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Longtime police chief to retire early

Harry Gottsch

After more than 25 years as the Deerwood police chief, Harry Gottsch told the Deerwood City Council he intends to retire early.

The council met in a special session Monday to discuss Gottsch's impending retirement, which he asked to be in effect by Jan. 31. In his proposal to the council, Gottsch asked for a severance package including 100 percent of his vacation pay, 100 percent of his sick pay and three years of family health insurance benefits, Mayor Mike Aulie said.

Aulie said Gottsch was entitled to 100 percent of his vacation pay and 50 percent of his sick pay, but could request more. Aulie estimated the cost of the insurance benefits would have exceeded $50,000, an expense he said the city of Deerwood could not commit to.

"Basically, we turned his proposal down," Aulie said. "But we left the door open for additional negotiations. ... Right now, it's back in his court."

When reached Tuesday, Gottsch elected not to comment, citing the ongoing negotiations.

"We were a little bit surprised by his request for early retirement," Aulie said. "If he wishes to do that, we'll try to work with him. ... We were also concerned about setting a precedence with our retiring employees."

The announcement comes in the midst of two recent changes within the Deerwood Police Department, both pertaining to the same officer.

Aulie confirmed Tuesday that officer Damien Stalker was placed on administrative leave earlier this month while a complaint against him is under investigation. Details of the investigation are protected by data privacy laws while it is underway.

Just two weeks earlier, the council voted to elevate Stalker from a part-time position to full-time. Aulie said the move was a proactive one, in response to Stalker working enough hours to qualify for union benefits through the city's contract with the Teamsters Local 346, as well as for state laws governing public employment labor relations.

Stalker was first hired part-time in September 2013, when the Deerwood Police Department entered a contract with the city of Ironton to provide police services. The Crosby-Ironton Courier reported at a Jan. 4 Ironton City Council meeting, former Mayor Dean French expressed concern Ironton officials were not apprised of the issues within the Deerwood Police Department. French said he did not expect Ironton to be part of the decisionmaking concerning the issue, although a commission consisting of council representatives from both cities was formed to communicate about the police contract.

Chelsey Perkins

Chelsey Perkins grew up in Crosslake and is a graduate of Pequot Lakes High School. She earned her bachelor's degree in professional journalism at the University of Minnesota-Twin Cities. Perkins interned at the Lake Country Echo and the Rochester and Austin Post-Bulletins, and also worked for the student-run Minnesota Daily newspaper as a copy editor and columnist during college. She went on to intern at Utne Reader magazine, where she was later hired as the research editor. Before becoming the community editor of the Brainerd Dispatch, Perkins worked as the county government beat reporter at the Dispatch and a staff writer for the Pineandlakes Echo Journal.

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