Archive for Friday, November 30, 2007

Attorney general believes Lawrence City Commission violated open meetings law

November 30, 2007, 9:10 a.m. Updated November 30, 2007, 11:43 a.m.

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The Kansas Attorney General has found that the Lawrence City Commission violated the state's open meetings law by holding a closed-door meeting to discuss granting economic development incentives to a start-up pharmaceuticals company.

But Attorney General Paul Morrison is willing to forgo prosecution if city commissioners agree to admit their errors and pay for two hours of professional training on the open meetings law.

The issue centers on a Sept. 20 executive session during which city commissioners discussed giving economic development incentives - about $1 million worth of city money - to Deciphera Pharmaceuticals, a start up company that was considering a move from Lawrence.

Commissioners had the discussion behind closed doors under an exception in the state's open meetings law that allows attorney-client conversations to remain private. But the Attorney General's office contends the city improperly used that exception. That is because Lavern Squier, president and CEO of the Lawrence Chamber of Commerce, was allowed to attend the executive session. The Attorney General's office said "there is no evidence to support" the notion that Squier was a client of the city's attorneys, which violated the claim that the city was meeting to keep the attorney-client conversation private.

The proposed settlement does not specifically address whether the content of the discussion was improper.

Grassroots Action, a citizens group that filed a complaint about the meeting, alleged the city was discussing policy matters that should have been discussed in open meeting.

In particular, the group was concerned about a never-before used property tax refund provision that was being offered to the company. The tax refund is similar to a tax abatement, which is required to go through a public review processes. Commissioners never discussed the tax refund program in a public meeting.

Commissioners are scheduled to discuss accepting Morrison's proposed settlement at their meeting on Tuesday evening.

More on the story later this morning.

Comments

Richard Heckler 7 years, 4 months ago

"It is very hard to accept that someone who has as much experience in public office as Mayor Hack - six years on the City Commission and two terms as mayor - would "misunderstand" the conflict-of-interest rules. It is still harder to accept that, even if the relevant disclosure laws were not there, the mayor would fail to realize this was a touchy situation. She should not need the AG to tell her participation in the commission's closed-door, executive session where Deciphera was discussed, simply doesn't look right."

The above portion of a letter to the editor applies to all commissioners. It would help if those commissioners who appear to have violated conflict of interest laws would just step down instead of pretending the violation is not really a violation. It is difficult for me to believe none of the commissioners and the Chamber person knew they were in violation of the law. 7of 8 city/county commissioners and the chamber person have way to much experience under their belts ... I'm not sure about Dever.

The tax rebate which is not city policy, violation of KOMA and appearance of conflict of interest violations should be enough to put the dicephera matter out of business however I believe it is personal investments of local movers and shakers that's preventing doing what's right.

GetItRight 7 years, 4 months ago

Today? Nice try. Is everyone at the paper asleep? KLWN had this on when my alarm went off at 6:30 this morning.

just_another_bozo_on_this_bus 7 years, 4 months ago

"But Attorney General Paul Morrison is willing to forgo prosecution if city commissioners agree to admit their errors and pay for two hours of professional training on the open meetings law."

All this will do is make sure that they are more careful not to get caught next time.

MattressMan 7 years, 4 months ago

GetItRight, says:"Today? Nice try. Is everyone at the paper asleep? KLWN had this on when my alarm went off at 6:30 this morning."

Big whoop so KLWN ahd it on earlier

bmoody51 7 years, 4 months ago

How amusing you can all chastise under the guise of anonymity. Why don't you step forward and see if you have the ability to do the job, rather than just gritch?

just_another_bozo_on_this_bus 7 years, 4 months ago

WTF, bmoody? They stepped forward, and clearly ignored the requirements of doing the job. Why shouldn't they be criticized?

Godot 7 years, 4 months ago

"does this mean that the Chamber of Commerce is going to continue with Mayor Hack as a Leadership instructor ?"

Heck, they will probably hire the chamber to conduct the "professional training."

Richard Heckler 7 years, 4 months ago

The local Bio Science Authority should have their/OUR tax dollar assets frozen until all legal questions on this matter are adequately investigated if that will ever take place.

Better yet voters/taxpayers/citizens should demand that the Bio Science Authority be shut down and spend that money on sidewalks and a hike/bike trail...an endeavor that will enhance the quality of life for the many instead investing in a project that will enhance the personal bank accounts of the very few.

The smell of this questionable political activity is penetrating the panes of our new windows.

BigPrune 7 years, 4 months ago

I thought the City Manager was supposed to step in as a guide for the proper procedures to follow. Since Boog, Hack, and Amyx have been commissioners for years, it sounds like this sort of thing might have been an acceptable practice from both sides.

Logan5 7 years, 4 months ago

Come on people, do you really think Hack should be hung for this offense? The money she makes as mayor is equivalent to getting paid for jury duty. So she messed up, what did it hurt? Few will question that the Deciphera deal is not a good one for the city. I think Morrison is handling this the right way.

Godot 7 years, 4 months ago

At the risk of changing this thread topic, I must point out that Martha Stewart went to jail for less than this.

Kontum1972 7 years, 4 months ago

they are above the Law, school of D. Cheney.

Kontum1972 7 years, 4 months ago

Martha really fixed up the prison plus made a few friends...its a good thing!

saxplayer24 7 years, 4 months ago

I moved here from Topeka and I would just like to thank the Lawrence City Gov for making the move easier for me by being creating consistency. The Lawrence City Gov is just as incompetent as the Topeka City Council and that my friends takes effort. Thanks guys, you're great! If you didn't see the sarcasm in that you obviously graduated from Missouri.

kmat 7 years, 4 months ago

Logan isn't right. You don't take a city govt job for the money, you do it because you want to make the city you live in a better place. If she wants to make money, she needs to be in the business world. Her low paid job as mayor is to make sure she is doing what is best for the city of Lawrence, not what's best for her pocketbook.

She needs to go.

pace 7 years, 4 months ago

Sue Hack should resign or be recalled. She also should answer the questions. She took a job of public trust, she owes us to answer the questions. When did she buy, when will she resign?

justthefacts 7 years, 4 months ago

The comments display a woeful lack of information.

The penalties for violation of the KOMA do not include (1) firing anyone (2) sending anyone to jail (3) removal from office. They allow a court to (1) fine the members [if the petition is filed by a prosecutor and not a citizen] (2) issue a declaratory decision [saying that the KOMA was violated and ordering no further violations] (3) and voiding secretly taken binding action if a petition is filed in court by a prosecutor within 21 days of the alleged secret action. Since the violation was a discussion on 9/20, and it is impossible to "un-dicuss" something, the voiding penalty was not available or appropriate.

So, those who are crying for blood or more serious penalties may want to educate themselves on the particular law(s) in question. http://www.ksag.org/content/page/id/63 The Open Meeting Act does not provide for the punishments being demanded. If you think the KOMA should so provide, talk to your lawmakers about making an amendment (which would not impact this matter after-the-fact).

Godot 7 years, 4 months ago

I repeat, a lie by omission is still a lie.

Flap Doodle 7 years, 4 months ago

Don't do the crime if you can't do the time (don't do it).

kneejerkreaction 7 years, 4 months ago

Is Paul Morrison going to give Last Call a suspension in lieu of completing 2 hours of training to understand how to avoid breaking the law in the future?

kneejerkreaction 7 years, 4 months ago

....and bmoody51, my real name is Kneejerkreaction. My parents were cruel.

Logan5 7 years, 4 months ago

How does this offense compare to the closed door meeting of representatives of big oil with Dick Cheney's Energy Task Force in 2001?

http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2005/11/15/AR2005111501842.html

Richard Heckler 7 years, 4 months ago

Yes an investigation is warranted by someone. For it would be in the best interest of the community and its taxpayers. Potential mismanagement of tax dollars is also a question in which the community would take an interest I would think. How many Bio Science Authorities does Kansas need as a means to spend taxpayers money on private ventures "non profit"(?) or not?

Why are investors investing in a non-profit if some serious private gain not on their table?

As it appears there is one authority at the state level and one at the Lawrence,Kansas level soooo why were local taxpayers not allowed to vote on this local authority? Do our politicians not trust their taxpayers have the savvy to make the right decision ORRR were they afraid that taxpayers are intelligent enough to vote NO WAY?

Do taxpayers truly want politicians at the front door and the back door developing these spending authorities without a vote?

Do taxpayers trust politicians enough to allow them to develop spending authorities at every whim? I certainly do not!

This is still some stinky politics any way one observes this situation.

Mayor Hack is likely far from alone in this matter.

Richard Heckler 7 years, 4 months ago

The New Hampshire street parking garage was noted this week a failed TIF project. Perhaps that explains the LJW article drawing attention to the parking facility.

pinecreek 7 years, 4 months ago

Yeehaw, back to school for the Commission.

Perhaps Sue will teach that class......

kneejerkreaction 7 years, 4 months ago

its-warmer...inentives were intended to tip the balance to attract businesses to a specific area. The business's motives for accepting the incentives doesn't really seem relavent if other areas are under consideration and are willing to offer incentives to attract the same business.

Richard Heckler 7 years, 4 months ago

When a person is elected or appointed to office each time they are advised or at least receive a packet of information in which an explanation of Kansas Open Meetings Act is included. Not only do elected officials need to be careful so do all appointed positions.

Richard Heckler 7 years, 4 months ago

On Dicephera:

2 financially invested sitting commissioners sit on meetings which seems to constitute a conflict of interest

A local Bio Science Authority is developed under the watch of those two same commissioners. This authority wants to provide $1.5 million city tax dollars for the project.

Apparently the Chamber of Commerce owns the building

The Chamber of Commerce director sits in on closed door sessions with sitting commissioners violating the KOMA which also seems to be a conflict of interest.

Where are the taxpayers represented?

Godot 7 years, 4 months ago

its_getting_warmer is absolutely correct about the backwards and underhanded manner in which the first TIF in Lawrence is being orchestrated. I am not surprised by the TIF blackmail, but I expected it would be pulled on the library deal first; maybe this hotel (and, mark my word, it will be a conference center, as well) sets the precedent; same players, different project.

XTC 7 years, 4 months ago

I heard the Mayor was so streesed out that Deciphera sent her to Cancun...

mick 7 years, 4 months ago

When the State refuses to enforce the law it's time for the FBI to get involved, They have jurisdiction because the City receives Federal tax dollars.

davisnin 7 years, 4 months ago

Logan5, the difference between this and the Cheney situation is that we, as citizens of Lawrence, should, in theory, have much more say locally than at the national level. Right is not by definition a lesser wrong. Sue knew very well she had a financial conflict of interest and should not have participated at all in the process. And the commission should not be looking at loopholes in our tax incentive laws to pass them without comment. All they had to do was discuss this ONCE publicly without Sue involved (knowing full well her views), sit there while the citizenry voiced their opposition to Lawrence's continuing misuse of tax incentives, and IGNORE us like they always do. Bases covered. So this only proves outright corruption, or outright stupidity.

One day, maybe, perhaps, the leadership of Lawrence will realize that no company is going to say no if you ask them if they would develop here without tax incentives. Their only power is in the threat!

justthefacts 7 years, 4 months ago

In answer to the question about whether the citizens can sue the commision; the answer is "it depends." On what:? The nature and basis of the claim. Citizens file private law suits against public officials or entities quite frequently. Whether the suit will be thrown out on its face or after a complete hearing of all sides will depend upon what is being claimed and what proof is presented in support of a claim.

The KOMA does allow citizens to sue to enforce it. However, b/c the citizens in this case sought action by a public prosecutor who eventually settled it that is the end of that issue, at least as far as a court would be concerned.

If the citizens want to sue the commission on some other basis, and need legal advice, they'll have to seek that advice from a private attorney. And be prepared to pay legal fees up front.

There is no possibility of winning a law suit, imo, on the basis of a claim that basically states "we disagree with a decision they have made." The voting electorate gave the officials the authority to make certain decisions on their behalf. Unless the decision is contrary to some law, or violates someone's rights, it is a policy decision. Courts/judges cannot dictate policy decisions. They can rule on whether some law or rights has been violated. And before you scream "my rights HAVE been violated" you have to show what LAW gives you that right. If there is no law that says things have to be decided a certain way, or says you get to have things your way then a law suit would be a futile and costly effort. And judge's have been known to award attorneys fees against plaintiffs who file suits that have absolutely no basis.

Ward 7 years, 4 months ago

I believe that Godot is onto something: same players, same tactics. Who's gonna investigate the entire trajectory of this thing?

Give'em a handful of community service hours to collect the poop from behind the horses at tomorrow's parade and sit them up in dodge ball or a dunking booth. Or outfit them all as mimes. Give a load back to the community and not the big business.

Richard Heckler 7 years, 4 months ago

Pursue violation

November 30, 2007

To the editor:

The attorney general's opinion concerning Mayor Hack's involvement with Deciphera - a company in which she has over $5,000 invested - leaves a lot to be desired. Stopping with an "appearance of impropriety" determination leaves the answer to a very important question up for grabs: Did or did not Sue Hack improperly and illegally influence a community decision involving millions of dollars?

It is very hard to accept that someone who has as much experience in public office as Mayor Hack - six years on the City Commission and two terms as mayor - would "misunderstand" the conflict-of-interest rules. It is still harder to accept that, even if the relevant disclosure laws were not there, the mayor would fail to realize this was a touchy situation. She should not need the AG to tell her participation in the commission's closed-door, executive session where Deciphera was discussed, simply doesn't look right.

The lack of documentation is given by the attorney general's office as the problem with further action on the more serious aspects of the situation, but there seems to be an obvious way around that: Prosecute the technical violation of law that in fact did occur. Doing so brings a judicial process into play that is public, and involves sworn testimony by witnesses. This would give the taxpayers of Lawrence considerably more confidence that the mayor's "appearance of impropriety" was in fact only an appearance.

Dennis Constance,

Lawrence

Terry Jacobsen 7 years, 4 months ago

One question on this thread that seems to have been overlooked. Why don't these people who are part of this "grassroots" group come out and say who they are? Perhaps backstabbing and character assasination makes them feel guilty? Or maybe it's easier to comiserate with others who care nothing for the truth, but just want to practice the politics of personal destruction. If you have a problem with someone, have the maturity to stand up make your accusations, accompanied by evidence and others will see you as an enlightener, instead of a liar. Better yet, keep on doing what your doing, it gives the world a truer picture of who and what you are.

happydog 7 years, 4 months ago

Hack's not the one we need to worry about; It's the one with his finger in the pie, Squier.

Kathy Getto 7 years, 4 months ago

Politicians often say "mistakes were made" when things go wrong; if the council learns from its' training and behaves better in the future, it shows some potential for learning and growth.

saxplayer24 7 years, 4 months ago

Yah know, the old AG, Phil Kline (and yes, he's stilll watching you), was a prick and scared the crap out of everybody. Buttt, he also was a stickler, or atleast a percieved stickler, on whitecollar crimes. Just something to think about.

On an unrelated note, Kline and Morrisson switched jobs, now Kline is JoCo's AG and gets paid more to not work for the sate but work for Johnson County. That doesn't seem right, but I digress and wouldn't want the thread to digress as well.

blackwalnut 7 years, 4 months ago

Throw the bums out.

All of them.

Boog, tell what you know, or you've lost my confidence too.

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