Severance payout in the works for city clerk
The City Council delays again a vote on the clerk job and rankles residents who say they're the 'laughing stock of western Iowa'
March 25, 2014
Audubon City Councilman John Whetzal listens intently Monday night to the concerns of resident Dawn Rohe, who has been vocally critical of the council.
The Audubon city attorney is negotiating a severance deal with longtime City Clerk Lora Hansen that might finally conclude the months-long, tumultuous effort to remove her from the job, Hansen said Monday.
City leaders delayed a vote again that night to fire Hansen - who has held the job for 26 years - amid "an opening toward a positive resolution," City Attorney Dave Wiederstein told the Daily Times Herald after the meeting.
Wiederstein declined to elaborate but wrote in an email that the deal would avoid the "forced termination of Lora's employment."
Neither Hansen nor Wiederstein would confirm that the deal hinges on Hansen resigning the job.
"My attorney mentioned a severance package. That's it," Hansen said.
The City Council voted to replace Hansen on Jan. 13 but broke two state laws because it didn't give 24-hour public notice of the vote and failed to advertise the job opening for 10 days, which the state requires to give preference to veterans for municipal jobs.
Emails obtained by the Times Herald show that Councilman John Whetzal and Councilwoman Teresa Murray hatched a plan to replace Hansen in November and that Whetzal deliberately withheld the plan from then-City Attorney Lance Levis, who was absent on vacation from the Jan. 13 meeting. Levis later resigned.
Whetzal and Murray have claimed that Hansen is rude and condescending and was slow to comply with - or outright refused - their directives, such as the city's move to electronic documents. Hansen has said she was unaware of the complaints before the Jan. 13 vote and had no idea her job was in jeopardy.
The city erred several more times as it tried to advertise the city clerk job opening - at first without proper council authorization, and then without including a federally mandated "equal opportunity employer" notice.
On Monday, the council was set to vote to fire Hansen, appoint the deputy city clerk as her temporary replacement and advertise again the job opening. The council did none.
"Let's put Lora back where she should be, and let's end this," former Councilman Andy Griffith said at Monday's meeting. "We can quit being the laughing stock of western Iowa."
The 30-minute meeting was capped by another litany of complaints about the clerk flap, ongoing open-records requests and hiring practices. More than 80 residents attended the meeting, and about half indicated they were there to support Hansen.
Resident Dawn Rohe accused the council of discriminating against firefighters who applied for a public-works job they didn't get.
Councilwoman Murray admitted she was initially apprehensive about hiring firefighters who might respond to fire calls during normal city work hours but said the city could require them to ignore the calls.
"We already had one city employee going to calls," Murray said in reference to Public Works Director Tyler Thygesen, who later shot back: "Doesn't that (amount) to discrimination?"
Rohe concluded: "We deserve answers about discriminatory practices. We deserve answers about public safety in the community. We deserve answers about how our voices can be heard in general."
The clerk's job is expected to be discussed again at the April 14 council meeting. Wiederstein said in an email that he hopes to strike a deal with Hansen in the coming weeks.
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