CLARKFIELD, MINN. – After last fall’s election, Albert Gates was excited to lead his beloved farming town of 832 people on the western edge of Minnesota.
Now he is a man in retreat, banned from City Council meetings and missing his grandchildren’s school events to comply with a restraining order filed by Council Member Scott Vold.
The controversy that led up to Clarkfield essentially going without a mayor for the next few months has left some here baffled — and embarrassed.
“This is a bad reflection on our whole city,” said Council Member Paul Anspach as he took a break from splitting wood on his lot across the street from the mayor.
It happened after a routine discussion at a City Council meeting last month about workers’ pay. Clarkfield officials considered a request for a raise by 24-year city librarian Enola Rolla, who had learned that a newly hired employee was making more.
During the debate, Gates, 65, accused Vold, 50, of saying, “She’s just a librarian,” according to a recording of the meeting. (Gates later admitted to the West Central Tribune that he reviewed the audio and that Vold didn’t use those words.)
Gates, who had been championing Rolla’s raise, told Vold it was “a low shot you took and you should be ashamed of yourself.”
“I’m not,” said Vold.
“Well, you should be,” Gates retorted, before threatening that if the shots continued, “I’m coming across the table after you, you understand me? I’ve had it with ya …”
The meeting adjourned minutes later, but the trouble had just begun.
Vold, who said it was the third time he’d been threatened by the mayor, went to the Yellow Medicine County courthouse and secured a restraining order that requires the mayor to stay 100 feet away from him until June 6.
“He threatened me of bodily harm if I did not respond as he wished,” Vold wrote. In an interview, he added: “He just don’t like me.”
He said the mayor had cursed at him during two previous council meetings, including during a disagreement on late fees for water bills. “I did not sign up for public office to be threatened or cussed at on a regular basis,” said Vold.
Rolla, who did not attend the meeting, still can’t believe it. She has overseen the four-room library’s 19,000 books and movies since 1991.
She knows the mayor and “he’s a nice guy. I feel bad that there’s all that issue over a raise being brought up.”
The mayor could not be reached for comment. His daughter, Aubrey Johnson, voiced frustration with Vold outside Gates’ home, saying, “I have no respect for the guy.”
She said that her dad can’t even go to his grandchildren’s school events because Vold’s grandchildren go to the same school and her father doesn’t want to take the risk of violating the restraining order. “Everybody is like, ‘What is his problem?’ ” she said. “They know Dad. He wouldn’t do anything.”
A city administrator handles the day-to-day business of Clarkfield, and the mayor’s job is an unpaid, part-time position. Gates has come in since the restraining order was filed to sign documents, the administrator said, adding that it hasn’t affected town business.
Clarkfield is a hard town to avoid someone in. It’s 1 square mile and features a grain elevator, a bar and a few shops.
At the Filling Station Bar, which counts Vold among its patrons, some of the regulars guffawed over their Miller Lites when the Vold-Gates standoff came up.
“I think it’s the stupidest thing,” said Bonnie Cordes.
Anspach said that from what he saw at the meeting, Gates was not a real threat to Vold.
“He’s basically been in hiding for fear of running across [Vold],” he said.