Friday, March 14, 2014

District Attorney investigating Open Meetings Violation with airport name change

WICHITA, Kansas — The city has asked district attorney, Marc Bennett, to investigate a violation of the state’s Open Meetings Act by its airport renaming committee. 

KSN spoke to one of those committee members tonight, who says of the two meetings he attended as part of the naming committee, no public notice was given for either one. That is the violation that D.A. Marc Bennett has been asked to investigate.

John Hennessy was on the airport’s renaming committee and was the only member who voted against the recommendation to rename Mid-Continent Airport after Dwight D. Eisenhower. Hennessy told KSN that he knew something was wrong when the committee first met.

“There was no advertisement done. It was a meeting that was not publicized in the public as far as I’m concerned, I don’t believe it was anywhere,” said Hennessy.

Hennessy says the committee met twice, once in December and once in January.

Despite his concerns about a lack of public notice for those meetings, he says he did not file a complaint with city staff.

“I was there, so I was aware of it when it was being done, and I did voice an objection but there was a 6-1 consensus already in the room about everything that we were doing so it was a waste of my time to go any further. So I thought to just let it go on,” said Hennessy.

But the city’s legal department eventually caught wind of the concern. How they did is unknown but the committee self-reported a violation of the state’s Open Meetings Law.

Now the D.A. will have to investigate just how serious the violation was and whether the name change process would have to be done again.

“Certain things can be done. We can ask them to have the hearing again, but if it’s already done and action has been take, sometimes it’s too late,” said Sedgwick County District Attorney, Marc Bennett. “I’ll give you the straight lawyer’s answer: ‘It depends, depends on how things were handled.’”

It is unclear whether the city staff or the committee itself would be responsible for issuing public notice for meetings. Most of KSN’s attempts to reach city officials today went unanswered and Mayor Carl Brewer declined to comment on the situation.

Bennett’s office says there is no timetable on how long their investigation will take.

“People want to know what their government is up to,” said Bennett. “Old smoky back rooms where decisions are made, that’s not how people want their government to run.”

Another interesting piece of information is that the city council is also the airport authority in Wichita and they have to give the final approval on the name change.

As for what the D.A. can do, some of the possible consequences include up to a $500 fine for the city and training sessions for committee members or city staff.

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