Council fires city clerk after long public battle
May 8, 2014
Former Audubon City Clerk Lora Hansen jotted notes during Wednesday’s special council meeting in which she was fired. She typed the minutes of the meeting this morning before leaving the place she had worked for more than 30 years.
Lora Hansen spent her last hours at City Hall this morning - where she had worked for more than 30 years - typing a recap of Wednesday's special City Council meeting in which she was fired.
It's been her job as city clerk to compile the play-by-play of the council members' motions and votes and talk at meetings for most of those years.
And so this morning she typed:
Motion was made by Hocker, seconded by Nielsen to approve the order to remove City Clerk Lora Hansen.
Councilmember Jacobsen asked who compiled the list on the order to remove. Attorney Wiederstein stated that the City Council did. Jacobsen answered that he was never consulted.
The order was then read.
Aye: Hocker, Murray, Nielsen, Whetzal.
Councilman Bob Jacobsen has been Hansen's lone supporter on the council in the past five months since his colleagues first tried to replace Hansen on Jan. 13, which they later learned had no effect because the council violated two state laws in the process to find her replacement.
Council members, at first, claimed publicly that the attempted termination had nothing to do with her job performance but later revealed an expansive list of Hansen's alleged deficiencies as clerk.
The Wednesday order to fire Hansen contained 14 of those deficiencies that initially weren't read aloud for the 50 or so residents who attended the meeting to hear.
"You're voting on a motion you haven't decided out loud. ... What are these 14 things?" asked Audubon County Attorney Fran Andersen, who has attended recent council meetings to ensure that council members comply with the state's open meetings laws. "Are you doing this in secret?"
"This is a circus, folks," a man in the audience yelled.
City leaders had sought to avoid Wednesday's so-called circus weeks ago when they offered Hansen $10,000 and nine months of health insurance to resign, Hansen told the Daily Times Herald in an interview today. She declined and made a counteroffer of $26,000 and a year of insurance, which city leaders refused.
So on Wednesday, Councilman Jacobsen read the 14-point list. It claimed:
- Hansen mismanaged the library board's checkbook.
- She rejected library budget-increase requests without consulting council members.
- She failed to keep council members abreast of the city's month-to-month finances.
- She refused to use the city's website to disseminate city documents.
- She erred in preparing the city's new budget when she didn't include several hundred thousand dollars of revenue.
- She failed to report the budget mistake to council members when a newspaper reporter revealed the mistake to her.
- She didn't schedule a state-required review of city ordinances.
- She failed to use a new Internet-based server to store city documents for council members and other city employees.
- She failed to pass along information to council members about creating a public-access TV channel.
- She "acted with contempt" when someone pointed out her mistake in certain financial documents.
- She didn't communicate well by email.
- She failed to pay the bill for the city's email service, which led to the loss of email service for about a week.
- Residents have complained about her "lack of customer service."
"Some of these I think are just ... heresy," Jacobsen concluded. "There's no proof of it, just people talking."
Hansen described the list of complaints as "nitpicky" and said she wasn't given ample opportunity to correct the grievances.
"Come and talk to me about it," she said. "I would have tried" to comply.
Five residents spoke during the meeting's public forum after the vote, and they continued the chorus of condemnation of the council's actions that has been a mainstay of past meetings.
"There are so many things you've done illegally," resident Steve Stetzel said. "You guys are digging yourselves deeper and deeper into a hole here. You are going to be made complete fools of yourself.
"I don't see how (Hansen) has sat here all this time and put up with this B.S."
Councilman Jason Hocker later asked residents to be patient.
"Give us a little leeway, folks," he said. "We're trying to move the city forward. You're nitpicking."
Council members interviewed two job candidates to replace Hansen in closed session earlier in the meeting, which barred residents from witnessing the interviews. Each candidate had requested the closed session, which is allowed under Iowa law.
The council then voted in open session to offer the job to Joseph Foran, an Audubon resident who works as a broker agent for Integrity Freight and Logistics in Harlan.
Foran, 38, has lived in Audubon with his wife Kristin and two children, ages 7 and 10, for the past eight years. He told the Times Herald today that he applied for the clerk job because it would eliminate his daily, out-of-town commute, and that "it would provide me with the ability to use my skills and knowledge for the town I call home."
"I am very excited to help out in any way possible," he wrote in an email. "I have grown roots in this community and just want the best for the town."
The city council's job offer to Foran will include a base salary of $45,000, which is $8,000 more than Hansen's base pay. The council voted last month to expand the clerk's responsibilities to include economic-development work and state and federal grant-writing, among others.
Foran said he expects to receive the formal job offer on Monday, and if he accepts he will start the clerk job two weeks later.
"If I was in his shoes," Hansen said today, "I would be terrified because there's so much responsibility."
Foran said he is a "quick learner and very studious. I plan to use all the resources available to me to get up to speed as soon as possible."
Under Iowa law, Hansen has 30 days to request a public hearing to contest her termination.
"I really don't know if I will," she said today. "On the one hand, if I don't answer, it looks like I'm guilty. Then again, I'm sick of it.
"It's been dragging on forever."
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