Inquiry into Scott Co. leader fizzles

  • Article by: DAVID PETERSON , Star Tribune
  • Updated: March 20, 2012 - 9:05 PM

An outside investigator found no substance in a long list of misconduct claims leveled against administrator Gary Shelton.

None of the many claims of misconduct leveled against Scott County's top administrator by one of his own managers has any weight to it, an outside investigator told county commissioners Tuesday.

Speaking in a boardroom jammed with civic leaders, attorney Michelle Soldo said she started with "quite a list," pared it back over nearly three months, and still came up with nothing serious against the man she could only call "the respondent."

By the time it was over, admirers of County Administrator Gary Shelton were taking the podium to call on voters to oust commissioners they say are behind the kerfuffle.

"To sit here and watch this personal attack from both sides is despicable," said Kathy Nielsen, an official of Spring Lake Township. "We are adults. I call on all five of you to stop looking at each other and start looking at the citizens of this community, who deserve better. Stop the infighting and political backstabbing ... and stop attacking the good man who sits in the chair of county administrator."

In January, the board came within one vote of firing Shelton, with two board members saying they didn't trust him and blamed him for trying to undermine them politically.

Claims investigated by Soldo included that of creating a hostile work environment with cutting or inappropriate comments, and conflicts of interest involving outside work and personal connections.

Interviews with 13 people found no proof of abusiveness in communication, Soldo said. Verbal exchanges "were not always pleasant but were the kind of thing a department head reasonably can expect to have with a manager."

Shelton does have a longstanding outside business, she said, but though it may not have been known to all commissioners, some of them new, it was disclosed in the usual way and cleared with the county attorney's office.

The claim that Shelton lay behind a series of "baseless investigations" involving a county commissioner and members of the staff were "not substantiated," she said, adding: "The respondent had no substantive involvement in them."

Soldo did not name the person who filed the complaint.

As for an allegation that Shelton made a particularly offensive remark during an after-hours golf outing last summer, that was not seen the same way by everyone and loses force from not being raised until six months later, she said. She called it "a single isolated remark" and "consistent with after-work banter."

Once it became clear that all the legs on the table were giving way one by one, recriminations began. Commissioners and Shelton allies Jon Ulrich and Barb Marschall wanted to know how much all this had cost, and the estimate was in excess of $10,000.

There was lots of talk of how the investigation came to be and who really was behind it: Was it the department head or was everything being stoked months earlier by a desire among Shelton's critics on the board to oust him?

Board Chairman Tom Wolf said, "Someone came to me with allegations. [After checking them out] I was satisfied but the complainant decided to go ahead anyhow."

Shelton, who chose -- unusually, Soldo said -- to have it all openly aired, said he hopes the whole experience can be "cathartic for the organization. ... I hope we can put our personal differences behind us from now on."

David Peterson • 952-746-3285

  • TO LEARN MORE

    A video of Tuesday's meeting is online on the county's website. Visit www.co.scott.mn.us, then choose "View County Board meetings."

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