LOGAN, Iowa — Former Logan City Administrator Angela Winther is suing the city and three City Council members over her firing last summer.
In the suit filed in Harrison County District Court on Wednesday, Winther contends that she was fired in retaliation for exercising her First Amendment rights and for whistle-blowing. Named in the suit are the three City Council members who voted to fire her: Stewart Johnson, Nick Lefeber and Dee Clark.
Winther is requesting a jury trial. The suit seeks compensation for injuries and damages, reinstatement to her position and compensation for attorney fees, among other items.
Winther and City Attorney Joe Lauterbach were fired in July. Some townspeople, including Winther, say they believe the firings stem from a controversy over cleanup of a town park.
Winther's suit details the dispute. On March 12, the town's park board presented a plan to the Logan City Council to clear trees at Milliman Park to restore the primitive walking paths that previously existed there.
According to the suit, Johnson opposed the plan, citing concerns about having the public near his property, which borders the park. Winther said at the meeting that trails could be established while protecting the privacy of adjacent homes.
After the meeting, Winther said, it became increasingly clear that Johnson intended to block the project.
Winther also states in the action that her husband, Jack Winther, became an advocate of the Milliman Park project and spoke out in favor of restoring the park. He leads the local Boy Scout troop and has said cleaning up Milliman Park had long been a community service goal of the troop.
On April 5 Winther complained to Mayor Randy Fetter and Lauterbach that minutes from council meetings were not being published promptly in the newspaper because of Johnson's refusal to approve the minutes until Winther revised them to omit discussion by council members or citizens.
Winther said she was concerned that she could be charged with a crime for failing to publish the minutes in a timely fashion. In the suit, she says she was willing to change how the minutes were recorded but believed that the matter should be discussed and decided by the entire City Council, not just Johnson.
On May 15, Winther says, she expressed concern to Lauterbach that Johnson, Lefeber and Clark were passing notes among themselves during council meetings and that this was a possible violation of open meetings laws. She also consulted the State Ombudsman's Office about the legality of several council actions.
Winther contends that her communications, as well as those of her husband, constituted free speech on matters of concern to the public.
Council members Johnson, Lefeber and Clark could not be reached for comment about the lawsuit they are named in.
The fourth council member, Dennis Crum, who supports Winther, hadn't heard about the suit.
“I'm surprised she hasn't done it before now,” said Crum, who walked out before the vote to fire Winther on July 6.