Ongoing “bridging the gap” meetings – an unofficial gathering of the area’s key officials – seems to have stirred up some controversy, and could be linked to the possible termination of Cheryl Harrison-Lee, Gardner city administrator.
According to a source familiar with the workings of city government, Harrison-Lee was placed on administrative leave last week, and the council is scheduled for executive session Sept. 4, where her employment may be determined. To terminate her contract, the action must be initiated by Steve Shute, Gardner mayor.
The “bridging the gap” group, originally organized by Rob Kirk, chief, Johnson County Fire District, was intended to bridge the communication gap and spark communication between entities. The group at times has included Kirk; Shute; Rich Melton, Gardner council vice-president; Jim Pruetting, Gardner police chief; Mike Brown, 6th district commissioner,; Calvin Hayden, Johnson County Sheriff; Pam Stranthan, USD 231 superintendent; and Don Roberts, Edgerton mayor.
There are no agendas or minutes, according to officials. The group is fluid and unofficial.
Originally, of primary concern to the group is increased traffic and transportation at the Gardner Rd. exit and truck traffic on 191st into the LKPC intermodal. Edgerton’s mayor Don Roberts attended those meetings, although he apparently bowed out after group discussion strayed into other areas.
When contacted in June, Roberts, said he had received a request for information regarding a “360” review of Cheryl Harrison-Lee, Gardner administrator, but he declined to participate as he believed protocol would have been for Gardner to solicit a review on their city employee as opposed to delegating the fire district.
The “bridging the gap” group had met behind the scenes in relative obscurity until a May memo surfaced from Kirk, who says he was delegated by Shute to solicit reviews of Harrison-Lee’s job performance. Harrison-Lee has been the Gardner city administrator since July 2012, and in 2016, the Gardner council unanimously extended her council thru 2020. Under her tenure, the city has won several awards, most recently a national award from the International City/County Management Association or ICMA Gardner was recognized with a 2018 Certificate of Excellence in Performance Management. In 2017, Gardner added about $200 million in business under her stewardship.
Kirk’s review letter, written on Fire District #1 letterhead, is dated May 24, 2018, and begins: “Mayor Shute, I am writing you in reference to your request for a 360 evaluation of Administrator Lee-Harrison.”
Harrison-Lee is an employee of Gardner, not the fire district. It’s unclear why Shute designated the fire district to review the city administrator rather than following more traditional avenues such as contacting the city’s Human Resources department, or getting council’s approval to contract with an outside agency.
Personnel issues are ordinarily considered private and are not routinely discussed in unofficial settings.
When contacted in June, Mike Brown, 6th district commissioner, said he did not participate in a review of Cheryl Harrison-Lee. “Nothing of the kind,” he said. “It is this kind of stuff that continues to hold Gardner back,” Brown said. “Business loves certainty.” Given a choice, he said, “Business will always choose the stable environment.”
An e mail requesting clarification or information that was sent to Shute went unanswered. A KORA request for all emails contained on the city’s workstation did not garner specific information, although there was an email from Kirk specifically asking Shute to check his private Embarq email.
Year to date, the Gardner council has held about 15 closed sessions under the nonelected personnel exemption – or more than 5 hours.
Although e mails to Harrison-Lee and Shute went unanswered, Daneeka Marshall-Oquendo, public information officer, confirmed that as of Aug. 29 Harrison-Lee was still employed by the city, although she said she was unable to discuss specific personnel issues.
Although an e mail to Harrison-Lee’s city email went unanswered, she did issue a statement.
This story will be updated as information becomes available.