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Weber barred from Wells meeting

By Staff | Jul 3, 2010

The Wells City Council went into closed-session Monday to discuss pending litigation.

However, Councilman Mike Weber was not allowed to remain behind closed doors with his colleagues.

“I was told by Mr. Zalasky to leave because it would be inappropriate for me to stay,” says Weber.

The councilman says he has no idea what the pending litigation involves.

Earlier this year, Jeff Zalasky was appointed by the League of Minnesota Cities to assist Wells officials with any data privacy issues associated with investigations involving two city employees.

The council met in closed-session for nearly 50 minutes and Mayor Shannon Savick issued no statement of explanation when the meeting was re-opened to the public.

Prior to going into closed-session, Savick stated the meeting was being closed to discuss pending litigation.

Under the Open Meeting Law, the reason for closing the meeting was not adequate:

“The governing body must give a particularized statement describing the subject to be discussed. A general statement the meeting is being closed to discuss pending or threatened litigation is not sufficient.”

Neither Zalasky or City Attorney David Frundt would comment about the closed-session.

In a formal request to Frundt, Weber asked to have the investigation reports or summaries released to him.

“I don’t believe I can release the report without a vote by the full council,” Frundt told the council.

The city attorney says because he represents all councilmembers they must decide if they can see the investigation.

Frundt says he has read the reports that are “an incredible amount of information.”

And, he assured the council the investigations would not become public if made available to the council.

“I don’t want to see the report and that information,” Savick told the council before a vote was taken.

On a 4-0 vote, the council rejected Weber’s request.

Zalasky has confirmed the investigations that cost more than $26,000 involved complaints against Police Chief Jim Ratelle and former street department supervisor Rick LaVallie.

Weber’s attorney, Don Savelkoul, of Albert Lea, says they may pursue the matter further.

“We asked for the reports in many different ways, even as an employee. So far, nothing whatsoever has been provided. Not even portions pertaining to Mike,” he says.

The council in the past, says Savelkoul, has been given copies of a criminal investigation.

“They (the council) are picking and choosing what investigations they want released. That is not appropriate,” he adds.

On another matter, Weber asked the city to reimburse him for legal expenses resulting from a harassment case pending in court or be provided legal representation.

“When I first agreed to serve on the City Council, I was (as were all of you) assured that I would be defended if any of my actions as a council member resulted in me being sued. Well that has happened, and I respectfully ask the city to defend me,” Weber read from a prepared statement.

The councilman says claims made in a petition for a harassment restraining order are false and misleading and leave out many key facts.

“Since many of the claims are so exaggerated, I believe their intentions are just to smear my name and damage my chances for re-election,” Weber says.

Savick says the councilman’s legal problems are a personal matter and the city shouldn’t have to be financially responsible.

Again, the council denied Weber’s request on a 4-0 vote.