Blooming Prairie Police Station Stock Photo

Blooming Prairie Police Station (Ashley Rezachek/southernminn.com)

Blooming Prairie Police Chief Greg Skillestad is appealing to the state to review a job performance evaluation that determined he is largely not meeting expectations because he believes it wasn’t a fair assessment of his skills.

Skillestad was put on a performance improvement plan in June after City Administrator Andrew Langholz found Skillestad wasn’t meeting expectations in six of the nine job-related categories during an annual review, according to a redacted version of the review obtained by the People’s Press via a Minnesota Data Practices Act request. The performance review also served as a written reprimand of Skillestad.

Skillestad met expectations for public service/customer focus, recordkeeping and financial/data accuracy, and safety; performed at below normal expectations for attendance and punctuality, job knowledge/performance, productivity and work organization, initiative and commitment; and was deficient in leadership and communications, according to the performance review.

Skillestad needs “a great deal of improvement” to meet normal expectations, Langholz wrote in the review.

“Chief Skillestad creates a tremendous amount of additional work and oversight for City Administration by continually underperforming in his position,” Langholz wrote.

Skillestad is filing an appeal with the Minnesota Department of Administration to have an independent hearing officer decide whether the statements in the performance review are true.

Richard Wylie, a Minneapolis employment attorney representing Skillestad, said Skillestad believes the job performance review paints an “incomplete picture” of him as a police chief. The state agency has the power to direct the city to change or eliminate the records if the statements are found to be false.

“He believes strongly that he was treated unfairly in this process,” Wylie said.

Wylie mailed the appeal about a week ago. The Department of Administration hasn’t yet received it, although it may have arrived at the office and only needs to be processed, said Curt Yoakum, the department’s assistant commissioner for communications and planning. Once the state acknowledges it has received the appeal, it will likely see if the two parties can reach a settlement. If that doesn’t occur, it will appoint a hearing officer to the issue, Wylie said.

Skillestad has served as Blooming Prairie’s police chief since 2014.

City council upholds reprimand

The appeal to the state follows Skillestad’s unsuccessful attempt to appeal the issue to the Blooming Prairie City Council. In September, the council denied his appeal and upheld the job performance review, performance improvement plan and reprimand after holding a closed session to discuss the issue.

A motion to uphold the performance review and improvement plan, but rescind the written reprimand failed.

Mayor Curt Esplan and Councilors Bill Newman, Tara Gimbel and Brad Clark approved the motion to uphold the job performance review, performance improvement plan and written reprimand. Councilor Mary Kittelson abstained from the vote.

Additionally at issue is the Blooming Prairie City Council’s handling of its closed session in September. During the council’s Oct. 12 meeting, Langholz acknowledged the errors made during the September meeting. The proper wording wasn’t used to close the meeting, including stating the specific state law the council was using to close the meeting, instead closing the meeting with the vague description of “personnel discussion.” The council additionally violated the state law when it didn’t name in its motion the person who received the reprimand. The council also acknowledged the mistakes and made the motion again on Oct. 12, but with the correct wording.

Performance review and improvement plan

Skillestad’s performance improvement plan began on June 19 and will end on Saturday, Oct. 17.

Once it expires, it’ll be signed off that it was completed and become part of Skillestad’s record with the city, according to Langholz.

The objectives Skillestad needed to complete under the improvement plan included “displaying leadership qualities including: accountability, humility, transparency, decision making capabilities, communication and creating a vision for the department,” according to the review.

According to the performance review:

Skillestad communicates with police officers, but “struggles” to communicate effectively with the city administration. There are issues with cooperation when implementing plans and policies with staff outside his department.

He has “energizing optimism” when speaking to the public and understands the role of a community-oriented service.

He is regular and consistent with his attendance and punctuality, but he has “difficulties completing tasks that are assigned to him that require critical thinking skills.”

He is knowledgeable about police work and keeps informed of emerging issues in the field, but he doesn’t leverage all the resources he has available to the department.

He has a genuine interest in the organization, but struggles to find the balance between ensuring his employees are satisfied and working in the best interest of the city and taxpayers.

Associate Editor Lisa Kaczke contributed to this story. Reach reporter Ashley Rezachek at 507-444-2376. ©Copyright 2020 APG Media of Southern Minnesota. All rights reserved.

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