Police Chief Brad Burke
Police Chief Brad Burke

May 23, 2018

A closed City Council meeting scheduled Monday evening, evidently to privately discuss Carroll Police Chief Brad Burke’s job performance, was called off after Burke and members of the public showed up to protest what they described as unfair secrecy on the part of city officials.

Iowa code requires city officials to inform an employee he or she is being evaluated by the City Council — the entity that ultimately is in charge of hiring and firing employees such as the police chief — and to allow the employee to request the evaluation be closed to the public. The code also allows city officials to exclude that employee from his or her evaluation.

However, Burke said at Monday’s meeting, which members of the public also attended, he had been told the closed meeting would be about a lawsuit between former Carroll Police Officer Jacob Smith and the Daily Times Herald. Burke added that he’d also been told he couldn’t attend the meeting.

“Due to these false pretenses ... at this time I am withdrawing my request for a closed session,” Burke said, according to a recording of the meeting obtained from the city. “I was never told that it was a performance review until I saw it on the agenda.”

Carroll Mayor Eric Jensen said he and City Manager Mike Pogge-Weaver spoke to Burke several times prior to the meeting about its intent the week before.

“I had heard rumors that there was going to be a request to open (the meeting), and I approached Chief Burke at about 2:00 (Monday afternoon) to confirm, did he want this in closed (session) or not?” Pogge-Weaver said during the meeting.

Pogge-Weaver later added that any rumors that might have circulated prior to the meeting about Burke’s possible termination and prompted the turnout Monday night were “wildly exaggerated and untrue.”

He declined to comment further, including about what he initially told Burke about the meeting, citing privacy with personnel matters.

Jensen later added that he had made it clear to Burke the week before the meeting that it wouldn’t be about terminating his job.

Michael Galloway with Des Moines-based Ahlers & Cooney, who works as Carroll’s labor attorney, told council members they could adjourn the meeting without holding any discussion, since the option of a closed session was off the table, or continue the planned discussion publicly. He recommended the former, noting that discussing Burke’s job performance publicly could cause “potential liability” down the road.

Galloway noted that the intent of the closed session had not been to discuss termination or discipline of an employee but simply job performance.

Several City Council members noted they had received no information about the meeting ahead of time — standard for closed sessions evaluating employees’ competency — and that they didn’t feel comfortable having a public discussion because of their lack of preparation.

Council member Carolyn Siemann noted the section of Iowa code referencing why an employee can request his or her evaluation be conducted privately — “to prevent needless and irreparable injury to that individual’s reputation.”

For that reason, she said, she supported adjourning the meeting rather than discussing Burke’s performance in a public setting.

Former Carroll Police Chief Jeff Cayler addressed the City Council during the meeting and noted that during his 30 years as chief, the council never reviewed his job performance — that was always done by former City Manager Gerald Clausen.

He added that Burke should have been told what the meeting was about and shouldn’t have been excluded from attending it.

“For the life of me, why it would be kept secret from Chief Burke is beyond me, and as a citizen, as a former police chief, honest to God, guys, I’m embarrassed,” Cayler said. “This is not the way we treat employees in Carroll. We never have. We never should.”

Burke, Jensen and Pogge-Weaver met Tuesday afternoon to discuss the issue, Jensen said, adding that he fully supports both Burke and Pogge-Weaver.

“I think this is going to be amicably resolved,” Jensen said.

City Council will meet again at 5:15 p.m. Tuesday on the second floor of the Farner Government Building for a regular meeting, although it’s unclear whether Burke’s job performance will be on the agenda.