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  • Last modified 158 days ago (Feb. 25, 2021)

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Put out the real fire; don't fire the chief

Marion City Council members had the right idea Monday night when they danced like devils on the head of a pin around state laws on openness in government and decided secretly to threaten to fire a city official if he wouldn’t resign.

The problem is, they targeted the wrong official. Instead of going after officials who regularly throw tantrums, demonstrate incompetence, and out-and-out lie, they chose instead to target a fire chief who they have been looking for an excuse to fire practically since appointing him.

His main transgressions appear to be a minor lapse in procedure involving training, which elsewhere might merit a slap on the wrist, and not having the most seniority in a department desperately in need of attracting younger volunteers.

With the courage of a man who routinely runs toward, rather than away from, deadly situations, the chief appears to have decided to call the bullies’ bluff and see whether they are as brave with their accusations in public as they are when cowering behind closed doors.

These are the same doors that have been closed all too often in attempts to obscure a host of wrongdoing regarding the city’s agreement with the school district about paying for the community’s pool.

Whether the idea of building an indoor pool was good or bad is water that long ago was pumped out of the issue.

State law governs all dealings between governmental units that seek to cooperatively provide services. All deals require specific approval from the attorney general. And the approval has to come before voters were allowed to cast ballots on such things as the bond issue that built our community’s pool.

Just because some bureaucrat can’t find a signed copy of the agreement now doesn’t mean it didn’t exist. If it hadn’t existed and been approved, the election that started the project could not have been conducted. And more than $1 million in payments made by the city to the schools since then would have been illegal.

One of the people yelling the loudest about not having a signed copy of the document oddly enough is the same person who, when the document was signed, would have been responsible for making sure it was filed.

No wonder he and others didn’t want it to get out that the city was trying to bully the school district into taking less money than it was entitled to and hid earlier discussions behind closed doors by labeling them attorney-client negotiations involving a “business.”

Even now we wonder whether the former administrator turned mayor, the current administrator, and their legal counsel are even aware of the state law — KSA 12-2904(g) — governing this. It’s something a lawyer certainly should be aware of.

We also wonder whether they bothered to read various news reports from Jan. 4 and 11, 2006, documenting actions that they seem to have lost track off. Their often-cited contention that they’re fully capable of publishing legal notices on their own, without the safeguard of a third party like a newspaper being involved, rings very hollow these days.

We’ve lost track of the number of times we’ve been lied to by some of these officials. We recall some big ones dating back to when blue-green algae first caused problems in 2004. They include lies about the proposed development of a motel, a proposal to replace Central Park’s memorial fountain with a splash pad, and numerous other half-truths.

Often lies are carefully crafted to preserve deniability — like when an arsonist who denies confessing to burning something down because what he actually said was that he burned it up.

We’ve come to accept lies from politicians and bureaucrats. What we can’t accept is bullying, particularly when it is done in the cowardly way in which officials have dealt with both the fire chief and the school district.

It’s easy to blame one key official, but it’s clear none of this could happen without the complicity of both the administrator and the mayor, who at one point promised to get rid of the adminstrator.

One’s oily smooth. The other’s occasionally coarse. Both seem to have done at least as much as the fire chief to deserve being on the receiving end of a threat about continued employment.

— Eric Meyer

Last modified Feb. 25, 2021

 

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