City’s private meetings break law

Kansas Attorney General Kris Kobach has concluded the Junction City Commission broke an open meeting law. Ranch owners alleged commission violated KOMA to conceal development details.



May 1, 2024 - 1:41 PM

Kansas Attorney General Kris Kobach’s open government enforcement unit concluded the Junction City Commission violated the Kansas Open Meetings Act to obscure from the public details of a proposal to allow construction of an industrial beef slaughter facility on the city’s west side within walking distance of residential homes. Photo by Tim Carpenter/Kansas Reflector

TOPEKA — An investigation by Kansas Attorney General Kris Kobach revealed the Junction City Commission violated the Kansas Open Meetings Act by convening a closed-door meeting to discuss an economic development project that included a livestock slaughter facility on the outskirts of the city.

Public opposition to the once-confidential project, which could have forced sale of farmland for construction of roads and a traffic exit from Interstate 70, appears to have derailed the meatpacking project that was to have been built by Foote Cattle Co.

During debate on the proposal, landowner Michelle Munson filed a two-part complaint in July 2023 with the attorney general containing allegations against the city commission.

Munson, part of the Munson Angus Farms family, said the commission didn’t take steps during a public meeting nearly three years ago to approve expenditure of $5,000 used to secure a right of first refusal for the option to buy 150 acres of real estate for the project. That land on the west side of Junction City was bought by Foote Cattle, but the city had their eyes on adjacent land owned by the Munsons.

In addition, Munson asserted the commission broke the open meetings law two years ago by failing to precisely describe the subject to be discussed in an executive session. That closed session was also about the meatpacking facility project.

Amber Smith, first assistant attorney general in Kobach’s office, issued a letter to Munson’s attorney that said the “preponderance of the evidence” indicated the commission didn’t violate KOMA while considering the $5,000 option.

However, the attorney general’s office found the commission failed to follow the law in the later meeting by trying to limit public knowledge about the project.

“We have determined the commission failed to comply with the statutory requirements for recessing into executive session because its motion did not adequately describe the subject to be discussed,” Smith aid.

She said the city attorney would be informed of the investigation’s result and the commission would be urged to take remedial action to comply with KOMA.

Munson, part of a six-generation farm family in Geary County, said the process of contesting the city’s plan to convert farmland into a manufacturing hub that included an animal slaughter facility had been time consuming and difficult.

“We’re very pleased to see that the attorney general has upheld the Kansas law in terms of transparency and sunshine on the issue,” Munson said.

Allen Dinkel, city manager for Junction City, didn’t return a call Tuesday for comment about the attorney general’s response to Munson’s complaints. In previous interviews, Dinkel said the commission’s objective was to broaden the city’s tax base by creating manufacturing and trade jobs through development of land west of the city.

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