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Spicer says a mediator will be hired to end dispute among two employees

SPICER -- The Spicer City Council will hire a mediator to resolve a dispute between two city employees.

City Attorney Barry Darval recommended during Tuesday's special open meeting that the council hire a mediator to help settle a conflict between City Administrator Andrea Aukrust and City Clerk LaNae Osmond.

The mediation process will begin sometime after Oct. 1, Darval said, when Richard Swenson will be hired.

Darval said Swenson's hiring provides an opportunity for both parties to discuss their issues and come to an agreement.

"I feel (mediation) provides a setting to address these issues and concerns and that you have an environment where people are willing to talk," Darval said. "That is the first step to resolving this. You also have an environment that is going to be controlled."

The City Council, with Councilman Ron Schneider absent, agreed a mediator would be the best solution given the city office's declining morale.

"We've gone through one heck of a city administrator and EDA director already," said Councilman Robert Lindahl. "And I think we're real close to losing another administrator and finance officer."

Aukrust and Osmond said during the Sept. 10 council meeting that they would file grievances against each other, leading Mayor Perry Wohnoutka to call for Tuesday's meeting. Aukrust also said she intended to file a grievance against the mayor.

Darval offered to gather information from the two employees -- before the formal mediation process begins -- at $70 per hour for the work.

Wohnoutka questioned the need, but Darval stressed that if the in-office dispute isn't settled, the city of Spicer could see increasing legal fees down the road.

"I've got no idea how we're going to take care of this mess," Councilman Troy Block said. "But I'm hoping a mediator is going to help. Between Barry interviewing all of our employees and the mediator coming in, that would be a good start."

During the meeting, Lindahl also dispelled a rumor that a city employee would be fired.

"Not once was it ever mentioned to the staff or anybody out in the public about firing anybody and I don't know where that came from," he said

Osmond confirmed the rumor was about her. She said she e-mailed the council about the rumor and that three councilmen responded to her indicating the rumor was false. Osmond recently returned to work following a one-week suspension for what was described as employee misconduct following an Aug. 28 closed session meeting.

In other meeting business:

Wohnoutka provided the council with documents containing the bills for city-issued cell phones and asked the council to view the number of minutes used by city staff.

In response, Public Works Director Dan Haats walked to the front of the council chambers and tossed a cell phone at the mayor, saying Wohnoutka could have it. Darval told Wohnoutka "This is not the place to address this policy," and recommended Haats leave the chambers.