Tonganoxie mayor recuses himself from future Tyson discussions
Tonganoxie Mayor Jason Ward will not involve himself with any future discussion about the proposed Tyson chicken-processing plant south of Tonganoxie.
Questions were raised last week about a potential conflict of interest between Tyson and the mayor because the firm for which he works, Shook, Hardy & Bacon, lists the Arkansas-based company as one of its clients.
Ward addressed his employment with the firm.
“My employment with Shook, Hardy & Bacon has been public knowledge with roughly 500 attorneys in 13 offices around the world,” Ward said.
He noted that he’s never worked on matters for Tyson nor had any contact with Tyson Foods personnel in his 18 years at the firm. He also pointed out that the firm’s representation of Tyson from time to time in certain matters has been public knowledge.
“The city of Tonganoxie is not the recruiter of this project, and has received only a limited request for the extension of sanitary sewer,” he said.
Ward went on to say that, as mayor, he does not have a vote in regular council actions beyond “extraordinary circumstances” of a council tie. In addition, he said the city has taken no formal action on the extension of sanitary sewer for the proposed project has occurred.
After those comments, he explained how he would go forward as Tonganoxie continues to discuss Tyson.
“With that said, out of respect for the process and to allay possible concerns of a conflict, I am choosing not to preside over the portions of meetings in which the Tyson project is discussed,” he said.
He continued that he wouldn’t participate in any further discussion about the proposed project with the City Council, the Leavenworth County Commission, media or the general public.
Ward asked Council President Kara Reed to lead council discussions and public meetings on the topic moving forward.
The mayor opened the meeting saying that he was “deeply saddened see the emotional turmoil that the proposed Tyson project has brought to the community. While numerous facts are yet to be known, the overwhelming response to the announcement has made it quite clear that many residents do not support the construction of the plant in the proximity of Tonganoxie.”
Ward’s comments during Tyson’s announcement Sept. 5 in Tonganoxie has drawn ire from community members, as Ward welcomed the project to the area.
“I would like to apologize for any role that my participation in the announcement has played in the community’s response to this project,” he said. “I was asked to speak on behalf of the city and did so with the best intentions.
“I’ve had he opportunity to write and deliver many welcome speeches during my time as mayor. Welcome speeches, by their nature, are expressions of neighborly introduction. Please know that my stance on any project involving our city firmly rests in the positions of our residents and not in the fluid text of a welcome speech.”
After Ward spoke, Reed took over for a nearly two-hour open forum for residents to speak about the Tyson project at The Jewel on Main. The venue was moved trom Council Chambers to accommodate the anticipated larger crowd. Some 200 people attended the meeting. Each speaker had three minutes to give their comments. Most spoke against the project, though many appreciated Ward’s decision and generally appreciated the council’s efforts in the situation. The evening turned tense at times, especially when some speakers pushed for the council to vote against any future sewer services to the project.
Council Member Chris Donnelly was the first to say he wanted to be done with any ties to the project. Jim Truesdell, Curtis Oroke and Andy Gilner all had similar sentiments. Reed wasn’t ready to make such a pledge, saying that in recent days she had heard from many residents who favored the Tyson project or needed more information, but were afraid to have their opinion known because of pressure from some in the local movement against the project.
The council plans to vote on whether to still look at sewer services to the proposed project at its next meeting Oct. 2.