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Feely files formal complaint

By Staff | Oct 19, 2009

Jennifer Feely

Winnebago City Administrator Jennifer Feely dropped a bombshell on the city council at their regular meeting last Tuesday night.

While the council agenda included a scheduled review of Feely’s job performance, she derailed the plan by filing a formal complaint to the council accusing them of several illegal activities – and of wanting to terminate her employment.

In the complaint, Feely accuses the council of apparently holding an illegal meeting where they determined to fire her in exchange for several employees voting not to join a union.

The complaint includes information Winnebago Police Chief Bob Toland overheard concerning a conversation between City Councilman Dana Gates and city employees Darold Nienhaus, Rick Mauris and Clint Eastman.

In that conversation, Nienhaus and Mauris are alleged to have told Gates of their continuing dislike of Feely.

Gates reminds Nienhaus and Mauris to “keep their end of the bargain” and withdraw membership in the union, in exchange for the council’s terminating Feely’s employment with the City of Winnebago, according to the complaint document.

Gates is alleged to have stated that he has the four council members in agreement with the plan, a statement Feely’s complaint says is evidence of an illegal meeting of the council.

Feely’s complaint, read by her attorney, Joseph Bromeland of Blue Earth, goes on to accuse the council of three items: violating the open meeting law, violating a determination order preventing the council from coercing employees to leave the union, and failure to follow the city’s personnel policy with respect to employee grievances.

The complaint went on to detail how there have been no complaints or grievances lodged against Feely by other city employees or the public.

The complaint ends with a request for a formal investigation into the matter, to be conducted by an outside agency.

Council members quizzed City Attorney Doug Johanson what their next step should be. He cautioned not to make any public statements on the matter at this time, but says the council has a right to respond if they wish.

“If the council votes to have an investigation, that would be the appropriate time for statements – in a controlled time and place,” he says.

The council did instruct Johanson to research the options for conducting an investigation, and set Tuesday, Oct. 20 at 7 p.m. as the date and time of a special meeting for the council to review the complaint and determine their next step.

The council had planned to conduct Feely’s annual review at Tuesday’s meeting. However, that action was postponed until after the council decides whether to conduct an investigation into the city administrator’s formal complaint.

Feely questioned later in the meeting why the review was not being done that evening, and Johanson said he assumed Feely would not want it done until after any investigation is done.

Some of the 16 members of the public present at the meeting spoke in Feely’s defense, and said they were there to ask that her review be conducted in full view of the public.

“Jennifer has done an excellent job, and has worked hard behind the scenes,” former city councilman Paul Loomis said during the public comment portion of the meeting.

Former council person Maryann McClain agreed.

“For this review I think you need to have an open review,” she told the council. She also asked if there were any complaints in Feely’s personnel file, and was told there were none.

Both Loomis and McClain also admonished the council for not speaking up during the meeting, saying it was nearly impossible to hear some of the comments made by the council.

Loomis suggested a speaker system with individual microphones. McClain added that a sound system had once been purchased.

The council not only postponed Feely’s review, they also postponed discussion on the 2010 budget, another item which had been on Monday’s agenda. They did set a special budget work session for Tuesday, Oct. 27.