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No action to be taken against Nobles County Administrator

WORTHINGTON -- After a two-hour-long closed session with legal counsel during their board meeting Tuesday, Nobles County commissioners decided there will be "no discipline of any employee because the allegations were not sustained by an independent investigation."

The Daily Globe reported more than a month ago that Nobles County Administrator Mel Ruppert was being investigated as a result of claims he contributed to an adverse work environment in the county offices. Ruppert was present for the announcement Tuesday, which was made by board chairman David Benson.

Benson said the board evaluated the complaint against the county employee, and the tape of the proceedings was sealed by him as board chair and will be safely stored.

He also said the board will continue to have a relationship with the attorney, Jessica Schwie, a partner with the Lake Elmo law firm of Jardine, Logan & O'Brien, PLLP.

Schwie called the Daily Globe Tuesday afternoon to issue a press statement. In it, she said, "The county has completed an investigation into concerns that members of staff were being treated in a disparate and harassing manner. The investigation revealed the discrimination and harassment are not present in the Nobles County workplace. Staff and officials were patient during the process, maintained professional relations and continued to work together, which was greatly appreciated by the county board. The county board has identified some areas for improvement in staff communication, which it will continue to work on."

Schwie will be retained by the county for future work related to the issue of staff communication. She has not yet submitted a bill to the county for her services, but said late Tuesday she charges a rate of $190 per hour.

Several questions posed to Schwie late Tuesday, including a request for information on how many employees filed a complaint against Ruppert, and how many people were interviewed by a separate attorney during the course of the investigation, fell under the data practices act, she said, and would not be answered.

She also said the formal complaint leading to the investigation was covered under the data practices act.

In other action, the board:

l On recommendation of the administration committee, appointed Kathleen Kusz as the new Nobles County Attorney, effective March 1. She will be paid an annual salary of $92,143 for the first six months, and then earn an annual salary of $95,797 on Sept. 1.

l Ratified a labor agreement with Teamsters Local 320 representing courthouse and library employees. The two-year agreement calls for no cost of living adjustment (COLA) for 2012, a 1.25 percent COLA increase in 2013 and a 2 percent COLA in 2014.

l Approved a development agreement, along with roadway and tile repair agreements, for Zephyr Wind LLC to construct 15 wind generator towers west of Reading and north of CSAH 14 in Summit Lake and Larkin townships. Commissioners Benson and Diane Thier abstained from the vote because of their involvement in this project, developed by Community Wind South. There will be a public meeting to present more information about the project at 2 p.m., March 5 at the Reading Community Center.

l Set 9 a.m. April 3 as the date for a public hearing on Nobles County Ditch 12. The city of Worthington is proposing to straighten the ditch and create a 90-degree turn on the north side of Travelodge Hotel. The reconstruction would allow for future industrial development.

l Approved the 2012-2013 county feedlot program delegation agreement and work plan. The county is required each year to develop a work plan. This year, the county's feedlot officer plans to inspect at least 7 percent of its feedlots, 32 in all, located primarily within the Heron Lake Watershed District.

l Tabled a request from Jeff Markus to install a third driveway on his property in the southeast quarter of Section 33, Indian Lake Township. Commissioners had several questions regarding the need for the driveway.

l Learned from Public Works Director Stephen Schnieder that the state has decided not to turn back to the county the old section of Minnesota 60 at Bigelow, which was abandoned by the state when the new highway was completed. The decision was made by the state because of the discovery of contaminated soils along that roadway.

"We've been maintaining this road with the idea the turnback was coming," said Schnieder, saying the county has done snow removal and other work on the section for the past two or three years.

He anticipated receiving compensation from the Minnesota Department of Transportation as a result of the turnback -- money that was already designated to be spent on an overlay project on County State Aid Highway 14 west of Brewster and CSAH 36, from Minnesota 60 to the Jackson County line.

"The state policy is they do not turn back property with contaminated soil," he added.

l Appointed Colleen Gruis of Rushmore to the Nobles County Planning Commission.

l Approved a $1,000 contribution (gold level sponsorship) to the Worthington Regional Economic Development Corporation to plan the annual Bioscience Conference. The money will come from the county's general fund.

l Learned that two candidates were to be interviewed Tuesday afternoon for the Nobles County Assessor position.

Daily Globe Reporter Julie Buntjer can be reached at 376-7330.

Julie Buntjer

Julie Buntjer joined the Globe newsroom in December 2003, after working more than nine years for weekly newspapers. A native of Worthington, she has a bachelor's degree in agriculture journalism. Find more of her stories of farm life, family and various other tidbits at

(507) 376-7330