July 17, 2024

Keeping Media and Government Accountable.

More controversy embroils Prairie Village as 9th Mikkelson recall effort moves forward

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Invoices and emails show that some of the accusations that prompted a recall effort against Prairie Village Mayor Eric Mikkelson may well have merit.

Residents have tried eight times previously to get Mikkelson recalled and the Johnson County District Attorney has refused to certify all of them — generally because they were improperly formatted or the correct legal language was not used.

However, late last month, DA Steve Howe’s office found the petitioners had sufficient legal grounds to certify the petition.

At issue (this time) is more than $20,000 spent with outside public relations firm Shockey Consulting Services.

Mikkleson and Shockey maintain the money was only to help with messaging about contentious issues surrounding affordable housing plans and zoning laws.

Recall supporters, however, maintain that at least part of the money spent with Shockey was to help Mikkelson defeat a previous recall effort.

An email chain dated June 29, 2023, between Mikkelson, Prairie Village City Administrator Wes Jordan, and Shockey consultant Nancy Mays shows the consultant critiquing an article about a previous recall petition and critiquing the story about the failed recall.

Mays suggested taking a “wait and see” approach and stated she would be “monitoring online”

email showing discussion of Mikkelson recall effort

All of this would suggest that the petition supporter’s complaints that Mikkelson was spending city dollars to try to protect his own political future have at least some basis in fact.

In a statement sent to KSHB TV, Mikkelson said “The allegations in the petition are false. There was no wrongdoing, misconduct or misuse of city funds.

“As to the false allegations, the District Attorney stated that he ‘does not pass on the credibility of the allegations…[and] does not determine the truth or falsity of the allegations.’ In other words, any three residents can fabricate misconduct allegations to start a political recall.”

Mikkelson said beyond the “personal destructive impact to me and my family, there are sad collateral impacts for all from these abusive smear tactics.”

Mikkelson also claimed residents exercising their democratic right to petition for a recall and put it on a ballot for the entire community to vote on “erode(s) local democracy’s ability to function.”

Attorney Ed Greim, who represents the petitioners, said the matter doesn’t have to be divisive, according to KSHB.

“There’s no need for this to be a bitter or adversarial process,” Greim said. “This is a 12,000-person jury essentially to review facts and make a decision by signing the petition and casting a vote.”

Many details of the recall effort are available at a website started by the recall supporters.

Shockey issued a statement as well, stating — in part:

“Shockey Consulting is a local community engagement and planning firm that was hired to help communicate highly complex policy issues around housing and form of government. Our goal was to offer residents what they deserve — clarity and transparency. We were hired by the city administrator — not the Mayor — and were NOT hired to mitigate efforts to recall the mayor. Shockey followed state law in our scope of work and activities as we have for 26 years to cities throughout the region. The services we provided followed state statute. (Kansas Attorney General Opinion 93–1 25 states that public funds may be expended to educate and inform on matters to be voted on by the electorate.) We were hired to supplement the part-time public information officer and help staff to present neutral information about complex public policy issues to enhance transparency in the community.”

According to the Kansas City Star, “Sheila Shockey, founder of the firm, said the company did not bill the city for any communication related to the recall effort, saying that the email exchange last June took less than 15 minutes, not enough time for the firm to charge for it, and did not result in any marketing materials being produced. She said the firm’s ‘time is invoiced for meetings and deliverables.'”

Moreover, the Sentinel sent Prairie Village City Clerk Adam Geffert a Kansas Open Records Act request, asking for the “Contract with Shockey Consulting, a proposal for work done by Shockey Consulting and any bid documents from Shockey or such other firms as may have been considered.”

While Geffert provided the contract, no bid documents or request for proposals were provided, making it appear the contract may have been awarded to Shockey without a competitive bid.

Controversy has surrounded Mikkelson for over a year

The issues with Shockey are far from the only controversy that has embroiled the small, land-locked, and affluent community in Johnson County for more than a year now.

The zoning fight is, perhaps, the most obvious, with discussions on changing zoning regulations that could strip homeowners of property rights to increase the supply of more affordable housing in Prairie Village, which left more questions than answers, according to some homeowners in the Johnson County community.

One of the Planning Commission’s most controversial proposals is to impose “By-Right” zoning, which strips homeowners of their property rights. Currently, homeowners who object to private development plans have a right to legal notice, a public hearing, the right to oppose a submitted plan, and the right to file a protest petition.

“By-Right” zoning means that a property owner may do pretty much as they please “by right” but without addressing the property rights of neighbors. For instance, a landowner could build a duplex on land that was previously zoned for single-family dwellings “by right” despite the concomitant loss of property values for the other homeowners in the area.

The city is also embroiled in a lawsuit over appointment procedures for vacant seats.

A Prairie Village man is suing over the appointment to a vacancy in the Prairie Village City Council.

In his filing, Tim Swanson says the city council violated the law when it allowed Mayor Eric Mikklelson to appoint Chi Nguyen to the seat recently vacated by Lauren Wolf. Wolf resigned in March because she was moving out of her ward.

Additionally, Mikkelson has refused to answer questions about proposed “ethics code” changes that may well be unconstitutional.

Proposed changes to the Prairie Village code of ethics would restrict elected officials’ private speech and subject them to public sanctions for representing constituent interests at the whim of the majority of council members.  Mayor Eric Mikkelson, who is also an attorney, believes it is constitutional to do so, but he declined to provide any legal analysis to substantiate his position.

Another constitutional question arises in the proposal to prohibit former elected officials from appearing before future City Councils to discuss issues in which they were involved as officeholders. 

 

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