Two men employed in the Hyde Park public works department say they have quit their jobs rather than continuing to work for city Public Works Director Mike Grunig after he allegedly pointed a gun directly at each of them during a mandatory staff meeting.
In a recent document detailing the disciplinary action taken against Grunig, Hyde Park City Council members called his conduct “an error in judgement” and voted to reinstate Grunig to his position and pay after Mayor Sharidean Flint reportedly reprimanded the man and demoted him for his actions.
The employees have stated they don’t know whether the firearm was loaded or not. Grunig has said it was unloaded.
In the council’s written decision, they state pointing a gun at three of his employees did not jeopardize their safety, but it was “offensive” to them.
“We’re taking that as constructive termination,” Kolby Christiansen said last week by way of explaining his decision to resign.
He and Justin Bodrero, two of the men who found a handgun pointed directly at them during the November staff meeting, say their personal safety means more to them than a job.
Grunig, who was placed on administrative leave earlier this year, returned to work Monday after a formal suspension of six business days after Hyde Park City Council members voted March 4 to overturn disciplinary actions made by Flint in February, “namely written reprimands, demotion, and a salary reduction.”
He was contacted by The Herald Journal on Wednesday but declined to speak about what happened.
Disciplinary action was taken after three city employees came forward at the end of January to report an incident they allege occurred during working hours Nov. 14, 2018.
Christiansen and Bodrero both say that although they are generally at ease around firearms, they were highly alarmed that day when Grunig pointed a 9 mm Smith & Wesson Shield at each of them and also at fellow employee Mike Johnson during a mandatory meeting he called for public works employees.
Grunig reportedly called the meeting at about 3 p.m., which was not out of the ordinary, according to Christiansen and Bodrero. They reportedly discussed city business, briefly, but when Grunig suggested Bodrero would look good with a green dot on him, the tone of the meeting changed quickly.
“Mike pulled a 9 mm SW Shied out of concealment and opened the slide and turned on the laser and pointed at Justin and it got super quiet,” Christiansen wrote in a statement to Chief Steve Milne, interim chief of the North Park Police Department.
Bodrero told Milne he was seated at Grunig’s desk working on a project, and when he heard Grunig’s statement, he turned to face the man.
“I was kinda confused about what he just said so I turned and looked at him when I saw he had a pistol with a green laser pointed at my chest,” Bodrero wrote in his statement, which was also also provided to Milne.
Mark Johnson was in the room as well, although he chose not to speak publicly about what took place.
“As we were sitting there, I heard Mike say ‘wouldn’t Justin look good with a green dot on him’ then I heard the a slide of a gun,” he wrote in his statement to Milne. He “looked up to see Mike holding a gun that had its slide back, Mike then pointed the gun at Justin’s chest then at his private body parts, then pointed the gun at Kolby’s chest then he pointed it at my chest making me feel very uncomfortable. Mike then put the gun back together and left the shop and we looked at each other and couldn’t believe what just happened.”
Each of these employees indicated no verbal threats were made at the time, and Christiansen even said it appeared that Grunig thought it was funny, but none of them were amused.
“Every time I close my eyes I still see a green dot on my chest,” Bodrero said. “The laser made it more surreal.”
Even so, they said both to The Herald Journal and also in the written statements provided to Milne, none of the men rushed to report the incident to city administrators because they didn’t think the city would take action, and they feared there would be some kind of repercussion coming from Grunig himself.
Several people who contacted The Herald Journal last week after hearing that Grunig would be coming back to work echoed those concerns. Three of those people have worked for the city and wish to remain anonymous.
One man said he found he had to “get out or stroke out” because of the stress and anxiety caused by working under Grunig, who has been employed by the city for nearly 30 years.
They describe him as a controlling and manipulative individual who uses his close personal relationships with former Mayor Bob Christensen and present council member and son-in-law Mark Hurd to his personal advantage.
Multiple people also mentioned their belief that Grunig would also use his position in church leadership to “save his job.”
One of those people described Grunig as a man who is “not above getting even,” and although he no longer works for Grunig, he was visibly fearful of adding his voice to the conversation, but he said he could not sit idle while good men were being pushed out of their jobs.
Another person who contacted The Herald Journal said one of his concerns was the mental stability of a city employee who would point a gun at another person.
According to U.S. Supreme Court case law, public employees in non-probationary classified positions and who are at risk of discharge, demotion or unpaid suspension must be given the opportunity to hear and dispute the facts surrounding the relevant disciplinary action proposed.
In a Notice of Decision dated March 5 and released to The Herald Journal on March 8, city officials held the required hearing Feb. 12. Grunig was present with his attorney, his wife and former mayor Bob Christensen.
“From the Loudermill hearing, the mayor (Sharidean Flint) determined that certain Hyde Park City policies regarding the use of sick leave and unsafe and offensive conduct were violated. As a result, the Mayor imposed certain disciplinary actions, namely written reprimands, demotion, and salary reduction,” the decision reads.
Grunig, through his attorney, appealed Flint’s decision. In a “public meeting” March 4, the City Council heard Grunig’s appeal in an executive session that was not open to the public.
Flint was present at this meeting, but because the council was hearing an appeal to a decision she made, Flint did not conduct the meeting. Instead, Councilman Charles Wheeler led the meeting as mayor pro-tem.
After more than two hours behind closed doors, City Council members voted by private ballot. In the Notice of Decision, the City Council determined there was “insufficient evidence of deliberate or careless conduct while on the job that would endanger the safety of other employees. As such, the city council hereby disproves and rescinds the Mayor’s imposition of discipline for this charge.”
However, according to the notice, the council determined instead that “there is sufficient evidence of offensive conduct towards other city officers or employees while on the job and that such conduct merits discipline, albeit different from the discipline imposed by the mayor.”
With that determination, the City Council restored Grunig to his position as the public works director, his wages were restored to $33.38 per hour, with back pay to cover the loss of wages resulting from the mayor’s disciplinary action. The council also suspended Grunig for six consecutive work days, without pay, between the dates of March 1 to 8. These actions also came with a formal reprimand which is supposed to be included in his personnel file.
The Herald Journal contacted North Park Police Interim Police Chief Steve Milne prior to the March 4 meeting, and at that time, he said his office did not prepare a formal police report.
On Wednesday, he explained further, saying that Flint contacted him after she was made aware of the allegations and said she was looking into a potential violation of department policy. Milne said he collected statements from the three men who were on the laser side of the gun. All three of the men indicated there were no verbal threats accompanying Grunig’s actions. Milne was not asked to speak with Grunig.
Milne said after a conversation with Cache County Chief Deputy Tony Baird, he did not believe the situation met the elements required to justify filing criminal charges, and Flint was provided with a written synopsis of Milne’s interviews with Christiansen, Bodrero and Johnson along with written statements from each one of them.
Baird said while he did have a discussion with Milne via phone, it did not constitute a formal and complete review of the incident or a final decision made by the Cache County Attorney’s Office.