Lancaster City Council votes to remove mayor from office

gkocher1@herald-leader.comNovember 23, 2013 

Harrodsburg attorney Brad Guthrie, left, represented Lancaster Mayor Brenda Powers during a public hearing in November 2013 on removing Powers from office. Powers appealed. Photo by Greg Kocher | Staff

GREG KOCHER | STAFF — Lexington Herald-Leader Buy Photo

LANCASTER — Lancaster City Council voted 6-0 Saturday morning to remove Mayor Brenda Powers from office.

A 90-minute public hearing took testimony from witnesses, including City Clerk Shari Lane, who said the mayor has created a hostile work environment at city hall. But Powers, 67, said the testimony failed to demonstrate misconduct on her part.

"I think it was proven here today that I have not done anything wrong, I'm sorry," Powers said.

Brad Guthrie, a Harrodsburg attorney representing Powers, said he will recommend that the mayor appeal the council's decision to Garrard Circuit Court. Powers was elected in 2010 to a four-year term.

"The only thing they've established here today is a personality conflict between the mayor and an admittedly insubordinate city clerk," Guthrie said.

The council has 30 days to appoint a new mayor, City Attorney Beth Wesley said. A meeting date has not been scheduled to do that.

In the meantime, council member Chris Davis said he and Lane will co-sign checks.

More than 40 citizens attended the public hearing in an upstairs circuit court room.

The public hearing was called after Powers and Lane had a heated discussion Oct. 31 that was broken up by Police Chief Rodney Kidd and Officer Nathan Swartz.

During the public hearing, the council watched a 10-minute video recorded without sound by the city hall's internal surveillance system. The video shows the confrontation between Powers and Lane.

On Nov. 1, Lane filed a workplace-harassment complaint against Powers. Lane said Powers has harassed and "bullied" her on a daily basis over the last three years that Powers has been in office.

Powers has said she was angry because Lane released information to the local newspaper, the Garrard Central Record.

Under cross-examination by Guthrie, Lane acknowledged that the mayor had directed that information to the media should be released by Powers.

"She asked that it be done through her?" Guthrie asked Lane.

"That's correct," Lane said.

"And you didn't do that?" Guthrie asked.

"Not this time, I did not," Lane said.

"Is it fair to say that you and Mayor Powers have a personality conflict?" Guthrie asked.

"She has a personality conflict with me," Lane said.

Lane later added that she has released information to the media to keep the city out of trouble. Lane noted that the local newspaper and a private citizen have filed complaints about access to public information. Those complaints were later referred to the state attorney general's office.

When Guthrie asked Lane to specify what information Mayor Powers had withheld, Lane said: "I can't sit here and tell you every little thing she withheld."

Utility clerks Jennifer Napier and Debbie Carrier submitted statements and testified that Powers has created a hostile work environment at city hall. They said the mayor has subjected city employees to loud verbal abuse and crude language. Carrier said that she witnessed at least five shouting matches between the mayor and Lane, and that she has heard Powers make loud remarks about Lane while Powers was talking on the phone at city hall. The utility clerks were aware that the mayor had directed Lane not to release information.

Guthrie asked Carrier why she did not release information to the newspaper.

"That's not my — I'm not in that position," Carrier said.

"Thank you. That's not your job, is it?" Guthrie said.

Council member Bret Baierlein noted that Carrier is not the custodian of city records, while Lane is.

Chief Kidd testified that he has been called to break up arguments between the mayor and city hall's front-office staff at least two other times aside from the Oct. 31 incident.

In the city's closing argument, Baierlein noted that Powers was nearly ousted by the council in 2012 because of similar complaints against her.

"I think what this latest incident has shown is just a pattern of behavior, and one that has not heretofore been amended, and I don't have a great deal of faith that it will be amended," Baierlein said.

"My concern is, we open ourselves up to further action and liability if we don't take the required steps to protect our employees, and that's what this is all about for me," Baierlein said.

Guthrie said the council did not issue findings of fact and conclusions to support misconduct.

"You don't remove an elected official from office without substantial evidence," Guthrie said. "All you've heard today is evidence of a personality conflict between the elected chief executive officer of this city and the city clerk who, by her own admission, has been insubordinate to the mayor's instructions."

Guthrie said no evidence was presented that Powers has "openly, defiantly not answered an open records request."

The evidence presented does not rise to the level of misconduct, he said. Guthrie also said the council had not followed due process and had only formally notified Powers on Friday about the charges against her.

Nevertheless, on a vote to remove the mayor, council members Baierlein, Davis, Mike Sutton, Jeff Adams, Ronnie Baker and Jesse Wagoner all voted yes.

Greg Kocher: (859) 231-3305. Twitter: @HLpublicsafety

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