December 01st, 2023

commissioner trioEARL WATT
• Leader & Times


In a court filing by ousted Liberal City Manager Mark Hall in District Court Friday, four city commissioners may have broke the Kansas Open Meetings Act when discussing Hall’s contract in late 2017.

Hall has filed suit against the city to enforce the contract that passed 4-1 by the Liberal City Commission on Oct. 24, 2017 that provided Hall with a 24-month severance package when his original contract provided for a six-month severance.

Prior to the contract’s passing, according to the document filed by Hall and obtained by the Leader & Times, the complaint states, “In late August 2017, then-Mayor (Joe) Denoyer contacted Liberal’s Human Resources Director Sheena Schmutz and asked Schmutz to approach Hall about drafting a new employment agreement with a five-year term and severance package. Mayor Denoyer also notified Vice Mayor Tony Martinez and City Commissioners Dave Harrison and Dean Aragon regarding the Mayor’s request for a new five-year city manager employment agreement for Hall.”

If the claim is accurate, it is unclear why Commissioner Jack Carlile was not involved in the discussion.

However, any time more than two commissioners discuss public business, by state law it must be done at a public meeting with public notice of the meeting or in executive session with all commissioners present.

There were no executive sessions prior to Oct. 24, 2017, making those conversations between Denoyer, Harrison, Matinez and Aragon illegal if Hall’s claim is accurate.

The court filing also states, “After Hall finished drafting his new proposed city manager Employment Agreement, Vice Mayor Martinez and Commissioners Harrison and Aragon began calling Hall to ask questions about the five-year employment agreement Mayor Denoyer originally requested.” Unless Denoyer had illegally discussed the contract with Harrison, Aragon and Martinez, these three would not have called Hall.

If Denoyer contacted three other commissioners to discuss Hall’s contract, that discussion would violate the Kansas Open Meetings Act.

The Leader & Times will be forwarding the document to Kansas Attorney General Derek Schmidt for an investigation into the possible Kansas Open Meetings Act violation and request any votes on the contract that involved any illegal discussions be nullified.