Archive for Wednesday, January 9, 2002

Council votes not to release Bennett Report

January 9, 2002

The public will not be seeing the Bennett Report anytime soon.

A motion to release a section of the Bennett Report failed Monday night at the Baldwin City Council meeting by a 2-3 vote, with Council Members George McCrary, Ted Brecheisen Jr. and Marilyn Pearse voting against.

The Bennett Report, which is special counsel Mark Bennett's findings of his investigation into the alleged misconduct of a former Baldwin City Police Officer and a review of the entire Police Department that began back in July, has only been read at this point by the city administrator, the city attorney and the city council.

The report was the basis for disciplinary action taken against members of the force by City Administrator Larry Paine. Based on the report's findings, Police Chief Steve Butell received a three-day suspension and three other officers received one-day suspensions. Two other officers received verbal reprimands. The disciplinary items have been appealed by the officers. The council heard those appeals Monday, but won't rule on them until Wednesday.

Council Member Todd Cohen, who made the motion to prepare the first 20 pages of the report for public release, said he thought it was time to bring closure to the matter.

"I don't think there's much to hide there," Cohen said. "I think almost everything in there has already been addressed publicly. But we can move on and focus on other things other than the Bennett Report."

McCrary said he agreed there needed to be some closure on the matter, but releasing the report would not be the way to do it.

"I think part of the closure is not to re-expose it," he said. "And legally, I don't think we can release everything that's in the report."

Pearse said she didn't think the report should be released, either.

"Mark Bennett told us not to release this report," she said. "I think it's counter-productive at this point. I think it's going to spread more information than is necessary."

Brecheisen said he agreed the report should be kept confidential.

"Things have been going pretty smooth," he said. "I think for the time being until it's all settled, said and done, we owe it to our officers to keep some of this stuff confidential."

City Attorney Bob Bezek said he didn't think it was a good idea to approve the release of the Bennett Report at Monday's meeting because of attorney and client privileges.

"I would suggest the preparation of an executive summary would be the first step before the release of the report," Bezek said. "To vote to release the report tonight would be potentially damaging to the city and you yourself. There's an individual liability issue here."

Cohen said releasing the report would keep communication lines open between the public and the city council.

"I think open government's a good thing," he said. "It's better to be open.

"This has become a policy document in many ways," he said. "The investigation was financed by public money. I think the public interest is better served with its release. It would put to rest some of these issues."

Mayor Ken Hayes, who only votes in case of a tie, has publicly stated he favors releasing the report. Both he and councilman Ken Wagner expressed their displeasure Tuesday morning at the vote's outcome.

"I wish we could have done better for the people of Baldwin," Wagner said. "I feel like the people of Baldwin deserve to know what's in that report."

In other business, the city council:

Met in executive session for two hours before the start of the meeting to discuss personnel. It involved the appeals of the police force concerning disciplinary action taken as a result of the Bennett Report. The council will hold a special session at 7 p.m. Wednesday in City Hall to determine the appeal outcomes.

Approved 4-1, with Wagner voting against, Charter Ordinance 15 amending the state statute of the mayor's appointing duties of employees and officers.

The charter ordinance now allows the mayor to appoint only the city attorney, the city treasurer and the municipal judge.

Wagner said he thought it was a big change and wanted to table the decision to the next meeting so he could have more time to look at the issue.

Approved 5-0 Ordinance 1074, which gives the city administrator the authority to hire and discharge all other employees including city clerk, police chief, director of public works and director of electric utilities.

Approved 5-0 to award the bid to construct the new Wastewater Treatment Plant to Carotthers Construction of Paola for $2,689,000.

Carotthers Construction is the same company that completed the Baldwin City Public Pool and the sludge digester at the Wastewater Treatment Plant.

Project Manager Pat Cox of BG Consultants said construction should be completed no later than the end of Jan. 2003.

Hayes said the possible lifting of the building moratorium will be discussed at the Jan. 22 city council meeting.

Approved 5-0 annexing the Wastewater Treatment Plant property into the city limits in order to be able to waive the building permit fee for the construction of the new plant.

Approved 5-0 the setting of wholesale water rates for Douglas County Rural Water District No. 4, Wellsville and Edgerton to $2.23 per 1,000 gallons of water.

Approved 5-0 to award lease purchase financing for two police cars to Baldwin State Bank at 3.75 percent. It is a two-year, four-payment plan that will begin in July. The total cost will be $42,000 based on a $40,000 purchase price.

Approved 5-0 a zoning change in the lot at the northeast corner of U.S. Highway 56 and Douglas County Road 1055 from residential to general commercial.

Approved 5-0 the removal of a structure at 1009 Ninth St.

Met in executive session for 30 minutes to discuss personnel. After executive session, council approved 5-0 a five percent increase in salary per hourly wage for City Clerk Peggy Nichols.

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