ROLFE - Don Westering will keep his job.
Rolfe Mayor Mike Hayek announced his decision to retain Westering as Rolfe's chief of police Monday.
On Aug. 27, members of the Rolfe City Council voted 4-1 to recommend that Westering be dismissed for misconduct.
However, under Iowa law, the decision to hire or fire the officer was Hayek's to make.
Addressing the council Monday, Hayek said keeping Westering on the force was the right decision.
"My decision tonight was not easy," he said. "I will never make everyone happy, but I will try to do what's right. This decision tonight is not to win a popularity contest, it's to do what's right."
There was light applause from some in the audience after the announcement. Others listened in stony silence.
Westering said he had mixed emotions to the outcome.
"I'll just continue to do my job," he said.
He also believed that those seeking to remove him did not constitute the majority of the town.
"There are a lot of supporters that were not in here," he said.
Council members Joni Ham and Lana Pratt were among those who voted to remove Westering.
"I am not surprised. I am disappointed," Ham said. "I think I and the other three council members that voted at the prior meeting, I would have hoped that would give the mayor some direction. He made his decision and we have to abide by his decision."
"There were too many signatures, there were over 100 signatures asking the mayor to agree with the will of the council," Pratt said.
One of the allegations brought in the previous meeting was that Westering had inappropriate contact with a 16-year-old girl.
According to Hayek, these allegations were a "non-issue."
"This happened four years ago, and it was already taken care of by a previous mayor," Hayek told The Messenger. "We haven't had any complaint to say this is a repeat offense. To me this was a non-issue because it's already been taken care of four years ago when there was a complaint."
He said the girl has since moved "several states away."
The council also received letters from the girl and her father claiming the allegations were false.
Of the letters making allegations, one claimed Westering was seen massaging a girl's feet in the grocery store, while another said he was "rolling around together on the floor" with the girl.
"I decided I wanted to be difficult and test Don's police training to see if he could deflect my hits/kicks," the girl wrote in explanation of the incident. "He was good-natured about it and let me see if I could touch him. I tried throwing a kick in there. He caught my ankle and held it in the air, keeping me off balance and proving that he had the superior skill. As I was trying to hop away my slip-on shoe fell off. How this was misconstrued into flirting and foot-tickling is nothing more than someone's overactive imagination."
The girl's father, a retired Army soldier, said he was good friends with Westering because they had a similar code of conduct. He said "there was none, period," regarding any inappropriate conduct with his daughter, and that those allegations were simply "lies" and "rumors."
The mayor's statement came at the end of the regular meeting. One of the first items at the meeting was listening to citizens' comments, including some in opposition to Westering.
"First, I think Dave Thoren should have recused himself because he is a good friend of Don's, and Don has happened to spend numerous hours at Dave's place," said Mary Allen, of Rolfe. Thoren was the lone vote opposed to removing Westering.
"As far as Iowa code, 66.29 states, I believe that the mayor is in maladministration because he is also biased and hangs around with the town cop," Allen continued.
This section reads, "Any city officer elected by the people may be removed from office, after hearing on written charges filed with the council of such city for any cause which would be ground for an equitable action for removal in the district court, but such removal can only be made by a two-thirds vote of the entire council."
She asked Hayek and Thoren why they had not recused themselves. Both stated their relationship with Westering was professional, not personal.
Allen also mentioned some letters that were handed to the council at the previous meeting.
"I'd like to know what kind of investigation was done in response to those letters that were sent? No one was contacted as far as I know," Allen said.
"I did what I thought was correct," Hayek said.
Nick Grahum, of Rolfe, also asked the mayor to follow the council's decision.
"In the event your decision hasn't been made, or if your decision is to keep the chief of police, I'm requesting that, along with the petition, that the council remove you from office effective immediately pursuant to Iowa code chapter 66, section 29," he said.
The council did not respond to Grahum's statement, but moved on to the next item of business. After the meeting, the council members did not indicate what their next course of action would be.
City Attorney Greg Stoebe said he had no comment regarding any of the laws quoted.