Jim Pruetting, chief of police, attended the March 20 city council meeting, listening to Steve Shute, council president, announce the governing body’s determination after a performance review hearing. Photos courtesy of Rick Poppitz

Rick Poppitz
Special to The Gardner News
In a meeting that lasted roughly seven and a half hours, Gardner city council held their first staff performance evaluation hearing. The first four hours of the meeting was devoted to city business agenda items, with the remainder by the appeal hearing process.

Performance evaluation appeal hearing
At the March 6 meeting, council adopted Resolution No. 1963 with a 4-1 vote, amending policy and adding a process for employee appeal of performance reviews.
A formal complaint filed by The Gardner News questioning whether the resolution was formulated in closed session – it did not appear on the published agenda for public review – had not been answered at press time.
Before resolution 1963, director level staff got their reviews from the city administrator. There was no appeal process for employees who disagreed the evaluation.
With the policy change, the administrator will still review performance, but directors can now appeal the performance review to council.
Steve Shute, council president, had introduced resolution 1963 after closed session March 6. During discussion, Shute had said this was a reaction to an actual case, but he did not identify an individual.
March 20, the first appeal hearing was conducted by council, in a series of seven consecutive executive sessions, from 10:54 p.m. to 2:25 a.m.
Kristy Harrison, council member, participated in the open meeting via telephone from Louisiana, but not in the executive sessions.
Chris Morrow, mayor, was present and chaired the meeting as usual, but did not join the executive session.
“I’m not going to participate in executive session because it is anticipated that they’ll be hearing an appeal, and I’m not going to sit in on this appeal. I’m not going to sit in on any appeal. We all make our own choices, but I feel I wouldn’t be totally forthright if I didn’t say that. I wouldn’t suggest that any of the members of the governing body take part in appeals either,” Morrow said.
Earlier Morrow had asked a series of questions to Ryan Denk, city attorney, regarding potential risks and liability resulting from the governing body involving itself in personnel issues.
Before the first executive session, Shute asked Denk for some guidance.
Denk said it would be a two or three step process.
Council would conduct an appeal hearing, followed by deliberation. If a determination is made, it would need a formal vote.
State statute allows a specific exemption for personnel issues; individual information is usually confidential and not presented in open meetings to avoid possible litigation.
After almost three and a half hours of executive sessions, council resumed open meeting at 2:25 a.m.
Shute made a motion – “to vacate the performance evaluation for Chief Pruetting, pursuant to section 4108.4 (of Gardner city personnel policies), and to ascribe a performance score of 3.0, and to assign back pay.”
The motion was seconded by Moore and passed by voice vote.
Shute introduced a second motion to vacate the document titled ‘written reprimand of Jim Pruetting,’ dated Jan. 19, and all disciplinary actions associated with the written reprimand, subject to section 7-105, disciplinary actions of the Gardner city personnel policies and procedures. It also passed by voice vote with none opposed.
Shute then made a third motion.
Resolution No. 1963 established a time limitation for appeal of performance evaluation and disciplinary action.
The final motion, passed by voice vote, was to waive the time limitation imposed by 1963, for special circumstance.
Previously, city staff has indicated Pruetting’s salary at about $101,900 as of January, 2017. At press time, it was unknown how much back pay would be issued.

Hampton Inn Agreement and bonds
Four items concerning the Hampton Inn were considered.
Larry Powell, business and economic development director, thanked all the parties involved and summarized the work involved in getting to this point.
“All the way along, this project has had overview, overview, overview.. .” Powell said.
Powell described declining abatements of 80 percent for the first two years, 70 percent for the next two and 60 percent for the final six years.
Council adopted Resolution No. 1964 approving the developer’s agreement for the Hampton Inn.
A cost benefit analysis was presented, followed by public hearing. The cost benefit analysis has been shared with the county and USD #231.
Council then considered issuance of $14,000,000 in industrial revenue bonds for financing a portion of the costs of the project.
Laura Gourley, finance director, assured council that the city is not responsible for payments on the bonds.
Lee Moore, council member, asked what would be the worst case scenario.
Tyler Ellsworth, from Kutak Rock attorneys, said worst case would be if PILOT payments were not made, or the terms of agreement were broken in some other way. In that case, he expected the city could terminate the lease.
“You would become owner of a hotel,” he said.
Council approved Resolution No. 1965 to issue the bonds with a 5-0 vote.

Rezoning – Dairy Queen
The planning commission sent recommendation to approve rezoning of four properties for the Dairy Queen which will be built at 518 Main Street.
Council approved the rezoning by Ordinance 2543 with a 5-0 vote.
Powell said platting is the next step for Dairy Queen, and he expected that might be presented at the April 3 council meeting

Rezoning – 133 N. White Drive
The planning commission also recommended rezoning a R-2 residential property to R-3, Garden Apartment District.
The existing building on the property is divided into three residential units, but the owners can only rent two because of the R-2 zoning.
A neighboring property owner is opposed to the rezoning. She is concerned that at some point in the future, the rezoning could allow a larger apartment building to be built.
Both individuals were present and spoke to council.
The planning commission recommended approval of the rezoning with the condition attached that any future redevelopment of this parcel will be limited to no more than three units, two and a half stories or 35 feet in height.
Commission had spent time over two meetings before recommending this solution that they thought should please both parties.
The tri-plex property owner was happy with the result, but the neighbor was not. She wanted it left unchanged and/or grandfathered.
Council members Lee Moore and Steve Shute attempted to convince her that her worry about a bigger building being constructed was addressed by the stipulations.
Council approved the rezoning.

Settlement – Edgerton waste water dispute
A settlement agreement and release with the city of Edgerton, and authorization for the mayor to execute was approved by voice vote.
Gardner will agree to pay Edgerton $35,000 as complete payment on invoices sent between June 2013 to October 2016.
From November 2016, until a new rate is implemented, Gardner will pay Edgerton $2 per 1000 gallons of sewage treated.
Gardner and Edgerton both approve of Raftellis as the rate study consultant.

Council approved purchase of body armor for police offers in the consent agenda.
Andrew Krevins was appointed to the Utility Advisory Commission.
Council heard a detailed presentation and considered recommendation to participate in the Dogwood Energy Facility.
Resolution No. 1966, describing the 2016 Corporate Limits and Boundaries of the city of Gardner, was approved 5-0.
Council updates included a lot of detailed discussion about how to fund and move the project for a new Justice Center forward.