Mille Lacs County Assistant Attorney Mark Herzing has filed a grievance through his union against the Mille Lacs County Board for having placed him on an unpaid leave of absence July 15 for what the board decided was a conflict of interest Herzing had in his workplace.
The Mille Lacs County Board of Commissioners’ action followed the recommendation of the county’s Personnel Board of Appeals. It concluded that there was a conflict of interest in Herzing remaining at work in the county attorney’s office as long as he was a candidate for the office of county attorney.
His supervisor, County Attorney Jan Jude, filed for re-election and Herzing filed for the office on the June 3 deadline for filing. Jude responded with a letter to Herzing that she thought he had violated county policy by not telling her about his filing until after he had filed.
Jude also stated that she felt his working in the county attorney’s office while being a candidate for her position might be a conflict of interest. The matter was sent to the PBA and that board took testimony from Herzing during its hearing on the matter.
On June 25 Jude had Herzing placed on a paid leave of absence.
The County Board’s labor attorney, Pam Galanter, presented the PBA’s recommendation to the County Board on July 15. Herzing was accompanied at the meeting by Sarah Lewerenz, an attorney with Herzing’s union, the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, or AFSCME, Council 5.
The PBA document stated that it agreed with Jude that a cartoon Herzing had on social media criticizing Jude about budgeting in her office, was negative campaigning and that the criticism “tends to undermine the public trust in the functioning of the prosecutor’s office.”
The PBA document went on that the PBA’s decision is based “solely upon the inability of the county attorney to operate her office efficiently so long as Mr. Herzing is a candidate for the position of county attorney.”
The commissioners voted unanimously to place Herzing on the unpaid leave of absence “as long as he was a candidate for the office of Mille Lacs County attorney.”
When the ballots were all counted in the Aug. 12 primary election in which there was a three-way race for county attorney, Jude was knocked out of the race. The list of candidates had to be whittled down to two candidates for the Nov. 4 general election, and Joe Walsh, a private attorney in Milaca, and Herzing were the top two vote getters.
Despite the wording of the County Board’s motion, some residents have been asking whether Herzing should be able to return to work now that Jude is no longer to be on the general election ballot.
Herzing says he had taken the first steps in the procedure by appealing the unpaid leave of absence decision to Jude.
Herzing said he was unable to get Jude to go along with his grievance, so he appealed it to the County Board of commissioners. He said that he also gave them a time extension to deliberate because they requested extra time.
Herzing said he understands that the commissioners will rule on the filing in their first meeting in September. If the commissioners reject what he states in his grievance, then the process goes to the next level that could possibly be mediation or arbitration, Herzing said. What steps are taken will depend on what he and his union and the county agree to, Herzing said.