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City council hears complaint aimed at city attorney

New York Mills City Attorney Dennis Happel should be dismissed and Mayor Larry Hodgson doesn't have a clue. That was the message Michelle Hunt sent at last week's city council meeting.

At issue is Hunt's feeling Happel did not do his job in pursuing justice in regards to a case involving Hunt, who was assaulted in New York Mills back in December, 2007. Hunt is not pleased with how Happel has prosecuted her case and now wants the council to dismiss him as city attorney.

"The reason for this action is because of his ineptness over the past 16 months in handling my case of assault within the city limits of New York Mills," Hunt said in a emailed letter presented to the council. "The assault took place over 16 months ago, and is still not resolved because he has no desire to do his job. Whatever the city is currently paying him (even if it is $1 per hour) is too much. The citizens' of New York Mills tax dollars are being grossly misused," Hunt alleges in the letter.

Hunt spoke to the mayor and council April 14, saying the citizens of New York Mills should be given a standard of service Happel must abide by. The assault Hunt refers to occurred when she was involved in an altercation with two other women during a late-night sauna party on Dec. 15, 2007 at a New York Mills residence. The two other women were later charged with 5th degree misdemeanor assault and were ordered to pay restitution. Hunt wanted the case to go to trial, however it did not.

Happel was not at the city council meeting but did send the mayor and council a letter in response to Hunt's allegations. He stated that, "based on many years of experience with jury trials, I do not believe a jury would have found either of the defendants guilty due to several factors including the circumstances surrounding the altercation."

Happel continued in his letter by stating, "Both defendants agreed to a continuance for dismissal and were ordered to pay restitution for damages suffered by Ms. Hunt. One of the defendants has failed to pay restitution as of this date, but the defense attorney and I are vigorously pursuing collection of the money. I will go back to court to get this money if it is not paid."

Hunt has received a portion of the restitution coming to her, but claims she has been the one pushing this case forward, not Happel. With the assault occurring in December of 2007, Hunt claims the first contact she had with Happel was not until July 8, 2008 when she showed up for a city council meeting.

"Why should I have to do all the research? I am the victim," she said. "I am not unreasonable. A little respect and dignity goes a long way. I've never felt so much as a peon as I have the last 16 months."

As for Hunt saying the mayor doesn't have a clue, he responded at the meeting by saying, "I was clueless". Hodgson said he didn't know much about the case at all and was under the impression the assault was outside of city limits. "I did not know the city's part in this."

Hodgson assured Hunt he would contact Happel and get this matter "off the books".