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Delano terminates employment of public works director
Dec. 9, 2013
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Ernie Eden has indicated he is suing the city

By Ryan Gueningsman
Managing Editor

DELANO, MN – The City of Delano terminated the employment of Public Works Director Ernest “Ernie” Eden at Tuesday night’s city council meeting, and Eden has indicated he is suing the city for what he claims is sexual harassment, gender bias, and certain activity among staff and retaliation against Eden for reporting it.

During the meeting, City Attorney Mark Johnson of Gregerson, Rosow, Johnson and Nilan gave a summary of a performance review on Eden that took place in a closed session prior to the meeting.

Eden had been on a leave of absence from the city with pay since Oct. 25, according to City Administrator Phil Kern. Eden’s gross pay during the paid leave period was $8,403.90.

After Tuesday’s meeting, Johnson said Eden had been notified of the 6 p.m. performance review and did not attend.

In the work session, the council decided to end Eden’s paid leave of absence from the city, and terminate Eden’s employment with the city immediately.

“Those decisions were made on a number of grounds,” Johnson said.

Johnson cited inadequate management of personnel, knowledge of position duties, responsiveness to city public works needs, lack of ability to work with and respond to supervision, ability to work with members of the community, lack of responsiveness to council concerns, and insufficient emergency response.

Johnson said there was also concern about Eden making complaints about other employees that were not made in good faith.

“There’s a lack of confidence that the department could run efficiently under his supervision,” Johnson said. “There was a sense that the job description should be altered, and that the department take a new direction with new leadership, and then the position itself essentially be terminated.”

A summary of Eden’s performance was provided to the Delano Herald Journal following the meeting.

The summary noted a growing disconnect observed between the public works staff and Eden, and that feedback was received that Eden was not treating all employees equally.

“Ineffective management of personnel in public works has led to low morale and a failure to achieve efficiency,” according to the summary.

The summary also indicated a failure by Eden to implement and perform the city’s ditch management procedures.

“Storm water and ditch management is an area of public works that has fallen behind under Eden’s leadership of public works,” according to the summary.

Several specific instances of responding to resident, staff, or city council requests were also outlined in the summary, as was Eden’s response to emergency issues. The summary indicated that there was discussion with Eden “on multiple occasions that failure to respond and/or follow-through often becomes a bigger issue itself than the original problem or issue that residents were requesting assistance with.”

An instance was cited regarding working with the Delano Youth Baseball and Softball Association to meet needs on ballfield preparation.

“Ernie became defensive and combative towards community members, as opposed to recognizing performance problems and communicating solutions to solve,” according to the summary.

Johnson asked the council to approve what he described as a summary of what happened in the earlier meeting. The council approved Johnson’s summary of the meeting and the action.

Eden was reached Wednesday and said he was not aware of the action taken by the city. He said his prior performance reviews have been “stellar.”

Eden said he has been working with an attorney and that a claim has been filed in federal court on his behalf against the City of Delano.

Kern said Thursday the city is aware of Eden’s intent, but has not seen documentation regarding a lawsuit. A closed meeting with the city council and Johnson took place Nov. 19 to discuss a response to threatened litigation against the city.

After Tueday’s meeting, Johnson said Eden “was not the target of” a series of closed meetings the city council recently conducted regarding a personnel issue. Johnson said the series of meetings were regarding complaints raised against individuals that did not include Eden. He declined to say if Eden initiated the complaints and, as a result, declined to provide additional information, since those meetings specifically did not lead to discipline against an employee.

“He wasn’t the target of it,” Johnson said of Eden. “This was something that first came up later.”

The investigation of the “personnel issue” has cost the city $9,440.88 in legal fees, according to Kern, who added he does not expect any further expenses for that item.

Eden began employment with the City of Delano Nov. 1, 2007, according to Kern.

Prior to his employment with the City of Delano, Eden was a construction inspector for a major engineering firm, according to a city council request for action from 2007. He was also the superintendent of public works with the City of Robbinsdale from May 1992 to April 2004, according to the City of Robbinsdale.

A follow-up call to Eden after the Delano Herald Journal obtained the summary of his performance resulted in text message responses.

“We have been granted a right to sue the city in federal court for sexual harassment, gender bias, [and] [certain] activity among staff and retaliation against me for reporting it,” Eden said Thursday via text message. “The performance issue is a smoke screen. I have never had a negative performance review or any mention of such.”

Eden said he is being represented by Adrianna Shannon of Shannon Law of Minnetonka.

Eden said performance deficiency claims by the city are false, and considers them a threat and a form of bullying.

“They have wrecklessly (sic) and willingly violated my rights on a state and federal level,” Eden said via text. “That is why we pushed to take this to a jury trial on a federal level. There is no place in our world for this type of bullying and good old boy behavior. The city staff and council need to be ushered into the 21st century.”

Eden further stated, “this is not about me against the city. It’s about what’s right and what’s wronge (sic).”

“Unfortunately, this whole ordeal is going to cost me and the residents of Delano a great deal of money,” Eden said. “It will have no negative financial impact on the city staff or the elected officials.”

The City of Delano has four full-time maintenance workers, one part-time (20 hours per week) maintenance worker, and typically, the city adds eight part-time/seasonal workers in the summer and one in the winter, according to Kern.

Future of the public works director position

Moving forward as the city evaluates the public works director position and needs of the department, Kern received council approval to establish a temporary full-time public works maintenance position for one year that would not be eligible for benefits through the city.

“This position would allow us to fill the time and resource needs in terms of personnel and hours of work in public works over a one-year period, at which time we can study and determine how we want to go forward with the public works department following that time period,” Kern said.

On Kern’s recommendation, the council authorized him to speak with seasonal employee Matt Matter regarding the position and extend an offer to Matter for the one-year position. Matter has worked as a seasonal employee for the city for a number of years.

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