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Spicer discusses proposal for lawsuit threats by city administrator

SPICER -- Spicer City Council closed Thursday's special meeting to discuss with an attorney the litigation the city's administrator has threatened for over three months.

The Tribune objected to the closure of the meeting because no litigation is pending. However, attorney Patricia Beety of the League of Minnesota Cities' Insurance Trust advised the council to close the meeting. No action was taken after the closed session.

According to Beety, the league received a revised proposal for settlement from City Administrator Andrea Aukrust's legal representation on Monday. Beety said Thursday's meeting was called for the council to discuss that proposal.

"The threatened litigation has not gone away," Beety said. "We still have threatened legal claims. In fact, at this point in time, we also have a recent revised proposal by the employee who is threatening the legal claims to resolve them. It is more important than ever that I have an opportunity to talk to you, the City Council, about the settlement proposal and that we have candid discussion about our (Spicer's) response to it."

The Tribune received a notice about the special closed meeting on Dec. 26. The notice indicated the meeting's purpose was to "discuss the threat of litigation."

Prior to the meeting's closure, Beety clarified to the Tribune that Aukrust's attorney still has not filed civil litigation against the city.

Minnesota's Open Meeting Law contains an exception allowing a meeting to be closed if it is "permitted by the attorney-client privilege."

Beety said the "attorney-client privilege" of the law applies because of the legal threats and the settlement proposal.

"We are allowed to close the meeting, in my opinion, under the standards set out by the (state) Supreme Court in the Prior Lake American (v. Mader) case," Beety said.

On Nov. 6, the council held a similar closed meeting to discuss a litigation strategy. According to Beety, the league received two claims from the city over Aukrust's litigation threats. The claims were dated Oct. 8 and Oct. 28.

The Tribune stated its objection to closing the Nov. 6 meeting in a letter faxed and e-mailed to City Attorney Barry Darval and other Spicer city officials. A similar letter was sent to the same parties and Beety on Thursday afternoon. The objections were also noted in the official record Nov. 6 and Thursday evening.

In recent council and Personnel Committee meetings, multiple discussions have involved a transition plan for easing Aukrust back into her work at city hall.

She has been on unpaid medical leave since Oct. 29 after informing the city that a doctor ordered her not to return to work.

The city has yet to receive approval from Aukrust's physician that she can return to work. No information has been provided on her condition.

During Wednesday's regular meeting, the council approved a transition plan for Aukrust if/when she returns. The transition plan -- which is expected to last up to two weeks -- will consist of a series of meetings the first week between Aukrust, interim administrator Wayne Thompson and the Personnel Committee, according to Tribune archives.

The meetings are designed to help Aukrust get reacquainted with the staff at City Hall and the issues facing the council. During the second week of the plan, Aukrust will perform her duties with Thompson acting as supervisor. He will also report on her progress.

Aukrust would also need to notify the city of any limitations she might have that prevent her from completing her duties.