Aug. 2, 2018: This article has been updated to reflect a clarification from Council Member Jeremy Horn.
The Seward City Council accepted City Manager Jim Hunt’s resignation Thursday in a hectic special meeting, from which one council member walked out in protest, and which no member of the administration attended in an official capacity. The meeting also included an executive session – not included on the original meeting notice – that City Attorney William Earnhart admitted was out of compliance with the city code.
Hunt submitted his resignation on Monday, saying that he would leave his post on Aug. 22.
Council Members Ristine Casagranda and Sharyl Seese called the meeting on Wednesday for the purpose of accepting Hunt’s resignation and preparing to find a replacement. The next morning, within twelve hours of the meeting, Earnhart sent a request to City Clerk Brenda Ballou to add an executive session to the agenda, to take place at the beginning of the meeting, rather than at the end as the code stipulates.
Meetings generally require a minimum of twenty-four hours’ notice. Earnhart, however, invoked a provision of the code that permits the council to waive notice requirements if they must meet during an emergency, although the nature of the emergency was not clear.
That provision requires the presence of all council members, or written consent on the part of absent council members. Council Member Jeremy Horn was not present, and the clerk said that she had not received any message from him.
Horn later clarified that he had sent an email to inform the council that he would be absent.
This left a number of questions about the legality of the meeting, which Earnhart openly contemplated during the meeting.
“We are not in technical compliance,” Earnhart said. “I don’t feel comfortable with that, however we are working on a pretty tight schedule. People can scream and yell, but it doesn’t invalidate any future decision or cost the city any money.”
Earnhart later said that, although the city would violate the code if it moved forward with the executive session, “the remedy for noncompliance is practically nonexistent.”
Out of a number of concerns – the appropriateness of the executive session, the rashness of the special meeting itself – the council debated postponing the entire meeting until next week. Vice Mayor Marianna Keil was vehemently opposed to going on with the meeting.
“I will vote to postpone,” she said. “I will not put the citizens of Seward and the City of Seward at risk.” If the meeting did go on, she said, “I will not participate and I will leave.”
Only Keil and Council Member Sue McClure voted to postpone the meeting. Council Member Jeremy Horn was not present.
After the council voted against postponement, Vice Mayor Marianna Keil followed through on her promise, left the chambers and did not return. With Horn absent, Keil’s departure left the body at five members, only one more than a quorum.
The council then moved into the executive session, which Earnhart said would concern a possible lawsuit by Hunt against the city. The reason named in the motion calling for an executive session, which said only that it concerned “matters the immediate knowledge of which would clearly have an adverse impact on the finances of the city.”
Executive sessions are closed to the public, so the audience departed the chambers during the discussion. When the public returned to the chamber, the council continued with its business, accepting Hunt’s resignation.
Hunt’s contract with the city requires that he give 30 days’ notice of his resignation, which Earnhart said the council must accept within 10 days, during which time the body can immediately remove him from his position.
A proposal to exercise that option was narrowly defeated. Seese sought to amend the resolution to terminate Hunt’s contract immediately. Two of the remaining council members voted with Seese on that measure. Only two voted against, but votes before the council require four affirmative votes to pass. In spite of the 3–2 vote, that amendment failed.
The resolution adopted by the council allows Hunt to work the remaining days until Aug 22.