Considering the Minnesota Data Practices act, I’m not too sure it would be legal for the council to keep this report confidential…especially since it was paid for with tax dollars.

Who leaked confidential Lake Elmo report to newspaper?
By Bob Shaw
bshaw@pioneerpress.com
POSTED: 01/18/2016 07:13:16 AM CST
UPDATED: 01/18/2016 07:13:20 AM CST

Lake Elmo City Council members (L-R) Julie Fliflet, Jill Lundgren, Ann Smith, Justin Bloyer and Mayor Mike Pearson.

Lake Elmo City Council members (L-R) Julie Fliflet, Jill Lundgren, Ann Smith, Justin Bloyer and Mayor Mike Pearson.

The Washington County sheriff’s office has been asked to find out who leaked a confidential report that called the Lake Elmo City Council “dysfunctional.”

The report was given to the Stillwater Gazette, which used it as the basis of a front-page story Friday.

The newspaper said the report was written by a lawyer hired by the city to investigate a personnel complaint. The report found no basis for that complaint, but it did say council member Anne Smith was largely to blame for City Hall’s failure to operate smoothly.

“We had extensive internal discussion and review, and we felt the information was important for the public to see,” said Gazette Managing Editor Jonathan Young. He would not comment further about where he got a copy of the report or other details it contained.

Council member Smith declined to comment for this story.

In 2014, the city wanted to investigate a complaint — of an unknown nature — by finance director Cathy Bendel against then-administrator Dean Zuleger.

The report was presented to the council in April 2015. Attorney Jessica Schwie spent four months working on it, and she billed the city for $11,000.

The report found no evidence to support Bendel’s complaint. The problem, said the report, is the “dysfunctional” City Hall.
The newspaper reported that Schwie wrote that council member “Smith is hostile and abusive in her communications with city staff, that Smith further seeks to publicly embarrass city staff, that the other elected officials tolerated or even supported the conduct. …”

The report is a further sign of turbulence at City Hall.

Turnover has been extraordinarily high — with eight employees leaving in the past year.

The city council censured Smith in September 2014, following incidents of alleged intimidation involving city staff. A Stillwater Gazette reporter accused Smith of harassing her in a parking lot one month later.

Bendel, who made the complaint against Zuleger, also complained that council member Justin Bloyer made “disrespectful” remarks to her during a public meeting on Sept. 15, 2015. The city council ordered him not to have any direct communication with city staff, even during council meetings.

In November 2015, the city hired a parliamentarian to make the meetings go more smoothly — with no apparent progress.

Sheriff Bill Hutton said Friday that his department has been asked to find out how the newspaper got the report. He said he didn’t know if his department would be doing the investigation or if he will be turning it over to another agency.

Either way, said interim city administrator Clark Schroeder, the city needs to find out who leaked the report to the Gazette.

“We are looking to prosecute whoever gave this out,” Schroeder said.

Bob Shaw can be reached at 651-228-5433. Follow him at twitter.com/BshawPP.

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