After receiving a legal opinion about whether one member should recuse himself, the Leavenworth County commissioners approved a measure that will provide $20,000 to help users of Sewer District No. 3.
County commissioners had started to vote on the motion Monday. But the vote was halted when Commission Chairman Bob Holland suggested fellow Commissioner Dennis Bixby should recuse himself because of earlier comments. The vote was completed when commissioners met Thursday.
The recusal issue came up Monday as commissioners voted on a motion to spend $20,000 to help reduce the assessments that will be levied against users for fiscal year 2014 for Sewer District No. 3. County commissioners also approved $20,000 in assistance last year.
Property owners in the district, which includes Glenwood Estates near Basehor, are being charged an assessment to pay off a $1.13 million loan that was used to pay for a transition from a lagoon system to a connection to the Basehor sewer system. They're also being assessed an operation and maintenance fee requested by Basehor.
The sewer district is located in Bixby's County Commission district.
Bixby and Commissioner Clyde Graeber voted for the motion Monday. But Holland didn't vote at that time and said Bixby should recuse himself because he'd previously indicated how he would vote prior to Monday's public hearing on the sewer district assessments. Holland argued Bixby made up his mind before hearing the "good or bad parts" about the issue.
County Counselor David Van Parys said Monday it was incumbent on Bixby to make the judgement regarding his recusal. Holland asked for an independent ruling from other legal counsel that has an association with the county.
Holland said Thursday it's independent attorney's opinion that it is up to Bixby to determine if he should recuse himself.
Holland resumed the vote Thursday noting his fellow commissioners already had voted. The chairman said he was voting against the measure. He asked Bixby if the $20,000 expenditure benefited the entire county.
Bixby said the motion benefits the entire county because it's righting a wrong in terms of actions by the county government that led to the overloading of the sewer district's old lagoon system. He said county residents need to know commissioners will do their best to right a wrong.
"I make no apology for this vote," Bixby said. "It's the right thing to do."
Holland asked Bixby to right a wrong by recusing himself.
Bixby said the commissioners are "going down a very slippery slope." He expressed concern about someone requesting a legal opinion every time there is a 2-1 vote. He said consulting an outside attorney costs money.
He said two qualified attorneys — County Administrator Pat Hurley and Van Parys — were present when the recusal question arose.
Page 2 of 2 - "I have not done anything illegal," Bixby said. "I have not even done anything immoral."
Holland said Bixby previously had indicated he would like the other commissioners to vote a certain way and announced how he would vote.
Bixby said he was having a conversation with Hurley when he made the comment.
"My statement was, 'I have to vote for this,'" he said.
Holland made a motion to reconsider paying the $20,000, and in its place implement a plan Bixby had discussed Monday.
Bixby said this plan involved establishing a public building commission in Basehor. As part of the plan, Glenwood Estates would be annexed by Basehor with the city acquiring at least some of the debt.
"Is it feasible?" Bixby said. "We're not going to know that for a while."
Holland's motion to reconsider paying $20,000 to help reduce assessment fees ultimately was not put up for a vote because no one provided a second to the motion.
Graeber noted he had made the motion Monday to provide the $20,000 in funding. Graeber said he made the motion for an additional year of funding in hope officials can find a way to restructure the sewer district's debt.
"That was my whole goal," he said. "There must be a solution that can be found."
Several residents of Sewer District No. 3 attended Monday's public hearing. Several of them returned for Thursday's meeting. Commissioners also heard Thursday from a couple of people who live elsewhere in the county and expressed opposition to paying the $20,000.
Louis Klemp, who previously served on the commission, said residents should be aware of the Sewer District No. 3 situation when they move into that area.
He suggested spending the $20,000 to reduce the assessments may hurt efforts to renew a 1-cent countywide sales tax that is set to expire in 2016.
"You've got more money than you know what to do with," he said.
Karen Logan said she doesn't believe it's right for the county as a whole to provide funding for the sewer district.