FRONTENAC — After approving an appropriation ordinance and the minutes of its last meeting, Monday’s Frontenac City Council meeting took a seemingly unexpected turn.
“Madam Mayor, I would like to make a motion before we get started with our regular meeting,” said Council Member Pat Clinton. “I would like to make a motion to terminate [City Attorney] Tim Fielder, [City Administrator] Brad Reams and [City Clerk] Terri Kutz effective immediately.”
The motion was seconded by Council Member John Macary, who was participating in the meeting over speakerphone on Clinton’s cell phone following a motion approved just over two minutes earlier to allow him to do so because, according to Mayor Linda Grilz, the city had no ordinance allowing participation in city council meetings by phone.
All council members except for Lynn Grant and Trey Coleman voted in favor of terminating the three city employees, who were all present at the meeting.
“Well, OK, I’ll go ahead and veto the vote, or else you can have my resignation as well,” Mayor Linda Grilz said following the vote. Grilz then said the council “can take over the meeting.”
Clinton asked Frontenac Director of Public Safety John Zafuta to escort Fielder, Reams and Kutz to City Hall “and let them get their personal effects,” adding that “we’ll pack up everything else that belongs to them and bring it to their homes.”
Fielder, Reams, Kutz and Grilz then left the meeting.
Clinton made another motion to reinstate Jayme Mjelde as a city employee, to pay her effective back to Sept. 9, and appoint her as interim city clerk, a position she has held previously. The motion was approved unanimously. Clinton then made a motion to adjourn the meeting, which was also approved unanimously and followed by applause from many in the audience.
The reasons for the surprise termination of the employees remain unclear. Many issues of concern to various Frontenac residents have been raised at recent council meetings including plans to spend several million dollars improving the city’s water system, the city’s lawsuit against Pittsburg over the construction of Wild Red Road connecting to Atkinson, sewer system issues, and questions about the city’s building permit requirements. Mjelde’s recent termination as a city employee may have also had something to do with the decision, according to several people interviewed by the Morning Sun.
Following the meeting’s adjournment Monday, council members including Clinton, Coleman, LaDonna Pyle and David Hogard would not comment on their votes or the motion to terminate the three city employees.
“I didn’t get the memo,” said Council Member Lynn Grant. “I didn’t see this coming at all.”
Grant would not comment further on the decision.
Coleman was the only Frontenac official to make an appearance Tuesday at the annual City/County Luncheon held in Girard for Crawford County government officials and city officials from municipalities throughout the county.
“Things are pretty mellow in Frontenac,” Coleman said, to laughter from those in attendance. “I’ll leave it at that.”
On a more serious note, however, Coleman made a short statement to the Morning Sun.
“I will say I was expecting a contentious meeting last night,” Coleman said Tuesday, “but I did not see any of that coming.”
County Commissioner Tom Moody, a Frontenac resident, also made a statement Tuesday on the city council’s Monday actions.
“They evidently felt that that was the decision that had to be made,” Moody said, “because I’m sure it wasn’t an easy one, and it wasn’t taken lightly, but that’s the direction they felt the city needed to go in and that’s the direction they chose.”
Interim City Clerk Mjelde could not be reached for comment by press time Tuesday. John Macary is serving as interim mayor following Linda Grilz’s apparent resignation Monday, although some questions remain about whether Grilz’s resignation was official.
Grilz said Tuesday that several actions taken by the city council Monday were not done appropriately, including the council not acting on her veto of the motion to terminate the three employees or accepting her resignation.
“I don’t know that they were following rules,” Grilz said, “but they were probably following what they were told to do.”
Grilz also said she thought based on what happened Monday, that the actions to be taken were previously discussed outside of open meetings by those who voted for terminating the city employees, in violation of the Kansas Open Meetings Act (KOMA).
“I overwhelmingly believe that it was discussed and I do believe that there was a KOMA violation,” Grilz said.
Ethan Spurling, a former Frontenac City Council member who is now working at the Kansas Department of Revenue, issued a statement Tuesday regarding Monday’s city council actions.
“I am deeply disturbed to learn of the events that took place in my hometown last night,” Spurling said in his statement. “I have always found lifelong resident Mayor Linda Grilz to be an honest, fair, and incredibly trustworthy person, and Brad Reams to be an excellent City Administrator. He has been an asset to the community despite having to overcome many hurdles along the way and does so with little fanfare or objection. The meeting itself doesn’t pass the smell test. I hope there will be a thorough and transparent investigation that, when completed, will be released to the public.”
Frontenac resident Todd Plouvier, who was in the audience during Monday’s meeting, spoke to the Morning Sun afterwards.
“We didn’t know it was coming, but that’s what we wanted, I mean most of us did,” Plouvier said.
“I think the people on the council, they’re going to regroup and they’ll formulate a plan.”
Frontenac Payroll Clerk Renae Jessip said Tuesday it was her understanding that a special city council meeting was scheduled for next Monday to figure out the next steps for Frontenac’s city government but further details were not yet available.
The Morning Sun submitted a records request Tuesday for recent communications of city council members who voted in favor of terminating the three city employees, as well as the communications of those employees, and will continue to report on the situation as more information becomes available.