Three Lake Elmo employees resign, city administrator Dean Zuleger said to be next

Protesters lined the sidewalks leading into Lake Elmo City Hall Tuesday, March 24. A crowd of nearly 200 people opposing a contentious council vote on March 10 to part ways with city administrator Dean Zuleger showed up that evening. At the March 24 meeting, the council voted unanimously to retain Zuleger through at least Jan. 31, 2016. (Joshua Nielsen / Review)
Protesters lined the sidewalks leading into Lake Elmo City Hall Tuesday, March 24. A crowd of nearly 200 people opposing a contentious council vote on March 10 to part ways with city administrator Dean Zuleger showed up that evening. At the March 24 meeting, the council voted unanimously to retain Zuleger through at least Jan. 31, 2016. (Joshua Nielsen / Review)

After a short reprieve from controversy among elected officials and Lake Elmo city staffers, things appear to be heating up once again.

Assistant City Administrator and City Clerk Adam Bell handed in his resignation letter May 29, citing a "hostile work environment" created by the city council.

Bell could not be reached for comment, but in his letter he said he wanted to spend more time with his family and take time to repair the toll his job has taken on his physical and mental health.

Bell is the third city employee to resign in Lake Elmo in the past couple months, following the resignations of receptionist Stacy Bodsberg and taxpayer relations manager-communications coordinator Alyssa MacLeod.

According to council member Justin Bloyer, city administrator Dean Zuleger may be headed for the exit door as well.

"I have tentatively put a discussion of a severance agreement for Zuleger on the agenda for Tuesday's council meeting," Bloyer told the Review June 5.

He would not comment further on the details, because he said city attorney Dave Snyder was still working on drafting a potential severance agreement Friday. However, Bloyer said Zuleger would most likely leave his post as the city administrator within a month.

"It's not a good working environment for any of our staff right now," Bloyer said.

As of Friday, Zuleger would not discuss whether or not he would be resigning, but said of Bell, "Adam's an outstanding young man, a trained lawyer with very high ethical standards. It's a big loss for Lake Elmo."

Mayor Mike Pearson also chose not to comment on the manner when contacted by the Review Friday.

Allegations of abuse began in 2012

Zuleger filed a confidential complaint last fall, alleging he was repeatedly abused and harassed by council member Anne Smith, who he said "created a hostile work environment" for him and other staff members.

According to the complaint, Smith's abuse included her "slapping," "poking," and "yelling" at him at City Hall.

In the complaint, Zuleger also said between March 2012 and August 2012, "Smith would spend 2-4 hours a week in the administrator's office and other places on city premises reminding him that she ‘got rid of the last administrator' and 'I can get rid of you.'"

At a March 10 special meeting called for by attorney Snyder, Zuleger offered to step down from his role as city administrator -- leaving it to a council vote as to whether or not he should.

The council chambers were packed, and the council heard 90 minutes worth of impassioned pleas to keep Zuleger.

After the public testimony had concluded, council members approved a motion, 3-2, to take him up on his offer. Council members Smith, Jill Lundgren and Julie Fliflet supported the motion, while mayor Mike Pearson and council member Bloyer voted against it

Signs of support

However, a group calling itself "We Love Lake Elmo" galvanized support from residents demanding the council reverse its decision on Zuleger and praising his work for the city. Over just a few days, signs went up all over the city proclaiming "We Protest Council Vote."

At its next meeting, March 24, the council reversed itself, voting unanimously to retain Zuleger as administrator through January 2016.

Several people called for Smith's resignation at that meeting due to allegations she repeatedly bullied the city administrator. A few others demanded Fliflet and Lundgren also resign for supporting the motion to part ways with him. Smith told those in attendance she herself felt bullied by other council members "many times" during council votes where she was the sole dissenter on a council vote. Her comment was met with laughter from those in the crowd.

Smith denied all allegations of abuse and harassment at the meeting.

"There are many rumors and unfounded allegations that are floating around specifically directed at me," she said. "They are simply not true and did not happen. There are no formal complaints against me."

It's unknown whether Bodsberg, MacLeod or Bell cited negative dealings with Smith in resigning. However, the draft summary complaint of workplace harassment written by Zuleger in November said during the period from August 2012 to January 2015, "three other employees have filed complaints against council member Smith."

Bell did not list names of council members responsible for the “hostile environment,” but wrote in his resignation letter that he was “greatly concerned about the current treatment of and lack of support for staff by elected officials.”

 

Joshua Nielsen can be reached at jnielsen@lillienews.com or 651-748-7822.

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