Idyllic Dayton is hit by some rough times

  • Article by: PAUL LEVY , Star Tribune
  • Updated: August 6, 2013 - 10:03 PM

It’s been an eventful year as the city’s administrator is fired and police chief charged with crimes.

In idyllic, suburban Dayton, where cornfields lead to City Hall and motorists are cautioned to yield to horses, few people talk about the police chief charged with illegally examining the city administrator’s driver’s license data. Fewer speak of the recently fired city administrator.

“Dayton’s a really nice community,” City Clerk Sandra Borders said of the pastoral city of 4,700 in northwestern Hennepin County, the hometown of two-time Olympic gold medal soccer goalie Brianna Scurry. “There’s usually not a lot of controversy here,” Borders said.

But an apparent clash of styles that may have percolated for months boiled over on May 31 when City Administrator Samantha Orduno was terminated by the City Council, even though her contract ran until ­September.

Less than two weeks later, Dick Pietrzak, a former longtime Minneapolis cop who has been police chief since 2002, was charged with ­violating the restricted use of criminal justice data. The two counts against Pietrzak, 62, are misdemeanors, but are rare criminal charges against a police chief, say the League of Minnesota Cities and the special prosecutor handling the case.

There may be more legal actions — against other suburban police departments. Orduno has filed notices of claims — possible precursors to lawsuits — against Dayton, Richfield, Maple Grove, Corcoran, Ramsey and Mounds View, alleging that specific driver’s license information was procured without legal justification, said attorney Jon Iverson, who represents the league of cities. Eden Prairie was dropped from Orduno’s original list, Iverson said.

Orduno, 64, was city administrator in Richfield and Mounds View before taking that position in Dayton eight years ago. She also has been a management assistant in Fridley and New Brighton and was manager in Carpinteria, Calif. Her attorney asked her to decline interviews for this story.

“She’s been highly valued by her employers,” said the ­attorney, Jonathan Strauss.

Orduno is credited with helping to lure Best Buy’s headquarters to Richfield, but Richfield officials declined to discuss her tenure there. She left Richfield, an inner-ring suburb of 35,000 and a job that currently pays nearly $144,000, for tiny Dayton and a job that paid her $117,000.

“She had great credentials,” said former Dayton Mayor Doug Anderson. “Sam has a great skills set; she’s passionate and dynamic. She had everything we felt we needed to move this city forward.”

It was during her tenure in Fridley that Orduno met Lynne Bankes, who recently retired as White Bear Lake’s police chief. Bankes said that Orduno contacted her last year, telling Bankes she suspected Pietrzak had accessed her personal data. Bankes’ investigation indicated that Pietrzak had looked at Orduno’s information twice last year — on May 12 and Oct. 4 — although Orduno had not been stopped for traffic violations on either occasion. Pietrzak, whose pretrial hearing is set for Sept. 19, declined to be interviewed for this article. But he has been quoted previously as saying, ”We’re going to fight this to the end.”

Council turnover

Anderson, who served 20 years on the five-member Dayton City Council, the last eight as mayor, decided last year not to run for re-election. Another council member also decided not to run while a third was defeated in a re-election bid.

On Dec. 31, at a special meeting and the last for its three outgoing members, the council placed Pietrzak on paid administrative leave for unprofessional conduct after he allegedly told a citizen involved in a police report, “What comes around goes around.”

Added to the agenda at the same meeting, the council voted to allow Orduno to carry into 2013 several weeks of vacation time that she had accrued but under city rules otherwise could not have kept.

New Mayor Tim McNeil, who heads a council that took office the week after the Dec. 31 meeting, declined to comment on the former council’s actions. But Pietrzak was reinstated in February, 53 days after being placed on leave.

The council made another significant move in February: It notified Orduno, an at-will employee, that her contract would not automatically be renewed.

At a special meeting on May 31, her job was terminated by a 5-0 council vote. Dayton’s unofficial city policy has been for officials to decline discussing Orduno or the charges against Pietrzak. But in a statement released by the city, McNeil told Orduno that the decision to fire her “was no reflection on her and wished her luck.”

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