QUENEMO—More then 100 residents and landowners filled the Quenemo Community Center to discuss issues related to the city at a town hall meeting April 20.
“I appreciate every one of you coming,” said Ron Parker, mayor of Quenemo. “I appreciate your input.”
The city council sat and addressed pre-written questions and topics submitted by residents and other attendees who had an interest in the community.
Much of the meeting pertained to law enforcement in the community. The city budgeted for a law enforcement officer in its 2016 budget. Former city marshal Darrell Manning served three months as the city’s only officer, before resigning in January.
“Right now, we’ve got a grant to get a law officer,” Parker said. “We’re either going to have to give the grant back, or get a law enforcement officer.”
The room was divided over the effectiveness of law enforcement in the city. David Schuyler, council member, spoke in favor of hiring another city marshal.
“Until we can get people that are going to leave people alone, stop tearing up property,” Schuyler said. “There’s about 10-15 people that think they own the town.”
“We sat here 13 years ago,” said Scott Cowdin, resident. “We had this same meeting. We spent all the money on the law. We didn’t bring in a dime and went broke. If you can’t bring it in, and justify the means, then we’re spending the last bit of money this town has.”
An unofficial vote was prompted by the audience.
“How many want law in this town?” Cowdin asked.
A handful of hands went up.
“How many don’t?”
Half the room raised their hands.
“There’s your vote,” Cowdin said.
The discussion was given a five-minute limit, a limit applied to all questions brought up during the meeting. The topic returned later with amidst calmer discussion.
“It’s not bad with the law enforcement to a point, but we have to be able to afford it,” Cowdin said. “We paid the cop to take care of that, but it didn’t happen. I agree, that stuff needs to stop. But we had the law, and it didn’t stop none.”
“We had a police officer here, yes. He went, to most places in town,” Parker said. “He called for back up form Osage County Sheriff, he didn’t get it. He got his windshield shot out. Where were you to back him up?”
The discussion broke down into arguing and accusations. The subject was brought up a third time when a resident questioned how much was spent on the department.
“Right now, because we don’t have law enforcement, we’re not bringing anything in,” said Peggy Manning, city clerk. “He was only allowed to work 20 hours a week, 162 hours.”
Manning said during that time, the marshal brought in $150 in tickets.
“That’s why the city is in disarray,” Cowdin said.
Other issues related to the movement of traffic around the city.
“They put the lakes in, that’s when the town started dying,” Parker said. “They put (State Highway) 268 in and diverted traffic from the town.”
Another resident commented on the lack of commerce in the city.
The council briefly discussed an unspecified amount of money unaccounted for in the city’s funds.
“At this time, the money missing from the city, we’re not at the present time going to say anything about it,” Schuyler said. “It’s an ongoing investigations. It took three months for the auditors to go back through those 3-5 years. We loose all the way around on this. We paid for that, too.”
The Herald-Chronicle has submitted an open records request for the city’s audit report.
The meeting also address water issues, which literally hit the city from all sides. First, the council discussed issues relating to the water distribution system.
“We’re in the process of seeing what it’s going to cost us,” Parker said. “It’s been approved, but we’ve got to come up with the different bids.”
The issues related to leaks or un-metered in the city. The council also addressed the reconnect fees for city water.
“It is hard if your water’s shut off to get $100 to turn it back on,” Parker said. “We’ve talked about dropping it back down.”
The council presented reconnect fees of $50 or less.
“That’s $75 bucks someone could use for their bill,” Schuyler said. “Get it down, make it reasonable.”
Some issues were harder to work around, such as the large number of low-lying properties next to the Marais des Cygnes River.
“We can’t build, because this town’s in a flood zone,” said Shirley Rose.
For that, the room had few suggestion outside hoping the Army Corps of Engineers would construct levies. Resident also commented on drainage issues around the town.
A recurring theme throughout last week’s meeting was the progress made when the members of the community combine forces.
“That’s why tonight I called this meeting, to get people together,” Parker said. “We’ve got to work together.”
The crowd firmly agreed on the success of a recent clean up day, when four dumpsters of trash were hauled away from the city.
“I was amazed,” Parker said. “We’re going to have another cleanup day in October.”
Parker said the amount of work could be enough to require one dumpster to be filled each month. The council and residents also addressed a mounting problem with tires in the city.
Michael Coffman, city attorney, said code enforcement was necessary to continue the work of cleaning up properties around the city.
Other suggestions from residents included finding things for the youth of the city, such as a monthly get together in the park.
“What about a little library with WiFi?” asked Christina Reed, resident.
PRICE members also brought up the upcoming PRIDE dinner and motorcycle ride set for Friday, May 13.
The council also address a recent settlement to a Kansas Open Meetings Act Violation by the city. The violation dealt with a secret ballot cast at the March 1 meeting of the council.
“The council member involved the meeting entered into an agreement with the county attorney,” said Mike Coffman, city attorney.
The settlement requires the council to receive KOMA training within 90 days of the agreement, to be paid for by the members of the council.
“I’m fault of that, people,” Parker said. “I did not know at the time. I’m new to this. I was shoved into this and I’m learning.”
The agreement also required those actions taken to by and following the secret ballot to be recast.
“The council rescinded everything done in that fashion, and redid it in public,” Parker said.
“We all got punished $87.50 out of our pockets,” Schuyler said. “It wasn’t just Ron’s fault. It was all of us.”
The council and residents all agreed on the need for the residents of the city to be involved in its growth.
“If you had this kind of turnout (every meeting), a lot of things would change,” said Scott McCulllum, resident and member of the USD 456 Board of Education. “You wouldn’t have to wait until after you didn’t read it in the newspaper.”
Other government officials in the audience echoed the sentiment.
“I think you’ve got a lot of potential in this little town, but it’s going to take a lot of work,” said Marie Seneca, Pomona mayor and Quenemo landowner.
Council member remained positive toward future improvement, while the audience showed support for more resident participation at future meetings.
“If we have a crowd like we have tonight, we’d be glad to have them back over here,” Parker said. “This group up here, we can’t do it all. We can’t do what you want unless you tell us.”
He indicated the council would hold meetings at the community center if the community continued to be involved.
“Let’s do it,” Parker said. “Let’s move it forward.”