January 24, 2020

Omer spends nearly $4K in dispute with city clerk


OMER — The city of Omer and city Clerk Sue Oliver entered a settlement agreement Aug. 24 regarding an alleged dispute over the termination of the deputy clerk and alleged violations of the Open Meetings Act by the city council.

As part of the agreement, the city paid Oliver $630 and an additional $1,852.69 for her attorney fees expended, according to settlement documents obtained by the Independent.

The city also spent $1,442.50 on its own legal fees leading up to the agreement, contributing to a total of $3,925.19 the city spent through the course of the dispute.

According to a letter sent March 16 from Oliver’s attorney Andrew Thompson to the city of Omer, Oliver was allegedly confronted by Omer Mayor Clark Sanford and council member Robin Berry Feb. 27 regarding her dismissal of former Deputy Clerk and wife of Mayor Sanford Virginia Sanford the prior day.

In his letter, Thompson said that after Oliver refused to reinstate the former deputy clerk, Mayor Sanford and Berry directed Oliver to schedule a city council meeting for that evening at 6 p.m., an hour before its regularly scheduled time, despite being advised by Oliver that the meeting would be held in violation of the Open Meetings Act due to insufficient notice to the public.

Also in regard to the termination of the former deputy clerk, the council allegedly held another meeting in violation of the Open Meetings Act after its regularly scheduled meeting on March. 13, Thompson said in his letter.

In the minutes of the March 13 meeting, it is indicated that after the meeting was adjourned at 9:20 p.m., a closed session was requested by Mayor Sanford with no vote nor roll call.

The copy of the meeting minutes obtained by the Independent is signed by Oliver but not Mayor Sanford.

In his letter, Thompson alleges that not only did the council fail to give an 18-hour notice to the public prior to both meetings, but it also failed to disclose the purpose of the closed session in its minutes, failed to conduct a roll call vote before entering closed session and failed to keep a separate set of minutes for the closed sessions.

The letter continues to state that Oliver may file an action in the circuit court to compel the city council to comply with the Open Meetings Act, and if found responsible, it could be liable for up to $500 in damages, court costs and the plaintiff’s attorney fees.

“That said, Mrs. Oliver does not wish to go through with such a lawsuit unless she is left with no other course of action,” Thompson said in his letter. “If the city council complies with the Open Meetings Act for future meetings and desists from attempts to force her to reinstate Mrs. Sanford as deputy clerk, she will gladly put the past behind her and move forward without further legal involvement.”

Following Deputy clerk Sanford’s termination, the council rehired her as an office assistant March 27.

As part of the settlement agreement, Oliver stated she did not require a deputy clerk at the time of signing and acknowledged the council’s authority to approve an appointment made by Oliver in the future.

The council also agreed in the settlement that it shall not use its approval authority to restrict Oliver’s choice of candidates to only city residents or to a single candidate.

Additionally, former Deputy Clerk Sanford is restricted from performing any duties of the clerk unless authorized, in writing, by the clerk.

While the dispute has been resolved between the parties, in the upcoming election, Ed Oliver, current council member and husband of Sue Oliver, will be running against Mayor Sanford for the position of Omer City mayor. Former Deputy Clerk Sanford will also be running against Clerk Oliver for the position of city clerk.

Both parties were unwilling to make comments on the record regarding the dispute.


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