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Details of Alerus Center officials' suspension under wraps during investigation

In the wake of two top officials at the Alerus Center's placement on paid leave, city leaders are offering few details as an investigation into the matter unfolds--but they say information will become public within weeks. Cheryl Swanson and Bob L...

In the wake of two top officials at the Alerus Center's placement on paid leave, city leaders are offering few details as an investigation into the matter unfolds-but they say information will become public within weeks.

Cheryl Swanson and Bob LeBarron, the executive director and assistant director of the Alerus Center, respectively, were given up to 30 days of paid leave Friday following reports of what City Administrator Todd Feland called "management, leadership and workplace environmental issues."

A complaint was filed with the Alerus Center's human resources department Oct. 17, Feland said, and Mayor Mike Brown made the decision to place both Swanson and LeBarron-who are both city employees-on leave before the end of the week.

In their absence, Pemberton Law, a firm in Fergus Falls, Minn., has been hired by the city to investigate the matter at a cost of about $8,000.

But the reasons behind Swanson and LeBarron's leave still isn't clear. Julie Rygg, the chairwoman of the city's Event Center Commission, the board that oversees operations at the Alerus Center, called a third-party investigation into the matter "obviously warranted," but didn't elaborate.

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"I really can't say any more than that at this point. The issues that were brought up were not given to me directly-they went through human resources channels. I can't say more than that at this point," she said.

Brown said that it wouldn't be appropriate to offer further details on an ongoing investigation, but said that the issues behind Swanson and LeBarron's departure don't include anything "nefarious."

Feland explained that after the investigation concludes, which should be within several weeks, the mayor will have the opportunity to take further disciplinary action if it seems warranted. After that time, he said, the details of the matter will become publicly available.

Swanson became executive director at the Alerus Center in November 2010, after leaving a similar post at the Breslin Student Events Center at Michigan State University. According to his LinkedIn profile, LeBarron became assistant director at the Alerus Center in March 2012, following similar posts at The Sanford Center in Bemidji and at San Jose State University.

Alerus Center financial statements provided by the city show profits of $350,148 in 2015; $491,653 in 2014; and $861,768 in 2013, figures that include city hospitality tax revenue as well as UND rent payments.

City Finance Director Maureen Storstad added that the Alerus Center is expected be in the black once again this year.

Neither LeBarron or Swanson have responded to requests for comment from the Herald.

Rygg added that no scheduling issues at the Alerus Center are expected while the investigation unfolds.

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"These guys (Alerus staff) have really pulled together," she said. "They just reviewed the events this past weekend. They're prepping for football this coming weekend. They're really doing a great job."

Darryl Jorgenson, a finance manager with the Alerus Center, has been placed in charge of many day-to-day, internal operations at the center, though Feland clarified he, and not Jorgenson, is handling larger issues like new business.

"We're focused on the future and the event load and supporting UND football," Jorgenson said.

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