BAXTER SPRINGS, Kan. —
The Baxter Springs City Council on Tuesday night voted to return City Clerk Donna Wixon to her job, after she had been suspended with pay two weeks ago by Mayor Jenifer Bingham.
Bingham made another attempt at appointing a city clerk to replace Wixon, naming Deputy City Clerk Deb Weston. The council voted against that appointment on a 6-2 vote. Bingham’s previous appointment to the position, Rodney Edmondson, had withdrawn from consideration.
“We’re on point and the city’s moving forward in a great direction,” Bingham said in support of Weston. “We haven’t missed a beat.”
Bingham, who was elected mayor last year, at the April 10 meeting appointed Edmondson to replace Wixon as city clerk and police officer Rex Qualls to replace police Chief David Edmondson, Rodney’s brother. The City Council voted against both appointments, 6-2, with newly elected council members Randy Trease and Gretta Day supporting the mayor. Bingham the next morning placed Wixon on leave with pay.
The six-member majority of the council on Tuesday night also voted to prohibit Bingham from suspending Wixon or police Chief David Edmondson, absent some act that would require it.
The council members opposing Bingham’s actions voted to hire counsel separate from the City Attorney Robert Myers, approving attorney Kevin Cure as their counsel, with a minimum cost of $5,000 for up to 25 hours and $175 for each additional hour. Cure said outside the meeting that he expects his work to be completed within the 25 hours.
Councilman Mike Kaufmann introduced resolutions finding Qualls and Weston as unqualified. The action is required by Kansas law to avoid the appointments becoming automatic in 45 days. Final consideration of the resolution will come at a future meeting.
A majority of council members also approved Kaufmann’s motion to draft a charter ordinance removing the appointment powers from the mayor and placing them with council committees.
“So, in other words, we’re back to stripping the mayor of (her) powers,” Bingham said.
Bingham also alleged that some council members were holding meetings without posting them, contrary to the Kansas open meetings law.
“I have photos of you all meeting at Mike’s house today,” Bingham said, referring to Kaufmann.
An overflow crowd showed up at City Hall for the meeting, causing the council to vote to move the meeting to the larger Baxter Springs Community Center.
The divisions in the town were evident from the reactions of the audience during the meeting, with many supporting the mayor and many opposing her. People on both sides spoke during a public comment time.
Cathy Bolek, a business owner, said the mayor and the two new council members have the support of the public.
“I’m very sad,” she said. “My heart is broken for this community.”
Former Councilman Larry Warner said the town was divided, and it is Bingham who is dividing it.
Bingham also had support from resident Linda Estrada.
“I applaud you Mayor Bingham for making decisions that may not be popular, but are necessary in moving the town forward,” Estrada said.
Former council members Lori Wren, who was defeated in the April 3 election, and Sandy Snider also were critical of Bingham’s actions..
City Clerk Donna Wixon, who was at the meeting, said she was grateful that council members placed her back on the job.
“We’ll see how tomorrow goes,” she said of returning today.
The Baxter Springs City Council will meet again on Tuesday, May 1.