Murray County commissioners call for sheriff’s resignation

SLAYTON — The Murray County Board of Commissioners on Tuesday voted to demand Sheriff Steven Telkamp’s immediate resignation after discussing the results of an investigation initiated in March into workplace harassment and a hostile work environment.

According to a Murray County press release, Telkamp can’t be terminated because he is an elected official. The resignation request follows an independent investigation by investigator Michelle Soldo. It was initiated, according to the county release, after video footage of “disturbing behavior” of the sheriff was forwarded by a concerned employee.

When the board came back to open the meeting, the commissioners took turns reading a public statement explaining the events that led up to this dramatic action.

“As the independent investigator noted in her report, the conduct in the video footage does not depict an isolated incident, but reflects a continuing pattern of aggressive, defiant, disrespectful, abusive and threatening behavior that adversely impacts the work environment,” the release said.

“Ms. Soldo’s report and findings speak for themselves in determining that Sheriff Telkamp’s actions created a hostile and retaliatory working environment. The report contains deeply troubling findings about his conduct in the workplace with respect to a number of employees,” the release stated.

The county’s employment council, Laurel Pugh, met with the board in a closed portion of the meeting. After meeting with commissioners, Pugh was sent to the sheriff’s office to deliver the demand for his resignation. Pugh also met with sheriff’s department employees. She would be including the impending interim operational director the board planned to hire, office staff said.

The commission also voted to authorize the board chair to sign a contract with Municipal Solutions and for the Personnel Committee to work with the labor attorney to recommend a candidate to replace Telkamp.

Additionally, the board unanimously approved that arrangements be made to provide for 24/7 security coverage at the Sheriff’s Department for as long as necessary. 

“The county, as the employer, has a duty to protect its employees from hostile conduct and retaliation,” Commissioner Lori Gunnink said. “Because the sheriff is an elected official, this meeting does not operate in the same way as with an employee. The sheriff has received multiple notices of the investigation and an opportunity to participate and has not done so.”

According to the release, the video that sparked the investigation shows Telkamp “aggressively” discussing his grievances against certain county board members and against the county coordinator, Aurora Heard, with members of his department. Telkamp claimed that Heard has been lying about the time sheets he has sent in for payment and that she has been unlawfully changing them.

In the video, Telkamp says that Heard is harboring ill will and attempting retaliation, as is Gunnink whose husband had been fired from a county position, he said. He also named other commissioners who were now involved. Telkamp also suggested that there were three individuals whom he claimed would help him with a plan of retaliation.

“Due to the investigator’s concerns about the sheriff retaliating against the multiple employees who participated in the investigation, the report focuses only on the sheriff’s conduct in video footage, which does not single out any one person,” the board said in a press release,” the report stated.

“The county board also expresses its appreciation for its employees who were willing to come forward in the interest of their workplace and community, and reminds employees that the sheriff’s position in the only position that will have changes associated with it, as all other operations will remain the same,” the board said.

The Independent attempted reach Sheriff Telkamp and left messages with his office and on his cellphone.