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Nobles County Emergency Management director is dismissed

WORTHINGTON -- A sign on the office door of the Nobles County Emergency Management (EM) Director advises people to contact county administration with emergency management questions. An email sent to county employees advises the same, stating EM Director Emily Cenzano's phones have already been forwarded to the administrator's office.

What neither the sign or the email say is that Cenzano was fired Thursday afternoon and escorted from the building, according to one source.

Several sources have told the Daily Globe that Cenzano was one of four people involved in filing a complaint against Nobles County Administrator Mel Ruppert, claiming Ruppert contributed to an adverse work environment in the county offices.

Nobles County Sheriff Kent Wilkening said he was informed of Cenzano's dismissal shortly after 3 p.m. Thursday, and the email informing county employees to contact the administrator's office with EM concerns was sent out before 4 p.m.

Attempts to contact Ruppert Friday were unsuccessful, as a county employee said he is out of the office until March 12. No one else in his office could give a statement regarding the EM position or the situation.

The Daily Globe was advised to contact attorney Jessica Schwei, a partner with the law firm Jardine, Logan & O'Brien PLLP.

Schwei was hired earlier this year to "address certain concerns that have been raised by the staff and officials in the county regarding management and operations," according to a press release issued by her office.

After a two-hour closed session last week with legal counsel, Nobles County commissioners decided there would be "no discipline of any employee because the allegations were not sustained by an independent investigation." While the county never officially admitted Ruppert was the one under investigation, several people who were questioned said they were asked about Ruppert and their working relationship with him.

Nobles County Board Chairman David Benson said Schwei concurred with Cenzano's dismissal. It was long and complicated, he said, but it seemed best.

"It is not retaliatory - absolutely not," he stated, adding that it was a county board decision.

Schwei worked with Ruppert on it, he added.

Wilkening, who works closely with EM on law enforcement and radio issues, said he thought Cenzano was doing a good job.

"She kept me well informed and worked well with the fire chiefs," he said. "This came as a surprise to me."

He was never asked about her job performance by any county board members, he said, adding that the fire chiefs in the county wanted to know what Cenzano had done to deserve dismissal.

"Emily Cenzano's employment with Nobles County ended on March 1, 2012," Schwei wrote in an emailed statement in response to inquiries by the Daily Globe. "At this time, the County cannot release further information. The duties of the Emergency Management Director and Safety Officer position will be delegated to various persons until other arrangements are made. The County will still be able to respond to emergencies and has in place a process for handling the same even in the absence of Ms. Cenzano."

 A native of Windom, Cenzano joined Nobles County as its emergency management director in March 2011. Prior to that, she spent three and a half years as an administrative secretary to the Emergency Management Director in Scott County, working in Shakopee.

Cenzano also previously served as a government contractor for Science Applications International Corp., handling the integrated emergency management program for the Centers for Disease Control in Atlanta, Ga.

Daily Globe reporters Justine Wettschreck and Julie Buntjer may be reached at 376-7322 and 376-7330, respectively.