By Katie Dahlstrom
Herald Staff Writer
While most city officials who were found to have violated the Open Meetings Law are remaining silent following last week’s ruling, the city’s mayor says all options are being explored, including appealing to the Iowa Supreme Court.
Former Mayor Rodger Holm, former councilman Mike Kearney, current councilmembers Jennifer Graf, Paul Gassman, Charles Mulholland, Bev Hermann and Maggie Klaes were all defendants in the lawsuit filed by the city’s former human resources director, David Geisler.
Geisler’s job and department were eliminated to fix an $800,000 budget shortfall the city discovered last summer. The defendants discussed the department elimination during a Sept. 13, 2011, closed session, which Clinton County District Court Judge Mark Smith recently ruled to be a violation of the Open Meetings Law.
The only one speaking on the matter is Vulich, who delivered a prepared statement.
“The city has received the ruling on plaintiff’s summary judgement motion. Because this is still pending litigation, the city will not comment on the decision other than to say all legal options are being investigated with regard to the ruling including appeal to the Iowa Supreme Court.”
The defendants were informed by e-mail from City Attorney Jeff Farwell on Wednesday that what they pay in fines will be based on what they knew prior to entering the closed session on Sept. 13.
Minutes from the Sept. 13 Committee of the Whole meeting, which were approved by the City Council on Oct. 11, 2011, show former councilmember Kearney motioned to go into closed session. His motion was seconded by Councilwoman Jennifer Graf.
Kearney stated he was following the advice of counsel. Graf declined to comment on the case.
The minutes show the Committee of the Whole unanimously voted to go into closed session and remained in closed session to discuss personnel issues from 9:23 to 9:50 p.m.
Iowa Code states “that the penalty shall be not less than $100 or more than $500 per member that participated in the meeting. If a member knowingly participated in a violation the fine is not less than $1,000 or more than $2,500. These fines, and any attorneys fees, are specified to be paid individually by the members unless the person voted against the closed session, had good cause to believe and in good faith believed facts which if true would have indicated compliance with the requirements of the chapter or relied on a decision of the court of formal opinion of the attorney general,” Farwell’s e-mail read.
Hermann also declined to comment. Holm, Gassman, Mulholland and Klaes could not be reached. Farwell also could not be reached. The city of Clinton also is named as a defendant in the lawsuit.
The actual fines will be determined at the same time as a trial for another alleged violation that occurred during the Sept. 2, 2011, COW meeting. That trial will be at 9 a.m. on Oct. 1.