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City council delays decision on controversial taxi service

Dustin Feistner, left, of Speedy Taxi, questions Brint Jorgensen, a driver for Lori's Lift, at a public hearing before the Mitchell City Council on Tuesday night. (Ellen Bardash / Republic)

In a odd public hearing that devolved at times into name-calling and accusations, the Mitchell City Council decided Tuesday to delay a decision for three months regarding the revocation of the Speedy Taxi license to operate in the city.

The council, voting unanimously, intended to wait until the Dec. 17 meeting to take up the issue once more due to a pending legal charge against the taxi service's primary employee Dustin Feistner. He was charged with reckless driving following an incident on July 12 on the north edge of Mitchell, which is currently awaiting a jury trial.

"I didn't feel there was enough hard evidence to take definitive action tonight," said City Council member Susan Tjarks in closing on the issue.

A public hearing was scheduled for Tuesday following complaints at previous council meetings from community members about Feistner's business practices and driving habits. For his part, Feistner said the claims against him were false and that he would fight the charges in court.

"I've put everything I've got into Speedy Taxi," Feistner said. "I work 8 a.m. to 2 a.m., seven days a week. I wouldn't put customers in harm's way ... the allegations here are strictly false."

About 40 signatures asking for the Speedy Taxi license to be revoked were presented to the council, but only a handful of locals testified. Brint Jorgensen, who drives for the competing Lori's Lift taxi service (formerly Becky's Vans), said people were scared to testify, fearful of retribution from Feistner.

"He says we don't have any sober drivers, that we have drug issues," Jorgensen said. "It gets old after a while and it hurts business."

But much of the conversation had to be diverted or stopped by Mayor Bob Everson over the course of the nearly 40-minute public hearing. Everson gave Feistner opportunities to cross-examine or refute testimony, which led to back-and-forth exchanges. For example, Jorgensen was the driver of the Lori's Lift van that was allegedly run off the road by Feistner on July 12. That incident occurred after Jorgensen picked up people from the Kongo Klub and Feistner allegedly tried to block Jorgensen's vehicle on Highway 37 and swerved across the road, forcing Jorgensen's vehicle into the ditch and causing vehicle damage. On Tuesday, the two drivers argued about the specifics about the incident in front of the council, before Everson jumped in.

"This is not for you two to argue and debate," Everson interjected. "We're looking for simple questions and simple answers."

One of the main charges was that Feistner had not paid drivers for their work. James Deanovich, a former Speedy Taxi employee, said he didn't personally have anything against Feistner and said he was eventually paid for his driving. But when asked by the council, he said Feistner had accused him of continuing to use drugs, a claim that Deanovich — a self-pronounced former drug user — said caused havoc in his home.

"I've been clean now for a long time," he said. "I was being accused of doing something I didn't do. ... That caused a lot of turmoil in my house."

Tjarks asked about Feistner's criminal record, which he said included a number of misdemeanors from "some bar fights" and one felony. That felony occurred in April 2016 when he pleaded guilty to aggravated assault charges against his father, Wayne. The company is in Wayne Feistner's name, with Dusty Feistner as the primary full-time employee, along with a handful of part-time drivers.

A handful of community members also spoke to Feistner's character, saying he runs his business in a professional manner and with respect.

"What I've seen from other cab drivers is not very professional at all," Karen Walker said in support of Speedy Taxi. "It's very unbecoming and ruins that business's name."

The council members, for the most part, weren't impressed with the manner of the conversation. Tjarks reiterated that unsubstantiated accusations and hearsay weren't helpful for their decisions and council members Jeff Smith and Steve Rice both called the nature of the hearing a first in their council tenures.

"These taxi service wars just seem beyond my normal comprehension of how normal businesses would operate," Rice said. "I didn't think it was that cut-throat of a business to have these types of threats. ... I guess I just ask people to behave and be nice to each other and business is business."

Nuisance discussion

The council had a short discussion on the city's nuisance code. Everson and City Administrator Stephanie Ellwein recently attended a meeting with other municipal leaders around the state, with municipalities having varying levels of enforcement.

Ellwein said most cities have a hybrid method between complaints from residents and observations from city employees for identifying nuisance issues. Everson said the city is working on labeling its code enforcement truck, so residents know if it's in the neighborhood. The city will also try to take a friendly letter approach to let residents know if there's an issue, rather than starting with a certified letter. Everson said he's also made it clear to the city department heads to let the correct people know if there's an issue that needs to be handled.

"We want a more visible approach, as well as a friendly one," he said.

Other business

• Held a Public Health and Safety Committee meeting. Notably, the city approved a fireworks display from Bruce Yakley for a wedding celebration Sept. 15 over Lake Mitchell. That item received discussion about the insurance needs but was ultimately approved unanimously.

• Heard invocation from Reunion Church and approved consent agenda as proposed.

• Held hearings and approved the following special event liquor licenses: Application from Blarney's Sports Bar and Grill at the Highland Mall on Nov. 30 for Holiday Spirits; applications from the Corn Palace Shrine Club at the Masonic Lodge on Oct. 6 (wedding) and Sept. 8 (National Rifle Association banquet).

• Held hearings and approved the following: the application of V.V. Inc., doing business as Outback Casino (508 E. Havens Ave., Suite 2) for a new retail (on-off sale) malt beverage license (not eligible for video lottery); the application to transfer retail (on-sale) liquor license RL-19079 from V.V. Inc., and Outback Casino to V.V. Inc. doing business as Sudz (508/510 E. Havens Ave.); the application to transfer retail (on-sale) wine license RW-23600 from M.G. Oil Company doing business as Village Bowl (1500 N. Duff St., Suite A) to V.V. Inc., and Outback Casino.

• Meeting as the Board of Adjustment, set date for the following hearings for Sept. 17: Tami Dammann has applied for a conditional use permit /home occupation (pheasant cleaning business) at her home located at 412 N. Foster St. (The property is zoned R2 Single Family Residential District.); and Andrew and Kyra Mentele have applied for an oversize variance of 3,024 square feet vs 2,000 square feet as required in order to construct an accessory building at 718 W. Norway Ave. (The property is zoned R2 Single Family Residential District.)

• Meeting as the Board of Adjustment, approved the application from Dan Fechner (applicant) and Aaron, Jessica, and Shirley Baas (current owners) for a conditional use permit for construction of an assembly hall in the 5600/5700 Block of N. Ohlman St. (The property is zoned UD Urban Development.)

• Held second reading and adopted the city's new section for snow and ice removal in the city code.

• Awarded bid for rock salt city project No. 2018-27 to Nebraska Salt and Grain Co., of Gothenburg, Neb., at $61.39 per ton and an estimated total cost of $42,973.

• Approved release of easement for 1601 Bridle Drive.

• Authorized to proceed with additional cost for Corn Palace Plaza alley utility relocation, which is estimated to cost $61,649.47 and will be done this year between the south side of Fifth Avenue through Sixth Avenue to the Corn Palace.

• Approved resolutions on the following two plots: No. R2018-48, a plat of Lot 8-A, Block 7 of Westwood First Addition, a subdivision of the southwest quarter of Section 16, Mitchell Township; No. R2018-49, a plat of Lot E of Countryside Addition, a subdivision of Lot 1 in the southeast quarter of Section 16, Prosper Township.

• Held a first reading on an ordinance for the 2019 annual budget appropriation.

• Held a first reading on the supplemental budget appropriations for 2018.