By Roger McKinney
BAXTER SPRINGS, Kan. —
Controversial Baxter Springs Mayor Jenifer Bingham unexpectedly resigned on Tuesday, said the new mayor, Mike Kaufmann.
Kaufmann, who was mayor pro tem, said he received a cellphone call about 1:15 p.m. Tuesday from City Attorney Robert Myers. Myers had called to inform him that Bingham had resigned and that he needed to go to City Hall to sign payroll checks so that city employees could be paid.
“I was unexpectedly promoted,” Kaufmann said.
Bingham didn’t return repeated phone messages left on her cellphone and at her City Hall office.
Myers didn’t return phone messages left at his office.
Controversy started in April, when Bingham named replacements for longtime City Clerk Donna Wixon and longtime police Chief David Edmondson. The City Council, on a 6-2 vote, rejected the appointments. Bingham placed Wixon on paid suspension and changed the locks at City Hall. Wixon has been back on the job after the council took action to restore her to her position.
Kevin Cure, an attorney hired by Bingham’s opponents on the council to represent their interests, had sought misdemeanor criminal defamation charges against Bingham based on her comments at meetings, including a statement that she had a photo proving that her opponents were conducting a meeting contrary to the Kansas open-meetings law. A special prosecutor declined to prosecute.
Cure couldn’t immediately be reached for comment on Tuesday.
The resignation follows the Nov. 6 election, in which three of Bingham’s opponents on the council faced a recall vote, forced by a petition. Ron Costlow was the only one of the three councilmen recalled in the election. Voters retained Gary Allen and Ed McAfee.
“That’s probably the best thing that could have happened for the city,” Costlow said Tuesday of Bingham’s resignation. “Now the city can go forward in a unified way.”
He said he hasn’t decided if he will seek election to the City Council in April.
Kaufmann said he looks forward to returning some stability to city government.
“I was hoping things would kind of get back to normal” after the recall election, Kaufmann said. “But I wasn’t expecting this.”
ANOTHER ISSUE still hanging over the city is an investigation of Jenifer Bingham’s six opponents on the City Council by the Kansas attorney general’s office, based on allegations of open-meetings violations. Mike Kaufmann, who was among Bingham’s opponents, said he’s not aware of the status of the investigation. He said he and the other council members look forward to the results, because the allegations have no merit.