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Rare ouster considered after Prairie Village councilman lets homeless friend stay at City Hall

  • The Kansas City Star
  • Published Thursday, Jan. 17, 2013, at 4:50 p.m.
  • Updated Thursday, Jan. 17, 2013, at 4:50 p.m.

To many, what a Prairie Village councilman did was simply jaw-dropping weird.

David Morrison gave a homeless friend his key to a part of Prairie Village City Hall so he would have a place to stay. The friend stayed three nights, made some long-distance calls and always left before morning — until Halloween morning, when he was spotted in the employee lounge, ran off and was found hiding in a locker room.

Even Morrison has said his actions were wrong and he is sorry. But he now also says in an interview that he was trying to save his friend’s life.

In fact, he says, he “actually adhered to the highest ethical standards.”

It was all too much for at least some of his colleagues, and Morrison could become the first Johnson County elected official ousted from office since at least 1991.

“I was appalled that someone would let a stranger stay in a city building,” said Mayor Ronald L. Shaffer, who signed the letter requesting the Johnson County district attorney consider removing Morrison from office.

Katie Logan, city attorney, said “shock” was her first reaction. Logan drew up the ethics violations against Morrison.

But Morrison has some defenders.

Charles Schollenberg, a Prairie Village resident who attends most council meetings, thinks it would be better for the council to censure Morrison and let the voters decide if he should be removed. Besides, Morrison already has lost his position as council president.

Even Sen. Joe McCarthy was only censured by the U.S. Senate in the 1950s after he ignited the red scare, Schollenberg said.

Still, Schollenberg said, Morrison showed extremely bad judgment to let a homeless man have his security code to stay at City Hall.

“It’s a very strange case, and virtually unprecedented in Prairie Village history, and really a shame,” Schollenberg said. “This one went beyond the pale.”

Johnson County District Attorney Steve Howe, who can’t remember an ouster proceeding in his 20 years in the county, is considering the city’s complaint. If he decides it should be pursued, a judge will probably make the final decision.

Mayor Shaffer would appoint a replacement if Morrison were ousted.

Morrison apologized to the council and the public at a hearing Nov. 19 and acknowledged he made a “huge mistake.”

But in a recent interview he explained why it happened: He thought his friend’s life was in extreme danger.

He said his friend gave him an audio tape in which he could hear members of a gang talking about who was going to kill his friend.

“Hearing that tape did make you think, yeah, they were going to kill him,” Morrison said.

Morrison said he and the man had been friends for about 20 years beginning when they worked together at McGuire Mortgage. They eventually got different jobs but over the years had tried to stay in touch. Morrison said his friend was an intelligent man with really good sales ability.

More than a year ago, his friend called him.

“He was just living on the streets, under one of the bridges,” Morrison said. “He was destitute and said he wanted to get straight.”

So Morrison put him in a hotel for a couple weeks, took him to Brooks Brothers and bought him some clothes for job interviews. His friend landed a good job and got a house to live in, he said.

“He was probably doing better than I was for a while,” Morrison said. “He was a success story.”

But several months later, when Morrison tried to call him, the phone was disconnected. He had left his job and lost his house.

Then on Saturday, Oct. 27, the friend called from a pay phone at a grocery store in Merriam.

“He told me he was homeless and that he needed a place to stay, and there was a hit on him,” Morrison said.

The friend was back into drugs and had been actually dealing them, he told Morrison. Morrison said his friend couldn’t stay at his house. Morrison lives there with his father and mother, who is ill.

“Besides you don’t know what you are bringing in,” Morrison said. “(He) had tape recorded evidence that there was a price on his head.”

Morrison thought his friend had evidence that could affect several drug cases and would need to be in protective custody once he talked to authorities.

So Morrison called the Prairie Village police to see if his friend could talk to the chief but the chief wasn’t available until Monday. A police dispatcher told him to call City Union Mission, Morrison said.

But his friend said that was a bad idea because he had been dealing drugs near there and gang members might find and try to kill him.

Morrison called a pastor at Village Presbyterian Church and asked for help. The pastor said the friend shouldn’t go to a motel because he would be unsupervised and people could come and go, possibly causing problems, Morrison said.

So finally Morrison took him to City Hall, entering through the police department and explaining to dispatchers that he and his friend were attending a homes association meeting. He gave his friend his own security code that provided access to the employees’ lounge, locker rooms and restrooms.

“I was at an impasse,” Morrison said.

On Sunday afternoon, Morrison took his friend to Sweet Tomatoes restaurant.

“The food is healthy,” Morrison said. “He had to have an atrocious diet.”

They also talked about a game plan, what they needed to do to make sure his friend stayed safe and to get his information about criminal wrongdoing into the hands of authorities.

Morrison also took him to the church pantry.

Roxie Byrne, who works in the church’s mission department, said she met with the homeless man. She said the church could have helped him with money for rent, utilities and grocery store vouchers.

“But he never followed up,” she said. “It’s a sad situation all the way around.”

Morrison’s friend never did get to meet with the police chief — he first wanted to talk to an attorney and have one present when he spoke to law enforcement.

But on Halloween morning, city staff spotted him in the lounge — Morrison said he had not given him permission to come back — and he was taken into custody by police.

On Nov. 19, the council led by the mayor held a closed meeting to vote on whether Morrison had violated the city’s ethics code.

Morrison was excluded from the meeting, but he said colleagues later told him there was a lengthy discussion about his politics and then a straw poll found that he would lose 7 to 5. It was agreed that the vote in public would be 12 to 1 to show the city that the council was unified, Morrison said and one other council member confirmed.

Morrison thinks the vote was political. He is considered the swing vote in the controversial redevelopment of the Mission Valley Middle School that was sold to a developer by the Shawnee Mission School District. He also takes credit for successfully leading a plan to block development at Meadowbrook Country Club.

Mayor Shaffer said the vote against Morrison wasn’t political. The incident stands for itself, he said: “I think it was a lack of proper judgment.”

But some are surprised to see Morrison in this situation because of his altruistic nature and his work with nonprofit organizations.

“If your life work when you go to heaven is expressed as a painting, Dave’s artwork in heaven will be that of Picasso, Rembrandt or Renoir,” said Grady Price, his friend and attorney. “It will be the work of a master because that is the type of good he has done.”

As for the smooth-talking homeless man at the center of the storm, no one has seen him for several weeks.

“I hope he’s safe,” Morrison said.

To reach Karen Dillon, call 816-234-4430 or send email to kdillon@kcstar.com.

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