Assistant back on job; audit ongoing
Assistant city administrator Kathy Bard is back on the job, although an audit continues into the city's acceptance of state liquor funds.
After spending Thursday suspended with pay, Bard was back at Tonganoxie City Hall on Friday, resuming her duties. City Hall did not publicly specify the reason for the suspension, which was handed down by outgoing Mayor Dave Taylor.
But Bard, who handles the receipt of tax money for the city, said Friday the suspension was linked to state liquor excise tax funds given to Tonganoxie that possibly should have been forwarded to Leavenworth County.
"It isn't a really big deal," Bard said. "If the state has made an error that was not appropriated to us, they send us a letter and let us know, and we'll give the money back (to the state)."
But in a report to the City Council on Monday -- without mentioning Bard by name -- City Attorney Michael Kelly said the state had notified the city of the mistake and has asked for repayment. A source put the amount at $22,000.
"I've spoken with the city administrator to get our own figure and to see if that number is correct," Kelly said.
Bard explained her side of the story:
When establishments apply for liquor licenses, it triggers the state to invoke the liquor excise tax. For more than a year, the state has appropriated a portion of the excise tax money from Helen's Hilltop, which is about two miles west of the city limits, to Tonganoxie.
In 2005, the state made excise tax reports available to municipalities. Bard requested a copy and noticed Tonganoxie was receiving tax money, through the state, from Helen's Hilltop.
Bard said she asked a field investigation officer with the Kansas Department of Revenue about the issue. The official advised Bard the local share of the tax should go to Tonganoxie because it's based on locality, not municipality. If the tax didn't go to the city, it would go to Leavenworth County.
The tax is a 10 percent surcharge on liquor by the drink. Municipalities receive less than 50 percent of that money back from the state.
Liquor excise tax money received by the city, by law, is split evenly between the general fund and parks fund.
Kelly said the city was continuing to monitor the situation.
"There's not an investigation going on (but) we are going to do an audit of our records to determine the amount," Kelly said.
Kelly suggested using their regular accountants, Lowenthal, Singleton Webb and Wilson to look at the city's books because they already had all of their historical information.
Meanwhile, Bard is trying to put the suspension behind her.
"I felt like walking up and down Fourth Street with a sign that said 'I have a job,'" Bard said. "I've done nothing wrong."
Bard said City Administrator Mike Yanez called her about 8 p.m. Thursday with news that the suspension had been lifted.
The council met in special session Thursday night at Tonganoxie City Hall, just hours after Taylor had suspended Bard. The council met in executive session for nearly two hours to discuss nonelected personnel. When it adjourned, just before 8 p.m., the council announced no action had been taken.
Council members declined to speak about the executive session after the meeting.
Asked about Bard being back on the job Friday, Taylor declined comment.
"It's still a personnel matter and I'm referring all calls to Mike Kelly," Taylor said about the city's attorney.
Kelly only acknowledged that Bard had returned to City Hall.
"Kathy's back at work, that's about the most I can tell you," Kelly said.
Taylor handed down the suspension in the final days of his tenure as mayor. He lost a re-election bid Tuesday by 24 votes to challenger and former City Council member Mike Vestal.
Bard said she was at work Thursday morning when Taylor, with Kelly by his side, informed Bard that she was suspended with pay because of an investigation.
"He asked for my key and locked it," Bard said about Taylor locking her office door.
At Monday's regular council meeting, newly elected council members, including the new mayor, Mike Vestal, were sworn into office. The only time Bard came up by name was when local resident Gene Heskett approached the council to ask questions pertaining to the validity of her position, assistant city administrator.
"How can we have an office of an assistant to the city administrator without it being approved by the council?" Heskett asked. "Isn't that against the law?"
Kelly asked Heskett for a copy of all of his questions and asked the council for some time so he could research and answer the questions for the council by the next meeting.