Sleepy Eye councilor censured

SLEEPY EYE — The Sleepy Eye City Council voted to censure city council member Larry Braun for alleged violations of the council’s code of conduct, during a special Thursday meeting.

The special meeting was held for preliminary consideration of allegations against Braun.

In July, the council approved a resolution to investigate the allegations.

A July 1 email from Riverview Sanitation co-owner Brent Kucera to then Public Utilities Director Bob Elston constituted a complaint against Braun.

Kucera alleged Braun threatened his contract with the city, saying the City of Sleepy Eye would get a lawyer involved, and that Kucera was not abiding by the contract.

Braun denied making these comments to Kucera.

A third-party investigator, Michelle M. Sodo, attorney and consultant, Soldo Consulting, P.C., investigated the complaint. A confidential memorandum regarding the investigation was provided to the council on Oct. 7.

During the special meeting, Braun was allowed to respond to the investigation memorandum.

Braun argued the allegations brought against him violated rules because a hearing was required within 30 days of when the complaint was made. Braun said Kucera’s alleged complaint stemmed from a December 2018 incident, but the hearing was not held until July 2019.

“Why are we still discussing this, as this time frame has passed,” Braun said.

“I do not have a problem with the code of conduct, what I do have a problem with is, I am the only one being held accountable, whether it is true or false.”

Twin Cities attorney Brandon Fitzsimmons of Flaherty & Hood law firm said the formal complaint was submitted July 1 and the first hearing was held within 30 days.

Braun again asserted he never threatened Kucera with a lawyer but said the city had an ordinance and contract that he verified with City Attorney Alissa Fischer.

Braun also questioned the credibility of investigator Sodo because of her limited attempts to contact him for an interview to give him a chance to respond to the complaint.

Braun forwarded his phone records to the council which he alleged showed he only received a single call. Braun acknowledged he and Sodo did eventually interview over the phone.

Councilor Joan Schmidt made the motion passing the resolution censuring Braun, with a second from Councilor Gary Windschitl.

Resident Reg Wick voiced her concerns about these allegations being based on hearsay.

“Councilman Larry Braun’s record speaks for itself,” Wick said. She felt that with Braun’s long history in Sleepy Eye, he would not engage in the behavior alleged. She also questioned the reliability of the investigator.

“I look at this whole situation and it looks very trivial and is costing the city lots of money,” she said.

Chuck Forster asked for an estimate of how much the investigation cost.

“I think you squandered a lot of money for being too delicate,” he said.

Mayor Wayne Pelzel could not give a total amount but agreed it was a lot.

“Nobody on this council made the complaint,” Pelzel said. “Somebody else made the complaint, and the council is obliged to follow through on the complaint.”

The council supported the resolution formally censuring Braun. He is directed to not engage in any conduct that violates standards applicable to council members. Braun is directed to not make any communication as a council member directly with city vendors, in violation of standards. He is prohibited from being assigned to any committee, liaison or representative role for the council related to refuse collection, transportation or disposal.


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