Nisswa Mayor Fred Heidmann was censured, removed from city committees and asked to resign at a special city council meeting Friday afternoon, Sept. 4.
Heidmann was not at the meeting. Reached afterward, Heidmann said based on advice from his attorney he would not comment.
Council member John Ryan, who is running for mayor Nov. 3 along with Heidmann, said he was told he should abstain from voting, which he did. Council members Gary Johnson, Don Jacobson and Mike Hoff voted in favor of the actions, which came in response to Heidmann’s arrest Aug. 29 under probable cause for disorderly conduct and obstructing the legal process while two officers — one from Pequot Lakes and one from Nisswa — were conducting a traffic stop on Highway 371, south of Nisswa.
Nearly 60 people attended the nearly hour-long council meeting, with about 30 in the council chambers and the rest in the city hall atrium. Law enforcement officers attending in uniform included area police chiefs Craig Taylor (Nisswa), Eric Klang (Pequot Lakes), Steve Sundstrom (Lake Shore) and Erik Lee (Crosslake), along with Nisswa officer Matthew Thompson — who was part of the Aug. 29 incident — and Pequot Lakes officer Kate Petersen. Crow Wing County Sheriff’s Office Capt. Joe Meyer also attended, not in uniform.
The city reported it had received 280 emails as of noon Friday, Sept. 4, with more than 90% opposed to Heidmann’s actions, and 100 phone calls about the incident.
Johnson, who acted as mayor in Heidmann’s absence, and Hoff called the special meeting to address the public regarding the Aug. 29 incident.
Council members had sharp words for Heidmann.
After praising Pequot Lakes officer Matt Jorgens and Nisswa officer Thompson for their professionalism and patience during the incident, Johnson read from a prepared statement: “As for Mr. Heidmann (and I am making a point of not using the term ‘mayor’ as you no longer deserve to carry that title), we are once again forced to hold a special meeting to address the decisions you have made. Your latest selfish and childish antics have resulted in a city staff having to spend all week dealing with phone calls, emails, Facebook posts, etc., of many, many angry citizens and from people all over the country.
“The job of our city staff is to effectively help run our city, not deal with your messes. But beyond the waste of time and city resources, your actions have caused a great deal of harm to our beautiful city. As an elected official your job is to protect our citizens and promote our city. Instead you have done just the opposite,” Johnson said.
“You, Mr. Heidmann, are not an asset. You have become a liability,” he said.
Heidmann was the subject of a special meeting in June when First Amendment rights and appropriate conduct of elected officials came up for discussion after Facebook comments and posts from the mayor were deemed racist and xenophobic by many.
Friday at the special meeting, Johnson said, “Many of the messages we have received are from people voicing that they will no longer come here. No longer spend their money at our resorts, restaurants, golf courses and our downtown businesses until you are gone.”
Johnson concluded: “At this point we do not yet know if you are guilty of a crime. That will be for the county attorney and a court to determine. What you are guilty of, however, is failing the people that elected you and failing the city in which you are meant to serve. This is simply not acceptable. Mr. Heidmann, the right thing to do at this point is to resign. Our citizens, our tourists and speaking for myself as an elected official are all on the same page. Resign.”
Police body-camera footage showed Heidmann swearing at officers.
“You guys are just as bad as the cops in Minneapolis” and “I’m the mayor of this (expletive) town,” were among the statements Heidmann made to the officers in video footage. Heidmann was repeatedly asked to go to a safer area to record the traffic stop. In the profanity laced video, Heidmann stated, “Don’t you guys have something better to do? … Go patrol the (expletive) streets,” and “You guys aren’t qualified to be out here on the highway.” He called the officers “(expletive) dinks” and said they were a “(expletive) disgrace.”
In a written statement, after the incident, Heidmann said he saw the activity up the street from his business while walking his dog and was concerned by what he saw, so he began videotaping the incident as he went to check out what was taking place. Heidmann said he stood there wondering what impression this was making with the hundreds of vacationing families going by seeing what appeared to be tourists having their goods rifled through.
At the Friday meeting, Jacobson said in his prepared statement: “We don’t condone that type of language and agree no matter how heated the argument, such language should not be tolerated. It is truly unprofessional behavior.
“What happened does not reflect what we individually or as a city are — and the mayor should have to answer for his actions. … The actions by the mayor have tarnished the city’s image and has threatened local businesses with lost sales, which are desperately needed, especially in this time of coronavirus.
“The fact we have an election in just a few weeks would be the quickest and cleanest way to resolving the issue,” Jacobson said.
Hoff echoed Johnson’s and Jacobson’s statements, saying, “I am very disappointed in the actions of our mayor.”
Ryan, a former police officer, said it was hard for him not to be able to share all of his thoughts. He did say public employees should be proficient in their duties and professional at all times. If they fail, they should be held accountable. And he said elected officials should be held to a higher standard than those they serve.
City Attorney Tom Pearson, attending the meeting by teleconference, told the council that as a statutory city, options to discipline a mayor or council member are limited because of their elected status.
“The statute limits the council from what I would call extreme measures,” Pearson said, such as removing the mayor.
A felony or other types of convictions could create vacancies, but “this case is nowhere near that sort of disposition,” he said.
Fifteen people shared thoughts with the council, including city Finance Specialist Maggi Wentler, who through tears told the council, “I have been bullied and harassed by Mr. Heidmann and I hope if he stays in office you do something to protect us here in the office.”
Others said Heidmann’s actions reflected badly on Nisswa and they supported a call for his resignation.
Pam Dorion, who recently started her job as Nisswa Chamber of Commerce president, said she never thought that in her second week on the job she would find out Nisswa had become famous, but for something so negative. She said the chamber has heard from people who say they will never come here again.
“We were chosen to do our jobs, to promote Nisswa, and if I had ever done something like this, the right thing to do would be to resign,” Dorion said.
Susan Edwards, Nisswa American Legion commander, who said she graduated from high school with Heidmann, said she was disgusted with his actions and language.
Tessa Capelle, a Nisswa Park and Recreation Advisory Commission member, said Heidmann’s pattern of behavior is disturbing, unsettling, strange and not normal for an elected official, much less a citizen.
If a person can’t be held accountable for their behavior and actions, and say, “I was wrong, sorry,” how do they make amends and build back trust and respect from the city and business owners, she asked.
Stacey Waidelich, a Nisswa business owner, said: “I am embarrassed. I am embarrassed for what my city is going through. I’m not a resident of this amazing city. I don’t get to vote who sits in that seat. … To embarrass the city that he is supposed to be in charge of? Enough is enough.”
Waidelich said she is tired of fielding questions from customers coming into her store.
“And now to hear people are never coming to Nisswa again? Pam (Dorion), bless your heart. We’ve got work to do,” Waidelich said.
Don McFarland, former Lake Shore mayor, said he’s been a business owner here for 35 years.
“I would like to comment on your policemen. They’re the best,” he said.
Meyer, with the Crow Wing County’s Sheriff’s Office and a former Nisswa resident and council member, said: “Fred, you need to resign. Speaking to you as a law enforcement officer for this community, for the good of the community and good of the city, resign immediately.”
Only one speaker shared a different opinion. Troy Scheffler called the meeting a “dog and pony show,” saying the court has jurisdiction over the mayor’s actions Aug. 29 and voters can respond at election time. He questioned all the police at the meeting from different jurisdictions and in uniform, saying other cities were meddling in Nisswa’s affairs and must have excess resources to be paying them for their time there.
Taylor said only one officer at the meeting was on duty, and that was the officer involved in the incident.
Jacobson made all three motions to censure Heidmann, which is a public reprimand of his behavior; remove him from committees; and ask for his resignation for the following reasons:
Heidmann’s statements to police and the public do not reflect what council members individually or as a city think and believe.
Heidmann’s actions have tarnished the city’s image and business sales, which are especially needed now.
Heidmann’s behavior Aug. 29 was truly unprofessional.
The next step is to vote in seven weeks and solve the issue one way or another if he doesn’t resign, Jacobson said.