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An Enterprise editorial: Menahga City Council member’s behavior is costly

Menahga city residents should be appalled.

A functioning city council and city hall are essential for government to work properly.

Sadly, that is not the case in Menahga.

Menahga City Hall has been in chaos since Art Huebner and Robyn Keranen were elected in Nov. 2018.

By Jan. 2019, three city staff members – City Administrator Gina Ellingson, Deputy Clerk Alvina Kytta and Public Works Supervisor Frank Thelin – had submitted their resignations. They stated their departures were due to Huebner’s perpetual animosity toward them.

Huebner said those allegations were completely false and unsubstantiated.

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Until replacements were hired six months later, the city had to fork out money to outside financial firms to handle payroll, billing and accounting.

Besides staff turnover, Huebner’s persistent negativity has been costly for the city.

He appears to have a penchant for lobbing accusations of misconduct at fellow council members. It’s something he did with former Menahga Mayor Joan Liimatta and continues to this day with newly elected Mayor Liz Olson.

The city racked up attorney’s fees while council members sought legal aid.

In April 2019, the city council’s “substantial conflict” attracted the attention of the League of Minnesota Cities Insurance Trust (LMCIT). After reviewing council meetings, reading reports in the media and noting the loss of staff, LMCIT offered their collaboration and mediation program manager’s services, free of charge.

By Sept. 2019, S&P Global lowered the city’s bond rating from an “A” to a “BBB+,” citing the city’s “political instability and staff turnover in recent years” and a “weakened budgetary performance.”

In its report, S&P wrote, “The current management does not have insight into what is causing the deteriorating operating performance or how fiscal year 2019 is projected to finish. The recent wave of resignations occurred after new council members took office on Jan. 1, 2019. Recent council meeting minutes reflect city council members questioning each other’s actions and leadership styles. This apparent difficulty between council members supports our view that staff turnover may persist.”

Three new council members were elected in November 2020, yet Huebner continues his finger-pointing and accusations. He has voted against almost every motion passed by this council, often with Keranen joining his minority, even for routine business like approving the minutes and paying bills.

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In a seemingly planned publicity stunt, Huebner and Keranen held a bizarre “public forum” on Oct. 20. Without a full council present and like a conspiracy theorist run amok, Huebner riffed for two hours about his allegations of “ridiculous witch hunts,” “frivolous audits” and “astronomical public data requests to keep people busy so they can’t do their jobs.” He repeated false claims – despite being debunked publicly at previous council meetings.

Menahga city residents should be appalled.

A quality elected official needs to understand difficult finances and laws, work well with others and be forward-thinking. It’s a hard job.

So here’s kudos and an extra-special thanks to those serving on city councils, planning commissions and committees who truly have their city’s best interests at heart. Your work is often unnoticed and unappreciated.

And to the Art Huebners of the world: It’s time for voters to vote you out.

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From the editorial: "There’s a lack of political checks and balances in Minnesota right now that’s far from ideal."
This guest editorial was written by the Alexandria Echo Press, a Forum Communications Co. newspaper.