Carthage council remains divided as city attorney's resignation approaches

Apr. 30—CARTHAGE, Mo. — An effort by some Carthage City Council members to change city ordinances to remove the mayor from the process of firing City Manager Greg Dagnan was blocked during a special council meeting held Monday at the Carthage Water and Electric Plant community room.

A majority of council members have tried to fire Dagnan but have been blocked by Mayor Dan Rife, who opposes the firing.

Rife announced at the beginning of the meeting that council bills seeking to eliminate his role in the firing process would not be on the agenda, "due to specific procedural requirements and timelines not being met."

Those council measures, proposed by council members Tiffany Cossey and Alan Snow, included a proposal:

—To amend the city code (Section 2-121) pertaining to the the suspension of city officers.

—To amend the city code (Section 2-160) pertaining to how an officer of the city is fired.

—To change the whistleblower policy in Carthage's personnel manual.

—To establish an "anti-targeting ordinance."

—For a budget adjustment to stop paying Dagnan effective April 24.

Rife has blocked the firing after City Attorney Nate Dally agreed with the mayor that it required the approval of both the mayor and the council to fire Dagnan.

Rife has said Dagnan has been a good city administrator and that the council does not have any cause to fire him. In April, the council received two letters, one signed by 69 city employees, and the other signed by the fire chief and assistant fire chief, supporting Dagnan and Rife.

Council members have cited a lack of trust as a reason for wanting to dismiss Dagnan, as well as Rife. The state auditor and the attorney general looked into numerous complaints from some council members and residents, but those agencies did not take any action after reviewing the complaints.

Rife said on Monday that the proposed measures, and a one to hire attorney Paul Martin to serve as the council's attorney in its attempt to impeach Rife, had problems that needed to be addressed before they could be placed on the agenda.

"Under our city code, the city attorney is required to draft all council bills," Rife said at the start of the meeting. "The attorney received requests and samples of the bills late Thursday when he was in court and promptly responded the following Friday morning as requested by council member (Tiffany) Cossey. Her requests asked for Mr. Dally to provide responses if updates or revisions were necessary. Mr. Dally included a thorough explanation of his issues identified in the council bills as noted in your packets. No subsequent revisions or updates were provided, including the bill pertaining to Mr. Martin. The clarity on whether Mr. Martin's matter was an emergency or not was not communicated, which is crucial for the inclusion on a special meeting's agenda."

Toward the end of the meeting, Snow made a motion to put those items back on the agenda.

After some back-and-forth among council members, the mayor blocked the move, saying the bills were "not appropriate or did not meet the right criteria, so that cannot be added to the agenda at this time. His (Dally's) opinion gave multiple changes that could be made in order to address those and make those eligible, and those changes were not commented on. So at this time we cannot put those items on the agenda as they are not legitimate council bills to be discussed."

'Mayor is incorrect'

Cossey responded, saying, "The mayor is incorrect."

"If you read our process for a council bill, nowhere in there does it say the city attorney has the ability to refuse to put them on the agenda because he disagrees with them or because he believes they conflict in any way with the existing statute," Cossey said during the meeting. "He only has a procedural role, and his role is to make sure they're in the proper format."

"He did not refuse to put them on the agenda," responded council member Lori Leece. "He refused to sign off on them because he did not feel they were legal. I read some of the things that were changes. I put them side by side, and I've got it all right here. Some of the wording would affect everyone. It would affect a lot of people."

Cossey repeated her assertion that the city attorney doesn't have the authority to keep items off the agenda, and Leece again countered saying the mayor does have the authority.

"The mayor has the chair of the room because I also talked to an attorney," Leece said. "The chair has the right to determine what goes on the agenda and to shut conversation down, and I know that you said he couldn't limit the time for people to speak — you mentioned that in our last meeting — but that's incorrect also. The chair may limit the time allotted to speakers, including members of the body. That's in Rosenberg's Rules of Order. I've been reading a lot, I've worked a lot this week."

The discussion continued for about two more minutes before Snow made a motion to dismiss the meeting before any further discussion could happen.

Snow said after the meeting that he made the motion to adjourn because "I felt the meeting was over."

"I felt we had a good discussion about proceeding with a full-time attorney or a law firm," Snow said. "But we hit a point where we were at a stalemate, and it was time to adjourn."

Rife and the council agreed to issue a "request for proposals" for law firms and individual attorneys to submit in order to try to speed the process of hiring the replacement for Dally, who resigned from office in April. His final day on the job is May 10, leaving the city without a prosecuting attorney in the municipal court and a legal consultant for the mayor, the council and department heads.

Rife said the job was posted on the city's website the day after Dally submitted his resignation. The city has received one response to that posting.

The council's next regular meeting is 6:30 p.m. Tuesday, May 14.