Ramsey administrator's job on line; councilman in court

  • Article by: PAUL LEVY , Star Tribune
  • Updated: January 11, 2012 - 9:55 PM

City Council rejected the mayor's plan to fire an administrator to save money. And a council member facing felony charges will be in court today.

Ramsey's mayor recently proposed firing a city administrator he calls "good, respected and capable." A council member goes to court Thursday wondering whether he has a lawyer to defend him against felony theft charges.

Ramsey, a Mississippi River community boasting rustic simplicity and grand urban aspirations, can't seem to sidestep controversy.

A month ago Mayor Bob Ramsey revealed that he is working and living in oil-rich North Dakota and making 500-mile commutes to attend City Council meetings. He dropped another bombshell before Tuesday night's meeting: To cut the city budget and help pay off an anticipated $1.5 million municipal-center debt, he proposed firing administrator Kurt Ulrich, the city's top-paid official, eliminating the deputy administrator's position, and replacing Ulrich with the current deputy administrator, Heidi Nelson, who makes less in salary.

The proposal was defeated by a 4-3 council vote, meaning Ulrich and Nelson will keep their respective jobs and the council will search for other remedies for its 2013 budget. But the mayor's proposal provoked an emotional council meeting, attended by stunned Ramsey citizens.

"At the end of the day, we got to the point where we could sit down and have a rational discussion," Ulrich said Wednesday.

"I'm a professional manager," said Ulrich, who has held the city administrator's job since 2007. "We work in a political environment. We need to continue to move Ramsey forward."

For Council Member David Elvig, who voted in support of Ulrich, moving forward means an afternoon in Anoka County court where the public defender's office will explain why it does not want to take his case.

Elvig was charged in September with two counts of theft in connection with his former custom-furniture and cabinet business. The business was shut down by state order after its sales-tax permit was revoked 11 months ago. He is accused of embezzling $19,596.83 from his employees' 401(k) and group health and dental plans, from April 23, 2009, to Jan. 14, 2010.

'He earns too much'

Elvig, 52, who has asserted his innocence, continues to be listed by the Minnesota Department of Revenue as owing a state-high $649,000 in unpaid sales taxes. But in its motion to be discharged from Elvig's case, the public defender's office says "Elvig does not qualify for appointment of legal counsel -- he simply earns too much and owns too much."

According to court documents, Elvig earns $36,000 as a private consultant plus $6,600 as a council member. The public defender's office says in its notice of motion that Elvig lives in a $200,000 home, sails a boat and drives to the courthouse in a 2004 Ford. "Even more telling," the public defender's office said, Elvig earns enough to afford DirecTV.

"I don't know if I'm being defended or prosecuted," Elvig said Wednesday. "The court appointed me a public defender. That's all I can say about it."

Elvig said that after a courtesy review by the state's Department of Revenue, he signed an agreement saying his company owes $104,000, and not the $649,000 listed. Robyn Dwyer, collection division director for the Department of Revenue, declined to comment but acknowledged three liens against Elvig's former business, E-Street Makers Inc. One lien is for $108,714.04.

'Reason won out'

Elvig preferred to talk about the city of Ramsey and Ulrich.

"If he's doing a good job, then let him do his job," Elvig said of Ulrich.

Mayor Ramsey said his proposal to remove Ulrich was strictly a business decision. Ulrich earns nearly $128,000 in base salary, plus benefits. Since 2007 -- a year before Ramsey was elected mayor -- the city has cut 14 positions, Ulrich said.

"I'm just looking for more ways to be efficient," Ramsey said.

Council Member Sarah Strommen, who called Ulrich "a good fit" and "fabulous," said she looks forward to two weeks of discussions before the next formal meeting.

"Ultimately, I think that process and reason won out," she said.

Last year, the city was awarded a Northstar rail station. A highly anticipated veterans clinic opened in November. An Indianapolis developer will soon begin work on a high-end development project.

The city has tried to distance itself from the Ramsey Town Center project, which was plagued by fraud and defaulted loans and, ultimately, became one of the biggest residential real estate debacles in Twin Cities history.

"The Town Center was part of our history, but we've moved on," Nelson said. "A lot of good has happened here recently, thanks to a lot of hard work by our officials and staff. Budgets aren't easy. But we'll continue to work hard to find answers."

Paul Levy • 612-673-4419

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