Roeland Park City Council use of executive sessions again questioned; council splits on vote to keep meeting open

Roeland Park resident Tom Madigan chaired the strategic planning committee.
Roeland Park resident Tom Madigan objected to the city council’s use of executive sessions. File photo

The Roeland Park City Council’s prodigious use of executive sessions to conduct the city’s business was once again the target of a resident’s complaint Tuesday night. Both the resident and a council member objected to the use of the closed session to discuss sign regulations.

Tom Madigan, who chaired the city’s strategic planning committee, objected to the use of the executive session at the Tuesday council workshop. Just last month, Madigan had objected to a closed session called to discuss the open records act.

Madigan presented the council with a history of its executive session use. “Since the 2013 elections, where several members campaigned on the issue of transparency, 46 executive sessions have occurred, not including tonight,” Madigan said. “Since January 2015, 32 executive sessions have occurred, not including tonight.” In the last year, three executive session have been held to discuss signs, Madigan said.

It was not only the number of executive sessions to which Madigan objected, but the fact that the closed sessions are held at the beginning of council meetings, leaving citizens attending the meetings to wait for the council to return to take up other business. Madigan said it had previously been common practice for the executive session to be last on the agenda, allowing residents to leave if no other business was planned.

“Placing the executive session first comes across as rude and disrespectful to your audience. I respectfully request that the governing body rethink what are appropriate discussions for a closed session and the placement of such on the agenda,” Madigan asked.

In June, when the council retreated into closed session talk about open records as the second item on the agenda, several residents were left waiting and began talking about the “rudeness” of the action. Madigan was the only resident in attendance at the Tuesday work session. Three council members – Michael Rhoades, Ryan Kellerman and Teresa Kelly – also missed Tuesday’s meeting.

After Madigan spoke, Councilor Becky Fast moved that the council waive attorney-client privilege so the sign issue could be discussed in public. “Executive session should be the exception rather than the rule,” Fast said. “I just can’t be quiet anymore.” Very few cities use executive sessions the way Roeland Park does, Fast said.

Fast’s motion was seconded by Councilor Tim Janssen, but they were the only two to vote for it. City Attorney Neil Shortlidge told the council he was “uncomfortable” giving legal advice in an open session without the council knowing what it was.

After 15 minutes behind closed doors, the council came back and all five members voted to waive the attorney-client privilege and discuss the sign ordinance in public.