By Roger McKinney
BAXTER SPRINGS, Kan. —
Mayor Jenifer Bingham and attorney Kevin Cure squared off during Tuesday night’s Baxter Springs City Council meeting as turmoil in the town continues.
Earlier Tuesday, Bingham again placed City Clerk Donna Wixon on paid suspension, though the council had voted the week before specifically to prohibit the mayor from doing that, unless she had good cause. At the previous meeting, the council also voted to return Wixon to her job, after Bingham suspended her the first time last month.
The controversy came to the forefront when at the April 10 meeting, Bingham appointed people to replace Wixon as city clerk and to replace David Edmondson as police chief. The council voted 6-2 against her appointments, with only newly elected council members Randy Trease and Gretta Day supporting the mayor.
Bingham has never offered an explanation for her suspension of Wixon and Edmondson. Wixon has said she does not know why she was suspended, adding that she has had good reviews for her work.
The six members who voted to block Bingham’s move last week also voted to hire Cure to represent them. Cure’s fee is a minimum of $5,000 for up to 25 hours of work, and $175 per hour for each hour above 25 hours.
Bingham on Tuesday repeated her objection to spending taxpayer money on Cure.
Bingham refused to recognize Cure, at one point threatening to order police to have him removed. Cure responded that would result in a lawsuit against her.
“I ask you to take your place and know your place immediately,” Bingham said.
“I ask that you do the same, mayor,” Cure said.
“I am in my place,” Bingham said, drawing applause from her supporters.
The business of Tuesday’s meeting involved the makeup of city committees.
Bingham and Councilman Mike Kaufmann introduced competing lists of committee membership. The council ultimately didn’t vote on either. City Attorney Robert Myers also introduced a resolution, to be considered next week, regarding committee membership and duties. The resolution would allow council members to meet in a work session to determine committee membership, to be approved at the next regular meeting after the work session. It would remove the mayor from the procedure.
The committee makeup may come into play as it relates to a charter ordinance that Cure said he will propose next week.
Cure said by phone last week that the charter ordinance would give the appointment powers now held by the mayor to the personnel, police and fire department committees. The mayor now appoints the city attorney, city judge, city treasurer, city clerk, police chief and fire chief, with the approval of the City Council.
Cure said a charter ordinance allows cities to exempt themselves from state statutes that apply uniformly around the state. Exceptions are state laws that specify they can’t be affected by charter ordinance.
Charter ordinances must be approved by a two-thirds majority of the council, including the mayor. That will require at least a 6-3 vote. For the votes related to the mayor’s appointments, Bingham has been able to rely on support from Trease and Day. Sometimes, Councilman Ron Steele has joined Trease and Day in voting with Bingham’s position.
Steele on Tuesday said he was unaware that the charter ordinance was scheduled to be introduced and said he didn’t know how he might vote on it.
If the measure receives the necessary votes, it would take effect 60 days after the first publication unless a protest petition is filed to place the ordinance on a referendum ballot to be decided by the voters.
Cure said a protest petition would require signatures of registered voters equal to 10 percent of those who voted in the April 3 city election.
That may be a low threshold. There were 459 ballots cast in Baxter Springs on April 3, so 46 signatures would be required for a referendum.
Bingham was asked after the meeting why she had suspended Wixon again, but she declined to answer.
Cure, after the meeting, said Bingham on Tuesday had told Edmondson, the police chief, to forcibly remove Wixon from the building. He said that rather than create drama, Wixon left voluntarily.
“She defied the rules” set by the council, Cure said of Bingham.
Myers, the city attorney, also was asked about the mayor acting contrary to a council decision in relation to Wixon.
“She has the superintendent power of the city,” Myers said. “It’s in state statute.”
COUNCIL MEMBERS Gretta Day and Randy Trease weren’t on Councilman Mike Kaufmann’s list for the personnel and police committees. Both were on Mayor Jenifer Bingham’s list for those committees.