Archive for Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Allegations, health insurance benefit questions preceded Loughry’s firing

Basehor City Hall is at 2620 N. 155th St.

Basehor City Hall is at 2620 N. 155th St.

September 27, 2011

Editor’s note: This is the first in a series of stories examining events that preceded the firing of former Basehor City Administrator Mark Loughry. The stories are based on documents obtained by the Sentinel and interviews with the people involved.

At least seven weeks before making a motion last week to fire Basehor City Administrator Mark Loughry, Basehor City Council President Dennis Mertz contacted law enforcement offices regarding an alleged crime committed by Loughry, according to correspondence obtained by the Sentinel.

Mark Loughry

Mark Loughry

Dennis Mertz

Dennis Mertz

Terry Hill

Terry Hill

In an Aug. 1 letter to Basehor City Attorney Shannon Marcano verified as authentic by multiple recipients, Mertz said he had contacted the offices of the Kansas attorney general and the Leavenworth County attorney about “improper action and/or criminal activity” committed by Loughry. The alleged crime involved the city’s payment of health insurance premiums for Loughry’s family, the letter said.

Questions about Loughry’s health benefits also were raised in an April 2010 letter from Patrick Reavey, the city attorney at that time, to Basehor City Council members and Basehor Mayor Terry Hill. In that letter, obtained by the Sentinel through an open-records request to the city of Basehor, Reavey wrote that Hill and Loughry had improperly revised Loughry’s contract with a handwritten annotation allowing for the city to pick up the cost of health insurance for Loughry’s family, without city council approval.

Hill and Loughry said in interviews with the Sentinel the handwritten change to the contract was not a revision but a clarification. The council, they said, had intended to allow Loughry to receive the same benefits he had received from the city of Hays, his previous employer, and those included 100 percent payment of health insurance premiums for his family. The only reason the contract did not explicitly allow for those benefits, Hill and Loughry said, was because of an oversight by Reavey.

Loughry said he believed Mertz wanted him to be fired because of a desire for more control over the city government, and Mertz had used the health insurance issue as justification.

“For Council Member Mertz to bring that up now is a stretch,” Loughry said. “He is just looking and grasping at straws, in my opinion.”

But Mertz, who was a council member when Loughry was hired, said he had never agreed to allow Loughry to receive full medical coverage for his family. Former council member Jim Washington and current member Iris Dysart, both of whom were also on the council at that time, also said they had never agreed to provide those benefits.

Mertz said the health-insurance issue was just one of several factors that led him to seek Loughry’s removal (the Sentinel will address those issues in future stories in this series). Mertz viewed his decision as part of his fiduciary responsibility to taxpayers as a council member, he said.

“This is not a political move,” Mertz said. “This is a move to do right by the constituents.”

QUESTION OF INTENT

The seeds of the current dispute over Loughry’s health insurance date to before Loughry ever became Basehor’s city administrator.

In the summer of 2009, before Loughry signed his contract with Basehor in August, he asked Hill for the city to provide his family with full health coverage, Hill and Loughry both told the Sentinel.

Loughry said he did not want to take an effective pay cut in Basehor by receiving fewer benefits than he had in Hays.

“Is it going to send me to the poorhouse to pay my family’s insurance?” Loughry said. “No. The reason I asked for it is because that’s what I was receiving in Hays.”

A June 23, 2009, email from Loughry to Hill, included as evidence with Reavey’s 2010 letter to the city council, confirms that Loughry reported that the city of Hays had paid for 100 percent of his family’s health insurance, and that he requested that Basehor do the same if he were to become its city administrator.

But when it came to the council’s response, those involved told the Sentinel different stories.

Hill said he and some other council members were hesitant to pay for 100 percent of the premiums for Loughry’s family when other city employees must pay for half of their family’s coverage but made a final decision to allow it.

“The general consensus of council at an executive session was that it was OK to pay his benefits,” Hill said.

Mertz, Washington and Dysart all denied they had ever given consent for Loughry to receive those benefits, though.

Washington said he remembered Hill told him about Loughry’s request for the full family coverage, but he never agreed to provide it.

“My reply to Terry at that time was, ‘He should be treated as everybody else,’ ” Washington said.

Dysart said she could not recall hearing Loughry had requested the extra benefits, and Dysart said she never would have agreed to such a request.

“Why should he receive any more benefits than the other employees?” Dysart said.

Whatever the case may have been, the contract Loughry ultimately signed in August 2009 did not state the city would pay health insurance premiums for his family.

In Reavey’s 2010 letter, he wrote that Loughry had sent him a revised proposed contract on July 20, 2009. Reavey wrote that Loughry made no correction to the section regarding health insurance; Loughry told the Sentinel he did make a correction allowing for his family’s premiums to be paid, which Reavey failed to put in the final version of the contract.

Loughry said before he signed his contract, he asked Reavey if he had made his requested corrections, and Reavey said he had. Loughry said he noticed the contract did not spell out those additional benefits the day after he’d signed it, and he told Hill about it.

In an April 2010 email to the council responding to Reavey’s accusations — verified for the Sentinel by Loughry and a recipient — Loughry wrote that he did not tell Reavey about the issue because he did not want his first interaction with the city attorney to involve pointing out a mistake he had made.

Reavey, contacted by the Sentinel last week, declined to comment further on what he wrote in the letter. He said he hoped the council and Loughry would both move past this month’s incident.

“I never intended for the letter to be public record,” Reavey said, “but now that it is, I stand behind everything that’s in the letter.”

REVISION, OR CLARIFICATION?

Soon afterward, Loughry’s contract did state the city would pay for his family’s insurance, because of a handwritten addition.

In Loughry’s contract on file with the city, in a sentence stating “The City agrees to pay the premium to cover Employee” for medical insurance, a handwritten note interjects: “and employee’s family.” Next to that note, in the margin, are the initials “M.E.L.” and “T.H.”

After Loughry signed his contract, Loughry and the city clerk at that time, Mary Mogle, came to Hill and asked what to do about the benefits for his family, Hill said. He told Loughry that he would still receive those benefits, because that had been the council's intent, Hill said.

To assure Mogle that those benefits should be paid, Hill made the handwritten annotation in the contract, and Hill and Loughry initialed the addition, Hill said.

Reavey wrote in his 2010 letter that such a change should have been made by a vote of the council, authorizing Hill to revise the contract.

“The bottom line is no one has the authority to revise a contract entered into by the City without getting authority to do so from the City Council,” Reavey wrote.

Hill and Loughry characterized the change differently, though: They said it was not a revision but a “clarification,” signifying the intent of the council.

“I didn’t even know it was an issue, truthfully, until Patrick sent his letter out,” Loughry said.

Kim Winn, deputy director of the League of Kansas Municipalities, said a city government generally would need to revise a contract through the same means by which it adopted the contract. That is, if the contract were adopted by a council vote — as Loughry’s was —any revisions would require a council vote as well.

Winn said she couldn’t weigh in on whether the change in question might qualify as a revision or as a clarification, though.

Hill said he told the rest of the council he had made the handwritten change, and none of the members objected. Mertz, Dysart and Washington disputed that point, though.

Mertz said as far as he had known, Loughry had been paying for half of his family’s insurance.

“I was shocked,” Mertz said.

Soon after Reavey sent his letter, on April 21, 2010, the council discussed Reavey’s allegations in an executive session and took no formal action afterward.

Hill said the council had decided no further action was necessary. But Mertz said he told Hill during the executive session he wanted the council to formally adopt a revised contract or for Loughry to stop paying the additional benefits.

Washington said he could not comment on what exactly was said that day because it was in closed session, and Dysart said she could not recall what was said.

Mertz said the responsibility to bring the issue before the council to be corrected would fall on Loughry and Hill, who both help set the council’s agenda. Because that never happened, Mertz said, he again assumed Loughry had begun paying for half of his family’s insurance.

This summer, Mertz said, he learned that wasn’t true.

SUGGESTIONS OF CRIME

Mertz said he asked Hill about Loughry’s insurance again after, while looking over the city’s proposed 2012 budget, he discovered the city was still paying the additional benefits.

At that point, Hill said he asked Marcano, the current city attorney, about the insurance issue. Hill and Loughry both said Marcano determined that, even without the handwritten note, Loughry’s contract did not prevent him from receiving full health coverage for his family, even though it did not explicitly require it.

When Mertz said he still was uncomfortable with the contract, Hill said, Marcano wrote up a proposed contract addendum that included the additional benefits and also specified that Loughry would be subject to any cost-of-living adjustments made to city employees’ wages. The council last month approved a wage increase of 3 percent for non-police employees.

The proposed addendum appeared on last week’s consent agenda, meaning it was set to be approved without discussion. But Mertz made a motion to move it to the regular agenda, and the council voted to do so.

Near the end of the meeting, the council voted down the addendum. Minutes later, Loughry was fired, council member David Breuer stormed angrily from Basehor City Hall and the council adjourned.

But well before that meeting, Mertz had contacted the offices of the Kansas attorney general and the Leavenworth County attorney about a possible crime committed by Loughry, according to a Sept. 2, 2011, letter from Marcano’s law firm, White, Goss, Bowers, March, Schulte and Weisenfels of Kansas City, Mo.

(The letter defended Marcano against an ethics complaint made by Mertz after Marcano told Hill about Mertz’s accusations against Loughry. The letter stated, “It would have been unethical for Ms. Marcano not to have acted as she did.” Kansas Disciplinary Administrator Stanton Hazlett dismissed Mertz’s complaint, according to a letter from Hazlett also obtained by the Sentinel and verified as authentic by multiple recipients.)

Mertz said he could not confirm whether he had filed complaints with any law enforcement offices and said he could not comment on the matter, saying it was legally sensitive.

Loughry called Mertz’s suggestion of criminal behavior “irresponsible,” saying such accusations had no merit and were unfairly damaging to Loughry’s reputation.

“I think, especially as an elected official, a public official, you should be a little more careful of the things you accuse people of doing,” Loughry said.

Hill said he did not take Mertz’s claims seriously.

“I completely discounted it as just typical Dennis,” Hill said.

Loughry said neither Mertz nor anyone else had ever come to him with any concerns about the health benefits he was receiving. If anyone had, Loughry said he would have been willing to bring the issue up for a council vote. He also questioned why council members waited until now to dismiss him, when they had found out about the insurance issue more than a year earlier (with the exception of Box, who was not on the council at that time).

“It just seems sketchy to me that, a year and a half later, they’ve chosen to use this as a reason for their action,” Loughry said.

Mertz said the insurance issue was only one reason for his motion to fire Loughry, and he was tired of hiding the issue from public view in closed-door discussions.

“I have an obligation to the constituents of this city,” Mertz said. “If I find something, I need to follow it until it’s done.”

Attempts to reach Bill Moyer and Breuer, who also were on the Basehor City Council at the time of Loughry’s hiring and Reavey’s letter, for comment were unsuccessful.

Comments

bestforbasehor 2 years, 6 months ago

Corruption is insidious, a viral infection that turns cancerous if ignored over time -- and that's what has happened to the city of Basehor. Like corruption, investigations have a way of going viral. It's the only way it can be stopped.I have lived in the Basehor area for many years and I am not surprised to hear about the corruption. Just recently I read about the city giving the employee’s 14% retirement benefits. Wyandotte County only gets 7% and we also have to contribute. Why was Basehor the only City in the State to get double the retirement? Well I read that this was changed last month. For years developers, builders and just plain people with greed in mind have run the city. Finally we have a council who are correcting the wrongs. I am also not surprised that employees and people who don’t want this to stop have created anonymous user names here and are defending the corruption. I guess you don’t want people ruining a good thing like taking money from the citizens. Why are you trying to get our attention to move to the “10 day” contract restriction or the fact he was on vacation? Like a shell game, you are trying to get people to forget about the fact that the Mayor and Administrator violated and ignored the rules/law…. Who cares if corruption is uprooted during a vacation. Quit crying. I’m happy that it is over.

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listenupAmerica 2 years, 6 months ago

Is the UG on KPERS? Are most the city's in Kansas on KPERS? If I read right the employees of the City of Basehor are not part of KPERS (they have a 401A plan) and are only kept in line wtih the ever increasing amount of the KP&F retirement plan, see council agenda, August 1, 2011. Since effectively KPERS is a garunted retirement program and the Basehor employees (minus the PD) effectively play the stock market, the 14% seems somewhat of a push, since we all now the volatility of todays stock market. I think since employee benefits were taken away while others reaped the benefits, maybe it should all be looked at again...these employees are not garaunted any kind of retirement benefits other than social security, oh wait, that doesn't even seem garaunted anymore!!

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bestforbasehor 2 years, 6 months ago

By the way, Councilman Breuer showed his rage when he was on the school board. Nothing new for him to throw items at the meetings and walk out.... Someone told me he is related to the mayor through the marriage. also, Councilman Miles is the Mayors nephew. you are going to get. no wonder we have two members of the council who are against shedding the light on the illegal acts of the mayor.

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babetwo 2 years, 6 months ago

bestforbasehor: You are really starting to sound ridiculous! I can state factually that Breuer is in no way related to the mayor. Miles is a nephew who was elected by the people by a large majority. Maybe that is because he has lived in Basehor all of his life, attended Basehor schools all of his life and has chosen to raise his children in Basehor. Maybe he was elected because people know Miles and what he stands for and is honest as the day is long. Maybe he was elected because his mother, father, and siblings were all raised in Basehor and all respected. Maybe he was elected because people wanted someone they could trust and were tired of Mertz (who ran unopposed and) and Dysart (votes no on every issue) and now can't remember what she said or what anyone else said (convenient). Someone also told me that Councilman Mertz resides with the Basehor City Prosecutor? Conflict of Interest? You must be careful when you start slinging mud. Some might land where you don't want it to!!

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thetruthisoutthere 2 years, 6 months ago

bestforbasehor or should I say Dennis it is obvious that you are only telling half the truth here. If I read correctly in one accusation you claim that the Council only intended to provide Loughry with what he was receiving in Hays and then in the next breath you say you didn't support the health insurance that he was receiving in Hays. Your own attorney said the Council intended to provide him what he was receiving in Hays clear back in June or July of 2009 which was well before he even started. It also appears that the document from Reavey was given to the Council in April of 2010, I would hope if there was any real merit to these accusations then the Council at the time would have taken immediate action (Mertz, Dysart, Washington, Moyer, Breuer) and if they didn’t then there was no actual issue and it is like Hill and Loughry say it was always the intent of the Council to provide this. But evidently a year and a half later some of the Council are “misremembering” what actually happened. Oh and Dennis you now claiming to make a comment to the Mayor at the time that “you” wanted this brought back in front of the Council seems like something the entire Council would need to be a part of, or were you acting on your own again just like when “you” filed a bogus ethics complaint against the City Attorney, and when “you” claimed that there was criminal activity on Loughry’s part. One last thing I would say, accusations are not convictions and until someone is actually charged and convicted, which has not happened, then this “criminal activity” only exists in one man’s mind, Mertz. Dennis you have likely exposed the City and yourself to a massive lawsuit by trying to make yourself look important. You may have also caused harm to this man’s entire career based on what are so far false accusations. Way to go

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GoBobcats 2 years, 6 months ago

There is nothing in the news report indicating criminal activity on the part of the City Administrator. There is a process for properly removing someone from their job, office, etc. Do it correctly. Not like some mean spirited child who kicks someone in the behind when their back is turned.

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Ronald Grover 2 years, 6 months ago

I can't see the advantage of holding a media trial over Loughery and he said, she said arguments. I am sure there will be court issue for all of that or make a settlement and move on now.

The real issue is about procedural issues by the council, mayor and staff including city attorney's. Running a city big or small isn't a game for elected people. There are consequences to not following procedures and laws. (see KOMA)

In addition, I have been in the Basehor area since 1988. I have seen the effects of mis-management and special interests. Need look no further that the sewer plant and all of the decisions leading up to that boondoggle. After all, what city locates a sewer plant right smack in the heart of the city with a comphrehensive plan showing all of the surrounding area slated for residential development? I watched as the school district floundered with a board that catered to special constituancies. Why is it so hard to learn from our past.

There are models for successful cities to follow. None are perfect but look at Leawood, Shawnee, Overland Park. Why does the leadership of Basehor continually act as if they need to blaze a new trail each time and suffer all the same mistakes over and over.

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Dennis Mertz 2 years, 6 months ago

 I know that 'thetruthisoutthere' might be disappointed to know I was in a meeting this morning in Columbia, Mo from 7am until 10am and just returned to view this. In no way did I write or contribute to 'bestforbasehor' in what they wrote, nor do I know who it is.

 I am the only one here that is not hiding behind a username. I agree with 'rong' that a media trial is not the right way to handle it. This was a business decision in which I had one vote. It takes a majority vote to pass anything. I have to dis-agree about KOMA. I did not violate any meeting rules.

 It is unfortunate that we can not see everything the same way. I hope that we can move on and agree to dis-agree. This is not a soap opera. The internet has definitely contributed to how fast gossip and blame can be dished out.

 I am not making any further comments on this. Please stop all future slander of any names. I think everything that could be said, has been said.

 FYI,  I do not live with the prosecutor. I have lived at the same intersection for 14 years with only moving across the street 3 years ago. This has nothing to do with the prosecutor.
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jlrobins 2 years, 6 months ago

Wow.... This is starting to remind me of KCK politics! Or old style KCMO! Or the stuff from Johnson County Commission.

Trial by newspaper/internet is all too common nowadays. Only problem: reality and truth too often lose out to spin and appearances.

Let's do a rewind and look at this logically.

How do we deal with the original question(s)? Go back and follow contractual procedures, reviewing the issues with the City Admin and go from there. Trying to cite a state statute to justify an immediate firing when a contractually established procedure is in place does not sound like a good way to approach things. There were obviously other means to bring this up and this was NOT the best way to do it. [By the way, are the 3 Council members going to pay the legal costs that result from this out of their pockets or will the taxpayers pay it? Just curious.]

How do we deal with the Mertz's accusations of legal wrong-doing by Loughry and Hill, ethics charges against the City Attorney, etc.? Let the State AG and Leavenworth prosecuter file charges or not file any charges, as they feel the case may warrant. The ethics board doesn't seem to find the City Attorney to be out of line in this.

Slander and libel, innuendo and flat out lies are not getting anywhere on this. This is a small town and way too many people think they know way too much...

Most people don't really care about this 'stuff'. They just want things to get done like streets paved and cleared of snow, trash collected, and police protection provided. The Council needs to get on with governing in a rational and level headed manner, not with hidden motives and flashy tactics befitting the 'big time politicians' I mentioned at the start of this comment.

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listenupAmerica 2 years, 6 months ago

Nicely put, It will most likely end up costing the taxpayers in one form or fashion, but I agree most of us just want the basics provided and kept up. Enough of the circus, conduct business and provide us the services needed!!!

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justsayin 2 years, 6 months ago

My personal opinion is we have a snake in the grass that lies to save his own hide... Funny how they don't recall, or can't remember. No he doesn't live with the prosecutor but yes he is dating her and has been for sometime. She is a good lady like her very much but as for him not so sure but his motives seem of ill intent....

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listenupAmerica 2 years, 6 months ago

It's too bad that this many people do not turn out for the City Council meetings, maybe if they all did things would not end up the way they are. No one wants to make a change or have any input until the "Stuff" hits the fan. By then it's to late, everyone that has posted things about this, no matter how you view it or how you feel about it should begin attending council meetings then maybe you all can effect some sort of change, but posting things on a newspaper website, won't change the way decisions are made! Listen up America and make some changes at your local level then maybe you can begin to make changes on a larger scale!

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