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Our View: The mayor is not the issue
December 01, 2011 Gering Citizen   

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We’re not lawyers. We don’t even play them on television. But a funny thing happened on the way to the Gering City Council’s Nov. 14 executive session – a violation of the state’s Open Meetings Law.
One of the listed agenda items for the Nov. 14 council meeting was an executive session, or closed meeting, to discuss potential litigation in connection with the golf course restaurant. That’s acceptable under provisions of the Open Meetings Law. Council member Jill McFarland motioned to go into executive session regarding the potential litigation. Then someone threw a curveball. Council member Manuel Escamilla next requested the council amend the closed session to include a discussion of “personnel.” McFarland modified her motion to include personnel and a vote was taken.

There are a couple problems. Under state law, once the topic of discussion for a closed session is printed in the agenda, the council has to stick to that topic. Last minute changes or additions are not allowed.

Additionally, as it turned out, the “personnel” issue wasn’t personnel at all. It involved the mayor, an elected official, and a question over whether he was exceeding his authority.

Last January, the mayor e-mailed department heads and asked them for an inventory audit to see what equipment each department had. He also asked for an energy audit to determine what departments were doing to reduce energy costs through conservation. There was no deadline attached to the request, only that it be done.

During the Nov. 14 closed session, Escamilla said he had received an e-mail that day from a city employee asking whether the request was within the mayor’s scope of authority. And several council members voted that it wasn’t.

We’ve asked for comment, but some council members said they had nothing to say because it was an executive session. But maybe it wasn’t, given that what was discussed violated the Open Meetings Law.
What puzzles us is why any city employee would object to performing a departmental audit to determine whether city assets are being used to their full potential.

It also puzzles us why elected officials continue to squabble over something as innocuous as efficiency reports, no matter who requests them. One council member said things have only gotten worse under the new mayor.

Evidently it’s gotten personal. But city government isn’t a popularity contest – and this dustup isn’t about the mayor. The residents of Gering voted for public officials who would run the city.

All of us have had to work with others we don’t personally get along with, but we cooperate to get the job done.

We’d like to see the city council start behaving as though they have real work to do for the betterment of Gering residents. If that means working with a mayor that they don’t personally like, then so be it. The electorate has spoken. Now get to work.
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