Ousted Lancaster mayor to return to office Monday; city council to appeal

gkocher1@herald-leader.comMarch 14, 2014 

LANCASTER — Brenda Powers will return to Lancaster City Hall as mayor on Monday, but her court battle with city council is not over.

A week ago, Garrard Circuit Judge Hunter Daugherty overturned the city council's November ouster of Powers, and a Wednesday order signed by the judge made the ruling official. On Friday, Daugherty issued another order denying the city council's motion for reconsideration.

Daugherty's Friday order also said Powers could not return to city hall until Monday.

Meanwhile, in an emergency meeting Thursday night, Lancaster City Council voted to authorize attorney Hadden Dean to "take any necessary steps to seek relief" on the litigation with Powers.

That means filing an appeal of her reinstatement with the Kentucky Court of Appeals, Dean said Friday.

"The deep desire of the council is to protect the employees and normal operations of the city," he said.

There is concern that Powers could return to office and then begin firing employees who were perceived to be in favor of her ouster, Dean said.

Powers said she has no intentions of firing anyone.

"I have not threatened to fire people," Powers said. "I do have the right to do that, I think. I'm not going to fire anyone if they want to work with me ... But I want a better attitude. I want a better relationship. I want people to learn to work together. It doesn't matter who does what, just as long as it gets done."

The council voted to remove Powers after a dispute arose between her and City Clerk Shari Lane over who has the duty and authority to release public records. Daugherty ruled that he could not find substantial evidence of misconduct to "support the removal of an elected official."

Dean said there is "a mountain of evidence" of misconduct and willful neglect of duties on the part of Powers. Those include "an unwillingness to provide for the timely, efficient and proper maintenance of city records"; "repeated threats of mass firings toward employees"; "profane public comments, denigrating the work ethic of city employees"; and "creating a hostile work environment for city employees."

Dean said the appeal will be filed next week. The appeal might seek an injunction to prevent Powers from firing employees or to limit her power to fire by requiring an accompanying approval by a majority vote of council.

Meanwhile, Powers has filed for re-election for a second four-year term. Her opposition in the November general election is Chris Davis, whom the council appointed as mayor after unanimously ousting Powers in November. His last day as interim mayor was Friday.

Davis said that he has excused himself from executive sessions when the council has discussed litigation with Powers behind closed doors.

"I'm trying to stay out of this process," Davis said. "I'm running for mayor in the fall, and I don't want to have any ties with it."

Davis said the morale of the city's more than two dozen employees has improved over the last few months.

"Our employees have come together," Davis said. "We wanted to improve on customer service, and we're doing that right now."

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

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