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Winona County

Investigation to start into Winona County discrimination claim

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Winona County is confident it didn’t do anything wrong when it fired its former county administrator in May and is welcoming an investigation into the matter.

The county has declined mediation with former administrator Duane Hebert, said Dyan Ebert, the attorney representing the county in the case. That decision likely starts an investigation by the Minnesota Department of Human Rights into the discrimination claim Hebert filed in July.

“We don’t believe there’s any merit to the charge that’s been filed,” Ebert said. “The county welcomes the investigation. The county doesn’t feel it did anything wrong.”

After the investigation, which has no clear timeline for completion, the Department of Human Rights will make a determination saying whether there is enough probable cause to Hebert’s claim to warrant moving forward, either into a process known as conciliation — similar to mediation — or into court as a civil matter.

Ebert, an attorney with St. Cloud-based firm Quinlivan and Hughes, is provided to the county through the Minnesota Counties Intergovernmental Trust, which every county is required to pay a premium for and be a part of by state statute.

Hebert was fired in May after an outside investigation into a proposed solar-energy project for the county, which found he was improperly involved. His wife worked for the company proposing the project, and Hebert did not properly notify county officials about her employment, the investigation concluded.

Hebert has disputed those findings and has also argued he wasn’t given the proper chance to address the board during a public meeting to give his side of the story.

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