Library Director dismissed from employment with the city

Deb Moldaschel
Editor
Supporters of Library Director Andrew Kelton gathered outside City Hall during the City Council meeting Wednesday evening, Aug. 5.

The Sleepy Eye City Council held a special meeting on Wednesday, Aug. 5 at 6 p.m. to consider charges against a City of Sleepy Eye employee — Library Director Andrew Kelton. Kelton requested the meeting be open to the public. Due to the pandemic, City Council meetings have been conducted in person, but with limits on the number of people in the council chambers. The meeting was available electronically on GoToMeeting and could also be viewed on Channel 8.

City Manager Bob Elston had recommended to the council, on July 31, that Kelton be dismissed. At Wednesday’s meeting he presented background on the charges which led to his recommendation.

Elston told the council that Kelton, on numerous occasions, knowingly falsely punched in electronically as starting work when Kelton had not started work; kept punched in when not working for, collectively, a substantial amount of time over an extended time period; and verified for payroll purposes that such time was worked even though it was not worked.

Elston said the city’s electronic timekeeping system allows employees to punch in on their computer at their workplace, or in some cases through a mobile app on their phone. He said the app is used by employees whose workplace is not defined as one specific spot. Elston said, employees who work at the City office, the library, the event center, and the pool do not use the mobile app.

Elston explained the timekeeping system records the description of the device an employee punches in on, and its IP address—which is the physical location of the device. Elston said at some point it was noticed that Kelton’s IP address and device description was different on many occasions than that of other library employees. Elston said a report was pulled which showed the different IP address began appearing in October 2019, on the system the City began using in late September 2019.

Elston said he began monitoring more closely Kelton’s arrival at and entry to the library for work and recorded and maintained a log for around 20 days.

Elston said on nearly every day, Kelton arrived and entered the library significantly, collectively, later that the time he had clocked in. The council members had a copy of the log and when discussing it they indicated that Kelton was punched in for 17 hours, over the 20 days observed, that he was not yet at the library.

Elston said he informed Kelton of these findings prior to a previously scheduled budget meeting on July 22, to which Kelton replied, “okay.” Elston said he told Kelton this was unacceptable behavior, to which Kelton again replied, “okay.” Elston asked if he was denying the charge and Kelton said yes. Elston said he then told Kelton he personally observed him arrive 30 minutes to an hour late, as had two other staff members Elston had asked to observe when he was unable to do so. Kelton responded “okay” and when told he could resign chose to resign and wrote and signed a letter of resignation.

Elston said Kelton returned to the City office the next morning with a written retraction of his resignation, stating he wished to be fired.

Elston said Kelton is an employee who is mostly unsupervised himself and supervises other employees. Elston said Kelton’s actions caused him to lose trust in the honesty and accuracy of time he records as worked and claims payment for, as well as time he verifies for other employees, and other reporting he makes to Elston or other City officials. Elston said Kelton’s actions caused him to lose faith in his ability and willingness to comply with laws and City standards; that his conduct undermines public trust and public money for a public service valued by the community.

Elston asked the council to carry out Kelton’s wishes and dismiss him from employment.

Kelton was called into the meeting to speak with the council about the charges. He presented Mayor Pelzel with a petition of support he said was signed by 200 people and also mentioned about 60 people were gathered outside to show their support.

Kelton spoke about coming to Sleepy Eye and making changes to the library layout, adding children’s programs, adding the Makerspace and outside patio. Kelton said he has good relationships with library patrons, provides good service to them, and that he considers the library a second home which he loves. Kelton said he often worked off the clock.

Council members asked Kelton and Elston a few questions about clocking in to work. Councilor Gary Windschitl asked Kelton, “Did you ever falsely clock in, ever?” Kelton answered, “I may have a couple of time, yes.”

Kelton left the meeting and the council recessed for a few minutes to give him time to log in to the proceedings if he wished to.

In the following discussion, Mayor Pelzel asked Elston if this was a personal vendetta. Elston said this is only about falsifying payroll. “We appreciate [his] work done at the library,” Elston said.

Councilor Joann Schmidt likened the situation to a person clocking in falsely at Bic, where it would result in immediate firing. She said it is an industry standard. Windschitl said he’s done a great job. Schmidt agreed, saying Kelton made the library a lively place, so “why did he do it?”

Councilor Larry Braun said Kelton made a mistake and asked, “why do we have to get rid of him so ‘right now?’.”

After further discussion, Councilor Doug Pelzel said, “It’s stealing from the taxpayers . . .the library is a service and doesn’t take money in.”

Mayor Pelzel said these are hard issues, with two factors: how to re-establish trust; and what does it say to our other employees?

Councilor Doug Pelzel made the following motion: That Andrew Kelton be dismissed from employment with the City of Sleepy Eye, effective August 10, 2020, for, but not limited to, the reasons stated in City Manager Bob Elston’s letter to Andrew Kelton of July 31, 2020. That City administration provide Andrew Kelton with any appropriate notices related to this decision.

The motion was seconded by Councilor Schmidt who said again it is an industry standard; Councilor Pelzel said it sets precedent; Councilor Nathan Stevermer said it was unfortunate.

The motion to dismiss Kelton passed on a 4-1 vote, with Braun voting no.