El Dorado City Commission has decided not to participate in the county’s water committee any longer

After a heated discussion, the El Dorado City Commission decided not to participate in the county’s water committee any longer due to concerns over the purpose of the committee.
The issue came up at the Commission meeting Monday evening when the commissioners asked about the most recent committee meeting.
At the meeting, city staff had to again explain the citizens of El Dorado own the water in El Dorado Lake and it does not belong to the county as a whole.
“Commissioner Peggy Palmer wanted to ensure all people in Butler County had water and quoted the People’s Doctrine saying it is not the people of El Dorado’s water, but all of the county,” said Kurt Bookout, public utilities director, who attended the most recent meeting.
“She didn’t want the city to sell water to Wichita because in a drought she wanted to ensure all of Butler County had water,” added City Manager Herb Llewellyn, who also attended the meeting.
“We told her we felt her concerns were unfounded,” Bookout said. “We’re already serving 90 percent of the county. It has always been the commission’s policy to take care of our existing customers first.”
Palmer’s thoughts it was county water caused concern for some of the commissioners.
“I have some real concerns,” Commissioner Bill Young said. “The driving force behind this is Commissioner Palmer. I think it is clear based on numerous statements she doesn’t buy into the fact the citizens of El Dorado own that water. She apparently believes everyone should have it despite the fact the citizens of El Dorado are on the hook for it.
“I believe that there’s an agenda behind her driving this committee that is beyond just a discussion panel which is how she sold it to us to begin with. I think it does no benefit to the citizens of El Dorado to continue participating in this committee at all on any level. I think Commissioner Palmer’s desire is clear to do whatever she needs to get water from El Dorado.”
Young said they are responsible to the citizens of El Dorado to be good custodians of the water.
“I think moving forward, my comment to the rest of the commission is I don’t think we need to be involved at all in this if there is no benefit to the citizens of El Dorado,” Young said.
Mayor Mike Fagg felt differently though.
“I totally disagree because I believe in being a good neighbor,” he said. “Us being there is a statement as far as being a good neighbor. In years past this wouldn’t happen. At least they’re talking. If you don’t want to go to the meetings, don’t go,” he told Young, who attends the meetings along with Fagg, although Young was not at the last meeting and Fagg was there for the last part of it.
Young said it wasn’t that he didn’t want to go, rather he didn’t believe the meetings warranted representation from the city of El Dorado.
“The driving force behind it is nothing about being a good neighbor,” Young said.
In addition to the city staff explaining the water is El Dorado’s, Tracy Streeter, director of the Kansas Water Office, also was at the meeting and reinforced what El Dorado staff was saying.
“After we told Peggy and the group it is a priority to take care of our current customers, I really felt like there was a lot of heads nodding and a lot of agreement we are taking care of most of Butler County right now and we will continue to do so,” Bookout said. “My feeling as I looked around the room and saw heads nodding was a feeling of ‘why are we here’.
“I felt like Peggy was really the only one. She talked the majority of the meeting, but her stance was we have to protect the rest of the county and make sure they have water in the event you sell water to Wichita.”
Fagg said it was important they were there so the others could understand what the facts are.
Bookout agreed it was important at that meeting, but he believed everyone understand the situation now but one person.
“The person who has the committee, she’s heard this same story, Mayor. Since before day one she was told it is the city of El Dorado’s,” Llewellyn said.
He said she was told at the first, second and third meetings.
“At the fourth meeting, she’s still talking about the people’s water and the only purpose of the meeting is to ensure the people have the water in the lake,” he said.
Llewellyn heard comments from others in the meeting who thought they had seen the last meeting of the water committee.
“The purpose is to get the people the water out of El Dorado Lake,” he said.
“That is not the way I read it at all,” Fagg disagreed. “I think they are looking at the holistic where are we at today, where is the future. It is not for us to run away and act like something is wrong. I am saying we stay there and answer questions and stay positive.”
“It’s easy to say let’s all sing ‘Kumbayah’ and be good neighbors,” Young said.
He reiterated their job is to take care of the citizens of El Dorado, saying first they need to be good stewards to the citizens, and second be good neighbors.
“What is the point of continuing to go to the meetings and give her the facts when those facts don’t play into her reality?” he asked.
“I take offense to running away from this,” Young continued. “I think the responsible move is to step away from a committee who’s sole purpose from the person running the committee is to take a resource from El Dorado.”
Fagg pointed out the committee was not just Palmer, but a county committee.
“Why not be there and be positive?” he asked.
“If somebody comes in front of you and speaks crazy and they’re absolutely crazy, the only way you validate their craziness is to talk to them,” Young said.
Fagg asked if he was saying the county was crazy and Young said he was not.
“I’m saying my recommendation is we not be involved,” Young said. “That we not try to validate someone’s belief that is crazy.”
Commissioner Nick Badwey agreed with Young on leaving the committee.
“It seems to me it has served the purpose,” he said. “Like Kurt said we provide 90 percent of the water now. Existing customers come first, that is right in the water policy, before new customers. I wasn’t in favor of participating in it to begin with and I did go along with it before these statements came out. I don’t see any reason to participate further. I think it’s served its purpose. I don’t understand after they have been made aware of the policy what they will talk about now.”
Fagg said they should let the committee decide what to talk about.
He asked if anyone had read the minutes from the meeting and said he would be interested to see what they said.
“I don’t know what they are going to say, but I can tell you what was said,” Llewellyn said. “If you don’t believe me and you don’t believe Kurt you can go listen to it.”
“I’m saying I would be interested in the minutes,” Fagg said. “I don’t know why everyone gets worked up about this. Eventually they are going to understand it.”
Young said he thought the people who were going to understand it did now.
Fagg still thought they should be there.
“If they have a meeting and everyone shows up but us, that’s the thing to do?” Fagg asked.
Young said it was more important to him the statement they make to the citizens of El Dorado.
“I’m sorry that your concern falls with being a good neighbor and how you appear to Augusta and Rose Hill and Andover,” Young said. “I’m concerned with the citizens of El Dorado. What you have yet to do is show how we benefit the citizens of El Dorado by participating in this exercise of someone telling us it is not ours, it is theirs. How does that benefit the citizens of El Dorado?”
“I don’t see how it doesn’t benefit them,” Fagg responded. “Who knows what could develop out of those discussions.”
He reminded the commissioners at one point John Bailey said they need a county-wide water district.
“He doesn’t want to go to these meetings either,” Llewellyn added.
At this point City Attorney Jim Murfin interjected to tell them he had made contact with the county counselor and asked about the changes the commission had discussed for the resolution previoulsy and if the number of members needs to be increased. He had not heard the position of the county yet with the proposed changes.
Commissioner David Chapin then voiced his thoughts.
“I don’t see any reason to participate,” Chapin said. “Anyone wanting water is more than welcome to come and get water. What I’m trying to figure out is what are they going to talk about.”
“Let’s go and listen,” Fagg said.
Chapin asked what the goal was.
“The stated goal is to ensure the people get the people’s water,” Llewellyn said. “That is the stated goal of the chairman of the committee. She was asked in this last meeting what is the purpose. What are we doing.”
Chapin said they could meet and discuss, but with El Dorado already serving 90 percent of the county he didn’t know how they could make it better.
“I don’t think it is so much the buying part; probably just the structure,” Fagg said. “How do you set down and talk about the possibility and future without throwing options around. I would say the goal is for having cost effective water for everyone in the county.”
He also pointed out at this point the commission has not signed the resolution.
“I don’t think we need to,” Chapin said.
Young asked if that was the consensus of the commission.
“Do we need to send them a letter and say we are not participating?” Fagg asked. “I think we don’t just not show up.”
Badwey suggested once they get the minutes they look at them and then make a decision.
“I think what Herb and Kurt told us that is exactly what happened,” he said, “but if you want to see it in writing. Then we’re going to make a decision and stick with it.”
Young again asked if there was a consensus that night.
Young, Badwey and Chapin all agreed. Commissioner Chase Locke was absent.
For the letter, Badwey suggested they reference the statements made by the committee chair at the meeting.
“And that we’re not going to participate any more,” Fagg said.
“We don’t understand why we need to be there,” Chapin said to include. “If they’re going to tell us our water is not our water at every meeting, we don’t need to be there. I do know in three meetings the same words have been said.”
Fagg asked if they could wait until the next meeting to read the minutes, adding they are not officially participating until they sign the resolution.
Chapin said it would take three votes to get that resolution signed.
“We need to make a decision to not send a representative to this committee meeting moving forward,” Young said.
Chapin and Badwey agreed and they decided to send a letter to the committee.
In other business, the commission:
• approved a special use permit for an eight foot tall fence along the rear property line at 1130 S. High due to the slope of the land. It will transition back to six feet.
• no one commented during the 2015-2020 capital improvement program public hearing. Fagg suggested putting Douglas Road back in the plan and the commission agreed to add it. After the hearing was closed, the commission approved the plan.
• approved an ordinance setting the quorum as four members.
• approved an agreement with the Kansas Department of Transportation for the geometric improvement of Central from Emporia to Denver. It would add a fifth lane to increase access to the hospital and any future development. They have seen a higher than normal number of accidents at the hospital entrance.
• set 7 p.m. June 2 for a public hearing for the proposed assessments of the cost of project No. 369, including residential sidewalk improvements at 318 W. Third, 912 W. Central, 129 N. Emporia, 1514 Edgemoor, 702 Reveille, 535 N. Alleghany and 216 N. Star.
• set 7 p.m. June 2 for a pubic hearing for the proposed assessments of the cost of project No. 418, including residential sidewalk improvements at 507 N. Atchison, 611 N. Topeka, 327 N. Atchison, 325 N. Atchison and 1404 W. Towanda.
• heard an update from Chair Heather Riddle on the El Dorado Youth Commission. She thanked the commission for allowing the youth to voice their opinions and learn about city government through the youth commission. She offered a special thanks to Locke for attending their meetings and Fagg for coming to a meeting. They helped with Kidzfest, flyers for fireworks and the Walnut River Festival.
• heard an update on the wind turbine. After being repaired it was working great for seven to eight days, producing 87,000 kilowatt hours of electricity, 10 times what they have seen in a one-week period in the past year. But, a week ago Sunday it was struck by lightning, damaging a PCH module. The city did not have a spare, but will be receiving a replacement soon and expect it to be running again by Thursday evening or Friday.