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Clarification sought on Wohnoutka restraining order

SPICER -- The Spicer City Council is hoping for clarification on the harassment restraining order granted to Public Works Director Dan Haats against Mayor Perry Wohnoutka.

SPICER -- The Spicer City Council is hoping for clarification on the harassment restraining order granted to Public Works Director Dan Haats against Mayor Perry Wohnoutka.

The council voted Wednesday during a special meeting to pay up to $1,000 in legal fees for Haats and Wohnoutka to seek clarification from the court about whether Wohnoutka's public complaints about Haats' job performance amount to a violation of the order.

"This whole thing is an adventure in legalism that I never wanted to embark on," said Councilman Terry Holmquist.

During the city's Dec. 26 meeting, Wohnoutka made at least four complaints about Haats' job performance, and there was significant discussion. At the Jan. 23 meeting, Darval and the council discussed the possibility of Haats taking legal action against the city over those public complaints. Haats has not indicated an intention to do so, but he did -- through his lawyer -- request the city's assistance in determining if the complaints were a violation of the harassment restraining order. Haats received a harassment restraining order against Wohnoutka on Nov. 15 after numerous confrontations between the two. The order expires Feb. 15.

Holmquist made the motion Wednesday evening to assist both parties with the related legal fees for the court's clarification of the restraining order.

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The council voted 3-2 to pay up to $1,000 in legal fees, with Councilman Ron Schneider and Wohnoutka dissenting. Councilmen Holmquist, Troy Block and Robert Lindahl voted yes.

Wednesday's special meeting was called initially with plans to close the meeting "to discuss issues raised in a letter to the council from city attorney Barry Darval," according to the notice. The city cited statute relating to "attorney-client" privilege in closing the meeting.

The Tribune notified the city and Darval earlier Wednesday of its objection to the closed meeting. The council did not act to close the meeting Wednesday evening.

"I think that we can address this (issue) without going into closed meeting if we operate under some basic principles here ... that we're looking for guidance in the future," Darval said.

" ... We're not going to discuss the parties involved or the acts or incidents that occurred. We're here to talk about: Is this request something the city should consider assisting the employee with?"

The issue described by Darval was mentioned briefly during the Jan. 23 meeting, but the council decided to delay further discussion about the issue until consulting further with the city's insurers and the League of Minnesota Cities about whether the issue could be discussed during a closed meeting.

During Wednesday's special meeting, Darval recommended that the city make a decision on Haats' request for city assistance without closing the meeting. Darval also recommended that the city reimburse both Haats and Wohnoutka for the legal fees as a way for the city to be educated for similar scenarios in the future.

Following Wohnoutka's Dec. 26 complaints, Haats himself responded to Wohnoutka's complaints in writing, and this was presented during the city's Jan. 9 meeting. Haats said that he had been "accused of things that are not true" and said that such complaints should be made in a documented form.

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Haats has not attended city meetings since the harassment restraining order was granted. The order specifies that Wohnoutka would have to excuse himself from city meetings if Haats were required to be present at the meeting.

The harassment restraining order prohibits Wohnoutka from having direct or indirect contact with Haats and prohibits phone calls, visits, threats, etc. The Minnesota statute definition of harassment includes "repeated incidents of intrusive or unwanted acts, words, or gestures that have a substantial adverse effect or are intended to have a substantial adverse effect."

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