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Lake Park residents sound off

For the second time in as many weeks, Lake Park Mayor Aaron Wittnebel was a no-show for Monday night’s special city council meeting in Lake Park.

Council members and residents gathered at the Lake Park City Center for the second of two public meetings called to provide an opportunity for city staff and community residents to air their grievances and concerns.

At last week’s meeting, the council took action to remove all of Wittnebel’s power to do business for the city without direct council approval. As Vice Mayor John Anderson noted at Monday’s meeting, the only real power remaining intact for Wittnebel is his ability to preside over council meetings.

Wittnebel, once again, was nowhere to be seen — but that didn’t stop him from being the main topic of conversation.

Community resident John Warling — a past council member himself — got the commentary started by reading from a prepared statement that he later presented to city staff so it could be entered into the public record.

“Thank you for the opportunity to address the council concerning Mr. Wittnebel and his activities,” Warling said. “I have two issues with his activities as mayor: One is honesty, and the other is leadership.

“Three instances come to mind for me personally,” he continued. “He lied to the people of Lake Park about personally paying design fees to restore the slough, he lied about holding meetings with the mayor of Audubon about the fire departments, and he lied to everyone about his criminal activities.

“He leads by intimidation, deceit, lies and threats,” Warling went on to say. “He has threatened Lake Park employees if they even talk to the residents.”

Warling went on to say that the mayor’s “misleading statements and lies” had “created an atmosphere of deceit and a lack of confidence” in Wittnebel, for which he had only himself to blame.

He then called for Wittnebel to “step up to the plate” and resign his position, echoing sentiments expressed at last week’s meeting by both city staff and the council itself, which issued a unanimous vote of no confidence against Wittnebel.

More than 200 of the city’s residents have signed off on a petition requesting that the mayor step down from his position.

Wittnebel has been living under a cloud of controversy   since he was charged last year with one felony count of financial exploitation of a vulnerable adult, for mishandling finances for his sister, who has Down’s syndrome and for whom he had been serving as guardian and conservator.

After entering an Alford plea, he was granted a stay of judgment, which allows the charge to be dismissed if he successfully completes probation.

“I know it’s been a challenging year and a half for all of us,” said council member Amy Degerstrom. “We’re doing our best to work around the mayor, since he hasn’t been here to work with us… sadly, it’s come to that point.”

For her part, council member Kim Holloway injected a little optimism into the night’s proceedings, stating, “I believe that we’re going to have a favorable outcome,” and that Wittnebel is going to step down from his post “sooner than we anticipate.”

But she quickly backed down from that statement a little bit by noting that it was her opinion only.

At the end of the short half-hour meeting, council members urged those present to return for their regularly scheduled July meeting in two weeks in order to address their concerns to Wittnebel in person.

Follow Detroit Lakes Newspapers reporter Vicki Gerdes on Twitter at @VickiLGerdes.

Vicki Gerdes

Staff writer at Detroit Lakes Newspapers for the past 16 years, currently editor of the entertainment and community pages as well as covering city council and the Lake Park-Audubon School Board. Living in DL with my cat, Smokey.

(218) 844-1454