March 5, 2021
By Mike Kruzman / [email protected]
The mood flared as members of Brighton City Council argued over the city attorney’s departure.
Prosecutor Paul Burns announced his resignation last month. During the city council’s online session on Thursday, Councilor Jim Bohn asked questions about the resignation and why his request for a closed session to discuss the resignation was ignored. Bohn said he had pondered the February 16 letter and it struck him terribly to be a sudden resignation. He said he did an investigation and found out the day before Burns’ resignation that there was a meeting with City Manager Nate Geinzer, Burns, and another attorney who worked for Burns. Bohn said he learned there was an argument that escalated into a profanity and profanity-filled screaming competition that resulted in the employee quitting and Burns resigning. Bohn said the argument involved a situation where the city administrator disagreed with legal advice from Burns’ office.
Bohn said he emailed Mayor Shawn Pipoly ten days earlier asking for a closed session with the city’s labor attorney so the city council could get an instruction. He read from his email and stated that what happened was way beyond the normal disagreements or arguments in the workplace. Bohn said the event needs a full review and that it is impossible to believe that what happened between the two parties is acceptable and permissible behavior in the city workers’ handbook.
Bohn said he fully understands that there are two sides to a story and the city council needs a full account of what happened in order to determine if remedial action is needed. He called it “no small matter” and the city council needs to know and be certain that they are dealing with the situation right. Bohn said, “Maybe the city work lawyer will tell us we don’t have to do anything. Or that a third party investigation should be conducted to find out what happened to ensure there was no violation of city policy. ”
Bohn then made an exception to his request for a closed session that was not on the agenda. He said, “When some people want a closed session, it seems that it does so automatically. I ask ten days in advance and nothing. Where are we going with it? “
Councilor Jon Emaus replied, telling Bohn, “You like to tell stories from your perspective about a meeting you haven’t even attended.” He quoted the city charter and how the investigation of the council and not the “rogue councils” should be carried out. He said the reason for this follows the same rules they follow in tribunals and courts: “The thing is, one-sided hearsay evidence is not thrown around. It is so that the Council is voting in favor of an investigation. The council can issue subpoenas. The Council may fully examine and investigate a matter on the basis of a scope determined by the Council. Not a single rogue council who decides to take a page of a story and then threaten the written words of our own city attorney to expose him that his letter was somehow false or contained false information about his employer like us, the city council. “
It was then announced that from that day on there was a second resignation letter from the prosecutor, which took effect immediately.
Emaus said that at least two members can vote on an investigation, and this is done transparently and voted by the entire council, not “a rogue council”.
Bohn said he didn’t ask for an investigation, he asked for a closed session. Then he quipped, “You want to sweep it under the rug. Good transparency and doing the right thing. ”
Mayor Pipoly warned Bohn about disorder. At that point he replied that it was not on the agenda because he was told that a councilor would not be there and he did not think it appropriate to have it without them. Pipoly said the member then said they could attend but “couldn’t return”. Councilor Renee Pettingill, who attended the meeting from the Virgin Islands, said she replied to the email within 15 minutes, stating that she would attend the meeting.
Tensions between Bohn and Pipoly increased, and Bohn told Pipoly to read the city charter. Bohn said, “You cannot ask for a closed session and two days later it is on the agenda. You do not have that authority. Nowhere in the charter do you have that. You’re only one in seven. All you have to do is marry people, kiss babies, and stick the shovel in the ground at the groundbreaking ceremony. So yeah, I’m frustrated. “
Pipoly told Bohn that he had reached a point where he was “definitely out of order”. Bohn dared to blame Pipoly.
Councilor Kris Tobbe then spoke out saying that he was disappointed with the decency and said that if a councilor wanted to put an item on the agenda, it should be respected. He said, “This council always operated with the utmost integrity. I found nothing wrong with Councilor Bohn’s letter he was reading. This is a matter that should be discussed in a closed session. “
Mayor Pipoly then went on to explain why he did not allow the closed session. He said he spoke to the prosecutor and city officials and said, “The conflicting reports I get. The most damning, the most accusing, comes from Councilor Bohn. Our city attorney didn’t tell me. Our city attorney did not report any dispute between the prosecutor and city staff prior to this incident – and did not convey any of it to me when I spoke to him. I spoke to city staff who had a different take on this and, given the circumstances, I felt better to keep talking to city staff and come back with city lawyer, but at this point we don’t have a city lawyer, that’s my reason not to have it as a closed session. My first reaction was that I wanted all the councilors here and suddenly all councilors can be here and it seemed like they could be here as a lynch mob. And I’m not going to let that happen to an employee. “
Bohn replied, “That’s a joke. And you treat it like its student council instead of the city council. “Pettingill later said that she doesn’t like being accused of being part of a lynch mob.
Pipoly came back to him and said if Bohn doesn’t think they’re doing the right job, why doesn’t he mind? Bohn said, “Maybe we will.”
The two then discussed Burns’ new letter of resignation, which was reportedly filed around 4:30 p.m. In it, Bohn said Burns said they should, by resolution, withdraw the email sent to the governor. He asked, “With whose permission does someone send an email to the governor on behalf of the city without the approval of the city council? You’re out of control. “
Pipoly replied, “Did the email get an answer to the question? And the answer is yes. Ann Bollin responded with exactly what I needed as Mayor and what the staff needed. Whichever is the governor is unlikely to extend it. So we got our answer … I was trying to get a response for the staff to see if this should be extended and if you step on the plate and want to be a city council member instead of a lynch mob you are more than welcome too. ”
Tobbe said he would write to the mayor and the entire council to ask in a closed session to discuss the original matter at a future meeting.