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City of Ely, suspended police officer finally cut ties

Council agrees to pay Carlson $15,000 as part of resignation deal

Keith Vandervort
Posted 2/8/17

ELY – The 11-year employment relationship between the city of Ely and police officer Jason Carlson ended this week with City Council members agreeing to accept a revised resignation offer, paying …

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City of Ely, suspended police officer finally cut ties

Council agrees to pay Carlson $15,000 as part of resignation deal

Posted

ELY – The 11-year employment relationship between the city of Ely and police officer Jason Carlson ended this week with City Council members agreeing to accept a revised resignation offer, paying the former employee $15,000.

Carlson, who avoided jail time after striking a plea agreement in court and admitting to an illegal sexual relationship with an underage girl, submitted his resignation to the city officials on Jan. 26, but the city’s employee relations committee recommended denying that request and proceeding with termination procedures.

City Attorney Kelly Klun said Tuesday night that first resignation offer would have included a full payout of benefits, including accrued vacation and sick pay of the time he was on paid administrative leave. She estimated the payout would be between $22,000 and $30,000.

She said she informed the union steward of the likelihood of the council’s rejection and asked about any alternative offers they wanted to put on the table.

“In lieu, the union has submitted an offer, which is essentially a resignation before termination,” Klun said. “The new resignation offer includes the release of all claims against the city and any opportunity for grievance and in return they are asking for $15,000 severance payout,” Klun said

She advised the council that the content of the resignation was acceptable, and the council could determine the severance amount of their choosing as a counteroffer.

“Moving forward, we could proceed to termination,” she said. “It is likely the union would contest the termination. We feel we have a strong case to move forward. If it is upheld by an arbitrator, he would lose his benefits. Or we could end up paying out his benefits.”

With those option laid out in front of them, Mayor Chuck Novak moved to hold an informal discussion before any motions were made.

Council member Al Forsman said he was in favor of the resignation agreement as presented “to simply sever ties and put this behind us.”

Council member Jerome Debeltz also appeared to agree with an arrangement where the city pays the least amount of money. “I’m in favor of paying the $15,000,” he said.

“I’m not,” interjected Novak. He suggested the council set a policy where that body takes the only and official action on employment matters. “Under our Charter, the council has sole responsibility for hiring and firing,” he said.

Clerk-Treasurer Harold Langowski noted that with ongoing union contract negotiations, “this has been a big cloud hanging over everybody’s head.”

Novak also said that the police department has been operating short-handed since the issue came to light, with pay going out. “That is not serving our constituents well either,” he said.

Al Forsman pushed for agreeing on a settlement. “I see the opportunity to put this behind us and not drag it out any longer,” he said.

Council member Dan Forsman said he was also in favor of agreeing to what was presented. “I would like to get this over with at some point,” he said.

Council members agreed to accept the content of the resignation agreement, but discussion continued on what amount of money the city would pay Carlson to put the issue to bed.

Novak appeared to call for Klun to recommend a $5,000 to payout. “If you are willing to start, that is our offer because that is the cost to bring this to fruition, in essence, that is an assured result for our exposed cost.”

No council member was willing to make a motion offering Carlson a $5,000 payout.

Informal discussion continued. There was clearly some confusion on what amount of payout was included in the original motion approved to accept the content of the offer. “The amount was left blank,” Klun said. She said the $15,000 amount was noted in a subsequent email from Carlson delivered late Tuesday afternoon.

Discussion stalled. Klun said, “This is incredibly difficult to do. Frankly we can’t close the meeting to discuss this. It is very difficult to negotiate in public.”

Debeltz indicated a desire for the police department to get back to full strength sooner rather than later.

Novak said, “This (issue) has been way too costly to the taxpayer. I look at it as how much more is the taxpayer willing to pay for this.”

Al Forsman made a motion to accept the payout offer of $15,000. “We could end this today.”

Council member Heidi Omerza supported the motion. “We need to get this behind us,” she said

The council voted 6-0 (one absent) to approve the motion.

Despite indicating earlier that he was against the $15,000 payout, Novak said he voted in favor of the motion “because I always support the majority of my council.”

Prior to the start of the Jan. 17 jury trial, Carlson pleaded guilty to misconduct by a public official, a gross misdemeanor. A felony third-degree sexual conduct charge was dismissed.

A Feb. 24 sentencing date is scheduled in St. Louis Circuit Court for Carlson on the misconduct charge. Under state law he could be subject to one-year imprisonment or a fine of $3,000. Terms of the plea agreement appear to call for no jail time, with probation and possible fines.

The Ely Police Department has been operating without a full complement of seven officers for almost two years.

Other business

In other business, the council:

• Approved the hiring of five new Fire Department members, Ernest Horvat, Josh Ojala, Scott Polyner, Alex Povhe and Kael Richards;

• Approved the hiring of Jessica Dunn, for the library clerk position;

‰Accepted Richard Miller as the arbitrator in the City Planning Administrator termination case, set for March 29;

• OK’d the final land purchase agreement of four lots from Luthera Smith;

‰Accepted the Ely Utility Commission rate hike recommendations of between 3-4.5 percent for residential customers and 0.8-2 percent for commercial customers;

• Approved a quote of $8,562 from Northern Door & Hardware Inc. for City Hall door operators;

• OK’d a request from the Friends of the Library to hold their annual used book sale in the council chambers June 15-17.

• Approved the following committee appointments: Andrea Strom to the Donald G. Gardner Humanities Trust; Rebecca Reiss to the Library Board; and Gordon Sheddy to the Telecommunications Advisory Board;

• Approved the posting of filling of vacancies to the Planning and Zoning Committee and the Ely Utilities Commission;

• Approved the city’s Point of Sale Ordinance.

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