Two and a half months after a code of conduct violation complaint was filed against Alderman Jerry Wright, his Rapid City Council colleagues unanimously voted to reprimand him for his actions in trying to have a former council member fired from his job.
A contrite Wright apologized for his actions, but still insisted he did not intend to have former Alderman Ron Sasso fired.
At a special City Council meeting on Thursday evening, all seven of the council members present agreed that Wright violated the code of conduct, but they stopped short of imposing the most severe penalty: removal from office.
Reprimand was the mildest form of punishment available to the council. Two members, Alderwoman Charity Doyle and Alderman Chad Lewis, did not attend the meeting.
Code of conduct rules state that two-thirds of the council, or seven members, are needed to determine a violation of the code. That same number is needed to impose any penalty.
Wright was accused by Sasso of interfering with Sasso's employment at Black Hills Works, a local nonprofit that works with adults with disabilities. The charge came after Sasso wrote a Journal opinion column criticizing Wright. Sasso on Dec. 22 filed a complaint alleging Wright talked to his employer in retaliation for the criticism in the column.
The city hired Mark Pecora, an independent investigator, to look into the accusations against Wright and produce a report on his findings for the council to review before the hearing.
Both Sasso and Wright were given an opportunity to speak before the council weighed in on the alleged violations.
"I strongly fear he overstepped the bounds and violated the code of conduct," Sasso, said, and he asked the council to consider the impact of allowing council members to go after people's livelihood just because of a disagreement with something written in the newspaper.
Wright said he regretted speaking to Sasso's employer. He apologized to Sasso, his family, the City Council and the public for this action.
He was, however, still resolute in saying that his meeting with Sasso's employer was not intended to get Sasso fired. He asked for the report be made public and to put the matter behind them.
"It's time for us as a community to move on," Wright said.
All seven council members in attendance chastised Wright for his actions.
"If you want to judge a man's character," Alderman Ron Weifenbach said, "put him in a position of power."
Aldermen Steve Laurenti and John Roberts wanted the council to go further in disciplining Wright. They wanted to censure him, an action more severe than the formal reprimand.
"We are dealing with someone from the council going after someone else's livelihood," said Laurenti, adding that, at a minimum, the council should censure Wright.
Alderwoman Darla Drew asked Wright why he went to Black Hills Works instead of directly addressing his issues with Sasso.
Wright said felt that Sasso's column questioned his honor and integrity, and that was why he reacted that way.
All seven council members voted in favor of a four-part motion:
- To reprimand Wright for his communication with Black Hills Works;
- To ask Wright not to do that again;
- To take no further action against Wright if the motion passes; and
- To release the investigative report to the public.
After the meeting, Sasso was unhappy with the light punishment but was pleased the ordeal was over.
"I'm ready to move on," Sasso said.
The city released copies of the investigative report to the people in attendance. As of today, the report is available to everyone.
Sasso's complaint about Wright's intentions to get him fired were fueled by an email written by attorney John Nooney in which Nooney said Wright had bragged to him about his ability to get Sasso fired.
According to the report, the investigator spoke with Nooney on Jan. 23, 2016, and confirmed his belief that Wright "appeared boastful" and "was taking credit for having Sasso fired."
With the vote, no further disciplinary action will take place against Wright whose term of office expires in 2017.