Confusion abounds on why an executive session is planned for tonight's meeting of the Lincoln City Council, whose members apparently are unsure of the legal grounding for discussing a police sergeant, whose attorney disagrees with the legitimacy of closing the meeting.
On Friday, the city gave public notice of the meeting, which is set for 4 p.m. today. The agenda lists an executive session is planned "to receive attorney consultation related to legal actions associated with labor and employment of Sgt. Richard Hoffer."
North Dakota Century Code provides a few narrow reasons for a governing board to close a meeting for an executive session, typically limited to discussion of litigation or possible litigation.
Lincoln Mayor Gerarld Wise said he doesn't know the reason for the executive session and referred questions to Lincoln City Councilor Jon Aman, who had motioned for the executive session. Aman reiterated the agenda's listed reason for closing the meeting.
Lincoln City Council President Ervin Fischer said the board is "absolutely not" expecting a lawsuit.
"It’s just a meeting to clarify and clear the air," he said late Tuesday morning.
Lincoln Police Chief Joe Gibbs said Hoffer has been a great officer.
"I don't really know what's going on. They've kept me in the dark," Gibbs said of the Lincoln City Council. "He's never been written up. He's always had satisfactory or above yearly reviews. Really good officer, I'd hate to see him go."
Lincoln City Attorney Justin Hagel did not return a phone message regarding the grounds for the executive session.
Michael Geiermann, a Bismarck attorney who often represents law enforcement officers, said Hoffer has retained his services after he received notice of the meeting.
Geiermann said public entities must comply strictly with the state's open meetings laws. He disagrees with the Lincoln City Council's call for an executive session.
"I don’t think the reason they’ve given in the notice is legitimate, in my opinion," he said.
People attending the meeting can object to the executive session or refuse to leave, according to Geiermann, who advised that people should not push the issue to the point of arrest.
Geiermann also said Hoffer could potentially be terminated tonight.
"I don’t think there’s any basis whatsoever to terminate him," he said. "I have not heard of any legitimate reason to close this meeting down."
A cursory search of online court records showed no current civil or criminal cases in North Dakota involving Hoffer.
State human rights director Kathy Kulesa said Hoffer has not filed anything with the state labor department.
Duane Stanley, executive secretary of the North Dakota Peace Officer Standards and Training Board, said Friday that the POST office has not received anything regarding Hoffer.
The Lincoln City Council meets at 4 p.m. Tuesday at Lincoln City Hall. Fischer said the meeting may last an hour.