Barton County Sheriff Brian Bellendir has expressed concerns about the potential of a large, possibly hostile, crowd at the next Great Bend City Council meeting and strongly advised the meeting be moved to a venue larger than City Hall. His recommendation came in a letter to city officials and council members delivered Friday.
His worries stem from the publicity swirling around the controversy between City Administrator Howard Partington and Police Chief Cliff Couch.
The next regular council meeting is set for 7:30 p.m. Aug. 7. The normal location is the city office, 1209 Williams.
However, Couch appealed his suspension Friday afternoon. A hearing on that appeal must be held within two weeks and that could be before the regular meeting.
“As chief elected law enforcement officer of Barton County I have serious concerns about the current situation involving Chief Couch and the governing body,” Bellendir wrote. “It is my responsibility to protect the rights and safety of all the citizens of Barton County including those that live in the City of Great Bend.”
The sheriff noted he has received numerous phone calls and met with many people face-to-face about this issue. “It has come to my attention there is a distinct possibility there will be a very large crowd at the next City Council meeting. Estimates range from 100 to 300.”
Further, he has reason to believe there will be picket lines and protesters. “As long as these actions remain peaceful, they are protected by the First Amendment to the Constitution of the United States.”
But, “my concern arises due to the location of the council meeting,” he wrote. “The city building simply is not large enough. I strongly advise the City Council to move the next scheduled meeting or any special session to a larger venue such as the Crest Theater, City Auditorium or any other location that may safely accommodate persons wishing to observe and participate in local government.”
Citizens have the right to watch government at work, he wrote, adding that notification of the change of venue should be made publicly available via print, radio and social media well in advance of the meeting.
“I believe if the meeting is held in the city building and citizens are turned away, there will be strong protests,” he wrote.