Special meeting set to swear in new council, mayor
BY DALE HOGG
City of Great Bend Mayor-elect Joe Andrasek and City Council members-elect Dan Heath from Ward 1, Jolene Biggs from Ward 2, Cory Urban from Ward 3 and Andrew Scott Erb from Ward 4 will officially take office during a special council meeting at 4 p.m. Monday, Jan. 8, at City Hall, 1209 Williams.
The current council will convene first to dispense with any old business. Next, the new members will be sworn in by City Clerk Shawna Schafer and take their seats in the council chambers.
Once seated, the new governing body will designate the official city newspaper and name a new council president. Andrasek will also be given the authority as one of the three signatures required for city checks.
The first regular meeting with the new members will take place at 7:30 p.m. Monday, Jan. 15, at City Hall.
It was an eye opening experience for the newly elected Great Bend City officials as Interim City Administrator George Kolb Wednesday afternoon discussed the ins and outs of city government, including executive sessions, how to handle the pubic during a meeting, ethics and the dangers of social media posts.
“You should have a code of ethics,” Kolb said. “You should serve the public equitably and do what’s in the community’s best interest.”
Kolb spoke during the second installment of an orientation for Mayor-elect Joe Andrasek and council members-elect Dan Heath from Ward 1, Jolene Biggs from Ward 2, Cory Urban from Ward 3 and Andrew Scott Erb from Ward 4. This was a follow-up to the Monday night meeting and delved deeper into the duties and responsibilities of serving the city prior to the electees being sworn in during a special meeting Jan. 8.
Current council members were also present Wednesday. Kolb noted the training also made a nice refresher course for governing body veterans.
When it comes to the Kansas Open Meetings Act, there are a lot of potential pitfalls for elected officials, Kolb said. The state law governs when a governing body must meet in public, limits what it can discuss behind closed doors in executive sessions and details the procedure required to call one.
“Executive sessions are one the ‘you’ve got to be careful’ parts of your job,” he said. “We use an abundance of caution to protect you.”
City Attorney Bob Suelter outlined the details of the KOMA. “There are many ways it can be violated. You’ve got to be careful,” he said.
In addition to getting off topic or making decisions in closed sessions (both violations), a majority of council members can communicate by phone or email, decide something and break the law. These “serial meetings” can be dangerous, he said.
Although it may be considered unethical, it is not against the KOMA for a council member to publicly leak what is discussed in an executive session.
Citizen involvement in a council meeting
Public meetings are just that, public, Kolb said. But, while civic involvement is encouraged, the council and mayor have a right and obligation to maintain order.
He suggested a period of time at the start of a meeting for public comment, with those wishing to speak filling out a form listing what they want to discuss. Then, he said, limit each speaker to five minutes with a time keeper keeping track.
But, he said, “don’t engage the speaker.” Be polite, but since these are not action items for that night, there should be limited response to the remarks.
“You don’t have to take rudeness,” Kolb said. It is up to the mayor who runs the meeting to keep order.
However, after the comment period, “generally, there should be no participation by the audience during the meeting,” he said. There are some exceptions, such as during a public hearing, but those are rare.
And, again, obnoxious “shout outs” from the public shouldn’t be tolerated. “You don’t have to allow that kind of behavior to occur during your council meeting,” he said.
“There will be disagreements,” Kolb said, referring to differences between council members. But, officials must learn to resolve these among themselves.
“You are a team,” he said. “Act as a team.”
It can be easy to undermine other council members, but that only damages the council and the city as a whole, Kolb said.
There is a state ethics law, Kolb said. There are obvious violations like taking bribes, exchanging favors for votes, but they can also include something as simple as voting when there is a conflict of interest.
“You can’t use the office for personal gain,” he said.
“All of us have a role in the media,” Community Coordinator Christina Hayes said. She covered media relations and the use of social media.
“Always treat your local media better than everyone else,” she said. These relationships are important in informing the public about the city.
As for Facebook, etc., “social media is hugely important,” Hayes said. This is key in getting the word out about the city and promoting it in a positive light.
But, this is a double-edged sword, she said. “Everything you post on Facebook is public information.”
Negative comments about the city or city personnel can be damaging to Great Bend’s image, even if they are on a council member’s personal page, she said. She cited the city losing out on hosting a state tourism conference due largely to the negativity surrounding this past summer’s controversy.
Kolb put it in stronger language. “Social media can be used as a weapon.”
There was interest among the council to revisit the city’s social media policy and revamp it.
Kolb stressed the importance of adopting the governing body manual, a comprehensive document that outlines the duties and responsibilities of the council and mayor. Then, he suggested the council review it every year, amend it and reapprove it annually.
Other things discussed included the myriad boards and commissions that serve the city, zoning, the city’s comprehensive and strategic plans, and budget planning.