Minneapolis council president files ethics complaint over police chief's news conference

Chief Medaria Arradondo had criticized a ballot question that asks voters if they want to replace the police department

By Liz Navratil
Star Tribune

MINNEAPOLIS — Minneapolis City Council President Lisa Bender said Thursday that police Chief Medaria Arradondo's public criticism of the policing charter amendment appeared to violate city ethics rules.

In a statement, Bender said she filed the ethics complaint against both Arradondo and Mayor Jacob Frey.

Minneapolis Police Chief Medaria Arradondo addresses the media Wednesday, June 10, 2020 in Minneapolis.
Minneapolis Police Chief Medaria Arradondo addresses the media Wednesday, June 10, 2020 in Minneapolis. (AP Photo/Jim Mone)

"We need a full and accurate ethics investigation of a press event held on Wednesday, October 27 — including the role of the Mayor of Minneapolis in directing or planning the event — when the Chief appears to have used city resources, including the support of city staff, city logos and the MPD uniform, at a press event explicitly focused on taking a position on a ballot question," Bender wrote.

She said she believed the event violated MPD policies about campaigning in uniform and a section of the city's ethics code that states: "A local official, employee or candidate for elective office shall not use city facilities, property, funds, personnel, the city logo, the city seal or other city resources to engage in political activity."

The complaint comes one day after Arradondo, standing in full uniform against a backdrop featuring the department's logo, said the proposal's proponents had never laid out a specific plan for addressing rising gun violence.

At this point, he said, "frankly, I would take a drawing on a napkin."

Bender is a strong supporter of the policing charter amendment, putting her at odds with the chief.

Bender also pushed back on that claim, saying the chief "seriously mischaracterized the years of work that have gone into developing a plan for better, more effective public safety."

In her statement, she said senior staff at the city, "who are largely staff of color," have been working to evaluate the city's public safety systems for years and offer recommendations. " Chief Arradondo knows this because MPD has been fully involved the whole time," she said.

The chief's remarks — some of his most forceful yet on a proposal that would clear the way for the city to replace MPD with a new public safety agency — set off a frenzy both privately in local political circles and on social media, where some questioned whether the chief violated ethics rules that forbid city officials from engaging in partisan campaigns.

Early voting on the proposal has already begun, and Election Day is Tuesday.

Yes 4 Minneapolis, the political committee that crafted the proposal, released a statement Wednesday that was critical of MPD and the city's approach to public safety.

" Minneapolis Police Chief Medaria Arradondo campaigning in uniform, in explicit contradiction of the policy he himself wrote last year, is one of many examples revealed in his news conference today, why structural change is imperative to keep the people of Minneapolis safe and to implement an accountable and transparent relationship with those who are called to protect and serve," said Yes 4 Minneapolis campaign manager Corenia Smith.

Susan Trammell, the city's ethics officer, had publicly warned elected officials earlier this year that they needed to be careful not to use government resources to advocate for or against the proposals that would come before voters this fall.

"It has long been understood in Minnesota that public funds may not be used to promote one side of a ballot question seeking a particular outcome at an election," she wrote in a May memo.

Staff writer Susan Du contributed to this report.

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