February 22, 2024

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Frontenac sued in federal court over city administration firings

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The three top Frontenac city officials who were fired in September of last year have filed a federal lawsuit alleging violations of the Fifth and Fourteenth amendments of the Constitution, violations of the Kansas Open Meetings Act, two counts of breach of contract and civil conspiracy.

The lawsuit, filed on March 20 in the Kansas City federal court, names the City of Frontenac, John Macary, who is now acting mayor, as well as council members  Pat Clinton, Mike Snow, Marc McCully, David Hogard, and LaDonna Pyle personally.

The filing sheds light on events leading up to the September 16, 2019, firing without warning, discussion, or so much as an executive session then-City Administrator Brad Reams, City Clerk Terri Kutz, and City Attorney Tim Fielder.

If the facts as alleged in the lawsuit are true, it’s clear the City of Frontenac has systemic issues in complying with Kansas sunshine laws. Indeed, Kansas Attorney General Derek Schmidt’s office has already issued a damning condemnation of violations of the Kansas Open Records Act by the City of Frontenac.

According to the lawsuit on August 6, 2019, Kutz received a list of random employees selected for drug testing. The random selection of candidates was performed by Via Christi Medical Center in Pittsburg, which performs random drug testing of employees for the city in a contractual arrangement. 

Upon receipt of the list, Kutz notified each department head that employees in their departments had been selected for such random testing, including “Ms. X,” an employee working at the time as the Clerk of the Municipal Court for Frontenac, (the clerk of the court was, at the time current City Clerk Jayme Mjelde.)

As Mjelde’s supervisor, Kutz allegedly told Mjelde that she had been randomly selected for drug testing and she needed to go to the clinic and report at their occupational health department where the test would be administered. 

By August 8, all random tests had come back negative, according to the filing, except for Mjelde’s.

“Then, Kutz and Reams traveled to the clinic and met with the head doctor and head nurse at the clinic seeking a meaningful explanation of the test results. Both Plaintiffs were told that the test results were positive for THC, an illegal substance, and the level was too high to represent a false positive,” the lawsuit reads. “The doctor and nurse went on to claim that this level of THC could only have come from the illegal use of marijuana. The medical staff stated they had extensive experience in the area of drug testing and shared the test was only designed to reveal the presence of illegal narcotics and had a test been conducted just days later no presence would have been detected.”

On August 16, Mjelde was notified of the positive test and allegedly denied the use of illegal drugs but said she was taking CBD oil, but: “She offered no explanation as to why she used CBD oil or claimed that the CBD oil was not supposed to contain any THC,” according to the filing.

Mjelde then allegedly, as she was advised she could do, requested the sample be retested by a different lab.

On August 19,  a letter from Mjelde was presented to the City Attorney. The letter was a summary of the events of the August 16 meeting. Mjelde allegedly stated in the letter she took CBD on a daily basis, challenged the integrity of the urine sample attributed to her, asked for the matter to be handled privately, and requested the letter be placed in her employment file. 

By August 27, the hospital was notified by the second lab that the test results had been confirmed and that a copy of the results was available.  

During an executive session on Sept. 3, the council were allegedly informed about the positive test of an unidentified employee, and Reams explained that all city administrative employees wanted the employee to remain a city employee and that the city attorney had prepared for submission to the council an agreement for her continued employment in accordance with city policy. According to the filing, the council reviewed the proposed agreement and the sense of the council was that the proposed agreement was fair. 

One day later, on Sept. 4, Mjelde was informed of the test results and allegedly offered the agreement which she refused to sign.

According to the lawsuit, Mjelde “now claimed that random drug testing was not authorized by City policy, which was quickly dispelled by the City Attorney, Fielder, who read the appropriate policy to her. Next, (Mjelde) produced a writing which she claimed was from her personal physician’s office of a drug test she took on August 20, 2019 that was negative. The plaintiffs accepted the writing agreeing to add it to her file; but pointed out … that city policy does not permit a test on a second specimen, and that it would not relate back to the date of the first specimen. 

Then on September 9, Mjelde once again met with Reams and Kutz. She was asked if she had a chance to discuss the agreement with her counsel and she indicated that she had. She was then asked if she would now, as a result, sign the agreement; but in response, she declined on the advice of her counsel. Mjelde allegedly stated she “was not going to go to rehabilitation for a drug problem she didn’t have”. 

Mjelde was then terminated by Reams in accordance with city personnel policy and was provided two letters stating the violations of city policy.

The following day the former interim City Administrator and one time City Clerk, Monica Kellogg allegedly came to City Hall seeking the home addresses of the members of the city council but was unable to obtain the information from the staff on duty at the time. Before leaving, Kellogg took a business card of each individual council member which  contained their respective contact information. Ms. Kellogg warned the utility clerk and accounts payable clerk they had better “watch their p’s and q’s with this administration”. Later that day, LaDonna Pyle, who is Mjelde’s aunt, came to City Hall and asked the office staff if Ms. X had been fired. When she was unable to get a definite answer to her inquiry, Defendant Pyle left but not before saying she would be back, according to the filing.

According to the lawsuit, Mjelde’s attorney — who is not named — allegedly sent a letter to all city council members and Mayor Linda Grilz claiming — among other things — that Mjelde’s rights had been violated and threatening a lawsuit. A copy of the letter was not sent to either Reams or Fielder.

Prior to the fateful Sept. 16 meeting, Coleman allegedly came to speak with Reams concerning Mjelde and the letter from her attorney threatening suit. Coleman allegedly stated Snow had called Hogard stating his fear of being sued by Mjelde’s attorney. Hogard then allegedly called Coleman with the same fear. 

What happened next is a matter of public record. At the city council meeting, Clinton — who is neighbors with both Mjelde and her parents — moved to fire Reams, Fielder and Kutz, a motion which was seconded by Macary and the vote was taken with no discussion.

Reams and his co-plaintiffs are asking for “back pay, including wage and benefits increase as well as reimbursement of any lost fringe benefits, retirement plan benefits and contributions, an award of front pay, emotional distress, pre-judgment interest, for reasonable attorney fees, for expert witness fees, costs pursuant to 42 U.S.C. §1988, all in excess of $75,000 for each Plaintiff and for such other relief as the Court may deem just and proper.”

Reams declined comment, and attempts to reach the City of Frontenac for comment were unsuccessful.

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