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Termination case heads to arbitration

Keith Vandervort
Posted 9/28/16

ELY – The fallout from the firing last week of Ely’s planning administrator over allegations of inappropriate use of city resources has expanded from the City Council chambers and into the …

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Termination case heads to arbitration

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ELY – The fallout from the firing last week of Ely’s planning administrator over allegations of inappropriate use of city resources has expanded from the City Council chambers and into the community.

At least two members of Incredible Ely, at the epicenter of the controversy, were asked to resign, and the organization’s Envision team was dissolved last week.

Incredible Ely is a non-profit organization whose mission is to revitalize Ely’s downtown and support economic growth in the Ely area. Members Kara Polyner, also a member of the City Council, and the fired city employee, Gregg Cramer, are no longer affiliated with the group.

Cramer filed a grievance last Thursday with the city through the AFSCME bargaining unit that represents city employees.

Council members met in a special meeting Tuesday and voted 6-0 to deny the grievance, skip mediation and move directly to arbitration.

Cramer admitted to the council, in open session at his request, that he used map-making software on his city office computer, on his own time, to design city maps for Incredible Ely’s information kiosk project.

The first of many planned kiosks stands at the northeast corner of Whiteside Park with white spaces where the maps, tourist information and advertising should be. The project remains in limbo.

The four-year employee admitted that he did the work on a sub-contractor basis for Ely Design Works, owned by Polyner, and was to be paid $450 for his services once the project was completed. Polyner said the project remains unfinished and Cramer will not receive payment.

Polyner stepped down from the council table for the employee discipline proceedings last Tuesday. Council member Heidi Omerza, who is president of Incredible Ely, remained in her council seat and made the motion to terminate Cramer’s employment. City Attorney Kelly Klun, also a member of the Board of Directors for Incredible Ely, conducted the disciplinary hearing.

Cramer was put on paid administrative leave after the allegations came to light. There are no other disciplinary episodes in his work history with the city of Ely, according to Klun.

Council members discussed how to proceed with the allegations and before the vote to fire Cramer, unanimously agreed, on a 6-0 vote (Polyner abstained), that his actions were an inappropriate use of city resources.

“I don’t agree that it was misuse of city property,” Polyner said late last week in an email to the Timberjay. “He was given permission by Harold (Langowski) to use the system, so there was no misuse. I would have voted ‘no’ on that issue.” 

This week, Council members met in a special meeting to certify the findings of fact in the termination case. Like the termination hearing last week, the discussion was held in open session, but Klun denied a request from the Timberjay to release the Findings of Fact and Termination Letter. “Until a final disposition is determined, any and all data will remain private,” she said.

Council members received the five-page resolution mere minutes prior to the start of the meeting and were allowed time to read the information before voting to accept it.

Council member Omerza made the motion, with support by council member Jerome Debeltz, to approve the resolution certifying the findings of fact in Cramer’s termination. The motion was passed on a 6-0 vote, with Polyner abstaining.

Kelly recommended to the council, based on the will of the Employee Relations Committee, that they deny the grievance and move directly to arbitration of the case by a third party. “ In these types of matters, it is not often likely that a solution is going to be found through mediation,” Klun said. “It generally takes a third party to determine the outcome.”

Council member Al Forsman made the motion, supported by council member Dan Forsman, to deny the union grievance and move to arbitration. The motion passed on a 6-0 vote with Polyner abstaining.

Blight properties

Council members held a public hearing on three blight properties, 327 E. Chapman St., 21 W. Shagawa Rd., and 1322 N. 18th Ave. E.

At the next regular meeting, council members will consider taking the necessary steps to demolish all three properties.

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