Clarkfield City Mayor Jeff Lobdell resigned his office during a dramatic meeting of the City Council Tuesday night. The resignation, which was accepted through resolution by the council that same night, came after months of growing tension between Lobdell and several city employees. Lobdell’s resignation stemmed from a series of employee grievances aired after the council concluded regular business.
Public Works Director Dustin Kramer, Deputy City Clerk Teather Bliss, and City Administrator Amanda Luepke, each explained their ongoing issues with the now former Mayor. City Attorney Janice Nelson was also present to provide legal counsel. They alleged that ever since Lobdell’s brother was fired by the city, the Mayor has become distant and unapproachable.
“Our relationship has changed since July,” Luepke told Lobdell. “After that, it stopped. You used to come in to the office once a week. Conversation has completely stopped since the termination of an immediate family member.”
The employees felt that this alleged lack of communication on the part of Lobdell escalated a recent situation involving a city check inappropriately signed by council member Jerry Kaupang (for which he later apologized to the council). Bliss reported the fraudulent check to the city’s auditing agency, prompting a fraud investigation. Bliss maintains that because the Mayor was authorized to sign checks, it was necessary for him to answer whether or not he had indeed issued the check.
Lobdell was later cleared of any wrongdoing. Lobdell, however, says that his name should never have been brought up during the investigation. “My name was put forward in a slanderous way,” Lobdell said heatedly, adding, “I don’t think that it was right.” He went on to say that Bliss never informed him when he was cleared, which he believed was done intentionally. “I just couldn’t believe it, I felt betrayed and thrown under the bus for no good reason,” Lobdell said.
The other employees, however, quickly responded by saying that they had attempted to communicate with Lobdell, but that he has not returned their phone calls and refuses to regularly visit city offices. They also disagreed with Lobdell’s characterization of the investigation, explaining that he was never under suspicion of signing a fraudulent check.
“All it would have taken was one phone call from you,” Bliss told Lobdell. “Once I pick up those bank statements, I have no choice. I reported it [the fraud] because I was doing my job. I had no malicious intent behind it.” Bliss also told Lobdell to “stop making it personal,” explaining that the investigation covered everybody.
The employee grievances submitted to the council also raised the issue of a hostile work environment precipitated by an August 15 meeting of the city council in which Lobdell angrily berated Bliss for how she responded to the fraud issue. “You lost your mind on me,” said an emotional Bliss. Luepke also explained to the council how recent events have taken a heavy personal toll on her. “I’ve lost 16 pounds since this started,” Luepke said, holding back tears. “What I’m going through, I’ve never gone through before.” She explained that she is now suffering from work related anxiety, and has even considered resigning.
While Lobdell maintains that he did nothing wrong, he did offer an apology for how he behaved. “I was probably in the wrong with yelling,” Lobdell conceded to Bliss. He also acknowledged that his communication with other employees has also slackened, but denied that this was retaliation for the firing of his brother. “I don’t believe that I was treated fairly by you guys,” said Lobdell, referring to Bliss, Luepke, and Kramer, before saying, “I am going to resign. That’s been my intention for a long time. The people elected me to this position because I treated them fairly.”
Before a stunned and completely silent audience, Lobdell handed over his keys to City Hall and wished the council luck moving forward. The council then addressed how they would repair the rift caused by recent events. Council member Emily Bruflat said that she had spoken to the League of Minnesota Cities. She said that the League had recommended mediation, and that they had free workshops available to help resolve similar disputes in the future. With Lobdell’s resignation, Council member Jerry Kaupang automatically became Acting Mayor. The council did not take any other action after accepting Lobdell’s resignation, and will plan next steps during the upcoming council meeting on October 3.