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Truman leaders spar over unity

May 9, 2012
Kylie Saari - Staff Writer , Fairmont Sentinel

TRUMAN - Truman City Council member Kathy Hendricksen has accused fellow council members Buzzy Becker and Paul Leimer of discussing council matters outside of chambers with the city clerk.

It isn't the first time Hendricksen had expressed displeasure about the unity of the council, but it set off an angry response from one of the accused.

Becker denied any such gatherings. (Leimer was absent from this week's council meeting, where Hendricksen made her charge.)

The council meeting veered toward a shouting match, as Becker accused Hendricksen of gossiping about city business with "the ladies" and badmouthing his and Leimer's businesses.

What could be a personality conflict between council members becomes more serious when Hendricksen's accusation of meeting outside of council chambers brings the state's open meeting law into the mix. State law says governmental bodies are required to meet openly during publicly posted times to discuss all business. Secret meetings between members are forbidden, although closed meetings are allowed under certain circumstances.

Hendricksen specifically pointed to an instance in which Leimer and Becker had already seen the resume of an applicant for maintenance man at the community building before the applicant arrived at a meeting to be interviewed. The resume had not been given to council members prior to the meeting.

Hendricksen also said the pair made a decision about certain appliances for the community building, and purchased them before bringing the matter to the council's attention.

Media attorney Mark Anfinson, consulted by the Sentinel, says the council members in question are not breaking an open meeting law because, even if the members accused were meeting without giving public notice and were discussing city business, they don't represent a quorum - the minimum number of council members required to make an official decision. Two council members can stand on a street corner discussing city business in broad daylight, according to Anfinson. It is when the third council member arrives that a quorum is reached and a law is broken.

Mayor Lynn Brownlee asked the council Tuesday to refrain from discussing matters outside of council meetings.

"Let's not be yakking one-on-one or two-on-two outside of council," she told the members, acknowledging there are times it seems as if outside discussions are indeed going on.

"There are things that happen and go on where two or three of us know what is going on and two or three of us don't. We need to work together."

Brownlee said Leimer has made decisions in the past without approval of the council, such as deciding that Truman police squad cars can be parked in the new fire hall.

"We didn't vote on that as a council," she said. "There were decisions being made that weren't being made at City Council."

Anfinson noted that even though the open meeting law isn't being violated, things in Truman aren't proceeding as they should.

"It is not illegal," he said. "That is just a failure of the process."

If actions are being taken by one or more members outside of council sessions, such as the matter regarding parking squad cars, it is more of a failure of the other council members to stop the lone ranger from acting, Anfinson suggests.

Simply asking council members to refrain from discussing matters outside of council chambers isn't enough if the council truly wants the behaviors to stop, he said.

"A formal objection needs to be made," Anfinson said, "including a resolution of the majority of the council."



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