As the mayor of Brainerd, I accept Councilman Olson's challenge when he stated, "I challenge any member of the city council to be more of a watchdog for the city's interest than I am," as published in an article that appeared on Sunday, Sept. 7, 2003, in The Brainerd Daily Dispatch.
To understand my thoughts and concerns, I must go back a little over 14 years ago and give you some background information. Mr. Olson had been elected mayor to fill out the two-year vacancy caused by the death of then-Mayor Milli Michaelis. We had hired Mr. Dan Vogt as our first city administrator and he started his new job in February, 1989. While the rest of the council, staff and citizens welcomed Mr. Vogt, former Mayor Olson told Mr. Vogt something to the effect that he should not build a house here because he wouldn't be around long enough to live in it, because he (Mr. Olson) could run the city and all of its departments by himself and the city did not need an administrator. In 1990, the voters elected a new mayor.
In the year 2000, Mr. Olson, as a private citizen, went on a "witch hunt" pertaining to the construction of a second arena being built next to the Brainerd Area Civic Center that amounted to nothing more than costing the taxpayers approximately $7,000 of documented staff time and mountains of copies. This caused the council to adopt its current policy, which requires payment of a fee, for continued and excessive requests for information.
It is my firm belief that, as elected officials, our task is to develop policy and to allow our staff to implement and carry out the directives the council sets forth. I further believe that our task is not to micro-manage and get involved in the day-to-day operations of our great city as we hire excellent staff that is more than capable of carrying out these tasks.
Case in point, Mr. Olson has challenged our accounting firm, after the annual audit had been received, reviewed and accepted by the council, stating he believed staff was incorrect in the way accounting transactions had been handled. The accounting firm has now verified that staff handled these transactions correctly. Recently, he called one of our clerical staff persons several times at home on a weekend demanding to know why a memo was not included in the council agenda packets rather than waiting until normal work day hours at city hall -- it was not an emergency situation! He has had staff type time-consuming verbatim segments of council meetings even after the council had policy in place that no verbatim minutes were to be typed unless approved by the council. That action forced the city council to restate their policy that any and all memos sent by Mr. Olson to any staff members must be presented to the city council and approved for response in order to ensure that our city staff is using their time appropriately and to the best interests of our taxpaying citizens. One has to wonder how much further the city could move forward if staff wasn't overloaded with "research projects" for one person.
Mr. Olson, I must remind you that as an elected official, staff members do not report to you. They report to the city council collectively as the governing body of our great city regardless of how you interpret the city charter.
With all of the distractions and excessive memos that you, Mr. Olson, have asked to have answered by Mr. Vogt and other department heads over the past two and one half years, it is a well known fact that your main objective is still to get Mr. Vogt removed as our city administrator.
I believe that you, Mr. Olson, owe Mr. Vogt a public apology for stating in the newspaper article that you feel he is incompetent. If Mr. Vogt is incompetent, he obviously wouldn't have been our city administrator for the past 14 years and over 25 years as a public administrator. Also, you owe Ms. Mary Koep an apology for the statement you made accusing her of trying to cover up for City Engineer Hulsether and City Administrator Vogt, when you knew Ms. Koep had stated at one of our council meetings prior to her being elected that she did not approve of the "added tax" regarding storm water fees.
I do not believe that you have the best interests of our city in mind as evidenced by your actions and lack of respect to not only your colleagues and city staff, but to the taxpayers of our beautiful city. Now readers, as Paul Harvey would say, "now you know the rest of the story."
(Wallin is mayor of Brainerd.)
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