The deadline for mandatory Kansas Open Meetings Act (KOMA) legal training has been extended for the Cowley College Board of Trustees.

The original completion date was set for Sept. 15, 2016, but that since has been extended to May 31.

This mandatory training was the result of the board’s actions last July, when the trustees elected Jill Long to fill a seat on the board with a secret ballot.

The seat Long was appointed to fill had been left empty by Jim Ramirez’s resignation last May. The term will expire in January 2020.

It was determined by then-Cowley County Attorney Christopher Smith that a violation of KOMA did occur when the trustees used a secret ballot to vote.

In a letter addressed to the college’s legal counsel, David Andreas, Smith explained his findings.

“After reading contemporaneous news accounts, listening to a recording of the meeting and speaking to individuals who were present, I have determined that no investigation is necessary and no documentation will be needed from you or the board,” the letter states. “It is very clear that the Cowley College Board of Trustees violated the letter and spirit of the KOMA.”

In accordance with Kansas law, the college will have to take several actions to correct the illegal vote.

“To correct the KOMA violation and stop this matter from proceeding to a court hearing,” Smith writes, “the Cowley College Board of Trustees need to do the following:

  • “call a special meeting of the board within seven days from the date of this letter for the purpose of rescinding the appointment of Ms. Jill Long to the board.” (This occurred Aug. 8, 2016.)
  • “hold a new vote, within full public view, for the selection of a person to fill the vacant trustee position from the previous candidates.” (This also occurred Aug. 8, 2016.)
  • “each member of the Cowley College Board of Trustees must obtain at least one hour of KOMA training provided by the Kansas Attorney General’s Office at a time and place to be determined. This must be completed on or before the 15 day of September, 2016.”

Smith’s letter also chastised the board for its action. But, he writes, “My office is not pursuing any civil penalty against any member of the board of trustees. While this was a clear violation of the KOMA, I do not believe the board acted with malice or with the intent to ‘hide’ its decision.

“Serving on a board sometimes means having to make hard decisions which may strain friendships or business relationships.”