Osage County treasurer sues commissioners; seeks full pay, back pay, damages

Osage County taxpayers could end up paying lawyers’ fees and damages for Osage County commissioners’ actions and statements made against Osage County Treasurer Shari Weber, if the court rules the commissioners’ actions were unlawful.

Thursday, Weber filed a petition for mandamus in Osage County District Court against the commissioners, saying their action to reduce her salary during a Nov. 16, 2015, commission meeting was in violation of state law, and that she has suffered damages from emotional distress due to the commissioners’ defamatory statements.

The petition notes that during the meeting, Osage County Commissioner Ken Kuykendall told Weber she was incompetent and he questioned her ability to perform the duties of county treasurer. Weber has served as treasurer since August, when she was appointed by Gov. Sam Brownback to fill the unexpired term of retiring treasurer Jo Ann Hamilton.

At the Nov. 16 commission meeting, Kuykendall listed his concerns about Weber’s job performance, citing her request for a Homeland Security inspection of her office that included other parts of the courthouse; delay of a transfer of $148,000 in federal funds to the road and bridge department; hiring a private company to shred documents; and having Theel Plumbing employees move a refrigerator in the courthouse.

Kuykendall made a motion for a vote of no confidence in the treasurer, which was seconded by Osage County Commissioner Fred Diver. Diver and Kuykendall voted in favor of the motion; Osage County Commissioner Gaylord Anderson abstained. Then Kuykendall made a motion to reduce Weber’s salary to that of the lowest paid clerk in the courthouse, or $9.75 per hour. Weber’s salary as treasurer was $18.70 per hour. Diver and Kuykendall voted in favor of the motion; Anderson voted no.

Also at that meeting Kuykendall requested that Weber present to the commissioners a list of the special auto account expenses, a bank reconciliation, and a detailed list of expenses from the treasurer’s fund.

According to Weber’s petition, the commissioners violated the law by reducing her salary because it would also reduce the treasurer’s budget.

“The county commission of any county under “home rule” does have authority to fix salaries for county employees, but the commission has no authority to change the salary of an elected official once the budget has been adopted for a year without adhering to the statutory requirements for amending the budget pursuant to [state law],” Weber’s petition says.

The petition says that state law prescribes a method for a county to amend its budget, requiring publication of changes in the budget and notice of public hearing on amending the budget.

“The county, through its board of county commissioners, in violation of Kansas law … acted to the detriment of this petitioner in failing to provide for publication, notice and hearing requirements of K.S.A. 79-2929(a) and in further acting to reduce petitioner’s salary,” the petition says.

In the petition, Weber asks the court to grant an order compelling the commissioners to comply with all Kansas statutes; reinstate her full salary; pay her all wages owed from the date of reduction in her salary; and that she be awarded damages for “the emotional stress caused by the unwarranted and illegal actions of the board of county commissioners” and awarded attorneys’ fees. The petition further states the emotional distress to Weber was “due to the defamatory statements” of the commissioners.

According to Osage County Clerk Rhonda Beets, whose office issues the county’s payroll, Weber has been paid at the reduced pay rate one time, on Dec. 1, since the commissioners’ decision.

Contacted by Osage County News today, Weber discussed some of the concerns listed by Kuykendall at the Nov. 16 meeting. She said the delay in transfer of funds was due to bookkeeping, noting the county has accounts in all of the financial institutions in the county, which sometimes requires moving funds between them.

She said she requested the Homeland Security inspection due to the many monetary transactions in the treasurer’s office.

“We have the most traffic of any office in the courthouse,” Weber said.

She said that through her experience in banking, she had noted “a number of key foundation policies not written in place” in the treasurer’s office. “I thought an assessment would be good, especially in light of national events we’d had lately,” she said.

She said she had hired a shredding company to destroy old motor vehicle records, which she had been advised by the state to dispose of properly. Because the documents contain personal information, “you can’t just take them to recycling,” she said. She said her staff had shredded some of the documents, but the chore was completed by the shredding company.

Weber said the shredding cost a nominal amount paid out of her budget, but she confirmed that Theel Plumbing did not charge for moving the refrigerator, and the Homeland Security inspection did not incur an expense for the county. The security inspection was informal, she said, and no official report was issued and no security requirements were imposed on the county due to the inspection.

The commissioners were served notice of the petition on Friday through the Osage County Clerk’s Office. Monday, at the weekly commission meeting, the commissioners closed the public meeting several times for executive sessions, twice for discussion of privileged information between a client and attorney with county counselor Caleb Crook. After the executive sessions, the commissioners took no action regarding the treasurer’s office.

According to district court clerk Charna Williams, the petition will likely be docketed to be heard by Osage County District Judge Eric Godderz after a required time period to allow the county to file a response.

See related story here.

Contact us: Osage County News | P.O. Box 62, Lyndon, KS 66451 | [email protected] | 785-828-4994 | Powered by Osage County, Kansas