You know that awkward moment in a city council meeting when the mayor offers to step outside and kick your butt?
There was one of those in Woodward last month.
It started when the former Woodward mayor, Brian Devick of 202 E. Fourth St., came before the Woodward City Council in order to challenge a citation he received from the city. It seems someone complained that a couple of tarp-covered canopies Devick recently erected in his backyard were in violation of the city’s building code.
Woodward Mayor Todd Folkerts explained the origin of the issue to the council.
“I received a call,” Folkerts said, “a complaint for a couple of buildings that Mr. Devick has on his property. I talked to Jason (Van Ausdall of Veenstra and Kimm engineering), the building inspector.” Van Ausdall judged the buildings were in violation of the code.
Devick said he came before the council not only to challenge the building inspector’s justification for the citation but also to indict its original motivation.
“I’m going to present evidence, and I’m going to ask you to rule on two things,” Devick said. “The first of which is I am going to ask you to rule that this is not a violation, and I’m going to present evidence to prove that. The second that I’m going to present to you is that this is a continued and ongoing personal attack on myself by a government official elected in office, and it needs to stop.”
A hush fell over the council chamber.
“If you’re referring to me,” Folkerts said, “then it’s going to stop right here.”
Folkerts said he received the complaint about Devick’s tarp structures and processed it in the formally correct and usual way.
“I do not have anything personal with you Mr. Devick,” he said. “We are not going to get into a debate between me and you about anything personal because I have nothing personal against you. I’ve done this job with nothing but respect for everybody in this community, including you. So if you want to debate this ordinance, that’s fine. But we’re not going to debate whether I was professional in what I did here and that I’m coming after you in some kind of vendetta because I am not.”
“The evidence speaks different,” Devick said. “The buildings do meet the code. The reason for the citation was a personal attack, and I’m personally tired of it.”
“I did not attack you,” Folkerts said. “Not one iota. And I’m done hearing that I did. You want to have a discussion? I’ll step outside this building anytime, anyplace, anywhere, but I will not sit here one minute and take any abuse from you about me having a vendetta against you.”
The hush deepened. Citizens could be seen shifting in their seats and looking at their shoe tips. The concealed carriers among the crowd of about 25 probably touched their weapons for reassurance.
“So far I haven’t raised my voice,” Devick said, “but you’ve raised your voice. I am not threatening you.”
But you are threatening me, his logic implied.
“Absolutely,” Folkerts said, “because I am absolutely pissed off.”
“I am not threatening you,” Devick said again. “I am extremely pissed off, but I am not threatening you.”
Turning to the council, the former mayor asked whether he should continue with his presentation. Council member Dave Luke, admired by all for his pacific temperament, directed Devick to proceed but to confine his remarks to the question of the buildings in dispute.
A long and sometimes technical presentation ensued, with Devick claiming his storage units are not specifically prohibited by the “vaguely worded” ordinance, that they comply with the city’s zoning regulations and that a precedent for them was set by other Woodward residents.
“These structures have been in use for a long time,” Devick said. “My father-in-law, a relative of your mayor, had one in his driveway for four or five years. Now he’s got one in his backyard. No building permits were ever pulled. It’s not structurally any different than what I’ve got. No citations were issued. There’s another one just just down the road from me. No building permits pulled. No citations issued. No violations noted.”
Luke responded to Devick’s arguments.
“I’ll be honest with you,” Luke said. “My viewpoint on this is that if we allow this to start happening and we’re trying to, like you say, clean up our town, what if everybody in town decided to put two or three of those in their yard? Then what would the community look like? That’s my question.”
After pausing to let his rhetorical question achieve its effect, Luke continued.
“I’m not trying to pick sides, Brian, at all here,” he said, “but if Todd called Jason and Jason told him that this does not meet our codes and our ordinances within the community, I don’t know what else to say because we’re going with the professional people that we’ve hired to do this type of work for the city.”
Devick was deferential to the power of the council.
“It’s whatever the council decides,” he said, “but if the council does not rule in my favor, then there better not be a tent, there better not be a canopy, there better not be anything set up in this town anywhere that’s not that way. And if you make me take mine down, you better make everybody else in town take theirs down, too. You’re going to have a bunch of people up here upset at you.”
Council member Ashvin Patel said he “would like to see the council table this” until a meeting could be held with Van Ausdall and the other interested parties. Luke seconded Patel’s motion, which was unanimously approved by the other council members, Mary Bustad, Jim Gough and Kelly Kirts.
Devick left the council chamber following the council’s vote. Later in the meeting, Folkerts apologized to the council and the public for what he called his “outburst.”
The issue of the “temporary shelter violation” is the ninth item on the agenda of the Monday, Feb. 11 Woodward City Council meeting, which starts at 7 p.m. at the Woodward City Hall at 105 E. Second St. in Woodward.