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Mayor spars with council over scope of office
November 18, 2011 Jerry Purvis   

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A Gering City Council member’s question over whether Mayor Ed Mayo overstepped his authority in dealing with staff has led to the mayor asking the county attorney to investigate whether the closed session where the question was asked violated the state’s Open Meetings Act.
After the Nov. 14 city council meeting, members went into executive session to discuss a potential litigation issue. Then, council member Manuel Escamilla asked to talk about personnel. He said he received an e-mailed concern from a city staff member about Mayo asking for all departments to do an audit of inventory to determine the best use for city assets. He also asked for a utilities audit to determine what the departments are doing to conserve energy.
“We all knew about the mayor’s request; it was made in January,” council member Jill McFarland said. “Manuel pulled out a list during the session and said he just found out that day the mayor had requested the audits. But the e-mail was dated Jan. 10. The mayor asking the staff for information is not out of line.”
McFarland said what’s happening is some council members are trying to undermine the mayor under the pretense he’s stepping outside of the scope of his office.
In an e-mail to the media, Mayor Mayo said “The only personnel there was an issue about was an elected official, and that would be me. We’re not hired employees. We’re elected officials.”
McFarland said once she realized the session was a discussion the council probably shouldn’t be having, she left the meeting.
After McFarland said an informal vote was taken asking whether they agreed with council member Escamilla that the mayor was overstepping his authority. Six of the remaining seven voted yes.
The next day, Mayo asked Escamilla to provide the names of those who circumvented the council’s chain of command policy by not going to the city administrator first.
Mayo said if the information wasn’t provided to the city administrator by the end of the business day on Nov. 17, he would notify the media he believed the council violated the Open Meetings Act. He said he would also contact the county attorney to pursue an investigation, which he did the morning of Nov. 18.
“I personally do not care who the employee is that circumvented the council’s chain of commend. However, I do care that you as a council are indeed undercutting our city administrator’s authority by allowing this to happen,” Mayo said in his e-mail.
Council member Julie Morrison said that because the meeting was an executive session, she couldn’t divulge anything about it. But she did say she refused to get into a “spitting contest” with the mayor in the media.
Morrison added that while there were problems with the previous mayor and the scope of authority assigned to the office, things have only gotten worse since the last election.
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