The Bellevue City Council and administration received pushback Tuesday night during a lengthy public hearing on proposals to address misconduct of elected officials.
Much of the testimony opposing the measure, including two former Bellevue City Council members and the current Bellevue Public Schools Board of Education president, was in response to the potential removal of office of an elected official if the misconduct is severe enough to warrant such action. Each said the function of removing an elected official is the role of the voters, not other council members.
Testifiers also took umbrage with other features of the proposals such as council members potentially serving as both accusers and jurors, a lack of separation of governance duties between executive and legislative branches, the role of the city administrator in the discipline process, the vagueness of the definition of misconduct and the mayor’s authority to appoint the replacement should a council member be removed from office.
The proposals would add a range of sanctions for misconduct from written reprimands to the removal from office, which would require a unanimous vote of the other five council members. Any sanctions would be levied after a trial-like hearing.
Leaking information from an executive session would be added to the definition of misconduct, and the rules would also require individuals who aren’t city employees or elected officials to sign confidentiality agreements in order to participate in them.
The rules would also allow the city to bar from public testimony any member of the public who acts inappropriately.
A third former Bellevue council member, Tom Richards, said he supported the measures.
City Attorney Bree Robbins opened the public hearing saying the city and the council have the authority under state law and court precedent to implement the proposals, which are based on similar rules in Fremont and Grand Island.
She also said concerns about officials’ ability to whistle blow on improper discussions in executive session are covered by other state statute and all votes would happen in open session, which would afford council members the opportunity to air any concerns.
Robbins and some elected officials said they are receptive and appreciative of feedback about ways to improve or clarify the ordinances and to make the process more transparent.
“There was a lot of good information from the discussion so I think we’ll go back, talk to the attorneys, talk to council members, see if we have some kind of modification to it,” Mayor Rusty Hike said.
The council voted to postpone a vote on the ordinances so another public hearing could be conducted at the Nov. 19 meeting after wording is changed in the proposed ordinances. A vote would be at the Dec. 3 meeting.
The council also endured a lengthy public hearing regarding a potential Omaha Public Schools elementary school near Fort Crook Road and Childs Road.
Safety concerns of students crossing Fort Crook Road and train tracks again were the focus of much of the testimony.
Councilman Paul Cook and two others said students who live on the east side of Fort Crook would try to cross the street and tracks to the school, which is on the west side, and the city was setting its self up for “catastrophe.”
OPS went before the Bellevue Planning Commission three times in attempts to address the safety concerns. OPS plans to bus all students on the east side of Fort Crook Road to the school and route buses and sidewalks to the west to avoid stacking near the train tracks.
Cheryl Logan, the OPS superintendent, and other OPS officials stressed safety is their primary concern and their desire to “be a good neighbor” and partner with the city. Schools spur development, they said.
Hike said Fort Crook Road, not the location of the school, is the issue, calling it Fort Crook Road a “dinosaur.”