Commissioners may have met against the law

Because two Marion County commissioners and the county’s transfer station director visited an area transfer station, questions were raised at Monday’s county commission meeting whether that event violated Kansas open meeting laws.

The reason the event could be construed as a violation is because neither the press nor the public were notified prior to the “meeting.”

Commission chairman Randy Dallke and commissioner Kent Becker drove to the transfer station in McPherson with their director, Bud Druse, to learn more about other communities designs.

Commissioner Dianne Novak, who was told about the transfer station event by some of her constituents, said she did understand the purpose for visiting the site.

The purpose was to tour the facility, but the circumstances could be called into question, she said.

Dallke said he, Becker and Druse went to the site to look at the transfer station, and that was their only intention.

In addition, Dallke told Druse it was important to see what the transfer stations employees do and how they do it.

“I would like to visit more facilities,” he said.

But Novak’s concern was making sure to notify the public. Based on what the Kansas Attorney General’s office states, it’s not possible to know what the intent is (when two commissioners travel together), she said.

According to the Kansas Open Meetings Act, a meeting of a public body is subject to KOMA based on three elements.

The first is that there’s an interactive discussion, which doesn’t necessarily have to involve action or votes taken; the second is the meeting involves at least a majority of the body, and the third is the meeting relates to matters of that body.

In this situation, all three elements were present to qualify under the KOMA.

County Clerk Tina Spencer said if a mistake was made it would be her mistake and not the mistake of the commissioners.

“If I self-report, it would be in regard to the transfer station,” she said, “because (the commissioners) were going to see something that could perhaps help them with a decision in the future.

“I can see where the tour itself could be construed as county business, even though that isn’t the way I perceived it.”

Spencer said she wants to be proactive on this matter, and if a mistake was made, she will own up to it.

Consultant contract

The commissioners approved a contract with Russ Ewy, a plan­ning consultant with Baughman Co.

Emma Tajchman, director of the county’s Planning and Zoning Department, said Ewy replaces David Yearout, who previously served in that capacity.

“Russ took Dave Year­out’s contract and added a few paragraphs to it to make sure it is the county’s work product and not his,” she said.

Ewy said he is bound by rules of no disclosure and is a quasi-employee.

Tajchman said Ewy was recommended by Yearout, and thus far has been working with her on the comprehensive plan and adoption of that plan.

As a consultant, Ewy not only will provide assistance with planning and zoning matters, but other matters as well, she said.

“Russ has been extremely helpful,” Tajchman said. “In the last month he’s been here, we’ve had a good working relationship.”

Dallke said Tajchman is stepping on new ground regarding zoning matters with conditional-use permits.

Tajchman agreed that with the addition of wind farms in the county, Ewy’s expertise will be vital.

Yearout began working with the county in the summer of 2009, but resigned his position with the county recently.

Spencer said he would not have enough time to assist the county after taking another position in Wichita/Sedgwick County.

Motor grader classes

Jesse Hamm, director of the Road and Bridge Department, said a two-day class this month is planned to familiarize new employees, including veteran employees, with the operation of motor graders.

The seminar was set up by Caterpillar, he said.

The first two hours of the seminar will be in the classroom, and rest of the day and second day are in the field.

Twenty employees will be participating and split into two groups of seven and one group of six, Hamm said.

“I will do a dig safe on a mile so that the instructor can show maintenance of a road,” Hamm said.

The instructor is Phil Newbury.

In addition, he will also show the rebuilding and operation of a motor grader, which is a construction machine with a long blade used to create a flat surface during the grading process.

Other business

In other business, the commission:

• considered whether to add language regarding behavior to the agenda that might include silencing cell phones, being respectful and other similar conduct when attending meetings.

• approved three new hires to include Jeffery Johnson, Tyler Bentz and Matthew Bryant in the Road and Bridge Department as entry level equipment operators, Hamm said.

• approved an addendum to the lease on the Salem Home apartment to clarify utility billing. The county is also receiving a credit back of almost $700 on past payment. The apartment is being used by additional EMS personnel located in Hillsboro.

• voted to engage an attorney to review the previous wind energy project conditional use permit. Bradley A. Stout of Adams Jones Law Firm, P.A., was selected and will be paid a flat rate of $3,000.

In addition, the commission could also engage the same attorney to review documents pertaining to the current CUP application that was filed, but that would be on an hourly basis.

• reviewed new copier bids presented by Hamm for his department. The bid was awarded to 360 Document Solutions for a Kyocera TASKalfa 3252ci multifunctioned system at $5,549, and $187.50 per year on maintenance plus color copies at 6 cents each after $5,000 free.

The other bid was from Konica  at $6,320 plus $87 a year maintenance and 4 cents each for color copies.

• asked Hamm to consider looking for new employees outside Marion County when warranted. Novak said that while she wants to hire primarily from Marion County, sometimes the lack of resources here prompt the search to be expanded.

• received an answer to their question about how many transfer stations are in Kansas. Druse said there are 66 throughout the state.

• approved Tajchman advertising for a part-time entry level secretary to assist with clerical duties in the Planning and Zoning office.

• asked Druse to set up other transfer station tours. Becker and Dallke both acknowledged their recent tour at the McPherson transfer station was beneficial in learning about other design ideas.

• received updates from Diedre Serene, health department, regarding the Marion County Health Fair planned from 8-11 a.m. Nov. 4. She also said the department gave more than 300 flu shots in October.

Diedre said that to date only 43 county employees have gotten flu shots, and 129 were high dose for people age 65 and older.