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Fired in 2014, former Minot city attorney vows to tell her story

MINOT, N.D.—A former Minot city attorney's court challenges over her firing in 2014 have ended with rulings that went against her, but Colleen Auer said she is not done.

"It's not over for me until something is accomplished — something good comes out of this," Auer said. "When I started it, I was determined to see it through, and I am still not done. They may think I am done but I am not done."

Saying it's important the story be told, she intends to eventually make documents, depositions and court motions electronically available to the public. She said she wants people to understand why she sued, what she experienced while employed by the city from March 31 to May 2 in 2014 and what people face judicially when they choose to confront government actions they believe are wrong.

After her firing, Auer initially had filed complaints with the North Dakota Department of Labor and the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, later pursuing a lawsuit in April 2015 after the EEOC determined retaliation against her may have occurred.

Last July, the Eighth District Court of Appeals rejected her claim that she was fired in retaliation for a whistleblower complaint. The court upheld a district court's summary judgment for the city. Citing errors in the appeals court's facts and inconsistency with previous rulings on similar matters, Auer petitioned the court for rehearing, which was recently denied.

The appeals court more recently ruled Auer lacked the injury necessary to have standing to bring a claim under the Fair Credit Reporting Act. Auer had sued the city, its law firm and consumer reporting agencies over their handling of her credit report, which the city obtained as part of its hiring process.

Auer said requests for a rehearing on the FRCA case and for a hearing of the retaliation claim before the U.S. Supreme Court remain options, but she added neither is likely to be accepted, prompting her to end her legal actions.

Auer said she had been counseled from the start to forego litigation by many people who did not foresee a positive outcome. She served as her own attorney when she could not find an attorney willing to take the case. She felt she had to "give it a shot and see if this process works."

"I was the right person to do it. I was capable of it. No one else was going to take it on," she said. "If nothing else, I was going to learn the level of the corruption both in the state and in the court system. I learned the great extent of the corruption and that there really isn't a mechanism available to people in North Dakota at the state level and at the federal level, including in the court system, to address and identify and remedy corruption."

The reason for Auer's firing had been listed as "insubordination" by then Council President, Jim Hatlelid. Acting City Manager Cindy Hemphill fired Auer and the Minot City Council later upheld the firing.

Auer said she had concerns about the legality of certain city matters and felt pressured by Hemphill to act contrary to the interests of the city. She previously has alleged she was required to write agreements involving the airport, the parking ramps, MAGIC Fund and eminent domain that she felt conflicted with her professional advice. She mentions misuse of federal Community Development Block Grant-Disaster Recovery funds in 2013-14, when nine ineligible homeowners received funds for rehabilitating their flooded homes. Following a federal audit, CDM Smith, which managed the program as the city's consultant, volunteered to repay the $129,717, and the city updated its policy regarding internal controls.

Auer said she was disappointed in the court system, which she felt worked against her.

"It virtually ensures no person will come forward, certainly from the city of Minot, ever again to expose corruption," she said. "It's not only my life. They shut down an entire city's rights here."