McCOOK, Nebraska -- At least one of the two McCook City Councilors who have been advised to abstain from taking action during meetings may be able to go back to work. According to Shannon Kingery, Director of Communications for Nebraska Attorney General's office, the statute that has councilors and city staff preparing to hire an outside law firm to evaluate, "only deals with state crimes."
Kingery told the Gazette Tuesday morning that the statute wouldn't refer to city ordinance violations, such as the case with Councilman Shane Hilker who was convicted of harboring a potentially vicious dog in May.
When advised of Kingery's comments, City Attorney Nate Schneider was still reluctant to rule out the possibility of Hilker being asked to forfeit his position. Schneider said he was concerned with a perceived bias pertaining to the matter and reiterated the importance of the city utilizing independent counsel to resolve the matter.
When asked how the city ordinance violation could be construed as a state law violation, Schneider said that there was an enabling clause that would allow the city to determine locally how the matter was defined and thus resolved.
Schneider told the Gazette Monday that "the statute may be self-effectuating, meaning that upon the occurrence of triggering events, the forfeiture may have already occurred."
Schneider advised the council to seek an outside law firm to advise on the matter during his initial announcement of the scenario and city staff will recommend councilors do just that during this weeks meeting, Thursday, 7:30 p.m., at Memorial Auditorium.
Councilors will consider the recommendation to hire Howard Olsen of Simmons Olsen Law Firm in Scottsbluff, Nebraska, to perform the necessary work for an amount not to exceed $1,000.
The additional expense of hiring Olsen to aid in resolving the distinction between city ordinance and state statute comes after city staff paid American Legal Publishing Corp. more than $8,000 in April, to update the McCook Code of Ordinance Book. The revisions and updating of the code book took several years to complete and were described by city staff as revisions that would bring the ordinance book up to state and federal requirements.
Councilman Aaron Kircher has also been advised to abstain from voting while the situation is researched. Kircher was found guilty of disturbing the peace in November, which would be a state crime, according to Red Willow County Attorney Paul Wood.