Sedgwick County Commissioner Tim Norton has shown a pattern of walking out of meetings during some discussions, especially while colleague Richard Ranzau has been speaking, Ranzau and Commissioner Karl Peterjohn say.
Norton left Wednesdays commission meeting near the end, during a time called other during which commissioners discuss upcoming events, concerns from constituents and matters that dont fit into the regular agenda.
He said he didnt know that Peterjohn had written a resolution denouncing the Affordable Care Act, also called Obamacare, and that commissioners would be voting that day on the resolution, which asked that Sedgwick County cease and desist in participating with county personnel, funds or grants in any form of Obamacare.
We were done with the agenda. I had some phone calls to make, Norton said Thursday.
He said he thought somebody else needs to make that determination that theres a pattern of him leaving meetings and noted that he returned in time to vote on the resolution.
Commissioners on Tuesday had discussed a $2,400 grant from a nonprofit to help the county cover the costs of employee time for training to be navigators of the new health care law and assist people who need help signing up. The board also had discussed the grant last week. Peterjohn on Tuesday said he planned to raise the issue again.
Ranzau, a Republican, said he isnt buying that Norton, a Democrat, didnt realize commissioners would be discussing the grant again.
They knew we were going to talk about this and try to resolve this, Ranzau said Thursday. I think we made that very clear.
Jim Skelton, the chairman of the board, said during the Wednesday meeting that he had received a copy of the proposed resolution earlier that morning. Commissioner Dave Unruh said during the meeting that he had not yet seen a copy of the resolution. Peterjohn passed out copies and apologized that he had not gotten them to everyone earlier.
Before Norton returned to the meeting, Ranzau turned to Skelton and asked, Are we going to wait until Commissioner Norton returns, or are we going to allow him to dodge this vote as well?
Skelton noted that he had a motion and a second and that it was my job as chairman to call for the vote.
So youre going to allow him to dodge this vote as well? Ranzau asked again.
Im not allowing him to do anything, Skelton said. Im not his boss.
Youre the chairman. After all, yesterday you said youre in charge, Ranzau retorted, alluding to Skelton calling for order when Peterjohn and Unruh were discussing the navigator grant.
Not missing anything
Norton emphasized Thursday that he did vote. He, Skelton and Unruh voted against Peterjohns resolution, which failed.
I didnt get the sense I was missing anything at all when I left, Norton said. When I realized we were going to vote, I went back in there and voted.
Norton has left meetings at least four times this year.
He did not vote Sept. 11 on two resolutions, one against Obamacare and one urging the federal government to balance its budget.
Norton said Thursday he didnt remember that meeting but said commissioners had rigorously debated the Affordable Care Act.
Everybody who knows me knows how I feel about the underserved, the vulnerable and the elderly, Norton said. I dont know that I need to explain my stance on that.
Norton also left a meeting while Ranzau was speaking on Oct. 16.
On April 2, Norton left a staff meeting while Ranzau was talking about a sustainable communities grant.
You guys can have this conversation, he said as he left the meeting temporarily. He returned later when commissioners discussed the role of the countys board of health.
A matter of protocol
Ken Ciboski, associate professor of political science, said he thinks elected officials should listen to one another.
Its a matter of protocol. They dont have to like one another or one anothers views. Protocol would be Ill listen to you. I may not agree with you. But Ill listen to you. Personally, I think it is kind of bad form, and it kind of leaves a bad taste.
Skelton said Wednesday he wished Norton would remain at meetings but said today, I cant blame him, for example.
Discussing things over and over wears on people. It wears on Tim, Skelton said.
If Norton repeatedly missed votes, Skelton said, I would be concerned. I respect Tim, and hes aware of what his own actions are. Theres consequences to that.
Unruh said he would not second-guess Norton.
Ive made it my pattern or my purpose to be available at meetings, whether its staff meetings or commissioner meetings. Thats what I campaigned to do. I wouldnt criticize another commissioner for whatever his pattern is. In this particular instance, I thought Tim had a call he had to take, Unruh said.
Peterjohn said he believes there has been a pattern of Norton leaving meetings.
There is a pattern, but Im glad he came back for the vote, Peterjohn said. We all have tough votes, and there are some issues we are more comfortable discussing than others. But its part of the job, and were expected to be there. Its in the rules that were supposed to be there, too.
Ranzau said he doesnt get worked up about Norton leaving meetings but added, Im not afraid of debate or opposing opinions. I think part of our job is to listen to those. Its not something I would do, but hes got to make that decision for himself.