Albert Rukwaro
Special to The Gardner News
On Aug. 29 The Gardner News was barred from covering an early morning multijurisdictional 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 last week with a possible termination to be considered at the Sept. 4 council 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.