The Clay County Commission meeting on Monday, February 6 saw more controversy as the commission adjourned early for a lengthy executive session, had two members of the public give passionate public comment without the commission present, more public comments about concerns at Smithville Lake over the ongoing boat slip fee issues, and a late addition ordinance that took the Custodian of Records designation away from Clay County Clerk Megan Thompson.
For the third week in a row attendees saw the Clay County Commission adjourn early to enter an executive session that was not listed on the noticed agenda.
The move was proposed by Commissioner Ridgeway and was for legal and contractual. After it was proposed, Nolte asked County Counselor Kevin Graham if he was aware of the reasons for the executive session. It appeared that Nolte was unaware of the need to call the executive session and briefly adjourned the meeting to discuss the purpose with Graham.
After the break, Nolte moved to keep the executive session at it’s normal place in the agenda. Usually executive sessions are the last thing that is attended to in most public meetings.
You can watch the full discussion below. We’ve anchored the YouTube video at the point in which Ridgeway moved for the executive session.
Commissioner Ridgeway and Owen both voted for the executive session to occur. After that, the Commission moved on to set the remainder of the agenda. All three commissioners agreed to remove one of Nolte’s items which was an amendment to a budget ordinance that dealt with the signing of warrants and payroll documents.
Similar to past weeks, Commissioner Ridgeway moved to table some of Commissioner Nolte’s items that he had added to the agenda. Those items included an ordinance that would have ceased all actions related to the eviction of slip holders at Smithville Lake, an ordinance that would have changed the Commission order of business to have public/office holder/agency comments prior to discussion as it previously was, and an ordinance that would have required the County budget to be searchable.
Commissioners Nolte and Ridgeway discussed their differing opinions on the location of the public comment portion in the meeting. Nolte continues to believe that public comment should occur before the regular agenda, and Ridgeway believes that the Commission should give preference to those that were scheduled for an item on the agenda.
That discussion begins here:
Ridgeway also seemed concerned that Nolte put the ordinance on the agenda pertaining to the ongoing boat slip controversy.
“For two weeks in a row, all three commissioners have been admonished that there is a potential for litigation that has been publicly announced. And in fact an attorney to represent certain individuals at the lake has notified our county counselor his intent to represent them. That means there is litigation either pending or imminent. We were also cautioned that we should be very good listeners to those who are here to speak concerning the lake events, but we should not engage in back and forth debate and we should not try to draw our staff into such debate. For two weeks in a row you have ignored advice of counsel which I believe is to the peril of the taxpayers and the public position of Clay County Missouri because you cannot or will not abide by the rules that were appropriately laid down by our county counselor. It is only appropriate that these items be removed and once again we’ll try through public comment to be very good listeners.”
Commissioner Nolte responded to Commissioner Ridgeway’s criticism, “I appreciate your comments and understand your apprehension. I did consult with counsel. There are precautions that have to be taken. It is not a total gag order.”
The items were tabled by a 2-1 vote with Commissioner Owen adding no comments to the discussion.
The commissioners adjourned to the executive session at 10:40 AM with several members of the public present to speak on the issues. And the public continued to wait for quite awhile as the executive session continued.
Clay County Clerk Megan Thompson and Clay County Collector Lydia McEvoy purchased pizza for the waiting attendees. Those attendees included people who were both there for the boat issue and regular agenda items.
We spoke with Collector McEvoy about the reasons for purchasing the pizza, “Hospitality. That’s it in a word. Our names and our offices are out on the monument with those Commissioners. When members of the public are invited here this is where the public interacts with us and they are treated like this, I felt compelled to treat them as guests in my house.”
KMBC 9 news showed up at about 1:30 PM.
After waiting for almost three hours, Don Milum and Stacy Long decided to give their public comments to those attending without the Commission.
Milum spoke first calling the removal of Nolte’s items from the agenda a “blatant disregard for the public.” Milum also said he was out of time and was not going to waste more time on people who “had no interest in coming to the table like professionals and sitting down and discussing our differences”.
You can watch Milum’s comments below, they last for about 4 and a half minutes.
County resident Stacy Long spoke after Milum. TheNorthlandNews.com readers should remember her as the woman who waited three hours to speak in public comment three weeks ago.
Long said that she felt that she was being bullied by the county.
“I feel like this was a simple mis-management issue that they could have sat down with me and talked about. Instead they’ve pushed me into a lawsuit. They’re using bullying tactics against the citizens of Clay County. I want to encourage other citizens of the county to stand up and speak out, to come to these meetings, to have their voices be heard.”
You can watch her comments here, they last for about 3 minutes.
The county commission finally returned from the executive session at 2:00 PM. We kept the video running after they emerged so there is about 2 minutes of nothing after they came out.
After the meeting resumed, Commissioner Nolte called for a special term session of the Clay County Commission to be held next Wednesday, February 15, 2017 at the County Courthouse to discuss some of the issues that he’d originally placed on the meeting agenda.
Updated 2/13/2017 8:29 AM – Commissioner Nolte just reached out to us about the special term session:
Due to the specific procedural maneuver I can not legally convene the Special Term Session February 15, 2017 as announced at the February 6, 2017 meeting. I regret any inconvenience caused by this cancellation. My efforts to reschedule were unsuccessful.
After a lengthy agenda, the commission took public comment from several attendees. First to the microphone was John Northweather.
Northweather told the commission that he had a couple issues that he didn’t think could be answered but he wanted them out there. The first question had to do with whether the 30 day abandonment clause would be bypassed on the boat slips that had not paid because the commission had continued to table the issue with no clear decision.
Northweather’s second point was a direct statement to Commissioner Ridgeway’s concerns about the issue being spoken about in public.
Northweather told Ridgeway, “I’m hear to say that’s the only way it can be done. I send emails to you guys, you guys get phone calls, one person on this commission will write back to me.”
Northweather also expressed concerns similar to those expressed last week by Clay County citizen Terri Welk about the lack of communication after the election with slip holders who were wanting to address problems at the lake.
Stacy Long returned to the microphone again after Northweather stepped down. Long read a prepared statement from her phone. She told the Commission that she’d never tried so hard to pay for something in her life. “I just want to hand over a check and in return have a boat slip.”
She also told the commission that she was concerned there wasn’t any transparency and that conversations were expected to be held behind closed doors. Pulling from her experience as a nurse at Children’s Mercy and at one point pausing to suppress emotions, Long appealed to the Commission to just admit that a mistake was made and to work to remedy the situation.
After Long, Terri Welk approached the podium. Welk has spoken several times at the Commission in the past year on issues dealing with Smithville Lake and its facilities. Much of her comments were complimentary of those who had spoken out about their concerns with the county. Welk also asked for the Commission to consider a possible town hall to listen to residents concerns.
The final comment came from Vic Hurlbert.
Hurlbert is the husband of former Presiding Commissioner Pam Mason. Mason ran in 2016 against County Commissioner Gene Owen. Hurlbert’s comments were brief.
He told Ridgeway that it seemed like she was continuing the war on parks. This was a reference to a campaign attack that was used against Mason when Commissioner Jerry Nolte ran against her in the Republican primary in 2014. At the time, Ridgeway supported Nolte in that race. Hurlbert closed by making a comment about seeing members of the commission down the hill. This was a reference to the court hearing that will take place tomorrow dealing with the lawsuit that was brought against Ridgeway and Owen for mailing “birthday cards” to area residents.
The end of the meeting saw two more ordinances brought up for commission consideration after the comment portion of the meeting. This required a suspension of the rules for the items to be considered. The items were 2017-65 and 2017-64.
The first item, 2017-65 (at publication this item is not archived into the county’s system), seemed to be something that could have arose out of the executive session. It was an agreement with the Missouri Department of Conservation and Clay County. That measure passed with all Commissioners voting yes.
Ridgeway then brought up 2017-64 saying that it was not her intention to have any discussion on the issue and that it should rise and fall on its own merits. This measure changed the County’s Custodian of Records from County Clerk Megan Thompson to County Administrator Dean Brookshier. This means that all Sunshine Requests sent to the County will now go through Brookshier.