Council silent on city clerk appointment
January 28, 2014
Mayor Sam Kauffman tries to quiet the crowd at Monday’s Audubon City Council meeting during a long discussion about replacing the town’s city clerk. More than 100 residents attended the meeting. Councilman Jason Hocker (pictured left) made the motion to replace the clerk at the previous meeting.
We can't talk about it.
I've already answered that question.
I've been advised not to talk.
I'm not going to answer any more questions.
Audubon residents who hoped to gain insight of the motives to replace their longtime city clerk were disappointed at Monday night's city council meeting, in which their requests for answers were met with no-comment responses or silence.
The crowd of more than 100 that gathered were fiery at times in their support of City Clerk Lora Hansen, who sat quietly taking notes - which is her job at council meetings - at a table next to the council members who abruptly voted to replace her at the previous council meeting on Jan. 13.
"Why not do an appointment and keep the one who's doing a good job?" resident Nathan King asked in support of Hansen. "You guys all had great ideas when you were asking for our votes. Why, why, why did you come in here and fix something that wasn't broke?
"The integrity of the council has been compromised."
Newly elected Councilman Jason Hocker made the motion at the council's Jan. 13 meeting to replace Hansen - who has had the job for 26 years - with another woman who later declined the job on Friday amid a controversy over the vote, which violated at least two state laws.
The potential vote was not posted in public 24 hours in advance of the meeting, nor did the city advertise the job 10 days prior to give military veterans a "preference in appointment" that is required by state law.
Councilman John Whetzal seconded the motion to replace Hansen on Jan. 13, and the resolution passed by a 4-1 vote.
"I wasn't experienced with appointments," Whetzal explained Monday as council members publicly admitted the procedural mistake.
They took the vote without consulting their then-city attorney, Lance Levis, who was on vacation and absent from that meeting. Levis resigned his job Thursday but hasn't publicly said why.
Hocker has said that the vote to replace Hansen wasn't tied to her job performance, but Whetzal implied at Monday's meeting that it was.
"If it goes into performance, then we can't talk about it," he said, citing state law that precludes such talk in public meetings if the city employee whose job performance is being questioned objects.
It's unclear whether Hansen ever objected to her job performance being discussed in a public meeting.
Former Councilman Andy Griffith has alleged that Whetzal had been unhappy that Hansen wasn't quick to adopt an all-electronic method of distributing council documents - which Whetzal pushed in his first elected term that started in 2012.
Hansen said Monday after the council meeting that she dealt with conflicting requests from council members about the electronic documents. Some wanted them on their computer laptops, some wanted paper copies, she said.
Whetzel, himself, was without a laptop at Monday's meeting.
"We had to have time to figure it all out," Hansen said of the move to electronic documents.
Councilman Hocker was adamant in an interview with the Daily Times Herald last week that his move to replace Hansen was not related to her job performance and that Whetzal wasn't involved in the decision, but the woman who was initially appointed to replace Hansen, Janet Nelson, told the Times Herald on Monday that Whetzal had approached her about the job in November.
Former Councilman Griffith grilled Hocker at Monday's meeting about the apparent disparity.
"What's the right story?" Griffith asked. "Did you have input from Whetzel?"
Hocker didn't respond.
Hocker later made a motion to suspend the discussion to the next council meeting so that the council could confer with their newly appointed interim city attorney, Dave Wiederstein, of Atlantic, before taking further action on the issue.
That was, in the end, the advice of former city attorney Levis who attended Monday's meeting and spoke late:
"I think in light of the fact that Janet Nelson has withdrawn her name that it might be wise for the council to seek an opinion from their new city attorney," he said.
Whetzel seconded the motion, and it passed unanimously.
Hansen after the meeting said she was "blind-sided" by the Jan. 13 vote and hopes for a quick resolution - hopefully one that allows her to keep her job.
"It'd be nice to not be in limbo," she said.
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