A statement from the City of Great Bend Wednesday afternoon said there were no violations of the Kansas Open Meetings Act when a select City Council committee met to discuss a revised economic development contract with the Great Bend Chamber of Commerce. However, city officials said they will nonetheless take steps to be more transparent.
The comments came after the hoopla this week following the council meeting Monday night, and discussion about a select council committee’s meeting last week regarding agreement with the chamber. There have been questions surrounding the as yet undisclosed details of the agreement and did the council violate the Kansas Open Meetings Act when the committee took action.
In the statement, the city addressed these issues.
“The Great Bend City Council would like to address public concerns regarding a possible violation of the Kansas Open Meetings Act,” the statement reads. “At the May 6th city council meeting, Mayor Andrasek appointed himself and four city council members; Cory Urban, Jolene Biggs, Dana Dawson and Chad Somers, who has since resigned, to an Economic Development Committee for the purpose of evaluating the method by which the City conducts economic development activities.”
It goes on to say: “Kansas Statute K.S.A. 75-4317a defines a meeting as ‘… a majority of the membership of a public body or agency subject to this act for the purpose of discussing the business …’ In our form of government, the mayor is not counted as a part of the governing body when determining issues of a majority or quorum.
“As such, there has been no violation of the Kansas Open Meetings Act.”
“However, the city council and staff are mindful of the appearance of impropriety. Furthermore, they acknowledge that their actions, while legal, were not best practice and in the future will take steps to ensure citizens’ confidence in their commitment to transparency in all aspects of government.”
In 1986, then Kansas Attorney General Bob Stephan issued and opinion regarding a case in Olathe. It reads in part: “The intent of the Kansas statutes authorizing the mayor-council form of municipal government is that the office of mayor is separate and distinct from the members of the council. In other words, the mayor doesn’t factor into the equation when figured quorums and majorities.
While the city’s citation of the statute in its statement is accurate, the City of Great Bend Code of Ordinances states, “‘Governing body’ means and includes the mayor and the councilmembers of the city.”
And, the 1986 AG opinion goes on to say:
“Whether or not the mayor or chief officer of a municipal corporation is regarded as a member of the municipal legislative body depends on the terms of the charter or statute under which the corporation is organized. It has been held that he is not a member of the governing body, or a branch thereof, unless expressly made such by law.”
So, how many members constitute a meeting?
According to the statute referenced earlier: “Meeting defined. As used in the open meetings act, ‘meeting” means any gathering or assembly in person or through the use of a telephone or any other medium for interactive communication by a majority of the membership of a public body or agency subject to this act for the purpose of discussing the business or affairs of the public body or agency.’”
So, on the council, eight council members plus the mayor is the governing body per ordinance. If the mayor is included as part of the governing body (as outlined by the city’s general provisions) a majority of the nine-member body would be five.
When the council’s committee met, there were four council members (three after Somers resigned) and the mayor present. This brings the total to five prior to Somers’ resignation.
What about that contract?
The new pact with the chamber was added to the council’s Monday agenda after it had been finalized and distributed. This forced the agenda to be amended at the meeting.
The actions caused concerns from some at the meeting, which was attended by a large contingent of chamber supporters. They argued they were unaware of the new contract and did not know what the changes were.
It was in December that the city and the chamber approved a revamped contract for economic development services to, in part, improve communication with the chamber and require more accountability for economic development efforts. The old contract dated back to 1999 when the city first started working with the chamber.
The council committee was to meet with Andrasek, City Administrator Kendal Francis and the Great Bend Chamber of Commerce and Economic Development Executive Board to discuss ideas and possibly restructuring economic development Great Bend.
But, they were not invited to a meeting last week when the contract was finalized for presentation to the full council.
The matter will be brought back again at the June 17 meeting. The council committee and the chamber board Executive Committee will meet at 5 p.m. today at City Hall to go over the plan.