The Clinton Herald, Clinton, Iowa

Local News

February 24, 2014

City to discuss open records violation appeal

CLINTON — District Judge Nancy Tabor’s final ruling on the city of Clinton’s open meetings violation case orders the city to pay $40,680.05 plus $40 in court costs. It’s now in council members’ hands to decide if the city should appeal the ruling.

The city lost a lawsuit brought by Citizens for Open Government in which records presented as evidence during the November 2013 trial against attorney Michael Walker were not released for the public to review. The court found Clinton in violation, but was unable to determine who should bear the burden - the city as an entity or current and former members of the council who served during the breaches.

Tabor laid down her final ruling on Feb. 14, which was 15 days after granting a motion by the city’s legal representative, Cynthia Sueppel, to remove individual council members from bearing the penalty. City Administrator Jessica Kinser has slated an appeal discussion for Tuesday’s Committee of the Whole meeting. In a memo to council members, she noted a number of compromised officials.

Councilmen Ed O’Neill and John Rowland both participated in CFOG prior to their respective elections. Given this conflict of interest, they cannot participate in Tuesday’s discussion, nor can they vote on an action related to the appeal talks.

Because of this, Sueppel also said she has a conflict of interest because she represented the city against CFOG. When Kinser referred the matter to acting city attorney John Frey, he said he also faced a potential conflict of interest. The city has enlisted attorney Drew Chambers to advise on the matter.

Kinser said Councilman Paul Gassman was also looked into for a conflict of interest since he served during the open record breach. He is not compromised, meaning five on the council can vote on and discuss the appeal.

If the city chooses to appeal the case, the Iowa Communities Assurance Pool (Clinton’s insurance provider) will continue to cover Sueppel’s legal fees.

On Tuesday, the council will also:

• Consider a resolution awarding tax-increment financing agreements with Lincolnway Railpark companies RAIL.ONE and Nevada Railroad Materials. During the last city council meeting, city leaders on a 4-3 vote approved an Urban Renewal Plan that established the railpark as an Urban Renewal Area, allowing Clinton to reward TIF to companies therein. A first consideration for the ordinance came before the council immediately following its public hearing on the railpark. On Tuesday, the council will go through its second and third considerations before adopting or denying the ordinance.

• Set a public hearing date for the Fiscal Year 2014-2015 city operating budget. The tentative date listed in the council agenda is March 13 at 7 p.m.

 

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