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Settlement reached: Heron Lake Watershed manager to resign in mediation agreement

HERON LAKE -- Nearly five months after Heron Lake Watershed District Administrator Jan Voit filed a lawsuit against board member Roger Hartman, a settlement has been reached in the case.

HERON LAKE - Nearly five months after Heron Lake Watershed District Administrator Jan Voit filed a lawsuit against board member Roger Hartman, a settlement has been reached in the case.

On Wednesday, Voit and her attorney, New Ulm-based Jeff Braegelmann, went through mediation in Mankato with Hartman’s legal counsel, Employment Attorney Jessica Schwie of Jardine, Logan & O’Brien. Schwie was hired by the Heron Lake Watershed District’s insurance trust to represent both Hartman and the watershed district in the suit.
Through mediation, Voit agreed to a settlement of $5,000 - just 10 percent of the $50,000 she was seeking. In addition, Hartman will be required to resign his position on the Heron Lake Watershed District’s board of managers effective Dec. 31. He also agreed not to seek or accept an appointment as manager of the HLWD until after Jan. 1, 2019.
Braegelmann filed the lawsuit against Hartman in mid-July in Jackson County District Court, pursuing judgment against the watershed board member on claims of defamation, negligent infliction of emotional distress, intentional infliction of emotional distress and abuse of process.
Voit pursued the lawsuit after Hartman sent letters to Jackson, Murray, Cottonwood and Nobles county commissioners, as well as the offices of the Minnesota Attorney General and Minnesota State Auditor this spring, alleging Voit overpaid her family’s health insurance premiums by more than $45,700.
Voit denied the overpayments and said her claims of defamation, emotional distress and abuse of power were based on Hartman spreading inaccurate information about her and the money paid for her insurance premiums.

In an emailed response to the Daily Globe late Thursday, Schwie explained that she filed a motion asking the court to dismiss Voit’s defamation claim immediately after Braegelmann filed the lawsuit.
In September, Schwie said the two parties appeared before Jackson County District Court Judge Darci Bentz, during which Hartman argued that because he was a district manager, he was entitled to inquire into the practices of the watershed district relating to wages and benefits of district employees, including Voit. Hartman also said he had a right to share his concerns with the four counties within the watershed district, as well as the state offices of the attorney general and auditor.
As the two parties waited out the 90-day period Bentz had to rule on the motion, Schwie said it was unclear whether the judge would have granted Hartman’s motion and dismissed Voit’s claims, or whether the claims would have proceeded to trial. As they waited for a ruling,
both Voit and Hartman continued to serve the watershed district.
“There were no apparent disputes and meetings and operations as the district continued,” Schwie wrote.
With the 90-day period set to expire just before Christmas, and having heard no questions or comments from the judge since the ruling, Schwie said watershed district managers and Hartman agreed to participate in mediation with Voit “to see if the lawsuit might be resolved in order to avoid the burdens and expenses of the litigation.” This decision was made after the second meeting between Schwie and board managers in November.
On Thursday, Voit said she was happy with the outcome and Hartman’s resignation. He was appointed to the HLWD Board of Managers in February 2012 by the Jackson County Board of Commissioners.
“I think this has been a difficult ordeal for Ms. Voit and she is glad to have the matter resolved,” Braegelmann wrote in an email to the Daily Globe Thursday afternoon. “She looks forward to continuing to serve the watershed district as its administrator.”
Schwie said the watershed district and Hartman hope to put all issues behind them.
“It has been recommended to the Watershed District that it begin working with an employment attorney on a regular basis as part of its duty to manage public funds,” Schwie wrote. “Labor expenses are a significant portion of the Watershed District’s budget. It was suggested that an employment attorney might be of assistance in addressing the practices of the District, including the payment of Voit’s compensation on a salary basis as opposed to an hourly basis in order to avoid large overtime expenses and other such items.
“While the Watershed District reviews these issues going forward, Hartman says that he will be focusing on matters at home,” Schwie added.
Since Hartman was appointed by the Jackson County board, its commissioners will need to appoint a new manager to the HLWD board. The process must follow state statute, which requires the county to advertise for the position opening and accept letters of interest from individuals who reside within the district. The commissioners vote on the appointment.
Hartman did not return a phone call seeking comment on the settlement.

Related Topics: WATERSHED
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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