Archive for Wednesday, September 5, 2007

Council member requests e-mails

Worries she’s being left out of loop spurs Crook to act

September 5, 2007

A Tonganoxie City Council member, upset that she's being kept out of the loop on city business, has filed an open records request seeking all of City Administrator Mike Yanez's e-mails to other council members since April.

For weeks, Council member Paula Crook has said she felt like she was not being as informed about some city business as other council members. That feeling, she said, was confirmed when she was not notified of a recent meeting that included city staff, Council member Jim Truesdell and the architects and engineers of the new Tonganoxie swimming pool.

"If I'm getting left out of information that I should know about and the other council members know, how can I make good decisions for the city if they are not telling me everything?" Crook asked.

Crook claimed Yanez singled her out and kept information from her specifically about the new Tonganoxie pool and meetings about the pool because she has scrutinized the work that Sullivan and Palmer Architects, the new pool's designers, have done at swimming pools in other cities.

"He said all I do is focus on the negative, but I'm not thinking negatively if we are going to build a $3 million pool," Crook said. "I've talked to other cities where (Sullivan and Palmer) have built pools; they are saying things like tiles are popping off and the slides had to be replaced after a year. That's not negative. To me, that is good input so we aren't going to have that kind of trouble with our pool."

Crook said she had heard from other cities that they would have made changes if they had known then what they know now.

Yanez said leaving Crook out of the pool meeting had nothing to do with her comments on Sullivan and Palmer, but with city staff's ability to do their jobs efficiently.

Because of Truesdell's involvement with the pool committee, Yanez felt he should attend all work meetings with the architects and engineers. If another council member were to attend the meetings, a special meeting would need to be called, and the media and the public would need to be informed, he said.

"We have to draw a line here between administrative meetings versus policy-making meetings," Yanez said. "As I explained to Paula, we meet administratively to put together a work product, and all of the council gets the results of the work product when we present it at the council meeting. So she is getting the same information that the rest of the council gets in order to make policy decisions. What she is getting in the packet is a final work product.

"Without getting real blunt and real bold with stuff I don't want in the paper, we can't function that way," Yanez continued. "We can't function with a bunch of elected officials micromanaging our work day, particularly if we are talking about calling a special meeting every time we want to have a meeting with consultants, department heads or even individual staff members. "

The council had asked for Crook to attend water district meetings, and Yanez said he keeps her informed about those meetings.

With advice from City Attorney Mike Kelly, Crook filled out an open records form on Aug. 8, and requested any e-mails Yanez had sent to any of the city council from April 1 to Aug. 10.

Crook said that Kathy Bard, the assistant city administrator, had provided her with all of the e-mails she had requested, but Yanez had only provided her with two weeks worth of e-mails.

Yanez said that he periodically empties out his e-mail box and gave Crook all of the e-mails he had.

There have been no attempts by Crook or Yanez to obtain more e-mails from the Sunflower Broadband servers that the city uses for e-mail. Since filing the request, Crook said she has been receiving more e-mails from city staff than she had previously.

Mayor Mike Vestal said he doesn't want any negative feelings between city staff and the council.

"I want us to work as a team," Vestal said. "I don't want to keep any council members uninformed of anything that's going on; I said that when I ran and I meant that."

To correct the situation Vestal said he would start asking all council members which meetings they want to attend, and if more than one council member wants to attend, a special meeting will be called.

"It's pretty simple really; there is nothing difficult about it," Vestal said. "That is going to be the new policy. That way nobody is left out and anybody can come to the meetings who wants to."

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