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City Council struggles to define 'crime'

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

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.


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That word "bias" really sticks out at me. Pretty soon, we'll find some other really petty reasons to remove council members just because we don't like them, even though they were elected and have chosen to serve for what they see as the betterment of their community. Something is wrong here and there may not be a pill to fix it.

-- Posted by speak-e-z on Tue, Dec 6, 2011, at 4:32 PM

McCook residents ought to wake up and pay attention as to the ones they elect to the city council. The McCook council fiascos over the past several years make McCook the laughing stock of NW Kansas and SW Nebraska.

Oh well, on the plus side the council blunders and individual shortcomings are very entertaining to the rest of us.

-- Posted by ksfarmer on Tue, Dec 6, 2011, at 7:55 PM

ksfarmer, you are the problem, not the solution. Are you willing to say that you do nothing in your private life that could be considered a "crime"? I am willing to bet you couldn't hold a seat on any council either.

The solution is that we get this ridiculous bias out of the system. We get rid of this "good ole boy" mentality that allows citizens with just enough sway to create this kind of a melee. We are missing the forest for the trees. Little dramas like this can, and will, be the undoing of any institution. Lets deal with the real issues at hand instead of letting a few disgruntled fools stop all processes (see: city council meeting rescheduled) because they don't like that someone thinks differently than they do. The words "blackmail" and "sabotage" come to my mind when thinking about this.

-- Posted by speak-e-z on Wed, Dec 7, 2011, at 9:23 AM

KS said the same thing about the McCook School Board. I am all over SW Nebraska and NW Kansas every week, and I assure you, if everyone is laughing at McCook, its because they want to forget about their own, much more serious issues. As a member of a community, I would much rather have to deal with petty issues than major issues... If I had to choose between the two. Sure, it would be much better if everything were peaches and sunshine, but anytime you have more than one person in the room, you're going to have a difference of opinions.

This is an unfortunate thing for all involved, but because it was brought to light, it CAN'T just disappear, no matter if the statute is garbage or not. The proper channels must be taken or what good is the law to begin with.

If it's garbage, then the proper steps must be taken to rectify an outdated law or statute, but it can't be ignored. And frankly, while everyone's laughing, they may take a moment to consider the fact that there are those that are doing their jobs to make sure things are do not go south as a result of this issue.

To be clear.... Everyone is laughing because there are people in McCook that take their jobs seriously enough to follow through with their obligations.

Farmer, you may want to smell your own laundry, as it would seem that you don't appreciate a person, diligent in their own work.

-- Posted by Nick Mercy on Wed, Dec 7, 2011, at 6:25 PM

Well, if there is anything that will keep the young people out of politics and moving out of the area as they have been it is definitely the way the city is using these two to make an example. I'm so glad I moved to Lincoln if something as small as a dog growling at a cop and an ABP at Kircher's is enough to make this much of a fuss.

-- Posted by cars100 on Thu, Dec 8, 2011, at 2:46 PM

The funny part about all of this is that the dog was not even violent. That was on of the nicest dogs I have ever been around. I guess if a dog barks at a human in mccook it is to be considered violent... Officer Ortiz just needs to get his dog killing fix...

-- Posted by youngneighbor on Thu, Dec 8, 2011, at 3:22 PM

I find it funny that people are so fired up about a couple minor violations that they are considering kicking them off a elected seat. But some of the worst criminals this country has are sitting on national seats and we just tend to ignore it as long as they share our views.

-- Posted by carlsonl on Thu, Dec 8, 2011, at 6:07 PM

I must have misread or missed something entirely.

1st: HOW is the City trying to kick these councilmen off the board?

2ndly: The only ones fired up are those on this comments page, I haven't heard word about this around town.

Question: The Good Ol Boy network that keeps coming up would be a system where if someone, typically of some stature or high power, says to do something, it gets done because that person(s) wants it done, is this right?

-- Posted by Nick Mercy on Thu, Dec 8, 2011, at 7:02 PM

Hmmmm might have miss spoke when I said kicked off. From what I understand is they will be asked to step down if the offences are ruled to fall under the law.

When I said people are fired up. I meant taking the time to try and find a way to have these members removed or resign their positions.

My point was mainly that if people across america that get this active when it comes to local elected officials would do the same on a national level we might actually be able to clean up the federal government. Personally I think state governments need cleaned up first and the states need to regain their power over the federal gov't. Then we might get something done.

-- Posted by carlsonl on Thu, Dec 8, 2011, at 10:31 PM

Actually carlson, I agree with the 100%. I think this local situation is ridiculous, but because the floodgate was opened it can't be ignored... Unfortunately.

-- Posted by Nick Mercy on Fri, Dec 9, 2011, at 12:29 PM

I say let them finish serving their terms, and then when it is time for their seats to come up for election then anyone who has led a life with no mistakes and is willing to jump into the fire can put their name on the ballot and enter the race!

-- Posted by mommily on Fri, Dec 9, 2011, at 7:55 PM

What about the response from our great Attorney General? Perhaps he is too busy running for the senate, or sueing the federal government(and wasting millions of our tax dollars) to answer the question from our city attorney.

Also seems that someone in McCook that has a big bone to pick about recent happenings (votes perhaps?), has stirred the pot, trying to get these guys off the council. It would be interesting to know all the facts about how and who pressed the issue about them being convicted of a "crime". Now if either one had been found guilty of a felony, then yes, off they go! I feel that since both of the so called "crimes" in question were minor, let them stay and finish, just like mommily said. Then let the voters decide on the next term. Still wondering how the pot got stirred on this, perhaps the person doing the stirring will step up and serve on the council if their efforts are successful, nah,probably not.

-- Posted by goarmy67 on Sat, Dec 10, 2011, at 11:06 AM

I would also like to see them left to serve, but because the statute is in force, albeit, written poorly and without any detail, those involved with it must follow through. If these Councilmen are allowed to vote on a critical item, and those that disagree with the outcome wish to cause an issue, then it turns into a waste of time and money for everyone as the vote will then be challenged and allegations of improprieties will ensue. Those that DIDN'T force the proper protocol will then be scrutinized and it gets ugly from there. This, I'm sure is why it is being addressed in such a fashion as it is, now. The law exists, no matter how informal or idiotic it may be, and one simply can't ignore it without risking repercussions down the line.

-- Posted by Nick Mercy on Sun, Dec 11, 2011, at 1:29 PM
Response by Bruce Baker:
But wouldn't the parties that wish to cause an issue then be tasked with the legal expense of proving the intent of the law? Instead of the City of McCook. How many other state statutes are out there that are vaguely written and could be cause for just as much hypothetical damage? Which do we tackle next at the citizens expense?

The city should not knowingly condone breaking the law. The city's dog in this fight is that they do not wish to over-ride the voters that elected the council persons unless need be. The city also does not want to have legal problems because those individuals remain on the council. The highering of a second opinion wo0uld show "good faith" regardless if the council person(s) or a citizen brings legal challenge. Example: what if a citizen does not like the new city manager? Since the two were convicted before that hire does that invalidate the higher? Bids were let. If a business did not get the bid do they have legal standing? Bills paid same thing. Building and zoning decisions....yes this is a big deal. Yes this is a bad deal for the city and council persons in question.

-- Posted by dennis on Mon, Dec 12, 2011, at 3:45 PM

Bruce.... 90% of people can identify a problem, of those, 20% can find a solution, of those 10% will push on to rectify the problem. That is less than 2 people out of 100 that will do something to fix an issue. With that in mind, and with no one willing to take care of the problem, you just continue to mount problems. I think its better to take the bull by the horns and fix the issue. Will it cost us? Yes, but at what point do you quit sitting by, watching things worsen and pick up the torch and run to apply a cure. This world is full of people that would rather look the other way than stop a mugging. I suggest that its admirable to fix a problem when you can. That plus the fact that a wrong move by disregarding the statute, and a scandalous upheaval costs much more. Gain local council and it is said that conflict of interest and or a biased opinion skewed judgment. Pay the outside fee, no one can then make such charges. In a time of passed on accountability, those expected to "do their jobs" are simply covering their ass-ets, if you will.

-- Posted by Nick Mercy on Wed, Dec 14, 2011, at 10:44 PM

Man, the conversations on this site would be much easier to follow everyone could reply to a comment similar to Bruce.

-- Posted by npwinder on Thu, Dec 15, 2011, at 6:08 PM


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