Commission chairman offers new position to county counselor

John Richmeier jrichmeier@leavenworthtimes.com
Commissioner Clyde Graeber reads a card he received before the start of a County Commission meeting. Graeber stepped down from his position on the commission after Thursday's meeting. He resigned because of health reasons.

The chairman of the Leavenworth County Commission made a motion Thursday to give the interim county counselor a new position.

Interim County Counselor David Van Parys currently is providing legal services to the commission as a contracted consultant.

Commission Chairman Doug Smith made a motion to hire Van Parys as a county employee if he is willing to relinquish his current contract. Smith said Van Parys’ title would be senior county counselor.

But with Commissioner Clyde Graeber leaving the commission, Smith’s proposal is being tabled until the vacancy on the commission is filled.

Thursday marked Graeber’s last day on the commission. He resigned because of health reasons.

Van Parys previously served as the county counselor for 26 years. He was fired from that position in December 2016.

The termination was approved by Commissioner Bob Holland and then Commissioner Dennis Bixby.

Bixby unsuccessfully ran for re-election last year. He was replaced on the commission in January by Smith.

Smith has argued that Van Parys was wrongfully terminated.

Van Parys is married to the county treasurer who has had a contentious relationship with Holland and Bixby.

After Smith joined the commission, he and Graeber voted to hire Van Parys as a consultant to provide assistance with projects being funded by sales tax revenue.

In July, Van Parys was named interim county counselor after County Counselor Mollie Hill and Deputy County Counselor Andrea Hughes were placed on administrative leave. Van Parys has continued to work under the terms of his consultant contract.

Holland and Bixby were interviewed for recent television news stories that aired on KSHB Channel 41. In the stories, they criticized the decision from earlier this year to rehire Van Parys as a consultant.

One of the KSHB Channel 41 stories cited the letter used to terminate Van Parys last year. According to the story, the letter indicates the reasons for the termination included violation of county policy and insubordination.

Smith has complained that the letter, which is a personnel document, was leaked to the media.

County Administrator Mark Loughry said Thursday that he is confident the document had not been leaked by any current member of the county staff.

“It should have never occurred,” he said.

Loughry joined the county government in January. Loughry said he has not had any issues with Van Parys during the nine months they have worked together.

During Thursday’s meeting, Holland read a letter he said had been written by a concerned citizen. Holland did not reveal the name of the letter’s author.

The letter criticized actions made by Smith and Graeber earlier in the year.

Also during Thursday’s meeting, a member of the audience argued that Van Parys and his wife have a conflict of interest because they are Republican committee precinct representatives who will have a vote in determining Graeber’s replacement on the commission.

Graeber represented the County Commission’s 2nd District as a Republican. Republican precinct men and women from the 2nd District will gather next week to a select a new county commissioner for the district.

Smith made the motion to hire Van Parys as the senior county counselor at the end of Thursday’s meeting. He said Van Parys’ salary could be determined by the county administrator.

“I don’t know if David would be willing to do that,” Smith said.

Van Parys said there has been conflict among officials in the county government for the last couple of years. He said no one wishes this had not occurred more than he does.

He said the problems have caused taxpayers additional money. He said the problems also have impacted morale in the county government.

Van Parys said he believes everyone wants to move beyond these issues.

Van Parys said he would be happy to consider the offer made by Smith.

“I hold no grudges,” he said.

Holland questioned whether Van Parys can be rehired after he was terminated for cause.

Smith said the County Commission has reinstated other employees who were wrongfully terminated.

“This is my last meeting,” Graeber said.

Graeber said he feels the commission should wait to take action on Smith’s proposal until the new member is on board.

Smith asked Graeber whether Van Parys was fired for cause or political reasons.

Loughry said this area of discussion should not take place in open session. He said it is a personnel matter.

Smith said the matter already has been discussed on television.

Van Parys said he appreciated Smith’s motion.

“I think it is time for this county to move forward,” he said.

He said tabling the motion would be appropriate.

Graeber recommended tabling the matter for 10 working days.

Twitter: @LVTNewsJohnR

The Leavenworth County Commission:

• Approved the rezoning for property at 26050 Chieftain Road from rural residential with a five-acre minimum lot size to planned unit development. Commissioners also approved a preliminary plat for Home Works USA for the same location.

Officials with Home Works USA are proposing to construct 15 “tiny homes.” The structures would range in size from 256 square feet to 384 square feet.

The homes will provide affordable housing for people who are transitioning from foster care.

Jeff Joseph, planning and zoning director, said a special use permit is still required for Home Works USA. That matter will be taken up in the future.

• Commissioner Bob Holland made a motion to seek voter approval for expanding the County Commission from three members to five.

The motion died because no one provided a second.

Commission Chairman Doug Smith said he supports looking at the idea after a new commissioner is on board.

Commissioner Clyde Graeber stepped down from the commission Thursday because of health reasons. Local Republican officials are scheduled to meet next week to select Graeber’s replacement on the commission.

• Heard comments from James Copeland, who criticized legal action the commission is taking against four employees.

Commissioners are asking a judge to rule that the contracts of the four employees are null and void.

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