The human resources director for Leavenworth County is asking the county government to reimburse her for legal bills after she was named in a lawsuit filed by the County Commission.

The human resources director for Leavenworth County is asking the county government to reimburse her for legal bills after she was named in a lawsuit filed by the County Commission.

Last month, the commission filed a petition for a declaratory judgment. The lawsuit is seeking to have a judge declare the contracts of four county employees null and void. Human Resources Director Tamara Copeland is one of the employees named as a defendant in the lawsuit.

During Thursday’s County Commission meeting, Copeland requested that the county reimburse her for $2,456 in attorney fees and to continue to provide reimbursement of legal fees.

Commissioners voted to have an attorney review the request and determine if it should be paid.

“If the legal counsel says pay it, we’ll pay it,” Commission Chairman Doug Smith said.

Copeland’s five-year contract was approved last year. Under the contract, Copeland would continue to be paid her salary for the remainder of her contract period if she is terminated unless she is convicted of a felony or fraud related to her duties with the county.

The makeup of the commission has changed since the contract was approved in 2016. In January, Smith replaced Dennis Bixby as the commissioner from the county’s 3rd District.

Smith and Commissioner Clyde Graeber have been critical of provisions of the contracts of the four employees named in the lawsuit. The third commissioner, Bob Holland, has been supportive of the contracts.

In June, an attorney for the commission filed the petition for a declaratory judgment in Leavenworth County District Court. The lawsuit argues the severance provisions of the four contracts create “an indebtedness by the Board of County Commissioners for funds which are not yet in the budget” and would violate state law.

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

Copeland argued Thursday that the county normally would provide legal counsel to the human resources director if a claim was filed against her. But legal counsel for the county cannot represent both the commission and the human resources director.

Copeland said her employment contract outlines a process for paying attorney fees for her.

According to the contract, in the event of “extraordinary circumstances relative to the conduct of her lawful duties as Human Resources Director, the Director shall be reimbursed for all reasonable and business-related expenses to include attorney’s fees, provided she submits, along with the receipt(s) in question, an explanation of why said costs were necessary.”

Copeland said the county paid for $2,000 in similar legal fees for her last year.

She said there have been no disciplinary or performance issues concerning her or her office.

Copeland also complained about comments she said were inappropriate that were made by a citizen during previous meetings. Copeland accused the citizen of berating several county employees and making untrue statements.

Copeland did not identify the person who made the comments, but she appeared to be speaking about Louis Klemp.

Klemp, a former county commissioner, regularly attends commission meetings and addresses the commissioners. He also has been critical of contracts that were approved for Copeland and other employees.

Klemp, who was in the audience Thursday, later acknowledged that Copeland had been talking about him.

Holland made a motion to approve the reimbursement of legal fees for the human resources director.

Smith said the motion died because of a lack of a second.

Smith then made a motion to ask Scott Ryburn to review the request and determine if the commission should reimburse the fees now or wait for a resolution of the court case.

Ryburn is an outside attorney who has been assisting the commission with issues related to employment contracts including the pending lawsuit.

“If we owe the money, we owe the money,” Smith said.

Graeber provided a second to the motion.

The motion passed 2-1 with Holland voting against it.

Copeland’s attorney, Gregory Robinson, attended Thursday’s meeting but did not address the commissioners.

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