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Ziegler questions decision

By Staff | Dec 13, 2009

Chris Ziegler

Being open to the public, yet fair to those part of the investigation, may be a balancing act for Winnebago’s city attorney.

Meanwhile, a councilman Tuesday night let it be known he isn’t too happy how Douglas Johanson and Mayor Randy Nowak handled his concern of a potential conflict of interest issue.

Before the start of the investigation, Councilman Chris Ziegler asked the mayor and city attorney to determine if there was a conflict of interest between the city administrator’s attorney and the investigator they hired.

“I believe it is a disservice to the city and city council to just take his word for it,” he says. “I expected an independent opinion. Instead, I got a reiteration of what Mr. Zalasky had already said.”

Jeff M. Zalasky of Iverson Reuvers Law Firm was hired to conduct the probe, but Ziegler questioned if two attorneys in the firm and Jennifer Feely’s attorney belonging to a defense lawyers committee would taint the outcome.

In a letter, Zalasky assured Johnson and Nowak that no one in the law firm knew Feely’s attorney. Therefore, he did not see any conflict.

Ziegler says he participated in the investigation in “good faith” because he did not want to delay the process any further.

At first, Johanson told the City Council the investigator’s findings would be handed out at a special meeting called by Mayor Randy Nowak.

Johanson says he expects the meeting will be held within 48 hours after Nowak receives the report.

“The idea behind this is not to create another meeting, but to disseminate it at a fair and equal pace … rather than getting it to someone and someone else doesn’t get it at the same time,” he says.

Although the findings would be handed out, says Johanson, they would not be discussed until the next regular meeting.

Councilman Dana Gates says he has read Minnesota statutes and wants Johanson to find out whether the investigation findings fall under “Data Privacy” policy.

“If there is any type of investigation or allegations that involve a city employee, the meeting to discuss the results or findings must be a closed meeting,” says Gates.

Johanson says he will discuss Gates’ concern with an attorney of the League of Minnesota Cities who is a specialist in this area.

“The idea behind this whole thing is to be as open as possible (to the public), yet protect individuals if Data Privacy requires it,” says Johanson. “We want to be as forthwith as possible to the public.”