Sidney City Council accepts Person's resignation

Sidney Clerk Geri Anthony named interim city manager

 

Ryan Hermens / The Sun-Telegraph

Sidney City Manager Gary Person speaks after resigning his post at Tuesday night's City Council meeting.

After 16 years as the city manager of Sidney, Gary Person tendered his resignation at Tuesday night's City Council meeting.

Person's resignation comes amid a controversy that in recent months enveloped two other high-ranking city employees.

City Clerk Geri Anthony, who has been employed with the city for nearly 50 years, was appointed the interim city manager while a long-term plan is drafted.

Person's tenure as the chief executive of the city, which began in 1999, was the longest since Sidney adopted its current form of government.

He addressed the City Council moments into the meeting. In front of a standing-room only audience, he reflected on Sidney's successes and growth in past decades.

He said he tried to reward the faith and trust people placed in him with "hard work, loyalty and daily effort in helping our community grow and prosper," he said.

"This is where my kids were born and raised," he added.

Person said throughout his career, he carried the city banner like a badge of honor – throughout the region, state and, occasionally, the country.

He also acknowledged the ongoing controversy involving Sidney Police Chief B.J. Wilkinson, who remains on paid administrative leave, stemming from an incident with former city employee John Hehnke, who was fired last week by Person.

"If my resignation will help the community heal, move forward and place its energy and focus into its very bright future, then please accept it," he said.

Throughout his remarks, Person stopped often to gather himself and hold back tears.

"I will always passionately believe in Sidney," he said. "It will always be a part of me. I want only the best for your future. It was a privilege to have served you."

Person then asked to be excused from the remainder of the meeting, which Mayor Mark Nienhueser allowed.

Five residents made public comments supporting Person – some asking the council to reject his resignation. One woman spoke against him.

City Councilors then each took turns thanking Person for his contributions to the city.

Nienhueser said he agreed with Person that the community needed to heal and move forward.

Councilor Wendell Gaston said he's known Person for nearly 50 years.

"And I think he'd give you the shirt off his back and any employee the benefit of the doubt," he said.

In a roll-call vote, councilors approved 4-1 to accept Person's resignation, effective Wednesday.

Gaston cast the only "no" vote.

The Sidney city manager oversees the municipality's day-to-day administrative operations and its 14 departments with more than 100 full- and part-time staff.

Person was the 14th individual to hold that position, but announced last Thursday – a day after he fired Hehnke – he would tender his resignation at the meeting.

Beginning earlier this year, questions have been raised about the involvement of Hehnke, Wilkinson and Person in an incident that occurred 1 1/2 years ago.

On Jan. 29, 2014, a Sidney Police officer responded to a city residence for a report of suspicious activity. The resident told police her former boyfriend, Hehnke, had been outside her house looking in the windows.

After interviewing Hehnke, the officer issued him a citation. However, Wilkinson removed that citation and never sent the case to the Cheyenne County Attorney's Office.

Earlier this year, the Nebraska State Patrol began an investigation into the incident and charges were brought against both Hehnke and Wilkinson.

In April, Hehnke pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor charge of disturbing the peace and paid a $300 fine.

In July, Wilkinson pleaded no contest to a misdemeanor charge of obstructing government operations and was sentenced to 30 days in jail. He has since filed an appeal, which is due to be heard in court Sept. 28.

In an interview with the NSP, Wilkinson said he removed the citation for the "benefit of the city and the benefit of the man's career."

Person is a native Western Nebraskan and grew up near the Wyoming border.

From 1991-2014, he served as the city and county economic development director and was named the Nebraska Economic Developer's Association 2014 Professional of the Year.

In 2014, he testified before a U.S. Senate Committee in Washington, D.C., on rural economic development.

During his tenure, Sidney undertook large-scale infrastructure improvement projects while jobs and housing units were increased and the city's valuation greatly increased.


 

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