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Administrator placed on unpaid medical leave by Spicer Council

SPICER -- Spicer City Council members placed the city administrator on unpaid medical leave Wednesday before scheduling a closed session next week to discuss possible litigation from the woman's attorney.

City Administrator Andrea Aukrust notified the city Friday that she was "placed on medical directions not to return to work" and requested to be placed on paid medical leave, said Barry Darval, Spicer city attorney, during Wednesday's special council meeting. He said the city received "limited information pertaining to the medical condition" of Aukrust or the amount of time needed for medical leave.

Aukrust has also used all of the paid sick days of her employment, Darval said. According to previous reports, Aukrust has not attended a City Council meeting or given a city administrator's report to the council since Sept. 24.

Wednesday's special meeting was originally scheduled to include a closed session for the City Council to complete an employee evaluation -- which is allowed by the state's Open Meeting Law -- but Darval recommended the meeting remain open to the public for discussions about the medical leave request.

Darval said Spicer's personnel policy requires further information about an employee's condition, preferably a doctor's diagnosis, before the City Council can grant long-term paid medical leave to an employee. He said the city could place an employee on unpaid medical leave for up to 60 days, as he knew of no state or federal law prohibiting the practice.

Councilman Terry Holmquist offered a motion to place Aukrust on unpaid medical leave for no more than 60 days until further medical information is received. Councilman Ron Schneider amended the motion, citing a city need for details of the condition and whether it is treatable. He also stipulated that the city receive the information within two weeks.

"Otherwise we could be sitting here for eons waiting for her to return," Schneider said.

The City Council, except for the absent Councilman Troy Block, approved the motion. Voting in favor were Holmquist, Schneider, Robert Lindahl and Mayor Perry Wohnoutka. No one was opposed.

The council was also informed Wednesday that the city faces threats of litigation from Aukrust.

Darval told the council that Spicer received a threat, though not a filing, of litigation from Aukrust's attorney. Further details were not revealed.

Darval recommended the threat of litigation from Aukrust's attorney should not be discussed at Wednesday's meeting, but that the council should schedule a closed meeting for discussion of the litigation and city strategy.

The council proceeded by scheduling a meeting to include a closed session for 7 p.m. Nov. 6.

Also on Wednesday, council members discussed options to appoint an "emergency, temporary interim administrator."

Members agreed they needed to immediately appoint an interim administrator to take care of urgent business. City Clerk LaNae Osmond informed the City Council that at least two issues needed the signature of an acting administrator by next week, including the city's bonding contract for the Lake Avenue South construction project.

The City Council approved a motion detailing the city's need for an interim administrator, the duties involved and the city's right to terminate the employment when necessary.

Lindahl questioned if they could find someone qualified for the temporary job.

Holmquist, Darval and Osmond recommended that the city approach Lori Campbell, the city's assistant financial officer, to fill the role.

Holmquist said Campbell previously filled the interim role "admirably" after former administrator Kimberly Wothe resigned in late February.

The council approved a motion to approach Campbell for the position.