Commissioners hear from former jail committee member

The Marion County Board of Commissioners made time on Monday?s agenda to hear the concerns of a Marion man who was dismissed in September as an appointee to the county jail committee.

But the commissioners didn?t give him much empathy.

Harry Bennett, rural Marion, was ?resigned? from the Marion County Public Safety and Law Enforcement Center Committee by the commissioners Sept. 21.

Commissioners said Bennett had overstepped the bounds of his position by inquiring about an existing building to house a new jail and communications center without having authorization to do so.

Prior to Monday?s meeting, Bennett had sent a letter to the commissioners outlining his concerns. He said at the meeting that newspaper accounts of his dismissal gave the public the impression he was a ?bad person? when all he was trying to do was gather information that would be helpful to the committee.

He also challenged the way the committee and commissioners handled the issue, including the committee discussing the issue at a meeting where he was not present and in closed session.

The Kansas Attorney General?s Office, in response to a letter from Bennett, later ruled the jail committee was subject to the states open-meetings laws.

Commissioner Dan Holub said the commissioners were not going to revisit the issue of committee procedures because he personally had told the committee he did not believe they were subject to the open-meetings laws. Holub said the committee had acted in good faith on that issue?as had he?and he had issued a public apology for misinforming them.

Holub also said the commissioners would not reconsider its decision to remove Bennett from the committee because it was clear to them that Bennett had indeed exceeded the authority the commissioners had assigned to the committee when he inquired about the property.

Bennett suggested the commissioners? instructions to the committee were not clear, referring to a document he said he received when he first started serving on the committee. It stated, among other things, that the committee was to ?develop and evaluate alternatives to new construction.?

Holub responded: ?The bottom line is real estate was not (part of the committee?s mandate).?

Commissioner Randy Dallke said late in the conversation, ?We?re not going to accomplish anything this way. What we were told to do, if you wanted this time, that you could come in and say anything you?d like to, Harry, and that we would accept your comments and move on.?

Bennett maintained that all he was trying to do by investigating the possibility of ?recycling? the old building was to contribute to the committee?s primary mandate to recommend a cost-effective solution to the county?s jail needs.

Other matters

In other matters, the commissioners:

n heard Holub say that the state has increased the personal property tax assessments on all golf carts by more than 300 percent. The traditional fee, he said, was $18 a year, but the new fee is $75.

Holub said golf-cart owners need to know that they should go ahead and pay the additional taxes ?under protest,? and then appeal the assessment, based on the fair market value of the golf cart, via the county appraiser?s office.

More information on the appeal process will be published in the near future, Holub said.

n agreed to ask the county attorney to issue a written warning to a farmer living south of Lincolnville who has been interfering with road maintenence near his farm.

John Summerville, the county?s interim road and bridge director, said the farmer has been asked several times not to grade the road with his personal equipment but has continued to do so.

n authorized the purchase of a ?laser level? for the road and bridge department to replace an outdated model. Summerville said the tool, which measures the grade needed for road maintenance, will cost around $1,500.

n approved wage adjustments for staff within the county treasurer?s office to reflect a change in compensation policy based on 371⁄2 hours a week to 40 hours a week. The commissioners did not change the salary of the county treasurer, though, since it is an elected position.

n agreed to keep the position of county health department administrator at part-time rather than full-time. It was reported that administrator Diedre Serene, currently hired for 20 hours per week, believed she could keep her hours below 30 hours per week, even with a heavier workload because of flu vaccinations.

Rather than make the position full-time, the county will pay the appropriate fees for the state retirement program on behalf of the administrator.

n took a brief tour to see progress made on remodeling the dispatch center in the existing county jail facility. Michele Abbott, director of Marion County Emergency Management, said she and her staff will likely move into the area in mid-December.

n authorized the purchase of three new personal computers for the dispatch center from Great Plains Computers at a cost of $1,195 per computer, plus a three-year maintenance warranty.

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