Kansas attorney general orders open meetings training for chair of Johnson County parks board after finding Facebook post violated law

Jay Senter - October 10, 2017 9:00 am
Paul Snider
Paul Snider

The chair of the Johnson County Park and Recreation District board will undergo training on the Kansas Open Meetings Act after an investigation by Kansas Attorney General Derek Schmidt into a complaint that he violated the serial meetings provision of state law.

According to the complaint, which was filed with Schmidt’s office in December 2016 by parks board Secretary Michael Pirner and Assistant Treasurer Leslee Rivarola, claimed that Snider had violated the Kansas Open Meetings Act by holding individual conversations with board members about his intent to seek a second term as board chair.

Snider acceded to the following description of the events at the center of the case prepared by the attorney general’s office after its investigation:

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Beginning in October 2016 and continuing through early November 2016, board chairman Paul Snider contacted board members Michael Pirner, Chris Carroll, Steven Baru, Nancy W allerstein and George J. Schlagel individually. Mr. Snider did not contact board members Leslee Rivarola or ex officio member Steve Klika. The purpose for Mr. Snider’s contacts was to seek support for his stated desire to serve a second term. Serving a second term deviated from the board’s traditional practice of each member serving one term in office and then rotating to another office/position. None of these conversations collectively reached a majority of the membership of the board. On November 9, 2016, Paul Snider sent Michael Pirner a series of Facebook messages in which he indicated that he was going to “proceed with trying to be chair again … everyone else is supportive or at least comfortable with it … the general sense is people are OK with trying it but not making any commitments that we’re moving to two year terms …. ” Mr. Snider’s message conveyed to Mr. Pirner that he had spoken with virtually the entire board and secured their individual approval for him to seek a second term. The Facebook messages were a serial communication in violation of K.S.A. 2016 Supp. 75- 4318(f).

Under a consent order agreement singed by Snider late last month, he must undergo a one-hour training session on the Kansas Open Meetings Act by Nov. 30, 2017 and provided documentation of his participation to the attorney general’s office.

Snider said he was surprised to hear that the complaint had been filed, but that he was more than willing to adhere to the attorney general’s order.

“I am a strong advocate of the Kansas Open Meetings Act,” Snider said. “I never dreamed that simply calling colleagues to see how they would feel about me serving a second term as chair would be viewed as a violation of that act. I will always advance the goals of the Kansas Open Meetings Act and I am happy to attend a session in which I can learn more about how I might do that.”

Snider is among the seven candidates seeking four seats on the Johnson County Community College Board of Trustees in November’s election. (He has been endorsed by current board member Stephanie Sharp, who is not seeking a third term). He said he also intends to stay active on the parks board, but will not be pursuing another term as chair.

“It’s been a rewarding experience and I’ve given a lot to the district, but it’s time for someone else,” he said. “And, I hopefully will be getting more immersed with the college.”

Colleagues from the parks board credit Snider with helping steer the organization to national recognition from the National Park and Recreation Association earlier this fall.

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