Former mayors, councilors ask Lansing to resign, threaten recall; mayor declines

Posted to the Northfield News this afternoon: Mayor gets appeal to resign; Former leaders will start recall if Lansing doesn’t step down by Suzy Rook. See their letter here (PDF) and Lansing’s reply, declining to resign. (A tip-of-the-blogger hat to Lisa Guidry for the alert.)

The appeal was first made privately to Lansing late last year. Lansing was told that if he didn’t resign, the signers would go public with their request. Lansing will be given until sometime next week to resign, said former Councilor Dixon Bond, who signed the letter. If Lansing doesn’t act, a recall petition will then be filed, he said.

Other signers include Keith Covey, Marvin Grundhoefer, Paul Hager, William Rossman, John Stull, Penny Cupp, James Herreid, David Koenig, Duane Kringen, C.C. Linstroth, David Ludescher, Peggy Prowe, David Remes, Robert Stangler, and Margaret Bundgaard Vanderkolk.

formers-resign-request-letter-sshot-200.gif lansingreply-letter-sshot1.png
Left: letter to Lansing; right: Lansing’s reply.

73 thoughts on “Former mayors, councilors ask Lansing to resign, threaten recall; mayor declines”

  1. David H.

    Regarding the waiving of park dedication fees – I feel you and a few others are missing the point regarding the council’s history of reducing or even elilminating the park dedication fee on some projects.

    The issue is that the COUNCIL did not get to make the choice of reducing or eliminating the fee… the investigator found that the mayor used his influence and position to reduce it BEFORE it got to council. We, as a council did not get to decide as a body, the decision was done for us.

    Sad thing is, the council would probably have looked at reducing the original 25k anyway… but that is not the point.

    To add to Patrick’s point in #50:

    A few people cling to the concept that the mayor DID disclose his conflict of interest, so what is the big deal! It is true that we all knew of his relationship to the eventual owner of the 600 Division. What the Mayor did not disclose to the council or to the public was that it was in reality, his project… he was the driving force behind the project… it was his project under David’s and Paul’s names.

  2. Scott – The Everett report started out with the dramatic charge, which you have now just dispelled, the Lansing personally stood to gain $20,000 in park fees. Everett did not say that Lansing made arrangements with Al Roder rather than the council but in the end saved no more or less than had proper steps been followed. In fairness, the council should ask that Everett correct this prior to any recall effort. Or at least your honest statement above should be included in the recall documents.

    —————-

    I would also suggest that when claims are made that state laws were broken that both the law and specific action be stated to avoid the appearance of mud slinging.

  3. David H. – I’ll begin with the fact that “I” dispelled nothing, those are your words. You are missing the point; whether it is a dollar or $20,000, the mayor used his influence to ensure his son received a monetary gain. There is no guarantee that we would have reduced it… we never got a chance to weigh in on the real reason for the reduction. Neither, you, me, the mayor or anybody else can say what the council would have done, because we never got the chance to decide it for ourselves. It’s really pretty simple.

  4. I’m sorry Scott, I thought when you wrote”

    “Sad thing is, the council would probably have looked at reducing the original 25k anyway… but that is not the point.”

    I thought you meant that Everett’s opening claim was a mean spirited and expensive $40,000 lie ! But I stand corrected.

  5. Scott, my memory’s fuzzy on this and I’m at work now so can’t look it up, but… doesn’t City staff, at least at the department head level, have some discretion in determining the exact amount of the park dedication fee? I know there’s a formula, but it’s common for adjustments to be made, especially in cases which feature combined parcels or redvelopment challenges or other circumstances unique to the property.

    This is just a point of information; I believe that certain staff members have the legitimate authority to interpret the “wiggle room” in the formula, so this wasn’t necessarily an instance of circumventing the council.

  6. Tracy, you are right, there is wiggle room and there is no hard and fast rule (we have asked staff to work in this). Staff, typically provides Council with choices and the reasoning behind those choices. They also, typically will provide Council with their choice and why.

    Armed with this information, council, via discussion, public input, and feedback from staff, can make an informed decision.

    The public does not enjoy the level of influencing and/or limiting of information that the Mayor employed, in determining what information the council should have to make its decision.

    Hope that helps.

  7. Scott- I just wanted to say that I think everyone is genuinely impressed with and appreciative of your coming here and blogging answers, that alone is worthy of a vote … even if we don’t agree on Lansing

  8. Good of you to say that, David.

    All you Ward 2 folks, I hope you appreciate Councilor Davis for his participation here!

    And consider taking him out for a beer cuppa joe ­after the Ward 2 meeting this Thursday, January 17th, at the United Methodist Church, Reception Room 7:00 – 9:00 pm. 

  9. Thanks, Scott, for the clarification. Adam, I think you are over-reaching just a bit beyond what I said about conflicts of interest. The rule is that you can’t benefit directly from being in office (other than the benefits available to every citizen), even if you recuse yourself from the actual vote.
    If the mayor wanted to sell his land for a new liquor store, he should have lobbied for that as a private developer and run for office after the decision was made. It’s the same reason doctors shouldn’t treat their families and judges recuse themselves from cases where they have an interest, because personal concerns can cloud decision-making, even in the best people.

  10. Well, the News reports that the council is going to move ahead with a liquor store site selection process.
    It seems given the law and the controversy, the council has two options: eliminate the mayor’s family land from consideration or delay the project until after the mayor’s term is over.
    Of course, the third option is for the mayor to resign and act as a private lobbyist for his interests. Recusing himself isn’t enough, he can’t benefit from or work on the project while in office.
    It would be ironic if the mayor refuses to resign for the good of the city, but agrees to resign to serve his own interests.

  11. OK, in the interest of civility and because it’s the right thing to do, I want to modify the last statement about the mayor and the liquor store. It sounds mean-spirited and creates a ‘gotcha’ in that if the mayor resigned to lobby for his site, he could be doing it in the city’s best interests to avoid the problems that have happened in the last year.
    The comment was clever, but derails the conversation back into a good mayor/bad mayor mudhole.
    I just think the council’s decision misses the much larger, in fact, huge issue of creating a real priority list of projects that need to be addressed. The message is that the liquor store is more important than an ice arena, a library, a safety center and city hall. Is it really the most urgent project or the one the residents want most? And what if you could use the current safety center site for a liquor store, creating both a highway site and a gateway link to downtown? It would be a shame to find that out after a new store is built.
    I think the council needs to get the city’s priorities in order and then work on specific projects.

  12. Anne. You say “….The rule is that you can’t benefit directly from being in office (other than the benefits available to every citizen), even if you recuse yourself from the actual vote…”

    CITY CODE
    Sec. 2-127. Conflict of interest.
    (a) Personal financial interest in sale, lease or contract with city. Any public official who has a personal financial interest in any sale, lease, or contract with the city shall make such interest known to the city council and shall be bound by state law in determining how to resolve such a conflict of interest.
    (b) Other conflicts. Any public official who engages in any business or transaction or has a financial or other personal interest, direct or indirect, including an interest arising from blood, adoptive, or marriage relationships or close business or personal associations, which interest is incompatible with the proper discharge of his/her official duties in the public interest or would tend to impair his/her independence of judgment or action in the performance of official duties, shall disclose the nature of such activity or interest and shall disqualify himself/herself from discussion and voting, provided that such member shall be allowed to participate in discussion as a member of the public. Disqualification is not called for, however, if discussion and action by a public official will not affect him/her more than any other member of the same group, neighborhood, business classification, profession, or occupation.
    ETC. ETC.

    I read part (b) as saying that you CAN benefit PROVIDED you disqualify yourself from voting and perhaps also from discussion during public meetings.

    Also, it says nothing about lobbying.

    Do you have a different reference (perhaps state law)?

  13. Norman,
    It has seemed to me since the release of the Everett report that the critical verbiage in the quote you provide from the City Code of Ethics is “shall disqualify himself/herself from discussion and voting, provided that such member shall be allowed to participate in discussion AS A MEMBER OF THE PUBLIC” (emphasis added).

    Discussion as a member of the public means, to me, that private citizen Lee Lansing could speak at an open mic, meet as a private citizen with the city administrator or an individual councilor as a concerned citizen, etc. on behalf of his family’s business interests.

    What it clearly (again, to me) DOES NOT mean is that it was appropriate for MAYOR Lee Lansing to exert official influence on the city administrator in the form of multiple strongly worded memos FROM THE MAYOR concerning his family’s business interests, meetings and memos in which the administrator’s job performance evaluation seems clearly to be linked with meeting the MAYOR’s wishes concerning his family’s business interests, etc.

    I just can’t see how any reasonable interpretation of the language in the Code of Ethics could allow MAYOR Lee Lansing’s behavior, as clearly documented in the Everett report, to be viewed as anything other than a violation of the Code of Ethics.

    Section 2-125 of the Code includes the following language concerning public officials: “They are bound to observe in their official acts the highest standards of morality and to discharge faithfully the duties of their office
    REGARDLESS OF PERSONAL CONSIDERATIONS, RECOGNIZING THAT THE PUBLIC INTEREST MUST BE THEIR PRIMARY CONCERN” (emphasis added)

    Mayor Lee Lansing’s behavior concerning 600 Division and 618 Division, as documented in the Everett report, is unambiguously motivated by personal (family/business) considerations. While Mayor Lee Lansing has tried to explain that he also felt that these actions were in the public interest, it should have been clear to him that he couldn’t do the strong behind-the-scenes “lobbying” that he did, acting in his official capacity as mayor.

    Violation of the Code of Ethics is a serious matter. The Code of Ethics includes this language: “Sec. 2-123. Sanctions. Any person who willfully violates this division is guilty of a misdemeanor and shall be punished as provided in section 1-8.” Section 1-8 includes provisions for fines and jail time.

    No one is talking about legal punishment. All anyone is saying is that the mayor’s clear violation of the Code of Ethics, his seeming inability to understand why his behavior was inappropriate, and the poisoned atmosphere at City Hall all point to his resignation being in the community’s best interests at this point. Since he is refusing to resign, a recall vote and expression of the community’s will one way or the other, is the next best option.

    The short time remaining in his term, the cumbersome recall process, and the possibility of malfeasance by other public officials (elected or staff) are no reason to look the other way and let Northfield’s wound fester until January 2009.

  14. Norm, I’m with Tracy on letting the lawyers rule, and I agree with her that we’ve got another dead horse in front of us as we continue to bash away.
    I’m going to wait for the lawyers and let this horse rest in peace, but to answer your specific question, the League of Minnesota Cities handbook for officials covers the topic. You can go to its website and find it, I’m sure. And I’m sure you may find a lawyer who disagrees. We’ll never agree, so I vote for burying the horse and holding an Irish wake in its honor.

    Again, the big issue is that the council and the mayor need to get some priorities in order for the entire city, not just one property owner or two blocks of downtown. Enough of this distraction over what divides us, let’s focus what unites us as a community.

    The League’s take on this:

    Minn. Stat. § 471.87. Generally, public officers may not have a personal financial interest in a sale, lease or contract they are authorized to make in their official capacity. A “public officer” certainly includes a mayor, a councilmember or an elected official. In some circumstances, the designation may also include appointed officers and employees who are able to influence contracting decisions. A.G. Op. 90-E-5 (Nov. 13, 1969); A.G. Op. 90e-6 (June 15, 1988). The attorney general has advised that the conflict of interest law applies to any councilmember “who is authorized to take part in any manner” in the making of the contract. Simply abstaining from voting on the contract will not allow the contract to be made. The attorney general reasoned that if the Legislature had only wanted to prohibit a contract with an interested officer who votes on the contract, it would not have used the word “authorized.” A.G. Op. 90e-6 (June 15, 1988).

    A literal reading of the statute might suggest that it does not apply to city officers who are unable to make a contract on behalf of the city. However, the attorney general has given the statute a broad interpretation, which could mean the statute affects more officials than just those who actually make the decision to enter into the contract. As a result, it may be wise to take a conservative approach regarding contracts with any city official.

  15. Bruce: ‘discussion and voting’ means PUBLIC discussion and voting (and constraints re Open Meeting Law).

    As for the ‘inappropriate’ memos – the City Administrator, and then the City Attorney, and then the full Council (2 of them 6 years on the Council) could and should have nipped it in the bud early on. Absent that, as time went on it smacks of collusion, enticement, even ensnarement; gotcha!

    As for lobbying – all I heard from the ‘injured’ parties is “He bullied me. I felt uncomfortable. I was so upset. I was so upset!”

    The extent of the violation of the Code of Ethics is the extent to which Lee/The Mayor upset people, verbally and in writing. Really, it’s not so much about ethics as a clash of agendas, wills and personalities regarding who calls the shots.

    On the issue of the liquor store, the Mayor and what’s best for our community AND Lee Lansing and what’s best for his family…are in harmony, the best expression of a symbiotic relationship. Unless, of course, one disagrees. In which case you are free to do so; just deal with the heat in the political kitchen.

  16. Norman,
    I have to respectfully disagree. The extent of the violation of the Code of Ethics is NOT simply “the extent to which Lee/The Mayor upset people.” It is the extent to which he used HIS POSITION AS MAYOR behind the scenes (not his position as Lee Lansing, citizen, small businessman, and good guy) to attempt to influence major decisions being made by the city council in a way that would benefit his family. That is what the letter and the spirit of the Code of Ethics prohibits.

    We’ll have to agree to disagree and let the voters speak if it comes to that.

  17. Anne: This is the statute you refer to but do not quote:

    471.87 PUBLIC OFFICERS, INTEREST IN CONTRACT; PENALTY.
    Except as authorized in section 471.88, a public officer who is authorized to take part in any manner in making any sale, lease, or contract in official capacity shall not voluntarily have a personal financial interest in that sale, lease, or contract or personally benefit financially therefrom. Every public officer who violates this provision is guilty of a gross misdemeanor.
    History: 1951 c 379 s 1; 1955 c 41 s 1; 1986 c 444

    Lee/The Mayor disqualified himself from discussion and voting.

  18. I’ve wondered what “voluntarily” means in this code. Unless an public officer is contracting to have an official wart removed – all transactions would seem voluntary.

    I would guess it means the public officer needs to recuse himself.

    recusal
    n. the act of a judge or prosecutor being removed or voluntarily stepping aside from a legal case due to conflict of interest or other good reason.
    ————-
    Good legal advice is nice but the Northfield code was adopted by a citizen vote so it would seem reasonable to assume the code can be read at face value.

  19. It’s all very simple…just listen to Simon & Garfunkel’s ’50 Ways to Leave Your Lover’

    ‘The problem is all inside your head,she said to me
    the answer is easy, if you take it logically…

    chorus:
    just slip out the back, Jack
    make a new plan, Stan
    don’t need to be coy, Roy
    just listen to me
    hop on the bus, Gus
    don’t need to discuss much
    JUST DROP OFF THE KEY, LEE
    AND SET YOURSELF FREE.’

  20. Being a Bridgewater resident I really have to bow out of most of this dialog, but I wonder if, given the Mayor’s financial difficulties, given the cost of a recall election, given the psychic cost to the city, perhaps the city should “buy out” the balance of the Mayor’s term, appoint a mayor pro-tem and get on with the business of being Northfield. Perhaps he is just hanging on for the paycheck?

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