Tensions Ease Slightly During City Council Meeting, But Issues Still Linger

BROKEN BOW—It was a packed house on Tuesday, July 23 for a Broken Bow City Council meeting that had very few agenda items. The meeting kicked off with the discussion of proper meeting decorum after a number of people had brought the issue to Council President Rod Sonnichsen about meetings not being controlled.

Sonnichsen informed the public of Ordinance 1204 which outlines public participation in meetings. At previous meetings, there were members of the public who spoke without following the proper procedures of stepping to the podium and also were discussing issues that were not on the agenda.

“Some people were speaking four or five times and it’s just really not productive for a meeting. That is the reason why the modifications to Ordinance 1204 went in place,” said Sonnichsen.

Sonnichsen also told those in attendance that the Mayor is in charge of the meeting and he makes sure that the ordinance is followed. He noted that if one person is allowed to speak without following proper procedure everyone would be allowed to speak out of turn.

Mayor Jonathon Berghorst also spoke concerning the issue stating that members of the public have every right to speak at the meeting, but also agreed that there would need to be improvement on following the procedures laid out.

“We’ll be better about asking people to come up to the podium and stating their name and address. As long as I am here, everybody is free to speak as long as we follow the rules,” said Mayor Berghorst.

A concerned citizen did speak against the ordinance, saying that it was too restrictive. Brad Quackenbush stated that he believed sections of the ordinance, where the public is not allowed to ask questions to City officials or staff, other speakers or members of the public, are “overly restrictive and infringe on my rights to express my views.” He also stated that rebuttal comments not being allowed are also too restrictive due to some issues coming up that could be important to the initial topic.

“I believe that as members of the public, citizens of the community we should have the right to question our elected officials in a public meeting,” said Quackenbush. “Just a flat denial of my ability to ask a question to Council is unreasonable.”

Proper steps and procedures was the next item on the agenda where discusses focused around the proper steps to take on issues within the city. Mayor Berghorst placed the item on the agenda because he felt the city treasurer and city clerk were being told different things from the Council and himself. The issue comes about following an email that was sent to city employees following complaints that city employees were wearing shorts.

According to Mayor Berghorst, certain city employees asked the Mayor to look into the possibility of wearing shorts on the job. The Mayor stated that he would look into the issue, but in the meantime the employees would need to continue to wear jeans, safety gear, etc. until the research could be done. Before a decision was reached by the Mayor, certain employees ended up wearing shorts anyway.

When the complaints began to be reported, City Clerk Stephanie Wright sent out an email, which also included Mayor Berghorst and City Council members, reminding all city employees of the proper dress code. Mayor Berghorst felt that before sending out the email, she should have consulted him concerning the issue.

As the Council and Mayor continued to discuss the issue, it was expressed by both sides that communication was not happening as much as it should be. Councilman Jacob Holcomb stated that he had not had a sit down discussion with the Mayor in quite some time. Mayor Berghorst also stated that he believed the communication was not happening as much as needed and that it was going to be something that both sides would need to work on going forward.

Other business conducted was the unanimous approval of closing multiple streets for the Custer County Parade on Saturday, July 27. The streets that were approved to be closed are South B Street from Tomahawk Park to 10th Ave., 10th Ave. from South B Street to South D Street, and South D Street from 10th Ave to 6th Ave. Streets will close at 6:30 PM with the exception of South B Street which will close at 4 PM. Parking spaces will not be available from 1 PM until after the parade.

The final item on the agenda was the appointment of Pat Powers to the Park Board. This item was postponed until the next meeting at the suggestion of Mayor Berghorst.  While the Mayor stated that even though state statute dictates that he can appoint whomever he wants, he did say that he would discuss this appointment with the Park Board before going forward. The Council unanimously voted to postpone the appointment to the next meeting.

The next City Council Meeting will be on Tuesday, August 13, 2019 at 6:00 PM at the Broken Bow Public Library.