The Joplin Globe, Joplin, MO

Local News

June 27, 2012

Recall petition, aimed at Baxter Springs mayor, rejected

BAXTER SPRINGS, Kan. — Mayor Jenifer Bingham at Tuesday night’s Baxter Springs City Council meeting read a letter from Cherokee County Attorney John Bullard in which he rejected a petition aimed at recalling her.

Bullard on Wednesday also said that the Kansas Bureau of Investigation has declined to investigate City Clerk Donna Wixon. Bingham has claimed that the investigation had begun.

Bingham, who said she attended the meeting despite recovering from recent thyroid surgery, said she was pleased with the county attorney’s decision related to her recall.

City government has been in an uproar since the April 10 council meeting, when Bingham sought to appoint people to replace Wixon and police Chief David Edmondson. The council voted 6-2 against the mayor’s appointments. Bingham initially suspended Wixon with pay, but the council took action to restore her to her job.

RECALL

The petition effort to recall the mayor was organized by former council members Larry Warner and Sandy Snider, and Baxter Springs School Board member Joseph Skye. The group alleged that the mayor made untrue claims alleging that council members violated the state open-meetings law and that she had a photograph proving the claims.

“Even if taken at face value, it is my opinion that the facts set forth in the petition do not support valid grounds for recall,” Bullard wrote in a letter dated Monday that Bingham read at the meeting.

Bullard said by phone on Wednesday that even if the allegations are true, they don’t meet the standard set by state law for misconduct in office.

Bullard previously had allowed the circulation of petitions by the mayor’s supporters aimed at recalling council members Robert St. Clair, Gary Allen, Ron Costlow and Ed McAfee. The council members are opposed to the mayor’s recent actions.

The grounds for those petitions were that the four violated the state open-meetings law. Bullard said of those petitions that he took the allegations at face value and didn’t seek any evidence of the alleged violations.

Kevin Cure, an attorney hired by the six council members opposed to Bingham, has said he will file a legal challenge to that ruling. He said Bullard had an obligation to determine the validity of the claims.

Cure said by phone that those who sought to circulate the petition aimed at recalling the mayor also have grounds to challenge Bullard’s decision to reject it.

Cure contended that Bingham’s statements represent criminal false communication, a misdemeanor violation of state law and therefore a valid reason for recall. The offense is defined as communicating information that a person knows to be false, and that exposes another person to public hatred, contempt or ridicule.

Bullard said he would rather be doing anything other than being in the middle of the controversy in Baxter Springs.

“I’m not taking sides,” he said. “I don’t know any of the parties involved. I wish they could get past their differences and work for what’s best for Baxter.”

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