Attorney confronts council over firing

Minot’s deposed city attorney delivered blistering comments to city council members during an unscheduled appearance at Monday’s meeting, fueling the tension in what has become an ugly personnel battle.

Colleen Auer was fired Friday for reasons only disclosed as insubordination. On Monday, the Minot City Council affirmed that decision 14-0 after a brutal encounter with Auer.

Auer said she had been told the council had approved the firing.

“What I would like to know is, did the council approve that decision, and I would like a roll call vote to tell me that,” she said.

Interim city manager Cindy Hemphill had mentioned earlier in the meeting, before Auer arrived, that the firing decision was made by her in consultation with council president Jim Hatlelid. No council meeting was held on the matter.

Auer cited city code requiring the city manager to consult with the council before removing a department head.

“So based on what you told me here, it didn’t happen,” she said. “Then she (Hemphill) acted without authority, in violation of the code and is subject to prosecution. … I am telling you, it is unlawful. I am reading the code to you, so I want to know your position on that piece of public business.”

When Hatlelid moved to ratify the firing, Auer stopped him, saying the action is too late since Hemphill already is in violation and subject to prosecution for a Class B misdemeanor.

“Therefore, you can’t do that as much as I know you want to,” Auer said. “I am putting you on notice of the violation. You can compound the damages or you can take the appropriate action and fix what you have done.”

When Mayor Curt Zimbleman stated that the council won’t be taking action on her firing, Auer replied that the council was adding to the damages as a consequence.

“You are supposed to be enforcing the laws you put on the books, but in this case, you took a very serious action against a department head without following the law, she said. “Now you are unable to realize that action is invalid.”

At that point, council member Dave Lehner seconded Hatlelid’s motion to ratify the firing.

“I am no attorney but I can tell you one thing,” council member Kevin Connole said, “in this case here where I am being asked as a council member, I can tell you that my thoughts on that. This is not a trial.”

Mayor Curt Zimbelman coldly cut off Auer’s attempt to interrupt, reminding her that she had been strict about Robert’s Rules of Order when in office.

The motion to ratify the firing then passed unanimously.

“All right. I guess I will see you in court,” Auer concluded.

The council voted to contract with a local attorney’s office for legal services until a new city attorney is hired.

The council also voted to go forward with a 36th Avenue Southwest construction project and to pay $77,000 of the assessment to property owned by the Minot Family YMCA.

City engineer Lance Meyer had estimated the city’s liability to the YMCA for lost access at its facility that resulted from construction on 16th Street Southwest amounted to $57,000 to $78,000.

The city has estimated the cost of constructing 300 feet of 36th Avenue at $232,000, which would be split between the property owner on the south and the YMCA on the north. The council’s Finance and Improvements Committee recommended paying half the cost on the YMCA’s side, which would cover at least $57,000 in reimbursement and damages on the access. YMCA representatives cited a verbal agreement with past city staff that the city would pay the full cost.

The council’s action ensures the city will pay up to $77,000 regardless of the assessment amount.