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 Comments

  1. Griff Wigley said:

    Apologies for the revised post. I mistakenly deleted the original when attempting to edit it with the new PDF. AAAARRRGGGHHH. (You’d think I was a new blogger.)

    January 8, 2008
  2. Mary Rossing said:

    To all who signed this letter to Mayor Lansing, thank you for your leadership and heartfelt interest in the community of Northfield. Public service is at many times a thankless job, and one that opens a person up to public criticism just of pursuing the greater interests of one’s community. It makes me sad to see Northfield so at odds with itself over the past 6 months, at well as the destruction of personal relationships. I felt that same fever pitch of anger and hurt only once before, and that was during the Target/zoning debate. At that time Northfield was also editorialized in the Star Tribune and on MPR as well. Bob Jacobsen likened the atmosphere to the passion felt during the vietnam war that also splintered and negatively charged our community. It hurts us all so deeply.

    It may take some time for Northfield to get over this, but we absolutely must set it aside and get on with the business of running the city–whether or not, or when Mayor Lansing decides to move on. I hope that no matter what happens that we can get on with the important business at hand and let the investigations proceed without it hindering the important work of our elected officials, city staff and hundreds of volunteers who serve on boards and commissions.

    We are all at fault. If the endless discussions and blogs about “who did what and when”, and personal attacks proceed in course, our talented citizen volunteers will become too discouraged to put their time and energy at stake. Let alone the city staff.

    Let’s open the doors and windows and air this place out a bit, step back three paces and take a breather, everyone. Then let’s get on with he business of making Northfield a better place to live and work and play and to raise our families. It is not just a good idea, it is essential. The alternative is just not acceptable.

    January 8, 2008
  3. Patrick Enders said:

    Well, darn. I was really hoping it wouldn’t come to this. This will likely be a very cold winter in the City of Northfield.

    I’d like to state the following publicly:

    I believe that everyone involved in this debate – those defending Lee Lansing, as well as those asking for his resignation or recall as Mayor – is acting for the sake of what they truly believe is best for the community of Northfield.

    I hope that we can all hold on to that, and treat each other with charity and civility as we proceed with the democratic processes that are designed to resolve these kinds of disputes.

    I have met very sincere, dedicated, and good individuals on both sides of this very divisive controversy, and I am very sad for what we will now have to go through in order to resolve this.

    January 8, 2008
  4. David Henson said:

    Lee is going to end up a folk hero and Governor of MN. At this point even if a censor letter comes in signed by every nun in Rice County it will just appear as piling on. Imagine any of these scenarios 1) enough signatures cannot be found to launch a recall 2) the recall is launched and Lee prevails (almost a given since everyone loves to create a folk hero ~ remember Jesse V) 3) Lee is recalled then enters the election against multiple candidates and prevails. Either 2 or 3 and Lee would enter the status of a Tolkien hero and be an instant star in Minnesota and beyond.

    The problem I have with the politico’s letter is that this is yet another attempt to undo and election without following the procedures as laid out in the code. The people of Northfield voted on a means to recall an election if one is dissatisfied with any elected official and it did not include “public embarrassment to force a resignation.”

    The “cost to the city” argument for beating up on Lee and just beginning a recall is completely spurious when the council is spending $40,000 for 61 page reports.

    I speak to people in the street and never hear anything but positive commentary about Lee. And his letter indicates he is going to do just the right thing a leader should do … take his case directly to the people who voted for him, assess their needs and move the process forward.

    January 8, 2008
  5. Lisa Guidry said:

    Wow David! Everyone I speak to wants the mayor to resign, or wants a recall. I intend on getting as many signatures as possible, to speed up the process. Just read all the bloggers that want the mayor to resign.

    January 8, 2008
  6. Athena Currier said:

    I’m really sorry to see it’s come to this, but glad Lee has decided to stick it out. As he says, “At least the people will be asked the question and will be allowed to make their own decision.”

    January 8, 2008
  7. David Henson said:

    Lisa – if you sign up all the negative bloggers that will get you about 12 of the 850 signatures you need. Then you get to the vote which becomes a private matter where nobody is standing there pushing an agenda and I think Lee had 7000 votes or so.

    January 8, 2008
  8. Felicity Enders said:

    I’m sad that it’s come to this, but as I have said before I believe it’s time for the people to speak.

    January 8, 2008
  9. William Siemers said:

    David…Piling on? I suspect it was a difficult decision for these folks to write this letter. In my opinion the mayor, in refusing to resign, is acting out of personal pride, at best.

    January 9, 2008
  10. David Henson,

    You wrote:

    The problem I have with the politico’s letter is that this is yet another attempt to undo and election without following the procedures as laid out in the code. The people of Northfield voted on a means to recall an election if one is dissatisfied with any elected official and it did not include “public embarrassment to force a resignation.”

    Nothing has been subverted by these people writing this letter. They have every right as private citizens to ask the mayor to resign at any time. Anyone does.

    They have every right to put their thoughts on paper, and submit it to the mayor and to the newspaper. It’s their choice to act in what they feel is the best interest of the community based on their interpretation of the events thus far. Anyone can do the same.

    I doubt they enjoyed doing it in any manner.

    Please don’t confuse the number of people who voted for Lansing (your comment #7) as indicative of the number of people who would vote for him to remain in office given all that has transpired.

    I’m sure many have changed their minds since then.

    January 9, 2008
  11. David Henson said:

    Brendon – this is a political fight pure and simple … accept for a small town nothing about the tactics are pure and simple – more like you would expect in D.C.

    Some of what is going on beyond the attacks on the mayor are just unbelieveable – NF NEWS: hey they found $1 Million in missing funds but the city administrator says “the other missing $2.8 Million is a little mysterious.” The mayor’s supposed park fee savings (which we now know are commonly waived) is still only 7/10 of 1% of the above total.

    I guess common sense would indicate waiting until the Nov election to deal with who is Mayor and writing letters demanding investigations into the missing funds.

    Where did they find the $1 million and where is it now ?

    January 9, 2008
  12. David Henson,

    Sorry I keep using your last name; it’s only because there are several Davids who participate in these discussions, not because I want to be overly formal.

    I agree the missing city money is an important issue, but it’s part of a larger crime committed on a national scale. The FBI is investigating. I doubt there is little more Northfield can do to enhance that investigation. Sounds to me like the city is helping in every way they can given the limits posed by an external, federal investigation.

    I don’t see the real connection.

    I do not see how bringing in this extra issue absolves the Mayor in any way. A better city government requires attention to all issues; not exonerating one because there are problems with others.

    If your brother walks into a convenience store and steals a candy bar, then you walk into the same store and steal a candy bar, who stole a candy bar? Both of you. But what if only you get caught? It’s frustrating, but only you pay the price.

    The fact that only you pay the price, doesn’t mean your brother was right.

    And if, while you and your brother are stealing just one paltry candy bar each, the bank across the street is being robbed of thousands of dollars, does that mean you didn’t steal a candy bar? Nope, you still did.

    Sorry for the simple moral analogy. I offer it only because it helps me reflect more clearly on a tough situation. It’s a bit reductive, but, I think, still relevant.

    Eventually all might come to light, and justice come to bear on all, but I think we can move forward based on what is out there right now. That’s what these former mayors and council members are doing.

    January 9, 2008
  13. David Henson said:

    I would quite worrying about candy bars when your whole meat , dairy & produce department are being loaded on to a truck.

    $100,000 was gone as part of a national problem. But I’m not clear on the other $3.8 Million. I have never read where the million was or how it was found or where it is at this moment ? This might shed light on the $2.8 Million ?

    January 9, 2008
  14. Griff Wigley said:

    I’ve just blogged today’s podcast, our interview with Dixon Bond and John Stull, co-signers of the above letter. Listen there or here but discussion/feedback happens here.

    ­

    January 9, 2008
  15. Adam Elg said:

    I listened to the podcast last night and still find the rationale for the attempted expulsion of Lee Lansing from his Mayoral role to be fuzzy and weak.

    Dixon spoke of his lack of making allies as a weakness, and surely this doesn’t help Lee’s case but really isn’t a rationale for him to step down. It certainly adds to the challenges moving forward with the current council but a concern that can be remedied with hard work and cooperation by all.

    Concerning the allegations of unethical behavior, I just don’t get it. Call me naive but I’ve seen and read a good deal of the investigators report and find his facts simply don’t seem to support his conclusions, in fact in many instances they directly contradict his conclusions.

    I must say that I hope everyone here on the blog supporting the call for Lee’s removal has read the report in detail. I fear there is a lot of misinformation, speculation, misunderstanding among some paying attention to this matter.

    Concerning the issue of unethical behavior to influence the location of the liquor store, I just don’t get it. It is reasonable to ask where the line is between Lee’s role as Mayor, Father and business owner. It seems to me, It is reasonable he would support the Division St. location in all three roles. In fact, even publicly and privately endorse that location.

    As long as he isn’t bribing others, threatening others, and removes himself from voting on matters concerning the location, where’s the harm in his actions. I’m not aware that he had secret meeting, or engaged in the illegal or unethical behaviors mentioned here.

    It seems to me, in what appears to be frequent prosecutory fashion, once charges are levied, those responsible for making the charges become relentless in their pursuit to make their case and prove they are right even when their case is weak, which I believe to be the case here. It’s more important to save face than to step back and look objectively and unbiased at the situation.

    Perhaps I don’t have all the facts, but as a former resident, no longer living in Northfield I believe I’m being objective. I’m certainly trying to understand.

    As a native of Northfield and long time resident and former business owner I am certainly disturbed and concerned about the actions and behaviors coming from council members and others at city hall. There seems to be a lack of civility and respect, and decency must be restored. Northfield can do better than this and deserves better than this.

    Certainly you can argue, as many have, that for the sake of moving forward, and even for the sake of Lee’s peace of mind and health, he should resign. However, how can you have peace of mind when you believe in your heat and mind that you’ve broken no laws or acted inappropriately, and then step down. You’d make your case and stand firm in your innocence.

    Lee is in a tough spot and I feel for him. He’s made so many contributions to Northfield over the years and has been such a fine person to encounter in any situation. He doesn’t deserve this and certainly doesn’t deserve this to become his lasting mark on Northfield. He deserves to be held in high regard.

    I personally think if cooler heads prevailed, if ego would retreat, if reason and compassion flourished, and if civility and decency were restored the council and Mayor Lansing could move forward to address the issues of the City of Northfield.

    finally, as a side and independent or any of this, I agree with others that the Division St. location is the best for the liquor store should the city decide it should move. It needs to remain downtown and should be on Division St. I hope council members can see beyond this current situation and keep that location in consideration.

    January 10, 2008
  16. Scott Oney said:

    I think the Former Leaders may have jumped the gun a bit here. My understanding is that they would need about 550 signatures to get the recall going. That would amount to about 40 apiece. Their appeal would have been more credible if they had come up with, say, at least half that number before sounding off in public. I have no idea if they could do it or not.

    Lisa (#5), I understand you’ve been working on this since Tuesday. How may signatures have you come up with that fit the specifications in the charter?

    January 10, 2008
  17. Lisa Guidry said:

    Scott I’m not willing to share that info. at this point. I will officially be going door to door next week, so right now I’m making alot of phone calls to start the process. Those interested in helping can call me at 612-636-2834, or e-mail me at: lguidry@ll.net.

    January 10, 2008
  18. Patrick Enders said:

    Scott,
    I don’t think a recall petition has been finalized, and I’m guessing it won’t be finalized for a little while yet. Only a 30 day window is allowed for obtaining the required 550 (or even, I have heard, 850) signatures, so any recall effort would be well-served by making very careful preparations before commiting the first name to paper.

    Because a recall is a very serious matter, the hoops that must be jumped through are intentionally very hard to accomplish. As they should be.

    January 10, 2008
  19. Lisa Guidry said:

    Hi Everyone,

    I am getting a great response from those interested in signing the recall petition, but I also had a few e-mails with the same questions. Who am I gathering the signatures for? I am getting the signatures for the 5 former mayors that will be filing the recall. We will have 30 day to get the signatures, so please e-mail or call me to arrange getting your signatures.
    lguidry@ll.net or 612-636-2834

    January 11, 2008
  20. Stephanie Henriksen said:

    I still believe it is not time to take action (such as a recall) until the OTHER investigation is complete. Who, among us, does not want complete information? I would think that report should be out within the month.

    January 11, 2008
  21. Patrick Enders said:

    Stephanie,
    What might be in the report you are waiting for, which could contradict or mitigate what is available in the Everett report? Unless the other report concludes that the memos attributed to Lee Lansing were in fact forged by another person, I am having a hard time imagining how an investigation of Al Roder will exonerate Lee Lansing in the conflict-of-interest acts of which he is accused.

    As Brendon said above,

    If your brother walks into a convenience store and steals a candy bar, then you walk into the same store and steal a candy bar, who stole a candy bar? Both of you. But what if only you get caught? It’s frustrating, but only you pay the price.

    I am perfectly willing to hear evidence against Al Roder. I just don’t see how finding out that Al Roder also did something wrong (and I as yet have no reason to believe that he has), would exonerate Mr. Lansing of his actions. When it comes to breaching the law or ethics code, each matter must be considered in its own right.

    January 11, 2008
  22. William Siemers said:

    Adam… I think that the former mayors and councilpeople have stated the case quite well…I don’t think the signature solicitor(s) would have to say much more than that. Of course if that is not enough to convince folks, there are always the specifics.

    What do you mean about the former mayors ‘putting their heads on the line’? It seems to me they have done that already.

    January 11, 2008
  23. Adam Elg said:

    Thank you for your comment William – I was directing my questions to Lisa.

    Concerning the former Mayors and council members, it’s one thing to write a letter and/or speak to Mayor Lansing individually, but it’s another to go door-to-door and make your case concerning this matter to friends, neighbor and other citizens.

    As I’ve already stated, I think the case is weak.

    January 11, 2008
  24. Keith Covey said:

    To any person who wants to gather recall petition signatures:
    Signatures may be gathered only on official petition forms AFTER a sponsoring committee has registered with the City its intention to launch a recall effort. That’s the law. The City Clerk says no one has registered with the City. Signatures gathered before that happens will not be valid. Please do not confuse people by gathering signatures prematurely.

    January 11, 2008
  25. Anne Bretts said:

    My understanding from talking to Lisa is that she’s connecting with people now so that it will be faster to collect signatures when the petition period opens. (Cold weather would make doing advance work by phone just plain smart thinking.)

    January 11, 2008
  26. Mike Bull said:

    Isn’t the mayor’s term up this year anyway? It looks like this recall process would take us into June, more than likely. That means, if folks are successful in getting the signatures, Northfield will have to spend a bunch of time and money on a recall election that, even if the mayor is recalled, will only reduce his term by a handful of months. Unless the mayor has broken the law somehow, that doesn’t strike me as a good use of our collective resources. My preference would be that everyone suck it up, act like adults and govern together for the next several months. Enough with the drama.

    January 12, 2008
  27. Lisa Guidry said:

    Yes Anne,

    That’s correct. I talked to Keith Covey and he said he didn’t read my post clearly, and he was not aware that I was communicating with Dixon Bond.

    I am getting alot of contact info. from people that want to sign the recall. Please continue to e-mail me, so I can put you on the list to call when I get the official petition forms.

    January 13, 2008
  28. Griff Wigley said:

    Adam, good to have a former Northfielder, downtown business owner (The Blue Marble!) and fellow car-pooler chiming in here (#17).

    As moderator, I need to intervene on your comment #24 above to Lisa Guidry. Your challenge to her is fine but your tone comes off as condescending, which can easily turn the conversation negative. More importantly to me, it can scare away others from participating who might disagree with you.

    Can you take another stab at it?

    January 13, 2008
  29. Griff Wigley said:

    MPR: Why is the town of contentment in chaos? by Sea Stachura.

    A group of former Northfield mayors has called for mayor Lee Lansing’s resignation. An investigation late last year found Lansing had improperly used his influence to steer city business to his son. The city council tried to get rid of Lansing, but so far he’s hanging on to his job. The statement from the former mayors is just the latest development involving the mayor of this small college town south of the Twin Cities. How did a town of 20 thousand end up with so much mess?

     

    January 13, 2008
  30. Griff Wigley said:

    Hey Norman,

    Many members of the media follow Northfield issues by watching Locally Grown. Our civility rules apply to comments directed at them, as we’d really like them to be comfortable participating here, as some have in the past.

    So I’ve moderated your comments directed at MPR’s Sea Stachura.

    Can you try again with a critique of her piece?

    January 14, 2008
  31. Adam Elg said:

    Griff,

    Thank you for your comment. While I try to be mindful and sensitive of how others may be impacted by what I say or how I express my opinion, I can not control how it is perceived.

    My remarks directed at Lisa are clear in my effort to understand who she represents. In this case, herself or the former Mayors. Subsequent posts have clarified this and I now understand her involvement.

    As to your suggestion that I take another stab at it, I will not. My post was direct and it is fair to challenge others statements made here. If you wish to remove the post if it is in violation of your civility norms, please do so.

    Kind regards,
    Adam

    January 14, 2008
  32. Griff Wigley said:

    Adam, thanks for the response. I disagree, tho… I think you can phrase your challenge to Lisa in a tone that has a much better chance of being received by her and others. It’s never guaranteed, of course, but as moderator, I strive to heighten the odds!

    I’ll remove your post. Hope you keep involved.

    January 14, 2008
  33. Dearest Griff. Uncivil? Moi? Nevertheless…
    Sorry, Ms Stachura. Is this respect at least, size is not the issue. Me and my bros in our family of five used to tear each others lungs out at the slightest sign of the simplest slight; so, its nor surprising that this can occur in a community of 20,000. And the situation in Northfield is not in the least simple – to understand much less communicate.

    However, it is serious and also I believe systemic. But, rest assured, many of our brightest minds are applying themselves to resolving the matters confronting our city at this time. Its roots reside in the Target debate almost ten years ago (also the fallout from and outcome since that decision to embrace the big boxes), its about saving our downtown, but most of all its about who leads and runs our city. If Mayor Lansing were to resign, it is assumed that all this mess will go away. Unlikely.

    January 14, 2008
  34. Griff Wigley said:

    Norman, I’d agree.

    I don’t see how size is an issue (and Northfield is really closer to 10,000 pop. than 20k, I think, since the 2000 census put us at 17,000 and 5k of that is college students) nor is growth/proximity to the metro area, nor is it that Noah Cashman works in St. Paul and Jim Pokorney owns a medical device company of 3 people. Al Roder is a professional administrator who came from Iowa, just like Scott Neal did 13 years ago. We’ve had pretty consistent turnover of other professional staff at city hall for a decade or more. Northfield is culturally about the same as it was a decade ago, seems to me.

    I don’t know if the audio of Sea Stachura’s piece will contain additional info/voices. She did interview me and I told her that I thought there were no cultural or sociological factors in the ‘meltdown.’ It’s just a happenstance of particular people and particular behavior with maybe some internal systemic forces that we don’t fully understand yet. I tried to convince her and her editor to wait another month on the story.

    January 14, 2008
  35. Anne Bretts said:

    I do think there’s a growth issue, in that in most larger cities, the mayor’s property would never have been considered in the first place. It just never would have happened.
    The fact that people thought all this was OK because he was their friend and a nice guy never would have been part of the equation.
    I deal with business people and professionals in the Twin Cities every day and people are dumbfounded that this was allowed to happen and even more dumbfounded that the mayor and his supporters don’t see the problem. Believe me, the city’s reputation is that of a hick small town, no matter what the population total is.
    Having said that, there also is a story in the Strib this week about Maplewood and a council where a new majority plans to fire the city administrator tonight…so size isn’t everything.

    January 14, 2008
  36. Tracy Davis said:

    Anne, please keep telling people we’re a hick small town, okay? It’s all part of our cunning plan to keep the bedroom-community-wannabes and suburban riffraff out. 🙂

    January 14, 2008
  37. rick sortwell said:

    I think Anne said that the city’s *reputation* was that of a hick town, not that it was one.

    January 14, 2008
  38. Adam Elg said:

    Anne,

    Where do you get your information that this would not happen in a large city? The fact the Lee Lansing bacame Mayor should in no way put property owned by him out of play for future city development. In a small town it is ineveitable that this will happen.

    It is quite appropriate that he advocate the use of his property for city development especially if it makes sense and is in line with development plans of the city. Of course it would not be appropriate for the Mayor to vote on an assue concerning his property which I don’t believe Mayor Lansing has done.

    In Nothfield you have property owners who are involved in the Chamber of Commerce, the Nothfield Downtown Development Corporation, the Northfield Enterprise Center and commissions of the city council. These individuals all have influence on city involvement in their property.

    Because someone runs for public office, chooses to serve their community and becomes Mayor they cannpt speak about their desires related to property they own.

    Frankly I still haven’t seen the evidence that he acted inappropriately.

    I guess every property owner in Northfield should never consider running for city office.

    January 14, 2008
  39. Adam Elg said:

    One more comment.

    In a bigger city, an individual interested in a political career might divest him/herself of their property so as not to have to deal with the possible perception of conflict of interest.

    Unfortunately, fine people in Northfield don’t have that luxury becauese serving on the city council as Mayor or council member surely doesen’t replace any income earned either from property or employment and from what I can tell is a thankless job.

    January 14, 2008
  40. William Siemers said:

    Griff, Norman: Systemic? The problem is with the ‘whole body’ of Northfield government? Maybe. But I don’t think so. We have an easily identified problem. Granted, it may not be the only problem, but it is the problem that has been recently isolated. The mayor has lost the confidence of many citizens including the entire city council, 5 former mayors, 15 former councilpeople. This is because of actions he took that have been deemed unethical.

    Calling the problem ‘systemic’ gives the impression that nothing can be done unless we treat the entire ‘body politic’. This just isn’t the case. Something specific and immediate can be done to improve government in Northfield. One action to treat one problem: The mayor can agree to resign. I think it is time for his supporters to encourage him to do so.

    January 14, 2008
  41. Tracy Davis said:

    Rick, I get the distinction – I didn’t mean that I thought *Anne* was telling people Northfield was hick; I meant that she should keep doing whatever she could to reinforce the reputation because if we can slow the residential growth we’ll be in a stronger economic position, or at least a slowdown will help us to work at catching up our commercial tax base with the burgeoning residential growth of the past decade or so.

    Maybe that explanation is better, but it’s not nearly as much fun to write.

    January 14, 2008
  42. Griff Wigley said:

    William, I don’t know for sure the problem is systemic. And I do think it would probably be best for Lee and the town that he resign, not based so much on his transgressions but on his response to the fiasco and the damaged relationships that now seem to preclude any hope of leadership from him.

    But I don’t have the whole picture. Things went sour between Gary Smith and Al Roder, long before things went sour between Al and Lee. Things went sour between Lee and Brian O’Connell long before they went sour between Al and Lee. Toss in 6 councilors, a bunch of staffers, and stir!

    I’m sure there’s much more that I don’t know but in that kind of negative environment, systemic forces typically kick in, ie, “the more he does this, the more they do that. The more they do that, the more others do…”

    I tend to think that if Lee resigned tomorrow, we’d still have a mess on our hands.

    So I’m not yet ready to join the recall drive nor am I ready to try and stop it. I just don’t know enough yet.

    January 14, 2008
  43. Adam Elg said:

    I’m sorry, was my last post condecending toward Anne? My last two posts seemed to go down as fast as they went up. Please advise.

    January 14, 2008
  44. Griff Wigley said:

    Not to worry, Adam. They’re both still there, #40 and 41.

    January 14, 2008
  45. Scott Davis said:

    Hi Adam,
    Saw your post #40 where you commented:

    “The fact the Lee Lansing bacame Mayor should in no way put property owned by him out of play for future city development…”

    While I understand your point, and it does have an affect more so on small towns… that kind of transaction between a public official and the entity they serve is specifically prohibited by Minnesota state law.

    A public official actually loses rights afforded the rest of the citizenry when they get elected or appointed… seems like a slap in the face to those who volunteer, but it is what keeps the system as clean as possible.

    January 14, 2008
  46. David Henson said:

    Scott – Do you have any concern about an independent investigation where an important point like the common practice of park fee waivers is not even mentioned ? Could you see where those who voted for Lee whom are being asking to accept a neutral negative report would have concern when the report leaves out important information ?

    January 15, 2008
  47. Adam Elg said:

    Thank you for the clarification Scott. Just to clarify however, since my post, along with Anne’s could mislead others understanding of the issues – the property in question associated with this debate was not owned by Lee Lansing, correct? It is instead owned by his son.

    January 15, 2008
  48. Patrick Enders said:

    Adam,
    Yes, the property in question is owned by Lee Lansing’s son David. However, conflict of interest by fact of “blood relation” is also specifically precluded by the code, as is discussed quite well in the Everett Report.

    Also, the mayor repeatedly acted as an agent for his son in the negotiations over the property, further blurring the line between public official and interested private party.

    January 15, 2008
  49. Scott Davis said:

    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.

    January 15, 2008
  50. David Henson said:

    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.

    January 15, 2008
  51. Scott Davis said:

    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.

    January 15, 2008
  52. David Henson said:

    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.

    January 15, 2008
  53. Tracy Davis said:

    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.

    January 15, 2008
  54. Scott Davis said:

    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.

    January 15, 2008
  55. David Henson said:

    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

    January 15, 2008
  56. Griff Wigley said:

    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. 

    January 15, 2008
  57. Scott Davis said:

    Thank you David, your comment is much appreciated!

    January 15, 2008
  58. Anne Bretts said:

    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.

    January 16, 2008
  59. Anne Bretts said:

    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.

    January 16, 2008
  60. Anne Bretts said:

    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.

    January 16, 2008
  61. 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)?

    January 16, 2008
  62. Tracy Davis said:

    I think we need to get some lawyers in here to talk about conflict of interest and how this is interpreted. There’s a ton of precedent.

    January 16, 2008
  63. 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.

    January 16, 2008
  64. Anne Bretts said:

    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.

    January 16, 2008
  65. 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.

    January 16, 2008
  66. 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.

    January 16, 2008
  67. 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.

    January 16, 2008
  68. David Henson said:

    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.

    January 16, 2008
  69. Sharlene Berge said:

    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.’

    January 16, 2008
  70. William Siemers said:

    That is a great quote Charlene!

    January 17, 2008
  71. Bruce Morlan said:

    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?

    January 17, 2008