Some UG commissioners call for changes in ethics code, charter ordinance

Ruth Benien, Unified Government ethics administrator, was questioned by UG commissioners about the ethics code on Thursday night. (Staff photo)

by Mary Rupert

Through the years, the Unified Government ethics administrator has examined the happenings at City Hall, at times citing UG commissioners for violations of the UG’s code of ethics.

On Thursday night, some commissioners proposed changes to the UG’s ethics code, with some in favor of doing away with the ethics administrator position altogether.

Some commissioners also said they wanted:

– Due process in matters appearing before the ethics administrator;

– More specific language concerning the prestige of office rules;

– Review of recusals from unpaid boards – concerning UG commissioners who are members of community boards who do not have a financial interest in them;

– More specific language on number of applicants needed in the applicant pool for ethics commissioners.

At the same time, some commissioners proposed limiting the mayor’s power by allowing the commission to terminate the UG administrator, if there are enough votes. Currently, that requires the mayor’s approval

Some commissioners also want the ability to place issues from individual commissioners on the agenda. Currently, they must have the approval of the mayor to be on the agenda.

Expressing support for some of the changes that were proposed were Commissioners Hal Walker, Ann Murguia, Jim Walters, Mike Kane, and Angela Markley. No action was taken at the meeting.

Some UG commissioners received letters from the ethics administrator after they made a public endorsement of Commissioner Murguia in the last election.

UG commissioners serving on community volunteer boards

Mayor Mark Holland said he had a different view of some of the issues, such as recusals from volunteer community boards.

Holland said he felt that as a member of the Mt. Carmel board, although he did not have a financial interest in it, he had a fiduciary responsibility to the community board, and so he stepped down from the volunteer board before taking office to avoid potential conflicts of interest as a Unified Government commissioner.

Commissioner Walker said that the UG is engaging in a fiction when it says an elected official may have a bias when serving on a community board, and that the bias goes away just because he steps down from board member to a member of the organization.  He and Commissioner Ann Murguia have ties to the Argentine Neighborhood Development Association, and occasionally step aside on votes.

“I’d like to see an ethical government where it actually becomes part of our culture,” Commissioner Ann Murguia said at Thursday’s UG meeting. (Staff photo)

Ethics here ‘reacting to situations’

Commissioner Murguia pointed out that there were similar situations with different interpretations of the ethics code.

For example, a commissioner requested to appear in advertising to promote Pittsburg State University and was told it wasn’t possible, she said. Another commissioner asked to be in an ad for Donnelly College and was told it was allowed, she said.

She said where ethics are concerned, the local government often just reacts to situations that occur, waiting until something drastic happens to react to it.

“I’d like to see an ethical government where it actually becomes part of our culture,” she said. “I want to see ethics implemented in how we hire people, how we promote people, how about how we treat people, with dignity and respect?”

Commissioner Tarence Maddox said that there should never be a UG employee who can put together a censure of a UG elected official. (Staff photo)

‘A little cloudy’

Commissioner Tarence Maddox, who was censured by the legislative auditor after that action was recommended by the ethics administrator, said that there should never be a UG employee who can put together a censure of a UG elected official.

He said UG commissioners make budget decisions concerning the departments, including the ethics commission.

“It just seems a little cloudy,” he said.

He and some other commissioners said that Kansas City, Kan., is one of only one or two cities out of 627 in Kansas that has its own ethics department. The rest go through the state’s ethics commission.

When asked later if he thought the public should vote on changes to the ethics or charter ordinances, Maddox said the community should vote on the at-large commissioner position that is still vacant.

Maddox and other commissioners took the opportunity Thursday night to ask Ruth Benien, UG ethics administrator, several questions about procedures and the ethics code.

Maddox said he would like to see the person who investigates ethics violations to be certified in investigation.

‘In a different place now’

“It’s 2014, it’s another day, we need to do something different,” Commissioner Kane said.

He mentioned the building of Village West, the casino and the Speedway.  He said, “We have to move on.”

“It doesn’t help when the outside folks who are no longer elected stir up the trouble,” Kane said.

Commissioner Markley said she feels the city and county are in a different place now, with more public trust, as compared to when the new government was started.

She suggested taking the money the UG is spending on internal ethics, and spend it on an employee to handle open data. The UG then could use the state’s ethics commission.

Judge Wayne Lampson, who is on the local ethics commission appointment panel, said he still hears people here saying they don’t trust elected officials. (Staff photo)

Judge Wayne Lampson, who is on the local ethics commission appointment panel, said, “I’m not sure that we’re as far along as you suggest.”

He still hears people here saying they don’t trust elected officials, he added.

“And the state’s commission is appointed by Gov. Brownback. I’m not sure he has the best interest of my community,” Judge Lampson said, to a lot of applause. According to statute, the state commission includes two members appointed by the governor, one by the president of the Senate, one by the Speaker of the House, one by the minority leader of the House, one by the minority leader of the Senate, one by the chief justice of the Supreme Court, one by the attorney general and one by the secretary of state.

“Those built-in checks and balances are part of what makes the democratic experiment in America work,” Mayor Mark Holland said. “I value it, I’ll fight for it, I believe in it.”

Keeping the local ethics administrator

“I don’t think that’s a good idea,” Mayor Mark Holland said about eliminating the local ethics administrator position. “I would be fine if we were the only city not only in the state of Kansas, but in the nation, that had an ethics board and an ethics administrator,” he said.

The differentiation between legal and ethical, to be above the appearance of impropriety, is a valid and important role that the ethics administrator, ethics commission and legislative auditor provide.

“I think it is very smart that when the people voted in the charter to implement an ethics commission and legislative auditor, they made it very clear that we didn’t just want a good government, we wanted an ethical government,” Holland said. “And that standard is a standard that I do not want to back off of, it is a standard that I think we should continue to lead, and if there are other communities in our state that do not have this, I think they need to get on board.”

There are more than 600 other cities in Kansas using the state ethics commission.

“I don’t think they’re going to pay the level of attention and the level of detail that citizens of this community expect from ethics day in and day out,” Holland said.  “Those built-in checks and balances are part of what makes the democratic experiment in America work.  I value it, I’ll fight for it, I believe in it. I think we need to keep it and continue to support it in our decisions.”

Commissioner Hal Walker said the ethics code was not inscribed in tablets and handed down. It was written by people including himself (when he was the UG attorney). (Staff photo)

Commissioner Walker said the ethics code was not inscribed in tablets and handed down. It was written by people including himself (when he was the UG attorney). It was politically negotiated with office holders, he said. Walker said he would agree with keeping the ethics administrator’s position.

Outside review of Wyandotte County issues

Issues need to be reviewed by an unbiased party, and the best way to do that is at the state level, Murguia said, adding she would like to raise the ethical standards in Wyandotte County.

“I guess some people would say it’s rather Wyandotte County-like to take the position that we should just take care of everything within our own borders and not ask anyone from the outside to look over our shoulders,” Commissioner Walters said. “I think we put our ethics people in a very tough situation when they have to cast judgment on people they interact with, and people who they know their sister-in-law.”

Commissioner Kane said, “It is better if somebody outside says, ‘Hey, you made a mistake.’”

Commissioner  Jane Philbrook said it has almost brought her to the point of sadness that as a government, “we’re having trouble respecting ourselves.”

“I am not going to relinquish the possibility of having our own ethics people here,” she said. “I think there are things we can change or tweak in our system to make it work a lot better.

“I respect everybody here … for coming and having opinions,” she said. “That’s why this will work because you’ll keep our feet to the fire, and that’s what I expect you to do.”

“I believe the charter we currently have was written by the people and voted on by the people,” former Mayor Carol Marinovich said. “Any major changes should be handled the same way.” (Staff photo)

‘Written by the people, voted on by the people’

A number of community members, including former Mayor Carol Marinovich, were in the audience at the 5 p.m. meeting. There was no public comment time on this topic.

Former Mayor Marinovich said afterward that she attended the meeting because the two issues concerning ethics and the charter ordinance were on the agenda.

She said she comes from the perspective of the Consolidation Study Commission, where people from the community did research and held many public meetings with opportunity for public input. The meetings were in different geographic areas to make it easy for people to attend, she added.

“So coming from that perspective, I believe the charter we currently have was written by the people and voted on by the people,” Marinovich said. “Any major changes should be handled the same way.”

Also, at this time, she doesn’t hear any people complaining about it, she said.

Several people turned out to hear a discussion on changes to the code of ethics and the charter ordinance Thursday evening at City Hall. (Staff photo)

Terminating the UG administrator

Some commissioners also addressed the issue of changing the charter ordinance so that the commission, not the mayor, could terminate the UG administrator. The current UG administrator received the unanimous support of the commission when he was appointed recently.

Commissioner Walker said his opinion was that the inability of a commission to terminate an administrator without the approval or initiative of the mayor is “dead wrong.”

He thought eight votes of the commission should be required to terminate the administrator’s contract.

Commissioner Kane agreed on the commission having this power, but he thought the right number of votes would be seven.

Commissioner Murguia said she thought six votes, a majority, would be enough.

Kane also would like to change the charter ordinance to allow commissioners to put items on the agenda, he said.

Currently, the agenda is prepared by the administrator and approved by the mayor.

“It almost sounds like the mayor has veto authority on any topic prior to being heard by the public,” Commissioner Walters said.

Commissioner Murguia said people are voted into office and their constituents think they have a level of authority that they don’t have. She said she would rather not sit there and be a bobblehead.

Mayor Holland opposed both proposed charter changes.

“I believe those are not small changes,” he said. “These are pretty fundamental components of our government.”

He said the city-county government here is a hybrid between a strong and a weak mayor form of government. An example of the hybrid is that while the mayor is the one who hires the administrator, it is subject to a commission vote, he said.

Mayor Holland said he has now placed everything on the agenda that had been requested earlier as commission priorities.

He had to schedule them around other items, so that this discussion on ethics and charter ordinance was pushed to the beginning of the second quarter. Budget-related items were discussed in the first quarter.

Mayor Holland cited consistency of leadership as a reason for the UG’s success. The form of government has been strong and successful, he said.

“It’s a unique and amazingly effective form of government,” he said.

Commissioner Kane said he thought the system was broken, and needed to be fixed. He added that all the commissioners wanted was what was best for Wyandotte County.

“When the entire group speaks, it speaks volumes, but when only one person has control over what hits the table, or what we can vote on, or what we can talk about, that’s not transparent,” Commissioner Kane said.

Commissioner Murguia, who ran for mayor last year, said, “I don’t think anybody up here is trying to do anything to you, take your power away or whatever. Nobody is asking to remove a veto. We’re just asking to be heard.”

Community calendar

The Wyandotte Daily News is interested in news of your community event in Wyandotte County. Send information to news@wyandottepublishing.com and include your name and phone number.

Friends of Bonner Springs Library plan book sale April 10-12

April 10, 11 and 12 are the dates for the spring book sale at the Bonner Springs Library sponsored by the Friends of the Library. A variety of fiction and nonfiction along with CDs and DVDs, large print and many books for children are available. Hard back volumes are $1 and paperbacks are 50 cents, as well as a bargain corner of older items for only 25 cents.  Many donated items are like new and would make great gifts. Nonfiction is arranged by genre and books are identified by signs noting each category.  There is a large selection of science fiction and romance novels as well as many volumes from favorite authors. Thursday’s hours are from 4 p.m. to 7 p.m. and is a preview sale for Friends members.  To take advantage of this special time one can become a member at the door for $5 membership dues for the entire year. On Friday and Saturday the sale will run from 9:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. The sale is located in the basement storm shelter area which is available from the parking lot in back of the library. The Bonner Springs City Library is at 201 N. Nettleton Ave., Bonner Springs.

Kansas Black Chamber of Commerce to meet

The Kansas Black Chamber of Commerce will meet from 5:30 to 7 p.m. Thursday, April 10, at Liberty Bank, 1314 N. 5th, Kansas City, Kan. The guest speakers for the networking event will be Rhonda Harris, Kansas Department of Commerce, and Jeanette Countee, Hallmark retail.

Police to hold meet-and-greet event April 10

A meet-and-greet event for the West Patrol Division, Kansas City, Kan., Police Department, will be held at 6 p.m. Thursday, April 10, at the FOP Hall, 7844 Leavenworth Road, Kansas City, Kan. Residents may attend and meet patrol division officers. The West Patrol Division covers 65th Street west to the county line, Kansas to Missouri rivers.

Safety to be topic of Rosedale meeting April 10

A program on safety will be presented from 6 to 7 p.m. Thursday, April 10, at the Rosedale Development Association meeting, 1401 Southwest Blvd., Kansas City, Kan. Lt. Col Terry Zeigler, assistant chief of police, will give a short presentation on the topic of staying safe in one’s own community. Reservations are being accepted for the program. For more information, call 913-677-5097.

UG scheduled to meet April 10

The Unified Government Commission is scheduled to meet at 5 p.m. and 7 p.m. Thursday, April 10, at the Commission Chambers, City Hall, lobby level, 701 N. 7th St., Kansas City, Kan. An agenda for the 7 p.m. meeting is posted at www.wycokck.org.

Town Hall Forum planned April 12

The Kansas City, Kan., Area Chamber of Commerce will hold a Town Hall Forum about legislative topics from 9 a.m. to 10:30 a.m. at the West Wyandotte Library, 1737 N. 82nd St., Kansas City, Kan. The public will hear an update on legislation and will have the opportunity to meet with members of the Wyandotte County legislative delegation. The program is free and open to the public.

Candlelighting service planned for crime victims April 14

A memorial service and candlelighting is planned at 5 p.m. April 14 at the Forest Grove Baptist Church, 1417 N. 9th St., Kansas City, Kan. A light dinner begins at 5 p.m. followed by the candlelighting at 6 p.m. The Crime Awareness Coordinating Effort is planning this free event, which has several sponsors. For more information, call 913-321-1566 or visit the website at www.friendsofyates.org.

PTA to honor former superintendents at 100th anniversary celebration

Kansas PTA is 100 years old, and to commemorate the anniversary, the KCK Council of PTA is planning a special reception and dinner to honor school principals and former superintendents of the Kansas City, Kansas Public Schools. The event will take place on Monday, April 14, at the KCKPS Central Office and Training Center. There will be a reception at 5:30 p.m., followed by dinner at 6 p.m. Former superintendents Ray Daniels and O.L. Plucker will be a part of the program. Current Superintendent Cynthia Lane and Board of Education President Evelyn Hill will extend greetings. Entertainment will be provided by the KCK Harp Ensemble and Wyandotte High School drama students.

Support group to meet April 14

The Kansas City, Kan., Support and Education Group of the National Alliance on Mental Illness will meet from 7 to 9 p.m. Monday, April 14, at Trinity Community Church, 5010 Parallel Parkway, Kansas City, Kan. The program will be on understanding obsessive-compulsive personality disorder. The guest speakers will be Joe and Mary Weiler. For information, call 913-299-8490.

Workplace Kansas City Job Fair planned April 16 at KCKCC

Looking for a job? Then mark your calendars for the 2014 Workplace-Kansas City Job Fair at Kansas City Kansas Community College. The fair is from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. April 16 in the KCKCC Field House, 7250 State Ave. The event is free and open to the public.

Human Resources Roundtable meeting planned

The Wyandotte County Human Resources Roundtable will hold a meeting from 3:30 to 5 p.m. Thursday, April 17, at Earp Distribution, 2730 S. 98th St., Edwardsville, Kan.  For more information, contact Jay Matlack, business retention and expansion director, 913-748-2273.

Blood drive scheduled April 21

A Red Cross blood drive is scheduled from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. April 21 at the Sacred Heart Home Health Care, 7735 Washington Ave., Kansas City, Kan.  To schedule an appointment, visit www.redcrossblood.org or call 1-800-RED-CROSS.

Earth Day celebration planned April 22

An Earth Day event is planned from 11 a.m. o 3:30 p.m. Tuesday, April 22, at the Quindaro Ruins-Underground Railroad. The community is invited to commemorate Earth Day and to discuss the new EPA air rules, as well as other topics relevant to Quindaro heritage and current environmental issues. The event is at North 27th and the Missouri River Brown, and the John Brown Memorial Plaza. It is free and open to the public. The Quindaro Ruins currently is seeking national landmark designation.

Women’s Chamber to present social media program April 24

The Kansas City, Kan., Women’s Chamber of Commerce will present a seminar on social media April 24. The seminar will be held Thursday, April 24, at Dave and Buster’s, 1843 Village West Parkway, Kansas City, Kan. The event starts with registration at 11 a.m., followed by lunch at 11:30 a.m. and the program at 11:45 a.m. Geared toward small businesses and entrepreneurs who are new to social media, the seminar will include information at social media platforms, how to professionally present a business online, what to do and not to do, and how to stay current on social media trends. The featured speakers will be Mary A. Redmond, a professional speaker, negotiations coach and consultant who has been blogging since 2009; Pat Brune, retired from the federal courts and now part of MelKat Creative Consult, which provides social media training to nonprofits; and Joy Richardson, senior director of resource development and community impact for United Way of Wyandotte County, who volunteers as a Facebook administrator for several organizations. Cost of the event is $25 for members, $30 for nonmembers. For more information or to register, visit www.womenschamberkck.org.

Community orchestra to perform concert and hold fundraiser

The KCK Community Orchestra will hold a free concert at 6:30 p.m. Thursday, April 24, at Trinity Community Church, 5010 Parallel Parkway, Kansas City, Kan. A silent auction also is planned with gift certificates and other items.

Local author to speak April 29

Local author Ruth Campos will give a talk at 6 p.m. April 29 at the South Branch of the Kansas City, Kansas Public Library, 3104 Strong Ave., Kansas City, Kan. She will speak on “My Journey in Faith,” her new book. Campos has roots in the Argentine community of Kansas City, Kan., and is a former teacher at Sumner Academy. Copies of the book will be available for purchase and signing.

Mayor’s Food Summit planned May 1

The Wyandotte County Mayor’s Food Summit is planned from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. May 1 at the KCKCC-TEC, 6565 State Ave., Kansas City, Kan. The host will be Healthy Communities Wyandotte with participation from more than 20 organizations. Local leaders will learn about changes they can make to increase access to healthy food. For more information or to sign up, visit http://vimeo.com/foodsummit.

Wyandotte County Extension Master Gardeners annual plant sale to be May 2-3

The annual plant sale of the Wyandotte County Master Gardeners will be from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Friday, May 2, and 9 a.m. to noon (or as long as inventory is left) Saturday, May 3, at the Wildcat Room, Wyandotte County Extension office, 1200 N. 79th St., Kansas City, Kan. The Wyandotte County Master Gardeners will offer tomatoes, sweet and hot peppers, eggplant, herbs, and other vegetable and fruit plants started by the members, and collections of perennials, annuals, Kansas native wildflowers and ornamental grasses. New to the sale this year will be succulent plants, gently used books and gardening supplies. Master Gardeners will be on hand to help with selections and answer gardening questions. For information, call 913-299-9300.

Program covers post-harvest handling

A program for gardeners and those who raise food on “Post-Harvest Handling” will take place on May 12 in Kansas City, Kan. The program is sponsored by K-State Research and Extension. For more information, visit www.growinggrocers.org.

African-American Art Festival planned Aug. 9

The MoKan African-American Art Festival will be held from 9 a.m. to 7 p.m. Saturday, Aug. 9, at Quindaro Park, 35th and Sewell, Kansas City, Kan. Those attending the free event may bring a blanket, enjoy artwork, stilt walkers Gullah basket weathers, African drummers and dancers, food and vendors. For more information about having an art exhibit there or being a vendor, contact 913-788-7330.

 

 

Nice weather in store for Wyandotte County on Thursday

National Weather Service graphic

Skies will be partly sunny today, with a high near 70, according to the National Weather Service.

Winds will be 10 to 18 mph becoming north northeast in the afternoon.

Winds may gust as high as 26 mph.

A high fire danger is possible later today, as relative humidity values may drop to around 25 percent, the weather service said.

Residents are asked to avoid outdoor burning.

Thunderstorms may move into the area this weekend, likely Saturday night, and will last through Sunday, according to the weather service.

Periods of widespread heavy rain are possible then. Wyandotte County could receive 1.75 to 2 inches of rain, according to the weather service forecast.

National Weather Service graphic