‘A lawsuit on the letter’
RIVERSIDE—The subject of whether or not the council should accept anonymous letters came up again at the city council meeting on Monday, Aug. 19.
Mayor Bill Poch said they were getting out of hand. Several of the letters he has seen recently have spoken about individual city council members.
“Man, oh man, if you read the letter that talks about these council people, I think there could almost be a lawsuit on the letter,” Poch said. “The problem is there’s no signature, there’s no name. You have no way of tracking it down.”
By accepting the anonymous letters, Poch argued, the city becomes responsible for what is written in them. He told the council he has asked city administrator Rusty Rogerson to have all anonymous letters received put on the agenda.
Then Poch asked the council to do something else.
“What I’m trying to say is, would somebody step up and make a motion that we don’t address anonymous letters anymore?” Poch asked. “We throw them in the trash.”
Several of the council members didn’t like Poch’s suggestion to rescind the previous vote to accept anonymous letters and having each one on the council’s agenda.
Councilor Nate Kasdorf was the first to speak against Poch’s idea of not accepting anonymous letters. He said the council has never accepted the anonymous letters. They’re just in the council members’ packets.
Poch argued by having the letters in the packets they become public information and the city becomes liable for what those letters say. In his opinion some of the letters were becoming slanderous.
“But they’re not slanderous,” said councilor Kevin Kiene. “They’re not coming from the city. Bill, we’ve already done this. This is a done issue.”
Poch said, yes, the council had been over this before but Riverside is one of the few cities in Iowa that allow anonymous letters. Kiene said since the majority of the council made a decision previously to accept anonymous letters the topic couldn’t be brought up again.
“This was voted on two months ago,” Kiene said. “I don’t know, whenever—it came out way back and I thought the majority of the council voted for it.”
Schneider asked if Kiene was saying the council couldn’t bring up anonymous letters to rescind their previous motion to accept them, or if Kiene was saying the anonymous letters couldn’t be put in their packets because by accepting the letters they become public record.
“I’m saying we voted to receive anonymous letters,” Kiene said, “so if you want to add to that you can go ahead and bring that up, I suppose, because you’re changing the motion.”
For a couple of minutes Schneider and Kiene argued back and forth. Schneider said he didn’t make a motion and it was up to the three councilors who voted to accept the anonymous letters to rescind their motion and start over. Kiene said it wasn’t up to him to do it.
“You can make a motion to change it at any time,” Schneider said.
Poch asked if any councilors had further comments about anonymous letters. Councilor Ralph Schnoebelen said these letters were taking too much of the city’s time. He said most of the letters weren’t worth reading and he didn’t read them.
“I think that’s one of the dysfunctional things of the council,” Schnoebelen said, “is what we allow to happen.”
“It’s not a dysfunction of the council, it’s what people in the community are writing,” said councilor Chris Kirkwood.
Poch opened up the topic to comments from citizens. Kristin Bell asked the council how they were going to establish the validity of the comments, especially when they weren’t signed. She said the council voted to accept anonymous letters but now they were receiving more each day, which is causing further problems for the city.
Mariellen Bower also spoke on the topic.
“I’m not here to say you should rescind whatever you’ve done,” Bower said. “But after reading some of this trash I’m beginning to wonder if we aren’t causing trouble for ourselves.”
She said the anonymous letters should just be deposited in the trash. By allowing the letters, it would just keep creating turmoil in town.
Kevin Mills agreed with Bower. He said the letters were causing too many problems and struggles for the council.
“I’m not struggling with it at all,” Kasdorf said. “It’s amazing how much time we’ve just wasted on this topic that we’ve already voted on. This city council voted on it twice in the last year. I believe we just wasted over a half hour on this tonight. That’s the dysfunction part right there. This is a done deal.”
Schneider reminded the council what Pat Callahan said about anonymous letters to them. He said the anonymous letters should just be thrown in the trash and this is what other professionals think.
The city council will continue to have the anonymous letters in their packets.