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A private attorney and former state labor relations official will investigate alleged misconduct in the paving office of St. Paul's Public Works Department.

A KSTP-TV report on Monday that showed workers taking frequent and lengthy breaks outraged Mayor Chris Coleman, led to the resignation of the department's director, Bruce Beese, and prompted the employee investigation.

Laurie Steiger, a former state Department of Transportation labor relations official, and Paul Larson are scheduled to begin their investigation Thursday.

It's expected to take a month and cost between $10,000 and $15,000. It will focus on the 55-person paving group of the street maintenance division, from Beese down to the crews. Each employee will be interviewed.

Aside from uncovering the depth of any misconduct, the probe might provide guidance on changing policies and work processes.

When the information is compiled and reports are completed on every employee, the city's Human Resources Director Angie Nalezny will review them. Then she will pass them on to interim Public Works Director Rich Lallier, who will deliver any discipline.

The city needs to have sufficient cause and evidence to discipline or fire the union employees, and there's a grievance process that needs to be followed.

"We can't fire someone based on one television story," said Bob Hume, mayoral spokesman. "If we don't do [an investigation] correctly, we can't take the disciplinary measures we want to do."

Despite the egregiousness shown on TV footage, Hume said, there hadn't been a lot of complaints to the city about lazy workers or any indication of a long pattern of loafing.

Still, the TV report incensed the mayor. In an e-mail he sent Friday to department heads and the City Council, he wrote that "these behaviors do a disservice to the public, the department and the hard work our employees do every day."

He wrote he would respond swiftly and use every tool at his disposal, "including termination and reassignment."

The swiftest action he could take, though, was asking for Beese's resignation. Beese, a 24-year city employee, still has a job with St. Paul. Any other action must wait on the probe and grievance process.

Meantime, details are being gathered to begin a search for a new Public Works boss.

Lallier, on loan from Parks and Recreation, is starting his days at the Public Works garage and watching crews.

"We're watching -- no question," Hume said. "No question."

Chris Havens • 612-673-4148