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Winnebago, Blue Earth councils need to re-examine decisions

From the Editor's Notebook

January 17, 2010
by Chuck Hunt, Register Editor
Sometimes the workings of a city government are puzzling. Sometimes they are downright wrong. There were two good examples of that fact locally in the last two weeks.

Of course, one is the ongoing mess in Winnebago. The other happened at a Blue Earth City Council meeting.

In Winnebago, the council hired an attorney and spent thousands of dollars to investigate allegations concerning possible wrongful acts committed by the council itself.

As probably everyone now knows, those accusations came from their own city administrator.

After weeks of delays, a final report was released at last week’s meeting in Winnebago. Well, at least a synopsis was.

A brief statement ‘summarizing’ the report says the investigation found no wrong doing by the council on any of the four issues. But that was it. No further explanation, just a ‘not guilty’ verdict.

The public deserves to know more. So does the City Administrator Jennifer Feely, who first brought forward the accusations. So does Police Chief Bob Toland, who first reported the incriminating conversation of a council member.

They should be told why the report says there is no basis for supporting the accusation of wrong doing. How was this conclusion reached?

Of course, I understand the Data Privacy Protection Act issue, which is being used as the reason why the full 12-page report is not being released. I agree if there are innocent persons discussed in the report there is at least a potential for violation of the Data Privacy Act. Releasing it could be considered illegal. But even if the full report is never released, would that prevent giving out a more detailed explanation of what the heck went on here?

I don’t think so.

The Winnebago Council needs to take a hard look at what they did with public trust by not giving out full information of what this report says, and how that non-disclosure action appears to the people they serve.

I suggest that if the full report is not made available to the public, there needs to be a new version of the conclusions given – and this time it should say why and how the conclusions were reached.

After all, for $10,000 of public money spent on this investigation, it is the least the citizens of Winnebago deserve.

In Blue Earth, the City Council tried to do the right thing and support their fire department by voting approval of the firemen’s election of a new chief and other officers. But was it the right thing?

Turns out the council had voted on a new policy two years ago which eliminated the election process and put the choice of a new fire chief in the hands of City Hall, not the fire hall.

Choosing a new chief was to be done the same way as choosing any city department head. The city administrator and current fire chief would look at potential candidates and select one based on background, training and qualifications. The council would then vote on the selection.

Unfortunately, the policy had not been put into action.

At the council meeting, Mayor Rob Hammond and Councilman Dick Maher suggested waiting two weeks to work out the situation and then OK the selection of a new chief later. The rest of the council, however, was in favor of voting approval first, then deciding on proper procedure later.

In doing so, the council voted on something that didn’t follow their own policy. And that is bad policy.

I agree with those who thought waiting two weeks to have time to work out the details was the proper thing to do. That way they may have learned more of the facts in the case. Some of the council seemed to be under the assumption that Terry Campbell and Roger Davis had run against each other for the chief’s position, and that Campbell had lost to Davis. And, that Campbell had then gone to the city administrator to protest the election process.

The truth was that Campbell was ready to retire after 14 years of being the chief, and Davis had run unopposed.

Now, it might have turned out that Davis would have been the person selected to be chief no matter how the selection was made, but the point is that if the city has a policy in place, they either need to follow it or change the policy.

 
 

 

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