Crosslake: Two employees speak out about complaints they filed against mayor
Police chief, planning and zoning administrator say they have no confidence in the process
Two Crosslake city employees who filed respectful workplace complaints against the city’s mayor are speaking out about the way the city council handled the complaints.
Police Chief Erik Lee and Planning and Zoning Administrator Jon Kolstad said they had no confidence in the process after the full council met in closed session to discuss Kolstad’s complaint - which cited Mayor Dave Nevin, council member Marcia Seibert-Volz and the full council - yet Kolstad wasn’t allowed to present his side.
"I don’t necessarily disagree with what the mayor is doing. It’s his process of getting there that’s causing conflict."
— Erik Lee, Crosslake police chief
Lee withdrew his complaint, saying he had no confidence in the city council to hold Nevin responsible for his actions. Lee said it’s all about the process.
“It’s about the treatment staff is receiving and the perception that staff is refusing to work with the council, which is completely not the case,” he said by phone Friday, June 25.
“I don’t necessarily disagree with what the mayor is doing. It’s his process of getting there that’s causing conflict,” Lee said, noting his main point is everyone needs to get in check and know everyone is working for what is best for the city - but they must all follow the process.
Lee said he’s not trying to work against Nevin; rather, he’s trying to work for the city.
"This is another example of Mayor Nevin bullying employees and getting away with it."
— Jon Kolstad, Crosslake planning and zoning administrator
In January, the city council hired attorney Stacy Johnston, of Duluth, as a third party mediator at $270 per hour to investigate a respectful workplace complaint. The hiring came after an incident Jan. 5 over installment of an outdoor sign near city hall that involved unnamed city staff members, Nevin and Seibert-Volz. The incident included alleged threats that led Lee to turn the matter over to the Baxter Police Department.
The Crow Wing County attorney’s office ultimately declined to charge anyone. Nevin and Seibert-Volz said no threats were made.
In April, it was learned that the council had considered a respectful workplace complaint that an employee initiated, and the council took no disciplinary action.
Lee withdrew his complaint June 15, the day after the council met in closed session to discuss respectful workplace complaints.
Kolstad said a third complaint against Nevin is still pending.
Lee said his complaint cited disrespectful behavior in meetings and in the public by Nevin. In his letter to City Administrator MIke Lyonais withdrawing his complaint, Lee said:
“After last night’s closed session meeting, I came to the realization that the process is flawed. Mayor Nevin was allowed to participate in the meeting that he was the subject of. Two different complaints filed against him and the subject of the complaint gets a platform to defend himself while the two complainants have no ability to participate?!”
He also took issue with the council not meeting about his complaint until five weeks after it was filed, as well as money spent on the complaints.
“The citizens of Crosslake spent thousands of dollars of taxpayer money and they see nothing for it,” Lee wrote, apologizing if his complaint cost the city any money.
In response to a request, Lyonais shared that the city’s labor attorney said the city has paid Audacity LLC $6,576.90 for investigative services.
“Although my complaint, like Mr. Kolstad’s complaint, is legitimate, the result will only make the citizens and taxpayers of Crosslake victims,” Lee wrote. “As of right now, I know in my heart that nothing will come of this.”
However, he wrote, the actions of the mayor and some council members are wrong and should be corrected.
Kolstad said in an email that he requested a copy of the report regarding his complaint, which he filed Jan. 12, as well as the council vote in closed session. Both requests were denied, he said, because the information was private since no disciplinary action was taken.
“I am curious as to why the mayor and council member Seibert-Volz were allowed to attend the closed session and be a part of the decision to hide the report as they were both named in the complaint, yet I was not allowed to present my side of the events, nor see the outcome of their decision,” he wrote.
Kolstad said his complaint is his to share. He also said in the email:
“It is important to note that, when determining if a work environment is hostile or offensive, it is the victim’s perception that is important; the intent of the harasser is irrelevant. Being held accountable may feel like an attack if you are not ready to acknowledge how your words, actions and decisions impact others.”
Kolstad sent his complaint to Lyonais the day after a council meeting based on comments he said Nevin and Seibert-Volz made at that meeting regarding the investigation of potential physical threat to him by the mayor on Jan. 5.
"After last night’s closed session meeting, I came to the realization that the process is flawed. Mayor Nevin was allowed to participate in the meeting that he was the subject of. Two different complaints filed against him and the subject of the complaint gets a platform to defend himself while the two complainants have no ability to participate?!"
— Erik Lee, Crosslake police chief
Kolstad said he wanted to file a formal complaint that Nevin violated the city employee handbook for threatening retaliation for Kolstad’s actions.
Specifically, Kolstad said Nevin brought forward in a public meeting the allegations against him while the investigation was still ongoing; Nevin called out in public the names of the employees involved, implying the employees were lying about the encounter, which could be considered defamation of character; Nevin implied there would be consequences for the employee’s actions, and Seibert-Volz reiterated that the employees’ allegations were false before the investigation was completed; and at no point did other council members stop Nevin from continuing the conversation, which made them complicit with the allegations and retaliatory threats.
“This is another example of Mayor Nevin bullying employees and getting away with it,” Kolstad wrote.
Asked for a response to Lee’s and Kolstad’s comments, Nevin said by phone Friday, June 25: “I’m just a simple guy who likes to get things done. I have a hard time with government bureaucracy and no intelligence dealing with it.”
He said he’s never attacked or gone after anybody.
“I’m just trying to do the best I can for the city - spend their money wisely and get as much done as I can,” Nevin said, adding city staff can’t stand him and are trying to get rid of him.
Nevin said again he’s a simple guy who deals on emotions and money.
Nancy Vogt may be reached at 218-855-5877 or email@example.com. Follow her on Facebook and on Twitter at www.twitter.com/@PEJ_Nancy.