City errs again in clerk replacement
March 11, 2014
Audubon Mayor Sam Kauffman (right) erred again when he advertised the city clerk’s job opening last month without stating on the ad that the city is an “equal opportunity employer,” which U.S. law requires because Audubon receives federal funding. The city must advertise the job for a third time.
City leaders will advertise a job opening for their city clerk a third time as procedural missteps continue to dog their efforts to replace longtime clerk Lora Hansen.
The City Council had planned to discuss the applications it received for the job and appoint a city clerk at its meeting Monday night, but Mayor Sam Kauffman admitted he erred - for the second time - when he placed an advertisement for the job in a local newspaper last month that did not say Audubon is an "equal opportunity employer," which U.S. law requires because the city receives federal funding.
"We're starting all over again," said Councilman Bob Jacobsen, who is Hansen's lone supporter on the council.
The council plans to meet Monday to create a job description for the city clerk. It could then appoint a clerk at its March 24 meeting.
Kauffman erred in his first attempt to advertise the job in late January because council members did not officially direct him to do so.
As the council discussed Monday how to advertise the job opening, Kauffman tried to pass the responsibility to Hansen because she "has the most expertise in this," Kauffman said.
The possibility that Hansen would advertise for her own replacement drew groans and laughs from the crowd of about 70 residents who attended the meeting.
"Wow," one woman said. "That sucks."
But the council later agreed that Kauffman should try again.
Emails reveal plot to replace Hansen
The clerk's job has been a point of contention among residents and city leaders since the council voted 4-1 on Jan. 13 to replace Hansen with another woman. But city leaders had failed to post the agenda item in public 24 hours before the vote, and they did not advertise the job for 10 days, which is required by a state law that gives preference to veterans for municipal jobs.
The mistakes were apparently the result of Councilman John Whetzal's refusal to consult then-City Attorney Lance Levis about replacing Hansen, who has been city clerk for 26 years.
Whetzal told the Daily Times Herald that he did not have time to seek advice from Levis because Levis was on vacation during the Jan. 13 meeting. But Whetzal had considered replacing Hansen for two months before the meeting and ignored advice to talk to Levis about the issue, according to emails that council members released on Monday in response to several open-records requests, including one from the Times Herald.
The emails of public officials are public records under Iowa law with some exceptions.
The emails show that Whetzal discovered in November a provision in city code that allows for the appointment of a city clerk in the first council meeting after a regular city election. He then sought legal advice from Rick Hunsaker, the executive director for the Region XII Council of Governments, about how to use the provision to replace Hansen.
"I suggest you contact the city attorney," Hunsaker replied on Nov. 18. "Another idea would be for you to contact the Iowa League of Cities if for some reason you do not yet wish to discuss this issue with the city attorney."
Whetzal opted to contact a League attorney, he replied to Hunsaker on Nov. 19, and said, "Please keep this email in confidence."
Whetzal, when asked this morning by telephone why he circumvented Levis, replied: "No comment."
Levis resigned as city attorney in late January but declined to say why.
The emails also reveal a long list of gripes Whetzal had with Hansen's job performance. He claimed she is rude, condescending and fails to embrace change, especially as it pertains to the city's move to all-electronic documents.
"Most any improvement we try to accomplish that involves the city clerk is painful for us," Whetzal wrote in a Nov. 29 email.
Hansen has said she was unaware of Whetzal's dissatisfaction until the Jan. 13 vote to replace her.
Many residents support Hansen
The residents who have spoken during the past four council meetings have overwhelmingly favored retaining Hansen as city clerk, at least on a temporary basis.
On Monday, resident Linda Weston repeated that request.
"Give her a chance," Weston said to the council. "Some of you have not even worked with her. If somebody doesn't do their job, they can be removed at another time."
The emails released Monday also show that the council's first choice to replace Hansen - Janet Nelson, of Ross - urged the council last month to reappoint Hansen to "stop the madness."
"I've heard about petitions going around and lawsuits," Nelson wrote on Feb. 12. "No one wants to be mixed up with that ... Please just reappoint Lora and start over."
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