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Deerwood council to consider retirement offer

The Deerwood City Council will conduct another special meeting Monday to address an early retirement proposal from the city's longtime police Chief Harry Gottsch.

The meeting will be 6 p.m. at the Deerwood Auditorium, 23770 Forest Road, Deerwood.

Gottsch informed the council he intended to retire by Jan. 31 and first requested 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.

This request was denied by the council at a special meeting Monday.

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.

Aulie said the council was open to another offer from Gottsch, who's served as Deerwood police chief for more than 25 years. When reached Tuesday, Gottsch elected not to comment, citing ongoing negotiations.

"We were a little bit surprised by his request for early retirement," Aulie said Tuesday. "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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