Nisswa Police Chief Craig Taylor, who was suspended Aug. 15 and denied an offer to resign in exchange for a year’s pay, was unanimously reinstated as chief Wednesday night, Aug. 21, at a Nisswa City Council meeting.
Several people spoke out against the council’s action to offer Taylor severance for his resignation, accusing the council of acting behind closed doors.
At the beginning of the meeting, Mayor Brian Lehman apologized to Taylor, the council, the public at large and stakeholders who are not voters.
“I think we’ve had a lot of damage done. I don’t know how long it will take to recover from the damage that has been done. I think the city council was given legal advice that I don’t necessarily know was in the best interest of the city or actually legal,” Lehman said.
Then-city attorney Clyde Ahlquist hosted two city council meetings at his office in Pequot Lakes, on Aug. 15 and the morning of Aug. 21. The Aug. 15 meeting was closed in part to discuss preliminary allegations or charges against an employee, whom the council declined to name.
On Aug. 16, an offer from the council, drafted by Ahlquist, was presented to Taylor offering a year’s pay and benefits in exchange for his resignation. The offer also stipulated that he not disclose the details of the agreement or disparage the council or the mayor.
Taylor rejected the offer. He maintains that he has no sustained complaints against him and has never had any disciplinary action taken against him. He said he believed he received the offer for speaking out at a July 17 city council meeting in which the council discussed a city administrator position.
Taylor said by phone that he believed he would be fired at the Aug. 21 morning meeting, but at that meeting Ahlquist informed the council that the city had received a maintenance of status quo order from the Minnesota Bureau of Mediation Services (BMS).
The order bars the city from making any staffing changes and was sent to the city following a petition the BMS received for unionization among supervisory and confidential employees. The order is standard operation for BMS to prevent employees from being penalized for moving to unionize.
BMS received the petition to unionize the day after Taylor received his offer from the council.
Taylor addressed the council and a crowd of about 70 people gathered at Nisswa City Hall the evening of Aug. 21. He said he hoped the situation was in the past.
“I hope this incident can be put behind us. I hope it’s not resurrected in the future,” Taylor said. “I have no hard feelings. This is resolved, I forgive, we’ll forget and we’ll move on.”
Several staff members came forward during the meeting’s public forum saying that Lehman threatened them with their jobs.
City clerk Laurie Hemish said, “I have never been so humiliated in my life than when you (Lehman) called me into the room to ask for my resignation if I don’t keep my mouth shut.”
Mike Wagener, city wastewater operator, said that five years ago he was threatened by Lehman, who reminded him he’s an at-will employee.
Parks and recreation director Paula Anderson said she had cleaned out her desk and planned to resign if other staff members were fired.
Two members of the public, former mayor and council member Harold Kraus and resident Fred Heidmann, requested the mayor’s resignation. Others who spoke at the meeting suggested the council find a new city attorney.
Lehman did not respond to the requests during the meeting, nor was the attorney’s position addressed Aug. 21.