KS: Metro Works to Correct KOMA Policy

The Topeka Metropolitan Transit Authority is taking steps to get its open meetings procedures in order after a decision from the district attorney's office that found the board in technical violation of the state's open meetings act.

In the full board meeting Monday, the Metro board adopted a new policy regarding requests for notification of meetings. The policy directs staff to remind media outlets each year of when their notification request expires - something the Metro hasn't done since 2004. The seven-sentence policy adopted unanimously Monday also requires all new board chairpersons and members to receive orientation on the Kansas Open Meetings Act.

The policy follows a June 28 decision from the Shawnee County District Attorney's Office that the Metro board violated KOMA during an "emergency meeting" March 29. The meeting, which ended in with the approval of a separation agreement with former CEO Janlyn Nesbett-Tucker, was called without prior public notice. Local news media weren't told of the meeting until a news conference after its conclusion.

The investigation by senior assistant district attorney Matt Patterson found a "technical violation" of KOMA in the Metro's emergency meeting, according to a letter issued by the office. However, the letter states, the "spirit of the law" was met, so the office found no reason to pursue legal action against board members. Patterson did recommend the board attend KOMA trainings from the Kansas Attorney's General Office.

John Cassidy, Metro attorney, informed board members of an upcoming KOMA training but said on-site training could be arranged if it didn't match with their schedules. He is working to schedule an orientation with the board's newest member, Beverly Hall, who was appointed to the board July 10.

One of the technicalities cited in the district attorney's decision was the fact that no news organizations had requested notification since 2003.

Despite the lack of requests, the Metro has been providing courtesy notification to about six outlets, Cassidy told the board. That will continue, he said, until next year, when all media outlets will receive reminders to file notification requests.

The Metro board on Monday also learned that staff is working on a proposal to amend the Metro's drug and alcohol program.

Currently, about 20 staff members - most of whom work in the office - are exempted by federal regulations from random drug screenings. The Metro is considering expanding random screenings to those employees, said human resources coordinator Terri Miller.

Bus operators, maintenance staff and supervisors - about 70 employees - are subject to random testing, she said. All staff are subject to screenings prior to being hired, after accidents and on reasonable suspicion.

Staff also is looking into expanding drug testing to nine panels compared to the five currently tested, in an effort to catch additional drugs, Miller said.

She said no event sparked the staff's interest in amending the policy.

The five-member board on Tuesday also approved a motion allowing staff to piggyback on a to-be-determined contract to purchase 15 new paratransit buses from Glaval. The Metro opted to go with Glaval instead of competitor Goshen because the Glaval buses will be cheaper to maintain, said chief financial officer Chip Falldine. The purchase is expected to cost about $1.2 million.

Staff has yet to recommend specifications for the buses, including how many wheelchair slots are available per bus, he said. Those decisions are expected to come later this fall.

With Monday's approval, Falldine said, the new paratransit buses should arrive sometime this winter.

The board also voted to set aside $17,500 to cover the local match to hire a new transit planner to be shared with the city. Whether the city will agree to the hire will come later this fall.

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