...But Greg Copeland will stay

Greg Copeland will stay on as Maplewood's interim city manager by a 3-2 City Council vote made after the long-awaited discussion of his background check July 24. A goal was also set to have a permanent city manager on staff by Dec. 11 and a workshop is scheduled for Aug. 7 to discuss the city manager job description and hiring process.

The meeting to discuss Copeland's background check was not scheduled to prompt a vote on his employment status, only to bring out information in the completed background check relevant to his job requirements.

Council Members Will Rossbach and Kathy Juenemann called for the discussion in a special meeting and prepared a summary report of the background investigation. The meeting was tabled from July 17 until July 24 due to indecision as to what information the council could legally discuss in an open forum.

Early on in the July 24 meeting Interim City Attorney Alan Kantrud reminded the council that it should decide the relevancy of any information before discussing it.

"I would stay away from specifics and stick to generalities. The only reason we get the chance to discuss (this) is the fact that it is a city job," Kantrud said.

When asked, Kantrud said general discussion of finances and credit information was fair game as Copeland is responsible for the city's annual budget. "I don't think anything Mr. Copeland does is without scrutiny at this point," Kantrud said.

Information about Copeland's education, finances, as well as work and political history were the main focus of what Rossbach read during the meeting.

As someone in the role of interim city manager, Rossbach said Copeland should have some experience in running an office or, for example, as a city clerk.

"My employment situation has been difficult as of late," Copeland said. Copeland's wife, Betty, was permanently disabled in a car accident in 1992, while they lived in Florida, and he has been her primary care giver since then.

Prior to the accident, Copeland was a self-employed insurance agent in Spring Hill, Fla., from 1987 to 1992.

Since that time Copeland has been involved in non-profit work and is serving his third term on the St. Paul Charter Commission.

Copeland's education was identified as another area where he falls short of his job requirements.

In the fall of 1992, Copeland enrolled in the Masters of Public Administration Program at Hamline University.

However, according to a letter from Hamline University provided to the council and the Review by Copeland, he only completed half of the courses required for a degree. Copeland earned his bachelor's degree in political science from St. Leo University in Florida in 1976.

Financial decisions

Because Copeland is responsible for the annual budget, Rossbach felt it was relevant to bring up the manager's personal finances.

"Mr. Copeland's financial background is in ruins and he has creditors who will be continually hounding him for his money," Rossbach said. "Mr. Copeland does not have the financial qualifications to oversee a multi-million dollar budget."

At the time the background report was complete, Rossbach said Copeland also had unpaid property taxes. However, according to Ramsey County's online tax records Copeland is current on his payments as of May 15.

Before suggesting a replacement for the interim manager, Rossbach's final comments related to a false campaign material charge against Copeland during his state Senate campaign in 2002.

The charge was discovered when Maplewood Deputy Chief John Banick began the background investigation for the city.

During the campaign Copeland said one of his platforms was as the only pro-life candidate in the race, which turned out to not be true. His pro-life competition in the race filed the complaint, but the charge was dismissed after Copeland completed 100 hours of community service.

A forgery charge was also listed in the background check, however that never occurred according to District Court Judge Joanne Smith. "Our records clearly indicate that the only charge against Mr. Copeland was for false campaign material," Smith wrote in a letter to Police Chief Dave Thomalla.

One other topic related to Copeland's criminal background was discussed. From October 1993 to April 2006 Rossbach said, according to the background investigation, that there were 84 calls for service from the police department to Copleand's St. Paul residence. The calls included complaints about parking, fireworks and disturbances, Rossbach said.

"Although we do not believe these various legal actions have direct bearing on Mr. Copeland's ability to serve, we do believe it reflects poor judgment and questionable decisions," he said.

A temporary replacement

In compiling his report Rossbach said he called other surrounding cities to determine their procedure when appointing an interim manager. In talking with city representatives from Oakdale, North St. Paul, Roseville and Woodbury, Rossbach reported they all chose current staff to fill in as managers.

Both Public Works Director Chuck Ahl and Finance Director Dan Faust were asked if they would fill in for Copeland. Ahl indicated he would, if asked, and Faust said he would if he were not busy with his work on the city's budget.

When Rossbach concluded his report, supporters of Copeland focused on what he has brought to the city and expressed confidence that he was capable as interim manager. When asked what he thought of the report, Copeland said, "the summary report is a total hack job based on a false and inaccurate background check. It's an opinion piece."

Council Member Erik Hjelle made a motion in confidence of Copeland as the interim manager. The motion passed 3-2 with Rossbach and Juenemann dissenting.

"The special meeting turned into something that wasn't even needed," said Council Member Rebecca Cave in a follow-up interview. "To me it was all just an attack on Mr. Copeland for things that weren't even done. He's more than I ever expected, he not only has ideas, he has solutions."

After Hjelle made his motion, Juenemann spoke to her reasons for participating in the summary report, saying it was to get the topic discussed by the council.

"But I signed onto that report for a second reason. I do not feel that Mr. Copeland responds to the needs I have requested as far as (a) manager relating to a council member. I wish it were different. I don't want it to be like this. This is, on a good night, asinine; on a bad night, worse than that."

Katy Zillmer can be reached at kzillmer@lillienews.com or at 651-748-7822.

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