Ousted Lancaster mayor files appeal to circuit court

gkocher1@herald-leader.comDecember 2, 2013 

Lancaster Mayor Brenda Powers got into an argument with City Clerk Shari Lane that had to be broken up by Lancaster police. Lane has filed an ethics complaint with the city ethics board. Photo taken on Wednesday, Nov. 6, 2013.

GREG KOCHER | STAFF — Lexington Herald-Leader Buy Photo

Brenda Powers, who was removed from office as Lancaster's mayor last month by unanimous vote of the city council, filed an appeal Monday in Garrard Circuit Court, seeking to void the council's action.

The appeal asks a judge to vacate the council's decision because of "procedural irregularities, constitutional violations and a lack of substantial evidence to establish misconduct on the part of Powers."

The council voted 6-0 on Nov. 23 to remove Powers after a public hearing that included testimony from five witnesses. Powers, 67, had been elected to a four-year term in 2010.

On Nov. 1, City Clerk Shari Lane filed a workplace-harassment complaint against Powers. Lane alleged that Powers had harassed and "bullied" her daily during the three years that Powers had been in office.

The complaint was filed the day after Powers and Lane got into a shouting match at city hall that was broken up by Police Chief Rodney Kidd and another police officer. Powers said she was angry because Lane had released information to the local newspaper, the Garrard Central Record. Powers had said that any information regarding the city should be released by her.

Kentucky law allows for elected officials to be removed from office for misconduct, incapacity or willful neglect of duties.

The appeal says the council's decision to remove Powers was arbitrary and capricious.

"Shouting at an insubordinate employee, while perhaps rude or in bad taste, is not an unlawful act sufficient to support a finding of 'misconduct,'" the appeal says.

Misconduct is not defined in the law, but Powers' appeal states that the Kentucky Court of Appeals affirmed the 2004 removal of Stanton Mayor Myers Arnett from office after he appeared at council meetings and public functions intoxicated, issued two contracts in violation of applicable policies and sexually harassed city employees.

In the Lancaster case, "the only evidence presented established heated disagreements between the mayor and the city clerk, an admittedly insubordinate employee," the petition says. "The other individuals in that (utilities) office did not testify to any actions directed toward them, only that they overheard the disagreements between the mayor and the city clerk. There was no evidence of intimidation or harassment except as it may apply to the insubordinate city clerk."

The council also denied due process to Powers, the appeal said. It states that the council did not present Powers with a list of charges until 24 hours before the Nov. 23 public hearing. That denied Powers and her attorney, Brad Guthrie, sufficient time to prepare for the hearing, the appeal said.

"Mayor Powers' complaint and criticism of City Clerk Lane related directly to the unauthorized release of information about city business to the public. Because of the manner in which Mayor Powers conducted her criticism, the Lancaster City Council removed her from office," the appeal says.

"Mayor Powers has a constitutionally protected right to free speech which may not be suppressed because of the manner in which she exercises that right," the appeal says.

On Nov. 27, the Lancaster City Council appointed council member Chris Davis, 30, to serve out the term of Powers.

If Powers' appeal is denied, Davis would serve as mayor until January 2015.

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

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