John Nephew

Maplewood City Council Policy & Politics


Friday, February 22, 2008

The Copeland Settlement

I wanted to take a moment to talk about the council's dismissal of the city manager and our recent settlement. I voted to dismiss Mr. Copeland because I believe he isn't suited to work with Maplewood's new city council. I disagreed with his philosophy on management and labor, as I heard him express it and witnessed its practical effects on the city's budget, reorganization, and related lawsuits. I believe he politicized his role by implementing the agendas of particular members of the council instead of serving the council as a whole, and because of this I don't trust him. A city council, in my view, has a duty to employ a city manager who has their trust and confidence and to replace one who does not.

In asking outside counsel to help with Mr. Copeland's dismissal, I had three goals:

  1. Remove Mr. Copeland from office
  2. Reduce the cost of Mr. Copeland's severance package
  3. Reduce or eliminate the risk of litigation from Mr. Copeland's removal

The main points of the final settlement are:

  • Mr. Copeland is removed without cause.
  • Mr. Copeland withdrew his request for written charges and a public hearing.
  • Mr. Copeland agreed to a very broad release and discharge of any possible litigation he might have brought against the city.
  • The city agreed to pay Mr. Copeland's salary and benefits through June 14th. This amounts to five months of severance, if you include the time he's been on paid leave. The city also agreed to reimburse a number of work-related expenses from late last year, provided the appropriate receipts are submitted. The parties agreed to what exactly “benefits” includes (namely, the city's contribution to health, dental, disability, and life insurance).
  • The city agreed not to bring suit against Copeland for known claims, with two items specifically mentioned.
  • The city's release does not include any presently unknown claims, nor any criminal charges that might be prosecuted. The city also reserves the right to bring him in to any lawsuit that results from actions he took as city manager, if he is not indemnified by Minnesota Statute 466.07. (This statute requires cities to indemnify officers and employees who are sued for actions taken in the performance of their duties, with exceptions for malfeasance in office, willful neglect of duty, or bad faith.)
  • The settlement agreement constitutes the entire agreement between Copeland and the city, superceding any other agreements or understandings.

By taking our time, consulting with our attorneys, and negotiating these terms for Mr. Copeland's departure, I think we took the right path in serving the interests of the city, and we achieved my three goals.

In terms of monetary savings, we clearly saved at least one month of severance expenses. This alone covers the fees of outside counsel, and saves a little more for the taxpayers besides.

More importantly, Mr. Copeland's release and discharge lays to rest all the legal questions that were swirling in the air, at least on the civil front. Whatever you may think of the validity of the agreement signed by Mayor Longrie and Mr. Copeland, we won't have to spend any money debating it in court. That document is now moot as far as Mr. Copeland's employment with the city is concerned.

As I said before voting to approve the settlement, I do believe there was just cause to dismiss Mr. Copeland. But the financial benefit from doing that was limited. At best, we could have avoided paying six months of severance. Mr. Copeland's lawyer had indicated his willingness to sue to obtain that severance, so those savings had to be weighed against the legal expenses of taking a stand. While I think we would have won in the end, I also think we probably would have spent more than the value of Mr. Copeland's severance in making our case.

I realize that some residents will feel let down by the settlement, and will wish that we had opted for a public confrontation. Besides the lack of a financial upside for doing that, we also have to consider the impact it would have had on the community. A drawn-out battle would reopen wounds, further polarize the community, and distract us from important business that needs our attention. In short, rather than helping repair the dysfunction of the past two years, my worry is that an extended struggle over Copeland's dismissal would prolong it.

Finally, I'd like to suggest that the problem with Mr. Copeland was ultimately not about him as an individual, but the role he played as a faithful tool in the hands of last year's council majority. Personal hostility towards him is misplaced. The previous majority appointed him and expressed satisfaction with his performance time and again, because he was in fact doing what they wanted to see done. The responsibility should rest on their shoulders when the true costs of the past two years of mismanagement are tallied.

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Tomorrow: Celebration at Community Center

At the community center tomorrow, starting at 2 PM, there will be a gathering to celebrate the end of a year of recognizing Maplewood's 50 years, plus the 150-year anniversary of Minnesota's statehood. You can find a schedule on the City website, and I encourage everyone to attend!

Unfortunately, I don't know if I'm going to be able to make it. I'm a delegate for the DFL Senate District 55 convention, which is also being held tomorrow. Because there are some competitive endorsement contests, I really have no idea how late it might go in the day.


Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Two Links

Two quick links this morning:

First, in a very brief special meeting last night the Maplewood City Council approved a "Settlement Agreement and Release of All Claims" with Greg Copeland. The agreement is on the city website for the public to see.

Second, there is an article about Maplewood in this week's City Pages.


Monday, February 18, 2008

More Interviews on Maplewood Voices

Making the transition from candidate to councilmember, I haven't been writing much here in my blog, as I'm sure folks have noticed. I do think this is a good tool for communicating with constituents, so I will make an effort to write more here about some of the issues in our community.

For a start, I wanted to call attention to the continuing series of interviews on Maplewood Voices. In December I had mentioned their first interview, when Jim Llanas spoke with Will Rossbach and me. Three additional interviews are online now: this year's chair of the Maplewood Police Civil Service Commission, Marlene Palkovich; newly elected Roseville School Board member Lisa Edstrom (the Roseville school district includes my neighborhood of Maplewood); and Maplewood Planning Commision member Robert Martin.

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