Insurance reinstated, Greenfield removes Park Advisory Chair

It was announced by Greenfield Mayor Brad Johnson, at the city’s June 18 council meeting, that the League of Minnesota Cities Insurance Trust (LMCIT) has fully reinstated the city’s policy, restoring it to “unrestricted coverage.”

This is due in large part to positive changes that have occurred over the last few years resulting in civil and productive council meetings.

The city lost all but basic “slip and fall” coverage in 2009 following a large insurance payout over an employment matter that put it on the radar of the LMC along with subsequent council infighting, hostile public meetings, high employment turnover and allegations of open meeting violations. The city purchased additional coverage from an outside vendor but, unfortunately, it did not cover the city’s legal expenses in a suit brought by three members of the previous council, all who served during the LMCIT cancellation. The city did defend itself successfully without paying out damages to any of the parties (who alleged their privacy was breached when they were advised to hand over phone records due to a data practices request) but did amass a legal bill of more than $130,000.

The city has had increments of coverage restored beginning 2011. This newest development is good news for the city, and demonstrates that the LMCIT’s confidence has been restored.

This news also played a part in an item the council addressed during the June 18 meeting.

On the agenda was a resolution relating to the removal of Greenfield Park Advisory Chair, Victoria Dukes. Dukes has served on the Park Advisory since its inception as a committee in 2011. She regularly attends council meetings and is often asked to clarify information that comes before the council regarding park-related projects and planning.

The ensuing conversation, which included the full council, Dukes, her husband Jack Dukes, and the city’s attorney, Jeff Carson, was difficult to follow for attendees, but an apparent back story leading up to some council members’ concern and subsequent action was included and submitted in several pages of documentation (much of it written by Dukes, along with copies of associated emails).

What was offered as the main reason for Dukes’ removal form the Park Advisory stems from a tour she took of a local playground construction firm. It was noted that her reports of this visit to the advisory in April and May had several discrepancies and a varied level of enthusiasm. Referenced as a “discrepancy” was a half an hour of touring time and saying that she stayed for lunch with the vendor and other potential customers when she had not. Attorney Carson was consulted and detailed, in a memo to the council, what occurred next and how the council could proceed.

“Members of the City Council spoke with Ms. Dukes asking her to explain the discrepancies between the accounts of her visit between April and May Park Board meetings. On June 4, 2013, she agreed to prepare a ‘clarification letter’ which was received the following day on June 5th. Ms. Dukes tenured her resignation from the Park Advisory on June 7, 2013.  On June 8, 2013, Ms. Dukes rescinded her resignation by email directly to the Mayor and City Administrator.

Members of a park advisory serve at the pleasure of the City Council and my be removed at any time for any reason.”

Dukes’ position, which she chronicled in an eight-page timeline, conveys that she felt blind-sided over the concern of her meeting with a vendor. She also notes that at the May meeting of the advisory, another member added an agenda issue that became a discussion over whether or not she, Dukes, was acting on her own in some situations on behalf of the advisory. Her clarification letter concludes:

“When the April 24th the meeting occurred, I was full of excitement about all of the information I had received, and the prospect of getting this project started. It was during this time of excitement that I misspoke, interjecting a ‘we’ into a sentence where I should have said ‘they.’ I was present for approximately 21/2 of the 3-hour tour, granted my time there was modified because of the brace on my knee.

At the Park Advisory meeting in May, the Park Advisory was again invited to Landscape Structures. Kathryn then polled the members to see if it was possible for us to attend. At this time I whispered to Kathryn the questions, ‘Do I have to go again?’ Her response was, ‘You didn’t stay for lunch the last time and it was a 3 hour tour.’ I replied that, ‘No I didn’t stay for lunch.’  The notable lack of excitement I was displaying during this meeting was a direct result of how the May meeting had begun, not because I was trying to mislead anyone.”

Kathryn McCullum is the Greenfield City Administrator. The advisory, McCullum, Mayor Johnson and the park advisory were invited to attend the initial tour Dukes did April 17.

Councilor Chuck Alcon made a motion, with reluctance, to support a resolution removing Dukes from the advisory. He stated that the situation may put the city at risk, whether she misspoke on not, in regard to vendor bidding.

Councilor Mark Holten countered that felt the concerns expressed did not justify removal of a dedicated and talented volunteer. Councilor Tom Cook agreed, citing that Dukes’ excitement may have induced her use of the wrong pronoun, but that there was clearly nothing misleading or improper in her intentions or actions regarding the vendor, advisory or city.

Council Member Mike Erickson told the council that he’d attended the May Park Advisory meeting, and listened to the audio after, and was immediately concerned over the “we” versus “they” phrasing and felt it could be detrimental to the situation moving forward regarding vendor relationships.

Dukes countered by reading an email from the vendor into record that she said contradicted Erickson’s statements. The communique reiterated the circumstances of the tour and had a business, rather than personal, tone to it.

Mayor Johnson told the council that it was an unfortunate situation and one he did not take lightly. He cited the reinstatement of League insurance as contributing to his decision. He said he saw a potential risk in a competitive bidding situation under the circumstances outlined, although he personally found no fault in Dukes’ actions. “ If I have to err on one side, or the other, I have to err on protecting the city,” Johnson said.

The council passed the resolution to remove Dukes from the advisory 3-2, Alcon, Erickson and Johnson supporting it, Cook and Holten opposing it.

The next scheduled meeting of the Greenfield City Council is Tuesday, July 2, at 7 p.m. at 6390 Town Hall Dr.