A Lake Elmo city administrator who left his job amid turmoil over land development has sued the city and a former City Council member, alleging defamation over how his departure was portrayed.
Dean Zuleger began working for Lake Elmo in January 2012 but left City Hall after striking an agreement with the City Council in June 2015.
"His tenure with the city was complicated by significant dysfunction within the city," said the suit, filed in Washington County District Court.
Zuleger negotiated his departure with the City Council after a new council majority opposed his efforts to develop portions of Lake Elmo, a mostly rural city north of Woodbury.
His departure marked the eighth time the city administrator job has changed hands since 2003.
In the suit filed July 29, Zuleger alleges "great difficulty" in finding a new city administrator job because of statements by Lake Elmo officials that he said damaged his reputation.
The suit alleges that Steve DeLapp, a library board member and formerly on the City Council, wrongly said in a media interview that Zuleger had been "fired," in the context of this quote: "The guy [the old council] fired couldn't be trusted. One day, he could be the nicest guy in the world and the next day he was ruthless. …"
An attorney for the city didn't respond to a request for comment, and neither DeLapp nor his attorney would comment.
In the suit, Zuleger contends that City Council Member Jill Lundgren wrongly told a newspaper reporter that the city's finance director had filed a "harassment complaint" against him, which he said was private data and couldn't be lawfully released. Lundgren said Wednesday the allegation wasn't accurate.
The suit also said an outside attorney who conducted an investigation into the allegations didn't recommend disciplinary action against Zuleger and none was taken. However, the city's public release of the attorney's report violated Minnesota's Data Practices law because it contained Zuleger's private personnel data, the suit said.
The flare-up over Zuleger's leadership came after a previous City Council approved a burst of new housing developments in the city of 8,000, a place many residents value for its peaceful rural nature.
As of 2015, Met Council data showed that Lake Elmo had approved fewer than 2,000 new residential units since 1970. During the same period, Woodbury authorized the building of almost 25,000 new units.
Staff writer David Peterson contributed to this story.