Water boil advisory issued for City of Caney

The Kansas Department of Health and Environment (KDHE) has issued a boil water advisory for water customers of the City of Caney. KDHE officials issued the advisory because of a loss of pressure. Failure to maintain adequate pressure may result in a loss of chlorine residuals and bacterial contamination.

The advisory took effect at 8 p.m., tonight (Thursday, July 2) and will remain in effect until pressure is restored and all other conditions which place the system at risk of contamination are deemed by KDHE officials to be adequately resolved.

• Customers should observe the following precautions until further notice:

• Boil water for one minute prior to drinking or food preparation, or use bottled water.

• Dispose of ice cubes and do not use ice from a household automatic icemaker.

• Disinfect dishes and other food contact surfaces by immersion for at least one minute in clean tap water that contains one teaspoon of unscented household bleach per gallon of water.

• Water used for bathing does not generally need to be boiled. Supervision of children is necessary while bathing so that water is not ingested. Persons with cuts or severe rashes may wish to consult their physicians.

• If your tap water appears dirty, flush the water lines by letting the water run until it clears.

Public water suppliers in Kansas take all measures necessary to notify customers quickly after a system failure. Regardless of whether it’s the supplier or KDHE that announces a boil water advisory, KDHE will issue the rescind order following testing at a certified laboratory.

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City of Independence to provide negotiation power in Mercy/CRMC merger talks

INDEPENDENCE — The City of Independence now has a stake in the merger negotiations between Mercy Hospital and Coffeyville Regional Medical Center.

The two Montgomery County-based hospitals have been negotiating an alliance or merger for several months. However, hospitals officials have indicated those negotiations have slowed lately as the two sides determine how to eliminate a financial gap that keeps the two hospitals from agreeing to a merger.

Details of the negotiations remain confidential due to a confidentiality clause signed by both hospitals.

However, city commissioners on Wednesday night voted unanimously to issue a letter of understanding that would allow the City of Independence to issue $3 million in bonds — either through industrial revenue bonds (knowns as IRBs) or general obligation bonds (known as GOBs) — to “retain health-care services in Independence.”

The commission met with city manager Micky Webb, assistant city manager Kelly Passauer and attorney Tim Emert (filling in for city attorney Jeff Chubb) in an executive session for 45 minutes. Also included the executive session was Jim Kelly of Independence, who serves as chairman of the Mercy Hospital board of directors. After the executive session, which is closed to the press and public, commissioners agreed to sign the letter of understanding that would permit the City of Independence to use the $3 million in bonds as negotiation leverage on behalf of Mercy Hospital.

“This merely allows us to have skin in the game,” said commissioner Fred Meier after the meeting regarding the letter of intent. “Before tonight, we didn’t have any negotiation power. This is merely the first step in the process.”

At a community meeting in May, interim Mercy chief executive officer Kim Day said failure to reach a merger agreement with CRMC would cause Mercy Hospital to close its doors in Independence.

“There is no plan B,” he said at that meeting.

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Caney mayor walks out of council meeting; status of resignation unknown

By Rudy Taylor
rudy@taylornews.org

CANEY — Caney Mayor Carol McClure walked out of the city council meeting Monday night after taking part in a 15-minute executive session that apparently sparked heated emotions.

McClure gave no explanation for her exit, although council members confirmed that she told them she was resigning.

Later in the meeting, council member Dan Vernon, while speaking about another matter, referred to McClure as “the former mayor.”

Since she did not present a formal resignation, the remainder of the meeting was led by councilor Chad Bradford in his role as president of the council.

After the meeting, Bradford said he was not sure where the matter stood. “All I know is she was upset and she left the building,” said Bradford.

The issue that led up to the executive session was another resignation — that of Police Chief Jimmy Rogers.

At the end of his regular report at the meeting, Rogers said he was tendering his 30-day notice of resignation. “I can’t work under these circumstances,” said Rogers, and he referred to a personnel issue that involved his assistant chief, Ron Wade, who said he, too, was on the verge of leaving.

What triggered all the emotions was a letter sent to Wade from Mayor McClure requiring him to see a doctor and get a “fitness for duty evaluation.”

Wade said he was surprised to get it, and wanted to know if the council was aware of it.

There were no comments from any council members, but Mayor McClure acknowledged that, indeed, she sent the letter.

“It asks him to take a medical evaluation, not a psychological evaluation,” she said. “If he does that, he can continue working.”

McClure said the letter came after actions and comments allegedly made by Wade in a recent executive session meeting of the council.

Wade responded, “I need to know if the council wants me to come to work tomorrow. I will not sign the letter because it says things that are not true.”

Rogers commented, “I think you (the city council) may be walking into a civil rights violation here.”

The council then went into executive session to discuss non-elected personnel, with all council members, the mayor, the city clerk, police chief and assistant police in attendance.

Before that session could end, McClure emerged by herself, visibly shaken, took all her papers and purse, and headed out the door.

When the council members came back in, Bradford sat at the head of the table and the council voted to go back into executive session for 15 minutes to discuss non-elected personnel.

When they returned, a motion was made confirming that Assistant Police Ron Wade should continue working in his job.

After that, Bradford presided over routine reports and issues, never mentioning the status of the mayor’s position.

Finally, as Bradford prepared to adjourn the meeting, a member the audience asked for an explanation of what had transpired.

“I’m just doing the work of the president of the council,” said Bradford.

He later told the Montgomery County Chronicle that he still was not sure whether Carol McClure was coming back as mayor.

Also after the meeting, Chief Rogers told the Montgomery County Chronicle that he would give it “another couple of weeks to see if things can get worked out.”

Bradford also commented that he hoped both Rogers and Wade would stay on.

“We have a really good police department right now,” he said.

Under usual protocol, when a mayor or council member resigns, it is done in writing to the council which then acts to accept or reject it.

While talking informally with others after the meeting, Wade said he received a text from the mayor’s son, Clint McClure, saying he was quitting his job as a Caney Police Officer and EMT.

Carol McClure, who was re-elected to a two-year term in April, still has not made a public comment about the meeting or whether she was resigning as mayor.

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Bonds set against trio involved in chase, police shootings, manhunt

BY ANDY TAYLOR
Montgomery County Chronicle

INDEPENDENCE — Three people involved in high-speed chase in Oklahoma that included the wounding of an Oologah, Okla., police officer and a shootout with a Montgomery County Sheriff’s Department deputy on May 28-29 appeared in Montgomery County District Court on Monday.

Alejandro Garcia, Cesar Rios and Roxanne Mendoza are alleged to have instigated a high-speed chase in Oklahoma that evolved into a shooting of a police officer from Oologah, Okla., on May 28. Rios and Mendoza were arrested after bailing from their vehicle when their car was disabled with tire spikes south of Coffeyville.

Garcia fled the scene and is alleged to have carjacked a vehicle. He ultimately took that vehicle — and the driver who owned it — to Liberty where the vehicle stopped at the driveway of a private residence north of the All Saints Cemetery. After exiting that carjacked vehicle, Garcia got into a shootout with Michael Grimes, a member of the Montgomery County Sheriff’s Department. Grimes was not injured in the shooting; however, the individual who owner of the carjacked vehicle, David Henderson, sustained a bullet wound to the neck. He was taken by ambulance to a local hospital for medical treatment.

Garcia then broke into a private residence, where he was ultimately discovered hiding in a closet on the morning of May 29. The search for Garcia included dozens of law enforcement officers from multiple counties, cities and two states.

Appearing separately in front of Judge Jeff Gossard on Monday, Mendoza and and Rios were each charged with the same crimes:

• interference with law enforcement, felony obstruction of resisting arrest; and

• criminal possession of a weapon by a felon.

Greg Benefiel, a prosecuting attorney with the Montgomery County Attorney’s Office, recommended that bond against Mendoza be set at $500,000. Bond for Rios was set at $1 million based on a previous drug charge in Jackson County, Mo., and on the belief that Rios fired the weapon that injured the Oologah police officer in Oklahoma.

Rios shook his head when he heard Benefiel reveal the allegation that Rios fired the shot against the Oologah police officer.

According to court records, Rios was arrested in February 2013 in Kansas City, Mo., on two counts: possession of a controlled substance and unlawful use of drug paraphernalia.

Benefiel also said the State of Oklahoma intends to file charges against Rios and Mendoza, both of whom are from Kansas City, Mo., based on the police chase and officer shooting in Oklahoma.

Garcia, whose hometown is unknown, faces four counts, including:

• interference with law enforcement, felony obstruction of resisting arrest; and
• burglary,

• criminal damage to property, and

• attempted capital murder against a law enforcement officer.

Garcia indicated he could speak very little English, a fact that was verified by Benefiel, who spoke at the hearing on behalf of the Kansas Attorney General’s Office. Gossard said a language interpreter will be provided for Garcia in all future hearings.

Because of the severity of the crimes against Garcia, the Kansas Attorney General’s Office will be the lead prosecutor in the case against Garcia but not Rios and Mendoza. Garcia’s bond was set at $2 million. Gossard told Garcia that the “very serious charges” against him were the reason for the $2 million bond. He also told Garcia that other charges were pending in Oklahoma.

Monday’s hearings against the three individuals were brief and lasted only a matter of minutes. All three were return to Montgomery County District Court with their court-appointed attorneys on Thursday, June 25 for the first formal appearances.

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Manhunt continues for Hispanic male; perimeter set up near Liberty

UPDATE TO MANHUNT NEAR LIBERTY (7 a.m., FRIDAY)

The manhunt continues this morning for the Hispanic male is believed to be involved in the shooting of an Oologah, Okla., police officer and an innocent motorist near Coffeyville whose vehicle was carjacked.

Sheriff Bobby Dierks said the manhunt is centered in the Liberty area. Law enforcement officials are looking for Alejandro Garcia, age 30, who was last seen wearing a white polo shirt, blue jeans, tennis shoes and gold chains. Garcia abandoned the vehicle he carjacked near the All Saints Cemetery east of Liberty on U.S. 169 highway Thursday evening. A perimeter has been set up around they area where they believe the suspect is hiding.

Dierks said Garcia is believed to be armed and extremely dangerous. People should not approach him if located. Call 911 immediately if the suspect is located.

Two people involved in the Oologah shooting have been taken into custody. They are Cesar Rios, age 23, and Roxanne Mendoza, age 20.

Stay tuned to the Montgomery County Chronicle’s Facebook page for more details.

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Constitutional crisis looms between judicial and legislative branches

BY ANDY TAYLOR
chronicle@taylornews.org

The State of Kansas appears headed to a constitutional crisis within its state government due to a set of events on Friday that now pits the judicial branch against the legislative branch.

On Friday morning, the Kansas House of Representatives scraped enough votes (64-57) to pass a controversial, two-year, public education funding bill that would be a wholesale change from the way public schools have been financed since 1993. Instead of funding schools based on enrollments (with additional dollars given to external forces, such as poverty, minority enrollment, at-risk enrollment, transportation, and construction of new buildings), the bill would provide funding to local schools on a block grant basis.

Members of the Republican-dominated Kansas House of Representatives contended that local schools would still receive the same amount of money for the 2015-16 school year as they did in the 2014-15 school year. Additional language was inserted in the bill to give local schools more flexibility in how they spend money for specific items.

State Rep. Jim Kelly, R-Independence, voted against the measure while and State Rep. Richard Proehl, R-Parsons, cast a vote in favor of the block grant bill. State Rep. Virgil Peck, R-Tyro, was unable to cast a vote as he as in Coffeyville to welcome Gov. Sam Brownback for an announcement of an industrial announcement in Coffeyville.

The Kansas Association of School Boards and most school districts in Kansas opposed the bill.

That bill is now headed to the Kansas Senate, where it is assured majority support. Gov. Sam Brownback has indicated he will sign the bill into law quickly.

Hours after the vote was taken, a three-judge panel dealing with an ongoing lawsuit about the Kansas public education finance system issued a ruling saying it could block any new school finance plan from taking effect while the lawsuit is in litigation.

The order from the three-judge panel considering the lawsuit set a May 7 hearing in the case and stated: “Further, be advised that upon motion of the Plaintiffs or the State or upon the Court’s own motion, with or without notice, the Court may agree or elect to impose such temporary orders to protect the status quo and to assure the availability of relief, if any, that might be accorded should the Court deem relief warranted.”

Immediately after the three-judge panel issued its order, Kansas Attorney General Derek Schmidt expressed grave reservations about the panel’s ruling and decree. He said numerous constitutional issues now arise with the panel threatening to apply the brakes on the Kansas Legislature’s block grant funding bill.

Said Schmidt in a press release, “Today’s order from the panel was unexpected and unusual to say the least. After the instructions from the Supreme Court last March and the legislature’s prompt response, we had thought and hoped this dispute was headed for a swift and final resolution. But today’s order from the panel introduces further delays and injects a host of additional constitutional and legal issues. The path to resolution is now less clear than ever before. We are studying the order carefully to determine the appropriate next steps.”

More details to appear in the March 19th issue of the Montgomery County Chronicle.

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Gas nozzle in vehicle prompts deputy to seek search; 2 arrested

Two Independence residents await drug and weapons charges after a traffic stop by a sheriff’s deputy on March 5 resulted in a significant drug and weapon seizure.

Sheriff Robert Dierks said a deputy who was monitoring traffic near 10th and Main streets in Independence on March 5 observed a vehicle pull into the Jump Start convenience store. The deputy observed the driver pump gas and drive away with the gas nozzle still inserted into the vehicle. Dierks said the deputy initiated a traffic stop and made contact a male driver and female passenger.

During the traffic stop, the deputy summoned the sheriff’s department canine based on what the deputy observed. The canine made a positive indication that drugs were present in the vehicle, which resulted in the search of the vehicle. Found in the vehicle were $7,000 in currency, about one-half pound of methamphetamine, and a loaded handgun.

Taken into custody at the scene were Kyle Cole Harris, age 39, and Sonya C. Harris, age 29, both of Independence. They were booked into the Montgomery County Jail.

Dierks recommended the following charges be filed against the two individuals: possession of methamphetamine with intent to distribute, felony possession of drug paraphernalia, and weapons violations.

“This was a great example of good, solid police work, and these arrest represent a significant seizure,” said Dierks. “My deputies were able to take thousands of dollars worth of illegal narcotics and a weapon off our streets, and I couldn’t be happier.”

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Caney mayoral primary election to be March 3

Caney voters will go to the polls next Tuesday, March 3 for a primary election that will narrow the numberer of candidates running for city mayor.

Polls open at 7 a.m. and close at 7 p.m. All voting will take place at the Cornerstone Church, 900 S. Ridgeway.

There are four candidates running for mayor, and Tuesday’s primary election will narrow that list to the top two vote recipients. Those two candidates will then face each other in the April 7 general election.

All other positions for the Caney City Council will be decided in the April 7 general election.

Candidates for mayor include incumbent Carol McClure, 100 S. Vine, and challengers Russell Wade, 100 N. East; Rick Pell, 215 E. 6th; and Kenith A. Butts, 412 N. State.

The Montgomery County Chronicle asked each of the four candidates why those decided to run for mayor and what they would hope to accomplish during their two-year term. Their responses are below.

Rick Pell

Q. Why did you decide to run for the position of Caney mayor?

A. There are several reasons why I have decided to run for mayor.

1. What happened to the Federal Water Emergency Water Supply Grant?

This is a grant to tie-in with Chautauqua County water line, should we run out of water.

This grant was also going to pay for the water meter at the city lake that we were told that we needed to install. This meter was going to cost the city taxpayers $50,000 until we were able to get it included in the grant.

2. Control spending: It looks as if we have an open checkbook as I found out the last meeting I went to when one of the council members stated that at every meeting all they do is spend money.

When we want to buy, we need to ask is this something that we need or just want.

The mayor and council members are there to watch over our money and I believe there needs to be some improvement on how our money is spent.

3. Zoning board. What happened to our zoning board? I know someone that put in for a permit and paid the $50 to put up a carport last July and as of now she still has not had her meeting with the zoning board.

I talked to one of the board members and he told me that he has never been contacted. Why is it taking so long?

Q. What do you want to accomplish if elected?

A. 1. Consistency in providing city services such as water plant, street repairs, trash and waste water plant.

2. Hire and retain certified personnel.

3. Better understanding the citizens’ concerns.

This is just a few things that I would like to see get done. There is much more that needs to be addressed and with your help we can make it happen.

Russell Wade

Q. Why did you decide to run for the position of Caney mayor?

A. I decided to run long before the events involving the water this week. I was superintendent of the city sewer plant years ago, and I know it’s a real mess now. That’s why I chose to run.

Q. What do you want to accomplish if elected?

A. I want to reroute the semi-trucks through Caney onto designated truck routes. I’m also going to put some people to work in Caney, Kansas. After a week like we’ve had in Caney, there is something else wrong. I’m going to make sure the city employees learn their jobs.

Carol McClure
Q. Why did you decide to run for the position of Caney mayor?

A. I am running for mayor because I would like to see Caney grow. The Dollar General Store was needed, but we need a grocery store and retail expansion.

Q. What do you want to accomplish if elected?

A. I would like to see our water plant operate the way it was designed to operate. Much needed street repairs are a priority. We need a city administrator to handle the day-to-day operation of the city.

Kenith Butts

Q. Why did you decide to run for the position of Caney mayor?

A. I am running for mayor because I am seeing too many people leaving Caney. We need to revisit our ordinances because there are ordinances that will keep you from building a house because the size of the lot is too small. We also need to revisit the ordinances so that we can assure that citizens have their rights to own property.

I also am running for mayor because we need to get things moving in our businesses. We need to do something . . . because our businesses are dying when everybody leaves.

Q. What do you want to accomplish if elected?

A. More than anything, I want our council to be responsive to the concerns of the voters. I have not had my ward 2 councilor talk to me in years. And, if they would simply listen to the people, then things will start to take shape.

It’s a lot of little things that need to be done, and Mayor Carol McClure has already started some of those things. But, a lot more needs to be done, including helping our police officers improve their wages and benefits.

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Primary election required for Caney mayoral race; all other races to be decided on April 7

A primary election will be required in Caney on Tuesday, March 3 to narrow a list of mayoral candidates.

Noon Tuesday was the deadline for persons to file for city council, city commission, school board, or community college trustee positions for the spring 2015 election cycle.

A primary election will be held on Tuesday, March 3; a general election for all races will be held on Tuesday, April 7.

Caney is the only community in Montgomery County where a primary election will be required because of the volume of candidates for the one mayoral position. Four candidates are seeking that post, and the March 3 election will narrow the selection to the top two vote recipients. Incumbent Carol McClure, 100 S. Vine, is being challenged by three other candidates: Russell Wade, 100 N. East; Rick Pell, 215 E. 6th; and Kenith A. Butts, 412 N. State.

Butts also is seeking a position on the Caney City Council as a ward 2 councilor. As of the Tuesday filing deadline, Butts was the only candidate for the seat and is the assumed winner, barring a successful write-in campaign from a ward 2 resident.

In the race for ward 1, there are two candidates: incumbent Dan Johnston, 1017 N. High, and David K. Taylor, 501 N. Smith.

The race for the ward 3 council seat, which was left open with the 2014 resignation of Bill Sims, is vacant and will be claimed by any write-in candidate in that ward.

The race for ward 4 councilor has one candidate: incumbent Chad Bradford, 511 E. 5th.

Two persons are seeking the position of city treasurer: incumbent treasurer Sara Shively, 609 E. 4th, and Edie Vernon, 402 S. Spring.

• USD 436 Board of Education: The Caney Valley school district has five seats open on the local school board, and each of the five seats has one candidate, meaning they will be elected in the April 7 general election barring any write-in campaigns. Those five candidates are Zach Ellison, 308 E. 2nd, for district A, position 4; Aaron Richey, 1101 S. State, district B, position 5; Austin Bruce, 1634 Old Hwy. 166, for district B, position 6; Rick WIlson, 106 E. Olive in Tyro, for the at-large position; and Ron Wade, 204 E. Sixth, for district A, position 1.

• Cherryvale City Council: No primary election is needed in Cherryvale; however, the the race for mayor and two council seats has drawn a busy slate.

For the race of mayor, incumbent John M. Wright, 508 W. Main, is being challenged by former Cherryvale city official Sylvia S. Shaffer, 536 W. Main.

In the race for city council ward 1, position 2, which is a position that had been held by councilor Kevin Crain, there are three candidates: Don King, 820 E. Main; Vic Holloway, 821 E. 4th; and Glen E. Driskel, 721 E. 5th. Crain chose to not seek re-election.

• USD 447 Board of Education: There are six candidates for the four at-large positions on the Cherryvale-Thayer school board. Of those six candidates, only two are incumbents: Joe Marchant, 4051 CR 5900, Cherryvale, and Randall Studebaker, 6425 Brown Road, Thayer. The four others seeking election to the school board are Jason Hooper, 110 W. 1st, Cherryvale; Jo Neuburger, 802 E. 4th, Cherryvale; Terry Smedley, 230 S. Malcolm, Thayer; and Mark Torkelson, 703 E. 4th, Cherryvale.

The top four vote recipients in the April 7 general election will be elected to four-year terms on the school board.

• Coffeyville City Commission: There are six candidates seeking the three available positions on the Coffeyville City Commission. The candidates include three incumbents: Don Edwards, 1107 W. 5th; Justin Martin, 2211 W. 3rd; and Jim Falkner, 1014 W. 3rd. They are being challenged by James C. Taylor Jr., 608 Willow; Craig Powell, 1206 W. 1st; and Randal Hills, 1326 W. 1st.

The top two vote recipients will serve a four-year term on the city commission; the candidate with the third-most votes will serve a two-year term.

• USD 445 Board of Education: Four candidates have filed for the four available positions on the Coffeyville school board. They include three incumbents: Robert Robson, 106 Herring Lane; Trudie Kritz, 1105 Benton Road; and Denise A. Gates, 402 E. 11th. The other candidate is Magan Martin, 2211 W. 3rd.
Barring any write-in candidacies, the four candidates will be elected to their positions in the April 7 general election.

• Independence City Commission: The race for the two positions on the Independence City Commission has garnered four candidates, including incumbents Gary Hogsett, 501 S. 10th, and Fred D. Meier, 2712 Links Lane. The other candidates are William Zach Webb, 500 W. Myrtle, and Ned Stichman, 725 Washington Street.

• USD 446 Board of Education: There are four candidates seeking the four at-large positions on the Independence school board. Those four candidates include three incumbents: Marty Reichenberger, 2570 W. 5000th Street; Scott Hines, 2905 Royal Court; and Charles Barker Sr., 521 S. 16th. Also seeking the a school board position is Jen Rutledge, 1400 Rainbow Drive.

• Coffeyville Community College: Three incumbent members of the CCC trustees have filed for the three positions on the trustee board. Those candidates include Keith Osborn, 2520 CR 1475, Caney; Sherri Melander, 2538 CR 2400, Caney; and Lue Barndollar, 416 W. 6th, Coffeyville.

• Independence Community College: Three people, including one incumbent, are seeking the three available seats on the Independence Community College trustees. Those candidates include incumbent Jay Jones, 1201 W. Oak; and challengers Jana Taylor Shaver, 430 Catalpa, and Sam Forrer, 203 Stagecoach Lane.

• City of Dearing: Seeking the position of mayor is Randy C. Haymaker, 215 Hill. Council candidates include Terri Bishop, 202 W. Elm; Kenneth W. Campbell, 403 Main; Michael Clark, 606 Woodland; and Philip K. Helt, 603 Woodland Hills. There is one council position unfilled.

• City of Elk City: Seeking the position of mayor is Carl Ennis Moore, 222 W. Maple. Seeking the position of council are James B. Jordan, 101 N. Montgomery; Tallelisa Ehret, 403 E. Maple; and Eric Bennett, 603 S. Franklin. There are two council positions that are unfilled.

• City of Havana: No persons have filed for the position of mayor. There are three candidates for the five council seats: Karla E. Watson, 100 E. Lockwood; Patsy J. Taylor, 100 E.
Montgomery; and Irvaleen Gartrell, 509 E. Mary.

• City of Liberty: Brad Allen, 128 N. 3rd, is seeking the position of Liberty mayor. Seeking the five positions on the Liberty City Council are Jim Tallman, 413 N. 3rd; Scott Lasco, 105 N. Cedar; Christine D. Hillyard, 118 Elm; Melinda Rae Harper, 208 N. 5th; and Ben Harper, 208 N. 5th.

• Wildcat Extension District: There are two people who are seeking the two positions on the Wildcat Extension District board. They are Jerry Hall, 5243 CR 3300, Independence; and Warren K. Newby, 3591 CR 1675, Coffeyville.

• Verdigris River drainage districts #1, #2 and #3: Only one candidate is seeking a place on the three Verdigris River drainage districts. Steven Westervelt, 501 N. Forest, Coffeyville, is a candidate for the Verdigris River Drainage District #1.

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The seed for desegregation was planted in Montgomery County

(Reprinted from the Montgomery County Chronicle • Jan. 19, 2012)

BY ANDY TAYLOR
chronicle@taylornews.org

When the U.S. Supreme Court declared racial segregation as unconstitutional in the case Brown vs. Topeka Board of Education, the institutional barriers of racial separation began to be dismantled.

That case has its roots in Kansas, giving the state the distinction of setting the course toward racial integration.

However, prior to the Brown decision in 1954, as many as one dozen other legal attempts were made to end racial segregation in public schools. No other pre-Brown case drew as much national attention as a legal case from Coffeyville.

For hidden in the shadows of the Brown decision — exactly 30 years before the Brown case was rendered — was Thurman-Watts vs. Board of Education of Coffeyville.

* * * *

The story of the Thurman-Watts case should be understood by knowing the location of Coffeyville schools in 1924 as well as the laws of segregation that ruled the day.

Racial segregation had been the prevailing culture of the country dating back to its earliest colonial years. However, racial segregation did not gain legal validity until 1896, when the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in Plessy vs. Ferguson that public institutions could segregate races through “separate but equal” facilities.

In Kansas, racial segregation in schools was allowed based on population of a community. State law mandated racial segregation in elementary schools located in first-class cities (towns of 15,000 population or more). Racial integration was required in the junior high, middle high school and high school levels.

In second-class cities (towns of less than 15,000 population), racial segregation in public schools based on the Plessy decision was not allowed.

In 1923, the lines of color separation were clearly spelled out in the Coffeyville school system. Cleveland School, located at Third and Linden streets, was an imposing two-story structure with eight main classrooms — serving African-American elementary students in the central and eastern portions of Coffeyville. Douglas School, located in the western portion of Coffeyville, also served African-American students in the first through eighth grades in its three rooms.

A host of “ward schools,” or neighborhood schools, served the white students of the Coffeyville community. Among those schools were Lincoln, McKinley, Lowell, Longfellow, Whittier, Garfield, Ingalls, Logan and Spaudling schools. Washington High School served both races and was located on the grounds of what is now Coffeyville Community College.

Chief concern among Coffeyville school officials beginning in 1920 was the overcrowded conditions of all schools and the need for a permanent junior high-style school that could offer early high school training programs, such as domestic science (for girls) and manual training (for boys). That’s why those officials successfully campaigned for construction of a junior high school — called Roosevelt School. Having a prepertory school for high school not only would lessen the burden on existing schools but also afford more training opportunities to early teenagers of all races, school officials said in their campaign materials.

Coffeyville school board members at that time tried to secure the African-American vote for a bond issue’s passage by promising racial integration in the new junior high school. The school board members visited one predominantly-black church, Calvary Baptist Church, on a Sunday morning prior to a bond issue election to seek support for the bonds that would be needed to construct Roosevelt School, which would serve students in the seventh, eighth and ninth grades.

The bond issued was approved, and construction on the new “junior high” school began in April 1922.

The new Roosevelt School held its first student enrollment on Sept. 18, 1923, which is the day Victoria Thurman-Watts, who had just completed the eighth grade at Cleveland School the previous May, discovered that the new junior high school would not accept African-American students.

Thurman-Watts and other black children wanting to enroll in the new junior high school were informed — through a directive issued by Superintendent A.I. Decker — that the African-American freshman would return to Cleveland School for their ninth grade year, even though Cleveland School was not designed to hold a ninth grade curriculum.

Cecilia Thurman-Watts protested her daughter’s denial of enrollment and took the issue to Decker, the superintendent. Thurman-Watts would later testify in court that Decker claimed he had the legal authority, set out by state law, to segregate the children. Thurman-Watts testified that she was led to believe Roosevelt Middle School was to be an integrated school and that she also learned that all landowners of Coffeyville — black and white — were paying for the new school through a higher levy.

Thurman-Watts immediately cried foul and filed suit in the Kansas Supreme Court seeking the admission of her daughter to Roosevelt.

A total of 20 Cleveland School eighth grade students were promoted to the ninth grade for the 1923-24 school year. Only one freshman student, Lucille Walker, enrolled at Cleveland School because she had transferred to the community from Mississippi some two weeks after the 1923-24 school year began. Walker would later testify that, as a freshman, she was forced to sit in the eighth grade room and was not allowed to participate in music or domestic science courses because they were designed for the eighth grade and younger students.

Cleveland School itself was structurally deficient to take on additional students in 1923. Designed for a limited number of students in each classroom (one classroom per grade level), the crowded conditions forced some classes to be held in the basement, where students had to slip past a furnace and hop over clogged sewer drains to get to a makeshift classroom.

“By all testimony that was heard in this case, Cleveland School was a dump,” said Thom Rosenblum, historian at the Brown Vs. Board of Education National Historic Site in Topeka, Kan. “Space was at a premium in that building. In fact, a janitor would testify that the sewer lines would get clogged and remained clogged for days, leaving students and the staff vulnerable to the sewer gas as well as raw sewage.”

Rather than take her daughter to Cleveland School where classes for freshman classes were non-existent and where a student’s health and well being were in question, Cecelia Thurman-Watts did the one thing that she thought was best for her daughter: she taught her daughter at home.
So, too, would 13 other parents of Cleveland School freshman.

The 13 African-American parents who taught their freshmen students at home would be arrested by local authorities.

The charge: refusing to send students to school.

Consider it the first show of civil disobedience in the war for civil rights.

Rosenbum, the historian at the Brown site, said the Thurman-Watts case would get the attention of two groups, each of which was in a different galaxy when it came to racial equity. The first group was the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), which had Topeka attorneys Elisha Scott and R.M. Van Dyne at its service. Scott was an accomplished attorney who had successfully defended fellow African-American families in other segregation cases in the early 20th century.

The second group that was involved in the case was the Ku Klux Klan, which Rosenblum said, allegedly had three members of the Coffeyville Board on Education on its roster.

The Thurman-Watts legal team had multiple basis for their legal challenge against Coffeyville:
• that state law allowed racial integration at the junior high and high school level in first-class cities,
• that the Coffeyville school board, through several school officials being members of the “invisible empire,” practiced bigotry that translated into forced segregation, and

• that the Coffeyville school board practiced discrimination by allowing its black-only school to be inferior in structure and resources when compared to the white-only school.

When the Kansas Supreme Court took up the case, the prevailing argument had nothing to do with racial equality, said Rosenblum. Instead, the primary argument was whether the ninth grade level at Roosevelt School was classified as an “elementary” class or a “junior high” class. It took attorney Elisha Scott six tries to get Superintendent A.I. Decker to admit that the freshman class was, in fact, the first year of high school — a fact that did not go unnoticed by the state’s high court.

In reaching its decision in late January 1924, the state court said the Coffeyville school board lacked the power to segregate the ninth-grade students on the basis of race by nature of the community being a first-class city. The court stated that it was commonly understood that the ninth grade was considered part of the high school.

However, the court also ruled that school districts are allowed to create school zones for the assignment of students so as not to create overcrowded schools — provided that the zones are reasonable and not based on race or color.

In the eyes of the African-American community, the battle had been won.

The Coffeyville school board still was defiant in the face of the court’s decision.

* * * * *

Four days after the court issued its opinion, African-American students Victoria Thurman and Alonzo Grubbs presented themselves at Roosevelt School for admission into the ninth grade. They were accompanied by their mothers: Cecelia Thurman-Watts and Mrs. M.L. Grubbs.

However, the students and their mothers were met at the Roosevelt School door by principal J.H. Benefield, who informed them that “he had no orders to admit colored students to said school and that they were to report to the Cleveland School for orders.”

The parents immediately sent a telegram to attorneys Scott and VanDyne, who, in turn, appealed to the state’s high court to issue a “writ” that would command Coffeyville schools to accept the black freshmen students for admission.

However, a unique thing happened while the attorneys and court justices haggled the merits of the case: the same day Thurman and Grubbs went to Roosevelt to seek admission as freshmen, a host of other African-American students from the seventh and eighth grades appeared at Roosevelt demanding enrollment. All students were told to return to Cleveland School for enrollment.

The state’s high court issued a demand to the Coffeyville school board to settle the issue through specific zones in an effort to reduce overcrowded schools . . . as long as the zoning process did not include racial segregation.

The same “writ” also demanded that the African-American students be allowed to use all facilities in the new Roosevelt School, such as the domestic science classrooms, manual training area, gymnasium and cafeteria.

When Victoria Thurman and 19 other children returned to Roosevelt School for admission on Feb. 14, 1924, they were allowed entrance but immediately required to take a series of five entry tests to determine their competency. Sixteen of the 20 black students failed the tests and were, therefore, denied enrollment into the school based on their lack of education. Decker, the superintendent, defended the use of the tests, claiming they were standard tests given to all students across the Coffeyville school system.

Scott and VanDyne appealed to the state’s high court once again, asking the court to hold Coffeyville schools in contempt for issuing standardized entry tests that, the attorneys claimed, were “unfair, unjust, unreasonable, and oppressive.”
On July 5, 1924, the Kansas Supreme Court ruled against Scott and VanDyne’s motion.
However, the court did award Scott $1,000 in attorney’s fees.

* * * * *

Thurman-Watts vs. Board of Education of Coffeyville would not be a landmark case in the fight for civil justice. And, it would take many more lawsuits over the ensuing decades before the U.S. Supreme Court would take up the issue of racial segregation.

That would come in 1954, when the U.S. Supreme Court ruled 8-1 that segregation of public institutions was unconstitutional. Representing the Brown family and the other families who filed the class-action lawsuit was Charles Scott, the son of Elisha Scott, who represented the Coffeyville family in the 1924 case.

Was there a direct connection between the Thurman-Watts case and the Brown case? Rosenblum contends the two cases were totally separate, however the Thurman-Watts case could be considered the impetus for the arguments that would be heard in the Brown case.

“The Thurman-Watts case was a training ground for Brown,” said Rosenblum. “The Thurman-Watts story also was unique because it showed the first signs of civil disobedience when the 13 parents chose to strike against the school district and not send their kids to Cleveland School.”

Why didn’t the the Kansas Supreme Court rule on the constitutionality of racial segregation, choosing instead to determine the merits of legalistic arguments (i.e., whether a freshman class was considered to be in the high school level as compared to the elementary level)? Rosenblum said most state judges of that era believed segregation was wrong but had little choice because the Plessy case still was the law of the nation.

“Until the U.S. Supreme Court made its decision in the Brown case in 1954, Plessy was still the law of the land,” said Rosenblum. “A district or state judge may have thought personally that segregation was wrong and, therefore, unconstitutional. But until the U.S. Supreme Court made its landmark decision in 1954, the lower courts could do nothing but uphold Plessy.”

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