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Police officer escorts Alexandria council member out of meeting

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A heated discussion at an Alexandria City Council meeting Monday night spun so out of control that Mayor Dan Ness ordered a police officer to escort Ward 1 council member Virgil Batesole out of the building.

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Ness and Batesole have repeatedly sparred over council procedures and decisions for months, well before Batesole was elected to the council last fall.

The latest spat happened when City Administrator Jim Taddei was reviewing the budget committee's preliminary work on how to handle a proposed $673,695 state cut in Local Government Aid.

The committee, which is comprised of Ness, council member Dave Benson and city staff, recommended to reduce the equipment fund, capital improvement, street paving program, planning commission development and employee benefit funds by 50 percent.

Combined with a 3 percent reduction in the general expenditure fund, the measures would save $635,000.

In addition, department heads were asked to reduce their budgets by 3 percent. The budget committee was expected to look at those savings at its February 18 meeting.

Batesole said the options were good but added he wasn't happy about taking money out of the equipment fund.

Ness told Batesole that the committee's work was not done yet and that it would come up with recommendations for the council to consider at a later date.

Batesole said that the entire council should be making the budget decisions and under the city's charter - the rules that council operates under - the council has that responsibility.

After Batesole repeated his claim that the council was not following the charter as it was intended, Ness told Batesole he was "out of order" and placed a five-minute time limit on the budget discussion.

Batesole disagreed with the time limit, saying it wasn't right to limit the discussion. After he said that, Ness noted that the time limit was down to four minutes.

Council member Elroy Frank said there would be plenty of time for more discussion about the budget recommendations at a work session. He added that at this point, the city doesn't even know what the state cuts will be.

Batesole said the audience - there were about eight people present - was interested in hearing the budget discussion right now while the council and the mayor, he said, were more interested in going home.

After that, emotions quickly reached the boiling point.

Ness, who oversees all the council meetings as mayor, asked Batesole if he had asked for permission to speak, which, he said, was required under Robert's Rules of Order.

Batelsole said he didn't need permission and again accused Ness of wanting to end the discussion even though he was being paid well to attend the meeting.

"Don't be lecturing the mayor," Ness said.

When Batesole said he would continue to lecture him, the mayor banged the gavel and ordered him to "stand down."

Batesole refused and continued to speak.

The mayor once again ordered Batesole to stand down but Batesole didn't comply.

"We will not have this kind of behavior," the mayor said after banging the gavel.

Ness then asked a police officer, who attends all council meetings as a security precaution, to remove Batesole from the council chambers.

The officer walked up to where Batesole was sitting in his chair, helped him gather up his things and walked him out of the chambers.

Batesole complied without making much of a fuss. On his way out, he briefly stopped to tell a newspaper reporter to make sure the incident would be reported.

Batesole's departure came about one hour and 45 minutes after the meeting began.

Later, during the public comment portion of the meeting, Don Kleine, a candidate in the Ward 1 race, said he was "saddened" to see what happened.

Ness said it saddens the council when Robert's Rules of Order are not followed. He said council members must abide by decorum. "This will not become a mockery," he said.

Back to the budget discussion, the council briefly discussed another option for dealing with the state cuts - increasing the sales tax in the city from 6.875 percent to 7 percent. The extra 0.125 percent would be designated for a local street improvement program.

The sales tax option would require special legislation at the Capitol and a referendum approved by city voters.

The council agreed to set up a work session soon to discuss the sales tax possibility in more detail.

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Pioneer staff reports
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