Lake Elmo city administrator Dean Zuleger to move on after contentious council vote

Dean Zuleger
Dean Zuleger
Barry Weeks and Dick Wier of Lake Elmo created 40 handpainted “We Protest Council Vote” signs in response to the recent council decision to part ways with city administrator Dean Zuleger. With the demand high for their signs, they ordered an additional 200 from a screen printer.  (Linda Baumeister / Review)
Barry Weeks and Dick Wier of Lake Elmo created 40 handpainted “We Protest Council Vote” signs in response to the recent council decision to part ways with city administrator Dean Zuleger. With the demand high for their signs, they ordered an additional 200 from a screen printer. (Linda Baumeister / Review)
The Lake Elmo council chambers were packed Tuesday night, March 10, with residents, city commission members and local business owners who made impassioned pleas to the city council to retain city administrator Dean Zuleger. 
 
At the special meeting requested by city attorney Dave Snyder to discuss employment-related matters, Zuleger offered to give up his post as city administrator, and left it in the council's hands as to whether or not he should step down. 
 
After listening to well over an hour's worth of public testimony urging the council to not let Zuleger go, council members approved a motion, 3-2, to take him up on his offer to walk away from his role as city administrator.
 
Longtime council member Anne Smith, and newcomers Jill Lundgren and Julie Fliflet voted in favor of the motion, with mayor Mike Pearson and council member Justin Bloyer in dissent.
 
"I'm terribly frustrated and disappointed in the actions of the new council, and I don't think there is an understanding of what it takes to run a city," Pearson told the Review on Wednesday. "The impact of this will be felt by the residents. That being said, we have a city to run and will do our best to keep going."
 
Pearson noted that most Lake Elmo homeowners are happy with city staff, including Zuleger, and the outpouring of support for Zuleger at the previous night's meeting reflects that.
 
'A very capable guy'
 
Ed Gorman, owner of Gorman's Restaurant in Lake Elmo, was at the meeting and said the city made a big mistake by letting Zuleger go.
 
"I've been around here for 35 years. As a council they had an opportunity to retain staff and they haven't done that," Gorman told the Review on Wednesday. "I like Dean; he's a good guy, a very capable guy who is qualified and does everything by ordinances. 
 
He asserted, "The three women [Fliflet, Smith and Lundgren] wanted to fire him for doing his job."
 
Zuleger came to Lake Elmo from the village of Weston, Wisconsin, where he was city administrator for 11 years. He was hired unanimously by the Lake Elmo City Council Jan. 10, 2012. 
 
A Jan. 20, 2012, Review story details Zuleger's employment history and arrival in Lake Elmo. To read the story visit: 
 
The city administrator did not go into specifics at Tuesday's meeting as to why he chose to step down from the post he's held for over three years.  A request for comment by the Review was not immediately returned Wednesday. 
 
Withdrew application in Oakdale 
 
It appears Zuleger had thoughts of leaving his Lake Elmo job for one in neighboring Oakdale near the closing of 2014, but had a change of heart.
 
He applied for the city administrator opening in Oakdale late last year. However, Oakdale finance director Suzanne Warren said he withdrew from the interview process early on, stating he wanted to stay in his position in Lake Elmo. 
 
Warren noted that those who interviewed Zuleger for the position "had positive opinions" of him. The city of Oakdale's decision to hire Bart Fischer as its new administrator last month was unanimous. It's unclear if Zuleger would have been considered as a top candidate, because of his early withdrawal from the hiring process. 
 
Zuleger told the Lake Elmo council he would stay on as a paid consultant until a new city administrator is hired, and said he would help in the transition process. The city attorney is expected to draft a separation agreement with Zuleger in the near future.
 
Gorman said, "He's a very engaged guy and the fact that they let him go with everything on our plate in the city with new developments and city sewer pipes coming in ... I don't know who they're going to be able to attract that could better fill that role. 
 
"It's very frustrating."
 
Joshua Nielsen can be reached at jnielsen@lillienews.com or 651-748-7822.
 
 
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