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W’bago council cleared

By Staff | Jan 17, 2010

Jennifer Feely

Winnebago Police Chief Bob Toland has kept quiet, until now.

Conclusions of an investigation into City Administrator Jennifer Feely’s complaint against four City Council members were made public Tuesday night.

City Attorney Douglas Johanson read a two-paragraph statement on behalf of Mayor Randy Nowak.

What Johanson said wasn’t nearly enough for some of the 25 people in attendance.

“We paid him eight and a half times my (hourly) salary,” says Toland. “That is a huge travesty. You (the council) should be just screaming and hollering.”

Bob Toland

The police chief was referring to a 12-page report costing nearly $10,000 that has been sealed.

On the advice of Julie Fleming-Wolfe, an attorney hired by the League of Minnesota Cities Insurance Trust, Johanson says the report was not released because it is considered private personnel data under the state’s Government Data Practices Act.

“I will not advise our council to release it (the report) and lose our insurance coverage,” Johanson says.

City officials fear full disclosure could result in lawsuits.

The only information of Jeff M. Zalasky’s investigation made public was:

• The investigator found there was no violation of the Open Meeting Law;

• The investigator found there was no interference with the union certification process;

• With regard to the complaint that there was a continuous failure to follow Personnel Policy with respect to employee complaints or grievances, the investigator found that the City Council had already addressed this issue at a previous meeting.

Johanson added no further action was recommended by the Bloomington attorney.

At the October council meeting, Feely gave council members a complaint on the night of her annual review alleging they had conspired to fire her.

The city administrator’s complaint says Toland, three public works employees and Councilman Dana Gates were at a city-owned duplex when Gates asked one of the workers if they still had an agreement not to join a union in exchange to fire Feely.

Toland says he wants to clear his name. He says under the personnel policy he has the right to an open or closed meeting to discuss or refute information in the report regarding himself.

“They are putting money ahead of my reputation. They are afraid of a lawsuit. I don’t have a chance to respond to that,” he says. “I wish to sit and discuss it with the public.”

The police chief says he’s willing to take and pay for a polygraph test. He asked the media in attendance for their help in finding an independent polygrapher.

Toland says because he initiated the complaint, his integrity is at question.

“Did I lie or did I not lie? … Is the police chief an honest and forthright person? The report does not say that. How do I get to that point?” Toland asked the council.

None of the council members have seen the full report.

Councilman Chris Ziegler says it’s been frustrating and some serious assumptions were made on short and fragmented sentences.

Council member Holly Stauffer was surprised to hear a good portion of the investigation was conducted by telephone.

Toland says he pleaded with Zalasky to do most of the interviews in person.

“I think a portion of this investigation is crap, he wouldn’t come down from the Cities,” says Toland.

Former mayor and councilman Paul Loomis wasn’t too pleased with the lack of details, because “some pretty serious allegations” have been leveled against council members.

“I would like to know what kind of whitewash is being perpetrated in this town,” he asked the council.

Loomis suggested there was a conspiracy to have Feely fired.

One by one he asked each council member if they were involved.

Stauffer and Ziegler both said no. Gates was not at the meeting because of an appendectomy.

Rick Johnson, however, saw this as an opportunity to set the record straight.

“No, I was not. I’m reading there was no conspiracy,” says Johnson. “Did you read this? I would like you to. I have sat here and taken the abuse from the public, the media and every direction. Doug read this out loud and I expected people to listen to it.”

Some in the audience laughed when Loomis asked council members if they would take a polygraph test.

“I just don’t want to see a good administrator being railroaded out of town,” says Loomis.

Feely’s attorney, Joseph Bromeland, was miffed by Johanson’s brief statement.

He called the summary “of no use whatsoever to anybody” because it does not provide any facts to support the conclusions.

“We aren’t hearing any of the findings, if this conversation occurred. Was Dana Gates lying when he said that,” says Bromeland. “If we don’t have any finding of what he said was true, so be it. Then we all go home.”

Johanson says one option to have the report made public involves going to court. He says a judge could release the entire document or with parts of it redacted.

Toland was instructed to contact Fleming-Wolfe about getting the portion of the report involving him.