Menahga City Council member Art Huebner made motions to immediately strip Mayor Joan Liimatta and Vice Mayor Tim Ellingson of their duties at Tuesday’s meeting.
Council member Robyn Keranen seconded. Both motions failed on a 2-3 vote, with Liimatta, Ellingson and council member Karol Andreasen opposed.
Huebner alleged that Liimatta was making “full-character assassinations on new employees,” while the “vice mayor is harassing our water and sewer department. He admits to following, filming, measuring how much time a project has taken, completely ignoring the spirit which the council is to operate. The council is to solve issues, not harass our citizens and businesses.”
Huebner cited Liimatta’s dispute with Spirit Lake Lumber last fall. She contended that their snow fence was within the city’s right-of-way (ROW). In October 2019, the council voted to drop any pursuit of a possible ROW infringement.
Huebner accused Liimatta of “overstepping her duties, representing herself as mayor with complete authority and power when she is just one of five.” He said she was interfering with city department heads, “and went as far as telling a vendor, ‘Do not work with our city employees.’”
He also called it “malfeasance” when the mayor and vice mayor refused to sign a $10,000 check to The Economic Alliance in September 2019, even though the council had approved the sponsorship.
Liimatta replied, “You don’t have any facts.” She countered that she has not said anything bad about employees, except for one written review “that was backed up by newspaper articles.”
Ellingson said the only thing he did was track the time it took for city staff to load a truck with snow. “The reason I did that is because I thought we already had the contract with Spirit Lake Lumber, and they were supposed to be helping out.”
Huebner asked why Ellingson didn’t suggest it to the full council first, make a motion and “have it all above board and transparent for everybody to see.”
“Because I already thought it was taken care of,” Ellingson said. “I thought they were supposed to be helping.”
(Later in the meeting, the council approved a formal snow removal contract with Spirit Lake Lumber, with the amendment that the business should help city staff haul away snow when the city determines it necessary. At Spirit Lake Lumber’s request, the agreement would run through 2024. The motion passed 4-1, with Huebner opposed.)
Keranen said, “The problem is we need to work as a team, as the mentality of one of five. Period. And that’s not happening and has not been past practice this year. But we have got to turn things around.”
“The motion is on the table,” said Huebner, repeatedly.
“You don’t have the authority,” Liimatta said.
When asked for a legal opinion, city attorney Tom Winters said, “The council is in charge of themselves, basically, so they absolutely have the right to make the motion, second it and put it to a vote.”
After both motions failed, Liimatta said, “I just want to make one comment. I have 11.5 months left as mayor. I will not seek a second term. I think I can be a very positive voice in the community and get more people to attend the meetings, more people to express opinions ...”
Keranen said she hopes the council will try to be more transparent. “Let’s try to do for the community and the people, together as a team, with the best interests of our city in mind.”
Liimatta’s motion to make Ellingson vice mayor in 2020, seconded by Ellingson, passed 3-2, with Huebner and Keranen opposed.
When it came to approving 2020 signators for city bank accounts, Huebner made a motion to replace the mayor and vice mayor with himself and Andreasen. Keranen seconded, adding
she was particularly upset that Liimatta and Ellingson failed to sign The Economic Alliance check.
Liimatta said she had a financial reason for not signing it, but promised that would not happen again. She pointed out that she did apologize to The Economic Alliance.
Keranen noted that the municipal liquor store was placed on a “do not deliver” list because of a late payment.
The motion failed 2-3, with Liimatta, Ellingson and Andreasen opposed.
Andreasen commented that the council was still “in a learning process” and the motion was “completely wrong.”
City Administrator Curt Kreklau remarked that Liimatta has been “very diligent” when it comes to signing checks. “We’ve got more of a rhythm now than we did that time.”