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Emails reveal rift before raid

Staff writer

Although shedding little light on a police raid Aug. 11 on the Record’s offices, emails released Thursday offer a stark portrayal of dysfunctional city government and hint of a gap in records that might be available to better explain the raid.

Mayfield targeted Herbel

In an interview Thursday, City Administrator Brogan Jones confirmed what was obvious from the emails, which had been sent among Marion City Council members and staff Aug. 4 through 16 and were obtained by the Record under the Kansas Open Records Act

Every email that staff members received from one specific council member — Vice Mayor Ruth Herbel — routinely was forwarded to Mayor David Mayfield without Herbel’s knowledge or approval.

Jones confirmed after the emails were released that no other council member’s messages similarly had been forwarded and that Mayfield had specifically told him to forward Herbel’s.

“I was told to do that,” Jones said. Pressed to say who had told him, he replied, “the mayor.”

Herbel was surprised her messages had been forwarded.

“I was not aware,” she said in an interview Thursday. “I am now because I was able to see some of the emails today. I’m just getting so tired of this. It’s driving me up the wall.”

With some of Herbel’s emails, Mayfield asked Jones to “forward them to the rest of the council so they can see what she is doing.”

Messages sent to staff members by council member Zach Collett, often a close Mayfield ally, were not similarly forwarded.

That wasn’t the only way apparent in the newly released emails in which Mayfield had ordered that Herbel and Collett be treated differently.

“I was told last spring never to contact the League of Municipalities,” Herbel said Thursday. “You have no right to do that, he told me.”

Her recollection was borne out by news stories and recordings of council meetings at the time.

Collett, however, never was told the same thing and, in fact, had a lengthy exchange of emails Aug. 15 with league officials in which he seemed to be speaking not just as an individual council member but for the entire council.

“Everybody else can do whatever they want,” Herbel said Thursday. “It’s just me that Mayfield’s picking on. He didn’t put me on that council, but he’s certainly trying to get rid of me.”

He was, in fact, one of the people who passed an unsuccessful petition seeking her recall this spring, after she led a successful effort to overturn a charter ordinance that could have been used to eliminate the public’s right to vote on city borrowing.

Collett sought coaching

In Collett’s email exchange with the league Aug. 15, he sought advice on how to deal with fallout from the raid on the Record and the homes of Herbel and the Record’s owners.

“I am a current council member in Marion, which I’m sure you have heard of after the last several days,” he wrote to the league’s executive director. “I have received numerous requests from both local and national news organizations, to include the Wall Street Journal, the New York Times, the Kansas City Star, and NewsNation TV.

“At this time, I have not responded to any request but am beginning to wonder if it would be beneficial to our community to have a council member grant an interview request. I would be comfortable doing this but would most definitely want lots of coaching from someone more versed in crisis communication than myself.”

The league responded with the names of two public relations consultants and a link to a 1½-hour video produced by one of them.

The video contains tips on “how to leverage your message.” Among its suggestions were techniques to redirect questions back to answers you want to provide, not saying “no comment,” not apologizing, and not repeating whatever negative might have been the topic of a question.

For his part, Jones denied that he ever was involved in discouraging any council member from contacting the league.

“I encourage all of them to talk to the league,” he said. “I don’t discourage anyone from reaching out to them.”

He said the purpose of the league was to give advice not just to cities and staff members but also to individual council members.

Cody’s contention refuted

Emails released Thursday also cast doubt on claims by now-resigned Police Chief Gideon Cody, who contended in sworn statements before the raid that Jones had told him Herbel had wanted to deny a pending liquor license for restaurant owner Kari Newell.

Cody’s raid was based on allegations, later disproved, regarding how Herbel and the newspaper had obtained records indicating that Newell had not possessed a valid driver’s license for more than a decade after failing to complete a diversion agreement for a drunken driving conviction.

Herbel repeatedly has denied that she was attempting to block Newell’s bid for a catering liquor license, only that she wanted police to check whether the record, given to her by one of Newell’s former friends, might impact Newell’s eligibility.

In none of the emails released Thursday did Jones ever contend that Herbel was trying to block Newell’s license.

“I didn’t ever say anything like that,” Jones verified in his interview.

Cody’s justification for raiding Herbel’s home was unclear because Herbel had disclosed the document she received and identified its source.

In an earlier interview, Newell said Mayfield had told her before the raid that he wanted to get rid of Herbel and that the only way he could do so would be if she were found guilty of a crime.

Texts excluded

Not included in the documents released Thursday were text messages that might have been exchanged between Cody, Mayfield, Jones, Collett, and other council members.

Despite being the city’s official freedom of information officer, Jones said Thursday that he had not checked for any records other than emails and files stored on city-owned equipment.

“I have not asked anyone or been directed to,” he said.

He repeatedly stated that “to my knowledge” such records had neither been requested nor obtained.

Pressed on the issue, he said that because of his role as information officer, “I’d hope I’m tied in on the loop on that.”

Newell has stated that Cody informed her after the raid that she should destroy copies of text messages he sent to her. She also claimed he bragged about using private rather than city communications equipment so it would be difficult to trace his messages. Cody, who Record reporters were aware had used his personal phone rather than city equipment during the investigation, was suspended and subsequently resigned soon after Newell’s assertions were reported.

How emails were obtained

The Record requested the emails Sept. 26, after Newell claimed in an interview that Collett had been the first to approach her Aug. 7 about Herbel and the newspaper having received copies of Newell’s driving record.

The Record was attempting to learn how Collett knew that the paper, which had decided not to do a story, had obtained the record since no documents released prior to that date indicated he had been informed of the paper’s Aug. 4 note to Cody and Sheriff Jeff Soyez acknowledging receipt of the record from a source.

The emails released Thursday failed to explain how Collett became aware of the Record’s involvement. The Record almost immediately submitted a second Open Records Act request for texts and emails, including those maintained on private systems used by city officials.

The emails released Thursday bore footers indicating that most of them had been printed Sept. 19. Redaction of private email addresses from the files apparently delayed their release until Oct. 19.

The Record was charged $115 to gain access to an electronic repository where the messages were stored.

Last modified Oct. 20, 2023

 

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