In a surprise move this week by the Devils Lake Water Improvement District, three members of the five member board of directors fired 10 year veteran General Manager Paul Robertson. Two members, Brian Green and David Skirvin, voted not to fire him.
The discussion of why Robertson was terminated without cause was quite limited. Board chair Kent Norris revealed that during a non-public executive session, it was said that although Robertson is a competent scientist on Devils Lake Water Quality, and has done an excellent job managing the district, there is a desire to let Robertson go so the board can hire someone more adept at managing the project of lake aeration. Robertson was the one who contacted world renown limnologist Alex Horne who is devising the aeration system to help keep the lake blue, rather than a soupy green body of water during certain times of the year.
Dissenting board member Brian Green objected to the firing saying Robertson had done an excellent job running the district and that he should be given at least a sixty day extension of his contract until a new manager could be selected. But board member Tina French said that it would not be fair to Robertson to keep him on when he knows he is losing his job. Green said the district manager’s job is quite involved and to be without a competent manager for at least 60 days would not serve the district well – especially going into budget planning and adoption over the next couple of months. Robertson was not called on to comment.
With that, a motion was made to terminate Robertson and to appoint board chair Kent Norris to take over for Robertson for no pay until a new manager can be hired. The board will also seek the guidance of experts from a special district association. Robertson agreed to coordinate his departure with Norris for what is hoped will be a smooth transition at the helm of the DLWID.
In closing remarks several board members praised Robertson again for his service to the DLWID and wished him good luck.
Robertson saw the district through many challenges, not the least of which was his effort to end powerful algae blooms in the lake caused by leaking residential septic tanks which are leaching untreated treated wastewater into the lake. Limnologist Alexander Horne is devising the aeration system that will hopefully fix the algae blooms while lake residents are gradually offered access to the city’s regular sewer system.