The Ottumwa Courier

Local News

April 9, 2013

Council debates own rights, punishments

(Continued)

"I can assure you, there are a couple department heads who don't want us sitting in, let alone participating," he said.

Helfenberger agreed and took it a step further: "They would probably all say that."

But city code states that any council member may sit in on a hiring process as an observer only.

In the end, Councilman Mitch Niner, Morgan and Richards all agreed that council members should be able to sit in on interviews of department heads as observers, but not as participants. Weller and Meyers said council members should only be able to sit in on interviews for the three positions they directly hire.

The council also discussed mutual respect in its communication with city staff.

"If you're asking a quick question on the status of a project ... you can ask pretty much any city employee that," Helfenberger said. "But if you have follow-up directions, those should be made through the city administrator or city attorney when appropriate. ...To direct that work be done, it has to go through me."

While all councilmen agreed this rule should stand as is, they worried that there is no way to enforce it.

"What can be done?" Weller asked. "You can bring it to our attention ... but where's the teeth in this to stop someone from violating it?"

Mayor Frank Flanders said while violating the rule is not criminal, the offense could be "tried in public opinion." City Attorney Joni Keith said the most administration could do would be to publicly chastise or censor the offending councilman.

"Public opinion is taking a look at what a joke we are," Meyers said, "because of one to two individuals at a time who have bordered on harassing, if not harassed, staff."

Finally, the council discussed exactly how many votes it should take to fire the city administrator. It had been suggested that the rule should be changed from a 3-2 vote to a 4-1 vote needed in order to fire the administrator.

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