Gardner city government let their dysfunction hang out again at their meeting Jan. 3.
Gardner’s council – for years known for their petty politics and theatrics – has apparently boiled over again and includes staff. We thought the years of impolite outbursts, accusations and even “after-meeting confrontations” from several years ago were past under the newest regime.
It’s sad.
While our neighbor to the south is annexing and building, and Olathe is creeping even closer towards us, Gardner is once again mired down with petty infighting.
Jan. 3 a presentation was made by Rich Melton, councilman, regarding the reporting structure of the Gardner Police Department. In itself, the presentation was okay, although suggestions were ambiguous and no decisive plan was provided. Melton made several suggestions regarding a different reporting structure, but no specifics were provided. In fact, he said, if a reporting structure change was implemented and didn’t work after a few weeks, it could be changed again.
Government, and large business, doesn’t necessarily work that way.
And it shouldn’t.
There is a lot that has to be considered; not the least of which is who has budget authority; and who has supervisory authority – which was a primary reason both the electric utility and municipal airport‘s operations have been taken in house — under this same council.
Also just last year, the council extended an iron clad contract with the city’s administrator, and one of the duties specifically listed is oversight of the police department. Since 1982, all police chiefs have been hired, and have worked, under the oversight of the administrator.
If GPD’s reporting structure is changed; does that put the council in breach of contract with the city administrator? How would that be handled? And how would the usurping of the administrator’s ability to manage and supervise impact morale of other departments? With the police currently the subject of a wrongful death lawsuit, will a change in a reporting structure bring into question the GPD’s professional judgment and training? Who would assume legal liability, especially when members of the GPD involved in the suit are posting on social media?
A possible change of GPD’s reporting structure was first mentioned in mid-2016, but the discussion item never made it to an agenda, possibly because five council meetings were cancelled in that period primarily due to attendance issues, and the last police advisory meeting of record was in September.
The Jan. 3 GPD discussion also spawned an outburst from the human resources department head, who publicly criticized the police chief. Partially at issue was the release of a “working document” that would not have been subject to the Kansas Open Records Act if it had not been handed out in open session.
The release of the document – by Melton and Jim Pruetting, police chief – seems ill advised, ill timed, politically motivated and divisive. We believe in the KORA, but it does not require the release of working documents. In itself, the document had little of substance other than potential cell phone, retirement and overtime policy. The last page of the memo, titled “insubordination,” was not released.
If council wants to micro-manage city staff, they should not have hired a city administrator or approved a four year contract last year.
If council wants to establish a separate GPD agency, why did they take over budgetary and reporting issues for the electric utility board and municipal airport board?
If a police board is established, and managed by council, who will assume legal and personal liability for decisions, insurance, liability and legal costs?
How will the city administrator’s contract be renegotiated?
The council is, once again, acting schizophrenic.
That sends an unstable message to potential developers.
And it’s not in the best interest of the taxpayers.
Nor is it in the long-term best interest of the GPD.