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Nebraska City agrees to settle former clerk's lawsuit over lost job

Nebraska City agrees to settle former clerk's lawsuit over lost job

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Nebraska City's former clerk has reached a $325,000 settlement with the city over a lawsuit alleging the City Council had damaged his reputation and career.

Arnold Ehlers' case had been set to go to trial June 3 for a jury to determine damages.

In 2015, Ehlers filed a lawsuit in Otoe County District Court against the city and then-City Council members Jim Stark, Jeff Crunk, Vic Johns, Mindy Briley and Jack Hobbie, alleging the City Council had acted illegally when it voted not to reappoint him to his position.

The decision came four months after Otoe County District Judge Julie D. Smith ruled in Ehlers' favor in the case.

In her ruling, she concluded that the city was acting outside its authority when it put the position Ehlers already held, which wasn't vacant, up to a vote.

But, the judge said, the reason Ehlers lost his job was a question for the jury.

Ehlers alleged they had retaliated against him after he went to the Nebraska Attorney General's Office and State Auditor over concerns about how the city handled its warrant account.

The city had argued he couldn't establish a whistle-blower case because it would require a connection between his reports about the utilities department's handling of the warrant fund and losing his job. The city said there also had been no showing that what the city had been doing had actually been unlawful.

But, in her order in January, Smith said Ehlers' belief that the practice was unlawful was "certainly reasonable, and his belief was, in fact, confirmed by the March 3, 2015, letter from the Auditor."

Ehlers also had argued that he wasn't informed prior to the meeting that the council would go into closed session to discuss matters related to his employment. But Smith found the city had complied with the Open Meetings Act.

Reach the writer at 402-473-7237 or lpilger@journalstar.com.

On Twitter @LJSpilger.

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Public safety reporter

Lori Pilger is a Norfolk native and University of Nebraska-Lincoln graduate who has been a public safety reporter for the Journal Star since 2005.

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