Steenblock v. Elkhorn Tp. Bd.

Decision Date22 April 1994
Docket NumberNo. S-92-1080,S-92-1080
Citation245 Neb. 722,515 N.W.2d 128
Parties, 33 A.L.R.5th 933 Darrel STEENBLOCK, Appellee, v. ELKHORN TOWNSHIP BOARD et al., Appellants.
CourtNebraska Supreme Court

Syllabus by the Court

1. Summary Judgment: Appeal and Error. In reviewing a motion for summary judgment, an appellate court reviews the evidence in a light most favorable to the party opposing the motion and gives that party the benefit of all reasonable inferences deducible from the evidence.

2. Public Meetings: Notice: Time. Each public body is required to give reasonable advance notice of the time and place of a meeting and to provide an agenda of the subjects to be considered at the meeting.

John W. Iliff, of Gross & Welch, P.C., Omaha, for appellants.

Avis R. Andrews, Fremont, for appellee.

HASTINGS, C.J., and BOSLAUGH, CAPORALE, FAHRNBRUCH, LANPHIER, and WRIGHT, JJ.

WRIGHT, Justice.

Darrel Steenblock sued to declare void the action taken by the Elkhorn Township Board (Board) on November 3, 1991, which action terminated his employment. Steenblock alleged that the Board and its members violated the provisions of the Nebraska public meetings laws, Neb.Rev.Stat. §§ 84-1408 to 84-1414 (Reissue 1987 & Cum.Supp.1990). The district court granted summary judgment in favor of Steenblock, and the Board and its members appeal.

SCOPE OF REVIEW

In reviewing a motion for summary judgment, an appellate court reviews the evidence in a light most favorable to the party opposing the motion and gives that party the benefit of all reasonable inferences deducible from the evidence. Kopecky v. National Farms, Inc., 244 Neb. 846, 510 N.W.2d 41 (1994).

ASSIGNMENTS OF ERROR

The Board and its members assign as error the court's sustaining Steenblock's motion for summary judgment and overruling their motion for summary judgment; the court's finding that a January 23, 1992, meeting did not cure the November 3, 1991, violation, if any, of the public meetings laws; the court's finding that the meeting of November 3, 1991, was in violation of the public meetings laws and was not an emergency action; and the court's ordering the defendants to pay attorney fees and costs.

FACTS

The Board was made up of three members: Larry Sund, chairman; Warren Schultz, treasurer; and Linda Bechtel, clerk. At the first meeting held in 1991, the Board passed a resolution which placed Sund in charge of the township's road grader operator. Steenblock was employed by the Board as a road grader operator, but he had no employment contract and was not hired for a definite term.

Between January 9 and November 3, 1991, Sund met regularly with Steenblock to discuss Steenblock's road-grading procedures and specific instructions regarding his job. In September, Steenblock was given a written document entitled "Current Pay Policy." The document stated that Steenblock would be paid on an hourly basis and would receive no paid vacation or weather days. He was allowed to set his own schedule as long as the work was completed.

The Board evaluated Steenblock's hours and performance and noted in the October 17 minutes that it was not pleased with his performance. Problems noted by Sund included the following: The equipment was not adequately maintained; oil samples were not taken at proper times; belts on the grader were not adjusted, which caused belt damage and problems with the alternator; the grader engine compartment door was left open, which allowed rain to enter; door latches were not lubricated; batteries were not maintained; the grader was not kept clean; and the chains did not fit the grader, were left on the ground, and were not put into storage.

In late October 1991, a snowstorm struck the Elkhorn area. When some township roads had not been cleared and some residents were not able to leave their houses, Sund instructed Steenblock to put chains and the "V plow" on the grader to remove the snow. Steenblock did not follow these instructions, and the grader became stuck in the snow. Schultz came upon Steenblock and the grader and helped pull out the grader. At about the same time, Sund arrived and fired Steenblock. After Schultz told Sund that he did not believe Sund had the authority to fire Steenblock, Sund called an "emergency" meeting of the Board for that evening. Notice of the meeting was given by telephone to Bechtel and Schultz. The Board members, Sund's wife, and Schultz' wife were the only people who attended and participated in the meeting.

Sund stated that the emergency upon which he based the meeting was the snowstorm. The snow had not been removed from the roads, and two people could not get out of their residences. Sund presented a written review of Steenblock's performance and moved to give Steenblock 2 weeks' notice of termination for the following reasons:

Steenblock did not follow direct orders, did not maintain the grader properly, did not use proper equipment for the job, charged excessive hours for several jobs, used township equipment for personal use, was not responsive to township needs, and did not reside in the township.

The Board passed the motion to terminate. Steenblock was mailed a letter of termination stating the above reasons. The last paragraph of the letter stated: "The next township meeting is November 14, 1991 at 8:00 PM at Larry Sund's home. If you need to discuss any of this, you can address the township board then." Steenblock attended the November 14 meeting, where his performance was discussed by the Board and the minutes of the November 3 meeting were read and approved. Steenblock continued to operate the road grader until November 18. The Board hired a replacement on January 23, 1992.

At its monthly meeting on December 12, 1991, which was open to the public, the Board again discussed Steenblock's termination. A motion to reinstate Steenblock was defeated for lack of a second.

Steenblock's dismissal was placed on the agenda for the January 23, 1992, board meeting. Bechtel stated that the agenda was published in the Fremont Tribune newspaper for 10 days before the meeting. On January 30, 1992, Steenblock commenced suit, requesting that the November 3, 1991, meeting be declared void because it violated Nebraska's public meetings laws.

ANALYSIS

Section 84-1408 provides:

It is hereby declared to be the policy of this state that the formation of public policy is public business and may not be conducted in secret.

Every meeting of a public body shall be open to the public in order that citizens may exercise their democratic privilege of attending and speaking at meetings of public bodies, except as otherwise provided by the Constitution of the State of Nebraska, federal statutes, and sections 79-327, 84-1408 to 84-1414, and 85-104.

A township is a political subdivision. See, State ex rel. School Dist. of Scottsbluff v. Ellis, 168 Neb. 166, 95 N.W.2d 538 (1959); Neb.Rev.Stat. §§ 13-702(2) (Reissue 1991), 84-1103(9) (Reissue 1987), and 84-1202(4) (Cum.Supp.1992). As a political subdivision of the State of Nebraska, the Board is subject to the provisions of the public meetings laws. § 84-1409(1)(a).

"The Nebraska Public Meetings Laws are a statutory commitment to openness in government.... 'The basic argument for open meetings is that public...

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7 cases
  • Wolf v. Grubbs
    • United States
    • Nebraska Court of Appeals
    • 13 Enero 2009
    ...law shows that voiding an entire meeting is a proper remedy for violations of the Open Meetings Act. See, Steenblock v. Elkhorn Township Bd., 245 Neb. 722, 515 N.W.2d 128 (1994) (finding that meeting was void and unlawful and failed to comply with requirements of public meetings law, becaus......
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    ...deducible from the evidence. Maloley v. Shearson Lehman Hutton, Inc., 246 Neb. 701, 523 N.W.2d 27 (1994); Steenblock v. Elkhorn Township Bd., 245 Neb. 722, 515 N.W.2d 128 (1994). Summary judgment is to be granted only when the pleadings, depositions, admissions, stipulations, and affidavits......
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    ...time and place of a meeting and to provide "an agenda of the subjects to be considered at the meeting." Steenblock v. Elkhorn Township Bd., 245 Neb. 722, 726, 515 N.W.2d 128, 130 (1994). In Banks v. Board of Education of Chase County, 202 Neb. 717, 277 N.W.2d 76 (1979), the plaintiff sought......
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