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Wells group upset

By Staff | Sep 18, 2016

The term “bully” was used more than once at Wells’ City Council meeting during the public comment portion of the meeting, and it was directed at someone in particular. More than 300 members of the Wells community signed a petition to have Robin Leslie removed from her position as city administrator.

More than 20 members of the local community showed up at the Wells City Council meeting last Monday evening, and almost 10 separate individuals took turns highlighting their concerns to the council during public comment.

One of those people was concerned citizen Brenda Weber. She distributed copies of the petition to members of the City Council. Weber stated in her comments to the council that the administrator had made multiple decisions which should have been looked at more carefully by the council.

“We are the community of Wells and some of us have voiced our concerns alone, one by one; which I know I have done in the past and we have not been heard. We, as a group, are hoping you will finally take notice and listen to our concerns that we are not happy with some of the decisions that Robin Leslie has recommended to you and you have approved,” said Weber. “Rules are being made that are not being followed. Our city administrator has treated some members of the community with unprofessional and disrespectful behavior.”

Weber distributed copies of the petition for the City Council and citizens present at the meeting that highlighted “just a few of the reasons” why the 300-plus residents of Wells who signed it wanted Leslie out.

The petition mentions the demolition cost errors that were included in the Frank Brothers Elevator demolition stating the original estimate of the demo was close to $30,000 and the final total after the demolition was close to $50,000 costing the city an extra $17,000 and the county of Faribault an extra $5,437, according to the petition’s statistics.

Also mentioned was United South Central’s old school building demolition. The petition stated, “Robin had given USC the city of Wells demolition policy which contractors were to abide by.” The petition goes on to state that Leslie not only allowed inappropriate material to be crushed, but “allowed a full four weeks of inappropriate crushing per a public hearing held prior to the project in April (2015).”

The petition and its petitioners also mention that Leslie “bullies employees to the point of fear of losing their jobs if they don’t agree with her,” and “disrupts what (the) community has to offer” with mention of Wells’ liquor store, pool, golf course, library, and theater.

During public comment, Zoa Heckman, a local real estate agent, took some time to explain to the council Leslie’s background, stating that Leslie had no city administration experience since 1998. Heckman also requested that a personnel committee be put in place for the city, since Wells currently does not have one and cited multiple cities that do.

“The only other thing I want to point out is our fee schedule has gone askew,” said Heckman. “It’s $300 for a variance in Wells. The city of Mapleton charges $175, Lake Crystal charges $125, and Blue Earth charges $110. People have a right to file a variance without being gouged.”

Another concerned citizen, Rick Christenson, stated that Leslie needed to have more tact when dealing with individuals in the community.

“There has just been a lack of professionalism. We are like Mayberry. We should be able to talk to whoever we want at any time,” said Christenson.

Christenson then went into detail about a neighbor whom he and his faith-based organization helped with some yard clean-up after the city cited the property.

“You have to remember that some of these people that you’re bothering or hassling and they look at it as a hassle you’re intimidating them,” he said. “Some of these people are elderly, poor they have no means. They’re very humble or embarrassed. You would have thought someone would’ve gone over to talk to him and (ask if) they needed help.”

When Leslie tried to talk with the citizens who spoke at the meeting, she was denied permission to speak by the citizens. The citizens stated they were requesting to hear from the City Council who were sparse in addressing the concerns of the citizens.

Mayor Ron Gaines was quick to use city resources available to him when questions came up. He requested advice from city attorney David Frundt when it came to a parking lot concern and requested a survey map from city engineer Travis Winter. Other council members, with Whitney Harig and Steve Burns absent, were fairly silent.

Leslie reported to council that she would be taking an eight-week sick leave from the office, which she had built up over a three year period.

During her absence, Chief of Police Tim Brenegan will be acting as the city’s interim co-city administrator, which the council approved. They also approved the appointment of Jennie Kloos as the interim Deputy City Clerk.

Council also approved of the canceling of both the Sept. 26 and Oct. 10 city council meetings while Leslie is out of the office. Wells’ next regular city council meeting is not scheduled until Oct. 24.

At the end of the City Council meeting, a closed session took place regarding contract negotiations and performance evaluations and pay for the city administrator. It was reported that no action was taken after the closed session and the specific topic regarded clarification on Leslie’s contract/performance pay that the council forgot to act on when they did her full evaluation earlier in the year.