New P.I. council member, administrator had history
PINE ISLAND — Two weeks before Election Day, then-City Administrator Abraham Algadi says he was confronted by a candidate for city council who was upset that he had posted a financial summary on the city website.
The candidate, Goodhue County Sheriff's Deputy Nick Novak, said he was unhappy that his opponents had begun using that information as campaign literature. Novak said that Algadi had interjected himself into the election process.
The Oct. 22 encounter at City Hall turned into a flare-up and, according to Algadi, Novak promised to "bring it on" if he won election to the council on Nov. 6.
Algadi says he immediately sent an email to city council members and the city attorney, reporting that Novak had confronted him in an "intimidating" manner.
"If Nick's action continues in such intimidating manner, and if indeed he wins the election, I would have no choice but to consider all options to make sure that the work I have done and my professional record does not get trampled by Nick, Diskerud, or others holding a grudge against me," Algadi wrote in the email, which the Post-Bulletin has examined. "Nick made it clear in his threat that he will 'see me after the election.'"
Novak denied, in an interview Friday, that a confrontation occurred or that he has any bad feeling or history of incidents with Algadi. Algadi says, however, that the Oct. 22 incident was part of a pattern of incidents since Novak became the Goodhue County sheriff's deputy assigned to Pine Island in 2006.
In fact, Algadi said he asked the sheriff's office to reassign Novak in January 2010, and soon after, he was.
Algadi expects to file suit
Novak and two other council candidates, Erik Diskerud and Randy Bates, campaigned last fall with an explicit goal to bring change to City Hall. All were elected, and moments after being sworn in at the Jan. 15 council meeting, they voted to terminate the administrator's job, then voted to terminate Algadi's contract with the city.
They said that by eliminating the job and Algadi's contract, the city would save more than $100,000 per year. But Algadi and some others interviewed by the P-B say that saving money wasn't the key reason. They contend it's been in the works for years and is based on personal agendas, as was evidenced in the sudden way in which Algadi's position was terminated.
"I personally believe that this is a personal vendetta against Abraham — and I was told not to say that to the media," said former council member Dean Weis, who was among the five candidates for two council seats in November. Novak and Diskerud were the top vote-getters.
Algadi said last week that he has retained an attorney and expects to file legal action as early as this week.
In an interview with the P-B Friday, Novak admitted that he had a conversation with Algadi about the city financial report on Oct. 22, but said it remained civil. He denied making any threatening comments about what would happen if he won election.
Novak said that he "likes the guy" and said he wrote a letter of recommendation for Algadi prior to his being hired as the city administrator in 2006. But among other complaints, he said Algadi's monthly expense reports were exorbitant.
"When we said it's time for all new leadership in Pine Island, we made a bold statement," Novak said. Voters "wanted a change and Day 1 when I got in there, I'm not wasting any time. If this is wrong, I'm sorry. This is what the people wanted me to do."
Algadi, acting on behalf of the city, requested on Jan. 5, 2010, that the Goodhue County Sheriff's Office reassign Novak based on a number of issues. Novak had served Pine Island, where he had lived since 2001, for the previous four years. The request for Novak to be reassigned details several concerns.
"If I had been Nick's boss, I would have fired him," Algadi said last week in an interview. "Instead, he got to fire me (three) years later."
Novak said Friday he had never heard of the reassignment request and categorically denied any inappropriate conduct. He has worked for the Goodhue County Sheriff's Office since 1999, after three years with the Wabasha County Sheriff's Office.
Novak was reassigned within days of the email being sent, though it's not clear that the city request was related. Sheriff Scott McNurlin, who took office in 2011, says his department shuffles responsibilities every January and he was uncertain how the email was handled; he said it may have been a mutually agreed upon move, but he didn't rule out a reassignment. Dean Albers, the former sheriff who retired after 2010, said he couldn't recall specifics of Novak's move to general patrol, which still includes some Pine Island coverage.
The city has contracted with the sheriff's office since the early 1970s for law enforcement service. It will pay $286,000 for service in 2013, pending approval from the county board this month.
'A good man'
Novak said he and his new council colleagues targeted the city administrator position because it was the highest paying job in city government and because they considered Algadi ineffective.
"Unfortunately, some of the changes require some pain, but I'll tell you, it was nothing personal with Mr. Algadi," Novak said. "He's a good man. It was simply a money-saving budget cut."
Pine Island Mayor Rod Steele, who also was elected Nov. 6 and also was considered a "change" candidate but voted against terminating Algadi, said Friday that Pine Island residents are ready to move forward.
"Any local election that's contested, there's winners and losers," said Steele. "Most of the rhetoric and conversation I've heard from citizens is this is good … but we'll see if this is the change they wanted.
"But there is a recurring theme: the people in Pine Island … are frustrated and embarrassed by this. If you asked the people on the street, they would like to see this go away. Right, wrong or indifferent, I think they want to leave it behind."