Council hears from heated crowd
By Mike Courson
Barton County Sheriff Brian Bellendir’s pleas for the Great Bend City Council to change its venue came to fruition for Monday’s regularly-schedule council meeting. The 370 seats set up at the Events Center were full some 20 minutes ahead of the 7:30 p.m. meeting, and a hundred more chairs were set up and quickly filled.
The standing-room crowd almost got what it wanted. After hearing comments from a handful of citizens, council members did vote to reinstate Great Bend Chief of Police Cliff Couch but the vote failed to pass 5-4 with the tie-breaking vote being cast by Mayor Mike Allison.
Just minutes later, at approximately 8:42 p.m., Couch arrived at the meeting to address a question that had just been posed by Councilman Wayne Henneke prior to the vote. Couch affirmed he was willing to work with City Administrator Howard Partington but, despite several public pleas, the council declined to cast another vote on the matter. Couch’s suspension from a July 24 special meeting stands.
The first vote came about after Councilman Dana Dawson, who voted against the original suspension, read a statement.
“While there are many times this council must make tough, unpopular decisions that we feel are in the best interest of this city, we cannot forget we first represent the citizens of Great Bend,” Dawson said.
Dawson offered two solutions to the problem. The first was suspending both Couch and Partington until the conclusion of the pending investigation. His recommended solution was to reinstate Couch pending the conclusion of the investigation.
After an attempt to motion for a vote on the matter, Dawson was informed a member of the prevailing side must make the motion to reconsider a previous vote.
Councilman Mike Boys, who originally voted for the suspension, made the motion but only after a speech of his own.
“I was here during Seaboard and I saw what can happen,” he said. “I want you to know I don’t ever want to see that again. That was unruly and it tore my heart out. When the KBI told me not to open my mail, not to open any packages, when people wrote me letters that said they were going to kill me, that’s not good. Guys, this is getting ugly. Let’s stop it now.”
Boys was willing to change his mind because Couch had reconsidered working with Partington. “He is willing to work with the administration,” Boys said. “I said, ‘Cliff, if you’re willing to work with the administration, I’m willing to work with you because I feel like there’s a lot of people who think you’ve done a good job.’
“I know he might not have answered the questions right, but we all make mistakes.”
Henneke then informed the public the conversation brought to light by Boys was the subject of a closed meeting. “I cannot support this motion because I want to hear it out of his mouth. If he says it out of his mouth, it will be considered,” Henneke said.
The council then voted on the reinstatement of Couch. Boys, Dawson, Cory Zimmerman, and Brock McPherson voted for reinstatement. Henneke, Joel Jackson, Allene Owen, and Vicki Berryman voted against reinstatement. With a 4-4 tie, Allison cast the deciding vote against reinstatement.
Couch stepped to the podium to directly address the council. He explained he originally misunderstood the council’s question in regards to working with city administration. He then confirmed he was willing to work with administration.
Several members of the public offered pleas for Henneke to reconsider his vote after hearing directly from Couch. “We voted and the vote is over,” Allison said at approximately 8:58 p.m.
At 8:59, Councilman Zimmerman offered a motion to suspend Administrator Partington. The vote was split in the same manner as the original Couch vote with Allison casting the tie-breaking vote.
This is a developing story. Check back Tuesday for more coverage of the comments prior to Monday’s votes.