by Patty Decker
The Free Press
When Marion County Board of Commissioners chairwoman Dianne Novak requested the Marion County Community Economic Development Corp. be discussed at the April 30 meeting, she stirred up a hornet’s nest.
Prompted by that agenda item, and Novak’s concern for restructuring the group, Anthony Roy, MCCEDC interim director, said the group was moving forward, but one member did some inappropriate things.
In an interview May 9, Roy said Mike Beneke, MCCEDC treasurer, visited the home of their only viable candidate for the director’s position. Unbeknownst to both Roy and Novak, Beneke visited the home of Gene Kimble in El Dorado on Easter Sunday.
Novak said the first she heard about what she considered a “well-planned meeting” with commissioners Randy Dallke and Kent Becker was two weeks after it took place.
“I cannot find the words to express my painful feeling of humiliation and embarrassment caused by their continued violations of the Kansas Open Meetings Act with intent to control and deceive,” Nowak said.
Roy said the candidate was interviewed for a second time at the March 28 MCCEDC meeting.
Board members were checking into working on various assignments, Roy said, and Beneke didn’t have anything specific, other than checking references.
Four days after the meeting, Beneke went to the candidate’s home unannounced while the family was trying to eat Easter dinner.
“They visited for awhile and set up a time to meet that coming Thursday, April 5, and Mike took him around the county to show him around,” Roy said. “After that day or later day, a meeting was set up between the director-candidate Kimble, Dallke and Becker, and some of the Marion city officials.
“I was not aware of the meeting and I was not invited (as the interim director of MCCEDC),” Roy added.
Other than possibly two MCCEDC board members from Peabody, he said the rest of the board was not aware of the meeting with the candidate.
“More than likely if Novak had been invited, she wouldn’t have gone because she knows open meeting violations,” Roy said. “It just ticks me off and makes it even worse that she wasn’t included.”
Roy said he wasn’t sure at what time the meeting was planned at the Historic Elgin Hotel.
Mayor weighs in
Marion Mayor Todd Heitschmidt was one of the invited guests, but the meeting itself didn’t appear to result in Becker or Dallke making any decisions for the county, he said.
“But that’s not the point of KOMA,” he said. “I believe all three commissioners should have been at the meeting. As a group, they are the only ones who actually gave the group a large sum of money. All three should have been invited, with proper KOMA notices, and (all) learning about the possible candidate.”
Heitschmidt added that he doesn’t think Beneke did anything wrong, unless his actions were not approved by the MCCEDC board of directors.
Of the nine city and county officials, plus at least one member of the public attending, multiple people were vague on the purpose of the meeting.
Heitschmidt said it was his opinion that the purpose of the meeting was to take the candidate around the county to see some of the communities and meet community leaders.
“Beneke led the meeting with some direction from Dallke,” Heitschmidt said, “but I certainly do not recall Beneke saying he was or was not there on behalf of the MCCEDC.
“I certainly assumed that as a board member and officer, he was acting on behalf of the organization to introduce a director candidate to the communities and county as part of their interview process.
Marion City Administrator Roger Holter said Beneke called him April 4 to see if he was available to meet the candidate for the director position.
Beneke said it was kind of a “meet and greet.”
“The candidate told us a bit about himself, then (Mike) said he had met with the candidate, all of his family the prior Sunday, which was Easter Sunday.”
Not only did Beneke visit the candidate’s home, but he said he went to the in-laws home, too.
Kimble then told the group about himself, and all attending the meeting were provided with documentation.
Kimble added: “You understand I am interviewing you as much as you are interviewing me.”
Holter said if memory serves, he was told to arrive at 10:30-11 a.m., but Beneke and Kimble didn’t show until almost noon.
“The meeting lasted over an hour, and then they were moving on,” Holter said. “They came from Peabody-Goessel area and talked to community leaders there, and then were going north.”
Holter also noticed Novak and Roy were not at the meeting.
Heitschmidt said what was awkward to him was when the candidate for county economic development said he would not move to Marion County.
“I had to wonder why the MCCEDC board would even present a candidate for consideration if they were already told that he would not move to Marion County,” Heitschmidt said.
Asked about the purpose of the meeting, Dallke said, “There wasn’t no meeting. (Mr.) Beneke had a candidate looking to come to our county, and he just wanted to shake hands with everybody.”
Dallke said if a candidate is looking for a job in the county and would like to meet the mayors and commissioners, then it should be done. He’s not a county employee.”
Even though MCCEDC is funded largely by the county, Dallke said there was no KOMA violation.
“No taxpayer money was spent that day,” he said. “There’s a code of ethics, that is we don’t discuss county business, and that’s the bottomline.”
Beneke brought in a candidate for a “meet and greet,” Becker said.
“All I know is the day before I was invited to a ‘meet and greet,’ I had no problem meeting the guy,” he said. “Nobody asked questions.”
Randy Collett, economic development director for the city of Marion, was also invited to the “meet and greet.”
Collett said there was no agenda. Asked who chaired the meeting, he said “chair” was too strong a word, but that Beneke sat at the head of the table and introduced the candidate.
“I don’t remember that he specifically said it was on behalf of the MCCEDC, but I think everyone in the room had a clear understanding that he was from the MCCEDC board,” Collett said.
“I also remember wondering why (Mrs.) Nowak was not in attendance, but honestly figured that perhaps with such late notice of the meeting, her schedule didn’t allow her participation.”
Roy said MCCEDC is restarting its efforts to find a director.
“The expectation,” he said, “is things are going to have to happen quicker. We would like to have had a director by now, but hope to fall in the 90-day deadline.”
The MCCEDC board includes Amy Doane, chair; Merlyn Entz, vice-chair and Peabody representative; Hannah Bourbon, secretary; Mike Beneke, treasurer; Jared Jost, Clint Seibel, David Mueller and Darin Neufeld.
In addition, Roy said, the board is still needing two more elected people and one more from Marion to make a board of 10.
The MCCEDC board will have a special meeting May 15 in the basement of the Emprise Bank Building to brainstorm and discuss ideas, that will be a continuation of the April 24 meeting, Roy said.
For more information, email: anthony.roy@city ofhillsboro.net.