The City of Hyde Park says it stands by its decision to suspend a city employee rather than demote him for pointing a gun during a staff meeting.
Hyde Park Public Works Director Mike Grunig was demoted by Mayor Sheridean Flint on February 12, 2019 after two men say Grunig pointed a gun at them during a staff meeting.
Grunig appealed the demotion to the city council and “based on the facts, policies, and laws involved, we (council members) determined that suspension was a more appropriate discipline than demotion,” according to statement released by Hyde Park City.
Kolby Christiansen and Justin Bodrero were two of three employees in the room at the time of the incident. They have both resigned from their public works positions, citing “constructive termination” and have since filed a formal grievance with the city.
According to their attorney Sam Goble, the incident happened on November 18, 2018. Christiansen and Bodrero claim they were in a staff meeting with Grunig when he pulled out a weapon. “They all hear the slide, because they are proficient with weapons,” said Goble. “Because he hears a slide, Justin Brodrero looks up and Mike is pointing the gun at them and Mike activated the laser and points the laser right at the center of his chest and says, ‘Wouldn’t Justin look good with a dot on his forehead.’”
Goble said Grunig also pointed the gun at Christiansen.
According to Goble, the two men never reported the incident because, “these guys know from experience that Mike has lied to get out of trouble before and Mike has really good friends on the council and they jointly decide that they are not going to cause trouble because it’s not going to go anywhere.”
The two eventually report the incident in January after their attorney said they learned of a similar complaint.
Mayor Flint immediately requested a police investigation which resulted in no criminal action. She then suspended and demoted Grunig, cutting his pay. Grunig later appealed to the city council and was reinstated on March 4th.
“This allegation was taken very, very seriously on the part of the council,” said city councilman Bret Randall.
“All we did was amend the Mayor’s decision to demote and take money from him. We did suspend him without pay, which was a pretty substantial penalty,” said Randall.
Goble said Bodrero and Christiansen were not given notice of the March 4th hearing and were not properly informed of their rights nor allowed to present their side of the story.
“Mike was the only witness,” according to Goble. “They didn’t bring anyone in who could voice the other side, including the Mayor. But they brought in Mike’s wife, they brought in the former Mayor and they let the son-in law, who’s on the council, remain there knowing he was a son-in-law.”
Randall categorically denies that claim. He was in the room during the appellate hearing and said neither Grunig’s wife nor the former mayor were in the room during the proceeding. The only people in the hearing, according to Randall, were city council members, the city attorney, Grunig and his attorney.
According to the statement, “The City Council was well informed of the facts and complaint. Our actions are not to undermine or downplay the serious nature of Mr. Grunig’s actions. The City Council had a narrow scope of issues to consider, and could not consider issues beyond that scope.”
The statement continued, “As it regards the former employees who have made comments regarding the city’s actions, we would like to state that the city has heard the grievance. The city strongly disagrees that their rights were violated. However, we recognize and appreciate the work they have performed for the city and wished that they would have chosen to stay with the city. They Mayor has had several conversations with them, both before and after their resignation, and the city continues to offer them employment with the city. The city is certain that we can resolve all parties’ concerns amicably.”
“Our employees will return to employment with the city the minute they do not have to deal with Mike Grunig,” according to Goble.
“The city isn’t listening. The problem is Mike Gurnig and at this point it is apparent they are too close to Mr. Grunig to make an objective decision,” Goble continued.
The city, according to Randall, is required by law to follow specific restrictions and procedures regarding employees.
“All of these people are saying all of these negative things about him and yet there’s nothing documented, nothing, zero, naughta,” Randall said. “There’s nothing in his personnel file that would indicate he’s a bad supervisor and the court doesn’t look at what people think, say or hear. They only care about what’s documented.”
“We are very concerned about this isolated incident,” according to the statement released by the city. “We want to assure our residents and those that do business with Hyde Park that they are safe. We feel confident this was an isolated incident. We feel the comments and statements being circulated through social media have not always been accurate and are counter productive.”
The city is referring in part to an internet petition calling for Mike Grunig to be fired. More than one thousand people have signed the petition.
Hyde Park City said it will continue to review its procedures, policies and actions to “ensure all city officials and employees are serving our community in the best ways possible.”
Goble insists if current policies and procedures were followed in the first place, Bodrero and Christiansen wouldn’t have been placed in the position they are currently in.
We, the Hyde Park City Council and Mayor, would like to take the opportunity to address and clarify some issues regarding Mr. Grunig, the City public works director, and the former city employees who have recently made statements regarding the incident, disciplinary actions, and appeal process.
We were very concerned about this isolated incident. We want to assure our residents and those that do business with Hyde Park that they are safe. We feel confident this was an isolated incident. We feel the comments and statements being circulated through social media have not always been accurate and are counter-productive. We hope that as residents we can move forward and come together to address the issues facing the city.
As a City Council and Mayor, every action we take requires us to balance and weigh multiple interests and legal rights. As we do so, we are always focused on reaching fair solutions that protect the rights of the City and those the City serves. As part of this balancing and weighing, the City, as a governmental employer, has a number of restrictions and procedures regarding employment that it is required by law to follow. These restrictions and procedures are unique to governmental employers and protect both the City and its employees. In particular, there are due process requirements before a public employer may impact a public employee’s job.
Regarding Mr. Grunig, the City Council was required to review the Mayor’s decision to retain and demote Mr. Grunig by way of his appeal. The City Council was well informed of the facts and complaints. Based on the facts, policies, and laws involved, we determined that suspension was a more appropriate discipline than demotion. Our actions are not to undermine or downplay the serious nature of Mr. Grunig’s actions. The City Council had a narrow scope of issues to consider, and could not consider issues beyond that scope. All of the other comments related to other acts by Mr. Grunig were not part of the appeal. It should be noted that former mayor Bob Christensen was not part of the appeal. All facts, state law, and constitutional guidelines were known and acted upon. The complex legal and factual issues involved in these kinds of determinations are difficult to summarize in a short article or statement. We would urge everyone to read our written decision that more fully addresses these issues in order to better understand our actions.
As it regards the former employees who have made comments regarding the City’s actions, we would like to state that the City has heard the grievance. The City strongly disagrees that their rights were violated. However, we recognize and appreciate the work they have performed for the City and wished that they would have chosen to stay with the City. The mayor has had several conversations with them, both before and after their resignation, and the City continues to offer them employment with the City. The City is certain that we can resolve all parties’ concerns amicably.
We, like all Hyde Park citizens, are striving to do our best for our city. We express our hope that all City employees will be able to work together to continue to make Hyde Park a wonderful place to work and live. We are currently reworking our policies to match state guidelines. And we will continue to review our procedures, policies, and actions to ensure that all City officials and employees are serving our community in the best ways possible.