A Lake Minnetonka village took the rare step last week of temporarily removing an appointed city leader after he sued the city.
Max Hacker, the vice chairman of the city's Planning Commission, went to court disputing a city fee and the city's approval of a new patio for his neighbor. After Minnetonka Beach residents voiced concerns, the City Council voted 3-1 to remove Hacker from the commission until the two lawsuits conclude. The council appoints commission members.
"It's unusual," attorney Justin Templin, who is representing the city, said about removing a city official. "But [it's] not unprecedented."
Minnetonka Beach, a wealthy enclave on a boot-shaped peninsula on Lake Minnetonka, has about 570 residents and no commercial property. It typically doesn't get much attention.
In December, Hacker sued the city in Hennepin County District Court, arguing that a neighbor built a stone patio that extended past average minimum building setbacks and violated city code. City officials maintain that the property owner got proper approvals and complied with city code.
A separate case filed by Hacker with the state Court of Appeals disputes a $3,500 fee the city charged over his appeal of the patio approval.
"There is no conflict of interest," said Pat Steinhoff, Hacker's attorney, adding that the action was a reversal from the council's decision a month ago to keep Hacker, who agreed to recuse himself from discussions involving the issues. "There was no legitimate reason to remove him."
Former Mayor Rick Skalla has pressed for Hacker's resignation, saying he shouldn't serve the jurisdiction he's suing.
"It's a perceived conflict of interest," Skalla said.
Skalla has pushed Minnetonka Beach to start uploading audio of meetings to its website for increased transparency. The City Council approved the measure last week. The city doesn't videotape its meetings.
"It's a unique city; everybody knows each other, or of each other," Skalla said. "It will set the facts straight rather than the word-of-mouth conversations."
Most surrounding cities videotape their City Council meetings and post them online.
"It's very unfortunate that a small community as close-knit as we are that we have some of the discourse we do," Minnetonka Beach Mayor Mike Taylor said.