Commissioner filed complaint against Wabasha County assistant attorney
WABASHA — Assistant Wabasha County Attorney Michael Plante will resign his job soon to become the interim county administrator, but he also learned recently that one of the people he will work for — County Commission Deb Roschen — has filed an ethics complaint against him.
The board has been without an administrator since Larry Timmerman quit late last year after about two months on the job.
The board agreed to have Plante be its interim administrator Jan. 14 and has started looking to replace him as one of two assistant county attorneys under County Attorney James Nordstrom. He will take over April 1 or sooner if a replacement is found.
Roschen confirmed Tuesday that she filed the complaint Jan. 2 but said Tuesday "I don't want to get into specifics on it. Let the process work its way out."
Plante also said he couldn't comment on it.
Martin Cole, director of the Office of Lawyers Professional Responsibility, said he couldn't confirm or deny a complaint has been filed. All proceedings are confidential unless there is probable cause for public discipline. If the complaint is dismissed, it remains confidential, he said.
The county board, however, had a lot to say about it Tuesday because it was asked to pay for Plante's legal expenses.
According to the agenda item: "In the past Wabasha County Commissioner Roschen has lodged complaints with the Minnesota Board of Professional Responsibility against Wabasha County Attorney's Office employees. Those complaints were reviewed by the agency with each of the complaints being dismissed … Pursuant to past precedent, and based on the Interim County Administrator Contract, the county is obligated to provide representation for professional liability claims that are filed against Mr. Plante."
The contract with attorney Edward Kautzer of the Twin Cities calls for a retainer of $2,500 that will be applied against the $220 hour for an attorney and $150 an hour for paralegals and others.
Commissioner David Harms was upset that he didn't know about that before he voted on Plante's contract for interim administrator. "Why was that not pointed out to us several weeks ago?" he said. "I feel I have been deceived."
Assistant County Attorney Karrie Kelly said the county has paid for similar expenses in the past. A conciliation court agreed the county was responsible for the costs when four former commissioners filed a complaint against Nordstrom. The complaint was later dismissed, she said.
Harms wondered if Plante should have to pay the fees if the complaint is upheld.
But County Board Chair Don Springer replied: "If he is found not guilty, would Commissioner Roschen be willing to pay the bill?" He suggested Roschen drop the complaint. "The recourse is to stop this foolishness," he said.
Roschen said she didn't say anything Jan. 14 "out of respect for Mr. Plante." Because she didn't know if the complaint would be investigated "I held my tongue," she said.
"I made the best decision I could," she said. "You could choose to crucify me for that." If there is merit, "it will make Michael a better person."
Commissioner Michael Wobbe also objected to Roschen's complaint. "Whatever happened to the days of meeting with an individual and just working it out?" he said. Why not just drop it and save the county some money? he said.
Roschen said she talked with Plante to resolve it "and it didn't happen."
In the end, the board voted 3-1, with Harms voting no and Roschen abstaining, to pay the bill.