SIOUX CITY | The chairman of the Woodbury County Board of Supervisors said the verbal sparring between two of his fellow supervisors over a hot button issue went far beyond required decorum, adding Wednesday he feared the situation could escalate.
Board Chairman Matthew Ung took to social media on Twitter and Facebook early Wednesday morning to say he thought of sumo wrestling when pondering the "uncalled for invitation to a physical altercation" by Supervisor Marty Pottebaum during Tuesday's weekly board meeting.
The situation unfolded during debate on a controversial measure for the county to pull out of a regional organization that delivers mental health services to low-income residents. As of July 1, 2018, Woodbury County will no longer be part of Sioux Rivers Regional Mental Health and Disability Services, which also includes Sioux and Plymouth counties.
Twenty minutes into the one-hour, 45-minute discussion, Pottebaum, the only Democrat on the five-member board, pushed back on the assertion by Supervisor Jeremy Taylor that he was most concerned about the unprofessional leadership of Sioux Rivers, rather than continued taxpayer funding from the agency to a Sanford Center program for school children.
Pottebaum spoke in reference to Taylor, "That's just wrong, to use this platform, whether it be a personal vendetta or a long-time personal problem."
Taylor quickly interjected, "Point of order, Mr. Chair. We have in our by-laws not assigning or questioning motive, which is exactly what Supervisor Pottebaum's comments are doing."
Ung told Pottebaum to "please be careful," while at the same time Pottebaum responded to Taylor, "You're absolutely right, because that is what I am doing."
Taylor again spoke to Ung, saying Pottebaum was "in violation of the by-laws."
At the same time, there was cross-talk among the elected officials, and Pottebaum could be heard ending a phrase with "Fire me."
Ung said, "I cannot fire you, but you are out of order."
Pottebaum then responded, "I'm not sure you're big enough to push me into a corner."
In a Wednesday interview, Ung said that description is what made him picture two large wrestlers: "That's what sumo wrestling is, pushing and shoving."
Asked if he felt threatened by Pottebaum's statement, Ung said he was afraid the incident could escalate, since a few minutes before that, Pottebaum had said, "I've never lost my temper, I am getting pretty close."
Pottebaum on Wednesday addressed his pushing comments from the board meeting.
"I was more joking about them having these silly rules," Pottebaum said. "I've served on a ton of boards and I've never seen another board say you can't question another board member. If I think they are doing something wrong, I will speak up. And I suppose I will get my wrist slapped."
The county supervisors in March 2017 updated by-laws to include the Manner of Acting under the Article V section on meetings. That passage reads in part that elected officials "shall be respectful of other elected officials and avoid referencing or questioning the motives of another elected official."
There is no enforcement teeth with the by-law rules, said Woodbury County Auditor Pat Gill, who is sometimes tapped as a resource to recap the by-laws as board meetings play out.
Pottebaum and Rocky De Witt voted against the Sioux Rivers resolution Tuesday, while Ung, Taylor and Keith Radig cast the three votes that settled the departure decision. The Sioux Rivers CEO, Sanford officials and others wanted Woodbury County to hold firm and not exit.
In July, Taylor aired concerns that more than $250,000 in taxpayer money is going through Sioux Rivers to the Sanford Community Center for a joint outreach program with the Sioux City school district that serves teens with mental health issues.