It didn't take long to delve into the issues at Monday's Albertville City Council meeting, as the public comment period became the only segment of the night where the dozens in attendance could weigh in on the city's latest controversy.
Mayor Mark Meehan opened up the floor for public comment minutes after 7 p.m., and the first speaker-former mayor Ron Klecker-asked that Meehan wait.
"I'd like to speak on Item 10A [City Administrator Performance Review], but I would like to save my comments until then," Klecker requested.
However, Meehan didn't allow residents to wait, and referred to the rules of order for the meeting. He said all public comment would be taken at the outset.
Council member Larry Sorenson asked for a motion to allow public comment on an item on the agenda but by a 3 to 2 vote, the motion did not carry. The vote-with the mayor, Jillian Hendrickson and John Vetsch voting no, turned out to be a preview of the decisive vote that would send the city administrator packing.
Klecker, former councilmember Tom Fay, and local business owner Dan Dixon all spoke favorably of city administrator Larry Kruse and the job he's done since he was hired in 2003. Klecker and Fay noted especially on the accomplishment of collecting $950,000 of unbilled bills early on in his contract.
Kruse not only collected upon that money, but also brought various other money to the city including the money for the Interstate 94 ramp. Construction on that project begins construction this summer.
"If there's any reason to dismiss Larry, I hope they are $9 million worth," Fay ended his statement by saying.
Dixon, who serves as president and CEO of Guardian Angels, a senior living organization that has already purchased 15 acres of land, noted a positive relationship with Kruse throughout the process and asked the council to "consider your actions tonight."
James Gilach, a MNDOT employee addressed, the mayor at the end of the open forum with concerns about the "appearance of impropriety on not taking public comment on an item on the agenda."
His comments and concerns were not addressed.
At around 8:30 p.m. Meehan started the discussion about last week's "closed door" meeting between him and Kruse with the council and expressed his feelings on being "misguided" by Kruse throughout his 16-month term.
"It's been festering on and off for me since I started," Meehan said.
His list of grievances dated back to the franchise fee that was voted on and approved his first meeting as mayor and several grievances that council member Jillian Hendrickson had shared with him.
Clearly emotionally charged, Meehan addressed both the council and the audience as he discussed his issues with Kruse, and was stopped when member Hendrickson said she had something to read to the audience.
Hendrickson read a statement that was pages long citing that she did a "careful and deliberate review of Kruse" and had heard from multiple sources claiming issues with Kruse.
Among her complaints was a theme of unreturned phone calls, inconsistency and lack of professionalism. All of the cases she shared were nonspecific and anonymous, but were filed with her by both residents and business owners, including potential entrepreneur opportunities she said Kruse never followed up on.
She turned the floor over to council member Dan Wagner, who said he felt blindsided.
"If this has been going on, I've been oblivious. Why didn't you bring it up sooner?" he asked.
Hendrickson explained the plan had been to discuss all of this at the meeting. However it went public prior to Monday's meeting due to a "council member going public," spoken while glaring at fellow council member Larry Sorenson.
"We work for the public and they need to know what's going on. I want to hear from the public," Sorenson said.
"Speaking to the public was counterproductive," Hendrickson aruged. She said she didn't plan on discussing Kruse's performance who "would not have been at the meeting" had it not been for Sorenson going public.
Member John Vetsch said he was not impressed with Kruse's ability to bring new business to Albertville. He said growth had simply stopped, and that he didn't see activity from the city to keep things moving.
"At the end of the day, business has to get done," Vetsch said. The council's senior member also added that he expressed concerns about economic development during Kruse's annual review back in December.
Sorensen jumped on that, wondering why Kruse was given a "3.8 out of 5" rating just four months ago.
"I'm still lost as to how we got here, where we're talking dismissal, when we gave him a very good review in December," he said.
Hendrickson said most of the concerns from residents and business owners she pointed to in her report had contacted her in the last six months.
Finally, Kruse himself was given the floor and a chance to explain things from his perspective. Meehan had come to see him with "disappointing news that...the city wants me to resign."
Kruse was prepared with notes from the meeting and Meehan's long list of grievances including: overcompensation, an out-of-date contract that had Kruse previously using an outdated mileage reimbursement, disagreements between the two on the 2nd sheet of ice and possible wireless internet/fibernet, bad relations with Otsego, concerns about giving Finance Director Tina Lannes 2 Steps and finally, that Kruse "should be a city admin in a big city."
Kruse encouraged council members to talk with him and take things issue by issue and also reminded them that "there's only so much Larry to go around." He also shared the results of his review dated December 19, 2011 in which he scored a 3.89 score out of 5 after sending out 360degree surveys to various city employees, council members and business members.
Meehan moved the meeting forward by making a motion for termination effective May 1 on the grounds of fear of retribution towards some of the staff, citizens and businesses, dishonesty to some of the council, lack of response in an adequate time and future trust issues.
As the motions were being made and a vote about to take place, Wagner interrupted and said, "call me a small town guy, but this is unfair." Those in the audience applauded him.
Kruse used this time to ask city attorney Mike Couri about the wording used in the motion. "Calling me dishonest is an allegation," Kruse said. Kruse suggested to the council that wording such as "the council wanting to go in another direction" should be utilized.
Meehan changed the motion to termination due to a change of direction effective May 1. Vetsch made the motion, Hendrickson seconded and Meehan also voted in support of termination.
Sorenson and Wagner voted against.