By Per Peterson
Tony Peterson sat alone at the same table his boss, Jeff Salmon, sat behind on July 23, when the city council voted to remove him from the EDA board. Like Salmon, Peterson’s future with the EDA was left in the hands of the council at a public hearing last Wednesday. Unlike Salmon, however, Peterson was vindicated and was allowed to remain on the EDA board.
Peterson faced similar charges as Salmon did, and if the council found evidence to substantiate any of the three charges against him, he would’ve been removed from the board. However, the council determined that Peterson was within his rights when he conducted background and credit checks on Jamie Mattson, who earlier this summer petitioned to have both he and Salmon removed from the EDA board.
Mattson did roofing work on Salmon’s building earlier this year, which began what turned out to be a sour relationship between the two parties. Mattson was also in line to buy the Asian Market building with the help of EDA financing, but that deal ultimately fell through.
On Aug. 12, the council voted to schedule a hearing to remove Peterson from the EDA board, and three days later, Peterson was served a copy of the notice of written charges for removal, along with a pack of documents that alleged to support the allegations of misconduct in office.
After Peterson offered his final statements Wednesday, following his own testimony and that of former City Administrator Kris Ambuehl, EDA Director Jeff Carpenter and councilmen Dave Tiegs, the public deliberation among council members began, just as it did at Salmon’s hearing in July.
The three charges against Peterson — which involved 27 exhibits — included an alleged violation of the Fair Credit Reporting Act and two alleged violations of city codes.
On the first charge, it was determined that Peterson did not violate the Fair Credit Reporting Act.
“I don’t believe it was used for a prohibitive purpose,” said council member Jeri Schons, who made the motion that the first allegation was not substantiated. “It wasn’t used for him to decline the loan, (the loan) was tabled (by the EDA board).”
Schons also noted that Mattson formally withdrew any interest in purchasing the Asian Market building.
Tiegs, who sits with Peterson on the EDA board, said the board was “up in the air” about how the EDA was going to handle the Asian Market building.
“I couldn’t tell you how we would’ve voted on that — we were still trying to figure things out,” said Tiegs, who seconded Schons’ motion on the first charge. The vote in favor of Peterson was unanimous.
Peterson said the document he attained in his research on Mattson was a publicly-purchased piece of information that was not used to determine whether or not someone would be allowed a loan.
“It was never intended to be used for a verification of finances,” he said of his check on Mattson. “My intent on that was to verify the addresses and background of the individual. When I found the problem, I followed the only course of action I could and shared it with the administrator.”
Peterson said that the majority of loans the EDA does are with people board members know. In his time on the EDA, there was only one loan that was turned down. He added that he was only doing his due diligence in checking on Mattson.
On the second charge that Peterson did not impartially carry out his duties when he obtained a background report on Mattson, the council again voted in Peterson’s favor, this time with Mayor Anthony Dimmers providing the lone dissenting vote. Tiegs made the motion that the second violation was not substantiated. Schons seconded the motion.
“Tony has stated that he’s done it in the past, and I think he applies things evenly if he doesn’t know people, and if he does know the people he’ll ask questions,” Tiegs said. “I don’t think he just picked up this one application … “
Schons said that while Peterson had admitted he can be a “bull in a china shop,” as a board member, “that doesn’t necessarily mean a bull cannot be a good member of a committee. This is a tough one.”
Schons said it is every citizen’s right to pull background reports on people. Dimmers argued that Peterson was acting as an EDA member and therefore should be held to higher standards than a typical resident of the city and that just because someone has done something inappropriate for a period of years doesn’t make it right.
“We want to grow this town, we want people to come here and do business, but if they think they’re going to be scrutinized in their personal background, that’s not exactly inviting,” Dimmers said. “The background check was not pulled as a citizen, it was pulled as an EDA board member.”
Dimmers said picking and choosing on whom to do background checks on is very different than doing so on everyone who applies for an EDA loan.
“You either do it for everyone, or no one,” Dimmers said.
On the third charge that Peterson exceeded his authority as an EDA board member by ordering a background report on Mattson without EDA approval, the council was deadlocked. Schons and Tiegs voted that the charge was not substantiated, while Dimmers and councilman Kou Thao thought the evidence was there to show that Peterson did exceed his authority. The 2-2 vote meant that that particular charge couldn’t be leveled against Peterson because it was deemed unsubstantiated.
It was determined that the Mattsons provided a credit report, and Schons said she had a difficult time figuring out why a person can’t pull a background check.
“On a personal basis, anyone can attain a background report or credit report on anyone,” City Attorney Matthew Gross said. “But the Fair Credit Report Act applies when it is used for employment decisions and lending decisions.”
Schons argued that it wasn’t used for those purposes since the decision to loan Mattson money to purchase the Asian Market building had been tabled before a final decision was made.