Council selection stokes controversy
The Shawnee City Council selected Jim Neighbor from five applicants to fill the vacant Ward I Council seat, though some in the public alleged the vote was fixed.
Council members spent an hour Monday interviewing each of the five applicants, and then another hour was spent in discussion, taking the special meeting past its scheduled 7:30 p.m. limit.
Family: Wife, Cindy, and four grown children: Kim Atkins, who lives in west Shawnee, with husband James, grandsons Jake, 10, and Nate, 5; Dr. Samantha Durland, Lawrence, with husband Brandon, and grandsons Wyatt, 8, and Logan, 5: and sons Jamie, Seattle, and Justin, Overland Park.
Employment: Retired airline captain, United Airlines, 34 years
Education: Bachelor of Arts in zoology, Kansas University, 1965; Shawnee Mission North High School class of 1961
Lived in Shawnee: 35 years
Political experience: In 3rd term as Republican Precinct Committeeman, Ward I, Precinct 2
Community involvement: member Old Mission United Methodist Church; Abdallah Shrine, Ben Hur Lodge No. 322, Scottish Rite
Some members of the public, and even one Council member, alleged that Neighbor’s selection was predetermined, but a motion for his selection passed 5-2. Those voting in favor emphasized Neighbor was the best choice for the Council and not a part of a “backroom” deal. Mayor Jeff Meyers dismissed any allegations of impropriety in the process as “totally untrue” and “hurtful.”
Before the decision was made, each of the five applicants, who also included Joseph Budenbender, Doyle Ervin, Greg Nachbar and James O’Connell, entered the Council room individually to be interviewed by the Council for the seat vacated in April by Cheryl Scott, who resigned and moved to Arizona.
Council members asked applicants about their qualifications, thoughts on the city budget, community participation and voting records. Meyers told the Council members they could approve someone as the Ward I replacement Monday night or table the decision until a later meeting.
Public levels accusations
Public comment was allowed before the Council discussed the candidates, and several members of the public said they thought Neighbor’s selection was predetermined based upon comments they said they had heard among neighbors or even from Council members.
Some lamented that Scott had not resigned her seat earlier so that it could be placed on the ballot in April’s Council elections. Meyers reiterated his stance that is was up to Scott to decide when she wanted to resign.
Tracy Thomas, a former Council member, alleged the selection of Neighbor had been predetermined among Council members. Richard Spring, a Ward I resident, said the timing of Scott’s resignation and replacement was a “backroom handling.”
Carri Donohoe Person, a resident who asked Scott to step down in January, said the mayor and other Council members should have used their influence to get Scott to resign earlier.
Former Ward III Council member Kevin Straub suggested the Council use its remaining 2010 travel budget to cover costs of a special election for the seat. He also accused certain Council members of previously stating Neighbor would be selected.
Another concern discussed earlier was Neighbor’s wife, who is a state representative and a member of the Shawnee Mission School Board. During the individual candidate interviews, Council member Dan Pflumm told Neighbor he’d heard concerns there would be “too much power coming out of one household.”
Neighbor said he his wife’s positions were completely separate from the Council, so that shouldn’t influence his actions as a Council member.
Person said she didn’t think Neighbor should be selected because he had lost to Pflumm in April’s election.
But other Council members saw the close April vote as evidence of Ward I residents’ support for Neighbor. Mickey Sandifer noted that Neighbor came within a small percentage of beating a three-term incumbent, and in all of the elections won by 32-year Council member Frank Goode, he had garnered more votes than Neighbor had only once.
Jeff Vaught said he won his ward with fewer votes than Neighbor had, and he
Sandifer made the motion for Neighbor, seconded by Dawn Kuhn.
Kuhn said her vote was not predetermined, but her decision came to voting record and community involvement, which made Neighbor and O’Connell her top choices. Kuhn said the final determining factor for her was Neighbor’s attendance at Council meetings for the past six months, plus his attendance at the Council’s first 2011 budget discussion last week, which O’Connell did not attend.
Before voting in opposition, Pflumm said his top choices were O’Connell and Nachbar . He apologized to the other applicants for the long process.
“I’m sorry you were drug (sic) through this process, because I do believe it was predetermined,” he said.
Council member David Morris said he could guarantee there were no backroom deals on his part and his mind still wasn’t made up. He took a moment before eventually voting yes, as did Council member Neal Sawyer, who originally said he might prefer to see the matter tabled.
Council member Michelle Distler cast the other vote in opposition, explaining her negative vote was related to the controversy of the situation, not her thoughts on Neighbor as a person.
“I don’t know what happened, and I don’t want to be associated with what happened, so I’m going to vote no on that basis,” Distler said.
After the vote, Meyers again expressed his discomfort with the allegations of predetermined votes.
“I hate for accusations to come out that are totally untrue, and it is hurtful to see that there are people who are continuing to try to put the governing body in ‘behind-closed-doors’ kind of tactics,” he said.