Bloyer censured by LE council majority

Council member says 'it's retribution' for prior restrictions on Smith

More political drama unfolded after midnight at last week's Lake Elmo City Council meeting, when the council bloc made up of longtime council member Anne Smith and first-year members Julie Fliflet and Jill Lundgren approved a motion to censure fellow member Justin Bloyer.

Bloyer can still email questions to staff members, but is restricted from telephone conversations with them, as well as face-to-face communication, unless another council member is present. He has been ordered to submit questions for staff prior to meetings. If he has a question during a meeting, Mayor Mike Pearson is required to ask it on his behalf.

Interim City Administrator Clark Schroeder said an "individual" came forward with a complaint. The person thought Bloyer's conduct toward city finance director Cathy Bendel was "unprofessional" at the Sept. 15 city council meeting.

The complaint filed against Bloyer stems from his allegations Sept. 15 that financial documents were being withheld from him — documents he said contained large financial errors. The council member said they were later handed over, but not before he had to threaten to take the matter to court.

Bloyer served on the city's finance committee, but resigned from the position at the September meeting.

"I won't put my name on any financial documents from the city, because I don't trust the numbers," he later told the Review.

At the Oct. 6 meeting, Bloyer admitted his questions for Bendel regarding a large shortfall in projected revenue may have been intense, but maintained his inquiries were legitimate. He added city staff members have a duty to respond to council members' concerns.

 "I questioned an $8 million mistake on the water fund and a $3 million mistake on the sewer fund — not assumptions, mathematics," he said at last week's meeting. "I've yet to have anyone respond to those questions. No one has looked into that."

Appropriate action or revenge?

Fliflet said she felt a duty to protect city staff members, and said a motion to censure him was appropriate after witnessing a perceived lack of concern or remorse from him that evening.

"I was very interested in council member Bloyer's reaction. I don't think there's any remorse whatsoever, or self-awareness for the behavior that happened, which probably would have influenced my decision as to whether or not to make this motion," she told the other council members. "Seeing none, I definitely need to be able to say that I've done something."

Mayor Mike Pearson said he was disappointed the council was even considering voting to censure Bloyer.

"I don't appreciate this approach," he said.

Bloyer accused Smith, Lundgren and Fliflet of plotting revenge for the previous council's decision to censure Smith last September. The council imposed similar restrictions on Smith, barring her from one-on-one communication with staff.

The vote followed allegations she created a hostile work environment for city staff and bullied former city administrator Dean Zuleger and — at the time — at least three other former staff members.

Smith has publicly denied any wrongdoing, and the new council voted to lift the communication restrictions placed on her in January.

"This is retribution for Anne's censorship. This is retribution for asking questions that can't be answered," Bloyer asserted at the meeting.

The mayor said he was "shocked" Smith, Fliflet and Lundgren supported a motion to censure Bloyer. The entire council had been working with a conflict resolution specialist to improve council communications and decorum that have been fractured since a new council majority was created in January.

"I'm frankly stunned after having gone through our last couple weeks with the [Bureau of Mediation Services], that this is the next item we bring up. This is in bad form on many fronts," the mayor said prior to the vote.

Pearson voted against the motion to censure Bloyer, and Bloyer abstained. The motion passed 3-1.

Joshua Nielsen can be reached at jnielsen@lillienews.com or 651-748-7822.

 

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