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After two months in the Hennepin County workhouse, LeAnn Sargent returned to the Maple Grove City Council Monday night.
Sargent, who at 63 has spent more than a third of her life on the council, was greeted by locals calling for her resignation during the otherwise routine meeting.
About 50 people attended Monday’s meeting. Handmade signs with phrases like “You must go!” and “We have enough felons in D.C. and St. Paul” dotted the crowd.
Moments before the meeting began, protesters raised their signs above their heads. Sargent, who’d arrived quietly, glanced out over the crowd but did not respond.
Sargent was sentenced to a gross misdemeanor in April for financially exploiting her dying father. She had initially pleaded guilty to one felony count of exploiting a vulnerable adult. At Sargent’s sentencing, Judge Luis Bartolomei said he chose a milder sentence in part so she could stay on the council.
In the time since, multiple calls have come for Sargent’s resignation. In late April, council members voted unanimously to censure her. About a month ago, the Hennepin County attorney’s office filed an appeal seeking a felony conviction, which would prevent Sargent from serving on the council. Maple Grove residents have even taken the cause to social media, creating a Facebook group called Unseat LeAnn Sargent.
But Sargent, who declined to comment on her return to the council, has insisted she’ll continue to serve. Her term ends Dec. 31, 2016.
“For us to be stuck with LeAnn for 2.5 years of her term, potentially, really is unacceptable,” said Maple Grove resident Dave Lunt, who helped organize protesters to attend Monday’s meeting.
Thomas Brooks and Jesse Winkler, who have lived in Maple Grove for about a year, arrived early after seeing the protest event on Facebook. They said they started paying attention to the City Council in their new town when they saw a story about Sargent on the news.
Lunt has lived in Maple Grove for nearly two decades and said he voted for Sargent multiple times. He said he only realized as he started learning more about local government that he wasn’t satisfied with the status quo.
“I’m a reluctant participant. I don’t enjoy this sort of thing,” Lunt said. “I find myself speaking up and speaking out because I don’t know any other way.”
‘Because [she] is back, so am I’
The meeting began quietly, but heated up as the agenda turned to an opportunity for residents to address the council.
Most were there to ask for Sargent’s resignation, though there was also support for her.
Lunt spoke first, raising multiple concerns about Sargent’s time on the council. “Because LeAnn Sargent is back, so am I,” he said.
He concluded his statement by asking Sargent to resign, and drew scattered applause.
Nathan Brunner, a longtime resident, said he, like Sargent, cared for ailing parents. The fact that Sargent did that, raised children and goes to church doesn’t matter, he said.
“I don’t go to church,” he said, “but I don’t steal money from people.”
After the open forum, city attorney George Hoff explained that the council could remove Sargent only if she was convicted of a felony or violated her oath of office. The council did, however, unanimously reaffirm its April 21 censure.
“If I had committed this crime, I would expect to be immediately terminated from my private employment,” Council Member Erik Johnson said before voting, “You must immediately retire.”
Sargent remained silent.