The Hastings City Council returned Fire Chief Mike Schutt to work two weeks ago despite a history of complaints alleging abusive behavior.
City staff have alleged a history of intimidation and doubts about Schutt’s management style, according to documents obtained by the Star Tribune. One City Council member even speculated that the chief might be responsible for the Fire Department’s high turnover.
On Nov. 28, the council voted 4-3 against disciplining Schutt, a 30-year veteran of the department. He returned to work Dec. 4 after a three-month leave.
Council Member Lori Braucks said in an e-mail to the newspaper that Schutt’s behavior raised concerns about the resignation of 39 employees since 2014 and whether the exodus will continue.
“If the turnover isn’t about the leadership, I’d like to know the reason,” Braucks wrote.
City Administrator Melanie Mesko Lee confirmed that 36 paid on-call and three full-time firefighters had quit since 2014, but said they likely had multiple reasons for doing so. Mesko Lee declined to comment on Schutt’s return or allegations against him.
Schutt, who has been the chief and EMS director since 2007, did not respond to several requests for comment.
Schutt was put on leave Aug. 30 pending an investigation into a complaint that had been filed in May. That complaint is not public, the city said. Records show the city reprimanded Schutt three times in 2013, 2014 and 2017 for various infractions.
A March 31 memo from Mesko Lee to Schutt said the city had received complaints that Schutt had threatened to demote staff and retaliated against them during union negotiations.
Schutt admitted using harsh language but denied telling staff that he “could find them different positions” during a policy discussion. The report found no evidence of retaliation.
Dave Osberg, a previous city administrator, reprimanded Schutt in 2012 and listed 16 concerns in a 2013 memo. They included problems communicating with staff and failing to complete assigned tasks.
Among the personal conduct issues Osberg cited were “bullying and intimidating behavior, along with fear of retaliation by you.”
Several council members expressed a desire to move forward.
Mayor Paul Hicks said the investigative process had been hard for everyone.