The Atlantic City Council Wednesday night tabled a motion to enter into a closed session after the legality of the session was questioned, and a group of citizens spoke out on the matter. At issue, was the perceived notion the closed session would be with regard to City Administrator Doug Harris. Harris came under fire during a council meeting held March 20th, during which local developer Don Sonntag claimed Harris intentionally worked behind the scenes to derail a housing development project.
Sonntag had sought the Council’s approval of an application for $250,000 in Tax Increment Financing funds from the City, which he said would have helped to bankroll a $2.1-million housing development on the City’s southern edge, but he pulled his application at the March 20th meeting. During tonight’s (April 3rd) City Council meeting, prior to the public forum, Mayor Dave Jones said an editorial in the local paper that the closed session would be with regard to Harris’ future with the City, was only speculation, and “not quite right.”
When asked whether the person who was the perceived target of the closed session had asked for the session, as required under the Iowa Open Meetings Law, Mayor Jones said the individual had not done so. City Attorney Dave Weidersteen then recommended the closed session be tabled. That was because a member of the media in attendance at the meeting provided Weidersteen with a copy of the Law, which specifically states an employee whose performance is being discussed must request a closed session.
Councilman Dana Halder was not happy with the fact the closed session was tabled because of media and public speculation on the intent of the session. He said “It’s funny that everybody knows what this is supposed to be about. I’m the City Councilman, and I don’t.” Assuming the closed session would have been about Doug Harris, a number of members of the community spoke during a public forum, in support of Harris, including business owner and Atlantic resident Barb Jorgensen, who said Harris has been a watchdog for the taxpayers of the City, and the Council should not be out to get him. Councilman Halder said “I don’t think anybody has implied or said that Doug Harris’ job is in jeopardy.” Jorgensen said “It very much shouldn’t be,” because “he’s doing a bang-up job.” Halder agreed.
Mayor Jones indicated the council would hold a closed session at its next regular meeting in two weeks to address any issues it may have, with Harris.