County commissioners have selected a new county appraiser and a new park and lake superintendent.
However, after making the selections in what appear to be a series of illegal meetings, they are refusing to say who their choices are.
The Kansas Open Meetings Act, specifically KSA 75-4319(c), forbids elected officials from taking binding actions behind closed doors.
At this newspaper’s request, officially adopted minutes of a recent commission meeting were reviewed by Kansas Press Association’s media law expert, Lawrence attorney Max Kautsch.
“In consecutive sentences as the end of the highlighted portion of the meeting, the board both took no action AND offered an applicant a job,” Kautsch wrote. “Those two things are in opposition to each other. The board has violated KOMA because it took binding action to essentially hire an applicant without voting on the issue in open session in violation of KSA 75-4319(c).”
Kautsch has volunteered to help the newspaper file a formal complaint of the Open Meetings Law violations with the state attorney general’s office.
Previously issued opinions by that office state that a public body may go into executive session to interview, discuss, and consider applicants or prospective employees to protect the prospective employees’ privacy interests. However, binding action to select an employee may not be taken in executive session.
On Monday, commissioners conducted an executive session to discuss candidates for park and lake superintendent. Last week, they discussed candidates for appraiser.
In both last week’s discussion of prospective county appraisers and Monday’s discussion of prospective park and lake superintendent, the decision who to hire was made behind closed doors. Commissions announced after returning to open session that no action had been made but further stated, as is listed in the approved minutes for a July 11 meeting, “the board determined that an offer would be made.”
County clerk Tina Spencer said this was routine for county commissioners.
“They are waiting to see if the person accepts and then they’ll announce that,” Spencer said. “Typically they don’t announce that until the person accepts.”
Also decided in closed session was the amount of money to be offered to the candidates.
Commissioners came out of a closed session to discuss the park and lake budget Monday, then returned to closed session to decide who to offer the position.
Commission chairman Randy Dallke said particular candidates were decided during closed sessions as well as pay ranges for the positions.
Dallke said he had contacted the appraiser candidate with an offer and the candidate would meet with the commission July 31.
Dallke said Monday that he had not yet contacted the new park and lake superintendent candidate.