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Deerwood City Council: Council accepts Gottsch retirement

Interim Deerwood Police Chief Mark Taylor1 / 2
The Deerwood City Council discusses a separation agreement with its longtime police Chief Harry Gottsch Monday night. The council unanimously approved the agreement and appointed an interim chief. Chelsey Perkins/Brainerd Dispatch2 / 2

DEERWOOD—The Deerwood City Council Monday approved a separation agreement with longtime Deerwood Police Chief Harry Gottsch.

The agreement, effective immediately, awards Gottsch severance benefits worth about $14,000 beyond what the city is obligated by contract to provide. Gottsch will receive 100 percent of his vacation pay, 100 percent of his sick time pay and a four-month period during which the city will cover his health insurance premiums.

The offer was the second proposed by Gottsch, who informed the council he was interested in early retirement in mid-January after more than 25 years as police chief. The council turned down Gottsch's first offer, which included a request for three years of insurance coverage worth an estimated $50,000.

Council member Jeremy Millsop asked at Monday's special meeting how much each of the benefits in the agreement were worth. Council member Debby Leonard said the vacation time was worth about $2,100 and the sick pay was worth about $17,600. Mayor Mike Aulie said the insurance would cost about $4,800 over four months. Gottsch is entitled to 100 percent of his vacation pay and 50 percent of his sick pay per his contract.

Aulie said based on the estimated costs of the agreement compared to the salary for an interim police chief, the city would expect to recoup the difference within six months.

Millsop made a motion to approve the agreement and Leonard seconded. The council gave the motion unanimous approval.

Second on the council's agenda was to appoint an interim police chief. Aulie recommended appointing Sgt. Mark Taylor to the post. Taylor has served in the police department for almost 12 years. Taylor said when Aulie approached him about the role, he was "absolutely" interested.

"I think that would be good for the city, and I look forward to the added responsibility," Taylor said. "I'm very excited to see where we can go with this."

Taylor said the department's been running great, but he encouraged anyone with comments to come forward. He said sometimes when a new person comes in, it's easier for people to address concerns.

Aulie said while the council would appoint an interim chief, he intended to bring the community into the discussion on the future of police protection in Deerwood. Two of those options include continuing the department as is while hiring a new chief or contracting out for services.

"A third option would be to fire up the discussion on a joint powers police district again," Aulie said, adding a fourth option would be no police department at all.

Aulie said he would consider taking out a newspaper ad himself to encourage residents to offer feedback on the matter.

Council member Eric Ostrowski made the motion to approve Taylor's appointment, and council member John Taylor, who is Mark Taylor's father, seconded the motion. Aulie asked John Taylor to rescind his second and abstain from the vote because of the family ties, a request to which Taylor agreed. Leonard seconded the motion instead. The council gave the appointment unanimous approval, with John Taylor abstaining.

The council moved into closed session to end the meeting Monday, citing a statute concerning discussions of allegations against an employee.

Aulie confirmed last week 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.

Aulie confirmed by phone later Monday the council took no action other than to adjourn the meeting following its closed session.

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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