Last week, former Winona County Administrator Duane Hebert demanded a "name-clearing public hearing" before the County Board to address his alleged misconduct that spurred the County Board to fire him in May. State statute indicates that prior to termination, county administrators may demand a statement of charges of misconduct against them and a public hearing on those charges. Although this demand was made after Hebert was terminated, County Board Chair Marcia Ward said that the county will grant the demand. A hearing will be held next Tuesday evening. An exact time has not been set.
Hebert's wife was an employee for and was or was about to become a part-owner of former county commissioner Mena Kaehler's family's solar energy company, which pursued a project to install solar panels on the rooftops of two county buildings last year. After county employees snubbed a deal proferred by the Kaehlers and shared the proposal with competing solar firms, the Kaehlers threatened to sue the county. An investigation by an outside law firm alleged Hebert did not fully disclose his wife's connection to the project until the Kaehler's threatened to sue. The investigation also concluded that Hebert made false statements about when he disclosed his wife's connection to other county staff, and that he falsely claimed County Attorney Karin Sonneman had ruled that the connection posed no conflict of interest.
Hebert has said that his wife's connection did not pose a conflict of interest and that the outside investigation was "rigged." He called his firing "unlawful" and indicated he was considering suing the county. "What they have done to me is taken away my livelihood and ruined my career," he said in an interview after his firing.
County officials have said that Hebert was given the opportunity to request public meetings on the charges against him prior to his termination, but did not do so.
"I would love to put some closure to the matter," said Ward. "If this puts closure to it or continues it, I don't know, but I would like to put some closure. Apparently he does feel wronged, and he does want to correct the wrong." She added that "a hearing won't remove the findings of fact" made in the investigation, commenting, "I've always told my four children, you can't change history, you can only make history."
Ward said that as per most public hearings, the board would not talk much during the hearing on Tuesday, but that the County Attorney or one of the Assistant County Attorneys would address any issues. The board needs to be careful of comments that could stoke a defamation or labor law suit, she noted. "The last thing any one of us wants is to give more ammunition to Duane to do any more damage," she said.
Hebert was not immediately available for comment for this story.