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Lawyered up: Attorney who represented Janet Solberg when she was fired from job now deciding on freedom of information request

Janet Solberg, Mason City councilwoman
Janet Solberg, Mason City councilwoman

MASON CITY – In the wake of serious allegations of racism by Mason City councilwoman Janet Solberg against citizens who didn’t agree with her about a slaughterhouse, NIT has requested public records that may only be released once her former personal attorney evaluates the request.

Janet Solberg, after risking her life to smell hog manure across the state of Iowa, had her mind made up on May 3 that a massive Prestage Foods hog slaughterhouse would be a great fit for Mason City.  This “yes” vote to the development came in spite of some phone calls and emails from citizens to her against it.

However, three other council members didn’t like the idea of a kill plant that processes 20,000 hogs a day and Prestage Foods was turned away from Mason City in a tie 3-3 vote.

In the ensuing days, Solberg’s vitriol and perhaps sheer animosity towards citizens who did not agree with her drove her to make stinging comments and allegations about them – statements from an elected public official that some say have given Mason City a black eye.

Unleashing her wrath through the Des Moines Register, she told the state’s largest newspaper that, essentially, “our citizens” were driven by “racism” in opposing the Prestage slaughterhouse.

“Racism was a huge factor. There is no doubt in my mind,” Solberg told the Register. “Most of my phone calls and emails were, ‘we don’t want those people in our community.’ It played a very large factor in all of this, sad to say. I’m so disappointed in our citizens.”

NIT was alerted to these comments from Janet Solberg and has now launched an attempt to spray sunshine onto her allegations of racism and verify her claims.

Monday, NIT emailed a freedom of information request to City Administrator Brent Trout, and copied council members Alex Kuhn, Bill Schickel, Solberg, and Mayor Eric Bookmeyer – just so there were no secrets.  The email request read: “I would like to make a formal freedom of information request.  I’d like to request all email activity related to council person Janet Solberg beginning March 22, 2016 through the present.”

March 21, 2016, was the day the Prestage development was introduced – to much fanfare and applause – at a star-studded press conference at the Park Inn Hotel that included Governor Terry Branstad, business owners, realtors, Chamber of Commerce members and many more “elites” in the community.  It would be logical to deduce that local officials’ inboxes would start filling up after this point.

Attorney Randall Nielsen confers with City Administrator Brent Trout
Attorney Randall Nielsen (left) confers with City Administrator Brent Trout

Tuesday, Mr. Trout responded.  He said he was forwarding the freedom of information request to an attorney – Randy Nielsen – who currently represents the city.  Mr. Trout says Mr. Nielsen would have to “determine costs related to the creating of this email information and possible costs related to the request”.

The potential catch here is that Mr. Nielsen and Janet Solberg are not strangers.  In fact, they go way back and have done business together.  Mr. Nielsen represented Janet Solberg back in 2005 after she was fired from an insurance company in Mason City.

Apparently, Solberg was discharged for misconduct from her job at Mason City All Risk Insurance, public documents show, and yet she demanded unemployment payments. Those documents say that Janet Solberg:

Janet Solberg: Fired as insurance agent but demanded compensation
Janet Solberg: Fired as insurance agent but demanded compensation

“was employed as a full-time agent from January 2002 through December 17, 2004. She was discharged from employment as a result of her failure to follow company procedures. The employer was experiencing a problem with agents authorizing charges for insured’s premiums to be taken from the agency account. This was a practice that could be allowed but only with explicit authorization from the owners or their designee. Several written warnings were issued but the claimant did not feel those warnings applied to her. She continued to act on her own and without authorization or permission, she violated the employer’s policy by allowing numerous charges to be taken from the employer’s account to cover insured’s premiums. The employer met with her on December 17, 2004 to try to address the ongoing problem but the claimant walked out of the meeting.”

In the end, Solberg and her attorney, Randall Nielsen, failed to convince a judge she deserved unemployment payments.

“The claimant is not eligible to receive unemployment insurance benefits because she was discharged from work for misconduct,” public documents show.

Now, NIT waits on Mr. Nielsen’s perusal of a standard public records request involving his former client.  The hope here is that these emails will shed light onto her claims of racism – either back them up or prove them to be somewhat unfounded.

NIT will report back with new developments as soon as possible.

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