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An ongoing investigation at Inver Grove Heights City Hall revolves around whether personnel information about the city administrator was leaked to a council member by a human resources official, who says the inquiry is retaliation against her.

The inquiry involving Human Resources Manager Janet Shefchik follows another investigation in recent years involving City Administrator Joe Lynch.

The latest came to light at a city council meeting earlier this week when Scott Lepak, the city’s labor and employment counsel, asked council members how he should proceed with a draft report.

It remains unclear who filed the complaint that resulted in the investigation. Neither Lepak nor Lynch returned calls or emails this week for comment.

Joe Lynch, Inver Grove Heights city administrator (Courtesy of RiverTown Multimedia)

Lepak said the draft report could be considered “incomplete” because City Council Member Brenda Dietrich, who obtained an email written by another city employee, declined to identify who gave it to her. According to Lepak, Dietrich’s reason for being silent was because the investigation was not authorized by the full council, but rather the mayor.

At Monday’s meeting, it was alleged that Shefchik was Dietrich’s source of the email — a conclusion that according to Lepak was made by taking a “roundabout approach using indirect evidence as to what happened.”

Dietrich presented the email last year during a job performance review of Lynch, who’s been the city administrator since 2006. Ultimately, the email was not included as part of Lynch’s performance evaluation, Lepak noted.

MAYOR APPROVED LATEST INQUIRY

Lepak gave council members a copy of the draft report for them to read on the spot, which they did for nearly a half-hour. Because the report is still a draft, it is not public beyond the council members, he said.

Lepak noted that the investigation, which began last October, was not authorized by the city council as a whole but rather by Mayor George Tourville. When Dietrich asked Lepak why that was the case, he said because Lynch, the city’s top staff person, could not authorize an investigation that involves himself and that the mayor is the “individual when the city administrator can’t take action.”

Tourville said he spoke with City Attorney Tim Kuntz at the time and that he decided the matter should be looked at by Lepak. The mayor said the city has a “responsibility” to look into a possible data breach.

“Everybody on the council was notified that we were taking a look at this item, in numerous emails that went out to city council members over the last period of time,” Tourville said. … “And that employee has rights, too … you send an email and all of a sudden it ends up in a place it shouldn’t be.”

SHEFCHIK A WITNESS INTO LYNCH PROBE

With several supporters seated behind her Monday, Shefchik stepped to the podium and read a prepared statement. She noted that she has over 30 years of private and public human resources experience, and how she served on the human resources and data practices legislative committee at the League of Minnesota Cities.

“I’m an expert in understanding data practices laws,” said Shefchik, who’s been Inver Grove’s head of human resources since 2014 and a resident of the city for 32 years.

She noted that in 2018 and 2019 she was interviewed as a witness into an investigation of a “sexual innuendo” and other offensive remarks that Lynch made to a then-city employee, later identified as former City Clerk Michelle Tesser.

“This is a protected activity under state human rights and federal equal employment opportunity commissions laws,” Shefchik said of her cooperating in the investigation.

LYNCH SUSPENDED, KEPT JOB

Lynch ultimately was suspended three days without pay after a law firm hired by the city concluded that he twice had violated the city’s respectful workplace policy. Their 65-page report detailed name-calling and a sexually suggestive remark Lynch made to Tesser.

Shefchik noted Monday how Lynch then made a counter complaint against Tesser, who was placed on paid leave in April 2019 while the matter was investigated.

Shefchik said that at the time she wrote an email to the city council and city attorney Kuntz “to explain that not only was retaliation prohibited under the city’s own policy, but it was an illegal activity. I also explained that I feared for my own safety and retribution for participating in the investigation and calling the illegal activities to your attention. No protection was offered to me or the others involved.”

The investigation into Lynch’s complaint against Tesser resulted in no disciplinary action against her. A few months later, Tesser and the city parted ways, with Tesser agreeing to withdraw a discrimination complaint she filed with the Minnesota Department of Human Rights over how she was treated by Lynch. As part of the separation agreement, Tesser was given $89,600 for “non wages.”

Shefchik said this week that she was informed this past November that she was part of an investigation into a data breach and that she would be interviewed in order to determine her possible involvement.

“The insinuation was that I had done something wrong,” Shefchik said. She said she believes Lynch filed the complaint that led to the data breach inquiry as retaliation for her cooperating in the investigation that led to his discipline.

WAS IT REALLY A BREACH?

Shefchik’s attorney, Sarah McEllistrem, told the city council the investigation and report is presumptive that there was a data breach.

“If there was a data breach, tell us what it was,” she said. “Specifically inform us what it was because I see no data breach in anything that was provided or any information that has been shared with me.”

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Tourville said counsel at the League of Minnesota Cities “is very clear” that it takes the approval of the majority of city council for any one member to obtain an employee’s personnel information from human resources.

“It doesn’t look like that happened in this instance,” he said. “So, is there a breach or not? I didn’t say there was a breach, there was a possible breach. I don’t know, that’s why we had to take a look at it legally.”

At the conclusion of Monday’s discussion, the city council voted 3-1 (Dietrich abstained) to ask Dietrich again for additional information that then would then be added to the report. The document will return to the council for possible approval Aug. 10.

 

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    Next News:

    Gulf Arabs endorse US push to extend Iran arms embargo

    Six Arab nations are urging the United Nations to extend an arms embargo on Iran, siding with the United States in a dispute that could end the 2015 nuclear deal.

    “Iran has continued to proliferate conventional weapons and arm terrorist and sectarian organizations and movements throughout the region,” the Gulf Cooperation Council said in a bulletin announcing that a letter was sent Saturday to the U.N. “It is imperative to extend those restrictions to ensure and preserve peace and stability in this region and the rest of the world.”

    That argument echoes the oft-repeated warnings made by Secretary of State Mike Pompeo’s team, as U.S. officials have tried to convince Russia and China to allow the U.N. Security Council to pass a resolution extending the embargo before it lapses in October. The letter, a rare show of unity for a GCC that has been riven by a major diplomatic split between Qatar and the Saudi Arabian wing of the coalition, dovetails with American warnings that Russia and China might anger Middle Eastern nations if they persist in their support for Iran.

    “Iran has not ceased or desisted from armed interventions in neighboring countries, directly and through organizations and movements armed and trained by Iran,” the GCC said. “As such, it is inappropriate to lift the restrictions on conventional weapons’ movement to and from Iran until it abandons its destabilizing activities in the region and ceases to provide weapons to terrorist and sectarian organizations.”

    Tehran rejected the statement, as Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Seyed Abbas Mousavi denounced the Gulf bloc as “the mouthpiece of anti-Iran elements.” The statement was released in advance of this week’s expected U.S. effort to pass a resolution extending the arms embargo.

    “The arms embargos are rather a threat to the UNSC and its legal mechanism than a threat against the Iranian nation and against us,” Mousavi said Monday. “The Americans want to weaken or annihilate the UNSC by using it instrumentally or take control of it.”

    Russia and China are expected to block the extension of the arms embargo, which was scheduled to expire when the 2015 Iran nuclear deal came into force. The connection between the nuclear accord and the arms embargo expiration means that the Pompeo can renew the embargo unilaterally by invoking the provision of the nuclear deal that allows the U.S. to abrogate the entire agreement and renew all the preexisting restrictions.

    “The Security Council’s mission is to maintain ‘international peace and security.’ The Council would make an absolute mockery of that mission if it allowed the number-one state sponsor of terrorism to buy and sell weapons freely,” Pompeo said last week. “One way or another — one way or another, we will do the right thing. We will ensure that the arms embargo is extended.”

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