A sometimes tumultuous and often embattled 18-month tenure as the City of Crookston administrator came to an end in rather abrupt fashion Monday evening when the Crookston City Council voted to terminate the employment of Tony Chladek.
Ward 6 Council Member Tom Vedbraaten voted against the resolution and recent Ward 3 appointee Gary Willhite abstained, citing the fact that he's only been on the council for about a month. At Large Council Member Wayne Melbye made the motion to terminate Chladek when the meeting reached the agenda item that included "consideration of an employment agreement" with Chladek, and Ward 2 Council Member Dana Johnson seconded the motion. They voted in favor of the resolution, as did council members Tom Jorgens, Hector Santellanes, Dale Stainbrook and Bob Quanrud.
In April, Chladek barely survived a no-confidence vote of the council. The vote deadlocked at 4-4 at that meeting and Mayor Dave Genereux broke the tie in Chladek's favor, citing concern over how it would look to those outside of Crookston, specifically those who might work for the city, if Chladek was dismissed. At Monday's meeting, Genereux made no comments and his vote was not needed.
The termination took effect immediately. Seconds after the vote, Chladek got up and walked out of the council chambers. Before leaving city hall, he emailed the Times, suggesting that he had followed the parameters of his job description, and he also referred to the council's list of "strategic priorities," which include several initiatives under the categories of "must do", "should do", and "could do." Most of the "must do" items on the list, including developing the Downtown Square, addressing the Wayne Hotel site, new housing construction and working toward flood control certification are in the process of being completed.
Support for Chladek
Before voting no on the resolution, Vedbraaten said he felt the council was making a "very bad mistake." He said the pressure on Chladek and criticism directed at him from some council members had been relentless. "The guy doesn't have a chance," he said, citing new things in Crookston like Barrette Estates, Cobblestone Hotel, the Downtown Square and Drafts Sports Bar & Grill. "Tony hasn't done those things all by himself but he's been a part of it," Vedbraaten continued. "The public is going to wonder what in the world we're doing. We're going to look bad. People are going to think this is a hornet's nest and they won't want to come here."
Frank Lindgren, who served on the council when Chladek was hired in February 2012 but didn't seek re-election last November, spoke in Chladek's defense before the no-confidence vote in April. He spoke in his defense again Monday evening prior to the vote, directing some harsh words at the council members whom he said have been leading the effort to oust the administrator for some time.
Page 2 of 3 - "He's been shot at right from the get-go, and yet I haven't heard anything substantive that shows what he's doing wrong," Lindgren said from the podium, adding that it appears most if not all of the department heads have had no complaints about Chladek. "He has never received any support from a certain number of council members."
Lindgren said the city will end up paying more to replace Chladek, financially and maybe otherwise. He also said he hopes those who voted in favor of terminating Chladek will be remembered by the voters on Election Day. "If they don't, I'll remind them at election time," Lindgren said. "It's time we stopped this crap."
Grounds for dismissal
Although various council members have been concerned about Chladek's performance for several months, Johnson said that some of Chladek's actions within the past month were grounds for dismissal. She said the public likely wasn't aware of those actions and, when asked by the Times for more details, Johnson stated she wasn't going to elaborate on them and referred questions to Genereux.
In speaking to the Times Tuesday, Genereux said he felt that Chladek meeting the "grounds for dismissal" threshold was the opinion of some council members. "It wasn't anything that serious, it was just a lot of little things that added up over the past year," the mayor explained. "It was time something had to happen. The council has been so divided that it was time to move on and there was no other way to do it."
Genereux said he'd spoken with Chladek about his future in Crookston over the past several days, and the option of Chladek resigning was discussed. If Chladek had resigned he wouldn't have received any financial compensation, however. Since he was terminated, according to his contract, he's due six months of salary, which is just under $49,000.
In his email to the Times, Chladek said he'd been directed by the council to work closely on various initiatives with CHEDA and, specifically, CHEDA Executive Director Craig Hoiseth. Chladek indicated that he had done just that, and initiatives like the residential development Barrette Estates is one positive result of that collaboration.
In budget discussions among council members for 2014, Chladek had been a proponent of investing more money in the city/CHEDA partnership to give Hoiseth and him even more opportunities to get things accomplished.
Asked by the Times for his thoughts on what transpired Monday evening, Hoiseth said Chladek's dismissal "was obviously not a spur of the moment decision." He said no one took the decision lightly, either.
Page 3 of 3 - Personally, Hoiseth said he and Chladek had developed a good working relationship with the help of a "fantastic support team" and made progress on several goals and objectives.
"Ultimately, the city council determined we needed to move in a different direction and I believe that direction will not only be positive, but one of forward thinking and smart investing into the future of Crookston," Hoiseth said. "There is still much to do. I wish Tony nothing but the very best."
Genereux said the city could appoint an interim administrator, noting that Public Works Director Pat Kelly has the most experience and is considered "#2 in charge" of the City of Crookston. If Kelly isn't open to that, Genereux said the city might look at a recent retiree with a financial background to help oversee things during the transition.
Although no decisions have been made, Genereux said he suspects the city won't pay for an outside consultant to help find a successor to Chladek, who emerged as the council's top choice during a months-long process led by a consulting firm.
"We'll probably do it ourselves this time; I don't know if we got that much out of the process last time," Genereux said. "I think we could have basically done that ourselves, too."
He figures the earliest a new administrator will be on board is January 2014.