One day, the Augusta City Council may sign an agreement with the Kansas Attorney General’s office. But it won’t be the settlement agreement presented to the governing body Monday night.
The settlement agreement was the culmination of a four-month investigation into a complaint filed by the Augusta Gazette about an executive session that the council entered into during its July 16, 2012 meeting.
The complaint from the newspaper asked the Attorney General’s opinion on whether the council had a right to go into executive session under the auspices of attorney client privilege when the matter to be discussed appeared to be the same issue that had been discussed publicly earlier in the meeting.
That question remained unanswered in the 15-page letter the Attorney General’s office provided to the city. The letter stated that no substantive violation of the Kansas Open Meetings Act was discovered but accused the council of technical violations of the state statute based on verbiage of motions to enter executive sessions and how minutes are recorded.
A consensus of the council flatly refused to sign the agreement that required the members to admit wrongdoing and agree to the facts in the letter. The agreement would have also forced the council to pay for their own additional 1.5 hours of KOMA training in the next six months.
Mayor Kristey Williams noted several errors in the document which she said would keep her from signing it.
“I found many inaccuracies in the report they provided back,” Mayor Williams said. “They didn’t even know the structure of the council.”
Williams noted that she was never referred to as Mayor in the document but the letter included her as a council member. Augusta’s mayor and council system provides that the mayor is not a member of the council and only votes in case of a tie among the council members.
Councilor Mike Huddleston was also disturbed by the report.
“The Attorney General wants us to do more training and pay for it ourselves,” Huddleston said. “That is punitive and we did nothing to violate the law. This inept investigation found the same thing. I am not going to sign off on anything that says we had a secret meeting outside of what we are allowed.”
Huddleston went on to point out that he was an outspoken proponent of making the actions of the council more accessible to the public, including supporting the idea of televising the meetings, having a website and making the city’s annual budget available on the website.
Councilor Ron Reavis looked at the matter a little differently.
Page 2 of 2 - “I have seen a lot of investigations and this is a terrible report,” Reavis said. “But the letter says we did nothing wrong going into the meeting. We are getting our hand slapped for wording of a motion and how minutes were recorded.”
Reavis said he just didn’t think this was a battle worth fighting.
Mayor Williams disagreed.
“Signing off is saying we agree with this,” she said. “I am not happy with how this was done. The investigator made assumptions that are not true.”
Councilor Sue Jones said she was incensed that the Attorney General’s office implied the council was guilty of something with no facts to support that.
“It says they will agree to forego prosecution in the future if we sign the agreement,” Jones said. “I am not signing that.”
Councilor Mike Wallace said he was bothered by the fact that the investigation took four months and the investigators only spoke to one or two people.
Councilor Matt Childers agreed.
“The discouraging thing is that the only person connected to city government that was contacted was the City Attorney,” Childers said. “This letter was addressed to me and mentions me but they never talked to me or any one of us about the veracity of the statements.”
Wallace made a motion to have the city attorney draft a letter that identifies the areas where the council disagrees with the letter as a reply to the Attorney General’s office.
Jones seconded the motion which passed 6-1 with Reavis opposed.