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Did commissioners’ trash trip involve trash talk?

Pair could have violated open meetings law if county business was discussed

Staff writer

Two county commissioners likely violated open meetings law by touring a trash facility together.

Commissioners Randy Dallke and Kent Becker joined transfer station director Bud Druse in a tour of the McPherson transfer station.

A new county transfer station has been an ongoing discussion among commissioners, and money has been set aside in the budget to go toward it.

A meeting consists of an interactive discussion between a majority of a governmental body on matters relating to the functions of that body, according to the Kansas Open Meetings Act.

A majority of commissioners cannot discuss public matters privately or informally outside of a meeting. Marion County only has three commissioners, so two constitutes a majority.

“As long as you’re not discussing county business, it’s not a meeting of the commissioners,” county clerk Tina Spencer said.

Commissioner Dianne Novak raised the issue at the end of Monday’s meeting during a discussion that also touched on commissioners driving together as a potential meeting violation and Dallke’s signing of official documents outside of regular meetings.

Novak, who toured McPherson’s facility separately, said she had received calls from concerned county citizens.

“You think it’s funny and you think it’s cute and it’s the way you’ve always done it,” Novak said. “That’s fine, you can do it if that’s the way you want. I’m saying I am concerned about it. I think you’re walking on thin ice because it could very well be construed as a meeting in the attorney general’s opinion.”

The purpose of the tour, Dallke said, “was to look at another facility to see what they do.”

Novak maintained that the trip and tour appeared illegal in public perception.

“Who is going to believe that you’re not talking about county business?” Novak said. “No one can prove that you are, but you can’t prove you’re not. It is a perception that is out to the county, and people are noticing.”

Novak brought up shared vehicle rides between commissioners, which was apparently done during the transfer station tour as well as commuting to a regional meeting of county commissioners in Abilene.

“Maybe I’ve been remiss or something, but Tina said that didn’t constitute a meeting, so I thought we could ride together,” Becker said.

Two commissioners riding in a vehicle together is not a violation of the law as long as county business is not discussed.

“I’m not saying you are, I’m not saying you’re not, but it is a perception,” Novak said.

She said the county reimburses gas costs, so individual travel should not be a problem.

Novak also brought up an instance where Dallke, outside of a regular meeting, signed official documents as commission chairman necessary for a construction meeting to proceed. Novak said a county resident who witnessed Dallke signing the documents in the same room as the meeting brought it to her attention.

Dallke became visibly upset and defended himself.

“I’m telling you what’s out there,” Novak said. “People are talking about it.”

“No, you’re not listening to what’s happening,” Dallke said. “You don’t believe a word that anybody says is what I’m telling you, and that’s sort of sad that you cannot believe anybody’s word. It’s just sad.”

Novak later said she did not believe that specific instance was an illegal meeting, but public perception was not positive. She said she and people in the public are also concerned about the other situations.

“It’s funny how it got to the public so quick,” Dallke said.

“Yeah, people are calling,” Novak said.

“Somebody must be calling that knows what’s going on, that’s all I know,” Dallke said. “I think we got a rat on our trail.”

County counselor Susan Robson said she would look into the legalities of the situation.

“I think with the perception of the public nowadays, I think we probably should be more cautious,” Robson said.

Dallke said Novak’s reported negative public perception was what bothered him.

“I just don’t like being accused of doing something illegal,” Dallke said.

“Nobody accused you of anything,” Novak said.

“That’s the way it sounds to me,” Dallke said.

“I think you’re guilty and I think you feel guilty,” Novak said.

“No, I’m just doing the job that I’m supposed to do to take care of Marion County,” Dallke said. “That’s what I’m going to do. You can believe whatever you want.”

“You just keep doing what you’re doing, Randy, whatever you want to do,” Novak said.

“I most certainly will,” Dallke said.

Becker brought a typed and signed statement to the newspaper office Tuesday morning, regarding the transfer station tour and travel questions:

“I would like to respond to the allegation that was raised during yesterday’s commission meeting of a potential open meetings violation arising from two commissioners riding together to a tour. I simply want to say that no County business was discussed; it was only a tour of a facility. We will be looking at different transfer station facilities around the state to help determine future needs of the County. In the future, I plan to refrain from traveling with another Commissioner to any type of function unless I know that disclosure has been made. I apologize if this has been perceived in a negative light.”

Last modified Oct. 26, 2017

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