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Frazee board member found not in violation of law, gets 'disciplinary' letter

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news Detroit Lakes, 56501
Detroit Lakes Minnesota 511 Washington Avenue 56501

An investigation has found that Frazee-Vergas School Board member Jim Nelson did not violate the state's Human Rights Act.

The investigation came after four employees filed allegations of harassment and hostile work environment against Nelson.

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The school board did, however, vote to officially approve a letter that had already been sent to Nelson from Board Chairman Rich Ziegler.

The letter was written by the district's attorney regarding what Nelson is advised to do and not to do regarding the employees.

Whether or not the letter was disciplinary and whether or not Ziegler had the right to send the letter without board approval was discussed Tuesday at the regular board meeting.

In the letter drafted by Pemberton Law Firm's Kristi Hastings, she stated that while there were no violations of the Minnesota Human Rights Act, there were concerns raised regarding his actions.

Hastings wrote that on behalf of the district, Nelson "must not engage in any retaliation or reprisals against the individuals who brought forth the workplace complaints" against him.

Failure to do so could bring more lawsuits against the district or Nelson as an individual.

He was also told to treat everyone fairly, and that if he does make any more data requests, to make sure they are done in good faith and not for retaliation purposes.

"Please consider whether you should remain on committees involving these individuals. Make sure that you can engage in the committee process in an unbiased and productive manner," she concludes.

Board member Keith Janu said he disputed the findings of the investigation, and that he had 17 questions for the investigator that never got answered. He added that Nelson has already been in violation of what the letter had advised of him.

"Don't you have one question to ask the investigator on this whole report?" he asked fellow board members, while holding up the 4-inch thick report. No one replied.

Board member Dana Laine requested that the board officially approve the disciplinary letter that had already been sent to Nelson, and called it "wrong" that Ziegler sent it to Nelson without the full board approval.

Ziegler conceded that Laine was right and he shouldn't have sent the letter to Nelson.

Nelson disputed the term "disciplinary" because it isn't called that, and it merely suggested actions he should take, like not being on the committees that involve those who filed the suit against him.

Laine said that the word disciplinary maybe wasn't used in the letter, but what else could it be classified as when a board member has to send another board member a letter, telling him to discontinue his actions.

"I believe it to be a disciplinary letter," she reiterated for her motion.

Board member Ken Fett said he disagreed and voted opposed to the motion of supporting the letter because of Laine's wording.

"If you heard my 17 questions, you'd reverse your decision," Janu told Fett.

"How much in legal fees has the district spent on you? Ten thousand dollars," Janu said to Nelson.

Ziegler said the district has had to spend money in legal fees on other suits, and that this shouldn't be singled out.

Janu said that the district has never had to spend $10,000 on Ziegler, himself or any other board member.

Laine, Ziegler, Matt Bauer and Janu voted in favor of the disciplinary letter, Fett was opposed, and Nelson abstained, though disputing the word "disciplinary."

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