Home / Opinion/Editorial / Musings From Clay County Missouri / Constituent reaches out to County Commissioners, little response, dialogue goes cold

Constituent reaches out to County Commissioners, little response, dialogue goes cold

Occasional TNN contributor and Northland community organizer Jason Withington recently reached out to Clay County Commissioners Ridgeway and Owen for a dialogue about issues at the Courthouse. He was concerned about the recent changes to the format of the County Commission meeting that was passed 2-1 at the end of 2016.

Regular readers of TNN might remember that Commissioners Owen and Ridgeway voted to move the public comment portion to the end of the meeting and give themselves the ability to limit the time an attendee may speak. Ridgeway said the move was to improve the efficiency of the County meetings. If you missed that story about the changes you can click HERE.

Withington forwarded me his email communication because he was frustrated with the fact that Commissioner Owen never responded and Ridgeway completely went silent after a couple of responses. Nolte responded by phone within an hour of the email and later that week they met in person.

From: Jason Withington <[email protected]>
Date: Wed, Dec 7, 2016 at 6:51 AM
Subject: Move Commission Meeting to Monday Night
To: Gene Owen <EMAIL PROTECTED, PERSONAL EMAIL>, Jerry Nolte <EMAIL PROTECTED, PERSONAL EMAIL>, [email protected], [email protected], [email protected]

Commissioners,

After watching the video of this past Monday’s meeting, if you really desire to have an open and transparent government, then why not move the commission meeting from 10AM Monday to Monday evening?  People have jobs and it’s hard for most to make a 10AM meeting.  This would make it easier than running up to the courthouse over a lunch break or taking time off work.

And with regards to the public comment time limit, I’m fine with it.  Most school board meetings and city council meetings limit comment time.  But that time needs to be defined in the ordinance and not arbitrarily up to “a majority of the commission.”

As my representatives, I hope you don’t just brush this aside and I look forward to hearing back from each of you.

Thanks!

Jason H. Withington

On Dec 8, 2016 2:41 PM, “Ridgeway, Luann” <[email protected]<mailto:[email protected]v>> wrote:
Jason,

Thanks for your comments.  I agree that having the public show up at a 10 a.m. Monday meeting to make public comments is not an ideal situation.  Neither is it good to publish an agenda and then have the published agenda delayed for a significant period of time due to the current Commission Agenda order, which is why I have proposed improvements.  By putting public comment toward the end of the meeting, it allows us to move through our published agenda and then hear from any citizens who choose to address the Commission at a formal meeting — without the time pressure to move past citizen comment to reach our agenda items publicly posted pursuant to Missouri’s Open Records Law.

Please also note that citizens may contact us directly at any convenient time, whether through electronic communication or otherwise.  I am able to solve many citizen concerns promptly when citizens reach out to me in person — as I have with your email, responding in little more than 24 hours.  Also, our current rules state that citizens wishing a more formal comment time with Commissioners will be given preference if they notify our County Clerk in advance of their intent to speak.  This is an existing rule that facilitates contact in advance of the meeting so elected officials and staff can be more prepared to answer citizen concerns.

Flexibility is left as to time limits as, if there are only a few citizens who wish to comment, the Commission may spend more time with them.  However, if many citizens wish to comment, flexibility to limit time ensures that everyone gets a chance to be heard.

Commissioners may individually decide to have “listening posts” after normal business hours.  However, formal Commission meetings have audio recordings and records kept by staff and other elected offices holders.  The Commission has, in the past, had meetings at various locations in the county in an effort to be more accessible.  However, moving locations proved to create unforeseen logistical problems.  As a result, it was deemed more appropriate for each Commissioner to decide how they could best reach out to citizens or hear from them at mutually convenient times.

I make every effort to be accessible to citizens through personal contact, electronic communication, mail, phone calls and formal meetings and look forward to continuing to improve accessibility.

Commissioner Luann Ridgeway

On Dec 8, 2016, at 3:02 PM, Jason Withington <[email protected]<mailto:[email protected]>> wrote:

Commissioner Ridgeway,

Thank your for the response.  I appreciate the insight.  I didn’t however see an answer to my question about moving the meeting to the evening to better accommodate the public.  Would this be something you would consider ?

Jason H. Withington

Subject: Re: Move Commission Meeting to Monday Night-Citizen Withington
To: “Jason Withington” <[email protected]>
Cc:

Jason,

My answer is in the second to last paragraph of my previous email.  Sorry if it was unclear.   Formal Commission meetings after hours have the same logistical problems as having off-sight formal Commission meetings.  There are staffing and building security issues.  Until we find a reasonable solution, formal meetings after hours may not be feasible.  But please note that I am referring to formal Commission meetings that incur such logistical issues — not communication with your Commissioner.

As I said in the second paragraph of my answer to you, there is absolutely nothing stopping after hours communication between a Commissioner and a concerned citizen — which, whether personal contact, via email or phone or all of the above, will likely result in a more speedy resolution of the issue than waiting through the inconvenience of speaking at a formal Commission meeting.  You wrote me at 3:02 and I responded by 3:18 so it is clear that a Commissioner can, and will, promptly respond to citizen concerns other than during formal Commission meetings.

Hope this clarifies.

Commissioner Luann Ridgeway

Date: Dec 8, 2016 3:02 PM
Subject: Re: Move Commission Meeting to Monday Night
To: “Ridgeway, Luann” <[email protected]>, <[email protected]>, <[email protected]>
Cc:

Commissioner Ridgeway,

Thank your for the response. I appreciate the insight. I didn’t however see an answer to my question about moving the meeting to the evening to better accommodate the public. Would this be something you would consider ?

Jason H. Withington

From: Jason Withington <[email protected]>
Date: Wed, Dec 14, 2016 at 1:56 PM
Subject: Re: Move Commission Meeting to Monday Night-Citizen Withington
To: “Ridgeway, Luann” <[email protected]>, [email protected], [email protected], Gene Owen <EMAIL PROTECTED, PERSONAL EMAIL>

Commissioner Ridgeway,

I have been thinking a lot about what you said and reread your emails. I appreciate you taking the time to discuss.

I have heard that you and Commissioner Owen went ahead with the modifications to the agenda. I understand your arguments for limiting the time of public comment.

One thing you mentioned in one of your earlier emails, is that Commissioners may individually decide to have “listening posts.”

I love this idea, and I am so glad you suggested it!

While I can respect the idea that some issues may require a more private conversation, there is value in you meeting with your constituents in a public forum. If I remember correctly, former State Rep. Nick King had meetings like these, and Kansas City Councilwoman Heather Hall holds “mobile office hours” at Woodneath Public Library.

So, I’m curious to know when will you be holding your first one? As you said in your email to me, you ” look forward to continuing to improve accessibility.”

Some other thoughts. Please don’t take this as rude, I’m just trying to suggest some ideas about how you can “continue to improve accessibility.” We live in a time that makes communication with constituents cheap and affordable. I looked at your Facebook page, and I do not see how you are using that to promote dialogue and communication. Judging by the posts on there, there is hardly a mention of what is going on at the Courthouse. This could be said of the other two Commissioners as well, although Commissioner Nolte does use his personal FB page to make more of an update to the public. I know that you have an email list, but I don’t even know how a person is supposed to get on that. You have no website, the link on your Facebook page simply passes through to your Facebook page. You know you could write a blog about the weekly events at the Courthouse.

I have a voice in the community and would love to help you promote your “listening post” on social media.  With all the negativity around the Courthouse these days, I would think a more active effort on your part will go a long way in improving relations with the taxpayers.

For a better Clay County,

Jason H. Withington

As of publication, there has been no additional response from Ridgeway and Owen has never even responded to the original communication. In complete fairness to Ms. Ridgeway she didn’t technically have to respond as Withington resides in Owen’s district.

Constituents deserve a response from those that represent them. This is why I decided to publish this email communication between Mr. Withington and Ms. Ridgeway.

I also applaud Mr. Withington’s suggestion that the County Commissioners consider holding a public forum and using more technological means to communicate with taxpayers. The taxpayers pay these individuals a significant amount of money, provide them with health benefits while in office, and continue to pay them even after they leave in the form of a pension.

Plus, one would think that it would be a heck of a lot cheaper than sending birthday cards by us mail to a targeted demographic.

After having attended a couple County Commission meetings since the change to the agenda I find little evidence for Ms. Ridgeway’s arguments about the changes and sympathize more with Commissioner Nolte. The meeting of the week that immediately followed the changes lasted two hours, and the Commissioners took a recess for lunch and some social event. While they told attendees the time they’d return, it was a lengthy time after the recess.

Imagine being a citizen that wanted to speak about an issue they were concerned about. Further imagine that this constituent had to use vacation time from work. The average employee in America only gets a couple of weeks of vacation time and has no guaranteed public pension. Then further imagine this constituent attending the Courthouse only to be silenced after a couple minutes because Ridgeway and Owen didn’t want the comment on the videos I often publish here on TNN and our YouTube channel.

This is the height of arrogance. This is simply a form of Jefferson City politics that you often hear people complain about.

Part of being a representative you have to listen to those you represent. They may not always say things you like, they might even say crazy stuff sometimes, but you have to listen to them. You should want to listen to them.

Assistant County Administrator Nicole Brown once told me in a conversation when I first started this site that she wished more people were involved in their government. That’s been one of the fundamental goals of this site since it’s inception. I even took some early advertising dollars from the County for events that they wanted promoted.

I hate to break it to Ms. Brown, two of our County Commissioners continue to demonstrate why people don’t want to invest the time in it. People often have lives, families, and most importantly work obligations. After all they have property taxes they all must pay so the County can film TV shows about horses at their expense.

In recent weeks I have gotten the sense that Commissioner Ridgeway and Owen feel emboldened by the fact that they won their elections And, after all, they did. But an honest observer would say that many people don’t know much about their County government because the local media structure in place does little to inform them about it.

I’ve set with Ryne Dittmer of the Liberty Tribune and David Knopf of the Excelsior Springs Standard. They’re honest guys who attempt to do a good job reporting for their papers. Unfortunately, the majority of people don’t read papers. They get their news online and from social media. This site is free to read and we have twice the social media footprint of the Tribune, a paid weekly circular.

This is why I started TheNorthlandNews.com. County taxpayers deserve a modern news source that is readily available online. If you believe in what I’m trying to do here, I’d love to have you on the site as an advertiser, or you can make a donation by clicking HERE.

The County has a significant leadership problem right now, and it’s name is Luann Ridgeway and Gene Owen. Ironically, in an age of hyper-partisanship, it’s a bipartisan problem we seem to face here in the County.

1/5/2017 7:37 PM: An earlier version of this post omitted Ridgeway’s responses. They’ve been included.

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