The investigation report by the law firm of Lockridge,Grindal, Nauen presented to the WinonaCounty Board of Commissioners Tuesday into a pair of county employees reads like a mystery novel, full of sub-plots and a variety of colorful characters.
The story begins in January of 2013 when former county board member, Mena Kaehler, asks then County Administrator, Duane Hebert, how to get a solar project in front of the Board of Commissioners
The investigation reports that Hebert’s wife, Theresa, was working for Mena Kaehler’s son Cliff’s renewable energy company Novel Energy System (NES) on or around September 30th, 2013. Hebert claims he told CountyAttorney Karin Sonneman about his wife’s employment with NES on October 2nd and that she saw no conflict of interest. Sonneman denies that conversation ever happened.
By November of last year, CountySustainability Coordinator, Anne Morse, and Sonneman had decided to move forward with a different company after speaking with Cliff Kaehler. They were concerned this would his first project and also found him “agitated and presumptuous” that the project should be moving forward. Morse found Kaehler to be a “fast talker” according to the report.
Cue story to a January 10th, 2014 meeting where Sonneman is told by Morse that Theresa Hebert is an investor in NES. Sonneman notes this is the first she has heard about Mrs. Hebert’s involvement with the company.
On February 2nd Mr. Hebert signs a Conflict of Interest form and signs another one on March 18th, stating no conflict, but noting that his wife was negotiating to become part owner in NES.
The law firm’s report concludes that … “given Mr. Hebert’s wife was actively discussing an ownership interest in NES, even if she did not own a share in 2013, his failure to disclose these discussions and her potential for an ownership interest at the time he knew NES was vying for business from the county may not state a violation under a narrow interpretation of the policy, but comes very close.”
Tuesday, the board voted unanimously to terminate Hebert’s employment while voting in a separate motion, to re-instate Morse.