ERIE – The Neosho County Attorney met with the county commission Tuesday for discussion about bills from an outside attorney firm.
County Attorney Linus Thuston met with the commission after Chairman Nic Galemore raised questions about a bill from Reynolds Law Firm, representing Thuston in an ethics complaint.
The matter stems from a civil divorce case in Thuston’s private law practice. The complaint, filed in 2017, alleges Thuston was using his position as county attorney in the private case.
Thuston said he spoke with the commission four years ago about the complaint because it involved an allegation as county attorney, and the commission agreed at that time to pay the bills.
That was before the commission developed a consent agenda for bill payment, and also when Galemore was not on the commission. Galemore said he plans to make changes in procedures.
Discussion about the complaint could have been discussed in executive session in 2017 as pending litigation, or as dealing with non-elected personnel because the complaint involved other office staff, Thuston said.
Galemore also requested billing information, but Thuston said that was confidential between an attorney and client. He said he had no problem if County Counselor Seth Jones reviewed the bills.
Thuston said he could return at the next commission meeting. Galemore said he would not sign off on any vouchers from the Reynolds firm, and a motion from Commissioner Gail Klaassen to approve the existing bills died without a second. Klaassen’s motion also would have sought a letter of engagement for future bills.
Both Thuston and Jones said the length of time involved in the complaint is not unusual. Thuston said the attorney general’s office, which handles some cases involving county attorneys, doesn’t take certain types of cases.
The commission discussed whether a county attorney or staff should also have private practice. Most in the state of Kansas do.
Other county matters
In other business, the commission approved a resolution that ratifies the sale of bonds to refinance debt for Neosho Memorial Regional Medical Center.
Garth Hermann with bond counseling firm Gilmore & Bell, said the bonds sold Oct. 6 for $9.8 million at 2.14 percent interest, which will be a savings of $885,000 for the county. This and a 2015 bond series will be the hospital’s only debt outstanding, and this series will end in 2030.
The commission also discussed sales tax funding for the ambulance service for 2022. Hospital officials requested $2.3 million, an annual increase of $180,000.
Stan Basler, chairman of the Neosho Ridge Wind Farm Advisory Committee, talked about a meeting the group had with Liberty Empire officials.
He said Liberty officials said they were not opposed to installing radar-activated warning lights on the windmills in the project area, but are not willing to bear the entire cost. Basler also said Liberty is keeping quotes from warning-light suppliers confidential.
But Basler mentioned a report to Missouri officials on energy savings and compared that to the cost of warning lights being installed on a wind energy project in Marion County. He did not say how the Marion County project compares to the 139 towers in Neosho Ridge, but he said the installation could cost up to $1.2 million.
Basler said the committee is being taken for granted and asked the commission to have a meeting with wind energy officials. Basler and resident Bryan Coover also discussed noise levels, but said the lighting issue comes first.
Commissioners approved the transfer of a surplus 2012 Dodge pickup from the sheriff’s office to the appraiser’s office, and the purchase of a 1986 fuel transport truck and trailer for the road and bridge department using $50,000 from the Neosho Ridge Wind funds paid in lieu of taxes.
Taylor Hogue with the Southeast Kansas Regional Planning Commission met with the commission to discuss grant applications eligible under the American Rescue Plan for COVID-19 pandemic-related relief.
She said a $360,000 request from Rural Water District No. 4 is eligible, but only $20,000 of the request from Rural Water District No. 2 is eligible.
Based on earlier discussion, the purchase of an ambulance for NMRMC would be eligible, but Hogue said she has not received an application. She said she is also reviewing an application from Neosho County Community College for workforce development.
A request from the Neosho County Fair Board to construct a horse arena is eligible, she said, because the arena project was planned before the pandemic, which then cancelled fundraising events.
Health Department Administrator Teresa Starr reported that her department was over budget after being cut last year.
“It’s not even December yet and I’ve never been over budget like this,” she said.
Starr reported a drive-through flu clinic was held Tuesday in Chanute, another clinic is planned for Erie and one is under consideration for St. Paul. She also reported that her office had not received several fax messages and is waiting for a replacement part.