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Brown Says City Attorney Should Be Fired

March 8, 2012, 10:41 PM by Brady Mallory

Brown Says City Attorney Should Be Fired
SIOUX FALLS, SD -

City Council member Vernon Brown feels bad legal advice led the City Council to violate open meeting laws when it fired City Clerk Debra Owen back in September.

"The mayor likes to talk about how in government you need business acumen.  In this case, if we're going to act like a business, we should fire the city attorney, fire the HR Director Bill O'Toole and discipline the Assistant City Attorney Gail Eiesland.  They gave us bad advice," Brown said.

In September, the city council went behind closed doors to discuss a personnel matter.  When they came out of executive session they simply voted for three council members to take the action discussed in that meeting -- to fire City Clerk Debra Owen.  That action led the South Dakota Open Meetings Commission to reprimand the council on March 8th.

"I could've told you this was going to come because when were in the meeting I argued with the city attorney saying we need to be very public about what our action is going to be here.  He argued with me and said I was wrong and this is what happened," Brown said.

City Attorney David Pfeifle says council members did not reveal more details to protect Owen's privacy.  Brown says he, along with Council Members Greg Jamison and Kenny Anderson felt differently.

"There were only three people in that room interested in protecting Debra Owen's best interests and keeping her employed," Brown said.

Jamison was the only council member at the meeting on March 8th, and the outcome is a good lesson about the penalties that come with a lack of open government.

"I feel bad because I've heard a lot about this situation and the fact that the public hasn't trusted some of our decisions based on that action," Jamison said.

Brown takes open meeting laws very seriously and is not worried about his opinions being unpopular with some of his colleagues.  Brown plans on bringing up the issue right away at Monday's council meeting.

City Council Member Dean Karsky also spoke out.  In a statement to KELOLAND News, Karsky said, "we have a city attorney to advise us on the action we take and we followed his advice."

David Pfeifle had no comment. 

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