The opening day of the removal trial of Councilman Dan Johnson on Wednesday turned out to be its last, as the Metro Council Court approved a settlement to keep Johnson in office by a bipartisan 13-6 vote, putting an early end to the trial that was expected to be contentious and last until next week.
The court of 19 council members weighed the motion put forth by Johnson’s attorney Thomas McAdam to censure his client for wrongdoing, but also to dismiss the removal proceedings. After a nearly three-hour closed session between the court and the assistant county attorney advising them, a settlement was added to the motion that closely resembled the compromise first offered by council president David Yates last week.
Under the terms of the settlement, Johnson “admits to both transgressions and wrongdoings and stipulates that there is sufficient evidence against him warranting removal,” but would be allowed to stay in office if he did not violate a series of stipulations.
Those stipulations include prohibiting Johnson from entering City Hall unless he is attending a council meeting, attending any ceremonial function outside of his district, running for re-election in 2018, and “any intentional or accidental exposure of his genitals or buttock,” with any violation of these rules allowing a three-member committee to remove him from office without any trial or appeal.
The settlement also noted that confusion over a recent change to state law about the removal process served to “jeopardize the swift and efficient administration” of the removal hearing, which “will likely result in costly appeals borne by the taxpayers.” Yates — the presiding officer of the court — claimed several times that the trial could have cost taxpayers $100,000, and said Johnson’s attorney likely would have been able to stay a decision to remove his client through next year, when his term ends.
The motion to approve the settlement and dismiss the case was passed by 13 votes, which was the minimum needed to meet the two-thirds requirement of the court. Nine Democrats and four Republicans voted to approve the motion, while three Democrats and three Republicans voted against it.
Council members Brent Ackerson, Marilyn Parker, Julie Denton and Kevin Kramer each spoke up against approving the settlement before the Charging Committee could present evidence and make their case. Speaking in support of settlement, Councilwoman Barbara Shanklin said she would love to see Johnson stay on the council, as “he’s never been a problem for me.”
Deborah Kent, the attorney for the Charing Committee of five council members seeking to remove Johnson, blasted the settlement as condoning the behavior of Johnson, which she compared to the sexual harassment accusations that brought down Bill O’Reilly and Harvey Weinstein.
After the vote, the Charging Committee held a press conference criticizing the vote, with Councilwoman Jessica Green — whose allegation that Johnson grabbed her butt at an event this summer led to the charge against the councilman — saying it had “stripped me of my humanity” and that “this is why victims don’t come forward.”
Councilwoman Angela Leet — whose legislative aide alleged that Johnson exposed his buttocks to her in a city parking lot — called the vote to keep Johnson “reprehensible” and “disgusting,” saying that she and her aide no longer feel safe in City Hall.
The terms of the settlement with Dan Johnson approved by the Council Court can be read in full below:
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