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  • Writer's pictureCharlene Sims, Journal staff

Commission member, public works head at odds over communication issue

Updated: Oct 22, 2023

Linn County Public Works Administrator Shaun West, standing left, and Commissioner Jim Johnson, center, argue about communication between Johnson and public works employees during Monday's commission meeting. (Screen capture/Linn County Kansas Live Stream)

By Charlene Sims,

MOUND CITY – Linn County Commissioner Jim Johnson hammered Public Works Administrator Shaun West with the same question over and over during the commission meeting on Monday, Oct. 16.

The exchange between the men revealed tension that has arisen between Johnson and public works employees as well as an indication of which employees have filed a grievance against Johnson.

West started to report about the historic bridge north of Mound City where the road surface is slipping off and the county made a quick fix with a road plate so that the road would be useable for the Sugar Mound Arts and Crafts Fair weekend.

He said that the on-call engineer would be down on Tuesday to look at the bridge.

Johnson started by telling West that this was brought to his attention on Thursday by some concerned taxpayers who had called West about it on Tuesday.

“That’s correct,” said West.

Johnson said that he had called West three times on Thursday and West had not returned his phone calls.

“That’s correct,” said West.

“You do not have the authority not to return my phone calls,” stated Johnson.

“I believe it is something we have already addressed,” answered West.

“We have already addressed it?” asked Johnson.

Yes, answered West.

“Where?” asked Johnson.

“When I delivered a letter on our communication in the future,” said West.

Johnson demanded, “Where?”

West said he delivered Johnson a letter.

Johnson demanded, “Where did you deliver it?”

“I delivered you a letter in person in executive session telling you how I would proceed in the future with this communication,” said West, divulging information from a closed-door session at the insistence of Johnson.

“You don’t have authority to do that,” said Johnson.

“No, I do not,” said West.

“I’m just telling you, you don’t have the authority,” said Johnson.

West answered, “You are saying I don’t have the authority. I am saying the commissioners have been unable and the county has been unable to resolve grievances between you and I and other staff members.”

Referring to the other two commissioners, Johnson said, “They don’t have the authority to tell me to do that.”

“Okay,” said West.

“Why don’t you answer your phone? That’s a county owned phone, right?” Asked Johnson.

“That’s correct,” said West.

“Okay, you don’t have the authority not to answer my phone calls,” stated Johnson.

“I believe on multiple occasions I’ve addressed this and made efforts to address it because it was unresolved,” said West.

“You don’t have the authority to not answer my phone calls,” said Johnson.

”From this point forward until we resolve our grievances, I intend to not take anything other than written communication to resolve issues with you,” said West.

”Who else have you told this to and not to answer my phone calls?” asked Johnson.

“I have directed one foreman. And after speaking to the foremen at the job site, I have advised another foreman that it was not necessary if he felt he was unable to resolve it directly with you,” said West.

“You don’t have the authority, Shaun, you don’t have that authority,” said Johnson.

“How so?” asked West.

“You don’t have the authority to tell him not to answer my phone calls,” said Johnson.

“Okay. With multiple employees that work for me under my direction having filed grievances, I have to provide them the protections that the county policy provides them. As a supervisor, if I don’t provide that protection, I am negligent,” answered West.

West continued, “I directed a letter to you telling you how I would move forward to provide those protections until an investigation of those grievances is over.”

Once again, Johnson demanded, “Where did you direct the letter at, where was the letter given?”

“I gave the letter to you in executive session. I think you are fully aware,” said West.

“Why was it in executive session?” demanded Johnson.

“I believe it was very clear what we were doing, and I was taking an employee action to protect the employees,” said West.

“You don’t have the authority,” yelled Johnson.

“The county and the board of county commissioners gave me the authority to protect those employees and follow those policies which you have so egregiously violated,” said West.

“Where is the vote at, David was there a vote?” asked Johnson.

County Clerk David Lamb said, “No.”

“Is there any kind of record that shows that, that it was okay?” asked Johnson. “It appears to me we might be operating behind closed doors then.”

“It was an employee matter until you brought it here today which I tried to handle,” said West.

Johnson asked West if he voted on it.

West said he did not vote.

“I don’t get a vote,” said West.

“You do not have that authority,” repeated Johnson.

West said he believed that the county commissioners had given him the authority to protect those employees.

“What did David just say?” asked Johnson. “I rest my case.”

“We are not holding court here,” said West. “But if we keep down this direction that’s where we are going to land.”

“That’s fine,” said Johnson. “We can move on. It wasn’t voted on, and you guys don’t have the authority.”

Commission Chair Danny McCullough asked Johnson and West why they could not communicate with each other through email.

“He didn’t even know what I wanted to talk about,” said Johnson. “We sat down there with the road, with a hole that big clear down to the bottom for two days and nothing done about it, nothing.”

“That’s incorrect,” said West.

“Was there any kind of protection to stop somebody from falling in it?” asked Johnson.

“When it was looked at by the supervisor, the hole wasn’t necessary to be covered,” said West. “By Thursday when we reevaluated it, and we had already set up an engineering inspection. By Thursday with the high traffic flow, we took the safer route and road plated it.”

“I have taxpayers that looked at it and they were concerned about it on Tuesday,” said Johnson. “There’s multiple taxpayers that called me on this issue.”

“I could imagine,” said West.

McCullough asked if a work order had been written about repairing the road, and he then pointed out that the issue got resolved.

“Two days later,” said Johnson.

“It was being taken care of at the time by calling an engineer in and reevaluated by the road foreman and then myself and another foreman,” said West. “We decided with the high traffic flow for the weekend, we would road plate it.”

“That’s all I have Shaun, thank you,” said Johnson.

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