City wins social services civil suit

By Corene Brisendine

Judge John Bosch ruled in favor of the City of Manhattan on Tuesday in the civil suit filed by the advocacy group Save our Social Services.

Bill Frost, the attorney representing the city, said the judge did more than dismiss the suit. He said Bosch agreed with the advice given to city commissioners by the city by former City Attorney Kate Jackson.

The suit arose after the advocacy group circulated a petition last fall to force city commissioners to change the way city money was budgeted for social service agencies. The petition gathered enough signatures to either force the city to approve or put up for a vote a proposed ordinance that would have set aside two percent of the city’s general fund budget for social services. But Jackson advised commissioners they could disregard the proposal because it was an administrative change, and thus not under the direct control of the commission. She said administrative policy was set by the city manager.

When commissioners refused to either approve the ordinance or put it on the ballot, the advocacy group sued the city.

If Save Our Social Service members elect to appeal the decision, it would usually be forwarded to the Kansas Court of Appeals. The group has 30 days after the judge signs an official document stating the decision to file an appeal.

Jeff Gauthier, member of the group and one of the plaintiffs listed on the suit, said he was disappointed in the decision, but added the group had not decided whether to file an appeal.

He said that even though the group lost the suit, they have not given up hope of changing how social services are funded by the city. He said a specific dollar amount was not a viable way to fund social services in a growing community such as Manhattan. He said that by setting aside a percentage of the budget, social service funding would grow as the community and, by default, the city’s budget, grew.

Gauthier said he was encouraged by the “new face of the commission” and hoped they would be more willing to make changes necessary to ensure the citizens of Manhattan were getting the services they needed.

“We think there are those who need help,” Gauthier said. “And we believe it is the government’s responsibility to help those in need. It is a basic red and blue disagreement.”

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