Outside investigator finds county adhered to policy

by Joni Astrup

Associate Editor

An outside review of some cases involving internal personnel investigations in Sherburne County has concluded they were handled properly.

Commissioner Felix Schmiesing had asked for a review to determine if internal investigations were handled consistently from a broad policy standpoint, according to County Administrator Steve Taylor.

Taylor hired Scott Lepak, a labor law attorney with Barna, Guzy and Steffen in Minneapolis, to conduct the investigation audit.

Lepak summarized his findings in a written report dated April 3. Taylor updated the County Board on the matter at Tuesday’s meeting.

Taylor said Lepak looked at nine different internal investigations. They included recent investigations and some dating back nearly three years, according to Lepak’s report.

“What he found was that the county policy with respect to internal investigations has been strictly adhered to, properly initiated and assigned. The outcomes and dispositions were appropriate and no evidence of reprisal was found,” Taylor told the county board.

According to Lepak’s report, he specifically concluded:

•The county’s policy, “Procedures for Processing Allegations of Misconduct,” was strictly adhered to.

•In every case studied, the outcome of the investigation was appropriate based on the facts obtained in the investigation.

•The investigator’s approach and the final work product “strongly support a determination that the investigators were impartial and performed objective and fair investigations.”

•There was no evidence in the cases Lepak audited that reprisal or punishment had occurred as a result of someone coming forward who had made a complaint.

•Each investigation was thorough and it appeared the person conducting it was professional and unbiased.

•Each investigation was handled consistently.

•Once discipline for a given offense is imposed and accepted, additional discipline is not permitted.

•The county’s policy on internal investigations is adequate.

Commissioner Bruce Anderson asked what cases were brought forward for review.

“They were primarily the ones that seemed to have elicited reaction and questions from the County Board as to whether these took place appropriately, and were we consistent and were we fair and things of that nature,” Taylor said. There also were some random ones looked at as well, he said.

The audit cost $3,066.

Anderson,who had opposed a review of old personnel investigations, said he understood why Taylor ordered the audit and supported him in that, but felt it was a waste of money.

Anderson said department heads and elected officials are doing their jobs professionally and issues are being dealt with and the audit just confirmed that.

Taylor, who became Sherburne’s county administrator in November, had said earlier in the meeting that the issue of internal investigations has been talked about by the County Board off and on over the last three months. He said he hoped the audit answers any lingering questions the board had on the matter.

Schmiesing said he hoped, as they move forward, they can work on communication between county administration and the board and what is appropriate for the board to know about what is being investigated.

“That’s the piece that I think we need to work on for me now, is to make sure that we’re aware of what is going on in terms of investigations. I’m not asking to be involved in an investigation. I’m not asking for names,” he said.

Taylor had told the board he would continue to work with commissioners to make sure that the appropriate level of communication takes place.