The Brown County Attorney has confirmed that his office is investigating some members of the Hiawatha City Commission for an alleged violation of the Kansas Open Meetings Act after receiving formal requests for an investigation concerning the 3-2 vote to terminate Chief of Police John Defore.

The Hiawatha World reached out to Brown County Attorney Kevin Hill concerning a potential investigation after receiving an anonymous tip. Hill said that while the specifics of the investigation will remain confidential until complete, he could confirm that his office has launched an investigation into the Hiawatha City Commission after receiving more than one request to investigate a potential violation of KOMA at the Dec. 27 commission meeting.

At the meeting, Mayor Bill Collins stated he was not pleased with the leadership of the Police Department and made a motion to terminate the contract of Chief Defore. The motion was seconded by Commissioner Brian Shefferd. An intense discussion commenced, where Commissioners Becky Shamburg and David Middendorf expressed their displeasure and surprise at the motion – including having no prior knowledge this was going to happen.

The final vote was 3-2 in favor of dismissing Chief Defore with Collins, Shefferd and Commissioner Evans Woehlecke voting yes and Shamburg and Middendorf voting no. Chief Defore turned in his equipment and keys that evening, saying his contract stated that if he was fired without cause or warning he did not have to fulfill his contract of staying 45 days.

At this week’s meeting – the first since Defore was terminated – Commissioners Shamburg and Middendorf once again shared their concern and displeasure by being blindsided by the firing of Defore without any prior knowledge. Shamburg noted there had not even been an executive session for discussion of non-elected personnel and it was discussed that neither the City Administrator Mike Nichols, nor the City Attorney Andy Delaney had prior knowledge of this intent.

According to KOMA, members of a governing body cannot discuss non-elected personnel – along with other matters pertaining to the governing board — together without coming together with a formal public meeting.

Hill said that under state statute, the duty to investigate a matter such as this involving the city commission would fall under his office’s jurisdiction. Hill said his policy is not to comment on an active investigation and said his findings will be made public once the investigation is complete.

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