A plan to fill a vacant seat on the Gardner city council without transparency or opening the application process met with pushback from two councilmembers and an apology from Steve Shute, Gardner mayor, according to information received thru a Kansas Open Records Request made by The Gardner News.
Rich Melton, councilman, resigned Jan. 10, and the mayor suggested his vacant position be filled Feb. 1 without opening the application process as required.
“As all of you know, this creates a vacancy in the Council which will need to be filled. Per the precedent that we set with Tory when former Council President Lee Moore vacated his seat, we do have the option of filling Rich’s seat with the person who received the next most votes in the 2019 general election; that individual would be Kacy Deaton,” Steve Shute, mayor, wrote in an e mail. “Or, we could open the process up for interviews. Since Rich got his resignation letter in before Monday the 18th, we could post the position and hold interviews at our next scheduled meeting on the 1st of February. Please respond back with your preference to the City Clerk ONLY by tomorrow evening, January 20th . As Rich is no longer officially on the Council, he will not need to respond.”
Both Randy Gregorcyk and Tory Roberts, councilmembers, questioned the mayor’s suggestion and whether it followed the rules of procedure.
In a Jan. 20 e mail, Roberts wrote she had read the ordinance, “I want to have the interview process. I want us to be very open and transparent during this process,” she wrote.
Gregorcyk highlighted rules of procedure and also questioned Shute’s appointment plan in an e mail.
James Pruetting, city administrator, responded: “Randy, The Mayor was made aware today that the Governing Body Rules of Procedure don’t allow for the appointment to fill Rich’s vacancy without going through the process outlined in Section G. He should be sending an email out to the council clarifying that. Sharon will be soliciting and accepting applications from the public through February 1st, with interviews occurring during the council meeting on the 15th. JP”
Shute issued the following response via e mail: “Good afternoon, After carefully reviewing the Governing Body Rules of Procedure and consulting with city staff, I was mistaken regarding my interpretation of precedent. That was a special circumstance that existed because we had just had an election and the seat was already open. That circumstance does not exist now. My apologies for the confusion – there was never any intention on my part of not being transparent. We will strictly follow the letter of the Governing Body Rules of Procedure and accept applications for the open Council position until the end of day on Monday, February, 1st. Interviews of those wishing to fill the seat will take place at the regularly scheduled Council meeting on Monday, February 15th . “
According to the city’s public information officer six applications at been received..