May 21st, 2018 News
- Bergerson Retires
- Murray County Central Ground Breaking Ceremony
- County Commissioners Ask for Sheriff Telkamps Resignation
- Murray County Commissioners Vote To Ask Sheriff To Resign Due To Hostile Work Environment
- Response To Murray County From Sheriff Telkamp
- Community Transit Grateful For Local Support As New Murray County Bus Arrives
By Theresa Nysetvold
Murray County Central elementary teacher Diane Bergerson is sorting through files, cleaning out her desk and putting the final touches on the last school year of her distinguished career. Co-worker Kristy Baker mused, “We’ll miss her stories. It’s not going to be the same around here without Diane.”
Ms. Bergerson was born and raised on a farm in Twin Valley, MN. Her mother was a teacher and Diane used to decorate bulletin boards in her mother’s classroom and help correct assignments. “I always liked marking things wrong - it was fun to make those check marks,” she laughed. Like her mother, Diane attended Moorhead State University and earned degrees in special education, elementary education and a kindergarten endorsement. Her first teaching position was in Sisseton, SD, followed by three years teaching special education in Madison, MN. Diane said, “I met my husband Brad during this time. He was from Madison but was working in Slayton so after we married I moved to Slayton too.” Diane was a substitute teacher in several area districts that first year, then took a special ed teaching position in Fulda for three years. In 1986 Slayton’s superintendent Ken Hatch called about an opening at the elementary school. “I dressed up for an interview, but Ken already had the contract written for me to sign! He told me he knew me from my time as a substitute teacher and he was ready to hire me.” Diane taught special education for one year, then moved to a fifth grade classroom and didn’t teach special education again. She said, “I’ve taught fifth grade, kindergarten, third and fourth grade along with special ed and I liked them all. I probably like the fifth grade curriculum the best because you get deeper into the subjects, but I like the younger students a lot too.” Diane estimates she spends two hours outside of the classroom each day correcting assignments and tests and has always had a commitment to returning papers as quickly as possible. “I always return math assignments and tests the next day - always. I think it’s important and I don’t like to get too far behind."
Her teaching experiences are wide and varied, and she admits she especially loves math, and has only taught social studies two of her nearly forty years of teaching. But one of her favorite activities is organizing plays. “I love doing plays - I’ve never done the same one twice!” Sometimes the innovative teacher chooses scenes from a novel and teaches her students to present the story as a “wax museum.” Plays have usually been presented in the spring, and right now the classroom is a testament to her creativity and her student’s enthusiasm as props and scenery are pushed to the edges of the busy space. And of course Diane has memories from many fourth grade campouts! “I loved camping as a kid, and when the weather is good it’s fun to sleep in a tent and cook meals over a campfire.”
Though her daily teaching days are drawing to a close, the energetic Ms. Bergerson has no plans to let the dust settle around her. She said, “Brad and I have a wonderful retirement trip planned in June to Sweden and Norway, and I have a couple trips planned with my mom and sister. I’m also ready to spend more time with my grandchildren, and I’m looking forward to subbing at West and at the high school too. I also want to get involved in volunteer activities in the community - I haven’t really done much of that since my kids were living at home. When you teach, the days are just so full there really isn’t time.” She added her thanks for the many supportive co-workers and administrative staff she has worked with through the years as well. Staff and students will miss her bright smile, contagious laugh and positive attitude at West Elementary, but her influence will remain for many, many years to come.
The Murray County School Board started their evening with the ground breaking for the new gym addition. Many community members were present as well as the school board and construction management company.
The school board meeting started at 6pm. The agenda was approved with additions. The minutes were reviewed and approved as were the financials for the month. Donations received for the month included: Currie Town and Country - $1300 to Culture Club, Monsanto - $2500 to FFA, AAA - $500 Traffic Safety Grant, Hadley Lions - $150 to AED Simulator, Invenergy Solar Development - $500 Mrs. Ethridge, SRDC - $5100 to ECFE on Wheels, SW Initiative Foundation - $1000 to ECI.
Personnel changes for the month include new teaching contracts for the 2018-2019 year for Nathan Wieneke, Elementary Teacher and Ashley Haken, Secondary Special Education Teacher. They also accepted two retirements; Paraprofessionals Jeannie Helmke and Pat McLain. A resignation from Kelsey Vogt, 7-8 English and speech coach, effective end of school year. Two requests for one year leaves came from Elizabeth Gillette and Aleida Helgeson, these were approved pending finding the proper replacement for the job share position. Lastly were two child care leave requests for the beginning of the 2018-2019 school year for Britta Malchow and Tammi Paulzine. These will include two long term sub positions and were approved.
The Board next approved designating Meyer as the official with authority to authorize user access to MDE secure websites. They were also presented with a Lead Water Management Plan. This is now required for every school district under Minnesota Statute 121A.335. It tracks the water quality in the school and shows when they were last tested, November 2016, when they will be tested again, November 2021 and any plans they have in place. The Board approved the 2018-2019 Minnesota State High School League Membership. They also approved the travel request for the girls’ basketball team to attend two out of state events. The first will be June 15th in Brandon, SD for a one day tournament. The second is for an overnight tournament in Okoboji, IA. The Board approved this but also requested having a female chaperone for the overnight tournament.
There was no one present for the public forum.
Elementary Principal, Todd Burlingame gave the Board an update on the last month’s activities. He congratulated the 5th and 6th grade Math Master teams on their success. He also reported that the 4th grade campout was a hit and staying in the cabins was well liked by the adults!! There were 29 students sent to the Science and Nature Conference at SMSU. There are only a couple weeks of school left and every day is busy with events.
Secondary Principal, Jacob Scandrett was next on the agenda. He gave the Board his update. He was happy to report that the MCA testing has been completed and they await results. End of year planning has begun. They will hold the Senior Walk on Monday, May 21st. Graduation is Sunday, May 27th and the last day of school for underclassmen is May 31st at 12:05. Activities Director James Wajer reported a slow start to the season but all teams are busy now getting in as many games and meets as they can.
Superintendent, Joe Meyer gave the Board his report. He presented the current legislative update. The session will end on May 20th. Broadband internet is a hot topic for rural areas and if/when the school goes to 1 on 1 devices, having adequate internet is a must. There is legislation that provides funding for this but no word yet on if it will pass. Surprise OSHA visit occurred with minimal infractions. Also, the 5-year Fire Marshall inspection. The stage curtains need to be replaced as they don’t meet fire code. Two doors by the choir room also need to be replaced. The Kitchen and Food Inspection report came back with minor areas to correct and improve. He will work with staff over the summer. Demolition and excavation is in full swing. With the weather, they are about 2 weeks behind schedule at this time. MCC was chosen in a giveaway of $1500 by A&B Business. The school was also congratulated for receiving 100% graduation rate for last year.
There were two items of new business to discuss. First was to declare some old library books as surplus. This was approved. Next was to approve a joint powers agreement with Fulda school district for Sara Zins in the ECSE position.
The staff recognition social will be June 1st from 2 to 3 pm. The next school board meeting will be June 11th at 6pm. The Board made motion to go into closed session for the superintendent evaluation with no other business to discuss.
The Murray County Commissioners met on Tuesday, May 15th with all members present. The agenda was approved and the minutes from the May 1st meeting were reviewed and approved.
Heidi Winter was first on the agenda. She presented the Board with this week’s warrants. These were discussed and approved for payment. She also presented them with the auditor’s warrants. The ditch bills for the week were reviewed and approved for payment. She also provided the Board with an update on her recent attendance to the State Auditor Election Training Conference. One big change that will be coming will be the 2020 presidential primary. There is talk of funds to help counties with the additional costs associated with this but it’s too early to know what those figures will be. A reminder that filing for county openings will be from May 22nd to June 5th.
There was no one present for open forum. They read their committee reports. The Board reviewed and approved a request from the Garvin Firemans Relief Association to have a gambling permit at Key Largo.
At 9:15 the Board went into closed session pursuant to Minnesota Statute 13.D.05, subdivision 3(b), to communicate regarding a matter that is protected by the attorney-client privilege regarding hostile work environment harassment issue. County’s employment counsel, Laurel Pugh was present at this week’s meeting.
The Board came out of closed session at 10:45 and read the following statement:
STATEMENT AS PRESENTED AT THE MAY 15, 2018 MEETING OF THE MURRAY COUNTY BOARD OF COMMISSIONERS (motions included).
In March, the Board asked the County’s labor attorney, Laurel Pugh, to retain the services of an independent investigator to investigate workplace concerns regarding Sheriff Steve Telkamp.
Independent Investigator Michelle Soldo was retained to conduct the independent investigation.
The Board does not have authority to terminate the employment of publicly elected officials.
However, the Board takes concerns of workplace harassment and retaliation seriously and must do everything it can to see that employees are able to work in a civil and respectful workplace.
Because the Sheriff is an elected official, this meeting does not operate in the same way as with an employee. The Sheriff has received multiple notices of the investigation and an opportunity to participate and has not done so.
I, and the other Board members, have read the investigator’s report. We have had sufficient time to review the report and consult with our labor attorney about the findings.
The independent investigator’s report speaks for itself. In sum, it contains deeply troubling findings about Sheriff Telkamp’s conduct in the workplace with respect to a number of employees, which “does not depict an isolated event, but reflect a continuing pattern of aggressive, defiant, disrespectful, abusive and threatening behavior that adversely impacts the work environment.”
Due to the independent investigator’s concerns about the Sheriff retaliating against the multiple individuals who participated in the investigation, the report focuses on the Sheriff’s conduct in video footage, as that footage does not single out any one person for retaliation.
Based on the information in the independent investigator’s report, and in the interest of protecting County employees and the public, Commissioner Thiner moved, seconded by Commissioner Magnus and passed to approve that the Board call for Sheriff Telkamp’s immediate resignation, and that if he resigns, he would be paid and receive benefits through the end of his current term. All members voted in favor.
Meanwhile, the Personnel Committee will be implementing and employing operational measures to protect employees against retaliation. The Sheriff’s position is the only position that will have changes associated with it as a result of this investigation. All other positions remain unchanged.
To that end, the Board plans to discuss and vote on the retention of an operational director for the Sheriff’s Department. If approved, this person would be the point of contact on all personnel and operational matters in the Sheriff’s Department, including the oversight of dispatch operations.
The Board reassures our great County employees that we appreciate their willingness to come forward and share their concerns so that everyone may work in a safe and respectful environment.
Commissioner Kluis moved, seconded by Thiner and passed to approve that the Board Chair be authorized to sign a contract with Municipal Solutions and for the Personnel Committee to work with the labor attorney to recommend a candidate to the Board. All voted in favor.
Commissioner Jens moved, seconded by Gunnink and passed to approve that arrangements be made to provide for 24/7 security coverage at the Sheriff’s Department for as long as necessary. All voted in favor.
This will conclude our discussion of this matter. We will not be taking questions. The report should answer questions the public or press may have on this matter.
The Board next moved on to the seasonal employees. They approved hiring Nicholas Demuth and Linda Wessels as the seasonal museum assistants and Samantha Cote as a seasonal recycling center worker. They next reviewed and approved the Preferred One Amendments to summary plan descriptions and approved Aurora Heard to sign them. Next was a request to allow Brau Brothers to do a taste testing at the 4-H building for the next fair board meeting on May 24th. The Board approved this. The Board was presented with an update from the DNR regarding a Native Prairie Bank easement on property in Murray County. Heard asked the Board if they were still interested in moving forward and looking into time web system for employees. She would like to discuss this with department heads at the next meeting. The Board agreed to continue looking into this. There were 3 policies with updates. First was policy #508 – Prescription Safety Glasses and Highway Department Safety Apparel. They removed that this is specific to the highway department and increased the amounts allowed for reimbursement. This includes glasses, work boots and clothing items. Next was policy #301 – Employment Processing. The changes suggested will allow the process to be more efficient. Department heads will no longer have to ask for board approval when needing to fill a vacancy. With Board meetings only 3 times a month this allows the process to speed up. Last was policy #303 – Hours of Work. The change to this is something that is already happening. When an employee clocks in at 7:58 it rounds to 8:00. These were all approved.
At 11am the Final Acceptance Hearing for Judicial Ditch 8 was held. Bill Helget with Bolten & Menk, Inc. was present for the meeting. He gave the Board his report. Other than a few minor things the project has been completed. He recommends the final payment for $36,638.65. There will be a 2-year maintenance period, ending May 2020. There was no one present for public comment at the hearing. The Board approved final acceptance.
Howard Konkol, Ditch Inspector, was next on the agenda. He presented the Board with 10 inspection reports this week. Each of these were reviewed and approved to move forward with the repairs.
Gerald Magnus discussed the PACE revolving loan fund program with the Board. The decision that needs to be made is do they keep the program going or do they let it lapse. There are 18 counties that participate now. Each is going to discuss with their Boards and get feedback. The Board felt this was a worthwhile program and feels that Murray County should continue to be part of it.
Randy Groves gave the Board an update on spring projects going on. The roads are soft with the late spring and they are working to keep those in good shape. County Road 14, north of Dovray is currently closed. There is DNR land that is holding water back and it has saturated the roadbed. Groves will work with Konkol to see if a resolution can be found. Groves did ask the Board to approve the purchase of a new bucket for the loader for the ditch work they do. He has located a used one for $3500. The Board approved this request.
Amy Rucker with the EDA presented the Board with two items at the meeting. First was a Loan request for Painted Prairie Vineyards. They are requesting $122,000 at 4% for 10 years. This will be for a new production room and tasting room. She also had a request to authorize a one-time exception allowing the flexibility to use the funds for “any lawful purpose”.
Michelle Baumhoefner and Joyce Wiekeraad with ACE gave the Board their annual report. In 2017, Murray County had 57 volunteer stations and there were 377 individuals donating their time. They logged 30,968 hours of service for our communities. As our communities age there will continue to be a need for the services ACE offers. Those include but are not limited to dementia education, caregiver respite, activity classes like bone builder, balance and tai ji quan. They thanked the Board for their support and are enjoying the opportunities their new space allows them.
Justin Hoffmann, Parks Director, presented the Board with Murray County Parks Ordinances. The only item that County Attorney Travis Smith feels needs to happen still are the adding of penalties to the ordinance violations. The fee will be up to $300 dollars and will be a petty misdemeanor. The public hearing was set for Tuesday, June 5th at 10:15 am. They also discussed repaving the area by Marsh’s Landing. The road near there will be getting new blacktop so this would be a good time to do Marsh’s Landing project if the Board would like. They agreed it would be cost effective to do. Hoffmann will talk to Groves to get a price quote and bring that back to the Board.
Lucas Isder approached the Board regarding the Seven Mile Park Restoration that he put together. Isder’s vision is to bring the park back to how it was when he was a young boy. He’s talked to many local residents about the project with good feedback. He’s even lined up individuals to help with the “heavy lifting” of the project. His vision includes this being done by Fulda’s Wood Duck Festival. Commissioner James Jens asked why this wasn’t brought to the Parks Board first. Isder felt the time constraints on the project didn’t have time for that. The Board felt overall that the idea is a good idea. But would like to see the funds in place first before the project was started as well as all the proper permits being in place and the proper waivers signed by those individuals who have volunteered to do work. They also would like the project to be ok’d by Hoffmann as well.
The last item of business for the day was to accept a grant from the Schmidt Foundation for $15,000. The Murray County Historical Society was awarded this grant to repaint the round barn. The Murray County Fair Board also received a grant to pay for the paint supplies.
With no other business the meeting was adjourned.
Today, the Murray County Commissioners have asked for the immediate resignation of the Murray County Sherriff based on an investigation into workplace harassment and a hostile work environment.
The County, as the employer, has a duty to protect its employees from hostile conduct and retaliation. As Sheriff Telkamp is an elected official, the County cannot terminate Sheriff Telkamp. However, the County board can ask Sheriff Telkamp to resign and have moved to do so.
Murray County retained investigator Michelle Soldo to conduct an independent investigation into the conduct of Sheriff Steve Telkamp. The investigation was initiated after video footage of disturbing behavior of the Sheriff was brought forward by a concerned employee. As the independent investigator noted in her report, the conduct in the video footage “does not depict an isolated incident but reflects a continuing pattern of aggressive, defiant, disrespectful, abusive, and threatening behavior that adversely impacts the work environment.”
Ms. Soldo’s report and findings speak for themselves in determining that Sheriff Telkamp’s actions created a hostile and retaliatory working environment. The report contains deeply troubling findings about his conduct in the workplace with respect to a number of employees.
Due to the investigator’s concerns about the Sherriff retaliating against the multiple employees who participated in the investigation, the report focuses only on the Sheriff’s conduct in video footage, which does not single out any one person.
Based on this thorough report, the Board felt that it needed to take this action today. The County Board is in the process of implementing measures to protect employees against retaliation, including the retaining of an operational director for the Sheriff’s Department. The County Board also expresses its appreciation for its employees who were willing to come forward in the interest of their workplace and community, and reminds employees that the Sheriff’s position in the only position that will have changes associated with it, as all other operations will remain the same.
A copy of the full report and video can be obtained by following the Murray County data practices procedures.
The county will not be making any further comments on this matter.
This letter is in response to the recent investigation that has led to a request for my resignation from the Murray County Board of Commissioners. The Murray County Board of Commissioners along with County Coordinator, Aurora Heard, have singled out several of my employees in an open meeting. Commissioner Magnus, Commissioner Thiner, Commissioner Gunnick and County Coordinator, Aurora Heard, were on an open microphone, in an open meeting room talking about terminating employees, eliminating staff and hours, reducing salaries and decreasing the sheriff’ s off ice budget. On the open mic, Commissioner Thiner, asked “How do we control the sheriff?” Aurora heard responded “Through his budget and we can eliminate his staff”. Aurora Heard also stated “she (referring to a long time employee with the sheriff’s office) should have been fired a long time ago and I will never let it go.” If Murray County commissioners were concerned about workplace harassment and retaliation, this retaliation would have been addressed much before now. When confronted about this on January 17, 2018 in an open board meeting, as reported to the Marshall Independent (Murray County Sheriff Conspiracy article), the Commissioners and County Coordinator, Aurora Heard, retaliated against myself and staff.
The county board of commissioners inappropriately asked for my resignation in a letter which was sent to me on February 3, 2018. This letter requesting my immediate resignation also threatened to release a video that would be damaging to my reputation. The video, which some of you may not have seen, shows myself venting amongst staff about the way the County Commissioners and County Coordinator, Aurora Heard, have treated Sheriff’s Office staff, county employees (past and present), and myself and their continued attempts to control the Sheriff’s Office. I apologize for the language I used in the video. I became passionate when the County Coordinator and county commissioners were retaliating against employees in my office. Although some of the language I used may have been uncomplimentary to my professionalism, it was a display of raw emotion, as I am concerned for the hardworking employees of this county.
As Sheriff, for the past 16 years, I have been committed to your communities and our county to provide the best law enforcement services with the greatest staff at my disposal. I have a history of maintaining long term employment of employees in the Murray County Sheriff’s Office. My staff and Deputies are local men and women serving the communities they grew up in. The County Board and Coordinator are causing Murray County to be an undesirable place to work. If these Deputies and other county employees leave, we will be left with no choice but to employ staff from outside the area that have no vested interest in our community. I support the dedicated employees of Murray County.
I am going to seek reelection as Sheriff of Murray County and continue to provide the same services which I have always done with limited resources that the County Board and County Coordinator, Aurora Heard, have given me. I will always support my staff when they are threatened or mistreated. The stress and hostility that the County Commissioners have caused my staff is unjust. These Deputies and Sheriff’s Office staff are your neighbors and friends, working holidays, weekends and night s, sacrificing time with their own families to protect yours. When their sacrifice is undermined, I take it personally. I hope that Murray County, as a community, will not judge my 16-year career on a 7 minute video that they put together. My passion for my employees and this community got the best of me during that time, for that, I apologize.
As your elected Sheriff, I will not stand by and watch a County Board and County Coordinator take control of YOUR County. Please remember who you elected to be your Sheriff. If the County Board and Commissioners continue to strip me of my duties, they are stripping you of your rights. A government must have checks and balances. You elected me to serve and protect and as long as I am Sheriff I will do just that.
If anyone from the public would like to come in and discuss the issues, I would be more than happy and willing to discuss them. My door is always open. I am here to serve you.
Who do you want to lead YOUR County Sheriff’s Office? A County Board whose poor decisions previously cost our county citizens over $700,000 in a wrongful termination lawsuit? When will this end? Citizens of Murray County, let this be YOUR decision on November 6, 2018.
Marshall, MN - May 14, 2018 -A new bus has just been added to the fleet at Community Transit. The bus was ordered for service in Murray County as a part of the normal replacement process for old buses, but the team at Community Transit is especially excited about it.
“This bus is the first one that has come since we updated our logo,” said Transit Director Cathleen Amick.
Community Transit is a public transportation program run by United Community Action Partnership. Since 2013, the program has added five counties to its se ice area.
“We’ve added a lot of counties quickly,” said Amick, “but each of those counties had their own county-wide transit se ice be re they joined forces with us.”
The logo redesign was undertaken last year to bring all the individual services together under one image. Amick said they also wanted to be recognizable to anyone who might be from a metro area.
“We tried to keep the national public transit symbol central to the design,” she said. Any buses or materials ordered for Community Transit in the future will incorporate the new logo.
The newest Community Transit bus looks different, but it was made possible through the same long-standing support and partnerships. Each purchase is only partially funded by MNDOT. Funding from cities and counties is what makes each purchase possible.
“Every time we receive a new bus I’m grateful,” said Amick. “We could not continue operating without the support of our cities, counties and the public.”