Windom city employee terminated after arrest
WINDOM -- A city of Windom employee facing criminal charges in Cottonwood County District Court was terminated Thursday from his position, effective immediately.
WINDOM - A city of Windom employee facing criminal charges in Cottonwood County District Court was terminated Thursday from his position, effective immediately.
Windom City Council members voted unanimously during Thursday’s public disciplinary hearing to terminate Brent J. Brown, who was the head of the city’s electric and street and parks departments, following an alleged Oct. 14 incident resulting in his arrest. Brown was also charged with felony false imprisonment and misdemeanor domestic assault.
As detailed by the criminal complaint, Brown and his alleged victim began arguing at a local bar where they had both been drinking. The verbal argument turned physical at a Windom residence, and at around 2:30 a.m. Oct. 14, the alleged victim dialed 911 crying but hung up. Police traced the cell phone’s location, where the alleged victim told an officer that Brown had retrieved scissors, pinned her down on the bed and cut off a portion of her hair. Brown denied the accusation, and told officers the female had retrieved the scissors and threatened to cut off his beard. The female’s cut hair and Brown’s beard hair, which was presumed to be pulled rather than cut, were collected as evidence.
Bryan Joyce, council member and head of the personnel committee, made the motion to terminate Brown. He said from his count, Brown violated six city personnel policies.
“We’re sitting here with the image of our city on the line,” Joyce said.
He called Brown’s misconduct especially egregious because he supervises and mentors other city employees. As head of two city departments, Brown is the face at city council meetings which are broadcast to the public, Joyce added.
“He’s the face of the departments, whether he’s in this chamber or out in the public,” he said. “Keeping Mr. Brown as an employee after this misconduct would erode the public’s confidence in the city of Windom. It also undermines his ability to manage city employees under his authority.”
Thursday’s decision to terminate was not made lightly. Council members, Brown and his attorney, Michelle Olson, discussed the incident for more than an hour and a half before the council reached its decision.
“I’ve demonstrated a very high level of passion towards my job. My relationship with coworkers shows that I am trustworthy and honest with staff,” Brown said in his defense, adding that his coworkers present at the hearing would likely testify in support of him if permitted. Council Member-at-Large Jayesun Sherman moved to allow public testimony, but without a second, the motion failed.
Prior to the decision to terminate, Olson requested council either temporarily reinstate Brown to his position or let him remain on administrative leave while the criminal charges filed from the Cottonwood County Attorney’s Office are handled.
“He hasn’t been convicted of any crime,” Olson said. “It is his constitutional right to be presumed innocent until proven guilty.”
She reiterated throughout the hearing that Brown performs his job well and has no history of this behavior, which she called an “isolated incident.”
Further evidence that has evolved this week, she added, may lead to charges being dropped.
The alleged victim submitted a letter to the city’s attorney, Ron Schramel, and the county attorney’s office asserting that while she and Brown were intoxicated and arguing, she grabbed the scissors and they both received cuts while wrestling over the scissors. He cut her hair in return, the letter states.
“Let me be very clear, she attacked him,” Olson said.
Schramel said, legally, the city could impose disciplinary action on any city employee despite the resolve of a subsequent criminal case.
“If the council believes more likely than not he did it, disciplinary action may be taken,” he said.
To address what part alcohol consumption may have played in the incident, Brown responded, “If I was stone cold sober and somebody held scissors to my face threatening to cut my goatee, I don’t think I would have done nothing.”
Further information against Brown also developed after his Oct. 14 arrest.
City Administrator Steve Nasby briefed council members that while incarcerated, Brown made a phone call to the alleged victim in which he gave her the city’s electric and street department’s keypad code to access the buildings and leave notes informing his employees of his absence from work the next day. Nasby said by requesting a third party to enter the city’s secured buildings, Brown compromised the city’s security, safety and property.
“I knew two cell phone numbers off the top of my head,” Brown told council members. “I needed to know that (the alleged victim) was still at the house with the children and safe and my second concern was letting employees know that I’d be gone.”
Council Member Paul Johnson asked Brown why he didn’t call the city’s powerhouse, to which Brown responded that while he knew the number, he did not believe it would have accepted a collect call, which he was making from the jail.
Olson said Brown made a judgement decision in the moment.
“He understands that doesn’t always go with the personnel policy, but he thought that was the better call,” she said.
Windom Mayor Dominic Jones said the city has a high standard for all of its employees, and safety is of utmost importance. City employees can be replaced, he said in response to talk about electric and street projects Brown had been supervising.
Council members seemed to concur they are pleased with the work Brown has done while employed by the city and that he is a likable guy, which made the decision to terminate difficult.
“I really like Brent and think he does a wonderful job,” said Council Member Rod Byam. “I personally would never have a problem giving him a good recommendation, but quite honestly, I’m very disappointed in the whole situation.”
As of Friday, an omnibus hearing is still scheduled on the criminal case. That hearing is set for 9:45 a.m. Dec. 13 in Cottonwood County District Court.