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County probe topic of contentious executive session
No new information emerges about investigation of non-elected personnel
new deh county commission executive session photo web
Barton County Commission Chairman Don Davis, left, and Commissioner Alicia Straub take part in a tense exchange about holding an executive session Monday morning. - photo by DALE HOGG Great Bend Tribune

 Commissioner Alicia Straub’s asking for a 10-minute closed-door commission meeting Monday morning sparked a heated exchange after fellow commissioners felt blind-sided by the request. Straub sought the executive session as an addition to the agenda to continue discussions around an investigation involving non-elected county personnel.

Straub asked for the session as the commission was set to adopt the agenda for the regular meeting. However it met with resistance.

“I think everything was covered last week,” commission Chairman Don Davis said. The investigation was the topic of a series of executive sessions three weeks ago as well as last week.

“I would appreciate a heads up,” Commissioner Jennifer Schartz said. That would give her a little time to prepare.

“I don’t like surprises either,” Commissioner Kenny Schremmer said. “Why do you do this?”

Schremmer was asking about what he and others on the commission see as a continuing annoyance as Straub brings up issues at the last minute. Fellow commissioners asked Straub Monday morning why she didn’t notify them in advance that she planned to seek the executive session.

She said she couldn’t visit the others privately. “I feel like its a violation of the open meetings act.”

The tension in the commission chambers was palpable as voices were raised. “If I could fire you, I would do it today,” a visibly angry Davis said.

That comment drew gasps and responses from those in the audience.

“That is ridiculous to be talking like that,” said audience member Becky Wornkey. “We elected her. You don’t have the authority.”

Davis later admitted he couldn’t take such action and apologized for his comment.

In the end, Straub moved the agenda be amended to include the executive session. It passed with Straub, Schartz and Schremmer voting for it.

Opposed were Davis and Commissioner Homer Kruckenberg, who had also said he felt the matter had been talked about enough.

The contentious session fell at the end of the agenda meeting and before the commission’s ending business.

After the commission emerged, Davis said there was nothing else to say following the announcement last week regarding the probe. “The situation is being handled. We are in compliance with the decision we make last week.”

Both Davis and Schremmer said this Monday’s closed-door session allowed all the commissioners to be “on the same page.”

Under investigation

What is the investigation all about? Not much was said last Monday after the commission was behind closed doors for an hour.

It is being treated as personnel matter involving a non-election employee. As such, commissioners said they will not be releasing any further information.

The matter dates back to August.  

After executive sessions on Aug. 16, the commission approved hiring the law firm Kennedy Berkley Yarnevich Williamson Chartered, Salina, to assist with an investigation. The action came at the recommendation of Sheriff Brian Bellendir, who said based on the information obtained during the course of an internal investigation, the issue appeared  not criminal in nature. 

Straub initially raised issue in in response to information someone had relayed to her.

Bellendir and County Clerk Donna Zimmerman were asked to remain in the sessions in August, as well as those three weeks ago and last week. However, it was just the commission in the session Monday morning.