Insufficient evidence: HLWD administrator will not be charged with wrongdoing

JACKSON -- More than three years after complaints were filed against the Heron Lake Watershed District and its administrator, Jan Voit, alleging theft of public funds and presenting false claims, Jackson County Attorney Sherry Haley released a st...

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JACKSON - More than three years after complaints were filed against the Heron Lake Watershed District and its administrator, Jan Voit, alleging theft of public funds and presenting false claims, Jackson County Attorney Sherry Haley released a statement Wednesday morning stating the county will not pursue prosecution in the matter.

Though not identified by name in the memorandum released by Haley, the allegations were made against Voit by Heron Lake Watershed Manager Roger Hartman during a closed meeting of the HLWD Board of Managers Nov. 20, 2012.
In Haley’s memorandum emailed to the Daily Globe, the Jackson County attorney said she consulted with the state auditor’s office upon receipt of the allegations, but the auditor’s office declined to get involved.
The matter was then referred to the Jackson County Sheriff’s Department, which conducted a full investigation, Haley wrote. Through the investigation, the sheriff’s department conducted a search warrant for records from the HLWD office, interviewed potential witnesses and gathered financial records from other sources.
“The policy from the Heron Lake Watershed District regarding benefits for employees contains language that states that the district will pay 100 percent of health care premiums for the district administrator; however, later places a cap on that amount,” Haley wrote in the memo. “Additionally, the personnel policy for the HLWD provides: ‘Nothing contained herein shall be construed to constitute a contract, either express or implied, and the Heron Lake Watershed District reserves the right, in its sole discretion, to modify, change or disregard the policies and procedures herein contained.’”
Haley went on to state that the minutes from each year show full health care benefits for the district administrator being paid, with specific amounts approved, including the amount in excess of the policy cap.
“After careful review of the annual audit reports, it does not appear that the payments of the health care premiums, the amount exceeding the policy cap, for the district administrator were ever called to attention in those reports prior to the matter being reported to this office,” stated Haley.

Haley wrote that guidance in making her decision came from a 1993 case involving the State of Minnesota v. Joseph Dahl, but also referred to the language of the HLWD policies, the board’s annual approval of the amounts and the fact that the board’s decision upon discovery of the issue resulted in retroactively approving the increased cap.
With those documents, plus the board’s decision to increase the future cap to cover 100 percent of the premium, “there is insufficient evidence to support charging this case criminally,” Haley wrote.
HLWD Administrator Jan Voit, reached for comment Wednesday afternoon, said the Jackson County Attorney’s decision “says everything that I’ve been saying all along and what the majority of the board has been saying - that they approved all that and I didn’t do anything wrong.”
Voit said her job with the watershed district since Hartman’s allegations were made public was tense and uncomfortable.
“I feel like I have to watch everything I say or do and worry that it’s going to get used against me,” Voit said. “I really felt like I had no voice, after repeatedly saying I didn’t do anything wrong.”
While Voit said the attorney’s decision not to file charges will go a long way toward clearing the slate, “some of the things that have been said and done just can’t be taken back.
“That’s what’s disappointing - it was never really an issue and it’s been made into something big and nasty and it was really nothing,” she said.
The past few years have been a trying time, not only for Voit, but for other managers who serve on the HLWD board.
A year ago this week, a public relations specialist was brought in to work with Voit and managers on ways to improve communication and rebuild trust. Voit said they were given action steps, most of which were tried or enacted, and commitments were made for future interactions.
Voit said with Haley’s decision, “Hopefully now things will change. It’s been hanging over my head for three years.”
Last week, a lawsuit brought forth by Voit in mid-July against Hartman was settled through mediation. Voit’s suit was based on claims against Hartman for defamation, negligent infliction of emotional distress, intentional infliction of emotional distress and abuse of process. As a result of the mediation, Hartman will resign from the HLWD, effective Dec. 31.
“I’m just ready to put this behind and focus on things that are really important in the watershed district,” Voit said Wednesday. “It is unfortunate that this investigation occurred and taxpayer dollars were needlessly wasted.”

Julie Buntjer became editor of The Globe in July 2021, after working as a beat reporter at the Worthington newspaper since December 2003. She has a bachelor's degree in agriculture journalism from South Dakota State University.
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