By Jake Rossen
By Jesse Marx
By Michelle LeBow
By Alleen Brown
By Maggie LaMaack
By CP Staff
By Jesse Marx
After this rocky start, Fursman did little to ingratiate himself to the recently elected officials. At the very first meeting of the newly configured council, he presented a report pointing out possible campaign violations by Longrie, Hjelle, and Cave.
During the fall campaign, the trio had stuffed campaign literature together at a city fire station. Fursman was concerned that this constituted an improper use of a public facility for campaign activities. He punished Hjelle (still a city employee) with a one-week suspension. But by a 3-2 vote, the City Council rejected the city manager's report on the potential violations.
Fursman further annoyed the newly elected officials by pointing out potential violations of open meeting laws. In a March memo to the City Council, he described two different instances where the council may have run afoul of the law.
It was clear that the city manager was not long for Maplewood. The council first attempted to oust him just one day after they secured power.
Only a potential legal hurdle saved his paycheck. During the hearing, city attorney Patrick Kelly raised the question of whether Hjelle might have a conflict of interest, given that he also worked as a city firefighter. Hjelle would essentially be voting to fire his own boss, Kelly suggested. Fearing a lawsuit, council adjourned the meeting.
By the April 10 City Council meeting, that hurdle was removed. Just that week, Hjelle had resigned his post as a firefighter. In addition, just hours before the hearing, George Cave resigned from the city.
Fursman's supporters packed City Council chambers. To maintain order, Mayor Diana Longrie announced at the beginning of the meeting that there would be no public comments on the firing. Still, some spoke up.
"I believe that you're setting a dangerous precedent by firing somebody for doing their job well," testified resident Dale Tripler. "I would fully expect other excellent and valuable staff to look for employment elsewhere, fearing that they'll be next on your hit list."
BANG! BANG! BANG! Tripler was gaveled down by the mayor.
After more than three hours of standard City Council business, with the clock approaching 10:30 p.m., the council reached the agenda item that would decide Fursman's fate.
"We have been trying to work together," Longrie began the discussion. "And we do have actually a difference of vision. I know some of you don't believe that, but I can tell you from the bottom of my heart that that's all it is."
Then the mayor took a sharp left turn. Noting that the council is required by city ordinance to appoint an interim city manager, Longrie began introducing her choice for the post.
"This gentleman has a cum laude degree in political science from St. Leo University," she said, "and also has studied and has graduate education from the Hamline University."
Longrie passed out copies of a résumé to the four other elected officials. City Council member Will Rossbach, visibly bewildered, voiced the question on everyone's mind: "I guess, to put it simply: Who is this guy?"
A portly man in a dark suit appeared at the podium and introduced himself as Greg Copeland.
"Do you know this person?" Rossbach asked the mayor. "Do you know Greg? Greg, do you know the mayor?"
Beaming, Copeland replied in the affirmative. "It's okay to know the mayor, right?" he asked.
"Not necessarily," Rossbach said.
"Oh, not necessarily," Copeland repeated. "Oh dear."
As anticipated, the Maplewood City Council voted to oust Fursman by a 3-2 margin, with Rossbach and Kathleen Jeunemann casting the dissenting votes. The same measure simultaneously installed Copeland as interim city manager.
Longrie defends her decision, saying it was motivated by the fact that Fursman had covertly taped a private discussion with a City Council member.
"It's a break of trust when you find that your city manager acknowledges that he recorded a council member without their permission or consent, and that he's done that throughout his career," she says. "If you can't trust your city manager like that, what can you do?"
AT COPELAND'S FIRST STAFF meeting as interim city manager, he was asked whether he intended to clean house.
"I didn't bring a broom with me," he said.
As per city policy, Le asked Copeland to fill out a job application so that a background investigation could be conducted. The interim city manager, however, returned the application to Le with just the first and last pages filled out, accompanied by a résumé. After a few more go-rounds, Le felt compelled to get the city attorney involved.
"I was just trying to do what the ordinance and the policies said," she says. "He was not doing what needed to be done, which made me even more concerned. Why doesn't he want to fill out this application?"
Finally, at the behest of city attorney Patrick Kelly, Copeland filled out the application. But rather than enlist an outside agency to review Copeland's credentials, Longrie insisted that the investigation be conducted by Maplewood Police Deputy Chief John Banick. In essence, Banick was ordered to investigate his own boss.
"You never want to have somebody actually investigate their supervisor," says Robert Fowler, Banick's attorney. "Obvious retaliatory issues can arise. That was amazing to me."