The Leavenworth County Commission is asking a judge to invalidate the contracts of four county employees.

The Leavenworth County Commission is asking a judge to invalidate the contracts of four county employees.

An attorney for the commission has filed a lawsuit in Leavenworth County District Court concerning the contracts of County Counselor Millie Hill, Deputy County Counselor Andrea Hughes, Human Resources Director Tamara Copeland and Road and Bridge Superintendent Vincent Grier. The lawsuit is asking a judge to rule that the contracts are null and void.

The petition for the declaratory judgment was filed by attorney Scott Ryburn, who has been hired to assist the commission with issues related to employment contracts.

The four contracts were approved by the County Commission in 2016. The makeup of the commission changed in January when Doug Smith replaced Dennis Bixby as the commissioner from the county’s 3rd District.

Smith, who serves as the commission chairman, and Commissioner Clyde Graeber have been critical of provisions of the contracts. Commissioner Bob Holland has been supportive of the contracts.

Copeland was given a five-year contract. The other contracts were approved for three years.

Under the contracts for Hill, Hughes and Copeland, the employees would continue to be paid their salaries for the remainder their contract periods after being terminated unless they are convicted of felonies or fraud related to their duties with the county.

Grier’s contract has a similar severance provision. But his contract provides for additional reasons for which he can be terminated for cause without the county having to continue to pay his salary.

“Each defendant’s employment severance provision of their respective employment contract creates an an indebtedness by Board of County Commissioners for funds which are not yet in the budget and would violate the Kansas Cash Basis Law and the Kansas Budget Law,” Ryburn argued in the petition.

The lawsuit also argues that one County Commission “cannot bind future county commissioners from hiring and discharging employees of the county.”

The lawsuit argues that the former County Commission’s approval of the contracts “was an attempt to bind successors in matters that are fundamental to the administration of county government and usurp the authority of the present Board of County Commissioners.”

Court records indicate that the four defendants have been sent summonses asking them to reply to a petition within 21 days.

During a commission meeting Thursday, Holland noted that the petition had been filed.

Holland said he was under the impression the County Commission would work with the employees for two more weeks before the petition was filed.

Smith said commissioners voted three or four weeks ago to give parties two more weeks to negotiate a resolution before seeking a declaratory judgment.

The vote was made May 22. The vote was 2-1 with Holland voting against it.

Commissioners voted June 8 to proceed to negotiate employment contracts, but this motion did not include a deadline.

Graeber said Thursday that commissioners had given a definite date of when the lawsuit would be filed. He said this was extended because one person indicated a willingness to negotiate. But this person failed to negotiate and the petition was filed.

Hughes asked commissioners to clarify her role with the county now that the petition has been filed naming her as a defendant.

County Administrator Mark Loughry said this issue was going to be discussed in a closed-door executive session.

Commissioners met in executive session with Loughry for 10 minutes to discuss personnel matters.

When commissioners returned to open session, they voted to waive a conflict of interest between the commission and county counselor and deputy county counselor.

Loughry explained this waiver will allow Hill and Hughes to continue to do their work.

The vote for the waiver was 2-1 with Smith voting against.

Smith said after the meeting that “it just doesn't look right” for Hill and Hughes to represent the commission when the two attorneys are being challenged in court by the commission.

Loughry also has an employment contract that was approved last year, but he was not named as a defendant in the lawsuit.

Smith said after Thursday’s meeting that contract negotiations may still be ongoing for some employees.

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