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Menahga City Council drops Pederson, accepts Thelin's resignation

The new Menahga City Council ousted the current city attorney and accepted the resignation of Public Works Director Frank Thelin at their Jan. 31 special meeting.

A motion to renew the contract with Pederson and Pederson, P.A. of Menahga failed 2-3, with council members Art Huebner, Robyn Keranan and Mayor Joan Liimatta opposed.

Pederson offered an hourly rate of $150 per hour for civil matters and $125 per hour for criminal prosecution. According to Jeff Pederson's letter to the council, his firm has acted as the city's prosecuting authority since 1988 and represented the city in civil matters for a decade.

Ramstad, Skoyles and Winters, P.A. of Detroit Lakes proposed an hourly charge of $200 for civil services, with a flat fee of $100 per council meeting attended, plus mileage. As city prosecutor, they offered a $225 per hour rate or a monthly flat fee of $600, plus mileage, subject to adjustment after six months based on volume.

In January, Ramstad, Skoyles and Winters, P.A. began representing the City of Sebeka. The firm currently provides city attorney and prosecuting services for the cities of Detroit Lakes, Frazee, Audubon, Lake Park and Callaway.

Liimatta asked Scott Saehr of Sourcewell for his opinion. Saehr was hired to act as interim city administrator on Jan. 23, after the council accepted the resignations of city administrator Gina Ellingson and deputy clerk Alvina Kytta.

"Typically, you look at that hourly wage. That's a very important factor," Saehr advised.

An action memorandum listed $17,000 as the budgeted legal expense for Pederson and Pederson or $7,200 plus mileage for Ramstad, Skoyles and Winters. Saehr said he did not know where those numbers came from. He reiterated that, based on his past administrative experience, the council should base their decision on the hourly rates.

Nonetheless, they voted 3-2 to appoint Ramstad, Skoyles and Winters Attorneys at Law at the higher quote, with council members Tim Ellingson and Larry Karjala opposed.

Public works director resigns

Liimatta asked for a motion to accept Thelin's resignation "with regret."

Menahga resident Jeff Etter asked the council, "Where do you plan to find someone of Frank's quality to replace him?"

"I don't know. We can't force him to stay, unfortunately," Limatta said, noting Thelin is an at-will employee.

"Why is he leaving? You obviously have to know that," Etter said.

"I don't know," Limatta replied.

"You don't know? You sit here and run meetings and you don't know why?" Etter persisted.

"I'm sorry, Jeff. That's my answer. I don't have a definitive answer in why he is leaving," Liimatta said.

"How did you three think that, when you came in here to be council people and mayor, that you'd have all this control. You're supposed to guide the city, not run the city," Etter said.

Liimatta cut him off, saying he was out of order.

The motion passed 3-2, with Ellingson and Karjala opposed.

"Grudgingly" and "with protest," Liimatta said she would accept the resignation.

Karjala pointed out that the city's new waste treatment plant is state-of-the-art. "It's all the latest and greatest. What happens when you can't find someone to run the thing? That's a genuine concern," he said.

"Absolutely, it is. I totally agree with that," Liimatta.

Huebner said city utilities specialist Ron Yliniemi is fully licensed to operate the system. "From what I understand, if we've got a problem with anything, we can go back to the people that helped us install it," Huebner said.

"It's a pretty scary position to be in right now," Liimatta said.

The council unanimously agreed to post the public works director job opening until Feb. 22. Thelin's last day is Feb. 19, Liimatta said.

Search for deputy clerk, police chief

The council decided to keep the Feb. 1 closing date for a full-time public works maintenance position.

At their Jan. 23 meeting, the council narrowly voted to re-open the position so the new council members could review the existing applications.

Administrative assistant Amanda Pachel said there were two new applications, plus the previous applicants that Thelin, Karjala, Tim Ellingson and Gina Ellingson had reviewed and interviewed.

"We made recommendations and they were ignored by the new council," Karjala told Saehr.

Saehr asked how long the position has been open.

"Since November," Pachel said.

Given Thelin's resignation and Yliniemi being the sole public works employee, Saehr recommended that "as a council, we need to probably move forward on that to support Ron (Yliniemi) because there's going to be single coverage."

Pachel said there were three applications for Menahga Police Chief.

Karjala asked Wadena County Sheriff Mike Carr "if the conversation was still on with the county" to provide long-term law enforcement.

Carr reminded the council that he would provide financial options at their Feb. 12 meeting.

The council choose to extend the closing date for police chief until Feb. 11.

There are four applications for deputy clerk, Pachel said. The council agreed to extend that closing date until Feb. 11 as well.