The Hiawatha City Commission met on Monday evening, and Commissioners Becky Shamburg and David Middendorf took time to address the room regarding recent decisions by the group to remove the heads of the police and fire departments.

In her time, Commissioner Shamburg drew a correlation between the decision to allow a property owner in violation of city code time to address an issue in order to not affect his livelihood and the decision made to fire Police Chief John Defore.

“Chief Defore worked for Hiawatha for almost 10 years, and in less than two and a half minutes his tenure was ended, all because the Mayor said he wasn’t pleased with the Chief of Police and said we needed to go in another direction,” said Shamburg.

She went on to cite the lack of opportunity for Defore to answer any concerns about his performance, and the lack of any communication or Executive Sessions to allow the entire governing body the opportunity to make an informed decision. Shamburg closed by saying, “In my opinion, a tremendous mistake has been made — what has happened in the last two meetings should never happen again.”

Commissioner Middendorf echoed Shamburg’s feelings about being blindsided by the motion.

“I was dumbfounded and appalled at the way in which the Police Chief was terminated,” said Middendorf, adding. “It kind of reminds me of a lynching.”

He shared his displeasure at the lack of communication leading up to the decision.

“The action taken was certainly not a team approach, when two of the governing body, as well as the City Attorney and City Administrator, were not made aware that a new direction was needed for the Police Department and the status of the Police Chief was going to be brought up and voted on—an Executive Session should have at least been held,” he said.

Middendorf also read a statement of support to city staff, thanking them for their service and dedication. Neither Mayor Collins nor Commissioner Evans Woehlecke responded, and Commissioner Brian Shefferd was absent from the meeting.

In other business:

The commission voted to advertise for the position of Chief of Police.

Earlier in the meeting, the commission voted to table Resolution 2021-10, which Shamburg referenced in her comments, as the property at 108 E Miami Street is in the process of being brought up to the standards of the Health and Welfare Code.

The group also voted to confirm Russell Cousins as a volunteer firefighter.

Morrill Library Director Erin Verbick gave a report on the library, noting a new writing club, as well as detailing successful programs over the last few months.

Commissioner Middendorf gave the annual report for the City of Hiawatha Land Bank, stating that the group sold three properties in 2021, and has three properties on Shawnee on inventory, and that the group hopes to have more activity in 2022.

The commission voted to approve Resolution 2022-01 for the Sanitary Sewer Project, and also to solicit bids for the city’s 2022 concrete work, as well as for downtown and walking trail planters, and for a replacement backhoe for the Water Department.

Police Captain Dennis Entrikin informed the commission that a program that had been previously applied for will reimburse the department for 50 percent of three new bulletproof vests that had been purchased.

New Fire Chief Patrick Sheldon reported that one of the department’s trucks is having recall work completed.

Parks and Recreation Director announced that roughly $15,000 in damage was done by a December storm to the ball field at Noble Park, and an insurance check has been received, with repair work to be completed when the weather improves.

The group also approved the Consent Agenda, which included utility account refunds in the amount of $166.13, payments to the Kansas State Treasurer in the amounts of $41,448.62, $31,070.38, and $62,368.75, a payment to KS State Bank in the amount of $18,887.67, an a payment to Kansas Municipal Insurance Trust in the amount of $61,638.00.

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