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Crosby avoids repeat of mayor ejection incident

Members of the public gather for the Crosby City Council session Monday. Zach Kayser/Brainerd Dispatch

CROSBY—The Crosby City Council Monday managed to find a workaround so Mayor Jim Hunter wouldn't have to be kicked out of a meeting for the second week in a row.

Hunter was barred from a special meeting last week by city attorney Joseph Langel on the grounds Hunter had a conflict of interest regarding the meeting's topic. Hunter's personal attorney, Ed Shaw, threatened a lawsuit if the city barred him from a meeting again.

Both the special meeting last week and the closed session Monday dealt with arbitration stemming from the wrongful termination case of Crosby Police Officer Jesse Smith, which originated nearly five years ago.

Langel declined to specify what Hunter's conflict of interest was in an interview. However, Hunter and the Crosby Police Department have clashed since Hunter's arrest in March on multiple felony charges, including assault and theft by swindle. Shaw contended the arrest was a personal vendetta on the part of Crosby police leadership.

However on Monday, Langel said just before the council went into closed session the city crafted the meeting agenda in such a way that a conflict of interest would be avoided and Hunter could attend.

The full chamber of onlookers waited while the council went into a different room and discussed the arbitration. After about 45 minutes of closed session, the city council came back into the public chambers and the council members voted to accept an arbitrator's decision in the Smith case; opting not to appeal. Hunter did not vote.

An officer with the Crosby Police Department, Smith was placed on paid administrative leave for alleged officer misconduct in August of 2012 and fired on Jan. 28, 2013. Smith got his job back in 2014 when an arbitrator through the Minnesota Bureau of Mediation Services ruled in his favor.

Smith was fired a second time on Oct. 6, 2016. Smith filed a grievance, protesting his termination and the case—between the city of Crosby and the Teamsters Union—went through arbitration.

In late May, Arbitrator Frank E. Kapsch Jr., issued a decision overturning Crosby's decision to terminate Smith and ordered the police officer to be reinstated to his previous position.

Kapsch ruled the city did not have "just cause" to terminate Smith and that it violated the union's labor agreement. The decision required the city to give Smith full back pay and fringe benefits and all city records that reference his termination must be expunged.

Council appoints replacement member

The council also voted to appoint Bob Novak to fill out the term of Jim Goshey, who resigned June 7.

In a letter to the council, Goshey cited an increase in workload as his reason to leave.

"This decision has been a difficult one that I have given much consideration over the last few months and is NOT based on any single issue within the city," Goshey wrote. "There will be some difficult decisions to be made in the near future but I know this city will survive and thrive!"

Novak, 68, is not a lifelong resident of Crosby but has strong roots there. He graduated from Crosby-Ironton High School in 1966 before attaining a degree in political science and speech from the University of Minnesota.

Novak went on to become a Russian translator for the U.S. Army Security Agency. He spent his main career in sales and human resources at 3M. He returned to Crosby in 1999 and owned and operated Hallett House Bed and Breakfast in retirement, later selling the business. Together with Scott Berg, Novak operates PineCone Antiques & Art in Deerwood.

He is expected to be sworn in at the next city council meeting.

Interviewed Monday, Novak said he applied in order to help the city gain stability.

"I hope that we can just take a more steady approach in the future to the issues and avoid some of the confusion that we've had in the past," he said.