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W’bago Council OKs probe

By Staff | Oct 26, 2009

Jennifer Feely

More than 40 people attending a special Winnebago City Council meeting Tuesday night heard that allegations against four council members will be investigated.

On the recommendation of City Attorney Douglas Johanson, the council unanimously approved a resolution authorizing Mayor Randy Nowak and the city attorney to hire an independent investigator.

In a two-page written statement, Johanson says, “four council members have been implicated in the complaint. This is an obvious conflict of interest,” explaining the need for an impartial probe.

City Administrator Jennifer Feely has accused the council of holding an illegal meeting where they decided to fire her in exchange for several employees voting not to join a union.

Feely’s performance evaluation was scheduled Oct. 12, however, it was not done. And, she was not fired.

Dana Gates

Feely also accuses the council of:

• violating the open meeting law;

• violating a determination order preventing the council from coercing employees to leave the union;

• and not following the city’s personnel policy.

Johanson calls the allegations serious and says employee complaints must be dealt with in a timely manner.Johanson told the council they must proceed prudently, fairly and as fast as possible to have the allegations investigated.

“I cannot envision adjourning this special council meeting without the council requesting an independent investigation.

“For the council to do nothing will only erode public confidence in this body and lead to possible allegations of a cover-up,” wrote Johanson.

Councilman Dana Gates, who was named in the complaint, says he supports the city attorney’s recommendation.

The three other council members also were in agreement.

“I feel we owe that to our community. To find out where we are having issues,” says Holly Stauffer.

Members of the audience were given a chance to voice their opinion.

“I am very disappointed in all of you. I have met most of you and you are respectable … what you all have done is unconceivable,” Norma Schmitt told the council.

Businessman Mike Baumann cautioned those in attendance not to rush to judgment.

He says Schmitt and her husband, Henry, appear to have made up their mind that the council is guilty.

“They’ve automatically assumed your guilt. Have any allegations been proven?,” says Baumann. “I don’t think this should be a meeting of pointing fingers. I just don’t want to have all this B.S. and blaming.

Chamber President Scott Robertson says if the accusations are proven to be true, the council and city workers must “do the right thing.

Johanson has been working with an attorney from the League of Minnesota Cities to get a list of qualified investigators.

Councilman Chris Ziegler asked Johanson if he could review the criteria used in selecting an investigator. He also wanted to know what the parameters of the investigation would be.

Johanson says those hired would determine how they will proceed.

Tom McCollum wanted to know who might be questioned during the investigation, whether it would involve city employees.

“It’s not to find out who is in favor of one person over another person. This is not a popularity contest. It’s to find out what happened and to go from there,” says Johanson.

A written report of the investigation is expected to be completed for review at the Dec. 8 council meeting.