Rep. Tabke, City Administrator call for state investigation into SPU salary cap questions

Editor’s Note: This story was updated with comments from SPUC President Deb Amundson at 12:40 p.m. Friday.

Minnesota House Rep. Brad Tabke and Shakopee City Administrator Bill Reynolds sent separate letters to the state auditor Thursday requesting an investigation into potential salary cap law violations at Shakopee Public Utilities.

Reynolds’ letter included concerns about Utilities Manager John Crooks’ pay exceeding the salary cap, transparency at SPU, and potential violations of open meeting laws. He also sent his letter to Attorney General Keith Ellison.

Public records reported by The Shakopean show Utilities Manager John Crooks’ yearly pay is at least $200,000, though the state-mandated local government salary cap is set at a maximum of $178,782.

“This raises serious questions about whether the Shakopee Public Utilities is violating state statute regarding salaries of local officials,” Tabke wrote in his email to the state auditor. “I respectfully ask that you investigate this situation so Shakopee residents can be assured that the Shakopee Public Utilities is abiding by the law.”

Shakopee Public Utilities Commission President Deb Amundson said she began seeking guidance from the state auditor earlier this week, and the commission plans to cooperate with the state auditor and attorney general.

“Reasonable minds may differ on the interpretation of the (salary cap) statute,” Amundson said. “We look forward to clarification on these issues.”

City has questions about SPU administrators’ pay

Reynolds wrote that he is concerned not only about Crooks’ salary, but one or two other administrators whose salaries came into question during a city review of “the viability of shared services” between the city and SPU.

Reynolds references SPU’s Pay Equity Report, in which SPU employee salaries are plotted on a graph. Reynolds said he noticed differences between the copy of the report submitted to the Minnesota Department of Management and Budget and the copy provided to SPU commissioners.

“The report was not complete because it excluded a page that contained employee salary information, and … part of the report had been altered to remove the word ‘salary’ from one of the report’s graphs. Without the ‘salary’ designation, it is very difficult to figure out what the column numbers are referring to,” Reynolds wrote. “Moreover, the altered and incomplete report was presented to (SPUC) and voted on by them.”

Reynolds’ letter said information in the report made him question whether Director of Finance and Administration Renee Schmid and Planning and Engineering Director Joe Adams might have salaries that exceed the cap.

According to additional public records, Schmid has a gross salary of $175,845. Accounting for her $275 per month car allowance, her compensation is at least $179,145. Adams’ gross salary is $170,203, according to the same records. Accounting for his $275 per month car allowance, his compensation is at least $173,503.

Local governments are required to publish their top three salaried employees for public view, and Reynolds said his new knowledge about SPU administrators’ pay has him questioning whether the city may have violated state law by publishing the wrong jobs as the top earners.

“In the past, we have noted that these were the City Administrator, the Chief of Police, and the City engineer,” Reynolds wrote.

The highest paid employee working directly for the city of Shakopee is Reynolds, whose gross salary is $168,605, plus a $500 per month car allowance for a total compensation of $174,605.

Data requests met with ‘pushback’

Potential salary cap violations aren’t the only thing Reynolds hopes to see addressed, according to his letter. In the course of his research into SPU salaries, he encountered “pushback … for information that was undeniably public data.”

He lays out the following timeline:

In response to Reynolds’ Feb. 24 request, former SPUC President Terry Joos, whose term expired March 31, responded: “John (Crooks), I think at this point we should run all this harassment by our legal counsel.”

Asked to comment by The Shakopean, Joos said he doesn’t think he can comment on the email “as I’m no longer a member of the commission and would need to consult with legal counsel before responding.”

Continuing his critique on transparency at SPU, Reynolds’ letter claims that commissioners are receiving information in their meeting agenda packets that is different from the packets available to the public. The commission approved Crooks’ 2020 employment contract on Feb. 3, but the publicly available packet was missing the referenced “Appendix A,” which is a copy of Crooks’ proposed contract.

“There was no way for the public to know … the specifics of the contract,” Reynolds wrote.

In an email to The Shakopean, Crooks said the contract wasn’t included in the Feb. 3 agenda packet because it wasn’t signed yet.

“The (Utilities Manager) contract is not included in the public packets as you noted because it is unsigned. Once approved and signed, it is public information and can be provided upon request,” Crooks said.

Reynolds concludes his letter by asking the state auditor and attorney general to independently investigate, without SPUC’s involvement, the concerns he shared.

“Clearly, there has been a long-term concerted effort to hide actions from the public,” Reynolds wrote. “I urge you and your offices to take action to ensure that the issues raised in the letter are fully addressed so that the residents of Shakopee can have confidence in their public bodies and their arms of local government.”

SPUC President Deb Amundson said the commission is in the process of scheduling a special meeting for next week. The meeting will be open to the public, she said.