RED WING — Citing elements of mistrust, defensiveness and a lack of leadership, the Red Wing City Council voted 6-1 to terminate the employment of Police Chief Roger Pohlman after a 75-minute closed session on Friday night.
After returning from the closed session, council member Dean Hove immediately made a motion to "provide the employee with a disciplinary letter." That motion was passed 6-1, with Kim Beise voting no.
A copy of the letter was sent to the Post Bulletin. The letter begins with the termination of Pohlman, stating, "This letter serves as notice of the immediate termination of your at-will employment as a disciplinary action effective today, February 19, 2021. You have not met the Council’s performance expectations."
In a statement issued Saturday, "After deciding, in secret and behind closed doors, to 'move in a different direction' with respect to the Police Department, the Red Wing City Council presented me with two options: Resign and retain some earned benefits or receive a non-disciplinary termination of employment. My oath of office to the community and Police Department is not completed, therefore resignation was not an option."
The City Council's letter, signed by council President Becky Norton. contained several reasons for Pohlman's termination:
• "Pursuant to the City’s evaluation process, the Council Administrator sought Council input on your performance. Several Council members responded that they did not trust you. This is a major concern for the City because of the importance of the Police Department’s work. If the majority of the Council does not trust you, it cannot rely on you to perform the important work of the Department. Council members believe you have intentionally portrayed Council members as anti-police, when, in fact, their concerns were with your leadership and not with the performance of other members of the Police Department."
• "The City Council is concerned that you do not support Council initiatives and have shown a lack of leadership in supporting the same." The letter gave an example concerning the Advisory Team, saying that Pohlman appointed members of the team without seeking council input.
• The council referred to defensiveness on the part of Pohlman when suggestions were given, saying Pohlman was unreceptive to them or feedback.
• Finally, several comments centered on communications and professionalism. The letter claimed citizens, staff and council members have all complained that Pohlman did not respond to emails and other communications in a timely manner, or that Pohlman sent emails that were unprofessional. An example was given that when a contract Pohlman supported was tabled at a city council meeting, Pohlman emailed members of the city council during the meeting to express his disappointment.
Pohlman was placed on paid administrative leave by the city pending an investigation into his conduct after another closed session – this one at the end of the Feb. 8 city council meeting – where the council met to discuss allegations against an employee.
Between the Feb. 8 meeting and Friday night, the city was left wondering why Pohlman was put on leave and what issues were being debated by the city council.
On Wednesday, state Rep. Barb Haley, a former city council member, sent a letter to the city council, Mayor Mike Wilson and City Administrator Kay Kuhlmann expressing concerns she had heard from residents regarding the lack of transparency when it came to whatever had triggered the investigation of Pohlman in the first place.
Haley wrote that while she respects that the city council has been elected to serve the citizens of Red Wing, "a number of citizens have contacted me with concerns about the lack of transparency by the City Council in both making this decision and the lack of clear explanation of why it was made."
She went on to write that after a week, answers were still not forthcoming, and, "The public deserves a functioning and well-run police department, something Chief Pohlman has delivered."
Pohlman's statement said he wanted "to thank the countless citizens of Red Wing who have reached out now and in the past with their support. High on that list are my fellow military veterans, Hispanic Outreach, our Faith-Based groups, business owners, some former City Council members, and our State Representative Barb Haley.
"At this point, I don’t know what the future holds," the statement says. "But I know it will involve public service, and a continuing commitment to making the world a better place, however, and wherever I can."