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No Clear Answers On Clearing Of Town Hall

September 15, 2011, 5:57 PM by Kelly Bartnick

No Clear Answers On Clearing Of  Town Hall
SIOUX FALLS, SD - Sioux Falls City Council members say they were shocked when they found our cameras were removed from Carnegie Town Hall following former city clerk Debra Owen's firing.

The council and the mayor are opening up about at least one part of the executive session discussion: who decided when our camera should leave the building.

"I don't understand how it got to the level of rising to the point of termination. I was surprised when I saw on the news that the media was escorted out," city council member Vernon Brown said.

And the question remains over exactly who made the decision to clear Carnegie Town Hall and when. Councilors voting for and against Owen's firing say the call to clear out the media was not made during the executive session.

"I don't recall anything about having the two police officers escorting people out of the building. If that was discussed, I didn't hear that and I certainly wouldn't support it," Brown said.

"It was all part of the discussions at the end of the meeting when the city council was trying to figure out their last steps. We talked about how to create the most professional and safe environment while the three councilors, Bill O'Toole and Debra were meeting. And that was what was discussed and that's what happened," Sioux Falls Mayor Mike Huether said.

"I don't remember talking about it in executive session, but I made the call to make sure because it was a special meeting. My concern was to make sure it's just our standard procedure," city council member Michelle Erpenbach said.

Standard procedure if the building closes for the night, which it was not. But Councilor Michelle Erpenbach said the decision was made to allow Owen dignity as she left the building.

"Maybe a little miscommunication, but it was standard procedure for us to have police close the building," Erpenbach said.

"Generally, my understanding is that the janitors lock it up," Brown said.

During a conversation Thursday afternoon, Debra Owen told KELOLAND News that at no point during the process, or even after the vote to fire her, did she feel threatened.  Owen's husband was among the people forced to leave the building and she says she would have appreciated if he could have stayed to offer her support at the time.

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