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Mayor says Danube council unlikely to act before chief's first court hearing on theft charges

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news Willmar, 56201

Willmar Minnesota 2208 Trott Ave. SW / P.O. Box 839 56201

DANUBE -- It was like any other City Council meeting in Danube.

Chief of Police Lester Leon Schneider Jr. sat before the council Wednesday night giving his biweekly report. He updated the members on broken city lights and a squad car with a flashing "check engine" light.

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He didn't discuss one matter, though: that he continues to serve as Danube's police chief despite the criminal charges filed against him.

It has been nearly a month since a criminal complaint based on the investigation of a detective in the Kandiyohi County Sheriff's Department was filed against Schneider.

The complaint alleges that Schneider and his wife, Jammie Jean Schneider, took $4,650 from the Danube Fire Department's smelt fry fund while he was serving as assistant fire chief in 2006. Later, $5,045 was apparently returned to the account, according to the complaint.

Some residents of the tiny community of 560 are wondering why the city council has not put the police chief, who has been serving since the early '90s, on administrative leave in light of the charges against him. Danube City Council member Sharon Lothert is one of them.

"I think that in any other city, in any other circumstance, it would have been suspension," she said.

The reason for the inaction, said Lothert, was due to one thing: Schneider's close personal connection to the mayor and members of the city council. The Mayor, Gene Allex Sr., and council member Ryan Bentley are current members of the Danube Fire Department and have served there with Schneider in the past. Schneider's father, Les Schneider Sr., is also a member of the council.

Schneider Sr. has stated that he will not vote on or be involved with matters relating to his son, though he was engaged in the brief discussion Wednesday night of potential action by the City Council, agreeing with other council members that no action should be taken because the charges against the chief are working their way through the court system.

Lothert described herself as the odd person out on the council, with her lack of personal connection to the chief and her desire to suspend him until the charges are cleared, putting her at odds with the other members.

"I'm not one of the good old boys club," she said.

The other council members, though, have said that their friendship with Schneider carries no weight in any decision they have or will make on the matter.

"I'm his friend, but that makes no difference," said Mayor Gene Allex Sr. "We have to look at this from a legal standpoint."

Allex said that the City Council had come to a decision on the matter based on the information they had. At this point, he said, the allegations against the police chief were just that: allegations.

"I could tell you that you stole something from me, but then I would have to prove it," he said.

The mayor said that he had seen no evidence of the allegations affecting Chief Schneider's ability to serve, thereby precluding another possible reason to suspend him.

"It hasn't affected his performance," he said. "He is still doing his job."

Mayor Allex said that the council had received new classified information regarding the charges against Schneider the week before from the Danube city attorney, Aaron Walton. Council member Lothert said she had thought the council would come to a vote based on a review of the information at the council meeting on Wednesday night.

But at the meeting, it was determined that not everybody had had the time to review the information over the past week. In light of that, the council opted to table the discussion for a later date.

Lothert said that was frustrating to her, because she had read over the information immediately upon learning of it from the city attorney. She said there was no excuse why other council members hadn't done the same. She said the fact that some didn't was likely a way to avoid the issue.

"I think they're stalling," she said.

But Allex said that with one council member out of town for much of the week, and with only one copy of the "four-inches thick" document available, there simply wasn't enough time for every council member to look it over. Further complicating the issue, he said, was that only two council members could look over the information at a time, since three or more members gathered in one place constitutes a public meeting under state law.

Allex said it is unlikely that Schneider's case will be discussed at the Aug. 26 City Council meeting either. The following day, Les and Jammie Schneider are scheduled to attend the first hearing on the case at the Renville County Courthouse. The hearing, called a Rule 8 proceeding, would normally involve the defendants entering a plea of guilty or not guilty, according to Meeker County attorney Stephanie Beckman.

The Danube City Council will likely wait until after that hearing before making any further decisions, said Allex. He didn't rule out the possibility of a special meeting being called if one is warranted.

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