by CHRIS ROGERS

 

The only information Winona city officials say they will give about how and why they parted ways with former city manager Steve Sarvi leaves unanswered questions. Sarvi’s tenure of over five years as the city’s top administrator ended on Oct. 8, following an Oct. 5 closed door meeting of the City Council to review his performance. Last Monday, Mayor Scott Sherman stated that the council placed Sarvi on administrative leave following that meeting, planned to “conduct a more formal evaluation of Mr. Sarvi’s performance,” and told the city manager he “can consider voluntarily resigning.”

Asked why the City Council placed Sarvi on leave and what it wanted to review in its more formal evaluation, Sherman declined to comment, citing the advice of city attorneys and privacy concerns.

The city manager and other employees are free to resign at any time. Asked if the council’s statement telling Sarvi he could resign was an invitation for him to do so, Sherman responded, “Again, I cannot comment on that.”

In a statement, city officials confirmed that Sarvi was not fired. However, neither city officials nor Sarvi himself would confirm if he resigned.

“They let me go. So that’s where it’s at,” Sarvi said in an interview last Friday. “I don’t really have much to add. I never had a chance to really say anything. I’m just happy with the things we were able to do over the last five years.” He said he was grateful for the chance to serve and work with great people.

Asked if he resigned or was terminated, Sarvi responded, “I’ll let them try to explain what happened, because there was really no explanation given. It’s not for me to say. They did what they did, and city managers serve at the pleasure of the council, and somewhere along the line, they weren’t pleased with what I was doing, I’m not sure why, but I worked as hard as I could for every day I was there and that’s the way it goes.”

Earlier this fall, City Council members Steve Young and Michelle Alexander raised major concerns with proposed deficit spending in the city budget, which Sarvi oversees, with Alexander saying one proposal to spend city reserves would violate a City Council financial policy. However, that sentiment wasn’t universal on the council, and Sherman and council member Eileen Moeller defended the merit of reserve spending in certain situations. It’s unclear if those concerns were related to the council’s Oct. 5 conclusions. Alexander declined to comment.

Asked if the City Council raised any concerns in its closed meeting, Sarvi said, “Not that I’m aware of. I never got a chance to say anything. I never got a chance to hear what the concerns were. Once you have a majority that wants to do something —” He trailed off.

Under Minnesota Statutes Section 13.43 complaints against top-ranking public officials, such as the city manager, are public information if any complaint leads to disciplinary action or if the manager resigns while the issue is pending. In response to a request for public information from the Winona Post, which was reviewed by city attorneys, Winona Human Resources Manager Deb Beckman stated that no complaints exist. According to city officials, there were no complaints that led the council to place Sarvi on administrative leave, plan a more formal evaluation, or tell him he could resign.

“In this respect, there is not going to ever be an appropriate time to discuss it further beyond what information is already given out in the open meetings,” Sherman said, indicating his statement at last Monday’s meeting may be the most information the city ever makes public about the decision.

Asked how he felt about not being able to offer the public more explanation, Sherman said, “I’m doing OK with it because, for me, I know that I am comfortable in how I’ve conducted myself along the way here, and it really does come down to respecting all parties involved.” He continued, “There are certain times when it is OK to not fully disclose everything. A good example would be forthcoming projects that are in the hopper and they might fall through, so to discuss them publicly might not only be detrimental to whatever project might be moving forward, but it might also change the outcome of someone’s potential project.” He cited the lead-up to his August mask mandate and a hypothetical proposal to donate money to city park improvements as other examples.

Chris@winonapost.com