Military veterans are planning to rally in Grand Rapids next week in support of Itasca County's former veterans service officer after he submitted his resignation during a county board meeting earlier this month.
Saying he couldn't serve veterans and fight for his department at the same time, Hugh Quinn resigned at the end of a presentation to the county's board of commissioners on March 22.
Veterans will rally at the Itasca County Courthouse at 2 p.m. Tuesday in conjunction with a county board work session scheduled for that afternoon.
"He'd done more for our veterans than any veterans service officer that I can recall," Tom Moors, commander of Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 1764 in Bigfork, said of the departed Quinn. "He went above and beyond the call of duty."
Itasca County is home to more than 4,600 veterans and Moors said he hoped to rally 100 veterans or more in support of returning Quinn to the role. Hundreds of people have pledged their support for Quinn on a Facebook page that sprouted in the days following his resignation.
The county's Veterans Service Office had been slated to be reorganized following a recent classification and compensation study undertaken by the county. The office would lose its department autonomy and be moved under the umbrella structure of another department - said to be human services. Rather than appeal the reclassification, Quinn resigned and told the board his decision is final.
Attempts by the News Tribune to reach out to Quinn were unsuccessful. But he told the board March 22, "If you look at the classification you pushed out I don't have a department," he said. "That's the fourth time since I've started here there's been a threat to my area as a department."
Quinn operated the office along with three full-time staffers on an annual budget of $328,000, according to details that emerged during the March 22 meeting. Quinn submitted his resignation effective May 31 - giving time to train in a replacement, he told the board - but the day after the county board meeting he was no longer working in the role.
There is a dispute among Quinn supporters and county officials as to why Quinn is no longer working. Moors said Quinn was terminated by his direct supervisor, County Administrator Trish Harren, and that the rally is an attempt to get Quinn back in the job.
County Board Chairman Rusty Eichorn disputed that version of events when he spoke to the News Tribune about the events that followed the meeting.
"Mr. Quinn turned in his resignation effective May 31, and the next day the county administrator accepted the resignation," Eichorn said. "It's management's right to name the final day of employment."
Regarding Quinn's resignation during the public meeting, Eichorn said, "I was shocked and saddened, and I think if you looked at the expressions of the board and administrator they were in disbelief, too."
Quinn resigned shortly after Harren praised his department, calling it a "bright spot" and citing analysis that indicated the department returned $97.80 for every dollar invested into it.
Quinn's resignation occurred following a report he'd given updating commissioners on the duties performed by the office.
"Advocacy can be everything from unclogging toilets, which I've done, to sitting in a courtroom to meeting with Congressman (Rick) Nolan," Quinn said. "There's no limit to that."
Quinn described himself to the board as a bulldog when it came to holding federal politicians accountable to veterans' health and welfare.
"I do not accept no," he said. "I never will. They need to do more for our veterans."
With the nearest Veterans Administration clinic in St. Cloud, Quinn was working to establish telehealth options in Itasca County's rural communities, he told the board.
"There were veterans coming out of the woodwork because they knew we had a good veterans service officer who was going to help a vet as best he can," Moors said. "He's gotten more vets benefits than anybody. He's a fighter; he fights for veterans."
Quinn also explained to the board that he'd performed fewer interactions with veterans lately in favor of fundraising and other public appearances that had been asked of him by Harren.
The county board has scheduled a closed session meeting for Thursday at 5 p.m. Eichorn said it is personnel-related and, as such, could not elaborate.
Quinn is a Iraq War veteran who started in the role as Itasca County's veterans service officer in 2012. In 2014, he received the Meritorious Service Medal for his 29 years of service to the United States armed services.