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Crosslake city attorney asks not to be reappointed

In a letter to the Crosslake City Council on Monday night, Jan. 14, current city civil attorney Michael Couri asked not to be reappointed, citing meetings between the mayor, a council member and two council members-elect just before the new year.

Couri has been civil attorney for Crosslake for five years. Each year the city appoints an attorney as part of its organizational matters at the first council meeting of the year.

Couri praised the city for its many amenities and the fact that Crosslake “does so many things that other cities in Minnesota can only dream about,” but went on to say that private discussions between mayor Darrell Schneider, council member John Moengen and one or more of the newly elected council members violates the public’s trust.

The Echo reported Dec. 13 that Crosslake attorney Brad Person said he met with Schneider, Moengen and recently elected council members Gary Heacox and Mark Wessels to discuss city business, in groups of two.

Had the newly elected council members been sworn in, the meetings could have been in violation of the Minnesota Open Meeting Law. Though they were elected, Heacox’s and Wessels’ terms had not yet begun.

Couri stated that the meetings are not a technical violation of the law, but said Dec. 10 that such meetings went against the intent of the Open Meeting Law.

“It has been my experience that the most valuable asset that a city council possesses is the public’s trust,” Couri stated in his letter to the council, read at the Jan. 14 meeting.

“As the city’s attorney, my job is to represent the city and help implement policy set by the city council. If that policy is decided in private, in a meeting that but for the passage of time would be a violation of the Open Meeting Law, my ability to implement that policy will fall under the same cloud of suspicion that has descended upon the four members who met with Mr. Person.”

The council will meet at 9 a.m. Friday, Jan. 18, to publicly interview attorneys and discuss council goals. The council chose not to advertise the position. Couri said he will remain the city’s attorney until a replacement is appointed.

The council made committee and commission appointments Jan. 14.

Council member Steve Roe will serve as liaison to the buildings and grounds, economic development authority and recycling committees; Moengen will serve as liaison to communications, fire department and public works/cemetery/sewer and personnel committees; Wessels will serve as liaison to the economic development authority and parks and recreation/library committees; Schneider will serve as personnel committee and public safety liaison; and Heacox will serve as planning and zoning liaison. Police Chief Bob Hartman was named emergency management director.

Planning and zoning commission member Aaron Herzog was made an alternate, and David Nevin and Scott Johnson were named planning and zoning commission members. Al Ploeger was appointed to a six-year economic development authority term.

In other organizational business Monday, the council:

• Designated Moengen as acting mayor.

• Named Frandsen Bank, BlackRidge Bank, Lakes State Bank, 4M Fund, RiverWood Bank and Merrill Lynch as official depositories. The mayor, acting mayor and clerk/treasurer are designated signatories on the checking and savings accounts; the mayor, acting mayor, general manager of Crosslake Communications and city clerk/treasurer are signatories for utilities checking and savings account.

• Appointed Widseth Smith Nolting as the city’s engineering firm.

• After some deliberation, appointed Northland Press as the official city newspaper.

• Appointed Johnson, Killen and Seiler as labor attorney, Mallie Law Office as prosecuting attorney, and Briggs and Morgan as bond counsel.

• Approved the schedule of regular council meetings, which will be at 7 p.m. the second Monday of the month, with the exception of the November meeting, due to Veteran’s Day.

• Approved Schneider as weed inspector and city staff Ted Strand as assistant weed inspector.