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Spicer's public works director responds to mayor's complaints

SPICER -- Spicer's public works director responded Wednesday to complaints from the mayor. At the Dec. 26 meeting of the Spicer City Council, Mayor Perry Wohnoutka criticized the job performance of Public Works Director Daniel Haats. Haats' writt...

SPICER -- Spicer's public works director responded Wednesday to complaints from the mayor.

At the Dec. 26 meeting of the Spicer City Council, Mayor Perry Wohnoutka criticized the job performance of Public Works Director Daniel Haats.

Haats' written response was given Wednesday.

"I am being accused of things that are not true," Haats said in his report, according to Councilmen Troy Block's reading of the report.

Haats has not been to a city meeting since Nov. 15 when a harassment restraining order was granted to Haats against Wohnoutka. Haats filed for the harassment restraining order earlier in the month after numerous confrontations between Wohnoutka and himself.

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The conditions of the harassment restraining order prohibit the mayor from contacting Haats in any way except through City Administrator Kimberly Wothe. The harassment restraining order also stipulates that if Haats' attendance at a Spicer City Council meeting is required, Wohnoutka must excuse himself from the council chambers. The order is in effect until Feb. 15.

During the council's last meeting of 2007, Wohnoutka made four complaints involving Haats' performance.

n Haats ordered the water supply to the home of the mayor's daughter shut off, the mayor claims, without notification.

n The mayor also questioned Haats' personal use of his city-issued cell phone.

n Wohnoutka said Haats answered the city office's phone in one instance.

n According to the mayor, Haats told the city's snowplowing contractor on Dec. 23 not to sand the intersections of city roads when snow accumulated in the city.

In his Wednesday report read by Block, Haats said the water shut-off was done following the proper notifications. Wothe concurred, saying proper notice was given and the water was shut off according to the city's protocol for utilities.

"It's not good for a city to be cutting people's water off in the middle of the winter," Wohnoutka said Wednesday. "It's not good practice."

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Haats also said in his report that a previous council acted to allow him to use the city-issued cell phone for personal reasons because of his terms of employment. Wothe said in a Dec. 28 interview with the Tribune that Haats is always on call for the city in emergency situations, even while on vacation.

Wohnoutka said during the Dec. 26 meeting that "the city shouldn't be paying for roaming charges" allegedly incurred by Haats while in Colorado. Wohnoutka reported from Haats' city phone bill that Haats made calls while on vacation in Colorado to his residence in New London.

Wohnoutka again said Wednesday that he does not think it's fair for citizens to pay for a city employee's phone bills while he or she is on vacation.

During the Dec. 26 meeting when Wohnoutka originally aired his complaints, council members affirmed that Haats did answer the City Hall's phone and has been asked not to do so. The mayor could potentially be in violation of the restraining order if Haats would answer the phone when the mayor is trying to reach the city office.

There were no discussions Wednesday about the sanding of intersections.

Wothe said in the Dec. 28 interview that in her 15 years as a city clerk and administrator for the cities of Atwater and Spicer, she "could not recall" an instance when a member of the City Council complained about a city worker during a public meeting.

Councilmen Terry Holmquist said in a Dec. 31 interview that in his 13 years on Spicer's council, a public complaint about a city worker isn't unprecedented, but Holmquist would prefer to handle such a complaint through Spicer's personnel committee, of which he is a member.

The personnel committee is in charge of dealing with city employee-related grievances and makes personnel recommendations to the council.

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Haats was hired as a public works employee for the city of Spicer in 1997. Since then, Haats has had to meet with the personnel committee for only one or two minor grievances, Holmquist said during the Dec. 31 interview. Holmquist said he has been a member of the two-person personnel committee "since Bill Taylor was first elected mayor" in 1998.

Wothe, who supervises all city employees, said on Dec. 28 that Haats has "definitely been a great public works employee and is great for the city."

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