PJ Council Controversy

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Meeting Ends Abruptly Over Agenda Item

By Joel Stevens, Associate Editor

    PACIFIC JUNCTION - A Pacific Junction City Council meeting ended abruptly last Tuesday after the council failed to pass its agenda for the meeting.
    According to Iowa Code, a local board, council or commission acting as a government body must approve that meeting’s agenda before considering new business. At last Tuesday’s meeting, the council declined to approve the agenda. In Jim Lovely’s nearly 10 years as Pacific Junction mayor, this was the first time he can recall where a consent agenda failed to pass.

    Lovely had opened the meeting by asking for a motion to approve the meeting agenda. A vote of the council, however, yielded a 4-1 vote against approving the agenda. Council members Earl Smith, Patricia Hatcher, Rodney Bents and Richard Kerres all voted against the motion. Councilman Andy Young was the lone “yes” vote for the agenda.
    Lovely then asked for a motion to adjourn the meeting. Smith, Hatcher, Bents and  Kerres all voted to adjourn the meeting. Young was the only dissenting vote.
    After the meeting, Lovely said he was surprised and disappointed by the four council members who voted against approving the agenda.
    “I’m surprised some council members allowed a small procedural matter to influence something that directly reflects on the values of the city of Pacific Junction,” Lovely said. “It doesn’t make any sense to me.”
    That small procedural matter was the Tuesday addition of Resolution 2010-17 to the agenda. The resolution, drafted by city attorney T.J. Patterman, and titled “Resolution on Equality and Conduct,” states in part “It is the official policy of the city council of the city of Pacific Junction that derogatory remarks based upon stereotypes, particularly those concerning race, creed, religion and national origin, as well any other historically oppressed group, have no place in city business, whether it be official or otherwise, and that any such remarks do not reflect the values of our community, and any such comments are strongly condemned.”
    The resolution is a response to comments Bents made about Mexicans at the Aug. 16 meeting.
    “Well, then don’t be getting hit by a Mexican up in Omaha,” Bents can be heard saying in a tape recorded discussion at that meeting.
    Lovely said the context of Bents’ comments related to an analogy Lovely used to compare auto insurance covering  damage should you be hit by an uninsured driver to the city’s plan covering property damage to the city’s community center by an uninsured user.
    Lovely and Patterman reviewed the tape, and, after discussions, drafted the resolution condemning Bents’ remarks.
    The resolution does not list Bents by name nor any council member or specific comments.
    Bents declined an interview request following last Tuesday’s meeting. He stood by his statements in an interview with The Opinion-Tribune following the Aug. 16 meeting, saying “I don’t have a problem at all with what I said.”
    Lovely is of the opinion it was the content of the resolution and not the agenda that was the issue last Tuesday.
    “The main bone of contention is that council members did not want that (resolution) on the agenda, didn’t want to vote on it and didn’t want to discuss it,” said Lovely. “You’d have to ask each and every one of them what’s their reason behind (not voting for) something as equality and conduct.”
    Lovely said the agenda and any accompanying resolutions are always posted and available in City Hall by 3 p.m. the day of the meetings.
    “There’s no reason why every council person did not have a copy of the resolution today,” said Lovely. “They did not have a reason why they did not read it. This is just something the city council should have passed and put all this stuff behind us.”
    Following the meeting, Smith cited state statute as his reasoning for voting against approving the agenda.
    Chapter 21 of the state opening meetings law requires tentative agendas be posted in a “prominent place” at least 24 hours in advance of a public meeting. In order for action to be taken on an issue on the agenda, the item, which typically can be a motion, resolution or ordinance, be posted prior to the meeting.
    Lovely said the city did not get the resolution until Tuesday, just prior to that night’s meeting.
    “Regardless, if you’re going to allow a procedural matter to influence how you feel about equality and conduct in your town, then there is something wrong,” Lovely said. “This is something we should have addressed tonight and gotten out of the way and moved forward.”
    Smith agrees the issue is a “procedural” one. That’s exactly why he voted against approving the agenda.
    “I voted no because resolutions need to be on the agenda 24 hours before meetings,” said Smith.
    Smith went on to say he would have voted for the agenda had Resolution 2010-17 appeared on the agenda 24 hours prior to the meeting.
    “My vote wasn’t for or against the resolution. I just think it has to be on the agenda.”
    Smith declined to comment on the resolution itself or if he would vote for it at the next meeting.
    Young disagrees with Smith’s assertion this was simply a matter of timely agenda making.
    “We’ve added stuff to the agenda my entire time on the council,” Young said. “It’s never been an issue with any of the council. We’ve sat here and added far worse things than a resolution, for lack of a better word. And no one has ever voiced their opinions otherwise.”
    The council will meet next on Sept. 20 at Pacific Junction City Hall at 7 p.m.