The Shawnee City Council is putting its new policy allowing members to attend meetings remotely on hold after Mayor Michelle Distler raised a number of questions of how the policy would operate.
The council voted unanimously on May 29 to join a number of other Johnson County cities that permit elected officials to participate in government meetings over the internet if attending in person would be extremely difficult or physically impossible.
Distler, who did not attend the May 29 meeting, said she did not oppose the rule change but did believe “we need to tighten up the language.”
“It’s your decision to make as far as the policy but, to me, there are just some questions that are unanswered of the ‘what-if’,” she said.
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For example, she noted that the policy requires that council members announce their intention to attend a meeting remotely at least 24 hours before the meeting starts, but that the council sometimes calls special meetings on less than 24 hours’ notice. In those instances, she also questioned whether city staff could get information to council members attending remotely in time for them to adequately discuss the issue and vote.
“As a governing body, do you want a governing body member to be able to participate and vote on items (if) they don’t have access to all of the information?” Distler said.
Councilman Jim Neighbor said it was a worthy question.
“If you do not allow them to vote for that reason, then you are disenfranchising the 16,000 people in their ward,” Neighbor said.
The policy also allows council members to participate in executive sessions, which are typically limited to the council and legal staff or other certain staff members. She said remote participants should have to affirm that no unauthorized people are listening in to the call.
Council members unanimously voted to suspend the policy, which was supposed to go into effect this week, until after they have reviewed Distler’s questions.
“The fact this passed committee 7-0, it passed the council 6-0, everybody was obviously comfortable with it when it went by the governing body,” Neighbor said. “You obviously have some concerns, and I’m sure the governing body would be open to considering them.”
In other business, resident Larry Nichols criticized the city for issuing a public apology in connection with Secretary of State Kris Kobach riding in the Old Shawnee Days Parade on June 2 in an American flag-colored Jeep mounted with a replica military machine gun.
After receiving complaints from some parade-goers, the city and other parade organizers released a statement distancing themselves from Kobach’s parade entry and apologizing for “the concern this caused.” They added that they would be “taking steps in the future to try to ensure something similar does not happen again.”
Nichols said the Constitution does not protect people from being offended and questioned how the city would prevent future parades from featuring weapons, which he said have been a regular sight in the past.
“It terrifies me that anybody connected with the city would consider passing a rule or a regulation or an ordinance that says you don’t have a right to show your support for the Second Amendment to the Constitution,” Nichols said.
Distler called the public apology a “misstatement” and that “the city legally cannot prevent that.”
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