Shawnee Dispatch

Ward 2 councilman appointed after contentious meeting

Alan Willoughby takes the oath of office July 9, after being appointed to a vacant Ward 2 seat on the Shawnee City Council. Enlarge photo

July 10, 2012

Alan Willoughby was appointed to the Shawnee City Council on Monday, though most of the attention during a 90-minute selection meeting was focused on one of the other four applicants for the job.

Willoughby, a Shawnee Planning Commission member related to Mayor Jeff Meyers by marriage, was appointed by a 4-2 vote to fill the Ward 2 vacancy created by the May 24 resignation of Councilman David Morris. He was supported by council members Jim Neighbor, Dawn Kuhn, Jeff Vaught and Mickey Sandifer.

Willoughby’s new ward mate, Neal Sawyer, abstained from the voting, and council members Dan Pflumm and Michelle Distler cast the dissenting votes.

Earlier, Pflumm and Distler had cast the only two votes in support of Pflumm’s motion that Mike Kemmling be appointed.

Kemmling, owner of Capstone Dentistry in Shawnee, ran for a Ward 2 seat earlier this year, losing to Sawyer by 11 votes. And Pflumm and Distler argued that the door-to-door campaigning Kemmling did, plus the 650 votes he garnered, made him the obvious choice to complete Morris’ unexpired term.

Kuhn was among council members who had used similar rationale in support of the last appointee to the City Council, Jim Neighbor. He had garnered 649 votes in a Ward 1 race against Pflumm.

But during council questioning following Kemmling’s three-minute presentation Monday, it became clear that Kuhn did not support his appointment bid.

For about 15 minutes, Kuhn peppered Kemmling with questions and criticism for positions he took during his campaign against Sawyer. Kemmling had criticized the council for approving a 3.6-mill property tax increase and a 1-percent increase in the city’s hotel guest tax, Kuhn said. But on Monday, she charged, he could not come up with “a single, solitary good answer” to her question of what cuts he would have made to make up the $3 million shortfall the city would have faced had the council not increased the mill levy.

“I disagree with that,” said Kemmling, who had mentioned overtime reductions and elimination of subsidies to the Wonderscope Children’s Museum as two possible cost-saving areas.

Later, Vaught criticized Kemmling for interrupting Kuhn four times during her questioning. “And you interrupted me,” Vaught added. “When you try to talk over someone, that’s not good.”

Vaught and Sandifer also accused Kemmling of blaming the City Council for a sales tax increase that it merely placed on the ballot for voters to decide on. And Sandifer and Kuhn criticized Kemmling for his “divisive” role in this year’s City Council elections, which Sandifer called “the dirtiest, filthiest elections in the history of Shawnee.”

Kuhn said she found it ironic that Distler was arguing that Kemmling should be appointed by virtue of his performance in that election because Distler had cast one of the two votes against Neighbor’s appointment.

Distler said she voted against Neighbor because the way the council was going to vote and even who would make the motion in support of Neighbor were known well before the vote took place. And the same was true Monday night, she said.

After Willoughby was installed, Shawnee resident Gregg Snell questioned the mayor about discussions he had about the appointment with council members prior to Monday’s meeting. After Meyers acknowledged he had voiced support for Willoughby, whose wife’s brother is the father of the mayor’s wife, Snell charged that the entire 90-minute special meeting Monday had been “nothing but theater.”

Kemmling said he was not surprised by the outcome but was disappointed much of the criticism of him “came at a point where I could not respond.”

Others who sought the appointment were Charlotte Keyes, Mark Mollentine and Charles Jean-Baptiste.

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