The Fifty Lakes City Council on Feb. 13 reviewed disciplinary procedures taken against bartender Sunni Johnson, who was accused of stealing chicken wings from the 50 Lakes Bar and Bottle Shop last month.
Johnson met with the council in an open meeting Saturday, Jan. 27, where officials decided to put a letter in Johnson's file warning of possible termination if any stolen goods leave the bar. Though the council couldn't prove the accusations of stolen chicken wings to be true or false, Johnson admitted to sometimes taking home wilted lettuce and rotten carrots - that would otherwise have been thrown out - to feed to deer. She said she didn't know that wasn't allowed and wouldn't do it anymore.
At the Feb. 13 city council meeting, the council talked about the timeline in which the situation was reported and handled, as the bartender who reported Johnson didn't do so right away, and council members were not immediately notified when Johnson was put on paid suspension. Council member Linda Steffen said she received Johnson's grievance letter before knowing the bartender had been suspended.
"There was a duty to the rest of the council to let them know," Steffen told council member Jay Weinmann, who is the liquor liaison and made the call on Johnson's suspension.
Weinmann agreed but said that notification would not have changed the outcome of the situation.
The council then discussed adding more specific language to the employee handbook as to how soon council members should be notified of matters like this. Discussion also ensued on the procedure of viewing video footage from the bar, as Johnson said she wasn't allowed right away to view the clip of her leaving the bar on the day of the alleged incident.
City Clerk Karen Stern said she would find the city's video policy and email a copy to council members.
The council then moved on to the disciplinary letter that was to go into Johnson's file. Council member Mark Bradley chastised Weinmann for consulting the city attorney for such a trivial letter and drawing up "astronomical" legal fees.
Weinmann, however, said he felt legal counsel was necessary to make sure the situation was dealt with correctly.
Questions arose about why the letter stated anything about the chicken wings, since those claims couldn't be corroborated and Johnson was simply written up for taking "unspecified" items out of the bar.
Council member Jodie Schrupp suggested taking the letter out all together, giving Johnson a verbal warning and letting the situation go. Steffen agreed. Weinmann and Mayor Tim Anick did not.
"There's been a number of incidents of employee misconduct that have been unreported and uninvestigated," Steffen said. "There's nothing done about a variety of employee issues. What happened is not an uncommon occurrence with what's going on in the bar today."
Anick stood by the decisions that had been made.
"I don't think this was mishandled in any form or fashion. I think council made a determination based on what we heard," the mayor said.
Ultimately, the council decided to remove a portion of the letter explaining the situation's background and officially put the reprimand in Johnson's file.