Paul Cook gave the public during Tuesday’s Bellevue City Council meeting a taste of the behavior officials say is driving the city’s proposal to address misconduct of its elected officials.
Reading from a statement during a lengthy and at times testy public hearing on the proposal, Cook said an elected official allegedly said to another elected official, “I should backhand you simply because you disagree;” allegedly made a comment to a city employee that “I will put my effing foot in your effing a--” for disagreeing; allegedly commented on the weight of a female city employee and said “most of their weight hangs to their knees;” allegedly used vulgar language to describe a female employee’s attire and made sexual innuendos; allegedly said, “You should watch out, I just had my testosterone shot;” and made a sexual innuendo referring to a city employee blowing out candles on a birthday cake.
All of the comments Cook referred to were made by the same council member, he said, but he did not identify the individual.
City officials have said they are pursuing the proposal because they have no way to address misconduct such as leaking sensitive information from an executive session or making inappropriate comments. They say they have the authority to enact the policies under state law and cite the examples of Fremont and Grand Island, which have similar policies.
In an interview, Cook said he wanted to make sure the public knew the behavior that was going on.
“I just felt it was appropriate to put together the information that I was aware of so that people could hear about it and understand the misconduct going on,” he said.
City Attorney Bree Robbins said it was not the city’s place to identify the person because the proposal, if approved and enacted, would address future conduct. Past behavior, she said, would not be considered.
“The person knows who the person is and it’s their position to address that,” she said.
Prior to reading the statement, Cook’s said it was “absolutely pathetic and sad that we’re here” and acknowledged how frustrated and “fed up” he was, a sentiment echoed by other council members.
Councilman Don Preister said the things being said were “inexcusable,” particularly the language used toward women, and the behavior has gone on for several years and gotten worse.
“We are frustrated. We have no recourse. We have no opportunity to address any kind of consequence,” he said.
“We deserve better. Bellevue can do better. And we as a council need to set the tone, the example. We need to discipline our own internally.”
It was the second public hearing on the proposal. The city received significant pushback during the Nov. 5 council meeting, particularly on the ability to remove an elected official from office.
City officials made several changes to the proposal based on that feedback, which included removing the city administrator’s power to apply sanctions and giving all of that power to council members, removed some descriptions of misconduct and added procedural rights for the accused.
Councilmen Thomas Burns, Bob Stinson and Pat Shannon said they could not support the proposal because it allowed for the removal of an elected official, which they said should belong to voters.
“I think that there’s really good intention behind this, I really do,” Burns said. He went on to ask,
“What is wrong with the election process and letting citizens make that decision who they trust?”
Stinson said he would support the proposal if it did not include the potential to remove an elected official from office.
In other business, the council approved by a 4-2 vote a rezone for a planned Omaha Public Schools elementary school near Fort Crook Road and Childs Road. Cook and Shannon voted no.
The council also held a public hearing on proposed ward changes for the upcoming election, approved a rezone and plat for a subdivision near 48th Street and Capehart Road and approved a funding agreement for Community Development Block Grant funds, of which the city will receive $355,531.