The conversation between new Butler County Clerk Don Engels and the Butler County Commissioners became testy after several of the commissioners disagreed with some of Engels' proposed changes to the clerk's office.
"My objective in requesting this discussion is just to have open communications with you," Engels said during Tuesday's commission meeting. "I will run this office differently. My approach will be more hands-on and my intent is to follow all statues."
Engels believes there should be a representative from his office present whenever multiple commissioners are together.
"I will ensure that all commissioner meetings are documented," said Engels. "Currently there are meetings that are not attended by the clerk or a representative."
The meetings in question are commissioners' visits to Butler County senior centers and meetings to talk with state legislators about issues affecting Butler County.
"I guess I've never seen or heard of taking minutes at an informational meeting," said Commissioner Dan Woydziak, "as long as we don't take action."
County Administrator Will Johnson noted the commissioners' annual discussions with state legislators and visits to each of the county's senior centers don't include action and are announced to the public.
"They're not meeting, per se," said Johnson. "We notify the public, but there's no business transacted. We notify the public when we'll be in excess of a quorum."
Engels maintained that notes should be taken and minutes produced during such informational meetings.
Commissioners Jeff Masterson and Peggy Palmer agreed anybody is welcome to attend those meetings, although no one from the clerk's office previously has.
"It just seems like there would be a better use of staff time than following us to senior centers," said Commissioner Mike Wheeler.
Engels also said he plans to make changes to the election office.
"Election operations will be significantly different," he said. "Presently and with your help I have one employee hired. I plan to hire another one to replace the three that have resigned. I expect to be hands-on."
In December, all three of the county's election office employees resigned from their jobs.
Engels would like to hire temporary help, cross train other employees and purchase new election software. He also would like to change the way employees in the clerk's office report to supervisors.
"I am canceling all supervisory reporting of clerk employees," he said.
He feels each employee should report directly to him instead of another supervisor within the clerk's office.
He also mentioned several employees in other departments receive part of their salaries from the clerk's budget and should therefore have to report to him as well.
Page 2 of 3 - One of the employees he mentioned was finance director Brandon Kauffman, who is also assistant administrator.
"You want Brandon to report to you?" asked Masterson.
"A portion of his salary comes from there," Engels said of the clerk's budget.
"By resolution you can keep it the way it is," Johnson said of the present employee reporting structure.
Johnson also said what Kauffman does needs to remain in the administration department.
A Kansas Supreme Court decision involving the Franklin County Commissioners and clerk was mentioned. In July 2004, the Franklin County Commissioners adopted a resolution creating the Franklin County Human Resources Department (HRD) and stipulated preparation of payroll would be a function of the clerk's office.
In March 2005, that resolution was amended to switch payroll preparation to the HRD from the clerk's office.
Later that month, Franklin County Clerk Shari Perry filed a Petition for Restraining Order and Injunction and Declaratory Judgment in the district court of Franklin County. Her petition alleged the new resolution would: "(1) eliminate the county clerk's statutorily mandated duty of performing payroll function without the consent of the county clerk or presenting the same for election; (2) consolidate a function of the county clerk's office without a sufficient factual basis; and (3) usurp the county clerk's authority and duty over her office's personnel matters."
In this case, the Kansas Supreme Court found preparation of payroll is not a statutorily mandated duty of the county clerk.
"I'm a little bit put off when you come in and change things on the first day," Masterson told Engels. "That's me being behind the eight ball. I'm just telling you how I feel. I'm not in favor of this."
"Why, without having spent one day on the job are you coming with intentions to change?" asked Wheeler. "I'd think you'd want to see what the group dynamic is. We've already lost the election office."
"My objective is to get in compliance with statutes," replied Engels.
"I thought we always were," responded Wheeler.
Woydziak asked Engels to show the commissioners specific statutes that are being violated, and Masterson asked Engels if he thinks Johnson needs to report to him as well.
"Government is designed to have multiple pieces that all do checks and balances on each other," said Engels. "I am unaware of any county that does accounts payable that isn't reported to the clerk."
"In Sedgwick County the preparations and oversight is underneath the finance department," said Johnson. "Larger counties typically do that. Smaller counties limited on resources are under the clerk's office."
At this point in the discussion, Commissioner Ed Myers indicated he has no problem with having a clerk's representative present at informational meetings and addressed the issue of organizational structure.
Page 3 of 3 - "I don't know the history of how reporting has been done," he said. "If I'm in charge of a department, I would expect to have people I pay report to me."
Woydziak asked Johnson if the portion of employees' salaries coming from the clerk's office can be transfered to come out of the administration fund. Johnson replied that they could.
"Is it your contention that would violate state statute?" Masterson asked Engels.
"Yes," responded Engels.
"I would like the county attorney's opinion of this," said Masterson.
Johnson replied that County Counselor Norman Manley and County Attorney Darrin Devinney had both already been consulted and had determined the county commission has the ability to make the decision about from which fund the salaries come.
Masterson noted Manley, Devinney and the Kansas Supreme Court all offered a different opinion on the matter than did Engels.
Woydziak asked Engels when he plans to make the proposed changes.
"As soon as possible," said Engels.
Woydziak then made a motion to leave things the way they are until further review from legal counsel.
"Just to make sure we're all on the same page," said Woydziak. "Nothing changes until we're all in agreement."
Myers mentioned the first three changes Engels proposed should be left to the clerk's discretion. These include the meeting attendance, changes to the election office and changes to the employee reporting structure within the clerk's office.
"I think they fall immediately within the clerk's purview," he said.
Woydziak then amended his motion to leave only the administrative functions the same until further review.
"I'm just uncomfortable with that," Masterson said of having employees in different departments report to Engels. "It seems if changes are immediate, I'm not sure I'm comfortable with that. He's assuming he has the right to do that."
"And we're assuming he doesn't," added Woydziak.
After it was pointed out that this was a work session, the motion was withdrawn because there was no action requested, so there was no action taken.
Toward the end of the meeting, Public Works Director Darryl Lutz expressed concern about some of Engels' proposed changes and asked the commissioners to carefully consider the impact of these changes before they are implemented.
"We don't have enough information to make a decision," said Woydziak.
To read more of the Kansas Supreme Court's findings in the Franklin County case, visit www.kscourts.org/cases-and-opinions/opinions /supct/2006/20060505/94707.htm.