The Denison City Council on Tuesday adopted readings of two ordinance amendments that would limit the mayor’s authority to contact and incur expenses related to the city’s appointed officials and retained professionals.
They also decided by consensus that an accompanying resolution should have more generic language rather than wording that singles out an administration.
But Mayor Jared Beymer said it didn’t matter because he was going to veto the actions anyway.
According to the city code, the mayor may veto an ordinance, amendment or resolution within 14 days after passage.
Only the second of the two ordinance amendments was adopted on Tuesday.
The council voted 4-0 with one abstention to adopt the first reading only of an ordinance that amends two paragraphs in city code chapter 15, subsection 2, relating the mayor’s powers and duties.
Councilman Corey Curnyn abstained from voting on these changes because he is involved in a lawsuit, along with the mayor, filed by the city clerk and city manager/city engineer.
The council adopted the first reading, waived subsequent readings and adopted an ordinance that amends chapters 20 and 21 of the city code. Chapter 20 pertains to the city attorney and chapter 21 pertains to the city manager and director of public works.
The resolution to which the council wanted a language change clarifies that the mayor does not have the authority to engage the city’s retained professionals.
At the July 16 council meeting, Councilman John Granzen had criticized Beymer for incurring attorney expenses and requested that a resolution be added to the agenda for the August 6 meeting.
Beymer had previously come under fire by some councilmembers and members of the public for legal expenses related to an investigation into actions of the city manager/city engineer, city clerk and fire chief.
The investigation found that the three city officials had not made any decisions that were the product of bad faith, personal profit or constituted criminal conduct but were made for reasons they believed were in the best interest of the city.
Councilman David Loeschen said at Tuesday’s meeting that he struggled with the language in the opening paragraphs of the resolution, which set out the reasons the resolution is necessary.
The opening paragraphs say that the mayor unilaterally incurred significant expenses on behalf of the city by seeking legal advice from the city attorney on unapproved topics and that because of continued unauthorized charges incurred by the mayor, city council amended certain part of the city code to clarify that the mayor lacks spending authority, absent approval by the council, to engage the city’s appointed officials or privately retained professionals.
Loeschen explained his struggle is that the changes are being made not because of a specific administration but to make sure on an ongoing basis that what happened in the past would not occur again.
“What I don’t like about this, and I wonder if Matt (City Attorney Matt Brick) could change this so it does not have specific, what I would call allegations, in the resolution but more generic wording,” Loeschen said.
Curnyn agreed, and while the council was discussing what the language changes could be, Beymer said, “Well, if it helps, I’ll be vetoing these anyway. I’m not going to let personal vendettas handicap future mayors. It is absolutely ridiculous.”
Councilman Nathan Mahrt said that past mayors, including him, did not have spending authority.
“I know I don’t have spending authority. That’s the council,” Beymer responded. “But if I need to call a city attorney, I’m going to call the city attorney. That’s just what’s going to happen.”
Mahrt said if he had an issue like the one being discussed, he would normally go to the city manager, and the city manager would call the city attorney while he was present.
Loeschen cautioned Beymer, “Jared, you have a councilmember that is coming alongside and trying to remedy this piece. Try to abstain from immediately going to that kind of language.”
Curnyn wondered if the language in the last paragraph of the resolution was legal. It says that if the mayor incurs costs for topics that have not previously been authorized by the city council, the mayor will be responsible for costs and the city will seek reimbursement from the mayor.
Koch said Brick had talked to city officials on that point before and said it can be done.
Mahrt thought that the actions defined in the last paragraph were excessive. Loeschen agreed.
However, Granzen said there should be some way to hold the mayor accountable.
“Because if we’re not going to have an ‘if and or but’ if you do this and you keep on doing this, you’re right back where you started,” Granzen said.
Beymer said that was a ballot issue, not a policy issue.
Koch offered alternative wording Brick had provided that made the language more generic. The council appeared to agree with the example she read.
The council will revisit the resolution with the suggested changes at the next meeting.
Although the wording at the beginning of the resolution came under question and will be changed, it is similar to the opening paragraphs of the two ordinance amendments. None of the councilmembers questioned that language during the meeting.
The first paragraph of both ordinance amendments is the same as the opening paragraph of the resolution as it was initially presented on Tuesday, and the language of the second paragraph in all three documents is similar.