High court finds firing of road grader not sufficient reason for emergency meeting
NEBRASKA — A meeting called to fire a road grader operator who got stuck during a snowstorm did not constitute an emergency under the open meetings law, the Nebraska Supreme Court ruled in late April.
The minutes indicate the meeting was held to discuss the employee’s performance, not an emergency, the court said. It declared the meeting void.
Darrel Steenblock, the road grader operator, did not follow board member Larry Sund’s instructions to put chains and the “V plow” on the grader before clearing snow from a late October 1991 snowstorm, and the grader became stuck. Sund fired Steenblock on the spot.
Another board member, who was helping Steenblock pull out the grader, told Sund he did not think Sund had the authority to fire Steenblock, so Sund called the “emergency” meeting in early November.
Steenblock sued the Elkhorn Township Board, claiming that the meeting was void under the public meetings law because it was not an emergency action. The district court in Fremont ruled summarily for Steenblock in November 1992.
On appeal to the state Supreme Court, the board argued that an emergency existed requiring immediate action because the roads had not been cleared of snow and residents were unable to leave their houses.
The Supreme Court disagreed, saying that the reasons given by the board for firing Steenblock were based upon past performance and did not include failure to remove snow. Also, the board’s giving Steenblock two weeks’ notice established that the meeting did not call for “immediate action,” nor was it “an unforeseen occurrence or condition,” the court said.
The court did not decide whether a subsequent January 1992 meeting regarding Steenblock’s firing was valid.
(Steenblock v. Elkhorn Twp. Bd.; Plaintiff’s Counsel: Avis Andrews, Fremont)