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Swenson resigns as Crosslake city administrator

Crosslake city administrator Tom Swenson submitted his resignation to the council Monday night, Dec. 10, “in protest.”

Swenson submitted his resignation in a lengthy letter to the mayor, which Swenson read aloud at the council meeting.

Swenson, who has been administrator in Crosslake for 15 1/2 years, will retire Dec. 31.

He explained in the letter that mayor Darrell Schneider and council member John Moengen approached him in November saying the new council in 2013 would be restructuring city management, and they asked Swenson what his plans for retirement were.

Swenson, 58, was eligible for retirement after 33 years working in city government, but was concerned over his ability to make it on his pension, specifically his ability to pay health insurance. The employee handbook states a retirement at his age and experience would provide only 50 percent of his single coverage.

Swenson requested a package similar to what Arlene Buchite, former city clerk, received when she was asked to retire. That package included full single health care until age 65.

Swenson’s letter went on to state that Moengen and Schneider reported “getting pushback from people in the community” regarding the full coverage, and they would not support it.

His letter also stated that the mayor told Swenson he was “incompatible for Crosslake.”

“When I asked where does this leave me,” Swenson’s letter stated, “you (Schneider) stated I could get another job.

“… Both you (Schneider) and Mr. (Mark) Wessels (council member-elect) have taken it upon yourselves to approach some city employees to let them know their jobs are safe while leaving other employees wondering about their fate. Those actions have created both a hostile work environment and a negative impact on employee morale throughout the city,” Swenson stated.

Schneider said the letter was “not entirely correct, in my opinion, but rather than argue some of the little things I’m willing to let that go for the moment.”

Council member Dean Swanson made a motion to accept a resolution for full health care, and council member Steve Roe seconded the motion.

“I 100 percent agree with Tom’s position,” Swanson said. “I think Tom Swenson has been an excellent employee for this city. I think the city of Crosslake is in good financial position at this point due to the efforts he has put forth along with his staff.”

Roe also praised Swenson, as did staff members who approached the podium.

Schneider said there was a significant cost to the city, around $47,000, for what was laid out by the employee manual. The full health care added roughly an extra $26,000, Moengen said.

The motion to accept Swenson’s resignation with full health care was passed 4-1, with Schneider casting the only vote against.

Moengen said, “We have people pushing us to reduce budget, reduce head count. We’re in a position that we can move forward without a city administrator.”

Both Moengen and Schneider said Swenson had mentioned to them at least months ago that he was preparing to retire.

The council then appointed clerk/treasurer Jenny Max to take Swenson’s duties on a temporary basis, at least for the period of time from Swenson’s last day to the council’s first meeting thereafter, which is Jan. 14, 2013.

Swenson’s resignation came as a surprise to many in the meeting audience, and two citizens voiced their disagreement with the restructuring during open forum. Outgoing council members Rusty Taubert and Swanson also said they did not agree with restructuring city management.

Pat Netko, owner of Lake Country Crafts and Cones on County Road 66, said she was “appalled.” She stressed to the council that Swenson resigned “in protest.”

Netko asked the mayor, “When I come to all these meetings where you look to Tom (Swenson) for answers, who is going to answer those now?”

Darlene Roach, former Crosslake city clerk, also stepped up to the podium.

“I took over after Arlene Buchite left,” She said. “That’s when Tom (Swenson) came on board. Every building in this city has been replaced in the years I was here, roads have been paved, sewer facility put in, on and on and on. And why did all of this happen? It’s because of that man right there who did it,” she said, pointing at Swenson.

Council member Swanson said, “Darlene and I are probably the only ones who were around here who know what it was like when we didn’t have an administrator. I think she’ll back me up that it was a disaster.”

Though Swenson made it clear at the meeting that he would have worked several more years, he said in a phone call after the meeting that he’s relieved with the resolution, and plans to take time to relax in the new year.

“I’ve been doing this for 33 years, and it’s time to just take a break,” he said.

He said he’ll look into some volunteering possibilities around town, and he is excited to relax and enjoy the area.

“Like everyone, you move up here for the activities and fishing, and now I’ll actually have the time to do it, so I’m looking forward to it,” he said.

At the meeting, Swenson thanked former mayors Darrell Swanson and Jay Andolshek “for their vision and leadership,” council member Dean Swanson for his support, and the many commission members and council members he’d worked with over the years for their support.

“Mostly I want to thank the employees who have become like family to me. This city is blessed to have such a competent and dedicated group of employees,” Swenson said.