Lancaster to hold hearing to decide mayor's fate after verbal tussle with clerk

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 — The Lancaster City Council voted unanimously in a special meeting Saturday to hold a public hearing on Nov. 23 to determine whether Mayor Brenda Powers should be removed from office.

Powers said the council asked her to resign at a Thursday night meeting. But she made it clear Saturday that she has no intention of voluntarily leaving city hall.

"No, God put me there and the voters put me there. And I am not going to quit," Powers told the council.

The public hearing will air details of an Oct. 31 verbal altercation between Powers and City Clerk Shari Lane. The 10-minute argument, recorded by video without sound on the city hall's internal surveillance system, was broken up by Lancaster Police Chief Rodney Kidd and another officer.

On Nov. 1, Lane filed a workplace-harassment complaint against Powers. In her complaint, Lane said she has been "harassed and bullied on a daily basis from the time Mayor Powers took office. She has created an intimidating, hostile and an offensive working environment. ...There are disparaging remarks, verbal conduct consisting of crude language."

The complaint was initially forwarded to the city's ethics commission, but City Attorney Beth Wesley said the complaint is a matter for the city council because the ethics commission only deals with matters of nepotism or conflicts of interest. The commission had planned to meet Monday night but the Nov. 23 public hearing makes that meeting moot, Wesley said.

During a 20-minute monologue Saturday, Powers told the council that she "exploded" because she had overheard Lane responding to questions over the telephone from someone at the local newspaper, the Garrard Central Record. Powers told Lane that the mayor should field such questions.

"I wasn't the only person in there hollering," Powers said. "She (Lane) did the same thing I did. She was mad at me and I was mad at her.

"I think if you all want to get rid of me, I think you should get rid of her, too," Powers told the council. "I don't think I should take all the blame for this. ...She was just as bad as I was."

Powers, 67, is not new to controversy. Last year, the city council filed a memorandum against her with more than 20 allegations. The document said Powers made profane public comments and denigrated the work ethic of city employees. Powers refused to resign then, and the council could not get the required unanimous vote to oust her.

Powers suggested there may be another reason why the all-male council opposes her.

"You all have one more year to put up with a woman mayor and I hate (that) you all don't like a woman mayor ..." Powers said.

Council member Bret Baierlein took issue with that.

"Every time you've had disagreements with the council, you say it's because you're a woman. I'm not going to sit here and be accused of being a sexist any more," Baierlein said.

Rather, he said, the council's issue with Powers is a pattern of behavior.

"This is just the straw that broke the camel's back," Baierlein added. "I know each of us have had individual conversations with you in the past about this pattern of behavior. I know the previous time we discussed this, if you go back and look at the original memo that was produced back in 2012, one of the things that we cited was the fostering of a hostile work environment and intimidation."

"We've never been against you," Baierlein added. "I think your leadership has been lacking and I think sometimes your attention to the details of the job is lacking. I think that you've shown a pattern of disrespect and intimidation toward employees, and I think that's why we're here today. It's not about one thing that's happened."

Other council members agreed with Baierlein.

Mayors and other elected officials in Kentucky may be removed from office for misconduct, incapacity or willful neglect in the performance of duties. The elected official may be removed only by a unanimous vote of all members of the elected body except the one charged.

The law says no elected officer "shall be removed" without a full public hearing. Once evidence is heard, the council would take a vote. If removed, the mayor has the right to appeal to Garrard Circuit Court.

The city council would appoint an interim mayor who would serve until the next general election.

On a vote to schedule a public hearing, council members Baierlein, Chris Davis, Mike Sutton, Jeff Adams, Ronnie Baker and Jesse Wagoner voted yes.

In a related measure, the council scheduled separate work shifts for Powers and Lane in order to minimize interaction between the two. Lane will work 6 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. at city hall, while Powers will work there in the afternoon hours.

Lane said little during Saturday's hour-long meeting. After the council adjourned, she released a written statement that read in part: "I want to take this opportunity to say that this is a sad time for the city of Lancaster; for this I am very sorry.

"I know that my complaint has put the Lancaster City Council in the middle of a very bad situation, and there will not be any winners in their decision today."

Related stories from Lexington Herald Leader