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Marion’s ‘secret’ city council packets revealed

Staff writer

Agenda packets prepared for city council members and the public don’t match up, an open records request by the Record has confirmed.

Missing from the public version of the council’s Aug. 8 meeting were the following items obtained by the Record under the Kansas Open Records Act:

  • A report marked “additional information intended for preparation by councilors for future decisions and topics.” A note said “this is a confidential communication intended for the exclusive use of the elected officials of the City (of) Marion. Please do not share!” Included were election results, a draft of planning commission minutes, a preliminary award notice for a hike and bike trail project, and county commissioners’ minutes. None was exempt under the state’s open records law. Some appears on public websites.
  • An independent accountant’s report regarding COVID-19 local and state recovery funds.
  • A financial audit, also from Loyd Group of Galva, that identified a significant risk in the city’s accounting practices. The auditor said there was a “significant risk … to be management override of controls over expenditures related to compliance with budgetary and cash basis laws.”
  • A financial statement for the year ended Dec. 31, 2021.
  • A one-page “administrator’s final update” from Roger Holter in which he wrote, among other things, “just for the record, as the opportunity will present itself for the ‘Shoulda, Woulda, Coulda’ conversations or comparisons between the old and new administrator’s manifest … please remember … “your ‘old’ administrator (and longest-serving Marion administrator) simply tried each day to carry out the direction and desires of the elected officials at that time.

“We tried our very best to do the right things for the right reasons that attempted to create a sustainable future for the friends, families and neighbors that are blessed to call Marion, Kansas, home.
Your new administrator (Mark Skiles) brings that same commitment to superior stewardship for all you’ve entrusted to him for whatever period of time that might be.”

The Record filed an official complaint with Kansas Attorney General Derek Schmidt about the council’s agenda packets. A spokesman said Tuesday that the complaint was under review.

Mayor David Mayfield quizzed a Record reporter in a comment on his Facebook page about how she knew the city council’s packet contained “confidential” information.

“I’m curious how you know what is in the council packets compared to the public packets,” Mayfield wrote. “The council gets confidential information that is not assimilated to the public. Is a council person sharing council packets containing confidential with you?”

The reporter answered that she “simply noticed” that council members were referencing packet page numbers and information that did not jibe with the packet provided to the public.

Public officials can redact certain information under the state’s open records law, but they must cite an exemption under the state law that gives them that right.

The Record first requested council packets from city clerk Tiffany Jeffrey on Aug. 10. On Aug. 15, Jeffrey asked the Record to fill out a form. It did so the same day and specifically requested the Aug. 8 council packet. Jeffrey notified the Record on Tuesday afternoon that the council packet was available.

Jeffrey, who now prepares city packets, told the Record she had consulted with the city’s lawyer about release of the council’s version.

The city charged the Record 25 cents a page for a total of $9.75 — plus a $3.90 credit card fee — for the council’s agenda packet.

The Record called and emailed Jeffrey about 3:45 p.m. Tuesday after it reviewed the “secret” packet and asked whether she could explain why the information had not been in the public version of the original packet.

A city employee said Jeffrey had left for the day.

The Record then asked city administrator Mark Skiles about the differing versions and whether it was customary for city employees to leave work early.

Neither Jeffrey nor Skiles called or emailed.

Earlier in the day, the Record tried several times to reach city offices, and no one answered.

The Record informed the attorney general’s office Tuesday about what was missing from the public agenda packet.

Last modified Aug. 25, 2022

 

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