Reports on June 7 special and June 12 regular city council meetings.
On Wednesday evening, June 7, the Sleepy Eye City Council held a special meeting to continue consideration of allegations against Councilor Larry Braun.
At a special meeting on May 18, the council began the process of discussing the findings of an investigation into a number of written complaints from city employees against Braun. The discussion was held in closed session and resulted in a decision to hire an attorney with expertise in employment law to assist City Attorney Alissa Fischer in the matter. Several questions were asked about the city’s harassment policy at that meeting and Councilor Richard Zinniel said finding those answers was why they needed additional legal advice.
Mayor Wayne Pelzel then called for another meeting to be held on June 1—a meeting later rescheduled for June 7.
Again, last Wednesday’s meeting was held in closed session as required by state statute. In the closed session were the mayor, all council members, Fischer, Robert Scott—the attorney hired by the city to assist in the matter, and two attorneys who were not introduced, but appeared to be assisting Braun.
The closed session lasted for two hours and 40 minutes. When the council reconvened for the open meeting, four motions were made and passed. The first three motions dealt with policy. Attorney Scott read the recommended motions, which council members then moved, seconded and passed.
The first was a motion to direct staff and legal counsel to prepare some proposed policies for the council to consider adopting that would apply to all council actions and all council/staff interactions, that would apply to the council as a whole.
The second motion was to engage an HR specialist qualified to provide training to the city council, as well as all city staff, on respectful workplace considerations and other aspects of proper city council/city employee relationships.
The third motion was to direct staff and legal counsel to review the city’s personnel policies for opportunities to provide clarification on proper city council/city employee communications and relationships.
Mayor Pelzel entertained a fourth motion: to instruct our legal representatives to address, in a letter, recent city councilor action which brought about staff allegations, and the city’s position on those allegations. The motion was made, seconded and passed by the council. When questioned, the mayor clarified that the letter would be to Councilor Braun.
June regular council meeting:
On Monday, June 12, the city council met for their regular monthly meeting, at which City Attorney Alissa Fischer read a resolution for council approval. Titled, “Resolution addressing allegations of misconduct against city councilor,” the document began: “Whereas, the City of Sleepy Eye City Council received an investigation report summarizing allegations of misconduct made by city staff against City Councilor Larry Braun, which concluded that Councilor Braun has engaged in certain conduct as a Councilor directed toward City employees outside of noticed City Council meetings which can be characterized as threatening and/or demeaning to City employees, and undermining authority of City supervisory employees.”
Following a statement about the June 7 closed session, the resolution included three topics.
First—without making any findings regarding whether the conduct described in the investigation report occurred as described, the City Council finds such conduct inappropriate and unacceptable, and beyond the scope of office and authority of any individual City Councilor.
The second item said the council and its members shall act consistently with the city ordinance (City Charter Section 6.02, City Ordinance No. 62) that created the position of City Manager and delegated all management and supervision duties to the City Manager, including all authority for appointing and disciplining all employees.
The third section stated that any elected official of the city who violates the resolution would be subject to authoritative penalty or sanction, and that the City “disclaims any duty to defend or indemnify” any elected official who engages in such conduct.
Councilor Doug Pelzel moved to accept the resolution with a second by Nate Stevermer—with no further discussion the resolution was approved. City Manager Kober said he wanted to offer some clarity on the issue. “There’s been some misunderstanding that the employees of the city somehow need training, and I want to point out that’s not the case. They need protection, and this is not based on something the city employees did improperly.”
In other business, the council:
-Approved the city audit presented by so and so, who commented that Sleepy Eye does a good job creating and meeting its budget. She pointed out the city has a budget reserve of nearly 50 percent, in accordance with the state’s recommendation. She said in past years the city sometimes had a much higher reserve, which the state questions—what is the intended use for the reserve. She answered questions about the funds available for event center construction, assuring the council that funds have been set aside in the budget.
-Adopted a resolution increasing the city’s lodging tax to five percent (up from three percent.) The proceeds of the lodging tax are used for promotion and marketing of the city and tourism.
-Approved new firefighter Todd Riess, pending physical, on the recommendation of Chief Ron Zinniel.
-Approved a permit for the fire department to set off fireworks on the 4th of July. Heard that fireworks would cost $6,500 and discussed asking a few volunteer groups to collect donations.
-Approved the low bid of $61,146 from Allied Blacktop for seal coating on 35 blocks this summer.
-Approved banning truck parking on streets near the new Casey’s store—12th Ave. SE, Walnut (including the cul de sac) and Maple to 6th Ave.
Following all agenda items, the Herald-Dispatch asked how to receive the investigator’s report on allegations against Councilor Braun and was informed a formal date request must be made. Look for more information in future issues of the Herald-Dispatch. Asked if he had any comment (following adjournment,) Braun said, “No, nothing.”