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KBI probe involves ex-county administrator
Officials say some actions may be criminal in nature
new deh kbi county pic web
The Kansas Bureau of Investigation is conducting an investigation into allegations involving the Barton County government. - photo by Tribune file photo

 The Kansas Bureau of Investigation is looking into allegations involving an office within the Barton County government, KBI Communications Director Melissa Underwood confirmed.

The agency intervened in the matter at the request of Barton County Sheriff Brian Bellendir, she said. However, she could not comment further since the investigation is on-going.

Underwood said the KBI was contacted Oct. 17 in writing by Bellendir. The probe was initiated Oct. 27.

The KBI must be invited by a local agency in order to get involved, Underwood said. The bureau does turn down a number of cases. 

Although she couldn’t discuss the specifics of the case, she did say there must have been enough of an issue to justify the KBI’s participation. It also steps in when there is a case of conflict of interest for the local investigators.

County Commission Chairman Don Davis confirmed that Bellendir had looked into potentially criminal activity on the part of former County Administrator Richard Boeckman and thought it best to contact the KBI as an outside investigator. A letter from former county employee Steve Barger alleged Boeckman created a hostile work environment, but Davis said there was another instance where Boeckman’s actions could have, or may still, lead to charges being filed.

Davis said he couldn’t elaborate further due to the pending investigation. He did say the KBI has been given files, letters and emails as part of its probe.

Commissioner Alicia Straub replied to an email from the Great Bend Tribune. “Speaking only for myself, I am fully cooperating with authorities in this matter. As with any investigation, it is important that we all allow and support this part of the judicial process,” she wrote. “I also encourage any concerned citizens to attend the commission meetings and study sessions currently held on Mondays at 9 a.m. at the courthouse.”

Once the KBI completes its work, Underwood said its findings will be turned over to the Barton County Attorney’s Office.

Here’s what led up to the KBI’s involvement

The KBI was contacted by Bellendir on Monday, Oct. 17. That Friday, Oct. 21, the County Commission announced Boeckman had resigned at the request of the commission, effective immediately. The statement followed  two executive sessions totaling 90 minutes.

Boeckman resigned via letter. He was not present for the meeting.

The commission had called the special meeting in order to hire the Great Bend law firm of Watkins Calcara Chartered and immediately entered into closed-door discussions with the firm’s Allen Glendenning. Watkins Calcara was brought on to negotiate the terms of the buyout.

Boeckman was offered $27,500 to buy out his contract, Glendenning said. It could have been as new much as $60,000, but that was what the negotiations were about.

As to what precipitated the resignation request, the commissioners remained mum.

Boeckman could not be reached for comment.

Looking back further

The action Oct. 21 followed a string of closed sessions over several months. The unnamed issue has been treated as a personnel matter involving a non-elected employee. As such, commissioners said they will not be releasing any further information.

Sheriff Brian Bellendir and County Clerk Donna Zimmerman have been included in most of the closed sessions. Boeckman has not. 

Here are some of the previous events:

• On Monday, Feb. 8, the commission took no action on an unspecified personnel matter after emerging from two executive sessions that morning. The closed-door discussions came at the request of Commissioner Alicia Straub and were based on an employee complaint outlined in a registered letter received by all commissioners the week before.

Straub first sought to have an executive session by asking 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 issue seemed dead until the commissioners reached the “Other Business” portion of that meeting. Straub revived her attempt at calling an executive session and the commission acquiesced. 

• On Aug. 15, Straub again initiated an executive session to discuss personnel, which extended into a  trio of executive sessions. An internal investigation had been done and Sheriff Bellendir concluded the issue was not criminal in nature. He therefore recommended the commission turn to a civil attorney for any further investigation.

When the open meeting resumed,  the commission voted to hire Salina law firm Kennedy Berkley Yarnevich Williamson Chartered for investigative work concerning personnel issues.

• On Sept. 25, Boeckman publicly told county commissioners he planned to step down from his post come next March, but he said he was not ready to completely retire.

Boeckman had talked with commissioners about his leaving on and off over the years and the topic came up again at the commission’s study session last week. He has served as administrator/county counselor since January 2004. For 14 years prior to that, he contracted with the county as counselor.

• In a vaguely worded statement issued Wednesday, Oct. 5, Barton County commissioners announced that an investigation had been conducted but no more information was released.

The statement, made by Chairman Davis, came after two half-hour executive sessions called to discuss non-elected personnel. Present in the session with the commissioners were Zimmerman and Bellendir.

• On Monday, Oct. 10, Commissioner Straub’s asking for a 10-minute closed-door meeting 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 the 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 from those who thought the matter had been handled the previous week when it was announced that an investigation had taken place.

There were eventually an hour’s worth of executive sessions, but no more information was released afterwards.

• On Monday, Oct. 17, commissioner Jennifer Schartz requested the executive discussion, which lasted an hour. No action was taken as a result of that meeting. 

The action Friday followed a string of closed sessions over several month. The unnamed issue has been treated as a personnel matter involving a non-elected employee. As such, commissioners said they will not be releasing any further information.

Sheriff Brian Bellendir and County Clerk Donna Zimmerman have been included in most of the closed sessions.