Nisswa has a new police sergeant after Todd Szymanski - a Nisswa police officer since July 2017 - was promoted to that position effective Thursday, May 21.

His promotion didn’t come without conflict as the mayor voted against it and left the Wednesday, May 20, city council meeting after the four council members voted in favor of promoting Szymanski. The regular council meeting was available online via Zoom, though the full council attended at city hall.

Mayor Fred Heidmann said he had heard Szymanski handled something in the city unfavorably so he was not in favor of hiring him as sergeant. He cited lack of experience, maturity and professionalism in Szymanski.

None of the council members had any knowledge of the incident Heidmann mentioned, and said the regular council meeting was not the place to discuss a personnel issue.

A committee of City Administrator Jenny Max, Public Works Director Tom Blomer and Parks and Recreation Director Matthew Hill interviewed the three internal candidates for the position and voted unanimously to recommend Szymanski. Police Chief Craig Taylor was present for the interviews.

When asked about any incident, Max said the matter was investigated and was unsubstantiated. She said it wasn’t a serious issue and the sergeant position would have a probationary period. Max and Taylor were aware of the issue.

Council member Mike Hoff said the council had to trust personnel who investigated the incident and deemed it unsubstantiated.

Heidmann asked who said it was unsubstantiated, saying he knew for a fact it was substantiated. Whoever made that determination is either biased or foolish, the mayor said.

Council member John Ryan reiterated that the council should not discuss a personnel matter at the regular meeting, and that no one on an interview panel has the right to know what is in a candidate’s personnel file.

“That makes for a really great hiring process,” Heidmann said, adding it was an injustice not to seek candidates outside the city.

After the council voted 4-1 to hire Szymanski, Heidmann stood and said: “I have to excuse myself. Have a good evening gentleman.”

After he left, council member Gary Johnson took over the meeting as mayor pro tem. At the end of the meeting, Johnson said he thought it was disappointing and unprofessional for the mayor to leave the meeting because a vote did not go the way he wanted.

Hoff and Ryan echoed that thought, saying they were disappointed in the mayor’s action.

“When talking personnel matters, you have to be so careful because you can end up in a world of trouble very fast. And that’s not what we’re here for,” Ryan said. “Our obligation is to the citizens and not to put the city in harm’s way.”

According to the city’s website, Szymanski worked full time at the Crow Wing County Jail for six years and part time with the Breezy Point Police Department for four years before joining the Nisswa Police Department.

He grew up in the Pequot Lakes area and graduated from Pequot Lakes High School where he played hockey and baseball. He earned a degree in criminal justice from Central Lakes College.

He enjoys family, hunting, fishing and other outdoor activities.

His starting salary is $54,246.

In other police department action, the council denied a request from the five police officers asking for a $3 per hour pay adjustment for hours worked between March 10 and May 3 because of the COVID-19 pandemic. The request came after the council previously gave that pay adjustment for that timeframe to all Spirits of Nisswa and Pickle Factory employees because of potential exposure those employees faced while working.

The officers said in a memo that they have continued to provide services, putting them at great risk of exposure.

The council wanted to see a dollar amount related to the request, and a letter from the police officers’ union saying this wouldn’t set a precedent.

Johnson said he didn’t consider the pay bump for Spirits employees a result of increased danger, but rather as a way to give back to employees who had a record month of sales.

“I’m disappointed in this request,” he said. “When you sign up to be a police officer, you sign up for a lot of dangers. This to me is just silly and I’m not in favor of it at all.”

Ryan said liquor operation employees lost work hours and tips because of the shutdown, whereas officers haven’t lost any pay.

Police, fire reports

The police report for April listed 124 calls for service, 22 agency assists, 28 traffic warnings, 12 traffic citations, 16 emergency medical services calls and one criminal citation.

The Nisswa fire report listed 33 calls in April, including 29 emergency medical calls and one each all-terrain vehicle accident, vehicle fire, mutual aid to Brainerd and mutual aid to Pequot Lakes.

Fire Chief Shawn Bailey said in his report that April was different with meetings in groups of 10 or less over three nights. On calls, firefighters protect themselves with masks and gloves.

Nancy Vogt may be reached at 218-855-5877 or nancy.vogt@pineandlakes.com. Follow her on Facebook and on Twitter at www.twitter.com/@PEJ_Nancy.