Maple Grove city leaders and residents are pushing for LeAnn Sargent to resign after the City Council member was sentenced for financially exploiting her dying father.
In a rare move, the four other council members approved a formal censure last week, calling Sargent’s actions inappropriate and requesting her resignation. Some residents are making the same request, saying that she has embarrassed the city and diminished the community’s trust.
But Sargent said she has no plans to step down. While she declined to comment Tuesday, she told the city April 21 that she will continue her term, which runs through December 2016.
“I apologize for the embarrassment of the city,” she said. “Unfortunately, I made mistakes that I am living with. One side of the case was only told. It would be easy to run away, and I know I have an uphill climb to receive your renewed confidence, but my heart is with the city of Maple Grove.”
A censure is a rare action for a city to take. While it isn’t a legal charge, it shows public disapproval. Most Minnesota cities don’t have the authority to recall or remove an elected official; officials can be disqualified from office only if convicted of a felony.
Last month, the Maple Plain City Council also issued a censure of its mayor after a female employee filed a complaint of inappropriate behavior.
In Maple Grove, Sargent, 63, was charged last year with three felony counts, accused of using her power of attorney to raid the trust fund for her own benefit from 2009 until days before her father, Robert Bobleter, died in 2012 at age 84. She pleaded guilty to a single count of financial exploitation of a vulnerable adult.
This month, Hennepin County District Judge Luis Bartolomei told Sargent he considered sentencing her for a felony but decided on a gross misdemeanor in part so she can stay on the council. She received a year’s sentence, with all but four months stayed. With good behavior, she would serve 80 days. If she receives home monitoring for the last 20 days of her sentence, she may be eligible for work release.
She was also ordered to pay restitution and is expected to enter the county workhouse May 6 — a day after Maple Grove’s next council meeting.
“They’re [residents] not really happy to think that they have a council member that is going from jail to the city to work,” Council Member Karen Jaeger said at last week’s meeting. “I must admit I feel that way, too. I’ve heard people say that if something isn’t done to take LeAnn down, the whole council is going to go down. And I don’t feel that’s fair to us.”
City Administrator Al Madsen said any decision about resigning is up to Sargent. She has been on the council for 24 years and makes $13,000 a year as a member. In November 2012, she was re-elected while under criminal investigation.
“The council didn’t elect her; the constituents did,” said her attorney, Chris Ritts.
Some Maple Grove residents are going online and to the council to protest Sargent’s continued role.
“We want Maple Grove to be an outstanding community in everything,” resident Robert Joiner told the council last week. “And if it can’t be with its leadership, then what does that say about the rest of it?”
Staff writer David Chanen contributed to this report.