Mayor Foster: Fairmont council now backs Humpal

FAIRMONT — Fairmont Mayor Debbie Foster is cautiously optimistic that city administrator Mike Humpal’s job is safe.

Foster says she (along with other council members) has been on the receiving end of recent emails from City Council members Tom Hawkins and Randy Lubenow, both of whom wrote that they are no longer interested in pursuing Humpal’s suspension or termination.

Foster did not disclose any further details, saying it is up to Hawkins and Lubenow to do so. Both were contacted by the Sentinel on Monday and Tuesday to see if they had any comment. Neither responded.

The Sentinel has confirmed the existence of the emails. However, the city will not release them, having classified the emails as personnel data related to Humpal’s performance and employment.

If, indeed, the duo are no longer considering taking action against Humpal, then the council dynamics have shifted: four (out of five) members now support his continued employment.

Until recently it has been the case that Hawkins, Lubenow and council member Ruth Cyphers seemed on the brink of taking some kind of action against Humpal. At the July 8 council meeting, the trio voted to put a resolution on the agenda concerning the city administrator. However, the item never came up for a vote, as the city’s interim attorney asked to review the resolution first. He expressed concerns about it creating liability for the city, if it is not compliant with the city charter or Humpal’s employment agreement.

The council meets again on Monday.

Humpal, who has been the city administrator since May 31, 2012, had no comment on the possible shift in his favor among council members. He did express gratitude to the community on behalf of himself, his wife and family.

“I am humbled by the amount of support I have received,” he said.

The situation involving the city administrator is the latest chapter in a story that began in early April, when Hawkins and Lubenow visited City Attorney Libby Bloomquist in her office to let her know they planned to move the city to a contract attorney rather than keeping one in-house.

The council met in a work session shortly thereafter and seemed to agree to weigh the costs and benefits of an in-house versus contracted attorney. But days later, the trio of Cyphers, Hawkins and Lubenow expressed dissatisfaction with Bloomquist during her performance review. The city subsequently agreed to part ways with Bloomquist, working out a separation agreement.

The council later clashed over whether to require the City Attorney’s presence at council meetings. The same trio voted in favor of removing that requirement from City Code at their July 8 meeting, with council members Bruce Peters and Wayne Hasek dissenting.

Humpal’s evaluation occurred June 24, with council members spending more than two hours in closed session. On July 8, Foster read a statement in public about the evaluation, saying only that the council had failed to reach a consensus on any conclusions regarding Humpal’s performance.

Foster this week noted that the public response to everything that has been occurring has been overwhelming, with countless emails and mass emails being circulated throughout the community, with people expressing their thoughts and disappointment with how the majority trio of council members have been conducting themselves.

“There is great concern by community members about where the community is right now,” she said.

But she added that she is hopeful that “we are a better community than what has taken place.” She asked for people’s help, saying she knows that the majority of citizens want to make sure Fairmont is a great place to work, live and play.

“No matter the outcome of Fairmont City Administrator Mike Humpal’s employment status with our city, there will be no winners with the outcome,” she said. “Our city will need to heal. We will need to mend broken bridges. We will need to show the state of Minnesota the goodness that will prevail when our community works together to continue to make great things happen in Fairmont, Minnesota.”