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Paul Bunyan statue's repairs under scrutiny

Paul Bunyan looks like he ran into some mud in the forest. (Jean Ruzicka / Enterprise)

Akeley's Paul Bunyan is a bit disheveled, and will likely remain that way until the city council hears from the League of Minnesota Cities regarding who holds proprietary rights to his upgrades.

The council hired John's Body Shop of Park Rapids to repair vandalism damage this summer. The city, which reportedly owns the statue, filed an insurance claim through the League of Minnesota Cities and is the beneficiary of the claim.

But work was halted when the Krotzer family objected. Their attorney sent two letters to the city citing copyright laws, asking that the Krotzers be contracted to do the repairs.

But previous work on the statue by the Krotzer family came at significant cost. This initially spurred the council's decision to seek other bidders.

The council consulted with attorney Steve Bolton on the matter in April 2010, who determined the city had no "contractual obligation" to hire the Krotzers.

In a memo to mayor Jennifer Mitchell, Bolton said he was "under the impression" the U.S. Code pertaining to authors or artists does not apply in this case because "the modification of a work of visual art which is the result of passage of time or the inherent nature of the materials is not a distortion, mutilation or other modification described" in the subsection.

Mayor Jennifer Mitchell said there has been no Cease and Desist court order stopping the work on the statue.

"We stopped work out of respect and turned it over to the League," she said. "At this time, there is no litigation."

"We are waiting to hear from the League," she said at Wednesday's meeting of proceeding with the work.

Bolton declined comment on the matter this week.

The late Dean Krotzer was the mastermind behind the statue, the Akeley Civic and Commerce Association offering $10,000 for the creation of the statue in 1984.

With his sons at his side, six tons of steel strapping, wire mesh overlay and fiberglass were molded to become the 63-foot legendary lumberjack that dominates the Akeley landscape today.

The Krotzers have alleged that hiring another source to complete work on the statue is a copyright infringement.

Mitchell said she is not aware of any contract signed by the parties at the time of the statue's inception.

In other action, the Akeley council:

n Formally accepted the resignations of clerk-treasurer Denise Rittgers and clerk assistant Susan Larson-Walter.

The council subsequently passed a resolution to "remove Denise Rittgers' signing rights on all three accounts, add Terry Chalich and Lacey Hitchcock to the ATM account and add Chalich to the (general and bond) accounts."

The second part of the resolution was an "Official Intent Declaration. The resolution will allow mayor Jennifer Mitchell and council member Terry Chalich to sign all expenditures for the city of Akeley."

Rittgers and Walter resigned July 25 after a closed meeting with council members and Rittgers.

Upon reopening the meeting, Mitchell said the meeting was not disciplinary in nature but that an action plan was needed.

A motion was made to "realign" weekly work hours. Rittgers' were to be trimmed from 36 to 24 and Walter's to be increased from 10 to 22.

A second motion called for a review of Rittgers in January and a monthly evaluation by a commissioner.

The letter of resignation from Rittgers stated, "Due to the stressful and hostile environment I have been working in, I feel it is necessary for my health, safety and well being that I resign effective immediately."

Larson-Walter's letter stated: "It is with regret that I must tender my resignation as part-time city clerk assistant, effective immediately.

"Twenty-six months ago, I was originally hired for 'up to 20 hours' per week, which was a perfect fit for me, my business and our family at that time.

"Effective January 2011, you chose to cut down my hours to 'up to 10 hours' per week and though disappointed, all affected made due. Personal business has slowly increased and now, minimal hours are preferred as periods of full time coverage can be a burden at times," Larson-Walter stated.

"Now I am to understand that without any consideration or prior notice to me, you are choosing to increase the hours of my position from the current 'up to' 10 hours per week to 22 hours, in an attempt to resolve a personnel problem in your administration. This increase is not in the best interest of our business, myself and my family at this time.

"The current workplace environment, for several reasons, has become more stressful and somewhat poisonous from recent behaviors of various citizens and council. I cannot justify adding more hours spent working and training to perform even more functions in this sometimes hostile and political environment for $10 an hour.

"Along with zero reviews or raises, it does not make good sense to stay, and I feel it is best for all that I terminate my employment with the city at this time," Larson-Walter wrote.

The city will conduct interviews with candidates to fill the position(s) beginning at 4 p.m. Wednesday, Aug. 15 and convene a special meeting at 7 p.m. to possibly make a decision.

"The hope is to have them start Monday," Mitchell said.

The council approved CTAS training (Minnesota's small City and Town Accounting System) at an amount of up to $250 for the new clerk.

Mitchell commended Sebrina Hegg for her work in the city hall following the resignations. "She's done a great job. The water bills are out. All the department heads stepped up, and the council. If you have a dispute, a problem, call me," she said.

No treasurer's or liquor store reports were distributed, but "will be available in September."

n Set a budget and levy work session for Wednesday, Sept. 5.

n Thanked Jimmy Hansen for coordinating the "Night Out" Aug. 7, drawing over 200 people, including 89 children under 16 years old.

"I was more than happy with the event," Hansen said, "and plan to do it next year."