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Menahga council gets legal advice on contracts, conflicts

Menahga's nursing home administrator Clair Erickson expressed his frustration at the council table this week over formality procedures.

"This doesn't make sense. We need some clarification here of who's running the nursing home," he said. "This is ridiculous."

The discussion ensued after Erickson informed the council that Greenwood Connections' medical director Vern Erickson, who was providing his services free of charge for more than 20 years, is now requesting a $1,500 check every month until the city finds a permanent medical director and contracts are hammered out.

The council previously questioned contracts the nursing home has with services such as the medical director and physical therapy.

The question of whether contracts should be approved by the council or the Greenwood Connections Advisory Board led to an attorney's opinion.

"It appears clear that contracts of the nature presented to me must be approved and entered into by the city council in order to be valid," city attorney Jeff Pederson wrote in a letter to the council.

But Erickson wondered why this is the first time he's ever heard about the validity of contracts.

"I've got contracts with a lot of entities, a lot of people," he said. "And this is the first time in 32 and a half years that I've been questioned on it."

Councilwoman Maxine Norman suggested scheduling a meeting with the Greenwood Connections Advisory Board to come to a clear understanding of where separate responsibilities of the council and the board lie.

"That needs to be very clear and we haven't done that," she said.

By the end of the meeting, the council did not schedule a joint meeting with the board.

However, a motion was made and approved that said all contracts should be reviewed by the Greenwood Connections Advisory Board then brought to the council for final approval.

In the meantime, because the nursing home is owned by the city, a request for proposals for a new medical director must be sent from the city's office to follow state law, city administrator Teri Osterman suggested.

And that's when Erickson emphasized that bylaws should be developed to differentiate his and the advisory board's responsibilities from those of the city council's.

"I chew everything over for a board one week and then I come to the council the next week..." he said. "I've got two boards to answer to and they don't agree.

"Either I'm the administrator or Teri is the administrator."

Osterman said the RFP doesn't have to be written by the city administrator to be legal and that Erickson is more qualified for that task.

"I don't have any problem if Clair sends out an RFP for a medical director," she said. "I just would like to see the city send one out so you get the process started and get it headed in the right direction."

Conflict of interest

At a previous council meeting, Mayor Tom Larson questioned the nursing home's contract with Park Rapids Physical Therapy and Rehabilitation Center, a business operated by Vern Erickson, Clair Erickson's brother, the reason a conflict of interest may exist.

The council received Pederson's legal opinion this month. It stated that according to state statute, a public officer who is authorized to take part

in any manner in making any sale, lease or contract in official capacity shall not voluntarily have a personal financial interest in that sale, lease or contract.

Pederson advised the council to make further inquiry as to the nature of the relationship between Erickson and Park Rapids Physical Therapy and Rehabilitation Center, before making a final decision.

Pederson also wrote a letter to the council regarding a second conflict of interest.

Councilwoman Kim Rasmussen owns property on CSAH 21 where an infrastructure project was recently completed.

Councilman Dennis Komulainen and members of the public repeatedly said Rasmussen shouldn't have voted on the project.

Pederson concluded that Rasmussen's ownership of property was not a conflict that would have disqualified her from the vote.

"The issue would only become significant if someone sought to void the council's approval of the County 21 project based on the alleged conflict," he said.

Pederson added that in the future, if a council member perceives a conflict by another council member, the existence of that conflict should be raised at the time of the vote. In this case, votes were unanimous.

"Situations similar to this will arise in the course of operation of government in a small town," Pederson said in the letter. "All councilpersons should be alert to appearances of conflict of interest and avoid situations where they feel that a conflict may exist."

Performance evaluations

The council conducted Erickson's performance evaluation at the end of the meeting. It was open to the public.

Council members gave Erickson a favorable review, but asked on the status of the human resources training that he was asked to go through after his previous evaluation.

"I do trust that you're following through on it, but I would like to have some tangible feedback of some type," councilman Joel Mickelson said, referring to the training.

Erickson reiterated that he would like to see the role of the board and the council clarified by possibly developing some bylaws.