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Cody, Mayfield used private email

Staff writer

Documents released Monday under the Kansas Open Records Act reveal that Gideon Cody and Mayor David Mayfield corresponded via private rather than city email regarding Cody’s resignation as police chief.

They also reveal that Cody offered to resign effective Oct. 15, not immediately, as Mayfield announced to the city council two hours after receiving Cody’s resignation Oct. 4.

The fact that the two used private rather than city email is significant because the city has contended, in defiance of K.S.A. 45-217(l), that material stored in private accounts is not subject to disclosure.

The email released Monday appears to have been released only because Mayfield forwarded it, 18 days after the fact, from one of his private accounts to City Administrator Brogan Jones’s city account.

The forwarded resignation letter was addressed from a redacted private account that Cody has used to a redacted account bearing the name “Kansas Citizen,” a pseudonym Mayfield has been known to use.

It then was forwarded 18 days later to Jones by Mayfield from an unredacted Yahoo account in Mayfield’s name. That account uses his former badge number as a highway patrolman as part of the account name.

In 2016, the legislature amended the open records act after then-Governor Sam Brownback attempted to avoid public disclosure of emails sent from a private account.

K.S.A. 45-217(l) now defines public records as “any recorded information, regardless of form, characteristics or location, that is made, maintained or kept by or is in the possession of . . . any officer or employee of a public agency pursuant to the officer’s or employee’s official duties and that is related to the functions, activities, programs or operations of any public agency.”

Last week, an attorney working for a City of Marion insurance company refused to provide copies of text messages exchanged between Mayfield, Cody, Jones, and other city officials regarding the Aug. 11 raid on the Marion County Record.

Attorney Jennifer Hill used as one of her excuses that the records were not in the city’s possession.

In addition to multiple federal suits expected over the raid, a state suit alleging violation of the Open Records Act also is now likely.

Hill suggested that it would be an “unreasonable burden” on the city to force employees and officials to provide evidence of privately maintained texts.

This claim flew in the face of repeated warnings council members and employees had received in the past that such items were subject to disclosure.

This same line of thinking was part of why the city purchased electronic messaging devices for council members to use in conducting city business.

The Record and other news organizations have been seeking the texts to see whether they might reveal how political concerns could have entered into Cody’s decision to raid the newspaper and the homes of its owners and Vice Mayor Ruth Herbel, with whom the mayor long has been at odds.

In the email released Monday, Cody wrote: “Mayor, I have not intended for myself to be such a distraction for the City. I would like to resign effective 15th of October if that is okay with you. I do not want to defend my actions to the Council and I do not want for everyone to have to formally discuss any discipline.”

After maintaining for 48 days that Cody should not be suspended, Mayfield abruptly changed his mind three days before the resignation and suspended Cody.

The suspension came after published reports in which restaurant owner Kari Newell, whose continued driving without a license was an underlying element in the raid, reported that Cody had urged her to destroy text messages the two had exchanged to avoid “misunderstandings” about their relationship.

Cody pointed out in his resignation letter that his quitting could prevent any public discussion of improprieties he might have committed.

But he persisted in his resignation letter in expressing that what he did might not have warranted firing him.

“I believe if the circumstances were known,” he wrote, “then it would mitigate your response but I am getting exhausted from the media pressure much like all of you. . . .

“I don’t believe this resignation will hinder the city’s defense regarding the search warrant. . . .

“I will call you as well to discuss this.”

As detailed in a separate story, at a city council meeting this Monday, Pam Maag, who originally provided information about Newell’s driving record to Herbel and the newspaper, criticized the city’s decision not to turn over private text messages.

“You may want to make sure the city insurance attorney, Ms. Hill, is up to speed before she makes statements,” Maag said.

She went on to accuse Mayfield, Jones, interim police chief Zach Hudlin, and city council member Zach Collett of being involved in “a conspiracy.”

“I believe it is still going on and you are only missing your arrogant, strong-arm chief,” she said. “The emails I have have shown your intention was to get a charge on Ruth [Herbel] to get her removed and to go after the Marion Record. . . . These emails don’t shine good light on the sheriff’s office, either.”

She was cut off after three minutes and responded that she would finish reading her prepared statement at the next meeting.

After the meeting, mayoral candidate Mike Powers questioned whether city rules should have allowed her to speak in the first place because she resides at Marion County Lake, not within the city limits of Marion.

Newell’s estranged husband, Ryan Newell, who is a city resident, also spoke in criticism of the decision not to provide text messages.

“I hope when they get those text messages . . . yours are going to be in there, too, so there’s going to be even more than comes out . . . ,” he told Mayfield. “I cannot wait until your ass is in a sling.”

Last modified Nov. 1, 2023

 

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