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Batesole not censured -- for now

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Virgil Batesole2 / 2

Alexandria Mayor Sara Carlson used strong words to describe city council member Virgil Batesole's behavior — that he's been less than respectful, that the council has lost confidence in him, that he puts himself first, ahead of the city — but she stopped short of asking the council to censure him.

At Monday night's meeting, she said the council should put the step of censure on hold and try to help Batesole by working together for the good of the city.

"A censure, although deserved, would only make headlines and then go away," she said.

Carlson proposed bringing in a team-building expert from the Twin Cities, Dr. Michael Monroe Kiefer, to lead a training session for the whole council on becoming better leaders.

The council approved her suggestion on a 4-0 vote with Batesole abstaining. Batesole did not comment during or after Carlson's remarks.

Carlson recommended the action after holding two meetings with Batesole, City Attorney Tom Jacobson and City Administrator Marty Schultz through a process that's spelled out in the council's code of conduct for elected officials. Council member Bob Kuhlman also attended one of the meetings.

Censuring a council member does not remove someone from office or take away voting privileges; it is a formal way for other council members to strongly disagree with his or her actions.

The council voted to start the censure process on March 27 after Batesole, an appointed member of the Runestone Community Center Commission, said he purposely didn't attend at least one commission meeting because he didn't want the commission to be influenced by him.

Instead, Batesole said he had a special meeting with RCC Manager Vinnie Hennen and another meeting with Schultz — actions that council member Todd Jensen said took up staff time and made Hennen feel uncomfortable.

Carlson asked Jacobson to look into the matter and report his findings to her. Jacobson reviewed a transcript from the March 27 meeting, examined the code of conduct and ethics adopted by the council on February 22, 2016, and studied information from the League of Minnesota Cities and Alexandria's Home Rule Charter.

In a memo, Jacobson listed several statements Batesole made at the March 27 meeting:

• Batesole said he missed one of the RCC meetings because he was "not notified." Jacobson said that the meeting was a regularly scheduled meeting.

• Batesole said he he didn't want to make up his mind on how he would vote on RCC matters until he reviewed documentation and discussed it with Hennen separately rather than with the commission. He also said he still plans to not vote at meetings unless it was for a very good reason. Jacobson said the code of conduct requires council members to "fully participate in city council meetings and other public forums," "prepare in advance of meetings and be familiar with issues on the agenda," "be respectful of other people's time," "participate in scheduled activities," and "limit contact to specific city staff." The code also states that council members should not disrupt city staff and make sure all council members have equal access to information.

• Batesole said the charter states that "we can do any investigation we want to." Jacobson said the charter states, "The council or any officer or officers authorized by them, shall have the power to investigate" — not individual council members without council authorization.

At Monday's meeting, Carlson summarized what took place at the two meetings with Batesole, saying that every step of the way, Batesole made it a "difficult, almost impossible" process.

During the first meeting, which lasted two hours and 15 minutes, she said they talked about being respectful of other people's time, not disrupting staff and making sure all council members had access to information.

Carlson felt that some progress was being made but she found out the next day that many of things that Batesole said he found out through the League of Minnesota Cities about the censure process were not true, according to Jacobson, who called the League to try to verify Batesole's claims.

This led to a second meeting on June 7 that resulted in more disagreement. At one point, Carlson told Batesole that he seemed to believe that "he was the smartest man in the room" and wouldn't listen to anyone else.

Carlson said she offered to meet with him one-on-one and see what they could do but Batesole refused, saying he would only meet with her if he could "talk down" to her. That meeting ended with nothing resolved.

Carlson told the council that her job as CEO of the city is to look at the big picture and that these distractions have to stop. "We have lots of work to do — every week for the next several months — to work on the budget and that's important work," she said.

Carlson noted that Alexandria is doing better than most cities. "We are strong economically, our citizens are supportive and engaged," she said. "Therefore, our leadership has to be better than most."

Another council member accused of threats

Minutes before Carlson delivered her remarks, council member Kuhlman made a motion to hold a special meeting to discuss the possibility of reprimanding council member Jensen for threatening him and Batesole on two occasions — one after the last council meeting and another two or three months ago.

Kuhlman said both instances took place in the council chambers or in the hallway and were reported to the police.

Kuhlman didn't give details about the nature of the threat, only saying that it was a "personal threat."

The city charter allows the mayor or two council members to call for a special meeting.

Kuhlman's motion was approved 4-0 with Jensen abstaining.

No date for the meeting was scheduled.

Al Edenloff

Al Edenloff is the news and opinion page editor for the Echo Press. He was born in Alexandria and lived most of his childhood in Parkers Prairie. He graduated with honors from Moorhead State University with a degree in mass communications, print journalism. He interned at the Echo Press in the summer of 1983 and was hired a year later as a sports reporter. He also worked as a news reporter/photographer. Al is a four-time winner of the Minnesota Newspaper Association's Herman Roe Award, which honors excellence in editorial writing.  

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