“Why are you fighting this?”
The question was put to county commissioner Steve Harris from one of dozens of residents packed inside Harrison Township Community Center Friday night at 2296 Nebraska Road, southeast of Ottawa.
Grumblings about recalling the absentee commissioner surfaced as residents of Franklin County’s Fourth District and other interested parties expressed doubt about Harris’ ability to perform his duties. Harris has been absent from commission meetings since April 13 after announcing he had accepted a human resources position at the Department of Veterans Affairs in Topeka. The commissioner’s new work schedule would preclude him from attending meetings, he said at the time.
Concerned patrons called for Harris to resign his post.
“I still feel like I can add value to the process,” Harris said in response. He reiterated near the end of the 1 1/2-hour meeting he had no plans to resign.
Residents of the Fourth District — which covers southeast Ottawa and extends south past Princeton — in attendance Friday said they would petition for recall.
Steve Cox, resident of the district and moderator of Friday’s meeting, confirmed Monday some members of the district plan to move forward with the petition.
“From the meeting Friday night it was fairly obvious that unanimously in the room [people] felt that we have to do something,” Cox said. “It is a shame we have to go this route, it really is.”
Harris confirmed Monday he has not changed his stance in the wake of Friday’s meeting.
“I’m going to forge ahead in the same manner that I’ve been doing the last several months,” Harris said. “Nothing from my standpoint has changed as far as what I’ll continue to do, the way I’ll continue to do it.”
Harris, a Republican whose term ends in January 2019, said during Friday’s meeting his employer is making an exception where he will be able to start using accrued leave time at the end of July to attend commission meetings. He earns 10 hours per pay period every two weeks and noted he already has 40 hours accrued. Harris also has advocated several times for the commission to change its meeting times to be more inclusive to people with 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. jobs, and noted he has emailed his vote and input on every agenda item at meetings he’s missed to county officials. Those votes have not been counted, nor been a part of county meeting minutes.
Patrons tried to poke holes in Harris’ strategy.
“You said that you’ve submitted your vote in how you would vote on certain issues based off of the information that you’ve been given,” Richard Oglesby, member of the Franklin County Republican Central Committee, said during the meeting. “If by some rare occurrence people showed up and gave public comments or testimony about an issue and you did not have the availability to hear that, would that not make a difference in how you might vote? The information can change how you need to vote, so there is a reason why [the county] doesn’t count your vote without hearing the whole picture.”
Other comments from the crowd were more direct. “It’s the taxpayers suffering. We are paying taxes on both of your jobs,” one meeting-goer said to Harris. Another said, “Just resign now and do everybody a favor.”
Kevin Spencer, former member of the Franklin County Planning Commission for nine years, noted during the meeting he recently had to resign his post due to conflicts.
“During that tenure I never missed a single meeting and went to all the study sessions,” Spencer said. “I farm also and work very long hours. I got to the point where I felt like I could no longer fulfill my duty, and as a matter of personal responsibility just here in the last year resigned my position because of that.”
Spencer later brought up how important it is for an official to be present at meetings.
“...I guarantee you if there is a hot topic issue people will find their way to get to the meetings,” he said. “Part of that is being able to read the emotion on people’s faces. These are real people with real issues. They didn’t come because it was something trivial, it is because it effects their life. They want you, their representative, to be able to read that emotion, that’s why they are there. That is a big part of making a decision.”
Now, the process to petition for recall is set to begin. If a blank petition form is filed with the county election officer and validated by the county attorney, signatures must be collected of current registered voters in the election district equal to 40 percent of the total votes cast for all candidates at the last election at which the person was elected to the office. Bob Fluke, chair of the Republican Central Committee, estimated unofficially the petition would need 460 signatures.
The full process steps and laws for a recall election can be found on the Kansas Secretary of State website at http://www.kssos.org/elections/elections_reform_standards.html on page 14 of “Chapter II: Election Administration.”
Clinton Dick is a Herald staff writer. Email him at email@example.com