Scott County Board is split on administrator

  • Article by: DAVID PETERSON , Star Tribune
  • Updated: January 3, 2012 - 8:03 PM

Push to oust Gary Shelton fails by a vote but leads to a wave of accusations among members.

A move to oust Scott County Administrator Gary Shelton on Tuesday ignited a series of accusations from and toward County Board members -- but fell one vote short of its goal.

After the meeting, Commissioner Joe Wagner, who sought Shelton's dismissal, made it clear in an interview that he blames Shelton for his being accused of using political influence on behalf of a relative being questioned by sheriff's deputies.

Although the matter has since been dropped, he said, it still burns. "It died, it didn't go anywhere, but it should have never started."

Within the past few weeks, on a referral from Scott County authorities, the Washington County attorney's office has checked into the allegations and declined to press charges, Wagner and others said.

Shelton declined to comment on the vote to remove him. Of the Wagner matter, he said: "I took steps to make sure that county employees were kept at arm's length from anything that could be construed as a coverup -- to maintain the integrity of the county. I wanted to be sure we were honest and transparent. I'm not saying there was a coverup, and I don't think there was one."

Wagner confirmed after the meeting that Scott County deputies questioned a relative of his on a potential criminal matter and said that family member asked him to sit in on the questioning by way of support. There was no intent to influence the matter, he said.

Days later, he said, he learned that his actions were being questioned, and he senses that Shelton played a role in that process.

"If what I was doing was so wrong, why didn't they ask me to leave the room? I'd have left," he said.

The two votes to remove Shelton came from Wagner and Commissioner Dave Menden, who accused Shelton of trying to influence the outcome of his election in 2010.

"There's a lot of mistrust between me and Gary, and it goes way back," said Menden, a former Scott County sheriff when Shelton worked in his department. "I have a list of 20 things at home; I'm not going to bring any of them up. I watch my back when he comes up with things."

Wagner said he went into the meeting thinking he had the three votes he needed to prevail. But Board Chairman Tom Wolf, who has expressed reservations in the past, opted to support Shelton.

"With any leader, be it a football coach or whomever," he said in an interview, "you wish there were something different about them. Our [behind-the-scenes] meetings can get contentious. But we don't have a reason to relieve him [of his duties]. I don't want a big lawsuit."

Commissioners Jon Ulrich and Barb Marschall noted that Shelton was given a unanimous job rating of "exceeds expectations" in September, and Ulrich gave a long list of his achievements over the years.

"Gary is a year or two from full retirement," Ulrich said, "and you want to now terminate him. What has happened since September? It's no secret that when I heard this was up, I called 50 to 60 people in elected positions or high up across the county and without exception they were shocked and dismayed."

The combative tone was set at the beginning of the meeting, when Wagner questioned whether Marschall should be elected vice chairwoman, considering a position she has taken with a nonprofit that has dealings with the county. Ulrich responded that Wagner has been known to take calls during meetings pertaining to his private business.

County spokeswoman Lisa Kohner said that Marschall's position with the CAP Agency, a nonprofit, was thoroughly vetted for possible conflict of interest and found not to be a problem.

David Peterson • 952-746-3285

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