said, “I love the support I’m getting because it’s a direct reflection of how well we as a police department are doing our jobs and the positive way we are perceived in the community. We work hard to ear n the community’s trust and support, and we will never take that support for granted. There are many police departments around the country that don’t have their community’s support and take makes an already difficult job more dangerous and challenging.”
Moore asked that item # 1, approval of the minutes from the Jan. 3 meeting, be removed from the consent agenda.
The minutes were also on the consent agenda on Jan. 17, but Moore removed them and requested amendments, noting significant details missing.
Moore objected to the amended version presented at the meeting because it was still missing the comment made by Abramovitz on Jan. 3.
Motion was made to add the comment and the Jan. 3 minutes were approved.
Waverly Road Improvement
Michael Kramer, public works director, discussed the county’s Waverly Road improvement project.
The county plans to pave 6 inches of asphalt on Waverly from 56 Hwy., south to the new bridge near the intermodal. The county offered to apply 6 additional inches and extend the project if Gardner and Edgerton would contribute $175,000 between them.
Edgerton has declined to participate.
Kramer said it was a gravel road that had too much traffic for a gravel road. He said paving it would improve safety.
Shute, council president, asked if the county had any plans to realign the intersection of Waverly and 56.
Kramer said no, but the paving would add a bit more radius to the turn.
He said a KDOT corridor study showed the alignment exactly the same as it is now. According to Kramer, the future might see additional lanes on 56, or at some point a traffic light – but not realignment.
Powell said that the Heartland Farms development agreement would require that the road be improved to handle normal truck traffic and 12 inches of asphalt would be “very adequate.”
Kramer said the county had convinced staff it was a good project that would benefit the community, and they needed council direction.
“Maybe we can get somebody from county planning and public works, our friends in Edgerton, and our staff here, all in the same room and see if we come to some kind of accommodation” said Chris Morrow, mayor.
Council consensus was that the project was needed and directed Kramer to keep working on the details.
After all agenda items had been covered, council recessed into executive session for 30 minutes. Returning at 9 p.m., they went into executive session again for one hour.