Shawnee planning commission redacts ‘offensive’ comment by former councilwoman Tracy Thomas from meeting minutes

Former city councilmember Tracy Thomas. File photo.

The Shawnee planning commission last week removed a comment from the previous meeting’s minutes that was made by Tracy Thomas, a former Shawnee city councilwoman, deeming her words “inappropriate” and “offensive.”

Contacted about the commission’s move after the meeting, Thomas said she stood by her comments and disagreed with the commission’s decision.

During the planning commission’s Oct. 7 meeting, Thomas spoke out against portions of Stag’s Spring, a proposed luxury apartment complex planned in downtown Shawnee. At the time, the planning commission was considering approval of rezoning and site plan for the project (after taking public comments and discussing the items, the commission approved both items).

In particular, Thomas took issue with the blue color of the proposed development. She said the color was “unappealing” and “not on trend” with luxury apartments. She then compared the color to that of a condominium building in the Brookside area and made the following statement:

“You know, in Kansas City, Missouri you’ve got what the, what people in Brookside lovingly call the Blue Jew, the eight-foot — the eight-story apartment building at Wornall and Gregory,” Tracy said.

(The building she described has about 12 stories and is located at Wornall Road and West Meyer Boulevard.)

During the planning commission’s Monday, Oct. 21 meeting, Chairman Dennis Busby proposed redacting the phrase “Blue Jew” — and suggested possibly removing the entire sentence — saying it was inappropriate.

“That’s offensive,” Busby said. “It shouldn’t be said. It shouldn’t have been said, and I’m sorry that I didn’t catch it at the time it was said.”

Busby added that the statement had “nothing to do with Shawnee or the project and therefore it is of no value.”

“I’d like to err on the side of thinking that the speaker made a mistake because we all speak off the cuff,” he said. “Sure we make mistakes, so I’d like to air on the side of caution and say we won’t do any more than ask that it be taken out of the minutes because it’s inappropriate.”

Planning Commissioner Kathy Peterson agreed with Busby’s comments but was concerned if city leaders had the legal authority to redact comments made on the record and in the minutes.

The city of Shawnee’s current practices indicate it provides comments verbatim in its meeting minutes. Doug Allmon, community development director, noted that many cities simply provide an overview of giving the general context of comments for their meeting minutes.

“I don’t think redacting that from those minutes would sway the council or anything like that in a rezoning decision,” Allmon said. “They’re basically looking at the comment of the public in terms of impact on the surrounding area and those kind of things, so I don’t believe pulling one statement out would be contrary to the law.”

Allmon noted that he would run his comments by the city attorney to determine if he is correct in his statements.

Busby said he would prefer making a mistake by redacting the words right away rather than waiting to see if it is permissible by law.

“If later on somebody says we shouldn’t have done either one (redacting the two words or the full sentence) then so be it, but the reality is I don’t want it in there because I don’t think it reflects good on the city of Shawnee and it had nothing to do with what the hell we were doing,” Busby said.

Thomas said she called the building in Brookside by those words because she has Jewish friends who live there and use that phrase to describe their home.

“You could call it a joke, or it’s their own teasing way of describing the hideous design on the exterior of the building,” she said. “They can’t afford to paint it; it’s a horrible, outdated, inappropriate color.

“I am not saying anything negative; I am quoting my Jewish friends who live in that building that is largely populated by Jewish families. I wish the planning commission were as sensitive to bad design as they were obsessed with censoring me.”

Public bodies like the Shawnee planning commission are responsible for their own meeting minutes and can therefore determine what is recorded in the minutes, according to “A Citizen’s Guide to Open Government,” a guidebook of the Kansas Open Meetings and Kansas Open Records acts provided by Kansas Attorney General Derek Schmidt.

The planning commission voted 8-0 to redact the two words “Blue Jew” from the meeting minutes. Planning commissioners Bruce Bienhoff, John Montgomery and Les Smith were absent.

Click here to follow the commission’s discussion, which begins at 7:05.