3 object to Gardner’s closed door sessions
Two council members voted against an executive session at the Sept. 8 council meeting, and a planning commissioner refused to attend.
The Gardner City Council held three executive sessions totaling 50 minutes. The first session was called under attorney/client privilege and the final two to discuss personnel matters related to non-elected personnel. The motions failed to describe the substance of the executive session in general terms as required in Attorney General Opinion No. 2018-1. The Gardner News has filed a complaint with the attorney general’s office. Adrianna Meder, commissioner, also filed a complaint.
Randy Gregorcyk, council member, requested the published executive session be struck from the agenda.
“The intention of my motion, to strike the second executive session, was based on my discomfort for the reason of the session,” Gregorcyk said in a statement. “Perhaps this issue will be made public and addressed in a transparent manner, soon.”
Council members voted three to two to hold the executive session with council members Gregorcyk and Tory Roberts dissenting.
“I voted ‘no’ for the executive session,” said Roberts. “However I was in the minority, and the executive session took place. It’s my understanding that the lawyer, Ryan Denk, said we had to have the executive session. The lawyer was with us in the executive session to make sure we only talked about the published item. The city hires an attorney to provide us with legal direction, I have to trust that the lawyer is steering us in the correct direction.”
Gregorcyk continued, “I value executive sessions and using them honestly in support of policy governance. Conversely, I cannot support using them to address personal grievances. I was glad Councilwoman Robert’s felt similarly, although a majority of council decided against my motion. The City of Gardner has many projects underway and in the pipeline, that deserves council’s full attention. The council though, sadly continues to be plagued by distractions, such as was seen at the meeting on Monday, 9/8/2020.”
Prior to the executive sessions Meder, planning commission member, addressed the council during the public comments segment of the regular meeting. Her complete statement appears adjoining this story. She declined to attend the executive session behind closed doors regarding an accusation of misconduct during an April 28 commission meeting.
The accusation was made at the Aug. 3 meeting when Rich Melton, vice president, had called for Meder to be removed from the planning commission because he said she was involved in personnel matters and also due to comments on her Facebook page.
The planning department has undergone change with the departure of three employees: Kelly Woodward, chief planner, and Michelle Leininger, principal planner, ended employment with Gardner June 1, 2020, and Larry Powell, director economic development left July 2, 2020. Kiva Simmons-Lee resigned from the commission July 22, 2020 saying in a statement it was due to action by council members Melton and Mark Baldwin and also due to lack of communication regarding personnel change.
Meder read her statement Sept. 8 and said she spoke to Steve Shute, mayor, on July 30 and refused to resign from her position and also said she received an e mail from Jim Pruetting, city administrator, inviting her to the closed door session. According to a 2016 attorney general opinion, an appointed position, such as Meder’s to the planning commission, would not fit the description of “personnel”.
“My citizen opinion has nothing to do with my job,” she said Sept. 8. Meder said she refuted claims about shutting down a developer during a meeting as inaccurate.
During her statement Meder said, “I respectfully decline to participate in this evening’s executive session. I believe the city is organized in that the employees work for the city administrator, who works for the mayor, so why is the council wanting to call me into a closed meeting? There is no apparent reason for it.”
“Again, I am here to answer questions in the open public session,” Meder said. “I will not attend an executive session behind closed doors.”
The council did not respond to Meder during public session.
Reached after the meeting, Meder said she had filed a KOMA complaint with the Kansas Attorney General’s office.
“The reason is because I feel that there is no situation for me to be called into an executive session. I am not a member of Gardner’s personnel (I do not work for the City of Gardner) and I am not an elected official,” Meder said. “There was absolutely no reason for an executive session to be held period. I have no reason to defend myself against anything, I’ve done nothing wrong.”
In conclusion she says, “End of the day. Council really needs to focus on matters that directly pertain to the City of Gardner. Not this wild goose chase of trying to remove me from Planning Commission, without just cause. This is bullying in its simplest form. Time for some of the governing body to grow up and get back to the task at hand!”
In her KOMA complaint Meder asks that Shute and Melton be removed from office and that Jim Pruetting, city administrator, be investigated.
The council did recess into three closed sessions Sept. 8.
According to the city clerk:
Recessed into executive session pursuant to K.S.A. 75-4319 (b) (2), to discuss matters of attorney/client privilege for fifteen(15) minutes. (Passed unanimously)
Recessed into executive session pursuant to K.S.A. 75-4319 (b) (1), to discuss personnel matters related to non-elected personnel for twenty(20) minutes.(Passed 3-2)
Recessed into executive session pursuant to K.S.A. 75-4319 (b) (1), to discuss personnel matters related to non-elected personnel for fifteen(15) minutes. (Passed 4-0, 1 absent)
No action was taken following the sessions.