ORIGINALLY WRITTEN BRENDA CONYERS
Marion County commissioners declined at their Monday meeting a written request from Hoch Publishing to seek an opinion from the state attorney general’s office regarding the publication of legal notices.
The City of Hillsboro recently voted to have legal notices published in the Free Press Digest, a publication that had 15 subscribers at the time it was selected.
The letter from Hoch Publishing asked the commission to request an opinion from the attorney general whether the Free Press Digest qualified under Kansas law to be an official newspaper.
Commission chair Leroy Wetta said, “In our opinion, this is in Hillsboro and is their situation.”
Several months ago, the commission turned down a proposal to make the Digest the official newspaper for Marion County.
Commissioner Howard Collett said: “We discussed this earlier in the year and consulted with our county attorney. We did what we felt is best at that time.”
The issue of firework permits was raised in a letter County Clerk Carol Maggard gave to commissioners.
Commissioner Bob Hein said there are a lot of considerations for these permits, including weather conditions such as wind, dryness and the concerns of neighbors.
Commissioners decided to research the issue and discuss the matter later.
Commissioners decided after going into executive session to offer the position of county appraiser to Dianna Carter of Hillsboro.
Carter accepted the position later on Monday. A formal motion will be made at the next meeting.
Collett addressed the issue of stones removed from an arched bridge designed by architect Fred Lewis. The bridge was dismantled in 1995, and the stones have been stored on county facilities since that time.
Last week, Harry Bennett, a volunteer who was seeking to find uses for the stones in public places, discovered the stones were at the Marion Country Club.
Collett read Kansas Statute 19-211 regarding the disposal of county-owned property.
Since neither the bridge nor the stones were ever part of a historical society list, their disposal and distribution are “a matter of law,” Collett said.
“I am going to be a bad guy, but we must get back into compliance,” he said.
The statute stated plans for distributing county-owned property valued at $1,000 to $50,000 must be published at least twice in the official county newspaper. And the distribution must be done under board action.
“No board action was taken, so there had been no official transfer of the stones,” Collett said. “The stones have been moved, but the title has not been transferred.
“We represent all of the people in the county, and to give the stones to a private entity, well, I have a moral problem with it, even if it were as a gift,” he said. “We can’t dump a load of gravel in my driveway and call it a gift.”
Wetta refigured the value of the stones at $300 per 100 stones.
“I can see where Howard is coming from-$30,000 is a couple of bucks, and we have been talking about budget crunches,” Wetta said.
Jack Swain, one of the men who had marked the stones at the time the bridge was taken apart, was present and offered input to the commissioners.
“I would like to ask how the stones got from the quarry to the country club,” he said.
Collett said that information was not really relevant to the problem they were discussing at this time.
“The future of the stones should be given careful consideration throughout the county,” Swain said, emphasizing the emotional and historical value of the stones.
He then said when he first started working with Harry Bennett, Swain didn’t care for or get alone with him, and their political outlooks were at opposite extremes.
“But in working with him, I found in this project he was a hard-working honorable man,” Swain said. “He did what he said he would do.”
Swain said he felt in the past the county commission “shabbily used” Bennett.
“These stones are prized possessions of the county,” Swain said. “They need to be returned to the county and remain there until the policy developed by the commission is followed.”
Last summer, about 15 of the stones were used to create a stand for the museum bell. Swain was the creator and artisan of the project and said he had left five of the large stones on the west side of the museum to continue the path that runs around the park, and he hoped more stones could be used in the development of the path.
Swain suggested a committee be appointed to oversee the use and care of the stones.
“There are many unanswered questions that need to be answered before a final decision is made,” he said.
Collett said he held a different view of the situation and saw the stones to be similar to arrowheads.
Lewis designed the bridge, but other artisans cut the stones, and the county purchased them about 100 years ago to build the bridge.
Collett said the Road and Bridge Department had carried the cost for removal and storage of the stones in their budget, and they should not have to carry historical items on the budget.
“The stones are now making history because of their association with Lewis,” Swain said. “I recognize other people have rights, but this is a way for me to apologize to Harry for the past. In this project, he acted honorably.”
Gerald Kelsey, Road and Bridge supervisor, acknowledged the situation was his fault, but commissioners reassured him they realized he was acting in good faith under the instructions of a previous commissioner.
Kelsey wanted to know why there were no minutes to clarify the situation. He said there had been times in the past when discussion went on when the county clerk had temporarily left the room.
“I still think they are just rocks,” Wetta said.
Collett said he felt the stones should be returned to the county by the country club until appropriate board action had been taken.
Hein said he thought that would upset a lot of people.
Collett made a motion to rescind last week’s motion to offer the stones to Marion City for use in the city park. The motion carried.