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Atkins leaders won’t say why they censured a council member
Censured member says it’s payback for opposing $92K city administrator hire
The Atkins City Council voted last week to censure a council member who opposed hiring a city administrator for $92,000, but another council member says those things are not related.
The five-member council voted Dec. 21 on a resolution for a public censure of Julie DeMeulenaere, who has been on the council since March, KCRG-TV reported last week.
The resolution was not included with the online meeting agenda and Mayor Bruce Visser declined Monday to answer questions about what caused the censure. City Attorney Ryan Tang stated at last week’s meeting the censure was related to litigation, so city officials couldn’t comment, KCRG reported.
DeMeulenaere provided The Gazette a copy of a short letter Visser sent her Dec. 21. The letter says DeMeulenaere may have violated state ethics standards for elected officials, “communicated with City employees in an inappropriate manner” and “made defamatory statements about employees”-- but then doesn’t describe her alleged action or actions.
“I think this is payback from not wanting to hire a city administrator,” DeMeulenaere told The Gazette.
The council vote Oct. 4 to approve a contract for a new city administrator at a salary of $92,000 a year for two years. The council promoted City Clerk Kelly Groskurth into the new role. DeMeulenaere was one of two council members to vote against the new position, according to minutes from the Oct. 4 meeting.
“I did not believe we need a city administrator for 2,000 people,” she said Monday. “If we start getting bigger, absolutely. Typically a town of 2,000 doesn’t have a city administrator.”
A consultant report also recommended against hiring a city administrator at this time, she said.
Three council members — Heather Rinderknecht, Robert Spading and Joey Svejda — are ending terms on the board at the end of the month. DeMeulenaere suggested they postpone the decision until the new council convenes, but she was overruled. She also proposed lowering the salary to $70,000 with a one-year contract, but other members did not agree, DeMeulenaere said.
Svejda, who is moving to Marion and will leave the Atkins board after serving since 2018, told The Gazette on Monday the censure against DeMeulenaere is not related to her October vote.
“It’s not about hiring the city administrator,” he said. “There is some legal stuff.”
DeMeulenaere said she doesn’t know what her colleagues mean about litigation and says she’s not pursuing a lawsuit. But DeMeulenaere has been frustrated by delays in getting documents she’s requested from the city.
“Have I made a couple comments? Yes, I have,” she said. “But it comes out of frustration for not getting my documents. They talk about litigation, but the city attorney is supposed to protect them, but also protect me.”
The other council member to vote against the city administrator contract was Lana Robison, whose term was to expire in 2023 but who turned in her resignation this month. The council will meet Thursday to vote on someone to fill the remainder of Robison’s term.
Robison, reached by phone Monday, said she is resigning for health reasons and it is not connected to DeMeulenaere or any other council matter. She declined to speak further about the censure.
Svejda said he thinks Atkins needs a city administrator to help with growth and Groskurth is worth the money.
“She’s the best thing that’s ever happened to this city, I can guarantee it,” he said.
Atkins, in Benton County, was hit hard by the derecho, losing 70 percent of its trees and sustaining $2 to $3 million damage to city-owned facilities, Svejda said. Visser and Groskurth have applied for Federal Emergency Management Agency money and other grants to support recovery and to recruit new businesses, he said.
“Our mayor doesn’t get paid, but he’s been near working a full-time,” he said.
The $92,000 salary, while far higher than city administrator pay in similarly-sized Iowa towns, “is an investment,” Svejda said. “She’s got us a lot of grants we didn’t know we could get. I’m 100 percent behind my decision.”
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