The censure proposal increased Gardner’s legal expenses at least $3143, or about 15 hours of legal expenses if calculated at $205 per hour. These billable hours, according to the invoice, are directly tied to the proposed censure of Chris Morrow, mayor, by Rich Melton, council member, last February.
Melton introduced the censure motion Feb. 6, saying Morrow “chronically and blatantly misrepresented facts.” The censure was apparently dropped Feb. 23 after considerable legal wrangling regarding process and variations of Roberts Rules. Eventually both Morrow and Steve Shute, council president, recused themselves as they are both running for mayor.
The Gardner News requested invoices for January, February and March from McAnany, VanCleave & Phillips, after Melton suggested in the April 3 council meeting that it might be time for the city to have an in house attorney due to an increase in legal fees.
Indirect costs for the proposed censure, in addition to the more than $3,100, including attendance and preparation for city council meetings by Ryan Denk, city attorney, and his associate Greg Goheen, is difficult to calculate but appears to be at least an additional $400-$500.
There is no way to determine staff time spent on the censure motion, but if it correlates to the attorney’s billable hours it could equate to $1,400. Indirect staff time, time taken from daily duties, and loss of productivity is unknown.
There are at least eight e mails involving Melton and Denk, and three for Steve Shute, council president, and three for Morrow. Cheryl Harrison-Lee was copied on most e-mails.
Some of the invoice details include:
$881.50 —Feb. 7, 2017, “Researched legal issues regarding censure; Drafted lengthy e mail to mayor Morrow, Steve Shute, Rich Melton and Cheryl regarding the same.”
$28.50 —Feb. 15, 2015, “Multiple communications with Kansas Supreme Court Library to obtain Section 61 of Robert’s Rules of Order.“
$82.00 —Feb. 15, ,2017, “receipt and review of e mail from Rich Melton with attached legal opinion from Oakland City (California) Attorney regarding censure; Researched legal issues regarding the same; replied to Rich’s e mail.”
$471.50 —Feb. 15, 2017 “Continued researching legal issues regarding censure; Compared variances in 10th and 11th Editions of Robert’s rules regarding the same.”
Research on Robert’s rules was apparently done to determine correct procedure. At the Feb. 23 council meeting, Lee Moore, councilman, suggested amending the resolution citing Robert’s rules, and Goheen disagree. The censure was eventually declared not in order, and it has not appeared on an agenda since that time.
Hourly billing rates differ, according to the invoices. Denk, senior partner, makes $205 per hour; F.C.Dunlay, senior partner, also makes $205; Debi J. Massey, legal assistant, makes $95 per hour; and Teresa A. Mata and Robert L. Turner, associates make $175 per hour.
The invoice on which most of the business dealing with the censure totaled $14,926.50 and also included requests for information on a disputed personnel evaluation — some at the direction of council members, — preparation for and attendance at council meetings, work on the Gardner Land Development code and litigation.
Roughly, the censure research increased the city’s bill by about 20 percent, or 1 of every $5.
This isn’t the first time Melton, Lee Moore and Shute been involved in an attempt to censure. In May, 2014, Melton and Moore presented the council a petition requesting previous councilmember Larry Fotovich’s resignation, who they believed lived in Olathe. The proposal to censure Fotovich, was introduced by Steve Shute, councilmember, and it was later withdrawn after council was told such an action might have violated due process and potentially create liability for defamation and libel.
Moore and Melton were elected after Fotovitch’s departure.