Critics of Brainerd City Council member Gary Scheeler, who filed a claim with the city's insurance provider for reimbursement for his legal fees stemming from a restraining order with former Transportation Committee member Jeff Czeczok, didn't have their say Monday, but they soon might.
At the Brainerd City Council meeting Monday, Brainerd resident and Transportation Committee member Jim Sykes and council member Bob Olson both briefly spoke on the subject of Scheeler's claim, which was made to the League of Minnesota Cities. However, since there was nothing before the city council, discussion was limited.
Council President Jim Dehen said it was not appropriate for the council to take action or to hold detailed discussion Monday on Scheeler's request to the LMC.
"It's their decision, not ours. They're a private corporation," said Dehen.
However, Scheeler's attorney, Ron Walsh, said Scheeler plans to file a claim with the city.
"We'll formally put it on the record, make the claim for consideration and see where it goes," said Walsh. "I'm pretty confident the order speaks for itself. We'll present the claim and people can raise their questions."
Scheeler, 49, filed for and was granted a restraining order following phone conversations on Sept. 4 in which he said Czeczok, 40, threatened to kill him. Czeczok's attorney filed a motion in court to dismiss the restraining order. However, Crow Wing County District Court Judge Richard Zimmerman, in an order issued Feb. 12, concluded there were reasonable grounds to believe Czeczok engaged in harassment. Scheeler's restraining order was upheld.
Scheeler has asked the LMC, which provides insurance to Brainerd public officials, to reimburse him for about $5,000 in attorney's fees he's accrued concerning the restraining order.
Sykes, during the public forum portion of Monday's meeting, said the restraining order had nothing to do with the city and therefore the city's insurance company shouldn't be paying for it.
"You initiated the whole incident as far as I'm concerned," said Sykes. He also asked that Scheeler not call him at his home anymore.
After Sykes spoke, Dehen asked council members to think about how such statements as Sykes are handled, as it was his opinion that public forum wasn't for statements against individuals.
Olson said citizens should be allowed to discuss issues that are important to them.
"This is a democratic government," said Olson.
"There are still issues of decorum, and pure simple politeness," responded Dehen.
Later in Monday's meeting Olson made a motion for an opinion from City Attorney Tom Fitzpatrick on the legality of an alderman asking the city's insurance provider to pay "personal" legal fees. The motion wasn't seconded and failed.
Scheeler didn't respond to Sykes or Olson's concerns Monday but Walsh, in a phone interview Tuesday, said the incident between Scheeler and Czeczok was city business as cited in the findings of fact in Zimmerman's order -- that Scheeler initially called Czeczok to discuss Czeczok's call to the Minnesota Department of Transportation regarding a road project at Scheeler's businesses on Highways 18 and 25. He also said the court order was clear, that if Scheeler wasn't at city hall Czeczok was free to conduct business there.
In separate but related action Monday, the city council chose not to appoint Czeczok to the Transportation Committee, despite pleas from Olson and Sykes.
Czeczok, who had served on the committee until the beginning of the year, was told by Mayor James Wallin that he would be appointed.
Wallin didn't speak at Monday's meeting about his decision to not recommend Czeczok. In a phone interview Tuesday, Wallin said he wasn't aware of Zimmerman's order until after he had initially told Czeczok he would recommend him for appointment to the committee. Because the restraining order was upheld, and "rather than creating any kind of situation where its uncomfortable for either party," Wallin said he decided against recommending Czeczok. Wallin said his decision shouldn't preclude Czeczok from calling individual committee members to make recommendations.
At Monday's meeting, Olson said Czeczok's claim that Wallin told him he wanted to "wait for the dust to settle" was not a valid excuse, especially after Wallin had told Czeczok that he would be appointed. Olson also said Czeczok was qualified and had served well on the committee in the past.
Olson made a motion to appoint Czeczok to the Transportation Committee. The motion was seconded by council member Mary Koep. Dehen declared the motion in order, but the motion was challenged by council member Lucy Nesheim.
"I'd like to say, following the city charter, it's the mayor's and council president's responsibility and prerogative to make an appointment, and council's determination to approve or deny it," said Nesheim. "This motion is out of order."
Council member Kelly Bevans supported Nesheim's challenge, saying the council had nothing more to go on than Olson's testimony as to what conversation actually took place between Wallin and Czeczok.
Nesheim's challenge was upheld by a 4-2 vote, with Nesheim, Bevans, Scheeler and council member Anne Nelson Fisher voting in favor. Dehen didn't vote because it was his order that was being challenged.
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