Welcome to Maplewood

The Twin Cities' Most Dysfunctional Suburb

Among Copeland's first actions was to organize a half-day retreat for City Council members. He hired Hamline University political science and law professor David Schultz to conduct a survey and interview staff members at the gathering.

Schultz summarized his findings in a 25-page report. Among his suggestions: adopt a conflict-of-interest policy for elected officials, review the state's open meeting laws to ensure compliance, and implement an email policy for council members and city staff. The report concluded with an appeal for civility: "The meaning of being a professional is placing personal animosities off to the side and learning how to work for a collective good," Schultz wrote. "I encourage all parties to take this advice personally, or consider leaving office."

The report, completed in June, was not well received.

"I was condemned in absentia at council meetings," says Schultz. "But nobody ever contacted me. The sense that I got was that they just dismissed the report and said, 'we're not interested.'"

INDEED, NONE OF THE POLICY recommendations made by Schultz have been adopted. And needless to say, the level of civility has hardly improved.

Later that month, Rossbach and Jeunemann called a special City Council meeting to discuss the findings of the long-awaited investigation into Copeland's background. Because the actual report was not deemed a public record, the pair wrote a summary of its findings. Even redacted to protect Copeland's privacy, it's a damning document.

The background check determined that the interim city manager had no previous paid work experience at the local government level. What's more, he had not held a full-time job since 1992. At that time, he had been president of Liberty Resources Corp., a consulting firm specializing in government relations. However, Copeland could only cite two clients of the business.

"He has no job experience that really in any way makes him qualified to be a manager of any type, specifically a manager of a city," says Rossbach. "He hasn't had what one would view as a normal job for a long, long time."

There were other red flags. Banick determined that Copeland had repeatedly been in arrears on his St. Paul property taxes. In addition, the report raised concerns about the level of personal debt accrued by the interim city manager. Finally, it pointed out that Copeland had longstanding ties to the mayor's husband—they were among the founders of a nonprofit corporation called the East Metro Reform Movement, which was dedicated to promoting Minnesota's Reform Party. "Certianly either Mayor Longrie or Mr. Copeland should have revealed that there was a financial and business relationship between their families in this matter," the report stated.

The background report concluded by suggesting that Copeland be replaced by the city's longstanding public works director, Chuck Ahl.

Not surprisingly, this suggestion was ignored by the ruling troika. In fact, on November 14, at the close of a City Council meeting that had dragged on for nine hours, Copeland was named permanent city manager.

"They had met continuously from 5:00 p.m. until past 2:00 a.m," recalls John Nephew, a local activist who is seeking to oust Rebecca Cave in this year's City Council elections. "I was the only resident in the audience. It was shocking to see how exhausted they all were."

SINCE THE NEW REGIME HAD taken over, the human resources director's job performance had been repeatedly questioned. So on May 9, Le approached the Maplewood city manager and offered to resign.

Le informed Copeland that in return for her resignation, she wanted six months of severance pay and benefits, as well as a guarantee he wouldn't fire any of her staff. Copeland instructed her to put the offer in writing.

Le wrote out a potential severance agreement, but then something peculiar happened. She was informed by Copeland that an outside investigator was being hired to look into allegations that she'd made a hostile work environment. Previously, Le had complained about constant criticism from her superiors, who saddled her with impossible tasks. In short, she worried she was being set up to fail.

It became a self-fulfilling prophecy. Le's job remained in limbo for some three months.

"It was extremely stressful," she recalls. "I was losing weight. I looked terrible."

In the meantime, Le's colleagues weren't wasting any time in seeking new employment. First assistant city manager Melinda Coleman resigned to take a job with Target Corporation.

Then in mid-June, the remaining department heads, fearing for their jobs, petitioned to form a union. A month later, the law firm of Kelly & Fawcett, which had provided legal representation to Maplewood for 30 years, dropped the city as a client.

"We previously expressed our concerns and frustration of the communication regarding our legal opinions," wrote Patrick Kelly, in announcing the decision. "Specifically, recent actions have made it impossible for us to fulfill our ethical obligations to represent the city to the standards required by our profession."

Turnover continued at a clip more commonly associated with Wal-Mart greeters. Le was finally terminated in August. Veteran finance director Dan Faust announced that he was taking early retirement the next month.

The city's department heads voted to unionize by a 22-to-1 margin. In the ensuing weeks, a comprehensive reorganization of the city government was unveiled.

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