Discord on display at Draper City Council meetings
Apr 22, 2019 01:42PM
By Mimi Darley Dutton
By Mimi Darley Dutton | [email protected]
There’s been a great deal of drama and discord at recent Draper City Council meetings. Differences of opinion and distrust among council members have left some Draper residents disgusted while others find the actions appropriate. Twice in recent months the city has hired an independent counsel to investigate matters.
In early March, the city council postponed a vote on a zone change and development agreement for a Master Planned Community on approximately 83 acres in SunCrest with Shaun Michel and his company Michel Land, LLC. Councilmember Alan Summerhays had previously recused himself from voting on the matter and the mayor had emailed all the council members asking them to disclose any connection they had to Michel. All council members responded directly to the mayor’s email with the exception of Michele Weeks, who said she had instead notified city manager David Dobbins that she’d received flowers from Michels when her husband passed away.
Freshman Councilmember Mike Green asked for an independent counsel before moving forward on a vote so any connections the council members have with the Michels could be investigated. Fellow freshman Councilmember Tasha Lowery agreed with Green, indicating she felt “there’s enough doubt to proceed” and that she felt the council’s “hand was forced” to do an independent investigation. Weeks voiced concern about delaying the vote on the development because of possible legal repercussions with the developer. City Attorney Mike Barker clarified the developer can demand a vote within 45 days, but the council voted to proceed to hire the independent counsel and postpone a decision on the development.
“We’ve retained an attorney who is in the process of doing that investigation, but we don’t have a report back yet,” Dobbins said. Kristin VanOrman of Strong & Hanni, an attorney in practice for more than 22 years who specializes in government liability among other matters, was hired.
Dobbins said the potential cost to the taxpayers for the investigation is unknown. “She’ll continue until she determines she’s done all the investigating she needs to do. We don’t know the scope of that so we don’t know the timeline,” he said, adding that the money for the investigation comes from a fund the city has for hiring consultants.
VanOrman had also been hired by Draper City to oversee an investigation stemming from an incident at a Draper City Employee’s Association annual Christmas lunch last December. At that event, Councilmember Weeks kissed a male city employee on the cheek, an action witnessed by a number of city employees. VanOrman was tasked with investigating if it was a case of sexual harassment. VanOrman’s letter to Dobbins on the matter indicated that neither she nor the male involved felt that this conduct rose to a level of sexual harassment.
“However, I do believe this conduct is unprofessional and highly inappropriate for anyone, let alone an elected official. Such conduct has the potential for liability upon the city as well as Ms. Weeks individually,” VanOrman wrote. Her letter recommended a training program for Weeks to complete within 30 days.
As a result of VanOrman’s investigation, the April 9 city council meeting agenda listed as a consent item a resolution requiring said professional conduct and harassment training. Weeks abstained from voting and Summerhays voted no, but the consent items passed with a majority.
Prior to the council’s vote on the resolution, two men made public comment at the meeting expressing their support of the training.
“Sexual harassment is not a joke… I think we need to hold our elected city council members to a higher standard,” Benjamin Harold Frederick said. He went on to say that if he were raising a daughter, he would want that daughter held to the same standard as everyone else and that asking for professional conduct and harassment training should be a minimum.
Jeremy Roberts stated that he’s worked for the past 15 years with the state legislature to draft bills on sexual harassment and related matters and also as a private victim advocate.
“We hold our elected officials to the highest standards humanly possible. It’s inevitable in any legislative or executive body that there will be factions; those develop. I’d like to commend the city council for using someone independent so those factions didn’t play into it. It’s not an attack on anybody to look at behavior, have course correction and say let’s get further training so it doesn’t happen again,” Roberts said, adding he felt it was an appropriate and measured response. “With any luck, the city can move forward and put this behind it quickly.”
Two women at the meeting who’d come out of interest on other agenda issues also took advantage of the opportunity for public comment on the harassment matter.
“It seems to be all of you against one. I know you’re all good people and I know this woman is a good person. I ask you as decent human beings to stop this. Let’s get back to city business,” Renee Wiegan said of what she felt was “a total injustice against Councilmember Weeks.”
Retired teacher Bonney Thom said, “I’m disgusted…you have been berating her just because she doesn’t agree with your politics, but she agrees with our politics.” Thom went on to say to the council, “We know whose pockets you’re in. That’s my opinion.”