GREENWOOD TWP- After a contentious week that involved the local sheriff, a locksmith, and coverage on the evening news, the Greenwood Town Board met for their annual reorganization meeting March 24, …
GREENWOOD TWP- After a contentious week that involved the local sheriff, a locksmith, and coverage on the evening news, the Greenwood Town Board met for their annual reorganization meeting March 24, in front of a once-again packed house. The audience included a news crew from WDIO in Duluth, the township attorney, and two area law enforcement officials who were just there to observe the town board in action, along with over 60 area residents.
Newly-elected Clerk Sue Drobac and Supervisor Carmen DeLuca, who had both been sworn in on March 18, took their seats at the front table as the annual reorganizational meeting got underway.
The first order of business was electing a new chairman. A motion by DeLuca to nominate John Bassing as chair failed 2-3. A motion by John Milbridge, to nominate Rick Worringer, passed 3-2, with Milbridge, Worringer, and Gene Baland voting in favor. Baland was elected vice-chair on a 3-2 vote. Baland noted that Worringer was a “calm and reasonable person.”
Clerk Drobac told the board she did not have access to all the township records, and said she was unable to confirm that all the records had been transferred, per Minnesota Statute 367.01.
“I do not have everything as of yet,” she said. “I am working on that problem.”
Specifically, she noted, for example, she did not have copies of the minutes from any of the township meetings held in 2016. Three days earlier, at the Monday Planning Commission meeting, the board was not able to approve minutes from their previous meeting because the new clerk still did not have access to those records.
“I can’t write out a list right now of all that is missing,” she said, noting she had only been on the job a few days.
Worringer read a statement from former clerk Ellen Trancheff, who asserted she had transferred all necessary documents to the clerk on March 18. Trancheff also signed a notarized document to that effect. Trancheff wrote that the new clerk was welcome to contact her to arrange a time to meet if she needed assistance with anything on the job.
But Drobac reasserted her claim that she was not granted proper access to all the records she needed.
Supervisor Bassing noted that Trancheff had set up an appointment with both newly-elected officials to be sworn in at 10 a.m. on March 18, but that Trancheff was not present at that time.
“The clerk’s computer and many documents were locked in the clerk’s office room,” he stated. “The clerk needed access to that office right then. She had to prepare for Monday’s CUP hearing for Bayview. She needed access to the clerk’s computer for those records.”
As was reported in the Timberjay last week, Clerk Drobac was given three thin file folders of documents, two keys (neither of which were for the clerk’s office), and access to an old computer (not the clerk’s current computer) that did not have the required township records on them.
Worringer said he had been told that the former clerk had arranged with Treasurer Delores Clark to conduct the swearing in. But Clark said only that Trancheff had left her a phone message to be at the town hall that morning to notarize some documents.
“I did not know I was going to do the swearing in,” she said.
Worringer said that the board, itself, had failed both the former and new clerk in this matter.
“We had not anticipated there could be a change in office,” Worringer said, “and didn’t have a plan in place. The board also failed with some of us acting without the board as a whole.”
The township election took place on March 8, and the swearing in of new officers was ten days later.
“I truly believe that Clerk Trancheff felt the documents she had locked up were sensitive and wanted to protect them,” he said. “We could have handled this better.”
Bassing explained his reasoning for asking Biss Lock to come to the town hall. He noted that a sign had been placed on the door of the clerk’s office stating it was now the office for the fire department administrator, maintenance supervisor, and planning director. He noted this decision apparently had been made by the employees, since it was not made by the town board.
“We were doing our job trying to get access to the documents for the new clerk,” Bassing said.
Milbridge asked what time Biss Lock had been called out, insinuating the appointment had been made prior to 10 a.m. Bassing asserted that Biss had been called out after the 10 a.m. swearing in, and DeLuca said he had witnessed the phone call. Bassing noted the call was made after a request to other township employees who had keys to the office, for access to the office, was denied.
“It was not a set up job,” DeLuca said.
DeLuca noted that he saw Worringer and Ellen Trancheff leaving the town hall prior to the 10 a.m. swearing in.
Bassing said the old clerk should have let the new clerk assume her duties as soon as she was sworn in, not wait until the reorganizational meeting the following week.
“Otherwise this is just sour grapes,” he said.
A rather loud and gusty round of applause from the audience riled up the new chairman, who asked the audience to quiet down.
Worringer said he would contact the former clerk and have her contact Drobac, to resolve the issue of the missing documents.
Assigning office space was the next issue on the agenda.
Worringer said he would like the township employees to sit down with Drobac to see if they could come to an agreement on this issue.
But Drobac resisted.
“My opinion is that they already decided,” she said. “They had locked me out. They had assigned me to a little computer with my back to the door…I don’t think it is going to be fair working it out.”
Bassing noted that Drobac is not a township employee, but an elected official.
“What we had here were three employees dictating to three township officials,” he said. “The clerk is the chief administrative officer for the township.”
Drobac said she felt the three should move their offices to where they had been before, noting that the planning director had used space in the old portion of the office, and that the maintenance supervisor’s work was mostly back in the fire hall, which had its own office.
Another round of loud applause again rattled Worringer.
“You have to understand this is a town board meeting,” he said. The applause is too much. We have our business to do here.”
When Worringer then threatened to call the sheriff, an even louder round of applause erupted, and someone in the audience said “you had better bring a lot of handcuffs.”
The audience, except for several rounds of applause, had been sitting quietly through the meeting, which was being filmed by the WDIO News crew.
A motion to have Drobac take over the office space of the former clerk passed on a 4-1 vote, with Worringer voting against.
Baland noted that there was plenty of space for other employees in the township’s office space.
Determining the office hours for the new clerk, as well as her salary, was then up for discussion. The first discussion addressed the hours. The town board had, as of March 1, set clerk office hours for Monday through Friday from 8 a.m. – 12 noon.
Whether or not the office needed to be open five days a week was discussed. But Baland pushed for having regular daily hours, with closures on holidays.
“We can be flexible around the holidays also,” he said.
Drobac suggested the hours shift to 9 a.m. – 1 p.m., and the board agreed.
DeLuca made a motion to keep the clerk’s salary at the budgeted amount of $25,173/year. The board had voted to retroactively increase the clerk’s salary in 2015, in a controversial move last summer.
Milbridge said he had seen campaign signs that stated “Save 85%, Dump ET,” referring to the 85% salary increase that the board granted to the clerk in 2015.
DeLuca replied that the signs were someone else’s political speech, not Drobac’s.
“If Ellen won, she would get this salary,” he said.
Bassing reminded the board of the issues faced by St. Louis County, back in 2007, when they attempted to reduce the salary on a newly-elected county attorney Melanie Ford, and were then threatened with a discrimination lawsuit.
Township Attorney Tim Strom, who had been asked to attend this meeting, said the town board had the authority to set the compensation, but that the salary could not be based on the sex, race, or religion of the person. While he said they could take experience into account, if they were going to reduce the pay they would need to state the reason on the record.
Worringer said he definitely saw some “inequity” because the previous clerk “took a lot of flack” for that salary amount.
“Now it’s a deserved thing?” he asked. “She was here 30-some years.”
Milbridge asked Drobac about her past work experience. It was noted after the meeting this was an inappropriate question to ask, since Drobac had been elected by a two-to-one margin by township voters, not hired as an employee.
The motion to keep the clerk’s salary at the budgeted level passed 5-0.
The board also decided to revisit the reduction in supervisor’s salaries that was spearheaded by Milbridge in 2015. A motion by DeLuca to increase the pay for the chairman back to $4,383/year and supervisors to $3,982/year passed on a 3-2 vote with Milbridge and Bassing voting against. The 2016 budget showed $1,500/year for the chairman and $1,125/year for supervisors. No mention was made of the treasurer’s salary, which is budgeted at $14,500 for 2016.
The board voted to appoint The Tower News as the township’s official newspaper for the second year in a row. The vote came despite passage of motions at the past two annual meetings to name The Timberjay as official newspaper.
Bassing and DeLuca argued for The Timberjay, noting the Timberjay did a better job and that their public notices were easier to read. DeLuca noted the township had two Board of Adjustment meeting in the past year that had to be re-heard because proper notice had not been published by The Tower News.
“People drove all the way from the Twin Cities,” he said. It was also noted that board members were paid to attend these meetings. Bassing noted that at least in one case it was the fault of the newspaper for not getting the notice published as requested.
Worringer said he liked having two papers, and that they were different styles. He said the “Timberjay is a more authentic newspaper.”
Audience members also chimed in support of The Timberjay, noting it’s more popular with local residents and has a well-used website, where notices are published and archived, so past week’s articles and notices can be reviewed.
Tower News publisher Gary Albertson, in support of his bid, said The Tower News did have a website and noted “we usually don’t try to get you in trouble.”
Worringer noted he couldn’t tell which bid was lower. The Timberjay bid $.089/inch for legal notices and $2.59/inch for display ads. The Timberjay also published all legal notices in the Cook Timberjay. The Tower News bid $1.50 for legal notices and $1.95 for display ads.
In other business the board:
‰ Approved a liquor license for Bayview Lodge. The actual license is granted by St. Louis County, but the township also needs to grant approval.
“I want to compliment Alissa Horan, Julia Maki, and Jeff Lind for helping to get this done,” Baland said.
‰ The township’s Board of Appeal and Equalization meeting will be held at the Greenwood Town Hall on May 5 at 10 a.m.
‰ The town board tabled discussion of township policies and any changes until the regular April meeting.
‰ The town board also tabled discussion of passing a resolution allowing Worringer to work part-time for the township so that the required materials and forms can be reviewed.