Atkins City Council votes to censure councilmember during special session

Published: Dec. 22, 2021 at 5:41 AM CST
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ATKINS, Iowa (KCRG) - The Atkins City Council voted to censure one of its members during a special session Tuesday evening.

There are no legal consequences for that kind of public reprimand. The public censure was issued against Councilwoman Julie DeMeulenaere.

The resolution itself only states that the censure is for “certain conduct.” It states Mayor Bruce Visser of Atkins had attempted to talk privately with DeMeulenaere, and such attempts were rejected. But DeMeulenaere said she had asked for an agenda of what would be discussed prior to meeting with the Mayor, and did not receive one.

During the meeting on Tuesday, city attorney Ryan Tang stated the censure was related to litigation the city was involved with, and so they could not discuss it publicly.

“I have this point, I have no idea,” DeMeulenaere said, concerning the reason behind the censure. “There’s been some things in town that I haven’t agreed with.”

Julie DeMeulenaere is the only member other than the mayor who will still be on the council next year. Her term goes through 2023. Three of the council members, Heather Rinderknecht, Robert Spading, Joey Svejda, terms end at the end of 2021, in less than two weeks. All three did not run for re-election. One member, Lana Offill Robison, sent in her resignation this week, which was accepted during Tuesday evening’s meeting. Robison was absent during the meeting.

The city council intends to hold a meeting Dec. 30, before the newly elected council members begin their terms, to vote in a new member to replace Robison.

Several months before the new city council members terms began, the current members approved a contract for a city administrator, a new role for the small town. DeMeulenaere voted no on that contract.

“I felt like with the town of 2,000 people, that we didn’t really need a city administrator, I would have thought about it down the road,” said DeMeulenaere.

That hiring came despite advice from a consultant, Callahan Municipal Consultants, recommending the city wait to start a search for a city administrator.

The organization sent a letter to Mayor Visser in July, which in part states, “we cannot in good conscious start a city administrator search at this time.” The letter advised the council to wait until after the November elections, and then discuss the position with the elected council members.

But against that advice, DeMeulenaere said the city hired interim city clerk, Kelly Groskurth, to fill the city administrator role, with the contract for that role having a salary at $92,000 annually for two years.

KCRG-TV9 asked Mayor Visser about the salary for the city administrator position after Tuesday’s meeting. He said he would formulate a reply on the topic at a later time.

Incoming city councilman, EJ Bell, spoke out during public comment at the meeting, but he was cut off. KCRG-TV9 spoke with Bell after the meeting.

“I know tonight was intense, and I know there are challenges ahead, and I really do believe that we can get through them,” said Bell, “But stop playing games. We’re not here to play games, we’re here to get stuff done.”

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