The Joplin Globe, Joplin, MO

Local News

June 20, 2012

Baxter Springs mayor's supporters circulate petition in hopes of recalling her opponents

BAXTER SPRINGS, Kan. — Supporters of Mayor Jenifer Bingham are circulating petitions in an effort to recall four City Council members with whom she is at odds.

The council members are Gary Allen, Robert St. Clair, Ron Costlow and Ed McAfee.

A legal challenge to the petition effort is expected.

Cherokee County Attorney John Bullard wrote a letter on Friday authorizing petitions against Allen and Costlow to be circulated, and a letter on Tuesday authorizing circulation of petitions calling for the recall of McAfee and St. Clair.

The petition circulators have 90 days from those dates to secure the necessary number of signatures from registered voters in the wards of the four council members. The petitions require signatures equal to at least 40 percent of the number of ballots cast in the most recent election in which the council members were elected. For Allen, 112 signatures would be required; for St. Clair, 58; for Costlow, 57; and for McAfee, 34.

The petitions allege that the council members violated the Kansas open-meetings law.

“They arrived at the meeting with the attorney they planned to hire, the resolutions they plan to pass and a script of the plan of action they decided to take,” the petitions read in part.

‘FRUSTRATION’

Cathy Bolek, an organizer of the recall drive, said she has evidence of the violations, but she declined to discuss the evidence. She said it has been provided to Bullard.

Bolek said the recall is necessary because of the alleged open-meetings violations and because the council members have taken actions designed to limit the power of the mayor. She said the urgency is such that the group cannot wait for the next city election in April 2013.

“The community voted for change by voting for the mayor (last year) and two new council members (this year),” Bolek said.

Last year’s election also resulted in the election of St. Clair, and the unopposed election of McAfee, Allen and Costlow.

Bolek said the effort is not about the personalities of the mayor or the council members.

“This is for the people of Baxter,” she said, adding that the community is in turmoil. She said she and many others also are upset about six members of the council hiring, with taxpayer money, attorney Kevin Cure to represent their interests. His fee is a minimum of $5,000 for up to 25 hours of work and $175 per hour for each additional hour.

“This comes from my personal frustration as a taxpaying citizen and a business person,” Bolek said.

Bolek said Bingham had no involvement in the recall effort. Bingham didn’t return calls seeking comment.

Sherrie Howey, another recall organizer, said she thinks a recall is the only option available to the mayor’s supporters.

“I just want to see things changed in the city,” she said.

The turmoil erupted at the April 10 council meeting, when Bingham appointed people of her own choosing to replace City Clerk Donna Wixon and police Chief David Edmondson. The council voted 6-2 against the mayor’s appointments and took action so the appointees didn’t later automatically take office.

Bingham the next day placed Wixon on paid suspension and changed the locks at City Hall. The council eventually restored Wixon to her job.

Bingham has contended that Wixon had received free cable television service. The utility is owned and managed by the city. Wixon and Allen said the council had authorized the arrangement so Wixon could monitor the system and notify technicians of problems.

Bingham also has alleged that Wixon is being investigated by the Kansas Bureau of Investigation. Though Bullard said he had mailed a letter to the KBI requesting an investigation, he had received no response.

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