Marion gets new city clerk, same old turmoil
After a closed-door session that a legal expert contends violated state law, Marion City Council voted unanimously Monday, with one member absent, to hire as city clerk a person who 3½ years ago was asked to resign from a similar position in Florence.
Mayor David Mayfield and council member Zach Collett, who made the motion to hire Janet Robinson, were the only council members who, along with interim city clerk Becky Makovec, interviewed Robinson, according to sources.
That Robinson was being nominated for the position was not revealed publicly until after a 20-minute closed-door session.
Technically, only the mayor has authority to nominate appointed officers such as city clerk.
No official nomination was heard during public positions of the meeting.
Upon emerging from the closed-door session, Mayfield turned to Collett to make a motion, which he appeared to read from a computer screen, then turned to council member Jerry Kline to second the motion.
All three plus council member Ruth Herbel voted to confirm the nomination. Council member Chris Costello was absent.
Former city clerk Tiffany Jeffrey resigned in December after an executive session in which the council discussed but didn’t fire then-city administrator Mark Skiles. The city fired him 10 days later.
Herbel said Robinson’s interview with Mayfield, Collett, and Makovec was done without council approval.
“We were told there were three or four other applicants that were not interviewed,” Herbel said.
The Kansas League of Municipalities notes in its governing handbook that state statutes do not make the mayor the employment officer of the city.
That means it is not his or her exclusive prerogative or duty to hire and fire employees, to appoint without confirmation or discharge officers, to buy what is needed, to sell what has worn out or is no longer needed, or to carry out all of the other administrative burdens of the city.
“It is my opinion that the council should have appointed an interviewing committee if it didn’t want to do the interview itself,” Herbel told the Record.
Marion city code states only that the mayor “shall appoint, by and with consent of the council,” employees such as the city clerk.
The legality of whether council members should have been allowed to interview the candidates was not questioned by Kansas Sunshine Coalition for Open Government and Kansas Press Association attorney Max Kautsch, contacted by the Record.
Rather, he questioned the secrecy of the closed-door meeting before she was appointed, saying the council’s motion to enter executive session was too vague about the subject matter.
For the first, after hearing similar complaints in the past, the motion included that the city clerk would be discussed but did not specify in what regard, and the discussion may have included unrelated material in violation of the state’s open meetings law and several legal opinion’s from the attorney general’s office.
Collett wrote in an email that he didn’t know how many people applied for the job.
“I am confident that Mrs. Robinson will be a great addition to our city staff, and I am excited to have her on our team,” Collett wrote.
Robinson is set to begin as clerk on Feb. 21.
She said she served as Florence’s city clerk for 18 years through July 2019.
“We came to an understanding that I would resign,” she said.
Robinson said she was interested in the Marion city clerk job “because I’ve done it in the past.”
She works as an administrative assistant at Marion’s Kansas Department of Transportation office.
Marion also is hiring for a city administrator, police chief, assistant police chief, patrol officer, groundskeeper and water plant operator.
Mayfield told the Record that his priority was hiring a city clerk first.