Newly hired interim city administrator Betty Thomsen introduced herself to the Menahga City Council on Tuesday, Nov. 16.

“I love city government. It has been, and always will be, my passion. Even after serving almost 20 years as a city administrator, I can still say it’s my passion,” she said to a packed city hall. “I love a challenge, and I saw this position in Menanga as a challenge and a chance to work with yet another city council and city staff.”

She continued, “It’s no secret that the city of Menahga is in turmoil and has been for some time now. In fact, sadly it is well known within the arena of city administrators.”

Thomsen said several of her colleagues called and cautioned her to not accept the position.

Upon arriving at city hall to sign the letter of employment with Mayor Liz Olson and temporary technician Jensine Kurtti, Thomsen admitted, “I really did have second thoughts about coming here to work with you. And I want to share with you why I had those thoughts.”

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She said a councilman and his wife “abruptly interrupted, and in loud voices, falsely accused the mayor of conducting an illegal meeting. And that council member pointed his finger at me and said, ‘You do understand that if you take it, you run the city.’ And then he pointed at Mayor Olson and said, ‘And not you.’ I was taken aback and asked myself why would I want to work with a city in which a council member is so unprofessional and disrespectful.”

Thomsen held up a letter, saying she fully intended to present it to the council explaining why she would not work with the city.

“It did not go unnoticed by me that this council member and his wife miraculously appeared at city hall within minutes of my arrival. Coincidence? I think not. I’ve been in the world of government far too long to believe that. Furthermore, I felt that was just a grandstand for the employees who were right across the hall, standing at the front counter,” Thomsen said, adding, “After much soul searching, I decided to not give you this letter, as it would be most unfair of me to judge the rest of you council members by the actions of one unprofessional council member.”

Thomsen turned to council member Art Huebner and said, “One thing that you did say, Art, though, was that I understand that I run the city, so I’m going to hold you to that, unless at this point in time you want to retract that statement.”

“Not at all,” Huebner replied.

“I didn’t think you would,” Thomsen said. “I do not appreciate nor will I tolerate that type of behavior – unprofessional or disrespectful conduct – from you or any one of you, any employees or any members of the public. That is not conducive to a working relationship. It only causes division and not unity. As all of my colleagues have told me, they see that as a big issue.”

Thomsen emphasized that she used the phrase “work with” in her address. “I’m not here to work against employees. I’m not here to work against the council. And I don’t think it’s fair that employees are allowed to work against the council members and/or the people that are in charge of them,” she said.

Thomsen said the city has a nice chain of command, and she expects employees with issues to talk to their supervisors. If an issue is unresolved, then they may speak to her.

“Let’s give Betty a warm, Menahga welcome,” Olson said at the conclusion. The audience responded with applause.

Data, emails, keys

In related business, the council passed a series of resolutions related to Thomsen’s hiring.

The first said to turn over “all existing data requests and grievances not completed to date” to Thomsen as the responsible party to receive and disseminate that information and to give her “full authority to perform any and all actions as she sees fit ino order to conduct the business of the city.” It also required a review of daily assignments, job descriptions and past practices.

Council member Robyn Keranen questioned the reason for the review.

“That’s standard operation,” Thomsen said.

It passed 4-1, with Huebner opposed.

The next motion directed that all cmenahga@wcta.net emails be directed to only Thomsen and that she be given complete access to the city’s financial software, called Banyon. The motion gave Thomsen authority to deem which other city employees may have access. Thomsen is also to take possession of the previous city administrator’s computer.

Thomsen said it would be nice for city staff to cross-train others on Banyon. She noted that someone needs to key in recent changes to the proposed 2022 budget as well as payroll, billing, etc. She said she is not familiar with Banyon.

Olson pointed out that similar motions were made when the previous city administrator was hired.

“We’re obviously going to have to have some more training on Banyon so that they can all be qualified to run it,” Thomsen said.

Huebner suggested tabling the motion until it was “straightened out” who would be given access to Banyon.

The motion to approve the resolution passed 3-2, with Huebner and council member Robyn Keranen opposed.

The third resolution required all individuals currently holding entry keys to any city-owned building or office to bring them to Thomsen, so she can record the name, key number and where the key works. “If it is determined that the key holder has no reason to hold a particular key, that key shall be turned over to the temporary city administrator for safekeeping,” it said. The motion passed.

Keranen asked if Police Chief Adam Gunderson would have the list as well.

Olson said it has always been the city administrator’s responsibility.

Thomsen said unused keys are kept in a safe. “That is standard in all cities, where one person is in charge of all the keys, especially the master key.”

The motion passed 4-1, with Huebner against.

Finally, a resolution called for Thomsen to conduct evaluations of department heads. She was also added as an authorized signer on city financial accounts and check signature cards.

Keranen said she was uncomfortable having a temporary administrator complete evaluations. The motion passed 3-2, with Keranen and Huebner opposed.

Budget adjustments

Since the department heads and city council have amended the 2021 and 2022 budgets, those changes need to be completed in Banyon. The resolution noted that the only individual with full access was Deputy Clerk Tanya Edwards. Further, the job description calls for the deputy clerk “to perform other duties as assigned or required.”

The resolution directed Edwards to “immediately complete all budget amendments” and provide a complete copy to Thomsen for distribution to the council.

Olson said the revised budget figures are necessary to determine the final levy.

The motion passed, 4-1, Huebner against.

Civil legal counsel switch

Citing a need for city legal civil representation to have specialized expertise in personnel and labor union issues, the council hired Flaherty and Hood, P.A.

The resolution stated that the city has been happy with Ramstad, Skoyles and Winters’ civil counsel, but that it was “time to take the recommendation of the League of Minnesota Cities and hire Flaherty and Hood, PA, which specializes in municipal labor relations, personnel and employment issues.”

The resolution also stated the city will save money by paying $180 per hour rather than $200.

Ramstad, Skoyles and Winters will continue as the city’s criminal counsel.

When asked by Huebner, Olson affirmed that attorney Tom Winters approved of this change.

It passed 3-2, with Huebner and Keranen against.

Criminal background checks

Effective immediately, the council passed a resolution that all criminal background employment checks be conducted by the Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension (BCA). The cost is $15. Surrounding cities, such as Park Rapids and Sebeka, also utilize the BCA.

In talking with the Park Rapids police chief in the past, Thomsen said the BCA is an unbiased method, particularly in a small town where everyone knows each other.

Huebner said he saw no reason to change it from the Menahga police chief.

The resolution said that any other background check will remain at the discretion of either the city administrator, or in the absence of a city administrator, the hiring committee.

It passed 3-2, Huebner and Keranen opposed.