City honors request for e-mail documents
October 22, 2001
More than two weeks after The Hays Daily News requested e-mail correspondence between two or more Hays city commissioners, the city of Hays has supplied copies filling 82 letter-size pages.
Complete fulfillment of another newspaper request seeking e-mail between commissioners housed on commissioners´ personal computers is on hold pending a request for an attorney general´s opinion to determine who is the custodian of those records.
When the opinion will be provided is uncertain, Mark Ohlemeier, a spokesman for the attorney general´s office, said today.
City Commissioners Sunell Koerner and Dick Bedard have responded to the request.
Mayor Henry Schwaller IV provided some e-mail before receiving the request. He subsequently provided additional e-mail, which, he said, was all outgoing e-mail related to any city matter since Sept. 15.
“I share critical issues with the city manager as needed and I present less important matters during the ‘add on´ section of our regular business meeting,” Schwaller stated in a cover letter with the additional e-mail copies. “The commission is for the most part made up of different people with different interests. We simply do not have friendly relationships with each other or the type of working relationships that would encourage us to e-mail each other.”
Commissioner Troy Hickman has not responded, and Commissioner Larry Schmidt, by e-mail, apparently rejected the request by simply stating: “Bite me.”
Documents from the city came by mail from Hays City Attorney John Bird.
“These documents have been reviewed by the city of Hays public information officer, Susie Berger, and constitute all of the non-exempt documents in our possession,” Bird wrote in his cover letter.
Although most of the e-mail provided by the city appears administrative in nature — routine notices to commissioners and copies of meeting agendas — there were some instances of interactive communication between commissioners.
Some involved a discussion of the legality of the e-mails, prompted after Acting City Manager Dorothy Stites voiced concern over an exchange started by Schwaller.
Schwaller initiated the exchange on Sept. 17 when he sent an e-mail to Stites, copying it to the commissioners, about complaints he had received on the four-way stop signs at 27th and Indian Trail. He addressed it to “Commissioners.”
Stites responded to Schwaller, as well as the other commissioners. City Commissioner Troy Hickman also responded, agreeing that enforcement would be good, but he suggested that strobe lights might help the stop signs be more effective.
Ultimately, Stites urged caution in using e-mail to discuss city business.
“Commissioners, I need to remind you that any correspondence between yourselves in addressing city business may constitute a violation of the Open Meetings Act,” she wrote. “I have consulted the city attorney, and he indicated we need to make this information available to the media and general public if you plan on conversing in this manner. Please let me know if you have further questions.”
Schwaller responded to Stites and said he wanted to “simply bring an issue to the attention of all commissioners, not to start a discussion of city business. It is my understanding through the LKM (League of Kansas Municipalities) that this is acceptable, and I have contacted their office this afternoon.”
Although a copy of his response was not included in documents provided by the city, Bird also weighed in on the issue.
“My advice? Proceed with caution,” Bird wrote in an e-mail to Schwaller, carbon copied to Stites and a mailing list that automatically forwards the e-mail to all five commissioners. “I would advise not using e-mail to discuss the public business, as between and among elected officials constituting a majority of a quorum. The dilemma is that it is a one-way avenue: others can address all of you commissioners, but you cannot safely reply en masse.”
Bird later provided a copy of the Open Meetings Act to commissioners by e-mail.
Schmidt also broached the issue in an e-mail sent only to Stites.
“Dorothy. You and John need to make up your mind. We either need to address this as Henry mentioned at our next meeting or not. Saying we need to talk about something is not a violation of the open meetings act.”
The item was not discussed at the next commission meeting.
Numerous other issues were addressed in e-mail provided by the city. Those included a request to commissioners about their desire for business cards, a proclamation, upcoming agendas and scheduling matters.
But commissioners also received e-mail about issues that were raised at meetings, including work on Hall Street and on 13th Street.
In June, Hickman sent an e-mail to Schwaller and former City Manager Hannes Zacharias about his possible resignation from the water-supply district formed by the cities of Hays and Russell.
“During last night´s commission meeting, the emotions were pretty high, including mine,” Hickman wrote. “I am certain that several things were said out of frustrations that today we wish had not been said. I for one sincerely apologize for any offenses that I may have caused. I want to thank the mayor for having the wisdom to recognize that my requested resignation from the ... board was make out of ‘emotion of the moment.´ After a not-so-good night´s sleep, I will accept the recommendation from the mayor and withdraw my resignation.”
By MIKE CORN Hays Daily News.