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After special Grundy County Board meeting, Hoppe still terminated

Published: Tuesday, Sept. 24, 2013 5:30 a.m. CST • Updated: Tuesday, Sept. 24, 2013 5:26 p.m. CST

In a special meeting Monday night, the Grundy County Board voted to move forward with Human Resources Director Dan Hoppe’s termination and to request the resignation of County Administrator Chris Wittkamp.

Dan Hoppe was terminated earlier this month and days later Wittkamp quit without notice. Hoppe was on the job about six months and Wittkamp five.

But Grundy County State’s Attorney Jason Helland told the board that the Personnel Committee was never given the authority to hire or fire employees at the new board’s first meeting in December. Helland said when the full board approved Hoppe’s salary it ratified the committee’s hiring, but the firing needed to be done by the full board.

After a lengthy executive session the board voted 11 to 5 with one abstaining for Hoppe’s termination or acceptance of a resignation letter. Teryl Lundeen, Jim Ryan, Doug Boresi, Dick Joyce and Chairman Ron Severson voted against his termination. Frank Halpin abstained.

The County Board’s Personnel Committee previously voted 4 to 1 to terminate Hoppe in what Severson later said was Wittkamp’s recommendation. Upon Wittkamp’s resignation, Severson said he had a plan in place that involved bringing Hoppe back to the county. A special meeting was called shortly later.

Ann Gill was the lone vote against Hoppe’s termination originally, but said after the board meeting Monday new information came to light that could not be overlooked.

“The new information trumped some of the good, and there really was a lot of good,” Gill said. “Anyone who knows the things Dan Hoppe did good knows he did it very good, but a few things came to light that were very important.”

Of Hoppe’s original termination, chairwoman Vicki Geiger said last week the committee’s decision to fire Hoppe was not made easily. She said last week it was a lengthy discussion, and that Hoppe was talked to previously by her, Wittkamp and board member Chris Balkema regarding their concerns and what they would like to see improved.

Hoppe spoke on his own behalf during the public comments portion of the meeting, prior to the board going into executive session. About 50 people attended the meeting, mostly county staff members, but the crowd dwindled as the lengthy executive session went on.

Hoppe told the board he was never given a reason for his termination.“I have to say I am extremely disappointed in the board’s decision,” he said after the meeting. “I appreciate the support of the board members who voted against the resolution for my termination.”

Severson said half the board wanted Wittkamp, half the board wanted Hoppe, and in the end neither won.

“We have to move on,” Severson said. “We’ve got to look at tomorrow as a new slate.”

The priority will be a new human resources director, he said, and the structure of the administrator position will be looked at again.

The board also approved requesting a resignation from Wittkamp, who after a meeting last week with Severson, Geiger and John Almer wrapped up some things and then left without notice. Severson said Monday “she walked out.” But the board wants an official resignation. The vote was 12 to 4 with one abstaining. Deb Warning, David Welter, Balkema and Geiger voted against asking for her official resignation.

Wittkamp was not present in the board room Monday. She said last week she could not work with Severson and that he did not support her as county administrator.

Hoppe told the board prior to the executive session that on Sept. 13 he was told his services were no longer needed by Wittkamp and board member Chris Balkema, but he said he was not given a reason for his termination.

“From what I understand, for two months prior, there was an effort to address the reason that I was let go, but I was not part of that discussion. This remains a mystery,” he said.

He continued that in his 16 years experience in human resources, he never let go of an employee without them knowing why. And prior to the termination, he said he always had conversations with the employee to allow them the opportunity to improve their performance or change the behavior that is causing the issue.

He said in fact personnel Geiger always gave him high praise on his performance, as did the committee vice chairman John Almer.

Hoppe said he is asking for his reputation and name restored.

“If my job performance was so bad, or behavior so awful that the most extreme measure had to be taken, why was I not afforded an opportunity to be made aware and correct?” he asked.

Speaking as an individual Jim Wright, a former board member and current Board of Health member, spoke in favor of Hoppe, as did Severson. Severson also read a statement from Board of Health Chairwoman Joan Harrop who said Hoppe was very helpful and instrumental in the hiring of a new administrator for the health department and financial manager.

“I had no knowledge this was going on, I didn’t condone it and during the meeting I said I thought there were different ways to handle it,” said Severson before executive session.

Severson said he heard statements that part of the problem was Hoppe allegedly disrespected woman. But he said after speaking with numerous women employees of the county not one of them had a negative word to say about Hoppe.

“I consider him one of the finest employees this county was ever lucky enough to get,” Severson said.

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