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Nisswa City Council: Craig Taylor reinstated as Nisswa Police chief

NISSWA — Nisswa Police Chief Craig Taylor, who was suspended Aug. 15 and denied an offer to resign in exchange for a year’s pay, was formally reinstated as chief Wednesday night at a Nisswa City Council meeting.

Taylor was reinstated in a three to one vote. Council member Tina Foster voted against reinstating Taylor.

Several people spoke out against the council’s action to offer Taylor severance for his resignation, accusing the council of acting behind closed doors.

At the beginning of the meeting, Mayor Brian Lehman apologized to Taylor, the council, the public at large and stakeholders who are not voters.

“I think we’ve had a lot of damage done. I don’t know how long it will take to recover from the damage that has been done. I think the city council was given legal advice that I don’t necessarily know was in the best interest of the city or actually legal,” Lehman said.

City Attorney Clyde Ahlquist hosted two city council meetings at his office in Pequot Lakes, on Aug. 15 and Wednesday morning. The Aug. 15 meeting was closed in part to discuss preliminary allegations or charges against an employee.

On Aug. 16, an offer from the council, drafted by Ahlquist, was presented to Taylor offering a year’s pay and benefits in exchange for his resignation. The offer also stipulated that he not disclose the details of the agreement or disparage the council or the mayor.

Taylor rejected the offer. He maintains that he has no sustained complaints against him and has never had any disciplinary action taken against him. He said he believed he received the offer for speaking out at a July 17 city council meeting in which the council considered hiring a city administrator.

Taylor said by phone that believed he would be fired at the Wednesday morning meeting, but at that meeting Ahlquist informed the council that the city has received a maintenance of status quo order from the Minnesota Bureau of Mediation Services (BMS).

The order bars the city from making any staffing changes and was sent to the city following a petition the BMS received for unionization among supervisory and confidential employees. BMS mediator Mike Stockstead said supervisory employees could include department heads or a police chief.

Wednesday night, Taylor addressed the council and a crowd of about 70 people gathered at Nisswa City Hall. He said he hoped the situation was in the past.

“I hope this incident can be put behind us. I hope it’s not resurrected in the future,” Taylor said. “I have no hard feelings. This is resolved, I forgive, we’ll forget and we’ll move on.”

Two staff came forward during the meeting’s public forum saying that Lehman threatened them with their jobs.

City clerk Laurie Hemish said: “I have never been so humiliated in my life than when you (Lehman) called me into the room to ask for my resignation if I don’t keep my mouth shut.”

Mike Wegener, city wastewater operator, said that five years ago he was threatened by Lehman, who reminded him he’s an at-will employee.

Parks and recreation director Paula Anderson said that she had cleaned out her desk and planned to resign if other staff members were fired.

Two members of the public, former mayor and council member Harold Krause and resident Fred Heidmann, requested the mayor’s resignation. Others who spoke at the meeting suggested the council find a new city attorney.

Lehman did not respond to the requests during the meeting, nor was the attorney’s position addressed.