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  • Writer's pictureCharlene Sims, Journal staff

County counselor resigns post; commission member charges breach of contract

Updated: Mar 12

By Charlene Sims,

MOUND CITY – On Monday, March 4, long-time Linn County Counselor Gary Thompson resigned after being attacked steadily for the last several weeks.

The recent attacks on Thompson were fueled by Kansas Open Records Act (KORA) requests that the solar farm opponents had obtained, however, Commissioner Jim Johnson has sporadically taken shots at Thompson over the past few months, likely because the counselor had stopped taking calls from the commissioner.

The contract that is in question is dated Dec. 19, 2016 and County Clerk David Lamb gave that two-page contract to solar opponent Alison Hamilton. Lamb did not have the third page, which according to Thompson included clarifications of the extras that Thompson might charge for at $195 per hour.

The base contract was for Thompson, who started working for the county in the late 1990s, to work for eight to 10 hours per week at the salary of $83,340 in 2017. After the eight to 10 hours each week, Thompson would charge his hourly rate.

At last week's meeting, anti-solar activist Alison Hamilton accused Thompson of cheating the county because his salary in 2017 of $83,340 was now $99,284. The county has given cost-of-living increases of approximately 3% every year since then as well as the the $1 per hour across the board increase received last year from the jail funds.

Thompson's contract spells out that he is eligible for both of those increases. Those annual cost-of-living increases would account for much of the nearly $16,000 in his salary over that seven year period.

At Monday’s meeting, former commissioner Rick James questioned the credibility of Thompson’s claim that a third page of his contract with the county allowed him to charge the commission an additional fee for his time at meetings if he was required to be there after noon.

James said there was no third page to the contract, or if there was it was never signed or filed with the county clerk. He said that issue needed to be resolved.

According to commission minutes, former commissioners Vicki Leonard, Mike Page and James approved Thompson’s contract on Dec. 19, 2016.

In telephone interviews with Leonard and Page, both said that they remember adding extra compensation after the contract for Thompson setting up, developing and operating codes court for the county.

According to Leonard, at that time there were so many code violations, especially at the lake communities, that the commission wanted to get the codes court up and running, and Thompson worked on that for them.

Leonard and Page both said that Thompson ran that work through Thompson’s private practice office with Thompson covering paperwork with his staff and only charging what was necessary.

Leonard said that she did not think that the commissioners realized the impact that Thompson’s resignation would have on the county. She said that Thompson did an enormous amount of work for the county over the years. 

She explained that during the time she was commissioner, department heads or people working for the county would often come to the commissioners with information about their expenses and they would look over that information and agree to it. But they did not always make it a motion, contract or even sign the paperwork.

Leonard stressed that Thompson had been an invaluable source of legal counsel and also was instrumental in setting up county codes court, which addressed all of the county’s nuisance abatement and sanitation issues. He was always very knowledgeable, transparent and honest, she said. 

“I appreciate him and am grateful for the service that he has provided Linn County,” said Leonard.

In a phone interview, Page said Thompson was a valuable resource to the county. He said Thompson spent considerable time working on county issues and developing resources.   

On Monday, Johnson jumped at this chance to further accuse Thompson of wrongdoing and made a motion to request the resignation of Gary Thompson for breach of contract. He made a motion to fire Thompson earlier in the meeting, but could not get a second to that motion from Commission Chair Jason Hightower or Commission Danny McCullough.

McCullough asked if Thompson wanted to talk about the contract issue.

“I believe that the way I have been functioning is the way that the commissions have wanted me to function, including this commission, up until recently,” Thompson said. “I believe that I have been billing the way that the commissioners expected me to bill. And the only change is that we went to a monthly billing instead of a semi-annual billing. 

“You guys have all the power, I mean, you can vote to request my resignation and I’ll be gone. You can change the terms of the contract in whatever way you want, and if I’m not happy with that, I don’t have to stay.

“You are the ones that write the checks. You are the ones that have the power, so that’s all I got. I’m not going to make any other defense.”

“So, we don’t know why the contract with you no one has it,” said McCullough.

“I remember the situation a little bit better but I. . . . ,” said Thompson.

Johnson interrupted vehemently, “There is not a third page because, Gary, I know as well as you do if there was a third page it’d be signed, right?” 

“At the request of the commissioners, I brought that third page to an executive session and said 'This is an explanation of what these billable hours are,'” said Thompson.

“We don’t do business in executive session, if we do. It’s got to be a signed contract, Danny, and you know that, a banker knows that and you know it, Danny,” said Johnson. “We’ve been led to believe that it’s a third page to a contract. And you know that too, Jason. If the third page isn’t signed, it isn’t there.”

Johnson yelled at Jason, “OK, is that all you are going to sit there and let this happen? You’re responsible around here, Jason, you’ve got to man up and take responsibility for what we’re doing. You might not take anything from the day before you was elected but when you was elected you got to man up and be responsible for what you are doing.”

Thompson’s contract that he has been being paid from was from 2016. Hightower was put into office in January 2023. Johnson has been in office since 2021 and McCullough was reelected in 2021. Thompson’s salary was brought up one other time by Johnson but he dropped his concerns until the solar opponents did not find a third page when they made a KORA request.

Hightower asked if this really was what it was all about.

When Johnson wanted to fire Thompson last week, it was because Thompson wasn’t returning Johnson’s phone calls. Thompson told Johnson then that he had told him he would not return his phone calls because he was harassing him.

At another meeting, Public Works Director Shaun West told Johnson that he refused to return Johnson’s phone calls for similar reasons as well as directing his road foreman not to return Johnson’s calls.

In the past, Johnson has attempted to fire Economic Development Director Jessica Hightower because her husband had been elected as commissioner. Several employee grievances have been filed against Johnson the past year, none of which has been resolved. 

Johnson yelled, “It’s about the contract and you are responsible for it.”

“Go back and look at how many dollars we’ve spent since 2015, and I realize some of that’s on the jail, but I’ll tell you what it just keeps it increasing even after the jail went off. We’re done with the jail and the expenses are increasing,” said Johnson.

Johnson continued to put the blame on Hightower.

Thompson interrupted Johnson’s tirade on Hightower saying, “Commissioners, there is no reason for this to divide you guys. I’m not going to insist that you request my resignation. I’m just going to give it right now. Thank you.”

With that Thompson left the meeting.

After Thompson’s departure, Hightower asked Johnson if he had any thoughts on who the county should have as county counselor.

Johnson answered, “I have some ideas let me work on it. I will bring them to you.”

Hightower asked if Johnson was going to work on it outside of the commission.

“I’ll talk to them but I will bring it, we’ll do the business right here, Jason,” said Johnson. “I’ll teach you how to do that. I’ll lead by example.”

Correction: An earlier version of this story said that Johnson made a motion to fire Thompson at an earlier meeting last month, however, that was not the case. We regret the error.

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