The Nisswa City Council voted Thursday, Oct. 15, to deny a request by Mayor Fred Heidmann to launch an investigation into a number of misconduct claims against city employees alleged by the mayor himself.
Council members considered whether the city should investigate the Nisswa Police Department, Nisswa police chief, and a number of city employees for varying kinds of personal misconduct. Heidmann advised the council to hire a third-party firm to undertake the investigation, as well as provide channels for people to communicate their concerns without fear of retribution.
With Heidmann abstaining, the council voted 4-0 against the proposal. Heidmann’s motion to explore hiring a third-party investigative firm failed for lack of a second.
During a meeting in mid-September, Heidmann made allegations that Police Chief Craig Taylor threatened Heidmann and others; that two of four women cried when sharing their Taylor encounters with Heidmann; that five marriages were destroyed by poor police conduct; that an officer allegedly had sex with a mentally challenged woman; that a husband allegedly came home, found an officer with his wife and was arrested when he became upset; and this year it was brought to the council’s attention that an officer or officers may have been having sex with a woman or women at city hall and the council failed to act on it.
“We need to investigate things that I think we’re all aware of in the minutes of meetings and different things here and there,” Heidmann said Thursday. “Give the public an option and a way to communicate their concerns to the city that they’re afraid of doing in any other way, because of fear of being judged, attacked, retribution against them. There’s a lot of concern out there. … The big piece of this is to let the citizens know that we have their back.”
Heidmann’s accusations come on the heels of a public incident on Aug. 29 that featured an expletive-laden rant from the mayor on the side of Highway 371. Heidmann chastised Nisswa and Pequot Lakes police officers who were in the midst of conducting a Toward Zero Deaths traffic stop unrelated to the Nisswa mayor, ending with Heidmann’s arrest for obstruction of justice and disorderly conduct. The latter incident was filmed alongside body camera footage from officers and received national attention.
Earlier in the summer, Heidmann was criticized when he made social media posts in June in which he expressed solidarity for racially charged sentiments by a Forestview Middle School teacher. A number of other politically charged social media posts were also scrutinized.
The Nisswa City Council condemned Heidmann in both instances, with the roadside confrontation culminating in arrest prompting the council to ask for Heidmann’s resignation while also removing him from all committee appointments. The mayor declined to resign and is on the ballot to reclaim his seat this November. He is also set to be arraigned for the charges Dec. 16.
In heated comments Thursday, council members questioned Heidmann’s motives for launching an investigation at this time and ultimately denied the proposal for lack of substantive evidence. They also questioned Heidmann on why he didn’t address the issue through official channels intended for that purpose.
“Some of the things that you said tonight, kind of remind me of what I call it, ‘he said she said,’ situation,” council member Don Jacobson said. “I’m wondering, do you have any substantive information, any hard data that you can present to back up what you’re saying?”
Heidmann stated he’s tried to reform how the city addresses employee issues in the past and repeatedly alleged — while there aren’t official complaints to address — there’s evidence in meeting transcripts the council discussed misconduct and are negligent in their duties by ignoring the issue.
At least one time prior to the disorderly conduct incident, Heidmann did raise concerns about a Nisswa police officer at a public meeting. On May 20, the mayor opposed the promotion of an officer to sergeant because he said he’d heard the officer handled something in the city unfavorably. Heidmann voted in opposition to the promotion and promptly left the meeting when the promotion passed 4-1.
At different points Thursday, council members said they weren’t aware of what Heidmann was alleging. Heidmann said council member Mike Hoff hasn’t been on the governing body long enough to have knowledge of most of these accusations, but should have done his due diligence to research the matter himself.
“There’s information in our minutes, there’s information in discussions we’ve had, there’s information in just knowing what’s going on here at city hall and has been going on at city hall,” Heidmann said.
“We can’t move forward on vague accusations and hearsay, and you should know better than that,” council member Gary Johnson said later. “You continually talk about how this council knows this and we know that — it’s false, Fred, it is false.”
“It’s in the minutes,” Heidmann replied.
“You’re the one bringing it up, you go back to the minutes,” Johnson said. “This is a colossal waste of time.”
“I can’t force you guys to do your job,” Heidmann said.
“You’re the one bringing it up,” Johnson said. “I’m not going to dig through it if you make these accusations. These items have not been before the council in the 12 years I’ve been here.”
“You are not being accurate. You are not being accurate,” Heidmann said to Johnson. “Because you just admitted, so to speak, that you were aware of some of them.”
“I do not,” Johnson said.
Speaking during public comments, Nisswa resident Cam Dorion asked Heidmann why — after four years as mayor and, according to Heidmann, after hearing six to nine complaints against the police department — Heidmann never consulted with the city attorney or brought the matter forward to be investigated until now. Heidmann said this wouldn’t be a matter to bring before the city attorney.
“Do you think if you hadn’t been arrested and embarrassed the town of Nisswa, you would be doing this right now?” Dorion asked.
“It’s been kinda in the works,” Heidmann responded.
“Who do you think is going to pay for this investigation?” Dorion asked.
Heidmann answered that because the investigation involves employees of the city of Nisswa, it would fall to the city of Nisswa to foot the bill. He further stated some employees may be reluctant to make themselves known publicly and said the one objective is to reform employee conduct policies so the city of Nisswa respects and protects its residents. He noted he’s discussed these allegations with the city attorney and the personnel committee, but not in an official fashion.
“I just got to say, as a citizen, it’s so funny to me how after all these years, all these
accusations you’ve never talked to the attorney,” said Dorion, who described the proposal for an investigation as a waste of taxpayer dollars. “It’s just before the election, and you just embarrassed our city. Now you’re doing this. It’s a little fishy. It’s a little funny. It’s like you’re trying to take the heat off of you and put it on somebody else.”