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McFarland questions council’s code of conduct
May 29, 2014 Jerry Purvis   

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The City of Gering’s Administrative Committee met last week as outside attorney Audrey Elliott outlined her findings over a code of conduct complaint from one of the council members.

On April 28, council member Jill McFarland filed a complaint with the city over inappropriate comments and behavior from fellow members Don Christensen and Dan Smith during several council meetings. That turned into a code of conduct investigation by Elliott.

McFarland had earlier said the conduct was in conjunction with two issues the council had been discussing: the proposed meatpacking plant in Gering and the resultant request from McFarland to update the city’s policy for communicating with other staff members.

When the proposal to modify the city’s method of communication was made, Christensen said the changes weren’t necessary because of the media, who report everything the council does.

Under the city’s code of conduct for elected officials, members may not make “belligerent, personal, impertinent, slanderous, threatening, abusive or disparaging comments” when dealing with one another. The policy says council members bring a wide variety of personalities and opinions with them, so members should “agree to disagree” on contentious issues.

Elliott told committee members her investigation included reviewing the transcripts of the meetings in question and also viewing the videos of the meetings. She said her findings were objective, in that she stayed with the facts of what happened, rather than what people might think happened.

“When you want to prove slander in a public setting, you first have to show the statement was false and was done with actual malice,” she said. “That’s hard to do for public officials.”

Another of McFarland’s complaints was that council member Smith wasn’t being truthful when he claimed the Admin Committee, which she chairs, doesn’t keep minutes. However, Smith said that when he looked for past minutes, he could only find a synopsis of what was discussed at the meetings.

City Clerk Kathy Welfl said she takes actual minutes for every committee except admin. “I would be very hard pressed to accept a summary as official minutes for the public record,” she said, “but I’ve been excluded from taking minutes at Admin Committee meetings.”

McFarland was out of town during the Admin Committee meeting, but other members took no action. Member Larry Gibbs said he would review the videos and transcripts of the council meetings in question before the committee’s next meeting.

Before adjournment, committee members approved a motion by Gibbs that the city clerk or the clerk’s representative attend all Admin Committee meetings and take official minutes.
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