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  • Last modified 21 days ago (April 22, 2021)

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Holter narrowly keeps job

Staff writer

When Marion city council appointed the city attorney, clerk, treasurer, municipal judge, chief of police, fire chief, and city administrator, all votes were unanimous. The vote for city administrator Roger Holter was an exception.

Holter was reappointed on a split 3-2 vote, with councilmen Ruth Herbel and Jerry Kline opposed.

Holter’s denial of an open records request in violation of state sunshine laws gave Herbel ample reason to oppose his reappointment.

On Thursday, Herbel requested the March invoice from the city’s electric supplier, Kansas Power Pool, under the Kansas Open Records Act.

The city earlier voted to increase electric rates by a penny per kilowatt-hour to cover an increase by KPP after a deep cold snap in February caused dramatic spikes in fuel costs, which KPP passed along to customers as a penny-per-kWh increase.

Although Herbel, as a councilman, shouldn’t need to submit an open records request to see the document, the city’s response to her request was delayed until the last possible moment — just prior to Monday’s meeting.

Herbel emailed the Kansas Sunshine Coalition Friday about the delay in getting a copy of the invoice.

Lawrence attorney Max Kautsch responded the same day.

“On behalf of the Sunshine Coalition, I am happy to answer the email you sent,” Kautsch wrote. “The city appears to be violating the law, although your status as a commissioner has no bearing on whether a KORA request is granted or not. Your authority to request and receive records under that law is based simply on your status as simply a member of the public. The bills you are seeking are in the possession of the city, which makes them public records.

“You could execute a written KORA request with the city for the records you seek that includes the language necessary to trigger the city’s explanation for withholding the records as required.

“In my experience, once faced with that issue, the records are often disclosed because the clerk gets the idea that there is no legal basis to withhold them.

“But even if your written request is denied, you will still come out ahead because you will learn the city’s basis for the denial, which is information you can use to continue to leverage the proper outcome.

“Ultimately, of course, these steps should not be necessary, and the records should be turned over, especially given your role as a commissioner.

“This unwillingness of the city to disclose information to its own leaders is something local media would likely be interested in.”

When Herbel read Kautsch’s email during Monday’s meeting, she said city clerk Tiffany Jeffrey had responded to her request last week that the invoice would be sent no later than three days later.

That is the maximum time allowed for a government to provide public records.

On Monday, when Herbel called Jeffrey to ask why she hadn’t gotten the information, Jeffrey said Holter would not let her have it, she said.

In other business, a proposal to rescind the city’s mask ordinance failed on a 2-3 vote with councilman Chris Costello, Susan Gray, and Herbel opposed.

Last modified April 22, 2021

 

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