Dillerud resignation result of 'investigation'

In the wake of Chuck Dillerud's resignation as Lake Elmo city planner, which became effective Dec. 5 following a closed-door City Council meeting, questions have continued to arise as to the reasons for Dillerud's departure, seemingly spurred on by his hush-hush performance review that began on Nov. 18.

The agreement reached by Dillerud's attorney, Natalie Wyatt Brown, and City Attorney Jerry Filla keeps the eight-year Lake Elmo veteran working for the city as an independent contractor and consultant through July 7, 2007. The seven-month contract, which began on Dec. 6, is intended to help ease the transition for the planning-focused city as well as aid Dillerud with retirement plans (he may be eligible for potential benefits after his 62nd birthday on July 6), according to Wyatt-Brown.

The terms of the agreement, signed by Dillerud and Mayor Dean Johnston, were made available to the public near the end of last week by Filla (though they were not available at City Hall by Dec. 6, as promised during the regular council meeting Dec. 5). Specifically, Dillerud will work no more than 200 hours for the city between now and July 7 and he will earn $50 per hour for his services (a total of $10,000 if the full 200 hours are used). While Dillerud will be reimbursed for all of his remaining paid-time-off hours as of his resignation, he will not be eligible for any regular city employee benefits during the next seven months nor will he have direct computer access to city records.

Perhaps the most revealing document made public so far was an additional agreement and general release, also signed by Dillerud and Johnston, that included language of a city resolution on the matter. The statement seemed to support general speculation by planning commissioners that it was Dillerud's occasionally "abrasive" and abrupt style of communication that may have led to his ousting.

In the agreement, "a majority of the City Council has expressed a lack of confidence in (Dillerud's) ability to interact appropriately with certain city employees, council members and members of the public" is followed closely by, "(Dillerud) disputes the allegations and believes he has not been given a full opportunity to address them and resolve any issues ..."

Johnston, Filla and Wyatt-Brown have declined to discuss any further details regarding Dillerud's performance review sessions, which included a four-hour discussion on Dec. 18, followed by the planner's two-week paid suspension, an hour-and-a-half session on Dec. 4 and a less-than-an-hour conclusion prior to the Dec. 5 council meeting (Dillerud could not be reached for comment).

However, Johnston did confirm that the performance review was not, as has been reported, part of the planner's annually scheduled review begun by former City Administrator Marty Rafferty before his death in October. Rather, a formal complaint filed by an unnamed member of city staff sparked the process that led to Dillerud's resignation.

"There was a staff complaint and there was an investigation under the supervision of the city attorney, and the recommendation of Jerry Filla was that there be a performance review as a result of that investigation," Johnston said after the council meeting. "We've spent nearly six hours addressing this issue to make sure that it was addressed carefully and properly and I think we took the proper approach."

Resignation fallout

Lake Elmo Planning Commission members have characterized Dillerud's suspension and subsequent resignation as a "crisis" for the city, which is preparing its zoning ordinances and zoning map for Metropolitan Council approval by mid-January (according to city officials, the Met Council has indicated a willingness to extend that deadline). Many have bemoaned the council's timing in particular, considering that Dillerud, Lake Elmo's assistant city administrator, was filling Rafferty's role since October and the city is not likely to begin interviewing for the full-time position until next year.

But Johnston believed the council has taken the appropriate precautions to cover for Rafferty's and now Dillerud's absence. Finance Director Tom Bouthilet has been appointed interim city administrator and the council also hired former Falcon Heights administrator Susan Hoyt to be project director for the city's Old Village planning as well as handling any issues regarding groundwater contamination and mitigation - two endeavors in which Rafferty was heavily involved.

"I think the city is very fortunate to have the depth that we have in our staff," Johnston said. "Given that it's an unfortunate occurrence when an important staff member leaves, I think we're in as strong a position as we can be."

As for planning issues, the mayor felt that assistant city planner Kelli Matzek would be able to handle Dillerud's duties in his stead and saw no reason to look for another full-time planner until after Lake Elmo has a new full-time administrator.

"She's quite capable of doing the job," Johnston said. "I think we'll be able to continue on without anything (wrong) perceived by the public."

As for Dillerud's new contract with Lake Elmo, other details in the agreement specify that he shall provide his services from home and not at City Hall, that he is free to take on similar contracts with other employers and that neither he nor the city is admitting wrongdoing or "unlawful conduct" of any kind through the agreements.

"(Dillerud) wasn't intending to leave at this time," Wyatt-Brown said of her client, who is not planning any further litigation against the city. "But under the circumstances, I think he's relatively pleased with the outcome."

Ryan Kathman can be reached at rkathman@lillienews.com or at 651-748-7825

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