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Alerus Center board: Director should go

Hal Gershman, speaking at a Wednesday meeting of Alerus Center leaders, said he's not sure the event center Executive Director Cheryl Swanson should continue in her position.

Cheryl Swanson, director of the Alerus Center
Cheryl Swanson, director of the Alerus Center. Grand Forks Herald file photo

Hal Gershman, speaking at a Wednesday meeting of Alerus Center leaders, said he's not sure the event center Executive Director Cheryl Swanson should continue in her position.

"When Cheryl came in, this place was, financially, a basket case. She's done a lot of good things that we need to understand," he said, speaking before the city's Events Center Commission, which oversees the Alerus center and includes Gershman as a member.

"But when it comes to personnel, your business is run with customers, employees and product," he added, suggesting that Swanson appears unable to fix workplace problems at the city-owned events center.

Gershman's remarks came after news that Grand Forks Mayor Mike Brown is weighing Swanson's dismissal based on the results of an investigation into employee comments describing a hostile, volatile workplace at the Alerus Center. Now, city leaders have said, Brown is weighing his options and exploring how Swanson's return to the center would look-though a decision has not yet been made.

Julie Rygg, chairwoman of the Events Center Commission, said she feels there's a general consensus on the Alerus Center commission that Swanson and the Alerus Center should part ways.

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"That was definitely the consensus, that we need to move forward at this point. We've reviewed the recommendation by the investigator, we've listened to the staff, we've listened to the parties in question, and that was the consensus." she said. "And that's what we hope will be conveyed to Mayor Brown."

Swanson reports directly to the commission, and City Administrator Todd Feland has said that Brown will rely on commission input as a factor in his forthcoming decision on Swanson, which could come before the end of the week.

The meeting of Alerus leaders comes a day after Bob LeBarron, the No. 2 executive at the center, was fired. Though it's unclear what investigators had to say about LeBarron, he had been implicated in employees' comments as a party to workplace problems at the center.

The Herald has submitted a public records request seeking access to the results of the investigation.

The investigation has raised questions about the future of leadership at the Alerus Center for roughly a month. Swanson and LeBarron were both placed on 30 work days' paid leave Oct. 21, which resulted in Feland's role handling high-level business at the center while Darryl Jorgenson, a financial manager at the center, handles day-to-day items.

Rygg said the center has been moving ahead without any programming hiccups.

LeBarron's dismissal-and Swanson's potential departure-imply a search process for new leadership.

"Obviously, there would be a search, first and foremost, for a new director. I believe the commission would work with the city of Grand Forks to pursue that," Rygg said. "We haven't made any moves because a final decision has not been made. We will take quick action whenever the decision is made to move forward."

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