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Councilors file lawsuit over closed session

 

City calls special meeting for Thursday Oct. 30

Two Cedar Springs City Council members and a city resident are suing the Cedar Springs City Council over what they believe to be an Open Meetings Act violation. And now the City of Cedar Springs has scheduled a special meeting for Thursday evening, October 30, at 7 p.m. at City Hall to consider whether to rescind the motion that started the whole thing.

City Council members Bob Truesdale and Dan Clark, and resident Mark Laws, filed the suit October 7. They allege the OMA violation occurred at the August 21 City Council meeting, when they went into closed session believing there was a written communication from the attorney to consider. Mayor Mark Fankhauser told the council during the workshop portion of the meeting that they needed to go into closed session because he had correspondence from the attorney, and it was added to the agenda that way. They went into closed session at the tail end of the meeting, and when they came out, they voted 4-3 to renew the contract of City Manager Thad Taylor.

The lawsuit alleges that there was no attorney correspondence considered.

Those who voted against the contract—Dan Clark, Jerry Hall, and Bob Truesdale—noted that they had not seen it before, and did not have time to digest it. And, in fact, said they did not know they were going to be voting on it that night.

The Council had also not done a formal evaluation on the City Manager. Truesdale said it was based on an evaluation that he had put together as Mayor after Taylor had been here only a short time. Two of the present Council members were not on the Council at the time so had no input.

Council member Clark said a lawsuit wouldn’t be his first choice. “I have tried to reach out to the Council and to Thad  (Taylor) about the way we handle things related to the OMA,” he explained. “We have not aligned ourselves at all with the attorney general handbook on the OMA. Although I’ve encouraged the Council to align ourselves with it, they didn’t take any action. A major part of my job is to represent the citizens. So when a major part of the Council does something I feel is wrong, after talking with them, what are we left with to do? It’s an attention-getter.”

He said that the procedure used was irresponsible, careless, and unprofessional. “I feel like we can do better than that,” he remarked.

Truesdale feels the same way. “We saw it was something that needed to be addressed to prohibit illegal closed session of Council,” he explained. “I feel that we are the laughingstock of the surrounding communities, and we can do better. We should be a model.”

The City has scheduled a special meeting of the Cedar Springs City Council on Thursday October 30, to “consider a motion to rescind the motion to adjourn to executive/closed session as described in the minutes of the August 21, 2014 meeting (Item No. 11) and to affirm, approve, reenact and ratify the Employment agreement between Thad Taylor and the City of Cedar Springs dated September 10, 2014.” The Post called and left messages for Acting City Manager/Clerk Linda Christensen both Tuesday and Wednesday for clarification, but did not get a return call before press time. The special meeting will include a public hearing, Council deliberations, and a decision.

Mayor ProTem Patty Troost told the Post that while she didn’t think they did anything illegal, the meeting would allow them to discuss and discover whether they had done something wrong.

Truesdale feels the meeting was called to circumvent the pending lawsuit. He doesn’t want to see the City Manager’s contract reaffirmed. He says that one reason is because of the amount of money they would be giving Taylor if he were terminated: six months severance totaling over $35,000. “It just doesn’t sound like good business practice to me,” he said.

The contract does not allow severance, however, if he is terminated for reasons such as fraud, impropriety, dishonesty, neglect of duty, and violations of the law, and several other reasons.

Truesdale said he hopes people will turn out to voice their opinion. “Unless you attend this meeting and provide your support for wanting city leaders of higher integrity, these shenanigans will continue to happen,” he said.

 

 

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