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City of Spicer reaches a severance agreement with administrator

SPICER -- The city of Spicer's severance agreement with its administrator became official Wednesday after a 15-day rebuttal period passed.

On March 3, the Spicer City Council approved the terms of a severance agreement with City Administrator Andrea Aukrust after months of lawsuit threats and negotiations. Both parties signed the agreement and the city granted Aukrust a 15-day period to withdraw from the agreement.

As of Wednesday, Mayor Denny Baker said he had received no correspondence of a rebuttal by Aukrust before the agreement's grace period expired.

Attorney Patricia Beety of the League of Minnesota Cities Insurance Trust, who represented and advised Spicer in negotiations with Aukrust's attorney, confirmed Thursday that Aukrust did not withdraw from the settlement prior to Wednesday's expiration deadline.

Baker said the city's agreement with Aukrust was critical to the progress of Spicer.

"From my standpoint as mayor, I felt it was extremely important that we get the matter settled from the previous council; that we are able to move on with a new slate and do the workings of the city as uninterrupted as possible," Baker said.

According to the written agreement, Spicer will pay Aukrust $15,000 in severance to mutually resolve all disputes between her and the city. However, if Aukrust files for and is awarded unemployment benefits, she would have to forfeit $7,500 of the severance to the city if Spicer is attributed to the benefits.

The contract also indicates the League of Minnesota Cities Insurance Trust will pay, on behalf of the insured city of Spicer, $10,000 to Aukrust and her attorney as part of the deal.

Baker said he was pleased with how the council handled the process.

"As I took office, I didn't set my sights on any timeline. ... But apparently, with what we've seen with the agreement and the settlement with the city administrator, it apparently has gone over OK," Baker said.

"I'm happy with how this council is moving ahead to serve Sp-icer in the best possible way."

Prior to the settlement, Aukrust had been on unpaid medical leave since Oct. 29, when she informed the city that a doctor ordered her not to return to work. No information about her condition or the reason for her leave of absence was made public.

According to archives, Aukrust also had not attended a City Council meeting since Sept. 24.

During her absence, Aukrust threatened litigation against the city for reasons never stated publicly. In response, the City Council -- which welcomed three new members in January -- held two special closed meetings on Nov. 6 and Jan. 8 to discuss the situation. The council did not take any action following the meetings.

Meanwhile, a city-hired mediator also reported in December that the city office's disputes were nearly resolved. The council hired the mediator in September after numerous issues came to light, capped by Aukrust and City Clerk LaNae Osmond looking to file grievances against each other.

City Attorney Barry Darval clarified after the City Council's decision that Spicer hired a mediator "to deal with issues and problems that exist as a whole and for the benefit of the entire staff and council."

Spicer hired Aukrust as the city's administrator and economic development authority director in April 2008 after former longtime administrator Kimberly Wothe and EDA director Jean Spaulding both resigned in February 2008.

According to previous reports, Aukrust came to Spicer with no city administration experience but highly touted with a master's degree in urban development.

She also had managerial experience from working for a New Ulm trucking company and organizing city improvement projects for Mankato's City Center Renaissance program.