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O’Fallon Council set to review investigation report related to council member Gatewood

On June 24, during its pre-meeting work session, the O’Fallon City Council will review the findings of a report compiled by Lee’s Summit-based attorney Joseph G. Lauber. The purpose of the investigation was to answer questions of whether Ward 5 council member Katie Gatewood’s statements or actions, related to the selection of Philip Dupuis as police chief, violated the duties of elected officials, state laws, or city ordinances.

Following the departure of former Chief Tim Clothier on Oct. 2, 2020, Dupuis was named as interim chief of police. Clothier came to O’Fallon from the Conroe (Texas) Police Department where he had served for 33 years. At the council’s Jan. 24 meeting, Mayor Bill Hennessey moved to appoint Dupuis as the city’s permanent chief of police, pending confirmation by the city council. Gatewood’s actions at that meeting are what precipitated Lauber’s investigation.

“The threshold question for this analysis revolves around whether council member Katie Gatewood lied to the O’Fallon City Council when making statements regarding the appointment of Philip Dupuis as chief of police at the Jan. 14, 2021, City Council meeting,” Lauber’s report stated. “In the aftermath of the statements made on Jan. 14, questions have arisen not about the substance of Gatewood’s concerns about Dupuis (in fact, no specific concerns were even raised), but rather the source of the information Gatewood relied on as support for her statements. In most cases, the source of information provided is important in determining how much weight to assign to the information in decision making.”

Gatewood’s statements, made just prior to the council’s Jan. 14 meeting, revolved around concerns she said were “brought to her by fellow police officers” regarding Dupuis and that those concerns should be fully investigated before the council’s public vote. The council had voted by a 7-3 roll call vote during a closed meeting on Jan. 7 to approve Dupuis’ appointment. Gatewood, along with council members Debbie Cook (Ward 5) and Deanna Smith (Ward 1) were opposed.

On April 8, the council passed Bill No. 7298, which authorized the use of a special counsel to investigate Gatewood’s actions and statements. Subsequently, the council retained Lauber as special counsel.

Gatewood

When his investigation concluded, Lauber sent a 4,600-plus word, 10-page report to the council for its consideration and any further action it deemed necessary. The council voted unanimously at its May 27 workshop to make The Lauber Report public. The report also was recently confirmed to be on the agenda for the June 24 council work session.

The Lauber Report goes into detail about council member duties, the role of certain city administrative positions, how council member duties relate and do not relate to those city administrative position, and statutes and rules that apply to conduct.

At a high level, two questions to be answered by the investigation were:

  • Did Gatewood lie to the council when making statements objecting to the appointment of DuPuis as chief of police, and did that violate any of her duties? Lauber concluded that, at a high level, the answer to the first question is one the council must decide based on the investigation’s findings. However, he also concluded that the answer does really not matter, and no further action is needed.
  • Did Gatewood’s actions to investigate Dupuis’ background, after the city council voted to approve his appointment, amount to interference by a council member? Lauber’s conclusion was that it was interference, and this is where there are some important options regarding council actions.

“If the city council agrees that council member Gatewood committed interference, there are several possible consequences the council could elect to impose,” Lauber said. “Those range from disciplinary action from the council to enforcement of ordinance violations in municipal court.

“Often, matters of council member misconduct are handled internally by the council as a whole,” the report explains. “In these circumstances, the council is responsible to review the evidence presented, apply it to the applicable rules and regulations, and then determine an appropriate consequence for the action. Options for such ‘internal’ actions of the council include:

  • An informal, verbal censure of the offending council member.
  • A more formal written censure.
  • Calling an impeachment hearing to consider evidence, allow the allegedly offending council member to state their case in rebuttal, and to determine whether an offense rises to the level of removal from office pursuant to Section 3.6.C of the city charter. Removal from office must be approved by a majority of the entire city council (6-4) if initiated by the mayor; however, even without the mayor’s initiation a council member may be ousted by a 2/3 vote of the entire city council (7-3).

The report says that based on those O’Fallon City Code provisions, the only penalty council member Gatewood could receive if convicted of a violation, is a maximum fine of $500.

The report clarifies that although a penalty of imprisonment is mentioned, the court is only able to sentence a person to confinement for three specific purposes, none of which apply to council member Gatewood’s actions.

Ironically, on Friday, June 18, Dupuis resigned citing concern over gun legislation recently signed into law by Gov. Mike Parson.

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