The Isanti County facilities maintenance director, who had been on paid administrative leave since March 25, was officially terminated during the Isanti County Board meeting on June 2.
Jeff Benting had worked for Isanti County for about 25 years, most recently serving as facilities maintenance director.
His lawyer, Peter Coyle of Larkin Hoffman, argued that Benting’s termination would be an “unlawful termination,” in a letter dated May 24 and sent to County Administrator Julia Lines.
In his letter, Coyle explained the county had hired a new central services division leader on March 17 whose job duplicated Benting’s responsibilities during the time Benting was being investigated for termination.
“At the time, the hiring decision was represented to the county board as ‘cost-neutral,’” Coyle explained in his letter. “In other words, the determination had already been made to terminate Mr. Benting and replace him with a younger person to apply (his) salary toward that new position. What was needed was a contrived investigation by Mr. Benting’s supervisor to justify the decision to terminate him and free up his salary for cost savings.”
Coyle explained Benting received written notice of the county’s intent to pursue an investigation into unspecified wrongdoing by him on or about March 25. Subsequently, Benting was made aware of the results of this investigation and of the county’s intent to terminate him at a meeting on April 21.
“He has been forced to vacate his work space at the county since March and has had no opportunity, then or since, to access his files or other information to rebut the alleged basis for termination,” Coyle wrote on his letter. “The asserted claims of wrongdoing would be laughable if not for the intolerable insult to Mr. Benting. After 25 years, with no negative reviews, and no prior notice of wrongdoing, Mr. Benting was advised that he should retire or face termination.”
A summary of some of the allegations against Benting included inappropriate computer use, unprofessional bullying behavior toward staff, falsely issuing county keys, unsuitably controlling temperatures, and maintaining inappropriate items in a shared office, according to a notice of investigatory interview from Lines.
As of June 1, the youngest Isanti County vaccine recipient was 16, the oldest was 98 and the average was 53, said Molly Wiemann, health and safety coordinator of Isanti County Public Health.
Since Jan. 1, public health has conducted 86 clinics, 14 of which have been mobile, Wiemann said. About 11,339 Isanti County residents have received a vaccine against COVID-19, she said.
She explained that COVID-19 cases per week have dropped from 64 to 30. Hospitalization and intensive care unit rates have also dropped, as well as COVID-related deaths, she said.
“Public health continues to put together community outreach via postcards, calling, polling, newspaper, and social media; they are also working on a radio ad,” Wiemann said.
She said that people between the ages of 18 to 39 have been more hesitant in getting the COVID-19 vaccine.
“We see that being our lowest rate right now, but we are definitely working on that,” she said.
Wiemann said it’s important for public health to continue to assess the needs of the community to better serve it.
“And then also looking, just like I said, again, what does our community need and want from us?” she said about some of the questions they need to learn about. “So we’re also going to be partnering with (Minnesota Department of Health) here to do, it’s called a Pilot Outreach Program. … Hopefully, it’s a great way for us to poll our whole community and see, like, is it vaccine hesitancy? Is it convenience issues? Is it more education? Like, what do we need to give our community to make sure that we’re meeting their needs?”