On Aug. 29 The Gardner News was barred from covering an early morning multi-jurisdictional meeting between area public officials held at a conference room at the New Century Fire Station.
The group meets twice a month, and it came to the attention of The Gardner News when group members previously “reviewed” Cheryl Harrison-Lee, Gardner city administrator, at the request of Mayor Steve Shute. Standard procedure is to keep personnel issues confidential and top officials of Gardner should review the city’s employee.
Although unconfirmed, sources with knowledge of city operations say, Harrison-Lee was put on administrative leave this week with a possible termination to be considered at the Sept. 4 council meeting. An e mail sent to Shute regarding Harrison-Lee’s employment was not answered. The public information officer said she was unable to discuss personnel issues, but confirmed Harrison-Lee was still an employee as of Aug. 29.
Although an e mail to Harrison-Lee’s city e mail was not responded to, a statement was issued by Harrison-Lee Aug. 30.
“There are questions regarding my status with the City of Gardner. I do not intend to make any public statement, except that I hope to continue serving our city,” Harrison-Lee wrote.
She continued: “In September the City of Gardner will receive for the first time ever an international Certificate of Excellence in Performance Management recognition from the City Managers Association.
In 2017, the City also received the following awards:
Innovative Recreation Program Award from Kansas Parks and Recreation Association,
Distinguished Budget Presentation Award from the Government Finance Officers Association (received three consecutive years),
Healthy Kansas City “Silver” Level Certification from the Kansas City Area Chamber of Commerce, and
“Tree City USA”, continuing our long history of receiving this award.
Gardner now has a new Comprehensive Plan, Land Development Code, Economic Development Strategic Plan, Economic Development Incentive Policy, Growth Management Strategy, and Capital Improvement Element. As a result of this progress, the city was able to compete for Amazon’s next headquarters and we have over $200 million in economic development projects under construction or in review. The city is poised for the future and I hope everyone shares my pride in our city.”
Reporter barred from meeting
Dubbed ‘bridging the gap,’ the Aug. 29 meeting was one of a series and brought together at least nine local elected and appointed officials from six jurisdictions. Attendees included Gardner Mayor Steve Shute, Councilmember Rich Melton, Gardner Police Chief James Pruetting, USD 231 Superintendent Pam Stranathan and Johnson County Fire Chief Rob Kirk.
A Gardner news reporter was barred from accessing the New Century Fire station in which Kirk said there was a private gathering of officials “just like a meeting in a coffee shop.”
When told the fire station was public property, Kirk said the officials have been meeting for some time now, but he declined to disclose the meeting agenda or who convened it.
“We don’t have an agenda, we just meet to talk about issues,” he said.He said the group meets every other week and sometimes includes Johnson County commissioners.
“Nobody convenes the meeting, people just show up,” he added.
Kirk said that the meeting is known as “bridging the gap,” but he could not explain which gaps in public service the meeting was convened to bridge.
When the reporter repeated that he needed to talk to the officials at the meeting, Kirk said the meeting was private and not open to the press.
“We have had a good relationship with The Gardner News, now going on 20 years. Don’t mess with that,” he said.
He however promised to take any questions about the meeting in the future.
“I have to go back in there now,” he said before locking the door.
The Gardner News has obtained a copy of a letter indicating Shute did ask “bridging the gap” members to conduct a “360” review. Read more in The Gardner News.