Lancaster clerk files complaint against mayor; mayor says 'I know I threw a fit'

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.
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. Lexington Herald-Leader

LANCASTER — A Halloween day argument between Mayor Brenda Powers and City Clerk Shari Lane has resulted in the clerk filing an ethics complaint.

"I know I threw a fit," Powers said Wednesday. "I did. I went off. But I didn't touch anyone. I was just very upset with her."

The ethics complaint was not available Wednesday, and Powers said she has not received it or seen its allegations. Lane, upon the advice of a lawyer, declined to speak about the incident or the complaint. City Attorney Beth Wesley was not available for comment Wednesday.

The verbal altercation between the mayor and city clerk was recorded on video — with no sound — on Lancaster city hall's internal surveillance system. It shows Powers talking to Lane in the city clerk's office. Lane then walks across the hall to the utilities office, and Powers follows. There, the conversation grows animated. At one point, Powers stretches her arms out to her sides and makes circling motions with her arms.

A water utilities clerk, Jennifer Napier, appears to intervene between the two women but later leaves the office, obviously distraught and dabbing at her eyes. Apparently, the argument became so loud that people who were meeting behind closed doors down the hall come out to investigate what the ruckus was about.

The video shows Lancaster police Chief Rodney Kidd and another officer walking to the office, where they defuse the situation. The entire incident lasted about 10 minutes with no apparent physical contact between the women. Police had not filed charges Wednesday.

In recounting the incident Wednesday, Powers said she was angry because she had overheard Lane responding to questions over the telephone from someone at the local weekly newspaper, The Garrard Central Record.

Powers asserts that Lane should have referred any questions from the newspaper to the mayor.

"That really made me really upset. I was sitting in the next room, and of course, you can hear from room to room," Powers said. "And it just hit me wrong, and I went in there and I said, 'Shari, why didn't you let me talk to the Central Record? I am the mayor and I am here. You know I don't like hearsay.' ... I said, 'You should have let me talk to them.'"

Later, the topic of the argument switched to whether the city should build a new multimillion-dollar water-treatment plant, Powers said.

"I was very lucky for Shari to work for me because she's been here 39 years," Powers said. "But we don't gee and haw. She just doesn't like me, I guess. I told her, I said, 'Shari, I love you and your family. I know you disagree with me on the water plant. The water plant needs to be built.'"

Kidd, the police chief, told the mayor and Lane to "just calm down," Powers said.

Lancaster's ethics board is scheduled to meet Monday night to review and discuss Lane's complaint.

In the meantime, Lancaster City Council will meet at 7 p.m. Thursday and is expected to discuss the matter in executive session, Powers said.

Powers, who is in her third year as mayor, said she was "tickled and excited" that Lane decided to remain as city clerk in her administration.

As mayor, Powers said, she could fire Lane but chose not to "because she knows exactly what to do. And I don't like to fire anybody. I mean, I'm just one of those people who does not like to fire people. I will do almost anything to work it out."

Powers, 67, is not new to controversy. Last year, the city council's six members filed a memorandum against her that outlined more than 20 allegations of misconduct. The council apparently hoped Powers would resign, but she refused to do so. At a public forum at the county courthouse, members of the public said the council and mayor needed to work together.

In the meantime, Powers said she has not apologized to Lane. The mayor said she also favors transparency in government.

"I have done no wrong about anything," she said.

Powers agreed that she and Lane must learn to work together.

"She's going to have to treat me like a human being, and I am going to have to do the same to her, which I have done," Powers said. "I'm just tired of being stabbed in the back."

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