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  • Writer's pictureRoger Sims, Journal Staff

Mayor's resignation leads to impasse at Linn Valley meeting

Updated: Nov 27, 2023

Lewis Donelson, the new mayor of Linn Valley, talks about the growth of the city at the event on Monday, Nov 13, celebrating the 25th anniversary of its incorporation. (Roger Sims/Linn County Journal)

LINN VALLEY – Just five days before the city of Linn Valley was to celebrate its 25th anniversary, the city’s mayor, Cindy Smith, submitted a letter of resignation to City Clerk Karen Siffring.

And while the tenor of the silver anniversary gathering on Monday, Nov 14, at City Hall was one of “look how far we’ve come together,” the result of Smith’s resignation tore back the veil of that cooperative tone a couple hours later at the regularly scheduled council meeting.

At the meeting council President Lewis Donelson moved from his regular seat to the mayor’s seat at the table and called the meeting to order. He asked that, before the council got down to business that the nearly 30 people attending the meeting take a moment of silence and prayers for the wellbeing of council member Michael Hemphill, who he said was experiencing major health issues.

Council Member John Weers paused only briefly before making a motion to install Connie Capp to the remaining two years of Donelson’s current seat on the council. The motion received a second from Council Member Robert Suppenbach. However, Donelson refused to call the vote and said that the council should stick to the agenda.

Donelson said that he had not yet been sworn in as mayor.

Weers insisted that because state statute automatically places the council president in the mayor’s post following a resignation, and that with three of the five-member council present, there was a quorum and the council could conduct business. Council Member Brenda Muncy was also present at the meeting.

According to Kansas statute, Weers said, in the event that the mayor of city resigns or cannot otherwise fulfill the obligations of that office, the city council president takes over the mayor’s seat.

Weers argued that with Donelson now as mayor, the three remaining council members comprised a quorum and was able to take action as it had done in the past.

However, Donelson said the council needed to have three votes to pass any issue.

In a telephone interview on Tuesday, Nov, 14, Donelson said that research into the city charter showed that, as a third-class city, he was correct about needing three “yes” votes to take any action, regardless of whether a quorum was in attendance.

In a separate interview with Weers that same day, he remained convinced that he was correct in his assertion that the council should have proceeded with the vote. He also charged that Donelson was more concerned about filling the open seat with someone he endorsed.

With the council at an impasse Monday night, City Attorney James Bruns suggested the council go into a 10 minute executive session to get some legal advice on the issue. The council agreed and voted unanimously to take the argument behind closed doors.

When they emerged from the executive session, it was obvious that a solution had not been reached. Weers repeated his motion, which drew a second from Suppenbach, and took it upon himself to call for a vote when Donelson refused to do so.

“You don’t have the power,” said Muncy.

Weers read the statute and again asserted that because of it, Donelson was no longer a council member and that the decision was up to the three remaining council members.

Muncy told Weers that he was trying to bully the council into a decision and that she thought it was appropriate for the city’s legal counsel to authenticate the result of the resignation. She then made a motion to adjourn the meeting, but the motion did not receive a second.

Donelson again reminded the council that it had a full agenda, including the payment of three-quarters of a million dollars to a contractor on a city project. But he also said that he was not in favor of seating Capp on the council.

“I would put in a person who was voted for by the people, who got more votes,” he said.

Muncy added her support to Donelson’s position, calling it appropriate. She told Weers that his actions were the reason that he was voted out of office last week, and that the only reason he wanted Capp to be appointed was that he was not going to be on the council beginning next term.

“They voted and made our vote heard,” she said.

But in the interview on Tuesday, Weers said that he was not trying to bully anyone but rather trying to do the right thing. He also said that Muncy had focused her campaigning leading up to the election on undercutting his re-election efforts.

Smith’s resignation, which was submitted on the day following last Tuesday’s election, came on the heels of Weers being voted out of office and Suppenbach’s re-election up in the air.

Muncy was re-elected with 133 votes. In addition to Muncy, the top vote-getters were former Linn Valley building inspector Dan Donham with 156 votes and Richard Gravelle with 113 votes.

Weers and Suppenbach finished behind those three with 103 votes and 111 votes respectively. And Capp, who was also on the ballot, received 97 votes.

There were 13 provisional ballots cast at Linn Valley last week. A provisional ballot is one where officials at the poll determine that there is an irregularity that might cause a vote to be declared invalid.

Linn County Clerk David Lamb said on Tuesday, Nov. 14, that it was likely that only three or four provisional votes will count – three that had address changes and one where a voter forgot to bring identification. If all of those votes were cast for Suppenbach, he could retain his seat over Gravelle.

Nine of the provisional ballots were cast by voters who do not live in Linn County.

The Linn County Commission is expected to canvass the votes from the Nov, 2 election on Monday, Nov. 20. At that time, they will decide which, if any, of the provisional votes will be counted.

On Monday, the council went back into a closed door session for another 10 minutes and then extended the executive session for another 10 minutes.

As the council members re-entered the room, Muncy gathered her belongings and left the meeting.

Without a quorum present, the council had no other option than to adjourn.

Following the meeting and after the audience had cleared the room, Siffring insisted that he be given the oath of office, Donelson said. So with only his wife and the city attorney as witnesses, Donelson was sworn into his new post as mayor.

In Tuesday’s interview, the now former council member said he had some regret about no longer having a vote on the council. But he also said that, as in the past, he will continue to do his best for the success of the city.

It is expected that, with invoices to pay and other issues pending, the council will hold a special meeting to address those issues. Mayor Donelson will be able to set the agenda for the meeting to include only the business that he sees as necessary.

A special meeting must stick to the agenda items only, which could preclude the appointment of a person to fill Donelson’s vacant seat. To add items not included on the agenda of the meeting notice would violate the Kansas Open Meetings Act.

The new council members voted onto the council will take office in January.

Although the timing of it came the day following the election, Smith did not give a reason for her resignation.

“It has been my honor to serve as the fifth Mayor of Linn Valley,” she wrote in the letter to the city council, employees and city residents, “each of us has contributed to the significant accomplishments of a growing and thriving city. I am grateful to the Linn Valley residents that have supported me throughout my tenure, representing you has been a privilege that I will always cherish.”

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