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Supervisors’ depositions for open meetings trial made public

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Warren County Supervisor Depositions

The depositions of two Warren County supervisors were made public following a hearing alleging that the three-member board broke Iowa’s open meeting laws.

In the depositions, attorney Michael Carroll questions supervisors Dean Yordi and Steve Wilson about what role County Administrator Jean Furler plays within the county, whether they believe the county created a new form of government when Furler was hired last May and why they chose to avoid talking about a county reorganization during open meetings.

Background:

A judge is expected to rule this year whether the Warren County Board of Supervisors violated the state’s open-meetings law when it handed out severance packages to 11 people.

Lawyers argued in court this week about an injunction sought by several of those employees to overturn their dismissal. They contend that the board did not tell the public about meetings where the job eliminations were discussed.

District Judge Mary Pat Gunderson had told representatives of the county and the former employees to meet with a mediator. But they couldn’t reach an agreement.

During the trial, Warren County Administrator Jean Furler said that she met with each of the three elected county supervisors separately about eliminating jobs before severance packages were given to 11 county employees on March 25 and 26 — knowing that if she talked to two or more at one time it would be considered a public meeting.

Thomas Foley, an attorney for the former employees, asked Furler whether the Board of Supervisors had approved the severance packages before they were issued during the two days in March.

She replied that each of the board members had been presented with a “sample” of the packages before they were distributed, but they did not vote on or discuss the packages during a public meeting.

Supervisors Chairman Doug Shull said Thursday that the county voted Feb. 4 to have Supervisor Steve Wilson look into reorganizing county employees.

He said the decision to eliminate jobs also was discussed during budget meetings, which are open to the public.

No minutes were recorded during the meetings because state law says no minutes need to be recorded unless an action is taken during a meeting, he said.

A special meeting of the Board of Supervisors was held April 18 to approve five of the 11 packages and a reorganization plan.

The plan wasn’t made available to the public until a few minutes before the meeting began.

Foley, the attorney for the plaintiffs, asked Shull whether he believed there was a practical way for the Board of Supervisors to reject the reorganization plan after the board had already issued the severance packages and hired two vendors to take over for the fired maintenance department.

Shull said the board could have called a meeting before April 18 to discuss any concerns about the reorganization.

Foley argued that the county couldn’t have “put that toothpaste back in the tube” because of how the severance packages had been written.

Patrick Smith, an attorney who has been representing Warren County, said the supervisors did not violate the law, and that because they held the April 18 meeting, they had complied with all of the state’s open-meetings laws.

“The law simply requires that you post a notice of the meeting and that you have a meeting,” Smith said. “Nothing in the law tells the supervisors how they have to run it, what has to be on the agenda, who’s going to speak, whether you have to speak — none of that is required.”