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Jodi Summit

Clerk grievance over alleged data breach aired

Keith’s union alleges unfair treatment, release of information from closed session

Posted 3/14/19

TOWER- A grievance by Tower City Clerk-Treasurer Linda Keith was the subject of considerable discussion and public input during the city council meeting held here on Monday.

Keith filed her …

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Jodi Summit

Clerk grievance over alleged data breach aired

Keith’s union alleges unfair treatment, release of information from closed session

Posted

TOWER- A grievance by Tower City Clerk-Treasurer Linda Keith was the subject of considerable discussion and public input during the city council meeting held here on Monday.

Keith filed her grievance against the city council in February. The city’s grievance committee met on March 5 to hear the complaint, but adjourned the meeting until March 14, to gather further information.

The Keith grievance included two parts, one addressed the allegation that confidential information had been leaked from the closed meeting to the Timberjay. The second was that the council, because of actions taken by Kringstad, had singled out Keith by performing an employee performance review that was actually an investigation, therefore violating a portion of the union contract that called for promoting peaceful relations.

Keith’s union representative Erik Skoog said the council was singling out Keith, treating her differently from other employees. Keith, however, is the only city employee under the direct supervision of the city council.

The alleged release of information from the closed session to the newspaper is also part of a complaint against Mayor Orlyn Kringstad, written up by Councilor Kevin Fitton, that is currently under review by the city council.

At Monday’s council meeting, Timberjay Publisher Marshall Helmberger took issue with that claim, and noted that Fitton and others raised the allegation without talking to either Kringstad or himself. “Had they done so, they would have learned that this allegation is entirely false,” said Helmberger.

“That this entire falsehood has become the basis for a meritless grievance by the clerk-treasurer is even more troubling,” he said. “I attended last week’s meeting of the grievance committee and was shocked by what I witnessed.” Helmberger noted that the chair of the grievance committee is Steve Altenburg, who Helmberger noted has filed his own “frivolous” action against the mayor. “That he would be allowed to vote on this grievance is astonishing,” said Helmberger who urged the council to appoint a different resident to fill that spot on the grievance committee. Council members on the committee are Steve Abrahamson and Brooke Anderson.

Data request

In related action, the council appointed Steve Abrahamson to serve as a temporary data practices officer to review a data request from the Timberjay regarding Keith. At the conclusion of last week’s grievance committee hearing, Keith’s union representative Erik Skoog strongly implied that the council had agreed to investigate allegations against Keith. The Timberjay has requested confirmation of that, since a decision to hire an investigator is public data according to Minnesota Newspaper Association attorney Mark Anfinson.

Skoog noted that the Timberjay’s Feb. 15 story on apparent falsification of city records by the clerk-treasurer was titled “Investigation: City records systematically altered,” which Skoog argued was evidence that the newspaper had been informed that an investigation was underway. Helmberger told Skoog that the word investigation related to the work done by the newspaper, which had spent several months researching public city records for the story and had nothing to do with discussions from the closed session. The Feb. 15 story specifically stated that the investigation was completed by the newspaper and made no mention of an investigation by the city. As of this writing, the newspaper has yet to confirm that the council has agreed to undertake such an investigation— which is why the newspapers made the data practices request on the subject.

The city’s grievance committee is scheduled to meet again on Thursday, March 14. Altenburg did submit a proposal to the council for a formal policy on how the council would respond to a grievance, with specific steps to follow, though the council took no action at the March 11 meeting. He noted the grievance is between Keith and the council, and the five members of the council can submit evidence orally or in writing by March 14 to address the claim made by Keith.

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