The one unfortunate or maybe just the most frustrating aspect of this whole saga that led to Tony Chladek’s termination as City of Crookston administrator this past Monday is that, whether you're a Chladek fan or think he should have been fired long ago, you're probably never going to hear the full story behind his tumultuous 18-month tenure in Crookston that ended abruptly earlier this week.
Even the editor of the local newspaper doesn't know the full story, unless a bunch of informal, off-the-cuff and/or off-the-record comments made by various council members and city officials since almost immediately after Chladek was hired in February 2012 are to somehow be pieced together and assumed to be based on accurate information.
The point of view from the Times' newsroom is this: Chladek had a rough start, in a variety of fashions, and as he was sort of called on the carpet by the council as time passed, the awkwardness never really went away. Or maybe it went into the background a little bit and was replaced by an uneasiness, a tension, even, at various meetings where some council members weren't shy about telling Chladek in a very public setting that they weren't happy with the way he was doing, or wasn't doing his job.
Mayor Dave Genereux, the morning after Monday evening's council vote, said the Chladek issue was weighing so heavily on the council that the situation had reached the point where "something" had to happen, the "something" being Chladek no longer being the city administrator.
But why, exactly?
Ward 2 Council Member Dana Johnson, a longtime Chladek critic, said matter-of-factly before Monday's vote that recent actions taken by Chladek were "grounds for dismissal." Asked by the Times if she could elaborate, Johnson referred questions to the mayor. Asked by the Times about the contention that some of Chladek's actions of late amounted to "grounds for dismissal," Genereux said "that would be (Johnson's) opinion, and maybe the opinion of a couple more council members." It wasn't a bunch of recent, serious things that led to Chladek being fired, the mayor added, but "a lot of little things that added up" over the past year or so.
While that doesn't amount to a disagreement over the reasons behind Chladek's firing, it certainly doesn't seem like a completely united front, or a situation where everyone is completely on the same page.
Back in April, when the mayor cast the tie-breaking vote when the council deadlocked on a confidence vote on Chladek's job performance, it was hard to leave the council chambers thinking that Chladek’s days in Crookston weren’t numbered. As he passionately and emphatically defended his performance before the 5-4 vote that night – at a meeting that according to statute would normally have been closed to the public but was made a public meeting at Chladek’s request – it become apparent that he either really wanted to remain on the job at the City of Crookston helm, or he really needed to remain on the job.
Page 2 of 3 - Since that vote, Chladek seemed in public settings to be busier and more positive than ever – aside from the vibe he emanated from time to time that he absolutely dreaded the very existence of Crookston Sports Center. His "administrator reports" at the council's Ways & Means Committee meetings were longer and more detailed than ever, but even then there was the hint that this was a person desperately trying to hang onto his job by trying to look as though he was as busy as humanly possible by updating council members on numerous projects of varied importance. When he worked closely with CHEDA Executive Director Craig Hoiseth, one couldn't help but wonder how much Chladek was contributing, and how much Hoiseth was contributing to the cause. Again, maybe by that point, fairly or unfairly, Chladek was in a no-win situation.
When the council conducted a four-hour budget strategy session on July 31 that produced more questions than answers, one couldn't help but wonder who was captaining the city's ship. Genereux kick-started that session by asking everyone in the room to list one wish they had for the community for the next five to 10 years. Chladek was one of the last people around the table to be asked. "I want whatever you guys want," he said.
That smacked of a person, again, trying not to get fired from his job.
At the end of a consultant-driven process in early 2012 that produced finalists for the city administrator job, a nice, amenable community developer-type from Stillwater scored the second highest pretty much across the board, second across the board to Chladek. When the interview panels reported their reactions to all of the finalists to those in attendance at city hall that Saturday morning, there was a concern that the nice guy from Stillwater might be a bit intimidated by the veteran, experienced staff of department heads driving the City of Crookston operation. But others said he might be just the ticket as the new administrator, because all those experienced people could ease him into the job by providing valuable input and advice.
As for Chladek, while he scored the highest overall, the chief concern was that he came across as possibly too confident and even a bit too arrogant, especially for someone who, on the heels of a negative employment experience in Wisconsin, had been unemployed for several months. But when it was suggested that maybe some confidence and even a bit of arrogance wasn't exactly a bad thing for a city administrator at the reins of a city looking to grow in innovative fashions, with a quick show of hands, Chladek was the guy.
After he was hired, it became clear almost as swiftly that he wasn't the guy.
Page 3 of 3 - If you’re questioning your council’s behavior over the past year-and-half or so that led up to this week’s unpleasant firing, the one thing in their favor is that this is a pretty diverse group of personalities. In April, half the council thought Chladek should go. By this past Monday, that number had grown to six...six council members who each bring different interests and abilities to the table and, therefore, aren’t afraid to disagree and even clash now and then over various issues.
But when it came to Chladek, those six all agreed Monday night that Crookston needs a new administrator. That’s telling.