The Kansas Attorney General’s office is investigating a complaint against the Johnson County Park and Recreation District’s board for potentially violating the state’s open meetings law in how the group chose its leader for 2017.
Ernie Ballweg, the board’s legal counsel, told the board at its Dec. 21 meeting that he had been contacted by the Attorney General’s office about the complaint and that he would receive more information after Christmas.
Board members Michael Pirner and Leslee Rivarola said they had filed the complaint.
They allege that board chairman Paul Snider and other members held a series of discussions by telephone ahead of the group’s Nov. 16 meeting about nominating Snider for an unprecedented second term as chairman.
The board has traditionally passed the position each year to the next most-senior member.
A majority of the board members ultimately voted to nominate Snider for the second term, with supporters saying they felt he could bring added consistency as the district executes many of the plans approved this year, such as development of Meadowbrook Park in Prairie Village and the Johnson County Arts & Heritage Center in Overland Park.
At the December meeting, the board voted to formally approve that nomination as well as a list of other board officers. Nancy Wallerstein will remain vice-chairwoman, scheduled to now take over as chair in 2018.
Pirner and Rivarola cast the lone “no” votes and asked to have their names removed from what they called a “tainted” slate of officers.
“I think to put in place a slate that was obviously engineered is not only inappropriate but calls into question our future actions,” Rivarola said.
Pirner, who was originally slated to become chairman in 2018, said he didn’t necessarily oppose changing how the board chooses its leaders. However, he questioned why the issue wasn’t brought up earlier for greater public debate.
“All of the sudden, in the year that (Snider) is chairman and would clearly stand to benefit the most, he decides he wants to run for a second term,” Pirner said.
After the meeting, Snider said in an email that he couldn’t comment until he had seen the formal complaint but noted that a supermajority of the board approved of keeping the board leadership in place.
“I’m proud of the accomplishments of the district this past year,” Snider said. “The staff and board worked very well together for the benefit of Johnson County.”