Dysfunctional suburban governments driving talent away

Can’t we all just get along?

Not in two communities in the east metro, which have become the poster children for dysfunctional government and might provide some insight into why reasonable and talented people don’t want to take on jobs in city government.

The Pioneer Press reports today that in Lake Elmo, where the City Council has become split by a slower-growth faction, the city administrator, who apparently is highly regarded by reasonable and talented people, is leaving the job.

No official explanation has been given for Dean Zuleger’s departure — under Minnesota law there’s nothing that’s none of the public’s business more than the comings and goings of employees the taxpayers pay — but one council member says fellow member Anne Smith ran him out of town.

A complaint, obtained by the Press, accuses the council member of “slapping, screaming and poking at Zuleger on various occasions, and that three other city employees had filed similar harassment complaints.”

Last week, the council voted to negotiate a go-away deal with the administrator, who is the fifth one Lake Elmo has had in seven years.

Ed Gorman, owner of Gorman’s Restaurant, described the backlash as “a tsunami.”

Pearson said the current discord follows years of tension over the city’s growth. The mayor said that despite a 2005 state Supreme Court decision that forced the city to grow, a small group of slow-growth advocates is making city government more chaotic.

“Chaos will inhibit growth,” Pearson said. “But chaos also prohibits improvements and increases our liabilities.”

He and several other officials mentioned legal liability — which can happen when an employer knows about a pattern of harassment but fails to fix it.

Former council member Reeves said Zuleger’s exodus is a highly visible sign that something is wrong.

“As a taxpayer, either we are hiring ineffective people or creating an environment where effective leaders can’t do their job. They either leave or get fired,” he said.

Meanwhile, over at nearby North St. Paul, a city council member quit this week after the mayor in town had earlier challenged him to step outside for a fight.

It happened during a debate over liquor laws in town.

The mayor apologized but council member Scott Thorsen quit anyway.

“I don’t get politics. I tried, I’m done, I’m moving on,” he told the Press.

“C’mon, welcome to humanity, welcome to the human race,” resident Rocky Vandal said at the council meeting this week.

“I’m not really sure what went on. I’m just worried about my water problem,” another resident said.

Good luck.

  • John O.

    Dysfunction in government is far from restricted only to suburbia. With the nonstop 24/7 nonsense that politics has become at all levels, most folks with any common sense aren’t going to subject themselves (or their families) to the abuse and run for elected office.

    • Pam

      The 24/7 is rampant in the workforce, period. Usually they try to be a bit more covert in their crazy-making operations. Maybe this is the breaking point where something will be done, rules made, to deter this sort of environment from spreading.

  • Al

    Yeesh, and we thought we were lucky we’d merely avoided Maplewood. There’s a reason so many government workers who live in the East Metro avoid actually *working* in the East Metro…

  • Al

    Also disappointing to see the double-standard in workplace hostility. How would this have panned out if Councilmember Anne Smith were a man engaging in physical violence, with complaints from multiple staffers?