Date set in social services lawsuit

By The Mercury

A hearing is set for May 15 in the civil lawsuit against the Manhattan city government brought by supporters of a 2012 initiative to fund social services agencies.

The lawsuit came about after the City Commission last year decided to reduce funding to certain local social services agencies.

In response, the group, which called itself SOS for “Save Our Social Services,” tried to make the commission change course. It wrote a proposed ordinance that would require the city to allocate 2 percent of the city’s general fund to social service agencies and establish a social services advisory board.

When commissioners did not adopt that proposal, SOS members collected the 1,500 resident signatures required to force the commission to put it to a referendum. The petition was validated by the county clerk’s office.

But at a commission meeting June 5, Katie Jackson, then the city attorney, told commissioners the measure was classified as an “administrative ordinance” and therefore could not be adopted through the petition/referendum process. Jackson’s office advised the commission to take no further action.

The lawsuit, Jeff Gauthier, et al. v. City of Manhattan, was served July 25. It alleges that the city’s decision violates state law, citing K.S.A. 12-3013, and asks the court to require the city commission to adopt the ordinance or send it to a vote of the electorate.

In addition, the plaintiffs seek payment for legal fees and other damages.

The lawsuit calls the actions by the city “illegal and unreasonable.”

In an Aug. 8 response, Jackson said the statute the claim refers to provides electors with “limited — not absolute — ability to petition for the enactment of an ordinance.” The response also called the proposed ordinance “vague and ambiguous” and said the plaintiffs “do not have standing to bring this action.”

Attorneys Ronald Schneider and Curtis Barnhill represent the plaintiffs.

Both parties are currently making written discovery requests for the case.

In addition to the hearing, an initial trial date has been set for June 18.

The other plaintiffs named in the document are Nancy Goulden, Karen Hummel, Thomas Kerrigan, Debbie Nuss, Lawrence Pollack, Tyler Stubenhofer, Rebecca McIntice-Goff, Emily Fontenot, Brooke Larson, Brian Hardeman, Judine Mecseri, Michael Mecseri, Barbara Crooks, Abigail Conrad, Diane Meredith, David Sauter, Jeremy Corn, Dean Zollman, Jacqueline Spears, Carolee Stark, Maurice Stark, Jerome Dees, Anthony Crawford and Jayme Morris-Hardeman.

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