Two men who say Hyde Park Public Works Director Mike Grunig pointed a gun at them have now filed a formal grievance asking the City Council to set aside its March 4 decision that they say led to the “constructive termination” of their city jobs.
Kolby Christiansen and Justin Bodrero resigned from their positions in the public works department two weeks ago after they were notified that Grunig was returning to his position as their direct supervisor.
“They made it clear beforehand that they did not feel safe working under Mike Grunig after Grunig sighted and aimed a pistol at them,” attorney Erin Byington wrote in the 10-page document filed at the Hyde Park City offices on Wednesday. “Restoring Grunig to his prior position results in intolerable working conditions for both Bodrero and Christiansen by having to live in fear of what off-hand dangerous act Grunig may take next or what retaliation may come of reporting this incident.”
According to the employees, the incident where Grunig pointed a gun at them happened on Nov. 14, 2018, but they didn’t report it immediately for fear of retaliation, the document states. They reported it on Jan. 28, after hearing that Grunig had recently entered another city official’s office and placed a gun on the desk, making the official apprehensive, according to the document. Mayor Sharidean Flint asked the North Park Police Department to investigate, and on Feb. 12, she suspended and demoted Grunig, cutting his pay. Grunig appealed, and the City Council reinstated him March 4.
The document lays out the known facts of the case, including the city’s practice of purging reprimands in employee files after three years, and the city’s statement that “there was no evidence presented of any prior discipline — including reprimands, suspensions, demotions — being imposed before now.”
Byington sets out her belief that Grunig has a substantial disciplinary history, as well as one of conflict and dishonesty “which could be discovered with a reasonable investigation.”
And, she writes, she also believes “Grunig has committed the criminal acts of reckless endangerment, threats of violence, and/or disorderly conduct when pointing a handgun at a subordinate with the intent to instill fear in them, while Grunig indicated he hated it when the same was done to him.”
The document also alleges several additional issues with how the city handled the disciplinary action following the accusations against Grunig, including violations of the employees’ due process rights and allegations that the North Park Police Department did not sufficiently investigate the matter.
According to Byington, Hyde Park is not in compliance with the Utah code that requires cities to adopt ordinances outlining procedures employees must follow when filing a grievance, how the grievance must be heard and who is responsible for hearing the dispute.
Bodrero and Christiansen were not properly informed of their rights, they were not given notice of the March 4 hearing, and as such, Byington said, they were not allowed the opportunity to be questioned by the City Council or refute Grunig’s side of the story — however, Grunig was allowed to invite his wife and his friend, former Mayor Bob Christensen, into a closed executive session.
Additionally, Byington wrote in the grievance, the appellate board must conduct a fair and impartial hearing, but whether that happened is called into question with the participation of Council Member Mark Hurd, who is Grunig’s son-in-law.
“Mr. Hurd has an open and obvious conflict of interest in the matter, and his review of the disciplinary action places Mr. Hurd in supervisory authority over Grunig in violation of the anti-nepotism code and policies,” the document states. “Mr. Hurd should have been recused from any review and decision-making authority in the proceedings due to the direct familial relation.”
The grievance filed on Wednesday argues it is a potential conflict of interest for the North Park Police Department to investigate this incident given that the mayor and council’s decisions help determine the department’s funding. The document also points the finger at interim Chief Steve Milne, saying he “failed to file a police report of a man pointing a handgun, aimed with a laser sight, at three different people” and that failure “has prevented proper screening by prosecutorial authorities.”
Byington said she received confirmation on Thursday that after she filed the grievance, the city asked the Cache County Sheriff’s Office to conduct an external investigation into the matter.
As government employees, Christiansen and Bodrero cannot file a civil lawsuit until they have exhausted all administrative remedies available through the city of Hyde Park. The grievance filed on their behalf is the beginning of that process, Byington said.
The grievance suggests that the proper remedy is for the city to rescind the March 4 decision that allowed Grunig to return to work and conduct a proper appellate hearing while abiding by all applicable laws, with a complete and competent review of all of the evidence, without nepotism or irrelevant witnesses that may improperly bolster Grunig’s case.
Byington said she expects that she will receive a response from the city’s legal counsel in the next 10-15 working days.