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Serving Northern St. Louis County, Minnesota

Greenwood dysfunction

Fight over clerk’s pay suggests the idea of public service has fallen on hard times


In St. Louis County, townships that lack a viable government are known as “unorganized.” That might be an apt description of Greenwood Township as well, these days, given that it has served across the region in recent years as a poster child for dysfunction in government.
The latest jaw-dropping antics include the decision by the township clerk to use meeting minutes to extort a pay raise. As we reported last week, the town board has not seen board minutes since January and when they asked why, town clerk Debby Spicer said she wasn’t getting paid enough to complete them. She has decided, based on what is unclear, that she is owed something well above and beyond the current clerk’s salary that was in place at the time she first ran for office, and she is making it clear that she doesn’t intend to fulfill basic functions of her job, such as recording minutes or being in the office 12 hours a week to serve Greenwood residents, unless she is paid more.
Given that it’s Greenwood, Spicer’s self-serving actions shouldn’t be a surprise. Yet, that doesn’t mean her actions aren’t offensive. “I get paid for those extra hours, you get the minutes,” she told the board earlier this month, effectively holding the minutes hostage.
This is the mentality of a kidnapper, not a public servant.
That said, the town board is, unfortunately, reaping what the prior town board sowed back in 2020, when it slashed the pay of former clerk Sue Drobac from just over $2,300 a month to $1,400, as part of a campaign of harassment that board members hoped would prompt her to quit. Drobac, who did eventually resign, actually did her job, but was viewed by the board as being aligned with the wrong faction in this sharply divided township. Since the clerk remains an elected position in Greenwood, the board couldn’t fire Drobac, although they could set her work hours and salary and they used that authority to cut her hours and her pay. Spicer, who was hired by the prior town board on an interim basis in the wake of Drobac’s resignation, was paid $27 an hour to carry out the basic clerk functions, but when she opted to run for the position, that hourly pay went out the window, replaced by the same clerk’s salary that had, among other things, prompted Drobac to quit.
Spicer certainly has the option to follow suit and resign if she feels she isn’t being paid sufficiently. Her recent actions, which appear increasingly erratic, suggest such a move would be the best thing for everyone.
Spicer doesn’t have the right to refuse to do her job by holding board minutes hostage or refusing to maintain office hours if required to by the board. She took an oath to fulfill the duties of town clerk and under state law those duties include “to record minutes of the proceedings of every town meeting in the book of town records…”
It’s ironic that it is Drobac who is now chair of the town board and is having to figure out how to extricate the township from the latest symptom of the dysfunctional divide within the community. On the one hand, Drobac is well aware that the current clerk’s pay is probably insufficient to the workload. On the other, Spicer has been difficult to deal with from the day she was appointed to the position. And she has taken the wrong approach to addressing her concerns about pay. There are few points of agreement between the various factions in Greenwood these days, yet even a normally divided town board is in full concurrence that Spicer’s actions are entirely inappropriate.
Since there appears to be no provision for the recall of a township official in Minnesota, the Greenwood board’s recent decision to hire someone else to fulfill the duties that Spicer is refusing to undertake, and paying for that out of her current salary, is understandable. It’s hardly ideal, however, since it has the potential to make Greenwood’s dysfunction even worse. At the same time, the town board certainly can’t bend to Spicer’s extortionary tactics. It’s an absolute mess. In other words, it’s so very Greenwood.