Open meetings settlement agreement ( .PDF )
City commissioners Tuesday evening admitted they violated parts of the state's open meetings law by holding a closed-door executive session to discuss economic development incentives for a local company.
Commissioners unanimously agreed to sign a settlement agreement with the state attorney general's office requiring each commissioner to receive two hours of training on the Kansas Open Meetings Act. But they stood behind their decision to be part of an agreement to provide a multimillion dollar package of economic development incentives to Deciphera Pharmaceuticals, a local start-up company that was considering moving out of the city.
That decision miffed a local citizen's group, which said it now will file a new round of legal complaints about the process - including new concerns about how Douglas County Commissioner Bob Johnson conducted himself in the deal.
"No private decision reached behind closed doors without public input should be allowed to stand," said Wayne White, a member of Grassroots Action, a local political advocacy group. "We're calling upon city commissioners to do the right thing."
After commissioners refused to reopen the Deciphera issues, the group said it would file a new complaint - perhaps as soon as today - with the Douglas County district attorney in an attempt to have other matters related to the deal investigated.
In particular, the group wants the actions of Johnson examined. As previously reported, Johnson has an ownership interest of about $8,200 in Deciphera stock. He publicly declared that ownership interest prior to the County Commission taking up the Deciphera issue in October. He also filed the state-required substantial interest form reporting his ownership stake.
But a tape recording of the Oct. 24 County Commission meeting indicates Johnson took part in the commission discussion regarding the Deciphera incentives package. State law prohibits elected officials who have a substantial interest in a company from participating in the making of a contract with that company. Johnson also technically abstained from the vote, but what the recording indicated is that Johnson said he wanted to vote for the project if he were legally allowed to do so, but would abstain if the county attorney determined he had to.
An attempt to reach Johnson late Tuesday evening was unsuccessful.
Grassroots Action group wants more information about Mayor Sue Hack's role in the city's closed-door executive session on the subject. Dennis Constance, a member of the group, said he's not convinced the attorney general did enough to determine that Hack didn't illegally participate in that meeting.
Hack also owns more than $5,000 in Deciphera stock. But unlike Johnson, she did not file the necessary paperwork disclosing that interest, and it is unclear whether all her fellow commissioners knew of her financial interest in the company. She also attended a September closed-door executive session where the deal was discussed. But the attorney general last month determined Hack participated in the meeting by only her attendance and said there was not evidence to press charges against her for violating the state's conflict of interest laws.
Commissioners at Tuesday's meeting were questioned about what went on inside that closed-door meeting, but they declined to get into specifics. Instead, they said that information would be released as part of the documents - including sworn statements - that they provided to the attorney general.
The Journal-World has requested those documents. City Manager David Corliss said they will be available as soon as the settlement agreement is finalized with the attorney general, which could be as soon as today.
Commissioners received comments from several members of the business community thanking them for the work they did on the Deciphera deal, which has been projected to create up to 200 high-tech jobs.
"We should be celebrating this wonderful endeavor," said Bonnie Lowe, a local bank president, former city commissioner and member of the Lawrence Chamber of Commerce board. "You all have the trust and respect of the citizens of Lawrence."