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  • Last modified 263 days ago (Jan. 3, 2018)

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A double chill pill

If you’re looking for a reason for this holiday weekend’s sub-zero temperatures, perhaps the place to start is with the cold front that hit the county this past week in the form of actions taken by county commissioner Dianne Novak.

Novak told county lake residents to chill out and be quiet, then froze out longtime planning commission volunteer Jeff Bina by replacing him without notice, apparently just because she could.

Both were cases of a commissioner behaving badly, judged not from only from the frosty reception they received in some circles but also from the perspectives of electoral responsibility and common decency.

Lake issues began heating up the commission room in March, with Novak and Randy Dallke clashing over allegations she gave developer Garry Dunnegan permission to cut down a tree and put down rock.

Echoing comments made by some lake residents, Novak bemoaned what she called years of neglect in lake maintenance and called for a cleanup week, which eventually happened in May.

They were back at it in June when Novak backed Dunnegan on an easement for a driveway he started building before he ever received a permit to do so.

Citing family and personal reasons, lake superintendent Steve Hudson resigned in June. Commissioner Kent Becker questioned at the time whether all the controversy was a factor. It’s hard to believe it wasn’t.

Controversy rolled on, culminating in December with Novak and Dallke clashing again at a meeting at which two lake residents called for a long-term management plan. Commissioners agreed the next week to talk to Kansas State University about creating one.

Novak then put out a call to lake patrons for “silence” as the commission moves ahead, a seemingly polite way to say, “Shut up, already; I don’t want to be bothered with your opinions anymore.”

Hot on the heels of that, Hudson’s replacement, Bryan Metz, resigned Friday after just five months on the job. Despite turmoil surrounding the lake, Metz also cited personal reasons.

Novak has sided with lake homeowners and developers as she has rightly maintained that the lake represents unrealized potential for economic growth. What she evidently wants to avoid is hearing more disagreement over how the lake is managed and what priorities should be.

If the county moves ahead with K-State, the process of developing a plan undoubtedly will involve input from all lake patrons, including those who live there. Perhaps Novak’s desired moratorium on comments is responsive to that, but it’s nonetheless ill-advised.

Commissioners don’t get to choose to slam the door on public comment when it suits them. They were elected and are paid to listen to the public, whether it’s convenient for them or not. To tell folks to be silent so the commission can do its job is forsaking the job she was elected to do: serve the public, not just special interests.

In the curious case of planning commission Jeff Bina, we’ve no quibble with the person she’s picked to replace him, William Kroupa.

I’ve known Kroupa since he was in high school. He’s smart, articulate, neighborly, and from my experience one of the most decent and responsible guys you’d ever want to meet. He’ll throw himself into the task with vigor and should serve well.

We can’t understand, though, why Bina was summarily dismissed without any question about whether he wanted to continue.

True, planning commissioners serve specific terms; unlike federal judges, they’re not appointed for life. Nevertheless, it’s been common practice, respecting the time and expertise involved, to roll over those appointments when they come due. It’s seemed to work just fine to let them step down when they believe it’s time.

Bina has been a strong contributor at planning commission meetings I’ve attended. He’s asked insightful questions, made comments demonstrative of solid knowledge of regulations, engaged responsibly and effectively with other members, and voted his conscience after thoughtful consideration.

But Novak apparently wanted to go a different direction. So given the chance to replace him, she did — without even inquiring about his interest in continuing or letting him know she was going to make a change.

Planning commission chairman Nick Kraus wasn’t at all pleased with how the change went down when we talked over the weekend, and we agree.

The civil and decent thing to do wasn’t done in this case. Those are things we generally take pride in when we talk about the qualities we love about life in rural America.

There’s no pride to be had here. Whatever the rationale, it boils down to bad government. It’s no surprise, given the bickering and sniping that’s gone on since Novak and Becker joined Dallke on the commission, that we’d see it spill out of the courthouse into the streets.

It’s time for it to stop. Commissioners can’t take things into their own hands when they don’t like what’s going on. They can’t tell people to shut up, and they can’t ignore them.

Well, I guess they can if they want to. Voters will get the chance to say what they think about that at the polls.

— david colburn

Last modified Jan. 3, 2018

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