A Belle Fourche councilman faces allegations of violation of the code of ethics | Local news
BELLE FOURCHE — Belle Fourche Ward 3 Councilman Randy Sowers is facing allegations of breaching the code of ethics he said he will publicly defend at Tuesday’s city council meeting.
According to a Jan. 6 letter to Sowers written by Mayor Randy Schmidt, Sowers allegedly violated three codes of ethics. The purpose of the code of ethics, the letter states, is to “ensure that each elected official conducts himself in a manner that will inspire public confidence in the fair operation and integrity of the government of the town of Belle Fourche.”
The code provides that board members who fail to meet conduct expectations can be reprimanded or formally censured, which could result in further sanctions, including removal from office.
“Recently I have been informed that you may have violated the Code of Ethics and Conduct,” the letter reads. “This letter is intended to inform you of the alleged violations and to provide you with an opportunity to respond to these allegations.”
Sowers provided a copy of the letter to the Pioneer.
The first alleged violation, according to the letter, relates to Sowers’ recent request for the removal of weight and cardio rooms from the Belle Fourche Recreation Center so that the city-owned center does not conflict or deprive private companies in the city. .
Additionally, the letter says Sowers has publicly asked if the city should rent dumpsters to community members because it could also compete with private businesses.
Sections of code that were allegedly violated include:
A.1. Act in the Public Interest: Recognizing that managing the public interest may be their primary concern, members will work for the common good of the people of Belle Fourche and not for private, personal or other interest, and they will ensure action just and fair. equal treatment of all people, claims and transactions submitted to them.
A.7. Conflict of Interest: All members must identify and avoid conflicts of interest as required by law.
A.10. Representation of Private Interests: Consistent with their role as guardians of the public interest, Council members shall not appear on behalf of the private interests of third parties before Council or any other City council, committee or body. Members of Councils and Commissions shall also not appear before their own organs or before the Council on behalf of the private interests of third parties on matters related to the areas of service of their organs.
Specifically, the letter says Sowers publicly advocated for the removal of weight and cardio room equipment from the recreation center via a webcast interview with her sister, Katie Hoffman. Hoffman’s husband, Jesse Hoffman, is a personal trainer who owns and operates a strength and fitness center business in Belle Fourche.
Additionally, regarding city rentals, the letter states, “It has been reported that your brother-in-law works for a local waste management company.”
The second alleged violation states that “the mayor and members of council were informed by a number of employees that you or persons affiliated with you monitored, tracked and tracked city employees on and off duty. You have also attempted to recruit others to participate in this behavior.
This allegation violates the following code:
A.14. Positive Work Environment: Members shall support the maintenance of a positive and constructive work environment for City employees and for citizens and businesses that deal with the City. Members must recognize their particular role in their relations with City employees so as not to create the perception of inappropriate directives to staff.
Finally, the third allegation of violation states that Sowers added items to the agenda of council meetings “at the last moment or raised concerns at public meetings that were not presented to a committee or a manager before the meeting”.
Some of these alleged incidents, the letter states, it is “obvious that you have thoroughly investigated a matter…”
“While you certainly have a right to learn about these matters, your requests appear to be aimed at surprising City staff rather than constructively gathering information or developing constructive policies and solutions,” the letter continued. .
This allegation purports to have violated a number of code sections involved:
A.4. Respect for Process: Members must carry out their duties in accordance with the processes and rules of order established by the municipal council.
B.1.(e) Addition of items to the agenda: Items will be added to the agenda of the municipal council for consideration on the recommendation of the committees and councils. Notwithstanding the failure of committees and councils to recommend an item for the agenda, an item may be placed on the agenda at the request of the mayor or with the consent of three members of council.
B.3.(b) Channel Communications Through Senior City Staff: Questions from City staff and/or requests for additional general information should be directed to the Mayor or appropriate department heads. Board members should not arrange meetings directly with department staff, but should go through department heads. If in doubt about the appropriate contact with staff, council members should ask the mayor or legal counsel. However, nothing in this protocol is intended to hinder access to information. All Board members must have the same information to make decisions. All critical comments on staff performance should be directed to the mayor by correspondence or private conversation. The Mayor will then consult with the appropriate committee chair and/or department head and, if necessary, an executive session of the committee to discuss.
B.3.(d) Never Publicly Criticize a Specific Employee: Elected and appointed officials should never voice concerns about a City employee’s performance in public or directly to the employee. Comments on staff performance should be directed to the mayor or department head by correspondence or private conversation. Appointed officials should provide feedback regarding personnel to the mayor.
According to the City Council’s Code of Ethics and Conduct, potential penalties for alleged violations of the above codes may include formal reprimands or censures. For serious infractions, a council member could also face more serious penalties, including removal from office.
The five-page document ended with a notice to Sowers that they will have an opportunity to address the alleged violations at the Jan. 18 board meeting.
“At some point thereafter, members of Council will determine whether your actions warrant punishment,” the letter read before Mayor Randy Schmidt signed it.
Sowers spoke to Pioneer on Tuesday about the issue.
“I’m going to save most of it for Tuesday’s meeting,” he said. “And I’m preparing with my legal counsel to defend that because character and integrity and truth are very important to me, and I don’t think that does anything against me. I feel like I did my job as a public councilor to the best of my abilities given my current state of life.
Along with feeling like the concerns came out of left field, Sowers said he was disappointed that neither Schmidt nor any of his fellow board members approached him with these or other concerns about his behaviour.
Aside from one time councilman Bob Somervold advised Sowers to read the code of ethics, Sowers said a council member approached him earlier this week to let him know something was coming up about potential penalties.
“There was no direction from the mayor on this,” he said. “Nobody even informed me that they were writing a letter about it…until I got the letter. I’m just excited to see who is accusing me and what the charges really are in detail.
“I’m going to defend myself with everything I have because I think it’s the right thing to do,” Sowers said. “And I won’t be intimidated.”
The trailblazer also spoke to Schmidt on Tuesday to understand where the concerns were coming from.
Schmidt said some board members had approached him with concerns, and according to the code of ethics and conduct, it was up to him to then write a letter informing Sowers of the concerns and advising him of his opportunity to defend themselves at the next board meeting.
“When council members come to me, that’s when…it’s then the mayor’s responsibility to take action if the behavior of a council member can justify it,” he said. declared. “I have no say in what happens. It will be an agenda item (Tuesday) for Councilor Sowers to address the ethical breach of the Code of Ethics and Conduct.
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