Tax director leaves county employment: After 31 years with Ramsey County, Ratzlaff retires under fire

Louise Oleson Journal Managing Editor
Ramsey County Commissioner Myrna Heisler reads a statement to the commission while Commissioner Bill Mertens and States Attorney Lonnie Olson look on.

Ramsey County Tax Equalization Director Jerry Ratzlaff came under fire at a special meeting of the Ramsey County Commission held Friday morning.

Commissioner Myrna Heisler brought the discussion to the forefront as she read a prepared statement which  included  an account of an incident where she witnessed Ratzlaff allegedly threaten a co-worker, Steve Moe, with physical harm.

Ratzlaff responded to the allegations and admitted that he had gotten angry and “blew up.”

Other county employees were asked to address the incident to further inform the commission before they were to act.

Moe stated that the incident in question was simply one of many incidents. He claimed there existed a pervasive pattern of “bullying” from the tax director towards him.

The two had recently gone through mediation, with a third party from outside the county facilitating, to reach a resolution. On-going conflicts between Ratzlaff and Moe had made working together increasingly difficult. Heisler is the commissioner who holds the tax office’s portfolio, therefore she stepped in to attempt to manage the conflicts between co-workers.

An outside mediation company was hired by the county to facilitate that process, Village Business Institute. Their report completed in July was submitted to the commission and the commissioners took a few moments to read it and to discuss its findings.

Though that mediation resulted in a signed agreement, Ratzlaff admitted he’d only signed it because it was 6 p.m., he was tired and just wanted to go home.

The commissioners asked Retzlaff and Moe about the terms of the agreement. The two had differing views on the results, Moe pointed out one of the elements of the agreement they’d both signed was that Ratzlaff would put all of his requests to Moe in e-mails so there would be a record of each.

Ratzlaff stated that he didn’t want to to do that and preferred face to face communication, though he had signed the agreement, that wasn’t what he was going to do.

After the commission listened to the discussion, heard all the testimony and read the evaluation of the facilitator of the mediation it was the consensus that something needed to be done about this situation immediately.

“We don’t take this lightly. It is a serious matter,” Heisler stated.

“Your intent was very clear. you said you’d ‘take care of him’ - that’s a threat,” Commissioner Mark Olson said to Ratzlaff.

“You have to be able to work together. I don’t know what the answer is,” Commissioner Adam Leiphon stated.

The decision

The first motion to terminate Ratzlaff’s employment failed for a lack of a second.

As the commission discussed a second motion, that did get a second, Ratzlaff stood up, walked up to President Ed Brown and handed him a letter saying, “I’ll make this easier for you.”

Explaining further he said what he handed to Brown was a letter requesting his resignation as of Nov. 1. “I’m done here.”

This changed the course of the discussion.

“We don’t want this to go on another two months,” Olson said.

After referring to the ND Century Code, the county’s policy manual and conferring with the Ramsey County State’s Attorney, the County Auditor, Elizabeth Fischer, and much discussion, the motion was amended to allow Ratzlaff to retire, effective immediately.

That vote passed unanimously. Ratzlaff was instructed to clean out his desk of his personal items and to leave the courthouse immediately. A Ramsey County deputy accompanied him to his office to oversee that.

At the Tuesday, Sept. 1 regular meeting of the Ramsey County Commission they plan to appoint an interim Tax Director to fill the vacancy.