Tempers flare at county commission
Tempers flared yet again Monday over “inappropriate” economic development meetings that pointedly excluded one of three county commissioners.
The meetings, to which commissioner Dianne Novak was not invited, were arranged by economic development corporation treasurer Mike Beneke, who is seeking to unseat her.
When the gatherings were first hinted of during a commission meeting April 30, the corporation’s interim director, Hillsboro economic development director Anthony Roy, termed them “inappropriate.”
Since then, Novak has pressed the matter, referring it to the attorney general and speaking out about it on social media.
One of her Facebook posts last week drew complaints Monday from commissioner Kent Becker, who in the process also criticized commissioner Randy Dallke in pleading for a return to civility.
Becker said he had tried to adhere to what he termed Biblical precepts to be “quick to listen, slow to talk, and slow to anger.”
Although praising Dallke’s dedication, Becker urged him to keep his anger in check — a reference to a shouting match at a recent commission meeting in which Dallke told Novak to “shut up.”
“Raising your voice probably doesn’t do much good to further our agenda,” Becker said, “and I think you realize that.”
Becker reserved most of his criticism for Novak, however.
“Since you’ve become chairman of the commission,” he said, “I can probably count on my hands the number of meetings we have had that haven’t had some type of outburst.
“And I’m not saying it’s always come from you. It hasn’t. But, you know, you are the chairman. You set the tone for the meeting. So in the end it is up to the chairman to control the climate of the meeting.”
Becker said his constituents “more or less” had told him that they expected him to make a plea for civility and respect.
“I keep reading things or people keep bringing things to me that have been written,” Becker said.
Among them was Novak’s May 15 Facebook posting, which Becker said was “about me being undertrained, not going to classes, not being up to speed on what I need to know.”
“And I just want to tell you,” he said, “you are probably somewhat correct.”
Being a caretaker for a dying father-in-law forced him to “make the choice of family or county, and family trumps county,” Becker said.
“But last week, when you reported to a paper that the other commissioner and my’s intent was to deceive, that’s borderline slander, Dianne,” Becker said. “If it continues like this, it’s just folly. That’s all it is. It’s just folly.”
Novak’s comments, published in a Hillsboro Free Press article more than a week after the gatherings were disclosed, focused on the gatherings.
“I cannot find the words to express my painful feeling of humiliation and embarrassment caused by their continued violations of the Kansas Open Meetings Act with intent to control and deceive,” she was quoted as saying.
At Monday’s meeting, Becker responded: “I would just ask you — no, I plead with you — that you would sideline your agenda for a while, focus on the county’s agenda, and let’s work together as a group for the betterment of this county.”
While agreeing that “a fresh start would be great,” Dallke also criticized Novak’s Facebook postings.
“I think that when you try to work as a team, you can’t (denigrate),” he told Novak. “If that’s the way you feel you have to do it, I guess that’s maybe the way you have to do it. (But) I don’t have to do it that way.”
Novak said she had referred to Becker in her Facebook posting but disputed how Becker characterized her comments.
“You should have quoted it correctly,” she said. “I just asked a question. I didn’t make an accusation, and as long as it’s true, it isn’t slander.”
Becker responded: “I never saw it. It was told to me.”
Novak contended in her post that the economic development gatherings that excluded her had violated the state’s open meetings law and asked why Becker had not attended training sessions about the law “so he can properly and respectfully serve as District 1 commissioner.”
“It’s too bad he didn’t have time to go to those type meetings but found the time to attend a meeting when Mr. Dallke or Mike Beneke invited him,” she wrote.
Much of her posting was about Dallke.
“It literally makes me chuckle when Randy Dallke tries to wiggle his way out of wrongdoing when he gets caught,” she wrote. “Excuse me, an hour-long meeting with a few select people to discuss a potential MCCEDC director candidate. That IS county business!!! Oh, or maybe they were talking about golf and grandchildren for over an hour.”
At Monday’s meeting, Novak held up a copy of last week’s Hillsboro Free Press and said to Becker:
“When stuff like this goes on right here, when two commissioners meet at a meeting, how am I supposed to trust you? How are we supposed to work together?
“I mean this goes on all the time. I know that you and Randy talk to each other. You snicker about it. You think it’s funny. I think it’s terrible. I would never participate in this. Never. I wouldn’t do it to you. I wouldn’t do it Randy. I bring everything to the commission.”
She recounted a situation early in her term in which she had acted alone on a minor matter and had been chastised for it — rightfully, she said.
“We will let the attorney general decide if it’s a violation,” she said. “Everybody in the county sees that. It’s not just me. I would be happy to work with everybody, but we have to be fair and honest. The deception has to stop.”
Although the other two commissioners agreed to a “fresh start,” Novak countered:
“I’m not being treated fairly. I’m not being treated equally…. I’d be happy to start over, but I can’t work with people who aren’t going to be truthful and honest all the time.
“People who are not going to work with the commission as a whole, who have to do things behind the scene and set things up — I can’t work with them. A fresh start would mean nothing.”
The rest of Monday’s meeting went smoothly.
Last modified May 23, 2018