Pleasanton man ejected from city council meeting
Updated: Dec 23, 2022
Update to this story: In a special meeting on Wednesday, Nov. 30, the Pleasanton City Council voted not to proceed with demolishing the residence at 301 E. 12th St. Dec. 1 was the deadline for the council to decide to demolish the house. Contractor Mike Higgins was to have completed substantial work on the property by then. City Attorney Burton Harding said the council decided to hold off on demolition given Higgins alleged erratic and threatening behavior.
PLEASANTON – A Pleasanton man was ejected from the Pleasanton City Council meeting on Monday, Nov. 28, after complaining that a vote on employee year-end bonuses was illegal.
Mike Higgins, a self-employed contractor who has been rehabilitating homes in the city, called into question a vote by three members of the city council that gave full-time city employees $200 bonuses and part-time workers $100.
Councilman Joe Whitaker, who operates the city compactor on a part-time basis, is married to full-time City Administrator Teresa Whitaker. With two council members absent – Aaron Portman and Melanie Staton – the three who were present were the minimum number for a quorum.
Because of the conflict of interest, Councilman Whitaker abstained from voting on a motion by Councilman Jake Mattingley. The motion was to pay the employees enough to cover taxes so that the bonuses were for the full $200 or $100 amount. Councilwoman Rochelle Schreckhise seconded the motion.
After the vote was taken, Higgins charged that the council had ignored state law and committed a KOMA violation. The Kansas Open Meetings Act (KOMA) governs when the city council can go into closed session to discuss certain topics, including personnel matters, legal matters, and trade secrets of companies seeking to do business in the city.
When informed that the council considered the vote legal, Higgins became irate, raising his voice and insisting that the vote was illegal.
Police Officer Ivan Squire insisted that Higgins leave the council chambers, but Higgins heatedly claimed that the council meeting was an open forum and that he had the right to stay.
He also taunted Mattingley, suggesting that Mattingley wanted to fight with him.
Higgins eventually walked out of the room, complaining that his rights were being trampled as he did so.
City Attorney Burton Harding after the meeting explained that, according to Kansas statute, an abstention by a city council member meant that his or her vote went with the majority vote. As such, the vote was proper, Harding said.
Despite being outside City Hall, Higgins continued to yell loud enough that Teresa Whitaker walked to the south door of City Hall and asked him to be quiet because he was disrupting the meeting.
However, Higgins continued his verbal barrage standing in the alley between City Hall and the city’s fire station. Police chief Tristan Snyder and Squire stood guard by City Hall.
In a separate interview on Tuesday, Teresa Whitaker said the city was looking into pressing charges against Higgins but did not elaborate.
Earlier in the meeting in a brief statement during the public forum, Higgins told the council they had breached protocol in their dealing with a property at 301 E. 12th St. Although he was not scheduled to speak, Higgins told the council he had retained an attorney and planned to sue the city for the council’s actions.
Over the past couple of months, the council has questioned his handling of the house at that address. He apparently promised that he would complete substantial rehabilitation of the house by Dec. 1.
At the same time, council members have pointed out that a “for sale” sign has been posted in the yard.
At the Nov. 14 meeting, the council voted to send Higgins a letter offering to buy back the property for $7,000 because the council determined that Higgins had violated the original agreement which included taking the house off the market.
The council also voted to send Higgins another letter asking him to return the $2,500 donated by the city to build a dog park or show proof that the materials had been purchased.
The motions for both letters were made by Mattingley.
Ironically, as Higgins stood outside yelling at City Hall, the council took up a policy that would allow the city to deem people who caused trouble, whether at a council meeting or during any encounter with city employees, to be trespassing.
However, the policy was developed in response to an incident this summer in which a resident refused to leave the swimming pool after a confrontation with lifeguards.
According to language in the policy the target person would have to display behavior that is dangerous, illegal or disruptive. A dangerous behavior would be one that creates an imminent and unreasonable risk of harm.
Illegal acts could include making threats, selling or using alcohol or drugs, harassment, assaulting staff or other people and sexual misconduct. Disruptive behavior could include unreasonably hostile or aggressive language, unreasonably loud vocal expression, and interfering with passage of people.
The first offense would allow the offender to be barred from being on city property up to 90 days; a second offense up to 180 days and a third offense up to a year.
The city attorney said the duration can be up to the discretion of the city administrator. And while there is no criminal penalty in the policy, he said that a repeated violation could draw a citation or an arrest. Violators could appeal the banishment to the council.
The council unanimously approved the policy.