Heated meeting held in Byron amid questions of mayor’s authority

A tense and emotional special meeting of the Byron Town Council with several heated exchanges involving council challenges to the mayor’s authority Monday night was recessed with a 3-1 vote to continue the session to Thursday, July 2, to be able to obtain legal advice “to resolve the impasse.” However, on Tuesday evening, June 30, Councilman Alan R. Bair announced that the issues were resolved so the July 2 meeting was canceled.

The strained meeting, called by the council with “senior council member” Bair in the lead, was held in the Town Hall on Monday night, June 29, before an audience of approximately 30 persons. Bair served as the town’s mayor from 1984-90 and was elected as a councilor in 2010. Notices of the meeting were posted in the Byron Post Office and on the “Community Board” (the digital sign in front of the Rec Center) on Friday, June 26, said Donna Booth, the town’s clerk/treasurer.

Mayor Heidi Brightly, who took office in January, told the crowd that Bair had phoned her Friday about the meeting and then visited her on Monday morning, but that she had no other information. She was handed the agenda for Monday’s gathering by Bair as the meeting opened a few minutes past 8. She noted that it contained two items: 1. An executive session (closed to the press and public) “to discuss personnel” and 2. a discussion of the Byron Days celebration (set for July 6-11).

Bair moved that the agenda needed to be followed with the closed session first. “It’s going to get deep,” intoned Councilor/mayor pro tem Gary Petrich, who seconded Bair’s motion.

“I do not accept your motion,” said Brightly. “I am the only one to call for a motion.” Bair and several in the audience spoke out, some pro, some con, regarding the necessity for the mayor to ask for a motion.

“You need not call for a motion,” Bair said. The motion was made several times and each time the mayor rejected it. “I am
running the meeting,” she said. “I am in charge of the meeting.” Commented Petrich, “Not in my mind you’re not.” The mayor continued, “I do not accept the motion; I am the mayor and I’m running the meeting.” Bair asked for her authority in the matter and Brightly said that her authority is in the town code and that she had been told during a recent governmental conference about such matters.

On Tuesday night Bair explained during a telephone conversation that he had met in the Town Hall that morning with Byron Days co-chairmen Victoria Dickson and Becky Bates, Byron Police Officer Noe Garcia and Brock Meier and Kevin Asay from the town’s Public Works Department. Bair added that Brightly was aware of the meeting and was in the Town Hall, but did not attend what he called a committee meeting. Overall, he explained, the issues involving VIP parking during Byron Days, plus security and law enforcement, work by town employees and some meals for them were discussed and resolved.

“It was a calm and professional meeting,” Bair stated. He indicated that the mayor had spoken to some citizens and others in connection with food for workers, VIP guest parking and security and that the arrangements had to be coordinated, which they were.

“It’s all dealt with,” he said, so the meeting on Thursday is canceled. Brightly was asked for comment on the committee meeting but was unable to respond in time for this issue.

Heated meeting

During the special meeting on Monday, while trying to get the mayor to agree with the position he and fellow council members Gary Petrich and Sydney Hessenthaler talked about an executive session, Bair said to Brightly, “It would be appropriate to accept the council’s (desire) to have the executive session first.” Responded Brightly, “I think that the council should respect (her authority).” Petrich retorted, “We have no respect for you.” A mayoral supporter, Ed Diaz, then spoke from the audience, calling Petrich “an a–hole.” Some in the crowd murmured about the name-calling, and throughout the meeting and afterward, Officer Garcia kept a close watch on the proceedings.

Bair asked if they could adjourn to an executive session. “We’re not going into executive session,” replied the mayor, adding that Bair was “manipulating” the meeting. “You are just one of five,” she said, although Councilor Walter Roman was absent due to an arm injury, according to Bair. Resident Glen Hopkinson then spoke to the mayor from the audience, saying, “You also are one of five elected; you have to respect them.” Said Brightly, “I am the chair of this meeting and am in charge of it and will run it as I see fit.” She also took him to task for not being called on by her, adding that he needed to stand and identify himself.

Bair then challenged the fact that the agenda he presented was not approved, “as is the practice” for council meetings, and the mayor indicated that it was not necessary, as she had only received the agenda at the start of the gathering. “It doesn’t matter when you got it,” stated Bair.

After a couple more exchanges about the order of the agenda with the mayor rejecting efforts to conduct an executive session first, Bair said to the audience, “I don’t know what to do with her. She won’t accept the motion; there seems to be a difference of opinion.” Said Brightly, “The council seems to have forgotten that the mayor runs the meetings.” Replied Bair, “I think that the mayor has forgotten that the council makes the rules.”

Eventually, as the length of the contentious meeting approached 30 minutes, Bair moved to “recess this meeting and secure legal advice” to resolve the impasse. Councilor Sydney Hessenthaler seconded the motion. Bair then amended his motion to include the time and date for continuing the meeting; Petrich seconded that. The vote was 3-1 with the mayor voting “No.” She stated, “I feel this meeting could go on tonight and (that) I am executing my due duties.”

After the recessed meeting, the mayor approached a Chronicle reporter, who was chatting with Hopkinson about a subject not related to the meeting. The reporter asked the mayor, “What’s going on?” She replied, “I don’t know what to think.” Hopkinson then said, “I don’t see much thinking coming from the mayor.” She immediately told the reporter, “I want that quote in the paper.” She added, “What I’m doing is right and good for the town.” A few minutes later the reporter was told by resident Teri Coy that “it would be appreciated if (he) would please report what really happened” during the meeting “and not what someone said.” Later, the mayor supported her comment. The reference apparently is due to some quotes by Hopkinson in a previous story about a council meeting, although he made his comments after the meeting and some disagree with his views.

Following the meeting, supporters of Brightly stayed in the Town Hall for a time for some conversation. Across the street, apparently also for a considerable length of time, supporters of the council gathered on the Rec Center lawn with Bair and Petrich for conversation. Hessenthaler was on the other side of the street and shortly before the reporter drove away he heard her shout to those on the lawn, “I wish I could be over there.” That apparently referred to a concern that if she joined the group it would constitute an illegal quorum.

BY BOB RODRIGUEZ