They didn't break the law, but that didn't make it right.
That's the conclusion of a 53-page report Shawnee County District Attorney Robert Hecht released Friday. It details his investigation into whether Topeka City Council members violated the open meetings act with discussions that ultimately led to approval of a second police helicopter.
At issue were phone calls and e-mails Deputy Mayor Brett Blackburn made to other council members, getting their support for a communication from City Manager Norton Bonaparte. The council approved that communication, authorizing Bonaparte to enter into a lease for the chopper, at its December 4th meeting.
While not illegal, Hecht says he is very concerned by what transpired.
"There is no doubt that the circumstances giving rise to this inquiry resulted from an effort by certain members of the city council to short cut the usual procedures and evade the checks and balances established by the city's system of government," Hecht wrote in the report.
Mayor Bill Bunten asked Hecht to also investigate whether the communication can be vetoed. Blackburn says it can't. Hecht told 13 News he hopes to complete that research Friday. In an interview Thursday, he would only say it's raised number of issues. He says he will advise Bunten what action might be taken or what impact it might have on the actions of the city council.
Blackburn says he's pleased the DA's findings confirm that he and other council members followed the law. He says his actions were taken with the advice of the city attorney. As for Hecht's comments, questioning the council's motives, Blackburn says, "This is a political season."
Complete statement from Brett Blackburn on KOMA inquiry:
The result of the inquiry into a KOMA violation by District Attorney Bob Hecht was as I expected. As the city attorney has advised the council in the past, there is no violation of KOMA by simply asking for co-sponsorship of an item. Council members are represented by the City Attorneys as their legal council and they rely on them to tell them how to act within the law.
Brenden long told us there was no violation and District Attorney Robert Hecht has concurred.
I am disappointed that so many people have had their time wasted and taxpayer money was wasted in this inquiry. However; I do not believe there is any thing wrong with the District Attorney investigating any matter in which he feels there may be a violation. That is what he did.
I have known Bob Hecht for a number of years and was a little disappointed by a couple of comments he made in the report, however, I realize that this is a political season and that is politics.
To sum it up, the Council did not violate KOMA, as I believed, the City Attorney believed, and my personal council believed. That was confirmed by the District Attorney today. The processes worked as it should.
I believe this should put this matter to rest.