Lake Elmo council limits communications between staff and fellow council member

Lake Elmo City Council members took action Tuesday, Sept. 2, barring longtime council member Anne Smith from one-on-one, face-to-face communication with city staff. 

The motion approved by the council now requires another council member to be present whenever Smith wishes to speak with a city employee in person.

At the meeting, mayor Mike Pearson said the council has had discussions in the past regarding staff interactions with the council, and specifically staff interactions with Smith.

“I know some significant concerns were brought to our attention, discussions were had, suggestions were made, and council member Smith had made commitments to improve,” Pearson told the council. “It’s my understanding that these incidents continue, and we have two areas of concern as I understand it. One is exposing the city to potential employment liability, and two is not recognizing the chain of command.”

In a later interview, Pearson said the letter of complaint he and the council received from city staff alleges Smith had inappropriate interactions with staff. He did not elaborate on the nature of the allegations, except to say they were not criminal.

“It’s a personnel employment-related matter,” Pearson said. “I’d rather not comment on it further.”

Former mayor and city council member Susan Dunn said she believes the council may have an ulterior motive.

“I think it’s all politically motivated due to the upcoming election,” she alleged. “The current council isn’t sensitive to existing residents, which Anne has always been a champion for. She has always put the city’s needs before her own.”

Dunn added that she believes the city should list the name, or names of staff members who filed a complaint against Smith.

Smith was absent from the Sept. 2 meeting, but said she would “take the high road” and released this written statement:

“As a council member, I have a responsibility to pay attention to issues concerning city government and the people of Lake Elmo. I disagree with city staff about some internal personnel matters and have communicated my concerns. I believe my comments have been appropriate.

“The city of Lake Elmo has adopted the goal of being a ‘model of civility and leaders that set an example.’” Smith continues, “The council’s action concerning me at the September 2 meeting, when I was not present due to illness, appears to be contrary to this goal.
“I look forward to continuing to work together with council and staff for the best interests of Lake Elmo.”

On Monday, Sept. 15, Smith said she was hesitant to speak in detail about the uneasy situation that has developed between her and city staff, because of possible legal implications, but did say that her commitment to looking out for the best interests of the residents of Lake Elmo has not wavered over the 10-plus years she has served on the council.

“I do this for the city of Lake Elmo out of the goodness of my heart. I protect a city of 8,000 people, and I love all of them. I’m staying on the council because I want to see this city developed right,” she added

Prior to voting to approve the motion to censure Smith, council member Wally Nelson said he would support the motion, but questioned if prohibiting her from contact with city employees would make it harder for her to do her job on the council.

“I like it for the reasons that you’re trying to protect staff and the taxpayer,” he said. “But logistically, I don’t know if she can be as effective.”

Pearson asked if Nelson was suggesting that Smith be allowed to contact city staff by phone.

“There is a difference,” Nelson responded. “As a staff member it’s a lot easier to hang up the phone than it is to walk away from somebody.”

Council member Mike Reeves said he would support allowing Smith to contact city employees by phone, with the caveat that they hang up if the conversation becomes uncomfortable.

The council voted to approve the motion 4-0, with an amendment that would allow Smith to contact city staff by phone.

Smith said she believes the people in Lake Elmo who voted for her to serve on the council three consecutive times would support her.

“I listen to what people in Lake Elmo really want. If they have an issue with something I go to their house and hear them out.”

Joshua Nielsen can be reached at jnielsen@lillienews.com jnielsen@lillienews.com or 651-748-7822.

 

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