(CN) - A councilman who let a homeless addict sleep in City Hall over the weekend was a "clumsy benefactor," but could have kept his office, a Kansas appeals court ruled.
David Morrison was elected in 2008 to the city council of Prairie Village, pop. 21,000, a suburb of Kansas City.
In 2011, Kelley Malone, a good friend of Morrison's with a meth addiction, fell on hard times. He lost his job and became homeless.
Malone called Morrison for help, and Morrison paid for Malone to stay in a hotel for a week, bought him clothes and helped set him up with a job interview. Malone kicked his habit, temporarily, and was able to buy a house.
But a year later, Malone relapsed, lost his home and feared for his life, believing that someone had taken a hit out on him.
When he again called Morrison for help, the recently re-elected councilman sought assistance from his church. It didn't have room for Malone, however, so Morrison called a public dispatcher to learn about public services for the homeless. Malone refused to go to a homeless shelter in Kansas City, believing it unsafe for him.
Morrison could not take Malone into his own home because he lived with his elderly mother, whose immune system was extremely delicate. And Morrison's pastor told him that putting Malone in a hotel again was ill-advised.
Not knowing what else to do, Morrison allowed Malone to spend the weekend in the City Hall employee lounge.
He also gave Malone his security code, without which Malone could not have used the bathroom. This code allowed access to the lounge, a weight room, and a locker room, but not to any work spaces.
Each night, Morrison escorted Malone into the building, told the dispatcher on duty that he and Malone would be working on paperwork in City Hall, then left shortly thereafter, leaving Malone behind.
Malone left the building early Monday morning, and slept that night in another friend's car.
When Malone again asked Morrison the next day if he could again sleep in City Hall, Morrison said it would not be a good idea. Malone went anyway, however, using Morrison's security code to enter. He told the dispatcher that he was going to be working with Morrison again, but Morrison never arrived.
After several city hall employees encountered Malone early the next morning and questioned him, a police officer escorted Malone to the police station.
An investigation ensued, and the Prairie Village City Council voted to oust Morrison from public office. A Johnson County judge held a full trial last year and ordered Morrison to immediately vacate his seat for ethics violation.
The court described Malone as "a gaunt version of himself" who "sat hunched over" with his "nose dripping throughout his testimony."
It concluded that Morrison ignored the potential health and safety risks of allowing Malone to sleep over at city hall, compromising the security of others, and using city property for his own benefit, to extend a favor to another.
In reversing Friday, however, a three-judge panel for the Kansas Court of Appeals said Morrison's actions did not violate any state law, and his ouster was improper.
"David Morrison proved to be a clumsy benefactor," Justice Caleb Stegall wrote for the court. "Worse, Morrison added casuistry to clumsiness when he fabricated a cover story to explain Malone's presence in City Hall. But after considering the entire record and the underlying facts as determined by the district court, we are unable to find any indication that Morrison's actions arose out of an evil or corrupt motive; out of a habitual disregard for his public duty; out of a quest for selfish gain; or resulted in a serious threat to public safety."
The 12-page opinion notes that Morrison made no profit off of his actions, and that Malone did no harm through his presence at City Hall.
"The court justified its ouster order with its conclusion that Morrison had subjected city employees to a potential threat to their health and safety," Stegall said. "To the contrary, however, we conclude that dripping noses and dirty looks are not the kinds of dangers to public safety that warrant judicial ouster."
If voters are unhappy with Morrison's actions, the court noted, they may vote him out of office at the next election, a preferable alternative to judicial ouster.
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