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Archive for Wednesday, October 15, 2003

City Council members defend Topeka mayor

October 15, 2003

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— Having the City Council scrutinize agreements like one that paid a former municipal employee $113,000 after his resignation would be micromanaging the Mayor's Office, two council members testified Tuesday in district court.

Council members Clark Duffy and Gary Price defended Mayor Butch Felker's actions during a Shawnee County District Court hearing that will determine whether Felker is suspended from office. Both Duffy and Price said severance agreements are not the council's business because the council is a legislative body.

Shawnee County Dist. Atty. Robert Hecht has filed a lawsuit to remove Felker from office and wants Felker suspended while that lawsuit is pending. Hecht alleges that Felker breached his financial duties to the city by signing an agreement paying John Arnold, a former city administrative officer, after Arnold resigned in February 2002.

Hecht contends state law required Felker to get the council's approval on such an agreement. However, Duffy said the council does not approve specific expenditures but only provides general budget oversight.

During cross-examination, Hecht asked Duffy, "What protection do we have from the mayor treating city money as his personal piggy bank?"

Duffy said, "The mayor is answerable to the people and any legal proceedings."

Five days of testimony before District Judge Eric Rosen concluded Tuesday, and Felker was among the last witnesses to testify. The judge has not indicated when he will rule on Hecht's request to suspend Felker.

Hecht also accuses Felker of falsifying a finance report for his 2001 mayoral campaign.

In addition, Hecht alleges that Felker acted improperly in January 2002 by using a city credit card to provide $5,000 to help a struggling museum. But Felker testified that he was only doing what was "standard policy for years."

Felker was the city's parks commissioner from 1975 to 1985, then mayor from 1989 to 1997. He didn't run in 1997, citing health reasons, but won a third term in 2001.

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