Lincoln City Council members discussed a city police sergeant in executive session Tuesday evening, at the criticism of some residents.
Mayor Gerarld Wise said “no final actions were taken” from the hourlong closed meeting. City Council President Erv Fischer said “it’s still being analyzed.”
About 15 people were in attendance when the meeting reconvened. Lincoln City Councilor Jon Aman motioned last week for the special meeting “to receive attorney consultation related to legal actions associated with labor and employment of Sgt. Richard Hoffer.”
Leading up to Tuesday evening’s meeting, it remained unclear what issue triggered the executive session, which is typically limited to discussion of litigation or possible litigation, per state law.
Hoffer has no current civil or criminal cases. The state labor department and North Dakota Peace Officer Standards and Training Board have received nothing regarding him, the respective offices said.
Michael Geiermann, a Bismarck attorney who frequently represents law enforcement officers, said Hoffer has retained his services. Geiermann said late Tuesday morning that the city council may terminate Hoffer at the meeting. He also disputed the legitimacy of the reason to enter executive session.
"I don’t think there’s any basis whatsoever to terminate him," Geiermann said. "I have not heard of any legitimate reason to close this meeting down."
Lincoln Police Chief Joe Gibbs said in an interview that 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 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."
Before voting to enter executive session, Lincoln City Councilor Tom Volk questioned “the actions that brought forth this executive session.”
“The issue about the home and the employees—,” Aman began to answer before Lincoln City Attorney Justin Hagel interrupted him.
“In terms of what’s going to be discussed is my consultation with you related to this concern and information raised by the city council members and possible legal action related to a proceeding from that,” Hagel said.
Volk asked why no council members spoke with him about the executive session’s issue before the closed meeting, especially since he shares the city’s public safety portfolio.
Fischer also shares the same portfolio but declined to say if he was contacted about the meeting’s topic.
The council then voted 3-1 to enter executive session, Volk dissenting.
Lincoln residents Jaime Leingang and Brandon Schock opposed the executive session.
“I don’t agree with this because I don’t think the proper procedure was followed,” Schock told the council.
Leingang said he would leave peacefully but only escorted by a police officer. Hagel said they could be cited for staying.
Lincoln Police Officer Mark Thueson ushered people out of the council room.
“I don’t believe that our city council is correct,” Leingang said outside Lincoln City Hall. “I don’t believe they have our agenda as their agenda. It seems like this is more of a witch hunt.”
He carried a Back the Blue flag with him to the meeting.
“It is in support of our fine officers in Lincoln,” the landscaper said. He said he’s lived in Lincoln for 13 years.
While awaiting the meeting to reopen, Schock said he doesn’t believe the executive session was handled properly.
“There’s something stinky here,” he said.
After the meeting, Volk declined to say if he felt the executive session was justified.
Fischer said he couldn’t talk about the meeting's discussion or results.
“Any decision will be in public,” he said.