Menahga city attorney Tom Winters responded to city council complaints last week.
“I wish, if there are issues with me, people would talk to me before going to the newspaper first,” he said at the Jan. 14 city council meeting.
Earlier this month, the council decided to send a letter to Ramstad, Skoyles & Winters of Detroit Lakes stating their dissatisfaction with Winter’s progress on two pending investigations.
Winters also took “extreme issue” with the council’s accusations that he did not show up for meetings.
“There was a resolution passed here that I would not appear at the meetings because you guys did not want to pay for my appearance unless I was asked to do so,” he said.
Winters noted there was only one time when he was unable to attend a meeting and that was due to last-minute notice and he had a prior commitment. He asked for one week’s notice.
Winters went on to say he had council permission to outsource one of the investigations, which was regarding complaints filed against the mayor. “I fired the first person that did it because they weren’t doing it,” he said, adding, the second person hired has stated it will be concluded in two weeks.
Winters presented his findings from exit interviews of former city employees. After receiving the contact information for employees in December, Winters said it took a month for him to complete the project. “I don’t think that’s unreasonable.”
“We need to communicate a little better as to what our wishes are,” said council member Tim Ellingson.
Council member Robyn Keranen expressed concern that the full council is not involved in all attorney discussions. She noted that the December invoice mentions a discussion between Winters and Mayor Joan Liimatta regarding extending probationary periods and reviewing some information about a city employee.
City Administrator Curt Kreklau noted that Winters had already advised the council to not extend probationary periods. “We already had an answer,” he said.
“There’s too much behind-the-scenes stuff going on,” Keranen said. To be more transparent and to keep communication lines open, she recommended that only Kreklau contact the city attorney so the full council is aware and understands why they are seeking advice.
Council member Art Huebner made a motion to that effect.
Winters said that administrator-only communication was typical of most cities.
The motion passed 4-0, with Liimatta abstaining.
Former employee responses
The city council asked Winters to interview past city employees and inquire about their reasons for leaving.
Winters said the six employees wished to remain anonymous. In his report, he only refers to them as well as council members with numbers, not names.
Summarizing, Winters said one reported there were no more issues in Menahga than any other city. Four employees had issues with council members “stepping on their toes,” he said. Another said the previous management was “the worst management they’d ever worked with,” he continued.
Three former employees said they suspected that city hall was bugged and conversations were being recorded.
Winters wrote in his report, “After speaking with all of the former employees, it is of my opinion that the general dysfunction in the city structure has led to the resignation of most of the past employees. Almost all of the resigned employees also have discussed being bossed around by or felt as if they were being bullied by councilperson 1 and councilperson 2. I feel these are the two greatest reasons for the employee turnover in Menahga.”