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  • Last modified 18 days ago (April 22, 2021)

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Keeping
everyone in the dark

One vote — from Susan Gray, Chris Costello, or David Mayfield — is all that separated Marion administrator Roger Holter from losing his job Monday night.

It was a victory not just for Holter but also for Mayfield, who since taking office seems to have changed his mind from what he told voters about Holter on the campaign trail.

A key issue appears to be whether Holter, who uncharacteristically failed to post on the city’s website that his reappointment was on Monday’s agenda, shares with council members only information that supports actions he wants them to take.

His refusal to allow council member Ruth Herbel prompt access to data he would use in filling out the blank check council members gave him to calculate electric surcharges was merely the latest in a series of officious and imperious actions.

Eventually he gave her the information that she asked for as one of his bosses. But that happened only after she requested it as a private citizen under the Open Records Act and only after he intentionally delayed his response the full amount of time that act allows.

Such silliness isn’t isolated. An attempt two weeks earlier to prod officials into prematurely overturning the city’s mask mandate by mischaracterizing pending legislation was yet another.

Despite bombarding utility customers with costly newsletters and routinely deluging council members with reams of reading matter — much of it stamped confidential, even though it’s just magazine articles — information doesn’t flow as freely in Marion as it does elsewhere.

Take, for example, a state law allowing cities to publish only summaries of ordinances they adopt. Ever since the legislature adopted this ill-advised law, we at the newspaper have struggled to make sure cities comply when they try to save a few pennies by not telling citizens exactly what they’ve enacted.

Some have done much better than others. Hillsboro, for example, has begun publishing direct links to the full text of each ordinance it posts online. It also includes clear statements of what each ordinance says.

Both Hillsboro and Marion recently adopted ordinances passing along electric surcharges. Hillsboro’s public notice included a direct link to its full ordinance and clearly stated that it “allows the City to pass surcharges that are necessarily included on the wholesale cost of power by the Kansas Power Pool (KPP), a Municipal Energy Agency, to City’s electric customers.”

Marion’s notice stated only that it was “Ordinance No. 1472, Establishing Updated Rates for Electricity Supplied by the City.” Instead of a direct link to the ordinance, it suggested only that the ordinance was somewhere on the city’s website.

If you tried to find it, you probably couldn’t. You could have clicked on a link called “Newly Adopted Ordinances,” but it wasn’t there. Instead, you had to know to go to another link, called “Documents Library.” Scroll past 12 items and you would have found another link entitled “Newly Adopted Ordinances,” but it wasn’t there, either. Nor was it in “Resolutions,” three items below that.

You had to scroll down 76 items — past one labeled “NewOrdinance.pdf,” which also didn’t have the text — to one called “New_Ordimamce.pdf,” complete with misspelling, to see the actual ordinance.

There you would have found that, instead of imposing a one-cent surcharge like Hillsboro’s, Marion would use some vague, unspecified procedure. You also would have learned that Marion already charges $3 to $5 more in its base rate and 1.4 cents more per kilowatt-hour than Hillsboro does.

More important, you would have found something else: a second, completely unrelated page — dated well in advance of the meeting that detailed a supposed threat to the city’s mask mandate — clearly stating that the proposed law would not withhold portions of grants to cities, like Marion, that do not actually enforce their mask mandates.

It was only after Herbel did her own research two weeks ago that this conveniently overlooked truth came out and the mask mandate was not overturned.

Regardless of where anyone stands on mask mandates or electric rates, it’s clear Marion intentionally or otherwise tries to limit public and council access to information. That’s not what appointed staff members should be doing. They shouldn’t be shaping policy, merely implementing it.

If you were a business person considering where to locate, which city would you choose? The one that’s more open with the public and its own council and charges less for its electricity? Or the other one?

Marion’s uphill battle for parity in business development isn’t being helped by behavior of this nature, which merely solidifies its ever-growing image in the state as being constantly in turmoil.

— ERIC MEYER

Last modified April 22, 2021

 

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