Independence Examiner, Tuesday 04/23/02

Sunshine advocate continues pressing

by James Dornbrook
The Examiner

Bob WitbolsFeugen is trying to turn up the heat on Jackson County government, saying he plans to lead protests at county meetings until "all citizens are informed of the injustices happening in this county."

WitbolsFeugen recently won a Sunshine lawsuit against the Office of Human Relations and Citizens Complaints. However, the judge in the case ruled the OHRCC did not have to pay for the plaintiff's extensive attorney fees. This lead to concerns the county could purposely raise the cost of the trial to punish people suing the county. Post trial motions regarding the question of assessing attorney fees are being considered.

WitbolsFeugen is concerned that because no attorney fees were assessed, the county will appeal the verdict that the OHRCC was in violation of the Sunshine Law and continue raising the cost of the trial.

WitbolsFeugen and several other protesters marched around the Courthouse in Independence during the weekly Legislative meeting, carrying protest signs. The signs said, "Shields, let the Sunshine in. No more cover-ups," and "State of the County under Shields: Bad Jail, Bad Tax Bill, No Sunshine Law."

WitbolsFeugen said the protesters want the County Legislature and the county executive's office to have a "satisfactory discussion on the matter."

Legislators have been trying for several weeks to get answers to questions regarding how much the county has spent on this case. County Counselor Jane McQueeny said she couldn't answer the question because county counselors are paid at an annual rate and don't keep track of their hours.

Members of the Jackson County Legislature tried another avenue to get answers for their questions, ambushing Deputy County Counselor Jay Haden during a Public Works Committee meeting.

"When are we going to get answers about this case? When is there going to be a finality to all this? How much more money is the county going to spend?" asked Chairman Victor Callahan. "The Legislature is certainly not directing this. Is the County Executive? Who is making the calls here?"

Haden answered that the case was McQueeny's responsibility. He also said the Legislature had him at a disadvantage, because if he had any inkling that these questions would be brought up at the Public Works Committee meeting, he would have prepared for them.

WitbolsFeugen asked Haden if it was the county's policy to indemnify county commissioners. To indemnify is to protect from harm. Haden said he would not answer questions from WitbolsFeugen.

Callahan then posed the question to Haden.

"Mr. Chairman, this is not the forum for this and I won't subject myself to this line of questioning", said Haden.

"I think it's clar that we're not going to get any answers today," said Callahan. "I just want to say that I think that the Sunshine Law is sacred. I think it is a tragedy that this case goes on and on. We can't even get an answer to how much this case is costing the county. I think the Sunshine Law is more important than the machinations of bureaucracy and it is incorrigible that we can't get answers to simple questions like how much this has cost."

County Executive Katheryn Shields was not at the meeting of the Jackson County Legislature and unavailable to answer questions.

Legislator Ron Finley, 2nd District, said he was concerned that neither Shields nor McQueeny had attended the meeting. He was concerned because two weeks ago, he asked for an update regarding the case to be given at the Monday, April 22, meeting, and McQueeny agreed.

Haden said McQueeny had planned to attend, but "must have been unavoidably detained."

To reach James Dornbrook e-mail or call 350-6322.
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