A Gardner News reporter was recently locked out of a multijurisdictional meeting at the New Century Firehouse. We’ve been asked why. Both why we tried to attend, and why we were locked out.
Thru the years, we’ve been asked to attend many meetings, some that fall under the auspices of the Kansas Open Meetings Act, some that don’t. For the most part, elected officials and employees are good people – trying to serve their community. We appreciate that.
We also understand that there is a need to “bridge the gap” and increase communication between local entities: Gardner, Edgerton and USD 231 primarily. In the past year, some have grown increasingly territorial and suffer from ego and tunnel vision, which does not serve taxpayers well.
For example:
The schools and Edgerton disagree on in lieu of taxes and abatements for warehouses at the intermodal;.
Gardner and Edgerton disagree on traffic concerns at 191st and also Waverly Rd – with Gardner council members going so far as to make detrimental social media videos;.
Gardner and USD 231 are feuding over park and recreation programs, with USD 231 “taking their ball and going home” and starting their own Gardner Edgerton Youth and Community Programs in 2017. It has cost residents about $214,000 in monies that could have gone to teachers and students.
So we applaud Chief Rob Kirk, Johnson County Fire District #1, for trying to “bridge the gap” and increase communication. We’ve known him 30 years, and he has a good heart and love of community. We’re afraid he’s been led astray.
It appears “bridging the gap” jumped the track, with Gardner’s Mayor Steve Shute asking members of the group to review city employee Cheryl Harrison-Lee, administrator, last May. That’s inappropriate and unprofessional. Personnel matters are private and are routinely handled in closed session. They should be. Although within Shute’s right to review Harrison-Lee, it should have been done in a professional manner rather than in a mixed group of officials, including at least one of Harrison-Lee’s subordinates.
This kind of unprofessional action – as well as others we have seen posted on social media by Gardner council- beg for a lawsuit. USD 231’s former school superintendent was awarded $1.5 million – how much more are residents willing to pay for officials who foolishly – recklessly – handle personnel issues?
The Gardner News, because we knew the “bridging the gap” clandestine group had been involved in a “360” review of Harrison-Lee, and because we were alerted that Harrison-Lee had been put on administrative leave, tried to attend the meeting. We wanted to ask questions of participants.
We were locked out.
There’s an old adage, if you’re doing nothing wrong, what do you have to hide? We would ask officials that. Why not let our reporter in, say hello, and scurry him on his way. We understand the need for multijurisdictional meetings, but we were suspicious based on the group’s past activities, location, timing regarding Harrison-Lee and the early morning time.
And we’re ever-more curious considering the locked door and how curtains were drawn as we passed the window.
And still there is silence from Gardner City Hall.