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Working together to fix Armstrong

Thursday night’s work session held keys to healing city, few answers

May 1, 2017
Amy H. Peterson - Staff Writer ( , Estherville News

The City of Armstrong held a work session Thursday night, led by city attorney Brian Thul of Whittemore. Thul spent the first half hour of the meeting teaching the crowd about decorum, Robert's Rules of Order, and other procedural issues.

"We should not have yelling, name-calling, slurs, or disorder in our meetings," Thul said.

Because it was a work session and not a meeting with actionable items, there was no time slated for public comment.

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"Open meetings allow citizens to make sure there are no back room deals happening, and that our city business is transparent to the public," Thul said.

Thul sat in the center of a table that included council members Dan Moore, Patty Thackery, Nathan Anderson, and Rhett Hiney, as well as newly-reinstated city clerk Kate Staton. Mayor Greg Buum did not attend. About 75 citizens were in attendance as the meeting was moved from the council chambers to the large community room. Thul addressed the council and let its members speak about their thoughts on various items of protocol.

"Meetings should run similarly to what you might see in a session of the Iowa legislature or Congress," Thul said. Thul gave examples of doling and yielding the floor so only one person was speaking at a time, and creating an atmosphere of respect among the council members and between the council and the public.

On the agenda was discussion of how the council would select a new council member.

Thul said, "There is a window of time to appoint a new council member, otherwise the city must hold a special election. These can be costly to the city, so I recommend the council appoint a new member soon."

Thul discussed city hall security measures. The city computers have been secured with new passwords and backup in the cloud. The city clerk's desk also has a camera and the locks have been changed. Four keys have been issued, one to Staton and three held by Thackery.

Thackery said, "Kate works full time in city hall, and needs the key to get in and do her work."

Staton was reinstated April 17 after approximately four months of administrative leave. Buum issued a statement that day ordering the rest of the city staff to have no direct communication with her. Three council members voted for her reinstatement at the April 10 council meeting. Council member Clinton Davis submitted his resignation from the council April 14, citing acts of blatant disrespect and an inability of the council to get things done.

The police chief, mayor and maintenance continue to do business by cell phone from remote locations, with offices at the water plant.

Thul asked Staton about her thoughts on this method of operation.

"There needs to be communication between employees. There is no way, in my opinion, to run the city without communicating directly with each other. We need to move on from this so city business can occur," Staton said.

Thul moved on to use of a timeclock.

Moore said, "All employees punch a timeclock so they are accountable for the time they're working for the city. Obviously we don't expect Craig [Merrill, police chief] to punch in if he's leaving home to go on a 911 call, but for his regular duties he should use it."

The timeclock was removed from city hall to the shop so "everyone can punch in," Moore said.

Thackery said, "We need to have one in city hall, too."

Moore said, "We need to run the city out of one office. We look like chicks running around the hen house. They should be in one area. This is crazy."

The work session then moved on to activity logs and other daily procedures. For banking, the mayor is the administrator of accounts, with the power to make and close accounts.

Thackery said no change is given at the city office for anyone, including utility customers stopping in to pay a bill. While Staton is on 60 days probationary employment, Thackery is supervising her with banking and all other duties.

Thul said the council minutes showed the council had entered closed sessions without citing one of the reasons allowable under Iowa code. Thul made a recommendation to the council to publish the allowable reason for going into closed session.

"It was not my intent to talk the whole time," Thul said.

The meeting did not address why mayor Greg Buum was not in attendance, nor anything about the current investigation by the Iowa Department of Criminal Investigation.



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