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Serving Northern St. Louis County, Minnesota

Greenwood board still wrangling over clerk and treasurer duties

Jodi Summit
Posted 9/15/21

GREENWOOD TWP- Greenwood officials bickered for most of their two and a half-hour meeting Tuesday night, with much of the focus on the town clerk’s duties and her resistance to fulfilling …

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Greenwood board still wrangling over clerk and treasurer duties

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GREENWOOD TWP- Greenwood officials bickered for most of their two and a half-hour meeting Tuesday night, with much of the focus on the town clerk’s duties and her resistance to fulfilling requests from the board.
Supervisor Sue Drobac, who formerly served as the elected town clerk, once again requested that the clerk and treasurer present both the claims list and disbursement list to the board for review at the monthly meeting.
“This has always been done,” Drobac said, “so the board can compare them.”
“It is for the checks and balances,” said Supervisor Barb Lofquist. “That is why we don’t need an outside audit.”
“It shouldn’t make any difference whatsoever,” said Clerk Debby Spicer, implying the work can be done at the annual board of audit.
But Drobac noted if the board waits until the end of the year, it will make it harder to discover and correct any discrepancies.
They need to match up, agreed Chairman Mike Ralston.
“We do match them up,” said Spicer.
Right now, Greenwood Treasurer Belinda Fazio is responsible for both the claims and disbursements, though she is often being assisted by deputy treasurer Tammy Mortaloni. The clerk is then responsible for logging the claims list into the clerk’s computer, so the two can be compared.
“It is not a statutory job,” said Spicer, “sometimes I don’t have time before the meeting.”
“We will work together to figure this out,” said Belinda Fazio.
After being questioned by Drobac, Ralston briefly updated the board about conversations he had with the township attorney discussing the clerk’s duties.
“As an elected clerk she feels the town board doesn’t have supervisory authority over her,” Ralston said. “She does what the statutory duties of a clerk are. Personally, I disagree.”
“When I started, I was paid an hourly wage,” responded Spicer, who was tapped by the board to fill in after Drobac resigned as clerk last year. Drobac resigned after the town board drastically cut her pay.
“Now I am told 12 hours a week,” Spicer continued, adding that both the township attorney and attorney from the Minnesota Association of Townships agreed “that I do the statutory duties first, and then whatever duties I agree to do. I’ve agreed to do the agendas. I do the disbursements and enter the claims.”
Further wrangling between Drobac and Spicer was cut off by Ralston.
“We set the clerk’s salary last February so the newly-elected clerk would know what they get paid,” said Ralston, “and we said we wanted the office open 12 hours a week.”
The elected clerk’s salary is set at $16,700 a year. The interim clerk was paid an hourly rate of $27.
Ralston said this didn’t mean the clerk was only required to work 12 hours a week.
But Ralston did agree that the legal advice was that the clerk only needed to do the statutory duties.
“You want me to work for five dollars an hour?” asked Spicer. “Is that what you are expecting of me, working 40 hours a week?”
Drobac put a motion on the floor to have the clerk make a listing of the things she is doing that are statutory duties.
“I am not going to do that,” said Spicer.
Ralston asked that the issue be moved to a later point in the agenda.
Later in the meeting, when questions arose over a slight discrepancy in supervisor paychecks, a motion was made and passed to have the clerk confirm the annual pay for the supervisors. The monthly check written for Drobac is about fifty cents smaller than the checks for other supervisors, and that change was recently made.
“Can someone provide that information to us next month?” asked Ralston.
“That’s not a statutory duty,” again stated Spicer. “All I know is what I was shown when I started last year.”

OAH ruling
on election
complaint
In other business, Drobac read some passages from an administrative law judge ruling on the complaint filed by clerk candidate Joann Bassing against Fire Chief Dave Fazio and Assistant Chief Mike Indihar over their efforts to politicize the fire department in favor of Fazio’s and Indihar’s favored candidates. Bassing lost the clerk election last March by a two-vote margin.
While the judges dismissed the complaint, the three-judge panel that reviewed the case agreed the two fire officials had misused their authority and said their actions should “not be condoned.”
“The actions of Fazio and Indihar present serious questions on their professional judgement,” said Drobac, quoting from a separate concurring opinion written by one of the judges.
“People need to conduct themselves in a manner that is professional,” said Drobac. “I think we need some corrective action.”
Supervisor Paul Skubic questioned the need for any board action because the “charges were dropped.”
“The case was dismissed because the statute we cited used the word ‘compel,’” said Joanne Bassing, “and we couldn’t prove compel.” Bassing noted they could refile the case under a different statute.
“The judge gave the township advice to prevent future lawsuits,” Bassing said. “We want to clean up their act so there aren’t more lawsuits.”
A series of OAH complaints filed against the township by fire department member Jeff Maus was the presumptive cause of the township losing its Errors and Omissions insurance coverage by MATIT.
A motion by Drobac to allow the public to attend fire department meetings failed on a 2-2 vote, with Ralston and Skubic voting against. Supervisor Carmen DeLuca was absent. The vote is an apparent violation of the state’s Open Meeting Law, which provides that all meetings of “a committee, subcommittee, board, department, or commission of a public body subject to the [Open Meeting Law]” must be open to the public. The township is clearly subject to the Open Meeting Law.
A motion to allow public recording of fire department business meetings also failed 2-2.
The board had voted at meetings earlier this year, on split votes, to prevent recording of fire department meetings and to close the meetings to the public, except for one representative of the board.
“There shouldn’t be anything discussed at a fire department meeting they are worried about,” said Lofquist.
The board did pass, unanimously, a motion to affirm the findings of the report and to place a copy of the OAH findings in the personnel files of the chief and assistant chief.

Other business
In other business, the board:
• Decided to hold the check, issued last month, to the Tower Area Ambulance, for the first half of the subsidy agreement, until a final contract is signed. The board noted that the Tower City Council had questioned some language in the agreement that Greenwood had added, limiting liability for the townships.
• Heard that the township has yet to find a new insurance carrier for its Errors and Omissions coverage. The Minnesota Association of Township insurance group (MATIT) dropped the township’s coverage several years ago due to excessive litigation against the township, and the township has had to pay for a separate policy.
“As of tonight I haven’t found a carrier,” said Ralston. “I’ve contacted 14 already.”
Ralston did say that MATIT has agreed to cover 25 percent of the Errors and Omissions policy. The township’s current policy expires in October.
The town board also had questions on the replacement cost estimates for the pavilion, and will try to get an outside estimate of its replacement value for its regular insurance policy with MATIT.
• Heard from Lee Peterson, who asked the town board to come up with an estimate of how large a budget reserve is needed, so that information can be used when formulating next year’s levy request. “I hate to see a slush fund built up,” he said.
• Heard that 68 responses are already in on the township’s current broadband survey, which was just mailed out, with very strong interest shown at this point. The federal infrastructure bill, which has funding earmarked for the township’s project, has yet to move forward, Ralston noted.
• Agreed to have comprehensive water testing done on the water source at the town hall at a cost of approximately $470.
• Will get quotes on the cost of clearing a few trees around the parking lot area that are close to impinging on the landing zone.
• Heard that the rate charged by township attorney Couri and Ruppe is increasing to $230 per hour for general legal work and $250 per hour for developmental work.

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