Judge reinstates Lancaster mayor who was ousted after dispute with city clerk

gkocher1@herald-leader.comMarch 7, 2014 

LANCASTER — Brenda Powers, who was removed from office as Lancaster's mayor by unanimous vote of the city council in November, will be reinstated after a judge ruled Friday that there was no evidence of misconduct to justify ousting her.

A jubilant Powers took the judge's ruling as a vindication of what she'd said all along: that she hadn't done anything wrong except have personal conflicts with the city clerk.

"I am just so happy that I have my job back," Powers said after a court proceeding. "I thank the people that stood with me."

Powers won't resume her duties until Garrard Circuit Judge Hunter Daugherty has signed an order vacating the city council's decision.

"It will be one day next week," said Brad Guthrie, the attorney who represents Powers.

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.

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. 27, Lancaster City Council appointed councilman Chris Davis to serve out Powers' term.

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

In her appeal, Powers argued that "shouting at an insubordinate employee, while perhaps rude or in bad taste, is not an unlawful act sufficient to support a finding of misconduct."

Daugherty, the judge, agreed. He said Powers "lacked a certain amount of diplomacy," and that he could not condone her conduct with subordinates, but that alone "was not adequate for misconduct."

Misconduct is not defined in the law.

Daugherty said his reading of state attorney generals' opinions about open-records requests places decisions about whether records should be released within the mayor's responsibilities — except in cases where the city clerk has been specifically designated as the official custodian of records.

Hadden Dean, the lawyer representing the city of Lancaster, said Lane is the custodian of records by virtue of her job description as city clerk and the oath when she took the job.

Daugherty said he might change his ruling if Dean proves that's the case.

Otherwise, Daugherty said, "My inclination is to set aside the removal (of Powers) by council."

Dean left open the possibility of an appeal. "What then is misconduct, if yelling and screaming and intimidation is not misconduct?" Dean said afterward.

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

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