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She's back: Novak texts objections during meeting

Staff writer

Ousted commissioner Dianne Novak sent repeated texts to former colleagues during their meeting Tuesday demanding to know why the county paid zoning director Sharon Omstead’s legal expenses in a court case involving an alleged threat against her.

Florence resident Tom Britain, a vocal opponent of Expedition wind farm, confronted Omstead while she was in a Florence convenience store with her child Nov. 12.

Omstead told commissioners that Britain said he “would take care of her,” that his words were “not a threat,” and “it’s going to happen.”

Omstead reported the incident to the sheriff’s office, then sought a restraining order against Britain.

In December, commissioners sent a letter to Britain saying they objected to his confrontational and combative interaction with Omstead.

Commissioners told Britain they were opposed to “any type of accosting interaction when the employee is off duty and on personal time engaged in private activity.”

Commissioners also told Britain they supported Omstead in seeking a restraining order against him.

Novak, still seated on the commission at that time, did not sign the letter.

“Sharon Omstead indicated to the court at her last hearing Jan. 4 that the county taxpayers would be paying for her legal expenses stemming from her filing a civil domestic case,” Novak wrote in a text appearing on the screen of the commissioner’s videoconferencing meeting.

When commissioners did not immediately address Novak’s text, she fired off another one:

“I want the commission chair to justify the use of taxpayer money being used in a domestic case that took place off county property, off county time.

“Secondly, if the county is providing legal counsel at county expense, will this then be a benefit to all off-duty employees involved in domestic situations?

“Clarify if it is your intent to start filing lawsuits against every Marion County taxpayer who expresses dissatisfaction with employee performance? This is very concerning. It could set the stage to infringement of first amendment rights and a host of other improper practices.”

When commission chairman Randy Dallke turned his attention to Novak’s comments, he said Omstead was targeted for doing her job.

“It was a threat,” Dallke said, “not a personal, but a public threat.”

In other business, commissioners tabled discussion of starting meetings later to make it more convenient for county counsel Brad Jantz to attend in person. No action was taken because Jantz did not draw up a resolution and send it to county clerk Tina Spencer.

Jantz was not present at Tuesday’s meeting nor did he connect to the meeting online.

Commissioner Kent Becker asked that the discussion be rescheduled for next week’s meeting.

Two card-operated gas pumps will be installed at the county shop after commissioners voted to hire Wichita-based Hoidale company to install them.

Omstead reported the Kansas Department of Health and Environment paid $30,000 of the $37,000 total the county spent to clean up three parcels of property in Lost Springs during January.

Commissioners agreed to allow Renodry, a wall-drying company, to test the courthouse to see when dampness from the ground is damaging the building.

Last modified Feb. 17, 2021

 

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