Between the Lines

Between the Lines By David Lias Something happened Monday evening, during a special meeting of the Vermillion City Council, that every citizen in the community should know about.

Monday's meeting should have been quick and routine. The issues to be discussed weren't highly complicated. The only reason the special meeting was needed was because the issues on the agenda were time-sensitive.

Aldermen Grause, Annis, Slagle, Kozak and Wright were present at the meeting. At least five members are needed for the council to have a quorum and conduct the city's business.

It appeared that everything was going well Monday. One of the agenda items was an application by the Vermillion Juvenile Crime Enforcement Coalition for funds from the Juvenile Accountability Incentive Block Grant program. Clay County State's Attorney Tami Bern was present at Monday's meeting to explain the coalition's plans for the funds. She had originally been advised that the county could be the administrator of the grant. Her office was recently informed, however, that the city of Vermillion must be the grant's administrator.

This issue doesn't cost the city a red cent. It should have been a cut and dried decision for the council.

But as observers of the council have learned in recent months, there's no such thing as a routine city council meeting anymore.

As the council was preparing to vote on the juvenile incentive grant application, Alderman Frank Slagle announced that he had to excuse himself from the meeting.

He couldn't vote on this issue, he said, because he is the parent of a juvenile. His participation in the meeting, he claimed, would constitute a conflict of interest.

So he left the meeting. He destroyed the council's quorum. The city's business ground to a halt until approximately 5:30 p.m., when Mayor Bill Radigan, who was delayed because he was taking care of other important business, arrived at the meeting and the quorum was restored.

Slagle and two other members of the Vermillion City Council have been embroiled for over a year in questions of conflict of interest regarding their employment at The University of South Dakota. It has been questioned whether they should be allowed to vote on joint contractual issues involving the city and university.

This is an issue that is proving to have no quick, easy answer. For Slagle to claim, however, that he couldn't vote Monday because being the parent of a juvenile raised a specter of conflict of interest is simply ridiculous.

If Slagle continues to address every other issue that comes before the council to such an extreme, he will continually be excusing himself.

He will have to leave the meeting when the council votes on street repairs and maintenance, because he drives a car. He'll have to excuse himself when the council takes action to improve the city's water, sewer, cable television and electric systems, because we assume he also uses all of those services.

He won't even be able to vote on the city budget. He's a city taxpayer. Such a vote, if you follow Slagle's reasoning, is a conflict of interest.

There really is no good excuse for Slagle's actions Monday. We question his motives. We suspect he left the meeting Monday as a way of making life miserable for Bern. Her duties as state's attorney have forced her to be involved in the USD conflict of interest issue.

It almost appears that Slagle relishes the opportunity to make life miserable for his fellow aldermen and Mayor William Radigan, too. In just the past year, Slagle has brought the city council to a virtual standstill with lengthy arguments over petty issues. At least twice now, he's hamstrung the council with unproductive debates concerning Robert's Rules of Order. We're not talking about brief, concise discussions. His first discourse on Robert's Rules forced a meeting to grind to a halt for at least half an hour.

What's so unfortunate is the person he debates with the most is Radigan. His arguments with the mayor are usually the strongest during times when Radigan is doing his best to try to get meetings back on track.

Radigan had to use his gavel to silence Slagle after he began making comments that suggest a fellow councilman was involved in a conflict of interest because of his wife's employment.

Instead of growing into his role as an alderman, Slagle is becoming more and more unstable. He's not fit to hold office. He should resign.

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