Loyal servant or 'dictator’?

  • Updated: May 8, 2011 - 5:24 PM

Whistleblower: Oak Grove Mayor Mark Korin says he is saving the city money by also serving as city administrator. Some are crying foul.

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Mark Korin; Oak Grove Mayor

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The Oak Grove mayor and city administrator always see eye to eye. In fact, in an arrangement that is raising eyebrows in this small suburban community in Anoka County, they happen to be the same person.

Last November, just three days after Mark Korin was elected Oak Grove's new mayor, he took over the responsibilities of the departing city administrator, whose contract expired Nov. 5.

Under Minnesota law, mayors are prohibited from holding second jobs with the city they oversee.

Korin claims he is saving Oak Grove $150,000 a year by performing the tasks of a former underling. For taking on those chores, he thinks he is entitled to earn $1,500 a month. He said he spends about 28 hours each week performing those extra administrative duties.

"If you're saving the city money and volunteering above and beyond mayoral duties, there's a point where you've got to be paid something for it," Korin said Friday.

The Oak Grove City Council, which would have to approve the arrangement, is divided over whether to pay Korin a stipend for the extra work. Some members think he deserves the money, while at least one council member says holding two city jobs is a clear conflict of interest. The mayor earns about $6,000 a year as Oak Grove's chief executive, including $1,300 for economic development duties.

'Servant' or 'dictator'?

The controversy began with the departure last year of the city administrator, Chantell Knauss , after her three-year contract expired. Knauss, who gave notice months before her departure, was on maternity leave after giving birth to her second child. But she remained in contact with city officials almost daily, working from home and getting paid only for the hours she worked.

Knauss was a relative pillar of stability in the job, holding the position since November 2007. Her three predecessors came and went in a three-year period.

Knauss, who now works as assistant city manager in Golden Valley, said she decided it was "time to move on."

By not replacing Knauss, Korin said the city will save Knauss' annual salary of $99,125, plus various job benefits and the head-hunting fee that would have been spent finding her successor.

"I promised I would do everything in my power to help save the city money," Korin said.

Korin said he is taking on administrative duties because he's a "servant" to the people of Oak Grove, a city of about 8,100. He bristles at the suggestion of one council member, who suggests Korin is acting like a "dictator."

"I'm only one vote on the council," Korin said. "An administrator can't hire or fire anyone or spend money without council approval."

Before being elected mayor, Korin spent 12 years on Oak Grove's planning commission, including serving as chairman. He also was chairman of the city's park board.

Korin was elected to the City Council in 2008. He came into a city government that could not have been more dysfunctional, said Julie Lohse, the city's long-time accountant who was fired by the City Council shortly before Korin's election.

Over the next year, the city planner and long-time council member Kristin Anderson resigned. To make additional budget cuts, Korin requested the elimination of more city jobs. At the time, Knauss questioned the need for more cuts, saying, "I don't think the city's in a financial crisis."

A question of incompatibility

The idea of paying Korin for his extra duties surfaced publicly at a City Council meeting early this year.

"I went to the City Council and said I have a management background, I can help the city," said Korin, who runs a private business.

So far, Korin has not been paid for his administrative work, which means there have been no violations of the state law, which bars mayors and other elected city officials from receiving compensation for holding other full-time positions with the city they represent.

The council discussion revolved around whether these were two "incompatible positions," confirmed Bob Vose, Oak Grove's attorney. Council Members Dan Denno and Kevin Robinison urged that Korin be paid for his time. "Our attorney seems to have a way that we could pay him part time," Denno said last week.

Councilman Mike Wylie thinks the city should hire a full-time administrator. "This is wrong," Wylie said of Korin holding two city jobs.

Korin said the city's attorney told him that other mayors have received $1,500-per-month stipends for performing extra tasks.

"If they did offer it to me, I would hesitate," Korin said. "At the same time, I'm not doing this for my health. I'm not going to lie to you. I'd love to be paid" for the extra work.

"I love our city," Korin added. "I'm doing something that's important to me."

Paul Levy • 612-673-4419

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