DULUTH – City Attorney Gunnar Johnson said being placed on administrative suspension last week “shocked and blindsided” him after eight years serving in Duluth’s second highest paid position.
Johnson said Wednesday that though he has not been formally given a reason for his suspension, he’s gleaned that two employees have expressed disagreement with how the City Attorney’s Office is being managed.
“I take these matters very seriously, and I will cooperate fully with any investigation,” Johnson said. “I hope the process is fair and thorough and gets all the facts out.”
City spokeswoman Kate Van Daele declined to comment Wednesday, calling the issue “a personnel matter.”
Duluth City Council members said Mayor Emily Larson called them last week to make them aware that city officials suspended Johnson, but that they were given few details beyond that. City Council President Gary Anderson said he was told it was a “human resources issue.”
Larson did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
“I am very disappointed with the transparency surrounding very important decisions regarding City Hall and the administration,” Council Member Derek Medved said Wednesday.
Johnson said he believes a Twin Cities firm is being brought in to investigate his job performance, a process that he said he finds atypical because all of the employees he manages are represented by unions.
“Obviously, that has great consequences for me, with my career and reputation hanging in the balance here,” he said.
Johnson was previously employed by the state Attorney General’s Office until he was appointed to his current role by former Duluth Mayor Don Ness in 2008. According to Duluth’s charter, the City Council must confirm a mayor’s city attorney appointments by a simple vote.
Johnson, who earns a salary of $131,028, said his leave is paid. The City Attorney’s Office is staffed by 17 people who provide legal services and advice to the city and represent Duluth in the court system.
“We have really capable staff in the attorney’s office,” Anderson said. “So in Gunnar Johnson’s absence, we have great people doing good work in that department.”