Game and Fish seizes mute swan, kills 4 at Perryville lake

Published June 20, 2013, in the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette. Link here.

Sandra Fite knew the Harris Brake Lake swans she’d come to see as pets were in trouble when she saw the cages.

The 70-year-old retiree ran outside her home Wednesday morning to see five Arkansas Game and Fish Commission boats surrounding a male mute swan that Fite and her Perryville neighbors have been feeding for five years. The boaters captured the male swan, along with four 3-month-old cygnet hybrids – the young offspring of the mute swan and a trumpet swan.

Karen Rowe, the commission’s bird preservation program leader, said the cygnets were killed by cervical dislocation, or the snapping of the neck – a quick and painless method of euthanization.

The owner of the male swan has five days to produce paperwork proving that he bought the bird and can keep it in an enclosed space – otherwise, that swan will be euthanized, too. If the owner purchased the swan illegally, he could be subject to a fine or even a felony charge.

Residents are upset about the killing of the young swans, but Game and Fish officials said they made a tough choice to protect the native trumpet swan species and Arkansas’ wetlands from the spread of the mute swan, an invasive, nonnative species.

Mute swans, native to Europe, are characterized by orange bills and S-shaped necks. They generally have more aggressive personalities than America’s black-billed, straight-necked trumpeter swans and have attacked humans and pets, Rowe said.

“We did what was biologically right,” she said. “We look at what we see in front of us and we see the beauty, but we don’t see what’s down the road. Doing what’s right isn’t always easy.”

Wildlife conservation groups have long worked to bolster America’s trumpeter swan population in the Mississippi River Valley. About 10,000 trumpeter swans reside in the area today, and conservationists have released 70 of them in Arkansas in an attempt to teach them to migrate north.

But conservationists worry that the mute swan is a threat to the growth of the trumpeter species. A mute swan consumes an average of 8 pounds of vegetation daily and destroys 20 pounds more with its feeding method of ripping plants from the root, Rowe said.

Game and Fish Regional Wildlife Supervisor Randall Billington said the species’ territorial nature also scares away other animals.

“They’re the pit bull of the waterfowl world,” Billington said. “We don’t need them here in Arkansas.”

Michigan hosts about 15,000 mute swans, and they’re listed as nuisance species in states including Oregon and Washington. Rowe said Michigan Game and Fish workers have resorted to shooting the birds with shotguns to control the population.

But lake-area residents in Perryville said the male swan they’d come to know after five years wasn’t particularly aggressive. While it bristled when other waterfowl approached the cygnets and was territorial of its nesting area, Mallards living in the lake simply moved to the other side, Fite said.

Fite and her husband, as well as at least nine other residents, began feeding the male mute swan when an unknown person released it and several others on the lake. Fite would give the swan the same dry food she fed her dachshund. The swan would often walk around to the front of her home to catch her attention in the window by ruffling its feathers and even slept in her yard.

“He was real affectionatelike. Of course, I never tried to pet him,” she said with a laugh. “He’s a wild animal.”

When a female trumpeter swan found a home in the lake and the two mated, Rowe got calls from area residents who noticed the female’s green collar – a sort of visual tracking device – and let her know about the cygnets.

Fite said she tried to persuade the Game and Fish workers to leave the swans alone, but it was no use.

“Everybody was real attached to them,” she said. “It’s just not right. They weren’t hurting anyone.”

Euthanizing the swans was a tough decision for Rowe, who says she is an animal lover.

“I can promise you they did not suffer,” she said. “But we had to make a decision – [should we] do what’s best for those five swans, or do we want what’s best for the 10,000 swans in the Mississippi River Valley? We chose to protect the other 10,000 swans.”

The cygnets’ carcasses will be sent to a testing facility, Rowe said. As for why the commission killed the hybrid cygnets, John Cornely of the Trumpeter Swan Society said hybrids are legally treated as mute swans and therefore aren’t protected by federal law.

“Interbreeding is usually not a good thing,” he said. “A lot of it is just an unknown. We don’t know what would happen or even whether they’d survive and what kind of impact they’d have.”

Fite said she feels heartbroken over the loss of the swans.

“I just wish we hadn’t fed them in the first place,” she said. “If we’d known it would end like this, we would never have done it.”

Arkansas, Pages 9 on 06/20/2013


Agency: Return bedbug charges

Published June 8, 2013, in the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette. Link here.

The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development ordered the Hot Springs Housing Authority on Friday to reimburse its tenants for payments they made toward bedbug treatments.

The housing authority in late 2012 implemented a policy of charging tenants $450 for bedbug treatments – equal to the price of the treatments from Clark Exterminating Co. Inc., said Barbara Baer, the housing authority’s executive director. Tenants could pay the $450 with monthly installments decided at management’s discretion. They agreed to make the payments when they signed a lease addendum upon moving into the low-income housing units.

The housing authority in May had seven units in its Mountainview Towers high-rise units treated for bedbugs – small, parasitic insects that feed on the blood of sleeping humans and animals. The housing authority oversees more than 350 units and checks them for insects quarterly.

On Friday, before the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) issued its order, Baer and Housing Authority Board Chairman Al Carney said the charges weren’t illegal and held tenants ac-countable for the upkeep of their homes. Further, Baer said the department has no regulation that disallows the payments.

“There simply is not a commitment from HUD on this,” she said. “And I’m in charge of protecting our tax dollars.”

But department spokesman Patricia Campbell said the housing authority violated a Public and Indian Housing Notice issued in February 2012.

“The tenant will not be expected to contribute to the cost of the [bedbug] treatment effort,” the notice read.

It’s unclear how the housing authority will repay the money and how much money will be repaid. Baer didn’t return phone messages Friday after the department informed the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette of its order. But on the phone earlier Friday, Baer said she planned to play by the rules as soon as she knew what they were.

“I’ve been going through everything with a fine-tooth comb,” she said. “If we’re doing something wrong, I’ll stop this.”

The lease addendum, in which residents acknowledge that their homes are bedbug-free when they move in and promise to pay for treatments, could also be at risk.

“Any lease addendums that they have have to conform to that public-housing notice,” Campbell said.

Dennis Bosch, former board chairman, said he didn’t know about the lease addendum while he served on the board, but he would have spoken out against it if he had. Bosch served on the board from October 2009 to last month, when he resigned because of issues he had with the housing authority’s administration and with departmental policies in general.

“I think it’s a bad policy,” he said of requiring tenants to pay for bedbug treatments. “Even if [the housing authority] made a mistake, they should pay all the money back.”

But residents haven’t had any qualms with paying up, Baer said, since the agreement was included in their leases. She recalled one woman, the sister of a disabled man who had his unit treated for bedbugs, who spoke out against the policy to a television station but took back her complaint once she knew the full story.

“They completely understand,” Baer said. “We’re completely upfront about this.”

This isn’t the first time the Hot Springs Housing Authority has dealt with bedbugs. Before Baer implemented the policy and addendum in 2012, she said the units had at least twice as many bedbug infestations as they had before the policy.

“It was on the verge of being out of control,” she said. “They were just going from room to room.”

In addition to creating the lease addendum, the housing authority sent maintenance director Allen Dodd to a training course for detecting bedbugs and tasked him with training all new residents to spot them. It began offering educational classes on detection and prevention – particularly to clear up common misconceptions about the insects.

“Cleanliness is not an issue,” said Carney. “They’re after blood. That’s how they survive.”

Housing authority maintenance workers found bedbugs in the seven units after residents detected the bedbugs and contacted Dodd, who said he thinks the education efforts are working. Carney said residents need to be informed and accountable because they often bring bedbugs into their homes unknowingly.

“If you go into some Dempster Dumpster looking for a piece of furniture and bring it into your home without inspecting it, you’re liable to be bringing in bedbugs,” he said. “It oftentimes is the person’s fault.”

The treatment, which Carney said Clark Exterminating offers to the housing authority at a discount, takes several hours and involves the sealing of the room, which a machine then heats to as much as 140 degrees.

Baer said she fears that if the residents don’t have to pay for bedbug treatments, they’ll take less care to prevent the spread of the insects, resulting in more cost to the housing authority and more infestations.

“It’s not clean,” she said. “It’s not healthy. They bite.”

Arkansas, Pages 11 on 06/08/2013

Kum & Go pulls request for rezoning on Parham

Published May 13, 2013, in the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette. Link here.

The proposal for Kum & Go store No. 162 was the tipping point for James Downs’ worries about his Little Rock neighborhood.

The potential for rezoning of the southeast corner of Breckenridge Drive and Rodney Parham Road to allow a convenience store and gas station in a lot reserved for residences troubled Downs, vice president of the Breckenridge Neighborhood Association. Residents tied to two other neighborhood associations in the area just east of Interstate 430 in west Little Rock shared those concerns.

“We felt like that was the beginning of worse things to come, and our peaceful, quiet neighborhood wasn’t going to be the same anymore,” Downs said.

But after four months of campaigning, petitioning and negotiating, the members of the Breckenridge Neighborhood Association, Sturbridge Property Owners Association and Colony West Homes Association who banded together to oppose the convenience store and gas station’s rezoning request could take a breather. Kum & Go withdrew its application for rezoning before its hearing scheduled for Thursday afternoon’s Planning Commission meeting.

Kum & Go spokesman Megan Elfers said the company had withdrawn its request for “a mix of reasons,” but she wouldn’t go into further detail.

“We’re continuing to evaluate the site, but we’re putting the project on hold for the time being,” she said.

In January, residents learned about the proposed 16-pump gas station and 5,000-square-foot convenience store in a letter. They met with Kum & Go representatives at a church,but Downs said the meeting didn’t soothe their fears.

The residents worried about the traffic congestion that would result from what would be the fifth gas station operating in a half-mile radius. Downs said city estimates indicated the number of cars entering and exiting the intersection would skyrocket.

The business’s plan for a 24-hour operation seven days a week also concerned residents. A McDonald’s drive through at the same intersection is the only area business now open after midnight. Residents stressed fears that another business with late night hours would contribute to crime and that loitering, vandalism and public intoxication would increase.

And they worried that the business would harm the quality of life in their neighborhoods. The area is already experiencing growing pains as the city’s population moves farther west, said Cary Cox, president of the Sturbridge Property Owners Association.

Rodney Parham Road has become a pass-through for traffic rather than an avenue for business, Cox said. He said the viability of the business district has come and gone.

“Their name suggests the type of traffic we were going to be getting,” he said.

After banding together, neighborhood association members met in churches, restaurants and homes. They exchanged hundreds of e-mails. Soon, they held drop in signings for their petition at a library, wrote letters and made phone calls to members of the Planning Commission. They even printed information packets, signs and car magnets.

They went door-to-door and gathered about 1,000 signatures on a petition to oppose the rezoning, Downs said.

“It was amazing, truly,” said Wiley Greenbaum, president of the Colony West Homes Association. “Young and old, they just did not want it.”

Individuals from Walnut Valley, Treasure Hill and Echo Valley neighborhoods also joined the effort.

On Thursday, signs of protest still peppered the neighborhoods, staked on green lawns among flowers and American flags.

The business can still resubmit its request for rezoning at any time, starting the Planning Commission process anew.

Regardless of what happens next, Downs said the neighborhood associations will continue to join forces.

“Our part of town is aging and changing, and we need to stand up and say we care about what it becomes,” he said. “Otherwise, we can’t complain about it.”

Cox said the next step could be asking the city to create an overlay district in the area, which would keep current zoning designations while adding extra requirements. Such districts usually create a set of common design standards with the aim of protecting a community’s character.

“We’ve fought off this challenge,” Cox said. “Now we feel like our challenge is to build off this momentum and go from fighting it off to having influence over what kind of businesses go in our neighborhood.”

Randy Ripley, a member of the Sturbridge Property Owners Association, said the past several months have reminded him that residents can make their voices heard.

“It takes people waking up and saying, we’re going to control our destiny. It sounds a little audacious, but it’s happened, and it works.”

Arkansas, Pages 11 on 05/31/2013

Conway increases sanitation fee

Published in the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette on July 10, 2013. Link here.

CONWAY – The Conway City Council voted Tuesday to raise the city’s sanitation collection fees from $12.90 per month to $17 per month – the first increase in a decade.

In a 6-0 vote, the City Council amended the original proposal, which would have allowed annual automatic increases of 5 percent between 2014 and 2018. The final rate would have been $21.69 per month for weekly trash, recycling, glass and yard-waste pickup as well as limb removal.

The $17 rate will hold for the indefinite future, and City Council members said they will revisit the issue if an increase seems necessary.

“Things do change from time to time,” said Andy Hawkins, Ward 1 councilman.

The fee increase will take effect in September. It’s the first increase since 2003, when the City Council voted to increase the $12.25 monthly rate, set in 2001, to $12.90. The increase to $17 will be the largest since 1997, when fees increased 50 percent, from $6.50 to $9.75.

The department, which isn’t funded by sales taxes or Conway’s general fund, needs millions of dollars to replace old trucks and equipment, to expand its fleet to 10 residential trucks and to expand its building, according to the increase proposal. The fee increase will generate an additional $1.3 million annually for the department, which serves about 26,000 homes.

One resident questioned the need to replace garbage trucks, which Conway Sanitation Department Director Cheryl Harrington said have a 5-year shelf life.

“A fireman would love to see fire trucks traded in every five years,” said James Quinn of Conway. “That ain’t happening. Why are garbage trucks any different?”

Garbage trucks are different, Harrington said. They operate six days a week, three trips a day, and pick up and dump trash using an “abrasive” process.

“You’re talking about almost continuous wear and tear,” Harrington said.

The new rate will be higher than the monthly rates of communities such as Maumelle and Sherwood, which charge$15.50 and $15.72 respectively. But it will remain lower than Little Rock – $22.02 – and Fort Smith – $17.50.

Some cities pay for sanitation collection through the city general fund, such as North Little Rock. Fayetteville uses a pay-as-you-throw system, in which Conway City Council members expressed interest. But Harrington said that isn’t the right program for Conway.

“People think they can live with [a certain size bin] and then they can’t, so they pile it up and trash ends up in the road,” she said.

Janet Crow, a Conway resident who attends City Council meetings often, rushed to the podium after the final vote to express a closing sentiment.

“I just feel compelled to thank you all” for avoiding automatic increases, she said. “I don’t get to say that very much.”

Arkansas, Pages 9 on 07/10/2013

Police documents tell the story of events leading to Clayton Real’s death


Published in the Daily Nebraskan of the University of Nebraska-Lincoln on Oct. 24, 2014

Link here

By Jacy Marmaduke and Natasha Rausch | Photo by Shelby Wolfe

The four FarmHouse Fraternity members arrested on felony charges purchased alcohol for and planned the party that led to freshman Clayton Real’s death, police say.

The University of Nebraska-Lincoln Police Department and police records accessed Friday paint a detailed picture of the Sept. 5 “frosh,” or freshman-oriented, party in the Near South neighborhood where Real reportedly consumed enough alcohol to develop a BAC of .378, more than 4.5 times the legal driving limit. He died of acute alcohol poisoning.

UNLPD conducted “lots” of interviews to piece together the story of what happened that night, Sgt. Jeff Hohlen said, interviewing most FarmHouse members and others who attended the party.

As a result of the investigation, four University of Nebraska-Lincoln students were arrested on charges of procuring alcohol for a minor resulting in injury or death:  junior management major Vance Heyer, freshman accounting major Thomas Trueblood, senior architectural studies and biological sciences major Cory Foland and senior finance major Ross Reynolds. The charge is a Class IIIA felony, which can result in a maximum of 5 years in prison and a $10,000 fine.

Trueblood, FarmHouse’s freshman social chairman, found a home in which to host the party and coordinated the purchase of a keg, seven handles of vodka and four handles of whiskey, police say.

Because Trueblood is a minor, he asked three other FarmHouse members to purchase alcohol for him to take to the party, according to police documents.

Reportedly, Trueblood texted each of the three accused asking that he buy alcohol for the party. Heyer, FarmHouse’s vice president, admitted to buying two cases of Barton’s Vodka. Foland, FarmHouse’s new member educator, admitted to buying the whiskey. Reynolds admitted to buying the keg, which he said Trueblood paid for and drove him to the store to purchase.

One additional FarmHouse member, senior animal science major William Miller, was issued a misdemeanor citation for procuring alcohol for a minor. Miller is facing a lesser charge because police found that the alcohol he bought – a handle of Grey Goose vodka and two cases of beer – wasn’t connected with Real’s death.  The Grey Goose was reportedly a form of payment to the two young women who hosted the party, and Miller said he gave the hosts one case of beer and kept the other for himself.

About 80 people attended the party in the 2000 block of S. 16th Street, police say, and Alpha Chi Omega sorority members were invited. Minors in attendance told police they drank alcohol while they were there.

Witnesses said they saw Real drinking vodka, whiskey and beer at the party. At an unknown time, he fell over and passed out, witnesses said. Fellow FarmHouse members brought him back to the fraternity house, 3601 Apple St., about 12:30 a.m. and had to carry him to his room.

Alcohol consumption can be risky for those with Type 1 diabetes, which Real had. When the liver is processing alcohol, it does less work to regulate blood sugar, leaving diabetics at risk of hypoglycemia. But Real’s brothers say they checked his blood sugar upon arriving home and didn’t think he was at risk.

So they left him in his room.

“The Farmhouse members didn’t wake him up at all,” Hohlen said. “They checked on him when they brought him back to the house, and then didn’t see him again till they tried to wake him up the next morning and found he wasn’t responding.”

When members couldn’t rouse Real at about 7:30 a.m., they called 911. Emergency responders declared Real dead when they arrived.

Dr. James Guest, director of the University Health Center, said while diabetes can make alcohol consumption more dangerous, it doesn’t generally make an individual more susceptible to alcohol poisoning.

“But I cannot speak specifically to what was happening in his body,” Guest said. “We are all such strange and peculiar creatures. You never know what happens inside.”

Trueblood, Heyer, Reynolds and Foland were arrested Thursday afternoon and were briefly held in the Lancaster County Jail, but they were released Friday. Williams and the two party hosts, junior advertising and public relations major Marin Hartfield and junior accounting major Lauren Williams, received citations, the latter two for maintaining a disorderly house.

FarmHouse remains indefinitely suspended, but non-freshman can keep living in the house. The chapter’s house mother said the organization will distribute a press release Friday.

FarmHouse’s international organization didn’t return calls Friday afternoon regarding the fraternity’s standing.

The university has yet to take any sanctions against the students who were arrested or cited.

Dean of Students Matt Hecker was out of the office Friday and couldn’t respond to questions, but the university code of conduct’s jurisdiction only applies to on-campus activity and off-campus activity sponsored by the university or a campus organization. It’s unclear if that jurisdiction applies to the party. Section 4.5 identifies “unlawful or unauthorized possession, use, distribution, dispensing, delivery, sale or consumption of any alcoholic beverage” as misconduct that can result in disciplinary sanctions ranging from a warning to expulsion.

Daniel Wheaton and Lani Hanson contributed to this report.

Broken Bow coaches among three killed in crash


Published in the Grand Island Independent.

Link here

Posted: Friday, June 1, 2012 8:08 pm | Updated: 1:17 am, Sun Jun 3, 2012.

ANSLEY — Three adults were killed and eight members of the Broken Bow High School boys basketball team were transported to area hospitals after a crash Friday afternoon involving a Broken Bow Public School van and a pickup truck one mile west of Ansley on Highway 2.

Capt. Jim Parish of Nebraska State Patrol confirmed that the van’s driver, 38-year-old Zane Harvey of Broken Bow, and front seat passenger, 24-year-old Anthony Blum of Broken Bow, were killed in the crash, as was the driver of the pickup, 70-year-old Albert Sherbeck of Ansley.

According to the State Patrol, preliminary investigation indicates the eastbound pickup crossed left of center and struck the westbound 2009 Ford Econoline Van shortly before 4 p.m.

Good Samaritan Hospital in Kearney treated five patients involved in the crash; three were in fair condition and two were in critical condition, according to a Good Samaritan press release issued Friday evening.

One patient was in critical condition at St. Francis Medical Center in Grand Island Friday evening. Sister newspaper The Kearney Hub reports that Jennie Melham Memorial Health Care Center in Broken Bow treated and released two students.

“It was a horrible accident,” Broken Bow Superintendent Virginia Moon said at a press conference Friday evening at Good Samaritan Hospital. “It will impact the community for a long time to come.”

Blum was head coach and Harvey was assistant coach for the Broken Bow High School boys basketball team. Broken Bow school board member Dave Glendy confirmed the students were headed back to Broken Bow from a boys basketball clinic in Kearney.

Harvey received his degree in education from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln in 1996 and was also a math teacher, head boys golf coach and assistant football coach at Broken Bow High School. He graduated from high school in Stapleton in 1992.

Blum attended the University of Nebraska at Kearney and was serving his first season as head boys basketball coach. He was previously an assistant basketball coach at Lincoln High School. He graduated from high school in Minden in 2006.

Blum was a first-year teacher and Harvey had been with the district for 14 years.

“Both will be sorely missed,” Moon said.

She said the community was rallying around the victims. Many parents and community members had gathered at Good Samaritan Hospital.

Other members of the community were at the hospitals in Grand Island and Broken Bow where the other victims were taken and counselors were at the schools.

“I think the outpouring of interest and concern and grief have been incredibly large, as you would expect from a small community and with people who are so involved,” Moon said.

Jaden Garey, a basketball player who will be a junior, narrowly avoided involvement in the accident because his father, Brian Garey, who lives in Kearney, met him at Sonic after the camp and drove him home.

Garey had mixed emotions. He said he was thankful Jaden wasn’t hurt.

“Yet, you put yourself in right in the place of those other parents,” he said.

Jaden’s stepbrother, Grayson Minnick, was in the van.

“He was the only one who had a phone and could call,” Garey said.

Grayson was treated for his injuries and released.

The school made calls with its automatic calling system to let parents know about the situation and will provide parents with advice about how to handle grieving.

“When there’s a death in the school community, we’re not always aware of how far and how deep that affects the students and parents because we all grieve in different ways,” Moon said.

In this situation, much of the grief counseling also will be done with staff because two staff members died and the staff themselves will need counseling, she said. She added that the school’s job will be more difficult because students aren’t in classes.

“This can never happen at a good time, but when students are out of school … it’s harder to get them together, and it’s harder to know which one needs a counselor,” Moon said. “It’s important that parents watch for changes in behavior. Those are the most important things.”

The Nebraska State Patrol, the Custer County Sheriff’s Department and rescue personnel from Ansley, Broken Bow, Mason City and Merna were involved at the scene. AirCare and a Good Samaritan ambulance were dispatched to the scene.

 Staff reporter Harold Reutter and editor Terri Hahn contributed to this report, which also contains material from the World-Herald News Service.

City administrator resigns at mayor’s request

Posted: Tuesday, June 26, 2012 2:00 am | Updated: 11:01 pm, Wed Jun 27, 2012.

Mary Lou Brown has resigned as Grand Island city administrator at the request of Mayor Jay Vavricek.

Brown’s resignation will take effect Sept. 30. Vavricek announced her resignation at the Grand Island City Council meeting Tuesday evening beside her empty seat.

“We cannot go on as we have,” he said. “I believe with these initial steps we can and must go forward positively, all pulling together on the same rope.”

Vavricek called Brown “dedicated, hard-working and diligent,” but he said she is responsible for the day-to-day operations of the city and its success. Faces on the council showed surprise at Vavricek’s announcement. Council President Peg Gilbert said she was the only member of the body who knew of Brown’s resignation before the meeting began. Gilbert declined to comment on the exact reasoning behind Brown’s departure, but she called it “a new beginning.”

“We want a clean slate for our citizens, and this is something we need to do to achieve that,” Gilbert said.

Vavricek will consult Gilbert and the council in seeking an interim city administrator and said he will form a mayor’s advisory group seeking suggestions for “the long-term interest of our people.”

The Public Information Division will release further information on Brown’s resignation Wednesday.

Brown’s contract mandated that she maintain her position until the end of the mayor’s current term, which concludes in December 2014.

She has held the city administrator position since December 2010, when Vavricek appointed her. She took on the job after an 18-month stint as the city finance director — her first municipal job afters years spent working in private finance.

Brown has dealt with a number of administration and governance issues since beginning her term.

The city has been without a fire chief for seven months, since former Fire Chief Troy Hughes resigned. Fire Division Chief Tim Hiemer served as interim chief for the maximum term of four months, after which Brown was the over-seer of the department. No search began for a new chief. Fire Division Chief Fred Hotz filed a grievance with Brown in late April saying the department needed permanent or interim leadership, but she rejected it. He then approached Human Resources Director Brenda Sutherland and Vavricek and scheduled a hearing with the mayor, but the hearing was later canceled and Hotz was suspended for insubordination.

Brown refused to comment on the issue on the grounds that it was a personnel matter.

In addition to Hughes, four other city department directors — former Public Works Director Steve Riehle, City Attorney Dale Shotkoski, Utilities Director Gary Mader and Parks and Recreation Director Steve Paustian — have left their positions since Brown began her term as city administrator.

Hughes said he received his first-ever insubordination charges from Vavricek and Brown in the 11 months he worked under them. The charges came after Hughes released the Fire Department’s annual report before receiving clearance from Brown and Vavricek and discussed potential department cuts with his staff before receiving clearance from administration. In an article published in The Independent June 17, Hughes said the work environment under Brown was not “open and honest.”

According to Brown’s bio on the city website, the city administrator is “responsible to the Mayor and the City Council for the administrative functions of City government” and “provides long-range planning leadership, provides leadership to the city staff and professional consultants and administers programs of the Mayor and City Council.” Brown has dealt with a tough budget session, the extension of sewer services along Highway 281 to Interstate 80 and city annexation.

“She has made a difference in the lives of our people and made all those around her a better person,” Vavricek said after the council meeting.

In other business, the council approved an ordinance to grant the council the power of approval over police and fire chief appointments.

That move reverses a 2005 amendment to Chapters 2 and 12 of city code that took the council’s approval power away. Since 2005, the council has only had the power to ratify five of the mayor’s public department official appointments: city administrator, city attorney, city clerk, public works and finance.

Gilbert said she included only the fire and police chief positions in the ordinance because their departments account for more than 60 percent of the general fund budget.

“It’s critical that the council has some say in the leadership of those two departments,” she said.

But Councilman Larry Carney said he saw no reason to exclude other department officials from council approval as well. He made a motion to include all public department officials in the amendment, but he withdrew the motion when City Attorney Bob Sivick said approving such a change to city code would require more advance notice to the public.

Councilman Chuck Haase made a motion to remove from the agenda a private executive session. Haase said he placed the session on the agenda to discuss the way the council members and the mayor represent citizens. To hold the executive session would have been a violation of Nebraska’s Open Meeting Law because the closed session exception for the prevention of needless injury to reputation is for the protection of individual employees only, not for the protection of governmental officers on the public body.

The council also referred the blight and substandard studies for proposed redevelopment of two locations — Area 10 south of Bismark Road and east of S. Locust Street and Area 11 on the Veterans Affairs Medical Center property south of Capital Avenue and east of Broadwell Avenue — to the Regional Planning Commission. The council advanced the Area 11 referral despite concerns from council members that the location may not meet blight and substandard requirements.