Johnson Resigns as Duluth City Attorney, Calls Investigative Report Against Him ‘Inconclusive at Best’

DULUTH, Minn. – After nearly 12 years as the city of Duluth’s top attorney, Gunnar Johnson has decided to resign amid complaints filed against him by employees in the attorney’s office. Johnson was placed on administrative suspension two months ago. FOX 21’s Dan Hanger takes a look at the findings from an investigative report into those complaints, what Johnson is saying about it, as well as his former boss Mayor Emily Larson.

“Gunnar has, as you know, been a really strong voice for this community,” Larson said Thursday. “He has done incredible work, and many projects, the Last Place on Earth, the Kozy — different economic development developments over the course of the years.”

But that work was thrown to the curb in February when Johnson – who was first hired for the job in 2008 by former Mayor Don Ness, was placed on administrative suspension by Mayor Larson after some of his employees filed complaints against him about the way he managed the attorney’s office.

“As I said before, I was blindsided by the allegations that started the investigations,” Johnson said in a phone interview Thursday.

A two-month investigative report by a Twin Cities law firm at a cost of $39,212.27 wrapped up April 1 that concluded Johnson to have made inappropriate non-sexual comments to employees like, “The jury is still out on you, I can’t tell yet if you’re a troublemaker”  and “I can’t fire people, but I can make their lives miserable.”

The report, which included dozens of pages redacted for public view, also found Johnson failed to manage interpersonal conflicts between people in his office and openly criticized employees.

However, Johnson, 52, stands by his work during his time as the city’s top attorney and he calls the firm’s report “inconclusive at best.”

“I am very proud of all that we have accomplished as a legal team. I disagree with the way this thing has been handled over the past couple of months, but it is time to move on,” Johnson told Hanger.

That choice to move on came in the form of a resignation Thursday — something Johnson said was not easy to do but the right thing to do to avoid being a distraction for the city.

“You know that every day we do the best we can and I can be kind of bitter about this, but I’m trying to take the high road a little bit and just move forward. And that’s the tone I’ve been trying to take in this the best I can,” Johnson said.

“His service has really been substantial to the city and I sincerely wish him all the best as he chooses something else,” Larson said.

Larson expects to post the city attorney job opening in the coming weeks.

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