Brighton City Council Tempers Flare Over Attorney's Resignation
March 5, 2021
By Mike Kruzman / firstname.lastname@example.org
Tempers flared as Brighton City Council members argued over the departure of the city attorney.
Last month, City Attorney Paul Burns tendered his resignation. During City Council’s online meeting, Thursday, Councilmember Jim Bohn brought up questions about the resignation and why his request for a closed session to discuss it was ignored. Bohn said he was thinking about the February 16th letter and that it struck him awfully hard with being an abrupt resignation. He said he did some investigating and found out the day before Burns’ resignation, there was a meeting with City Manager Nate Geinzer, Burns, and another lawyer who worked for Burns. Bohn said he learned there was an argument that escalated into a profanity and obscenity-filled shouting match, leading to the associate quitting and Burns resigning. Bohn said the argument involved a situation where the City manager was in disagreement with the legal advice being given by Burns’ office.
Bohn said he sent an email to Mayor Shawn Pipoly ten days earlier asking for a closed session with the city’s labor attorney at Thursday’s meeting so City Council could get some direction. He read from his email, stating that what occurred went way beyond the normal workplace difference of opinion, or argument. Bohn said the event needs to be fully vetted and that he finds it impossible to believe that what happened between the two parties would be acceptable and permitted behavior in the city employee manual.
Bohn said he fully recognizes there are two sides to a story, and City Council needs a full accounting of what took place so that a determination can be made to see if remedial action is required. He called it “no small matter” and that City Council needs to know and have the assurance that they are handling the situation correctly. Bohn said, “Perhaps the city labor attorney tells us we don’t need to do anything. Or, that there should be a third-party investigation made to find out what transpired to ensure that there was no violation of city policies.”
Bohn then took exception to his closed session request not being on the agenda. He said, “Seems like, when some people want a closed session, it happens automatically. I ask ten days in advance and nothing. Where are we going with this?”
Councilmember Jon Emaus responded, telling Bohn, “You like to tell stories from your perspective from a meeting you weren’t even at.” He cited the City Charter and how investigations are to be done by Council, not by “rogue council people.” He said the reason for that follows the same rules they follow in tribunals and court, “it’s so that one-sided hearsay evidence isn’t thrown about. It’s so Council votes to have an investigation. The Council can issue subpoenas. The council can fully vet and investigate a matter based on a scope that is determined by Council. Not a single rogue councilperson deciding to take one side of a story and then threaten against the written words of our own city attorney to expose him that his letter was somehow false or contained misrepresentations to his employer, as us, the City Council.”
It was then revealed there was a second resignation letter from the city attorney, from that day, effective immediately.
Emaus said at least two members can vote for an investigation, and it will be done transparently and voted on by all of the council, not by “one rogue councilman.”
Bohn said he wasn’t asking for an investigation, he was asking for a closed session. He then quipped, “You want to sweep it under the rug. Nice transparency and doing the right thing.”
Mayor Pipoly cautioned Bohn with being out of order. At this point, he answered it not being on the agenda because he was told a councilmember would not be present and didn’t think it was appropriate to have it without them being there. Pipoly said that member then did say they could attend, but he was “unable to circle back.” Councilmember Renee Pettingill, who was attending the meeting from the Virgin Islands, said she responded to the email within 15 minutes, stating she would be at the meeting.
Tensions grew between Bohn and Pipoly, with Bohn telling Pipoly he needs to read the City Charter. Bohn said, “You can’t ask for a closed session and 2 days later it shows up on the agenda, you don’t have that authority. Nowhere in the charter do you have that. You’re just one of seven. Only thing you get to do is marry people, kiss babies and put the shovel in the ground at groundbreakings. So yeah, I’m frustrated.”
Pipoly told Bohn that he had reached a point where he was “definitely out of order.” Bohn dared Pipoly to censure him.
Councilmember Kris Tobbe then spoke up, stating he was disappointed in the decorum and felt that if a councilmember requests an item to be put on the agenda, that it should be respected. He said, “This council always functioned with the utmost integrity. I found nothing wrong with Councilmember Bohn’s letter he read. This is a matter that should be discussed in closed session.”
Mayor Pipoly then further explained why he did not grant the closed session. He said he talked with the city attorney’s office and city staff, saying, “The conflicting reports I’m getting. The most crushing one, the most accusatory one is coming from Councilmember Bohn. Our city attorney did not relay that to me. Our city attorney did not relay any forms of strife between the city attorney’s office and city staff prior to this incident - and didn’t relay any of that to me when I spoke to him. I spoke to city staff who had a different take on it, and under the circumstances, I felt it better to continue talking with city staff and circle back around with the city attorney, but at this point in time we don’t have a city attorney, so that’s my grounds for not putting it on as a closed session. My initial reaction was I wanted all City Council members here, and suddenly all the council members can be here, and it seemed like they can be here as a lynch mob. And I’m not gonna allow that to happen to an employee.”
Bohn retorted, “This is a joke. And you guys treat it like its student council instead of City Council.” Pettingill later said she doesn’t like being accused of being part of a lynch mob.
Pipoly came back at him, saying that if Bohn doesn’t think they are doing the right job, then why doesn’t he do something about it? Bohn said, “Maybe we will.”
The two then went on to debate Burns’ new resignation letter handed in reportedly around 4:30pm. Bohn said, in it, Burns stated they should, by resolution, retract the email sent to the governor. He asked, “By whose authorization is someone sending an email on behalf of the City, to the governor, without city council approval? You guys are out of control.”
Pipoly responded, “Did the email receive an answer to the question? And the answer is ‘yes’. Ann Bollin responded with exactly what I needed as the mayor and what staff needed. Which is the governor is likely not to extend it. So we got our answer…I was trying to get an answer for staff as to whether this was going to be extended, and if you want to step up to the plate and be a City Councilmember instead of a lynch mob, you’re more than welcome to.”
Tobbe said he will make a formal request to the mayor and all of the council, in writing, for the original matter to be discussed in a closed session at a future meeting.