City Administrator severance, vacant at-large seat on the agenda for Special Council July 14 meeting

roderballot

Prior to the regularly scheduled Work Session, the Northfield City Council has a special meeting scheduled Monday at 7pm to deal with, among other things:

1. Al Roder’s separation agreement (Aug. 1 is his last day)

Item #6 (titled ‘Release’) in the separation agreement (Page 7 in the pdf) appears to be a change of the Council’s previous policy of a $7,500 limit to pay Roder’s attorney fees related to the Goodhue investigation (bold italics mine):

Unless the Employee rescinds the release, the City shall continue to reimburse the Employee, or pay on his behalf, costs and reasonable attorney’s fees payable to Fredrikson & Byron, P.A. related to the Goodhue Matter, without dollar limitation but subject to review and approval of all billings for such costs and fees by the City Attorney prior to payment.

This appears to mean that the City will pay the additional $8k billed beyond the $7.5k, with no end in sight. Or am I reading that wrong?

2. Vacant at-large seat (Noah Cashman resigned last week)

The Council is considering two alternatives for filling Cashman’s seat (Page 16 in the pdf).

Alternative A: fill the seat immediately

Alternative B: invite people to apply by X date, interview them, etc.

9/14 note: I edited the blog post titled from “on Monday” to “July 14 meeting”

45 thoughts on “City Administrator severance, vacant at-large seat on the agenda for Special Council July 14 meeting”

  1. One has to wonder why these items re: the process are submitted by r. Roder, considering his imminent departure. Maybe that is just a formality, given they have to originate in some dept.

    I would have thought they would have originated with the City Attorney’s office; instead she is given the role of providing a “recommendation”. The City Attorney always gives a “recommendation”; that’s her role since the council is autonomous, but somehow this iteration feels different than it has in the past.

    It would not surprise me, at this point nothing would surprise me, if this council would just appoint someone, with no public participation, to serve until the end of the year, or, as has been done also in the past, until someone is elected in November and then seat them right away, rather than waiting until January.

    Given the split of support for this council, I think it would be unwise for them to just appoint, totally on their own choice. What would be the basis for that choice? How would they ascertain willingness? Where would the “fishing” expedition take them? Might it appear to be just another”shopping trip”?

  2. Last night, the Council decided to form a sub-group consisting of Jim Pokorney, Kris Vohs and city attny Roger Knutsen to negotiate a settlement with Al Roder that the Council can then vote on.

  3. The Council opted for Alternative B to fill Cashman’s seat in the interim (end of calendar year). ie, interview interested candidates and vote in round robin fashion for the finalist.

    The big issue was whether or not candidates who’ve filed for any of the open Council seats should be considered for the interim seat.

    Councilor Jon Denison got the biggest laugh of the night when he quipped that he didn’t think any of the candidates would really WANT the endorsement of this Council.

  4. I don’t believe we as a council said we’d vote in a round robin fashion, that was simply brought up as a suggestion by someone at the public mic stating a format that has happened in the past. The actual format the council uses at which we would invite applicants for interview is still open for debate and public input at the meeting where we would discuss setting up the interviews.

  5. Thanks for the clarification, Jon.

    I’m wondering…

    Does the city’s situation with Al Roder’s departure have parallels to the city of Greenfield? The Greenfield lawsuit and subsequent settlement has been cited as one of the reasons that the Council should consider Roder’s request for severance and attorney fees.

    Strib: Former Greenfield city administrator settles her lawsuit for $425,000

    Greenfield’s former city administrator, who worked during a turbulent time at City Hall, has reached a $425,000 settlement in her lawsuit against the city and two of its officials.

    Susan Johnson Hoffman sued former Mayor Larry Plack and current Council Member Leonard Jankowski in early 2007, alleging that Plack and Jankowski threatened, bullied and ultimately fired her after she accused them of misdeeds.

  6. I think the council should reach a settlement based on Roder being cleared by the Goodhue County investigation, then delay the vote until the report comes in. So far, every investigation has cleared Roder. If he is indicted, he should not get money, but if he is cleared it means he has spent more than a year with his professional life under a cloud and his personal life subject to behavior bordering on stalking. Sadly, most of the damage has come from private citizens, but the council — and taxpayers — will pay the price for their mischief.
    Roder is not blameless, but to portray this as an equal battle between the mayor and administrator is not accurate. The administrator came to town to face immediate intimidation, without a power base of friends, business associates or political allies.
    When this is done, I’d like to see a report that totals all the money spent over the last two years to deal with all these accusations, investigations, reviews and smears. I think it will prove this is not a few people with good intentions about government, but a group, led by the mayor, that is costing the city tens of thousands of dollars. If the state and Goodhue County costs are included, the tab could easily pass $100,000.
    If the mayor and members of the group run for office, they need to be held accountable for this waste.

  7. Charlene- I see that you recieved $777.79 from the city was this your severance package?

    From the account report, June 20th 2008

    TRAILER 59.90
    HITCH 16.40
    HOTEL 86.51
    2 ROUND TRIPS (1268 MI ) 614.98

    I would imagine you got you vacation etc. but was this the total of your complete severance package from the City of Northfield, $777.79?

    As I recall you said you were asked/forced to resign which is similar to what the city administrator is claiming. Except it takes only one person to ask you to resign and it takes four to ask a city administrator to resign, yet only one negative voice is mentioned in his claim.

    I guess similar might not be the right word in comparing the situation.

    He wants 50,000 dollars and unlimited legal fees and you got $777.79.
    I guess I’d want to talk with the council members who are negotiating the severance/separation package about what the city’s past practice has been too.

  8. Anne, it wasn’t citizens or the mayor but former police chief Gary Smith who initiated the criminal investigation of Al Roder that’s now known as the ‘Goodhue matter’.

  9. Anne, I agree with your post #7.

    It is so important to Northfield for Goodhue County to finish their investigation, which is nearly a year old now.

    I hope the content of Smith’s “investigation”, which was later termed a “list of concerns” by Goodhue County (I think I’m remembering this correctly) is revealed. Who brought the concerns to Smith in the first place? Were the concerns entirely legitimate, or politically motivated in some way? Hopefully, we’ll see the result of the Goodhue investigation soon as it should influence Roder’s severance and the upcoming elections.

  10. Griff, I understand your point. I suppose we will have to wait until the report is available to see what those concerns were and where they originated.

  11. I wonder how how many reports will have to be submitted before everyone on both sides is satisfied? In fact, I wonder if this is even possible? The last year’s events are unfortunate, but it seems that somewhere we have to move beyond them, and it just may be that not everyone will be satisfied. The Everett Report certainly didn’t help, and I suspect that the “Goodhue Report” will probably have the same non-effect. Somewhere, we need to say enough reports, forgive whomever we think did wrong or was wronged, and go on.

  12. John,
    I suspect you are mostly right. Even if the Goodhue County investigation completely exonerates Mr. Roder, there will be people who will still believe he has has done some whispered-about-but-never-spoken-of-openly wrong. Similarly, whether the Goodhue County investigation exonerates or accuses the Mayor of wrongdoing, there will be persons who think that the report is mistaken. And that will be their right.

    However – unless someone is charged with a crime – when the Goodhue County investigation is done, all the accusations of the last few years will be pretty much settled as a legal matter, and I hope that it will be a lot easier for the rest of us to agree to disagree, and move on.

  13. David DeLong – nobody stirs a pot better than you. As a former council person, I am surprised that you are not aware of the difference between an employee with a contract with the city (city administrator) and all other employees. We don’t provide severance packages, typically to any employee – certainly no employee other than the city administrator has a (written vs implied) employment contract with the city.

    Quit trying to use mis-information to paint the council and the administrator in a bad light.

  14. Griff – regarding #9 post – Typically police do not initiate a criminal investigation on their own. It is reported to them by someone that they (police)have something to investigate and they investigate it. My guess is that when the report comes back from Goodhue, there will be a complainant’s name attached to the investigation. Of great concern to me is that Chief Smith spent time investigating his boss, which is a clear violation of ethical standards. As soon as he was aware of what he or someone else felt was a violation by Mr. Roder, he should have turned over the investigation to the Rice County or Goodhue county sheriff’s office.

  15. Scott, I agree, typically police don’t initiate criminal investigations on their own. And your guess might be right, ie, someone else (the mayor?) made the initial complaint. But all the Nfld News reports at the time indicated Smith initiated it:

    Nfld News article, blogged on LG here:

    Roder also declined to comment on whether a criminal investigation of Roder by the chief was a factor in Smith taking a leave of absence. The administrator confirmed that Smith claims to be conducting a criminal investigation against his boss, but said he didn’t know the chief’s
    reasoning. “He didn’t say why,” Roder said. Typically such investigations are conducted by outside agencies. Smith could not be reached for comment.

    ===

    Nfld News article, blogged on LG here:

    His departure left more questions than answers, including the bombshell that Smith had started a criminal investigation of his boss, City Administrator Al Roder. Smith says he can’t – and won’t – talk about the investigation. That process is something the chief believes in and is committed to ensuring is followed, he said. “When it’s done,” he said of the investigation now being conducted by a Goodhue County Sheriff’s investigator, “people will have an opportunity to know what’s going on.”

    Nfld News managing editor Jaci Smith, blogged here:

    After Smith took his leave, it was revealed he had begun a criminal investigation of Roder. That investigation was later taken over by the Goodhue County Sheriff’s Department and has yet to be completed.

    Smith himself was more circumspect, blogging “I have a statutory obligation to see that citizen complaints or reports of possible criminal conduct are investigated.”

    I blogged it here:

    There was mention of the investigation of the city administrator during that conversation. Perhaps that is what Scott was alluding to. If that is the case, it is not so much a personnel matter as a one of privacy of an ongoing investigation. As a licensed police officer in Minnesota and a chief law enforcement officer, I have a statutory obligation to see that citizen complaints or reports of possible criminal conduct are investigated. A person who is not a licensed peace officer cannot investigate a criminal complaint in the same manner and lacks the jurisdictional authority to do so. There is a statute specifically prohibiting an unlicensed individual from conducting a police investigation.

    I would submit it would be unfair to subordinate staff to expect them to take care of this type of activity when involved a high profile person or official in the community. The matter cannot be turned over to another jurisdiction or prosecutor until at least substantiated. At some point once the investigation is completed, it will be public data. This includes even informing them of the complaint or investigation. I am certainly under no obligation to notify elected officials, city employees or even prosecutors until a determination is made.

    All this is just to say that the unresolved ‘Goodhue matter’ was not (likely) something initiated by pesky citizens.

  16. The $777.79 was the “accepted” amount of moving expenses allowed and paid to me per “Al Roder” .

    I was told, the City of Northfield does not have a standard policy nor a set budgeted dollar amount for relocation. However, If I had moved my entire home and family to Northfield, as I was planning to do once things settled down, it would of cost closer to $11,000.00.

    I was told Al Roder’s move cost the City $20,000.00 but that # would have to be verified as I am not sure who tells the truth anymore.

    I hope that answers your question David.

  17. Thanks Charlene, Yes that answers my questions it just seemed a little strange that you were being paid in the middle of June for moving to town when you being asked to leave town, again thanks for clearing that up.

  18. Scott,

    As usual, you are right on the money with post #16. It’s truly a shame that you’re leaving the city council … this city certainly needs direct and open council members like you.

  19. Charlene thanks again for the clarification.

    Scott Davis-I guess you’re right, now that Charlene has informed me that it was an expense for moving to Northfield, not from Northfield, I guess i should now change comment that was a question to this statement –

    Al Roder has requested in excess of $50,000 dollars and legal fees without dollar limitation because he feels he was forced out. Charlene Coulombe-Fiore who also says she was forced out was given $ 0.00 not $777.79 as I had asked earlier.

    Better? Any misinformation?

    In response to what you where surprised about me not being aware of as a former council person, and I’ll assume that it wasn’t just an attempt on your part to paint me in a bad light. For many years, before your time on the council, the city did have individual contracts with department heads. What I have not been able to find out and am not aware of is when the council changed this policy. If you could provide me the resolution number I would appreciate it.

    I am also aware of separation/severance agreements between the city and employees other than a city administrator. Off the top of my head there was Lanny Gleason and Larry Turner. I could probably list a few more if you’d like, let me know. I also realize that there are many side deals and payments that are made that never make it to the council level. Northfield has been around for over 150 years and while I don’t go that far back I have been paying attention to city matters for quite awhile.
    The money came at the end of her time her, so I asked “was this your severance package?” This seemed to be a strange transaction, so I asked a question, You can’t learn or understand unless you ask. Should I assume that the City will tell me all I need to know? People don’t know what information I need to make a decision so I ask for what I need.

    I ask questions for my information only, to help me better understand something. There are no ulterior motives in my questions. Just because others ask questions that way please don’t stereotype me. I ask straight forward questions and prefer straight forward answers. Do people hear things they want to hear and see things they want to see even if that is not what is intended? Yes. Can I control that? No. The thing I’ve learned from being elected to two terms on the council, is that people will twist, spin, bend and interpret what ever you say to suit themselves. You can’t control others thought’s or impressions. People will think what they want to think.

    I suspect that you didn’t mean your pot stirrer comment as a compliment But as any one who cooks will tell you if you don’t stir a pot, what ever is in there just simmering away will scorch and will become distasteful.

    I suspect that you will find this response inadequate, but it is what it is and I’m who I am, and I guess we just disagree.

  20. The special meeting to consider the separation agreement for Mr. Roder was loaded with unexpected occurrences.
    First of all, the amount of Mr. Roder’s attorney’s fees, to date, was said to not be available; one would think that if the entire “situation” was to be considered, those numbers would have been part of the discussion.

    Second, the selection of Option B was somewhat surprising as heretofor the council has been 90% in favor of doing what Mr. Roder preferred, and Option B had not been discussed with him; Mr. Pokorney, and others were not sure he would agree to sign that agreement, although they felt he would probably sign Option A.

    Third, two of the councilors who have been solidly behind Mr. Roder were exceptionally quiet, Denison and Davis. They let the burden of “defense” fall on Mr. Pokorney, who got quite defensive about the former administrator, and quite aggressive to the Mayor. At least Mr. Pokorney had the courage to stick to his guns.

    Fourth, Option B might end up costing the city more money than Option A, which is basically the same as the $10,000 now and $25, 000 later that was in the first go round of negotiations.

    Fifth, it is difficult to reconcile the role of the city’s “employment attorney” who seems to take a very pragmatic position of “buying insurance” by getting a release from threat of future legal action from Mr. Roder, without ever stating that as his most expert opinion of the best outcome for his client (the city).

    Sixth, well … there is more and more and more, but without having been there or heard it, much is probably not understandable.

    I will say this … and of course will be accused of just being an advocate for the Mayor… this meeting had the potential, two or three times during the course of it, to become even more personal and contentious. However, having watched and listened very carefully, it is to the Mayor’s credit that the meeting remained mostly calm and relatively civil. When baited, he “clarified” what he considered to be the fact, and when another “baiting” situation occurred, he simply went on with the discussion, without response.

    This meeting could have been a free-for-all, and it is to the Mayor’s credit that it was not.

    As I have said before, I have been a city employee in Illinois; I do not believe in city employees being mistreated, either by their employer or the citizens they work , in their service “industry”, for …but
    This meeting was, in my opinion, more about representing one’s employee than the citizens one is elected to represent.

    From the beginning of this entire last year of conflict, the tough questions have neither been asked, nor answered; maybe it is fitting then that they were not asked on August 13th, either.

    Mr. Roder has a week to respond with his signature; will the saga continue?

  21. In today’s Nfld News: Separation agreement passes 4-3 in council.

    City councilors, for the third time in two months, have offered their former administrator a deal in exchange for a promise he won’t sue the city.

    The separation agreement would give former administrator Al Roder $10,000 up front and another $25,000 if a believed investigation of him finds no wrongdoing… The agreement, approved 4-3 Monday night by the council, also covers Roder’s legal fees related to the investigation. Voting for the agreement were councilors Dixon Bond, Scott Davis, Jon Denison and Jim Pokorney.

  22. Are all Roder’s legal fees covered? So, if he is found guilty of something does he have to pay the money back? (Ha Ha. So sad.)

  23. I was at the Council meeting. All of the legal fees that are associated with the “Goodhue County matter” are to be paid ($7500 previously approved, about $2000 that were paid in error, and about $8000 in new fees). Any additional new fees, if the investigation continues on, will be paid too, as I understood the resolution. The city will lose the $10000 initial lump sum payment if he is found guilty of something, but will not have to pay him the additional $25000.

  24. Is it a done deal ?

    As I recall, without going back to look it up, the “city” has to sign the agreement also; who will sign it? The mayor didn’t vote for it. Kris Vohs and Jim Pokorney did the negotiating with Mr. Roder, and Mr. Vohs has tried to distance himself from the payment recently.

    A second issue is that there was in the agreement a period of “recission”; each party has a period of time to “recuse” themselves from their decision to sign. Sort of a “lemon law” provision …

    I find the statements re: the impact on the citizens of Northfield to be disingenuous, IM(oh so) HO. Does Mr. Roder have an inkling of what will happen in the Goodhue County criminal investigation, and is trying to secure $$ he thinks are owed to him? Did all the negative public commentary influence Mr. Roder’s decision to say he would sign now? If so, the public should have showed their outrage long ago.

    There are MN statutes that determine how an employee must be supported by their employer, and that is all the council should ever have considered.

    Given how long this has gone on, with ever increasing demands, there is no way I would sign this if I had voted against it, and I think the rest of the council should “sit tight” also.

  25. Griff: the agenda item , #16, you refer to immediately above, re: the separation agreement for Mr. Roder, was removed from the agenda.

    The city attorney advised the Mayor that there was nothing left to do but” sign it” …

    I personally hope the Mayor does NOT sign it, given his ongoing position of not making this payment. Once again, let Councilors Pokorney and Vohs sign it; they negotiated it, with the help of the city’s employment attorney.

    Given the ” recission” period available to both parties, I’m not positive it’s over either, Griff.

  26. Kiffi – We live in a democracy not a dictatorship. Regarding resolutions, the mayor is just one vote and and putting into effect resolutions passed by the majority of the council is not contingent on the mayor’s signature.

  27. Scott: Seeing as how my direct ancestor signed the Declaration of Independence (see Oliver Wolcott) I am aware of the nature of our government. I have however been concerned, both nationally the last eight or so years, and locally the last two or three.

    I had understood the Mayor was REQUIRED to sign this agreement, and the point of my comment was to say that it would be most ethical for those who had negotiated the agreement, and agreed to it, Vohs and Pokorney, to sign it… keeps the history straight.

  28. Here’s a question … as I recall, all the separation agreement docs had deadlines attached, ( apologize/sign by Friday at 5PM ,etc).

    So, if Mr. Roder asked to go back to a previous set of terms, how does that work? Does he just get to “cherry pick” his preferences? wouldn’t those previous agreement terms be “dead”, if the deadline was passed?

    We all want this to be over … but I just don’t understand, given all the various permutations of that contract, why the council doesn’t just let it sit until the Goodhue matter is resolved.

    Wouldn’t that be the way for ALL the information to come out?
    ( Because all would have to be revealed in order for council to know what they were liable for, under the state statutes)

  29. David : What the ho-tel are you talking about?
    Do you mean because the signature lines say “Mayor” and “Interim City Administrator”? is that a must? Is there no provision for any other legal signature?

    If that is the case, then he has to sign it whether he voted in the affirmative or not.

    However , let’s not start a discussion of the violations of oath of office by the city council , ’cause it would get very long. I “bow” to your expertise on the matter of contract law.

  30. Indeed this is Victor (not Kiffi) … it is midnight moving from Wed to Thurs.

    Today on the LG Radio I said that the recission clause of the agreement would give citizens 15 days to implore their Council to reverse or rescind their acceptance of the Roder agreement. It was and is my recollection that a 15 day recission opportunity kicked in when all signatures had been affixed to the agreement. It was my hope then the outcry in protest to this unfortunate action would be influential in it being reversed.

    Now here is the latest as I understand it.

    Earlier today Mayor Lansing was pressured to sign the agreement. I’ve heard there are some dating issues on it concerning Roder’s signature and its notarization. It seems the agreement was signed by Roder on Sept. 26 and his signature was notarized on the 29th. Legal?

    Nonetheless, some time after that the agreement bearing Roder’s signature (still unsigned by Northfield) arrived in city hall. Unfortunately, it now appears the sense of the recission clause may be viewed by Staff to be a 15 day clock starting with Roder’s signature.. 9/26 or 9/29.

    In any event, 15 days from the latest of those (9/29) would be next Tues, 10/14 … too late for any real citizen voice to become effective.

    But follow this. I’ve also been lead to believe that the staff attorney’s position on the 15 day clock is, it started on Sept 15, when the N’Fld Council voted 4 to 3 to send it to Roder for his consideration.

    If that’s true, one wonders what import the recission clause bore, as Roder could hold the document (as he evidently did) sending it back to Northfield in a time frame making the 15 days reconsideration period moot. NOTE: The same attorney who cites the start time, included the rescission clause language in the agreement. Why?

    Sept 15 plus 15 days is Sept 30 … As the agreement was mailed after it was notarized on Sept. 29 .. it likely wasn’t delivered here until Sept. 30!

    This is all very bizarre .. and seems to be contrived by staff and Roder to keep the citizen’s from any possibility of prevailing on the council to not follow through with the severance deal. Or what ever you’d call it.

    Well … we all owe a thanx to those Councilors who voted for the package: Denison, Bond, Davis and Pokorney. Vohs, perhaps mindful of his possible rejection at the polls, bailed on the agreement vote and may now claim he was not a Roder rooter.

  31. Victor – thank you for the latest. Here is what I do not understand. Somewhere in this process I thought Mr. Roder rejected agreement #3 and offered agreement #4, a language change in the severance payments (adding 2 more conditions in which he could collect the $25000 payment). So now it appears while this was going on, he was sitting on agreement #3 (not having rejected it), signed it 11 days into the 15 day reconsideration period and returned it to City Hall after the 15 day reconsideration period expired. And now we hear from some that it’s a “done deal”. This is all more than “very bizarre”.

  32. Steve : You are right … “very bizarre”.
    I just don’t get why the agreements and the back and forth, what I call “cherry picking” is OK.

    But when you have the council majority wanting to give away the taxpayers’ money, instead of sitting tight to see what happens, and THEN fulfilling their statutory obligation to Mr. Roder … it is difficult for citizen opinion to prevail.

    I am not a fan of the NFNews website, as it allows anonymous comment, but if any of the councilors were listening/reading they would have seen a LOT of comment that was negative to the support of payment.

    There was also quite a bit of open mic comment that was unsupportive of payment, but the council seems to completely devalue open mic comments that they are not in agreement with as being from “usual suspects”, and therefor negligible.

  33. Anyone wonder if Paul Hager’s letter and proposed resolution (no payment to Roder until after the investigation results are in, if I recall) had something to do with Roder grabbing the earlier deal?

  34. Stephanie: Why Mr. Roder “grabbed the earlier deal” could stimulate a lot of discussion, but what’s more interesting to me at this point is the Paul Hager letter…
    There is no prohibition, as far as I can see, to anyone presenting a correctly composed resolution to the council for consideration …. so …. why was it not even mentioned on the agenda, if not considered? Let’s ask the Mayor what happened with Paul’s resolution; there must have been SOME discussion at the agenda setting meeting!

    This tactic of just ignoring a citizen observation occurs all the time at open mic; I wonder what David de Long’s “return on investment” is, in that regard.

    Hey, David, if you’re out there … IF you get a response to your written submission (newish rule) after you speak at open mic, how long does it take, and is it complete?

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