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Commission takes no action on personnel matter
Issues causes commission to enter two executive sessions
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In other business Monday morning, the Barton County Commission:

• Approved purchasing a 2015 Virnig 74” mower from Foley Equipment’s rental fleet at a cost of $5,700. The Barton County Landfill has over 12 acres of closed area planted to native grasses, and new aerial survey techniques require that this area be mowed to obtain accurate elevations, Solid Waste Director Phil Hathcock said.  

Landfill staff researched options tackle the grass and weeds and concluded that the purchase of a mower attachment for the skid steer already operated by landfill staff would be most cost effective, he said. This mower would also be used to maintain Landfill road ditches and around maintenance buildings. 

• Approved the purchase of furniture for the Barton County Engineer’s Office. As the previous County Engineer Clark Rusco personally furnished his office, the county must now purchase an appropriate grouping for new Engineer Barry McManaman. He met with personnel from Office Products Incorporated to develop a grouping that includes a desk, conference table and chairs for a combined cost of $4,794.89.  

• Heard an update from Kansas Wetlands Education Center Site Manager Curtis Wolf. The KWEC, a branch of the Fort Hays State University’s Sternberg Museum of Natural History, is operated by FHSU personnel. The facility overlooks the 19,857 acre Cheyenne Bottom Wildlife Area managed by the Kansas Department of Wildlife, Park and Tourism and the 7,694 acre Cheyenne Bottoms Preserve managed by The Nature Conservancy.  

Wolf said it has been a busy year at the center. Total contacts increased 3 percent over the previous year, with almost 24,000 total contacts in 2015. 

These included participants in more than 614 programs conducted by KWEC staff, including 402 school programs, recreation commission programs, scouting programs, special events, and regular public programs. 

This year, Wolf said, will see the return of the Wild Goose Chase 5k/3k Fun Run (held on the off years for the biennial Wings and Wetlands Birding Festival), the Hunter Appreciation Day and Breakfast and a frog- and toad-themed art show at Barton Community College’s Shafer Art Gallery.

 The Barton County Commission took no action on an unspecified personnel matter after emerging from two executive sessions Monday morning. The closed-door discussions came at the request of Commissioner Alicia Straub based on an employee complaint outlined in a registered letter received by all commissioners last week.

Straub had first fought to have an executive session by seeking to amend the meeting’s agenda. After a second by Commissioner Homer Kruckenberg, the motion failed on a 2-2 vote, with commissioners Kenny Schremmer and Don Davis opposed.

The fifth commissioner, Jennifer Schartz, was absent due to family issues. This could have been the deciding ballot.

“It’s our obligation to address that matter,” Straub said when she made her initial attempt to discuss the letter. 

“Our job is here for the taxpayer,” Schremmer said. But, he felt the commission should have more time to study the complaint before discussing it.

“We all received the same letter,” Straub said. “This is an attempt to address that concern.”

The issue seemed dead until the commission reached the “Other Business” portion of the meeting. It was then that Straub revived her attempt at calling an executive session.

There was some resistance, but Straub said those involved deserved to have this discussed. “I take my duties as a commissioner very seriously.”

“We’re going into this blind,” Schremmer said.

Straub said the letter was received last Monday by all on the commission and there were notes on the matter in their meeting packets.

Schremmer said Straub had eluded to wanting bring something up, but didn’t say what it was. He said she “dropped a bomb on the commission.”

“I followed proper procedure,” she said. She had even consulted outside legal counsel.

In the end it was Schremmer who seconded Straub’s second try at an executive session. It passed 4-0.

The commission went into a 15-minute session, emerged, and went back in for another 10 minutes. After that, no action was taken and commissioners said they would discuss the matter further later.

Open meetings

According to the Kansas Open Meetings Act, executive sessions are permissible for 14 topics, including to discuss personnel matters, matters of attorney-client privilege and the acquisistion of real property. The governing body must specify the length of the session and can take no action behind closed doors.

They must move to come out of the session and vote on the issue at hand in an open meeting.