Mayor Lee Lansing charged with misconduct, conflict of interest

lee lansing
The Northfield News reported an hour ago, Lansing charged in Goodhue investigation:

Mayor Lee Lansing was charged today with five counts of misconduct by a public official and two counts of conflict of interest by a public official. The charges stem from a 16-month-long investigation by Goodhue County initially begun by former Northfield Police Chief Gary Smith. Smith’s attorney last year said the review was of Smith’s then boss, Al Roder… Goodhue County Attorney Steve Betcher said his office will prosecute the case.

Update 6:30 PM: Here’s a link to the 33 page complaint (PDF) posted on the Nfld News site:

lansing complaint-sshot

74 thoughts on “Mayor Lee Lansing charged with misconduct, conflict of interest”

  1. Jane, as far as I know, nobody “in the city” had any contact with Goodhue investigators unless they were asked for information. That could have been tampering with an investigation and illegal in itself. If you have proof of that, I wish you would share it with the authorities.
    It would seem that with a 33-page summary, the compete investigation covered a lot of ground. And it seems that the most clear issues are with the mayor, given that that those charges were filed first.
    It will be interesting to see whether any other charges are filed at all.
    I agree with Patrick that this just isn’t the personal attack of anyone, but the objective findings of the prosecutor from another county. He has no incentive, no motive to support a witch hunt in another county.
    Someone mentioned the numbers earlier: 6,000 people Lansing’s version of reality four years ago, but only 170 were left in September. I think it’s completely understandable that his close friends would support and believe him still. They were the people who supported him while he got into this much trouble. If they didn’t see a problem then and stop him, why would they see a problem now? They have to continue believing. Even if there is a conviction, some people will just see that as a sign of the widening conspiracy.
    Fortunately, objective legal minds have taken the issues out of our hands and put them in the courts. What any of us believes is irrelevant, and hasn’t changed in nearly two years. I guess this is just a conversational version of singing rounds.

  2. Jane,
    Please explain for me exactly how you think “the city” directed “how this entire investigation unfolded.”

    As it is, there are hints in the current report that the Goodhue County investigation may not ignore Mr. Roder, so if your conspiracy theory were correct, “the city” may well have not been very successful in achieving the goal that you attribute to it.

    Again, this is an investigation executed by Goodhue County detectives, and charges leveled by Goodhue County attorneys. There is no evidence that “the city” – whoever that is – had anything to do with it.

    If it makes you feel better, please do continue to speculate on the secret activities of the Goodhue investigators and their hidden puppetmasters. But recognize that you have presented absolutely no facts to support your conspiratorial assertions.

  3. In all this discussion about investigations, I have not found any evidence casting a bad light on Roder, yet it seems to me that there is a sentiment expressed by many here that he is the one that should be getting the wrap. What evidence is there that has come out yet to support this evaluation? The only things I could find in the archives against Roder is his allowing the use of his office by the prayer ladies and his apparent choice to not blow the whistle on his boss. Am I missing something here? If an employee does not report wrong deeds against his boss because of intimidation or fear, does this make his inaction criminal?

    I also feel that if the Goodhue report contains nothing against Roder, there will still be some who will call for its discreditation just as they did with the Everrett report. Somewhere along the line, we need to recognize the truth and accuracy of these reports, deal with the people involved, and move on, for heaven’s sake. Justification of actions and innocence of actions are two different things. The law itself can show no mercy, but those who apply it can. Intent can be applied to justification, but it doesn’t establish innocence.

  4. John,
    The one issue surrounding Al Roder in that report is the suggestion that he received a mortgage loan through unusual means – in which the Mayor and his business partner arranged the loan. This has been the core of the whispered allegations against Mr. Roder that I have heard through the gossip mill.

    One interpretation of this loan is that Mr. Roder took this money from Mr. Norby as payment for corrupt services rendered. The alternate interpretation is that Norby and his partner loaned Mr. Roder that money as a way of gaining additional leverage over the new Administrator. I suppose it could also be possible for both to be true.

    For the sake of argument, in my post I left that still-possibly-open-to-investigation/interpretation allegation open to either interpretation – because I don’t know where the Goodhue detectives will go with it, even if I have my own guesses. Speaking to an audience that seems to have already decided Al Roder’s guilt, it seemed easier in my post to play to those interpretations that allow that “there are hints in the current report that the Goodhue County investigation may not ignore Mr. Roder.”

    While that was an easy rhetorical device to use (it’s always good to seek some common ground with those who disgree with you), it was not very fair to Mr. Roder. George, I believe you are right – it seems quite unlikely that Mr. Roder is going to be charged with any crime in this matter. Depending on how one wants to interpret the nature of that much-talked-about loan, it could even be concluded that Mr. Roder has done nothing wrong, and is guilty only of guilt-by-association.
    (Patrick quickly runs from the room, hoping in vain not to be pelted with rotten tomatoes on his way out the door.)

  5. Patrick and John, as long as we’re playing “arm chair prosecutor” here, I think Roder should be concerned about his apparent bowing to the mayor’s pressure to reduce the park dedication fees–after financially gaining from the Mayor’s help with his mortgage. Lansing will not be the only one charged.

  6. Curt,
    Good point, perhaps. Which reminds me – I should finish reading the report.

    On the bright side: in less than 72 hours, we’ll have chosen a whole new elected city government (Mr. Denison, Mr. Pokorney, and perhaps Mr. Vohs excepted).

    As Paul Hager said,

    “I think we have people who are running that want to restore respect and dignity to City Hall, and restore public confidence,” Hager said. “If you’re looking for what the long-term effects are going to be on the city, I think you can look no further than the very good slate of candidates that are running this fall.”

    It will be very nice to put this whole sordid affair behind us.

  7. Based on Tracy’s post #11 and that fact that the filing suggests that money changed hands but shows Lees involvement was a memo ( a poorly advised memo), one would have to assume more charges are coming. Accounting at city hall does appear fairly loosey goosey. The down side to ongoing charges if they expand beyond the three stated actors would be a chaotic environment for the incoming mayor and council. Does anyone with a long memory know if the Division site for liquor store had been mentioned publically before Lee was elected (if so that might work to his defense rather than otherwise as the report suggests)?

  8. I finished reading the complaint. Based on its allegations, it doesn’t matter whether Lee Lansing actually benefited from his misconduct or not. Nor would it matter if an attempted arsonist failed to burn down a building, an attempted briber was refused by a public official, or whether a burglar enters your home only to steal a Van Gogh but you kept it at your office. In each of these examples, the intention is a big part of the crime, the intended benefit is no part of the crime.

    I have seen this type of disordered management in small institutions, normally where a corporation’s president has the Founder’s Syndrome, believing that they can do no wrong. They act outside of process, try to keep their overt actions free from perceived conflicts of interest, but covertly apply pressure to further their interests.

    I don’t give much merit to rumor. I am always critical of police reports. That said, based on what I’ve heard and read, I do not assume that Lansing is guilty. However, I will eagerly follow this story as it evolves in court.

    I hope this reminds city officials and staff that their duty rests in the public trust. I don’t know whether Roder’s actions and intentions were completely innocent, trying to do the best he could in a difficult position, but that does not excuse his responsibility to the city council and the public. Our next city administrator should have a very open meeting with the council and told explicitly not to act for the benefit of anyone but the public, as directed by council resolutions and policy.

  9. Pat- Thanks for filling me in on the loan. That is a little detail I had not heard in my small circle of friends. Hopefully, any unethical parts of this transaction will be brought to light through the investigation.

    Curt- I’m not sure what in my comments qualifies me to be an “armchair prosecutor,” but I certainly don’t want to be one. I suppose that just expressing an opinion does reveal some judgements made, so I am open to correction from any new revelations that come out of the formal investigations. As far as Roder “bowing to pressure”, being a whistle blower is a risky business, especially when you are the new kid on the block and the offender is an established local businessman. According to what I read from some of the staff reports concerning these park dedication fees, it sounds like there is not an “official” uniform method as to how these are determined. Am I correct here? If so, it would seem very difficult to prove complicity on the part of Roder, but then I am no lawyer by any stretch of the imagination.

    And if anyone wants to throw any tomatoes my way, I prefer green ones this time of year. I love them fried.

  10. John G: The complaint includes facts about a loan that Lee Lansing’s friend gave to him, and that the friend had a financial interest in a mayoral decision that Lansing was to make. While it may not have been intended as a bribe, the charge is effectively stating that Lansing accepted a bribe. You should read the complaint for the nitty-gritty.

    While being a whistle-blower is risky business, that is exactly the character that we deserve in public officials. The “just following orders” line might work for low level employees, but it doesn’t work with high level employees or when the consequences are against the public trust.

    Ideally, Roder should have been certain that requests by Lansing were inappropriate (unethical or illegal), then presented the evidence to City Council (if unethical) or to the police chief (if illegal), and then the Council should have protected Roder from any retaliation from the mayor. Had Roder done that, he would have earned commendations. I expect Northfield’s next city administrator to have the stomach (thanks, Norm) to do the right thing.

  11. This conflict of interest ‘thing’ is so infuriating because the city council , from October of 2005 until the spring of 2007 identified the 600 block of Division as their FIRST CHOICE for a new liquor store location.
    That is a fact; look at the minutes from those two beginning and ending dates, a solid year and a half.

    Why can the council, as late as the spring of 2007, AND after being told that they could not consider 618 Division STILL ID 600 as their single preferred site? Were they all being “pressured”? Fearful of their jobs?

    Should they all be charged with ‘aiding and abetting’ a conflict of interest?

    They only got concerned with the 600 block as a liquor store location when they had ID’d a ‘culprit’, and were looking to defend their own reputations, for their own sakes, and that of their chosen ‘supportee’ in their battle of wills, the city administrator.

    It’s disgusting, it HAS become a “blood sport”, and it’s all about destroying those who you ‘must’, in order to not have to answer for your own actions.
    This council has not been made, by the community, to answer for their own actions; they have only scapegoated the Mayor, as if they were free of any responsibility.

    I certainly don’t think it was wise for the mayor to instigate his lawsuit, but if people do not see the reaction to that for what it was, then I think they just were not paying attention to the council’s and administrator’s actions.

    If the important issue in this kind of law is the INTENT, not the actual reward, Then I’ll ask again, should they all be charged with ‘aiding and abetting’ a conflict of interest ?

  12. Kiffi: I don’t know if this is relevant because I am not familiar with the Council’s actions in the past several years.

    A conflict of interest is not illegal nor immoral if there has been a full disclosure of the conflict before the fact. Had Lansing told the Council everything about his financial interest before he made any action to his benefit, he would probably be blameless. Then the Council could decide what to do. Without full disclosure, Lansing acted unethically and perhaps illegally, even if he never benefited.

    The whole Council can’t be indicted for Lansing’s conflict of interest. If the whole Council knew about Lansing’s conflict, then they were informed, and there is no shortage of full disclosure.

  13. Kiffi, you wrote,

    Then I’ll ask again, should they all be charged with ‘aiding and abetting’ a conflict of interest ?

    Kiffi,
    Why do you keep asking us? It’s up to Goodhue County to decide who to charge with ‘misconduct of a public officer/employee, or ‘conflict of interest as a public official.’ No one in Northfield has had any say in the matter.

    For the same reason, these charges also cannot be seen as evidence of “blood sport”, or of “destroying those who you ‘must’, in order to not have to answer for your own actions.”

    Rather, they show that prosecutors from another county – with no apparent interest in Northfield personalities or ongoing battles – have concluded that Lee Lansing may well have violated state law. And now, it will be up to a jury to determine the legal truth of the matter.

    It remains to be seen what the Goodhue prosecutors think of the actions of everyone else involved. And again, none of us has any say in the matter.

  14. Patrick: Of course you don’t have a ‘say’ but you have had a multitude of opinions….
    I guess I just don’t get the assumptions of guilt all over the Mayor who passed everything by the city attorney,and recused himself all the time , but there is no responsibility at the council level to ever have said Hey! we can’t do this, until they get a lawsuit slapped against them… and then the whole playing field changes.
    Now that’s a really incomplete accounting, Patrick, But I am perplexed by people like you who have had the opinion, seemingly from the beginning, that the fault was all in the Mayor’s court.
    What is your opinion about the council identifying the 600 Division site for two years, knowing as they all did that it was a Lansing property … and according to the city code it didn’t matter whether it belonged to Lee Lansing or David Lansing. Both were unacceptable UNLESS it was all done in the open with council and legal approval.

    WHEN it changed… WHY did it change?

    You’re right; you have no ‘say’ when it’s in the courts … but you sure as heck have had a lot of opinions, so have one more!

    Please and thank you…

  15. Kiffi, you asked,

    What is your opinion about the council identifying the 600 Division site for two years, knowing as they all did that it was a Lansing property … and according to the city code it didn’t matter whether it belonged to Lee Lansing or David Lansing.

    Kiffi, I have heard you bring up this narrative many times before, and I just don’t understand its supposed significance. That is to say, I have no opinion on it one way or another.

  16. Anne (post 24): The way you describe it, Lansing and Victor Summa are conjoined twins who are either victims of a vast conspiracy and destined to be burned at the stake, or they’re just destined to be burned at the stake.

    It’s also possible their fates are not so inextricably intertwined.

  17. 1. The city council always knew that Lee Lansing had an interest in the 600 Division location being considered for the liquor store. It was known that Lansing’s son owned it. (Patrick–I think this is what Kiffi is referring to–in the listing of the charges, it states that the city council somehow did not know that Lansing was lobbying for this site because his son owned it or because he might benefit from having it chosen–of course they knew he would, and he had recused himself.)

    2. Lansing always promoted the Lansing site for the location of the Muni–before he was elected and continually while mayor.

    3 The city council and city administrator and city attorney all knew of Lansing’s interest in 600 Division–there was no secret that Lansing favored this site for the Muni.

    4 The city council and the city administrator FAVORED the 600 Division St location for the Muni, listing it as a top pick repeatedly. Other sites were abandoned in narrowing down a list–but 600 Division stayed on there.

    5. The Goodhue County investigation brought charges that Lansing used his position as Mayor to convince others to favor his site.

    What benefit does prosecuting this case bring to anyone involved–the citizens or the city council? Please really consider this question. I mean it in the most sincere manner. Just because you can charge Lansing with a misdemeanor, should you? Why?

    Do you really believe that you are going to deter some other public official from using undue influence? Who and where?

    Do you really think that society benefits from exacting a pound of flesh from Lansing? Why?

    Personally, I see this as a revenge charge–you are not going to reform Lansing into acting differently, and he won’t be in a position of power to make any difference anyway. You are not gaining anything for the city. I believe that the city council and perhaps the city staff are really looking for revenge. What else could they possibly gain?

  18. Jane,
    Perhaps you should take up your case with Goodhue County. They are the only people who could grant the redress you seek.

    The only thing I wanted in this matter was for Lee Lansing to cease to be Mayor. That was my judgment as a voter, based on all available information. That end will be accomplished shortly, based on a clear statement by a large majority of voting Northfielders.

    What happens next with Lee Lansing is not something that I take any particular interest in. And again, the criminal proceeding against him is not something that anyone in Northfield has any control over, anyway.

  19. Patrick: you say the only thing you wanted “was for Lee Lansing to cease to be Mayor. That was my judgement as a voter based on all available information.”
    But Patrick, you have repeatedly made comments, or ignored facts, that would suggest you DID NOT have “all the available information” and when various people tried to point things out to you … times, council meetings, closed session tapes, recusals, 700 pp of memos backing up the Everett Report, you wouldn’t come back on the issue, you just have your bedrock POV.

    Most of the public haven’t got all the information if they haven’t gone to the meetings , and haven’t read all the documentation BECAUSE the NFNews does not report ‘all the news that’s fit to print’.
    That’s all some of us have been trying to get you to consider; you’re too smart to have such a rigid point of view when you are not in possession of all the ‘available’ facts.
    Please don’t just revert to personality issues all the time, and especially in such a dismissive way.

    It IS a fact, whether you wish to consider it or not, that for close to two years the council had the 600 block of Division as their preferred site,knew all about the ownership, and had NO problem with it.

    Patrick, you are a physician; if someone aggresses against you by accusing you of malpractice , and the charge being made must be investigated, and you know very well it is untrue … would you want everyone to assume it is true because it is charged?

    I must say, your last statement referring to your lack of interest in what happens next to Lee Lansing…
    “not something I take any particular interest in”… is unfeeling to the max, IMO, and unworthy of the person I had thought you to be.

  20. Kiffi,
    Why do you need to personalize your attacks against my statements? I am not assuming that Lee Lansing is guilty of anything. I was simply referring to the decision that I made when I cast a ballot for a candidate other than Lee Lansing – not any kind of grand conviction of him. It was just a reflection of a thought process that underlies my vote in the primary.

    I said,

    The only thing I wanted in this matter was for Lee Lansing to cease to be Mayor. That was my judgment as a voter, based on all available information.

    The same thing is true of my vote for Al Franken in his campaign against against Norm Coleman, and was true when I voted for John Kerry over George Bush: I had seen the incumbents’ actions in office, and I did not want them to continue to serve in that office. Therefore, I voted against them. Same thing with Lee.

    I care as much for Lee Lansing as I do for anyone else I do not know, and have never met. That is, I wish no unjust harm to fall upon him, and I hope he has a fairly pleasant life. If he were my patient, I would do everything in my power to be certain that his well-being was looked after as well as possible (note: I am not qualified to care for Mr. Lansing, as I am only reasonably well-versed with the care of those 18 years and younger.)

    However, my general sense of beneficence toward my fellow travellers on this planet does not protect them from the laws of our country, and the punishments that can result from breaking those laws.

    I would be lying if I said that any punishment that Lee Lansing might receive from our justice system would affect me significantly more than the punishment that anyone else receives in this country who has been convicted of a crime. It’s a very big world, and a very large number of people are charged with crimes every single day. It is simply not possible for me to become emotionally connected with the outcome each one of those judicial proceedings.

    So, as I said, “What happens next with Lee Lansing is not something that I take any particular interest in. ” That’s because there’s not much point in me getting worked up over it one way or the other, because I cannot make any decisions that will impact the outcome of these proceedings.

  21. Kiffi- I’m just a little confused about your seeming accusations against the city council for having the 600 Divion Street property as a first choice and how that relates to the charges ion the Goodhue investigation. If I am reading the charges correctly, the mayor allegedly used his office for undue pressure on city officials to get this property moved through the process for the municipal liquour store. If, as you say, and I have no reason to doubt it, the council had this propery as a first choice for the muni, then why did the mayor choose to allegedly use his position to bring unethical influence? It would appear to me, if these charges are actually proven, that the mayor shot himself in the foot.

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