The Clinton Herald, Clinton, Iowa

Clinton

September 15, 2012

District judge denies reconsideration in open meetings ruling

CLINTON — A district judge has struck down a motion in an Open Meetings Law violation ruling involving the city of Clinton.

Defendants, including former Mayor Rodger Holm, former councilman Mike Kearney, current council members Jennifer Graf, Paul Gassman, Charles Mulholland, Bev Hermann and Maggie Klaes and current Mayor Mark Vulich, filed a motion on Aug. 17 to amend or reconsider the ruling on the plaintiff’s motion for summary judgment in the case involving a former human resource director. In that summary judgement, District Judge Mark Smith ruled the defendants had violated the Open Meetings Law on Sept. 13 when they went into a closed session during a committee of the whole meeting to discuss the elimination of the three departments as well as what, if any, severance pay would be paid to individual employees.

The plaintiff in the case is David Geisler, former human resources director, whose department and job were cut as the city sought to chisel $800,000 from its budget after a shortfall was discovered last summer.

According to court documents, the defendants, through their attorney Cynthia S. Sueppel, argued the ruling be amended or reconsidered because some of the subject matter discussed at the closed meeting on Sept. 13 was also discussed, in part, at other open meetings.  

“The defendants cite no case law to support their position in this regard. The assertion that this subject matter was further discussed at open meetings indicates to the court that the reasons given for the September 13, 2011, closed meetings were not, in fact, valid reasons for closing the meeting under the statute,” Smith wrote in his ruling on the motion to amend or reconsider.

Defendants also alleged the closed sessions were held to discuss “strategy” relating to the employment condition of employees who were not covered by the collective bargaining agreement, according to court documents.  

Court documents also show the defendants asserted the amount of severance was the only issue discussed at the closed session meeting. After reviewing the transcript of the meeting, Smith found this was not the case.

Smith denied the motion on Sept 4.

In August, the defendants were informed they will face fines for the Open Meetings Act violation ranging from $100 to $2,500 based on what they knew going into the closed session.  

The amount, if any, will be determined during the penalty phase, which will be set for hearing at the same time as the trial on another alleged violation by the defendants concerning a Sept. 2 closed City Council session.

That trial is set for 9 a.m. Oct 1.

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