When the Great Bend City Council adjourned its regular meeting Monday night at the Great Bend Events Center, the move was not popular with the vocal crowd of those supporting suspended Police Chief Cliff Couch that wanted more time to address the council and to see more action on the matter.
“Do something about this mess,” someone shouted.
“You can’t handle the truth,” someone else yelled.
The council adjourned on a four-two vote with Allene Owen, Mike Boys, Vicki Berryman and Joel Jackson voting to close the meeting. But Dana Dawson and Brock McPherson voted no, which met with approval from the Couch backers.
Some in the audience asked out loud why the council didn’t take action on the items that were on the agenda for the special meeting called for last Friday. That meeting never took place because there was no quorum.
On Friday, the council was going to name a new president after the resignation last week of Wayne Henneke and discuss vacancies in key positions. But, only Dawson, Boys, McPherson and Cory Zimmerman were present, not enough to pass muster.
Jackson had said he would attend, but was unable to. This led the crowd to boo Jackson when he entered the meeting late a well as when he later voted to adjourn.
“I came to your house after the meeting and banged on your door,” someone said. With cars in the driveway “you were there” and should have been at the Friday meeting.
With these comments, Barton County Sheriff’s Office deputies started to move in just in case they had to control the situation. They never had to intervene.
Finally, the council and Mayor Mike Allison made their way off the stage as more comments and insults were hurled.
This was when Bryan Harris stepped to the podium and addressed the restless crowd.
This was the latest in a string of council meetings at the Events Center as city officials have anticipated large turnouts due to Couch’s July suspension. The first was the Aug. 7 regular meeting, which drew a crowd of more than 400 people, and there was close to that number attending Monday night.
The after meeting
“Now it is time for our meeting,” Harris said as took he microphone and was greeted by cheers and applause.
“This is business as usual,” he said. “That is why they call it politics.”
He was referring to the council ending its meeting after allowing only one person to speak on the Couch matter, retired police officer Terry Millard who was a staunch Couch supporter.
In fact, there was only one other agenda item that involved the controversy. That was the appointment of City Attorney Bob Suelter as the interim city administrator replacing the recently retired Howard Partington.
Suelter said he is the “interim interim” administrator. The city will work the Kansas League of Municipalities to bring in a temporary administrator to fill in until someone can be hired.
But, that was early in the meeting and Millard was last.
City officials granted permission for the group to use the center for up to a half an hour so city personnel could clear out the hall and not get home too late.
Even as the supporters held their meeting and speakers like Joe Trimmer and Laura Miller urged for calm and for positive action, there were those in the audience shouting them down.
“We all can be leaders in our community,” Miller said. “No more threats. Stay positive and work together.”
The conflict has roiled for weeks and has included allegations by Couch of unethical behavior at the city level and harassment by city officials. Partington has countered that Couch has been insubordinate.
There have been numerous City Council executive sessions and special council meetings since early June. Since Couch’s suspension on July 24, there has been a citizens’ campaign to install blue signs supporting Couch around town, and a crowd of 400-plus residents attended the Aug. 7 council meeting.
In the aftermath, Partington retired and Henneke resigned effective immediately last Wednesday. Both claimed the stress and harassment caused the the issue led them in part to make their decisions to step down.
Couch has appealed his suspension, but a hearing date before the council has not been set.
In his suspension order, Couch was given the option of appealing the action. But, the meeting Monday did not include the hearing on Couch’s possible termination.
Couch filed his appeal on July 28 and the city originally had two weeks to schedule an appeal hearing, but he has the option to waive that two-week requirement.
However, the city has been informed that Couch is now represented by a different attorney, who has requested additional time to prepare for the hearing. His schedule does not permit this hearing to occur until later in August.
The city’s special counsel Ed Keeley will work with Couch’s new attorney and the city to set a date and time for the hearing. Once set, officials said it will be announced.
Although Couch can request the hearing be public, the council is under no obligation to follow that request. It will likely be done in an executive session.