Everett investigation: Mayor Lansing ‘exerted improper influence’ and ‘violated Northfield code of ethics’

William Everett William Everett City council

Special investigator William Everett presented his findings regarding “various municipal issues and allegations” to the Northfield City Council tonight. The 61-page document (scanned PDF) was made available to the public. A supplementary 3-page addendum was made available only to the Council and city administrator Roder because of ‘private data.’

After receiving the report, the City Council agreed to meet for a special session, open to the public, on Saturday, Dec. 22 at 8 am to discuss it.

Overview of Issues and FindingsOverview of Issues and Findings

I took photos of pages 4-5 of the report, the Overview of Issues and Findings. Click thumbnails to enlarge.

Click play to listen. Attorney Cliff Greene introduced the report. William Everett’s remarks begin at the 7 min 30 sec. mark. Total length: 15:49.

Update 12/18, 8:20 am: Here’s the 61-page PDF. City staff had to scan it so it’s huge, 42MB.


Update 11:51a: I received this 3MB lo-res version of the report, and the letter from attorney Cliff Greene. – Tracy

68 thoughts on “Everett investigation: Mayor Lansing ‘exerted improper influence’ and ‘violated Northfield code of ethics’”

  1. Seems there are two diferent investigations going on here. One is purported to be a criminal investigation. The other is an indeoendent investigation of the mayor’s activities. Are they directly related? Don’t know yet. Was there unethical actions on the part of the mayor? Seems the report indicates that. Should action be taken against the mayor based on the investigation? I think that is warranted. Should action be taken against the City Administrator if there proves to be criminal behavior? I think that goes without saying. Should we wait for the criminal report to act concerning the mayor? I don’t think so. Can we wait for both reports to draw an opinion regarding the whole situation? That seems warranted, also. Forming an opinion and acting on an investigation seem to be two different things, to me, but maybe I am too pragmatic.

  2. Just ran across an interesting story in the Star Tribune about a Minneapolis city councilor who has run into conflict of interest controversy for writing a single letter on personal stationery to lobby the state for an issue in which she has a very small ($2,500) investment. There also are some interesting comments from an ethics professor.
    You can read the Strib story here: http://www.startribune.com/local/12806672.html?page=1&c=y
    Perhaps we can get the prof to weigh in on the Northfield situation.

  3. I came across the NNews opinion page of Wed. Oct. 10, 2007. This letter by Ron Linde, former chair of Human Rights Commission, may hold a clue:

    City officials must regain public respect
    To the editor:

    What is the state of city leadership? The Northfield “rumor mill” has it that an evangelical city administrator with shortterm tenure in Northfield and with the support of the Transformation Prayer Group would like to replace the police chief and mayor with “appropriate” Christian replacements. Rumors also are present that the Mayor sought election for the purpose of person gain.

  4. You’re exactly right, Stephanie, the clue is in the last line…
    The Transformaton Prayer Group never showed up here, despite dire warnings and endless rumors. The prayer ladies never turned out to be more than a handful of ladies who wanted to pray quietly for wisdom for city officials (needed, but apparently not received). The administrator may be religious, but he has not attempted to push his beliefs on others. The police chief left of his own doing.
    That leaves the last rumor, that the mayor sought election for the purpose of personal gain. The sale of the Tires Plus building would have brought hundreds of thousands of dollars to his family and the city’s help with the environmental clean-up of the site — and a sure sale in a miserable real estate market. Selling on the open market would require he redevelop the site and invest in the clean-up with his own money, very hard given his financial problems. The mayor’s own memos indicate how hard he worked to make that deal happen, so it seems that last one might not be a rumor.
    There is blame to go around in that the council should have required a cost analysis of each possible site, including clean-up. Agreeing to negotiate for the Division Street site without knowing which site would be most advantageous financially was just plain dumb. Agreeing to work on the liquor store at all when the library/safety center/ice rink projects are more crucial was just plain dumb. The current safety center site might make a great liquor store or arts center…the work just hasn’t been done on this.
    Of course the mayor had a responsibility to hold these city priorities before his own, so all could have done a better job. The difference is that mayor crossed the line between dumb and inappropriate.

  5. Anne,

    I’m sure you know Mr. Roder better than I do, but it seems clear that he places some importance on the Transformation Prayer Group or he would not have had them occupying his office during Council meetings.

    I have not had time to google Al Roder, Denison IA or the former pastor he is associated with, a David Sohl (who, by the way, did the electrical work for the Council chambers, I understand). I will share a couple emails I received recently, in case anyone wants to pursue these. I am numbering them for easy reference:

    1) Roder convinced the City of Denison to build an 18-hole golf course and clubhouse, saying he had a “donor” who would contribute a large amount of money. The council reluctantly agreed and when the project was well underway, the council found out that the donor had backed out. The city went deeply into debt, and that is when Roder left Denison and came to Northfield.

    2) Metropolitan Baptist Evangelism – Fargo ND
    Evangelism Conference
    Each year a time is set aside for either a guest evangelist to minister to believers or an outreach to a targeted group in our city. This year our theme is “Sohl Food” with speaker Dave Sohl. Dave is a great and passionate motivator when it comes to the lost around us. His stories will make you laugh, cry and see where you can have an impact on people you encounter in everyday life. The series begins on Sunday July 29th at 10:45 am and 6:00 pm, and continues for the next 3 wednesday nights at 7:00 pm.

  6. Stephanie,
    I don’t see your point. I don’t know Mr. Roder any better than I know anyone else involved in this mess. You’re just repeating rumors, which have been disproved. We need to keep the discussion to facts, which no one has provided against Roder and which the mayor has provided against himself.

  7. Stephanie you are correct about that info. I did my research and found alot about Roder & Sohl and I turned that info. to the proper authorities. I will be watching for the new prospects for the chief of police position, and I won’t be surprised if he comes from Elk River.

  8. Stephanie,
    I don’t know Mr. Roder any more than I do anyone else in this mess. Your items are old rumors with no proof, and mostly ones we’ve addressed here in the past, so there’s no point going over them again. I’m still interested how the Minneapolis code of ethics can be so different from Northfield’s, and how an ethics professor can be so clear about the definition of a conflict of interest when folks here don’t see it. I realize that Northfield is a unique little town and all that, but it seems ethics are ethics, and Minneapolis has a pretty good set of lawyers reviewing its rules.

  9. Hi Anne — I don’t disagree that the Lisa Goodman situation (the Mpls city council member you’re referencing above) and Lee Lansing’s situation are similar in a number of respects. As far as I know, no one is seriously suggesting that Ms. Goodman resign or face recall — neither, as far as I know, has she faced the her city council and the public and apologized, as Mr. Lansing did.

    As far as that goes, I don’t think there are two politicians in Minnesota less likely to do anything approaching unethical in 2008 than Ms. Goodman or Mr. Lansing, given the scrutiny.

    Why is the drumbeat so strong among some of you to take the mayor out? I have to admit, the increasing intensity with which folks argue for his head makes me more and more resistant.

  10. Mike did you read all the memo’s that he wrote to Roder and others that were so disrepectful, manipulative, & for his own personal gain? I want a honest mayor that looks out for the best interest of the city he represents. Also the lawsuit he filed against the city of Northfield, the very city he represents was a slap in the face to the citizens. I can’t help but wonder when he file another lawsuit against the city or council members. I can forgive people but I don’t have to trust them. Trust is earned, not freely given!

  11. It is highly disturbing that people are back and forth across”lines” in these discussions, and that whatever supports their particular view at the moment is the only thing stated, i.e. I believe the Mayor asking the administrator to withhold the report in question for more information that was not so conflicting, was a wrong move… BUT, the administrator DID withhold that report from the council, and now there’s a cry of “foulplay” against one person’s withholding , but not the other. No one has responded to that except I believe, Brendon, who I don’t wish to misquote , but said something like “It’s hard to go against your boss”.
    My argument to that is that everyone who is bashing the mayor wants to have both sides of the “game” , i.e. its wrong for the Mayor to suggest the withholding of the report, but it’s perfectly OK for the administrator to do so?
    Sorry, that’s BS…. and there are many such examples of double standards.
    No mistake IMHO, this is about personalities, personal power, and the fight for “survival”.

  12. Kiffi: You may be right about the city administrator. I don’t know. I expect more will be forthcoming from the investigation under way. However, I don’t see what bearing that has on determining one’s opinion on whether the mayor’s actions have been unethical. Note I don’t say illegal – I’m not a lawyer, but I certainly hold my elected officials to a higher standard than that imposed by the criminal justice system.

    The same holds for the council. I was somewhat disturbed by what I heard on the recording from Saturday’s meeting (though I do understand that they too were in a difficult position). As I see things, the mayor has tried to use his office for personal gain. That has nothing to do with any other problems in the city leadership. Intiating a recall of the mayor does not absolve the council or administrator of any problematic activities on their part which may come to light in the future.

    I have come to believe that a recall election is the only way to ask the citizens of Northfield how they feel about this situation. We can blog about this ad infinitum, but only a fraction of the voters in Northfield participate on this website. A recall is the definitive democratic means for passing political judgement on the deeds of an elected official. We disagree over the “right” answer, but I respect your right to an informed opinion as I respect that of all voters. It’s time to let the voters speak.

  13. Kiffi- Two observations on your reaction to this report. 1) It seems that in spite of the evidence divulged in the Everett report, you somhow turn the responsibility back to Al Roder. I am sorry, but I just don’t follow your reasoning. If the Mayor had put his influence onto, say, the building inspector, would it have been his fault regarding the actions with the report in question? 2) If I read the Everett report correctly, the discussion about this report in question has the mayor demanding a different set of figures than the city staff. As I understand the exchange, Mr. Roder did not want to submit the report with the figures the mayor gave him. Am I correct in this or did I miss something? If I am correct, then why is it Mr. Roder’s fault that the report was not submitted? Just wondering how you arrived at your conclusion.

  14. John: I have written about what I consider to be the responsibilities of various parties ( Mayor, Administrator, Council) at least a dozen times; there is no point to making the same point over and over.

    Go back and read every thread since last summer, or don’t… I don’t think anyone is going to change their minds at this time.
    Wait and see what other investigations reveal, or don’t…just condemn whoever is “on the scaffold” at the moment.

    I don’t subscribe to any “hierarchy”; I develop my opinion by what I see, what I read, what I hear first-hand from those I know to be truthful, and what 71 years of engagement in the world have taught me about human nature.

    I’m not even sure that all the history on “this mess” will ever be public information; when something has gone on for 6 months or more, the public is so anxious for “settlement”, the first person to be “accused and convicted” in the public realm, may be the true example of a “scapegoat”.

  15. Kiffi,

    I don’t see that the mayor is a scapegoat. He needs to be held accountable for his actions, and when the Goodhue County report is completed I would expect all the wrong doing of others to also be treated the same.

  16. Kiffi- I’ve read & re-read you points many times. I’ve also read the link to the Everett report. I just can’t come to the conclusion you do from what I have read so far. That is all I’m saying. You are free to have your interpretation. Your perception is colored by your biases just as my perception is colored by mine.

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