Calaway unchanged after being told by Star that he broke the open meetings law

For the first time in JCCC President Terry Calaway’s career in Johnson County, county taxpayers are beginning to ask if there is any noticeable difference in the level of trustworthiness of the new president and the old president.

At AllThingsJoco, Tracy Thomas calls Terry Calaway “The New Chuck,” in reference to former JCCC President Charles Carlsen.  Calaway’s behavior during the last two weeks can only be described as odd, and it is quickly damaging his reputation and that of Board Chair Shirley Brown-VanArsdale of Gardner.

Two weeks ago, most people understood the open meetings issue at JCCC as an honest disagreement between Calaway and Trustee Benjamin Hodge, with regard to whether or not a general list of possible budget cuts should have been shared during a closed meeting or an open meeting of the JCCC Board of Trustees.  It should be noted that Calaway is the only person in the entire 500,000-citizen county who publicly maintains that, according to an appropriate interpretation of the Kansas Open Meetings Act (KOMA), the document should have been distributed during a closed meeting.  Everybody else — including The Kansas City Star – sides with Trustee Hodge and the idea that “when in doubt, err on the side of an open meeting.”

The issue would have quickly gone away had Calaway been willing to drop the issue.  But for unknown reasons, Calaway could not let the issue pass.  In an Email to the entire campus employee list, he inappropriately (and inaccurately) insulted a Star reporter and inexplicably reminded everyone that he really does not care all that much for a strict interpretation of KOMA.  Calaway effectively challenged the local media over the issue of open government, almost asking them to get involved in the debate.  And that’s what they did.  The Star even faxed a letter over to the college, scolding Calaway for not following the law.

In public and in private, President Calaway is not sticking to a consistent message about recent events.  About a week ago, at a town hall meeting with JCCC employees, Calaway clearly sent the message that he and Hodge had a fair disagreement — and that’s all.  But just days later, in an interview with the student newspaper, he stated that Hodge had orchestrated all of this for political reasons, even though Hodge and The Star had made it clear that this is entirely untrue — The Star first requested budget information, and Hodge provided it after agreeing with a Star reporter that the information was completely non-sensitive and thus should not have been handed out during executive session.  Calaway’s allegation assumes, of course, that Hodge achieved the near-impossible:  a conservative politician deceiving The Star into ignoring the truth and instead running with the politician’s talking points.  The Star knows the order of events:  a Star reporter asked for information and Hodge provided it.  Simple.

On one day, Calaway says it’s no big deal, and on another day, it’s a big enough situation that he effectively challenges whether a trustee is telling the truth.  Why the inconsistency?

Calaway’s interview with the student newspaper is now the second time that he actively reminds the public that he is not the least bit concerned about properly following KOMA.  Clearly, Calaway was not impressed with The Star’s letter instructing him to follow open meetings laws.

It’s also now known that Calaway did not share The Star’s KOMA-related letter with the board chair until a day later, and he waited days to share it with the entire board.  The Star’s letter was hardly of small significance — what was Calaway thinking when waiting that long to share it?  Now, for the second time, Calaway has shown a reluctance to share important information with college employees and taxpayers; and for the second time, college employees are getting information from outside sources, after Calaway unnecessarily refused to provide it in an open fashion.

Calaway is misleading the public with regard to why he provided the budget information during the closed session.  Calaway states that it related to his performance that was being discussed in a closed meeting.  Now, it must be said that everyone else who has seen the budget information (including The Star and Hodge) maintain that the information had no direct relevance to Calaway’s performance evaluation — but let’s momentarily put that point aside.

Calaway states that Hodge asked for the list of possible budget cuts a day before in writing, within Calaway’s evaluation.  But that’s not true.  Hodge made no such request.  Calaway will occasionally change his story to this:  Hodge requested the information verbally, weeks before at the previous JCCC Board meeting.  Nobody knows which Calaway believes to be the case:  was it in writing or was it said verbally; was it a day before, or was it weeks before?

Another misleading point is this:  Calaway has given the indication that Hodge asked for the information during the closed meeting, and that only then did Calaway provide the information.  That’s completely untrue, as well.  What Calaway refuses to acknowledge publicly is that he had the list of budget reductions prepared before the closed meeting began – Calaway was going to hand the information out, regardless of what anyone said during the closed meeting.

Lastly, and most importantly, Calaway refuses to acknowledge that, regardless of almost anything the president continues to say about the who and what and when — Calaway’s list was entirely non-sensitive and, in the future, the public wants him to hand that kind of information out during an open session.  By openly and repeatedly admitting to being unconcerned about KOMA, Calaway’s continue attitude in front of the public can only be described as inconsiderate to the taxpayers of Johnson County.

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