Leaders of the west-metro city of Maple Plain have stripped their mayor of most of his public duties due to his “extreme anger,” vulgarity and a complaint that he acted inappropriately toward a female employee.
In a rare move, the City Council unanimously approved a formal censure, condemning Mayor Roger Hackbarth, 70, for creating an “unsafe and unfriendly” atmosphere following a female employee’s complaint in January that he was inappropriate, demanding hugs and claiming he loved her.
Now, Hackbarth is defending himself, telling the local newspaper, the Pioneer, that a small group has been determined to “get rid of” him since he was elected in 2012.
It’s the first formal censure in Maple Plain, population 1,700, which is about 20 miles west of Minneapolis. The measure strips Hackbarth of representing the city on any committees, boards, commissions or associations, and it prohibits him from having contact with a city employee without another employee present.
“This is a hard decision to do for the council,” said Jerry Young, the acting mayor. “That was a huge allegation against an employee. In a business environment, that wouldn’t be tolerated. The city had to do something.”
Hackbarth was unavailable for comment, telling the Star Tribune only that there’s more to the story. Now, the only role Hackbarth can continue in as mayor for the rest of his two years is participating in City Council meetings.
The formal censure is a rare step for any city to take.
“Every couple years you might see one,” said Tom Grundhoefer, an attorney with the League of Minnesota Cities. “It’s very rare.”
The censure, which isn’t a legal charge, essentially shows public disapproval for behavior that falls short of being criminal. Most Minnesota cities, like Maple Plain, don’t have the authority to recall or otherwise remove an elected official; they can be disqualified from office only if they’re convicted of a felony, Grundhoefer said. Until then, the city can limit the official’s roles as Maple Plain did.
No other formal complaints
In November 2012, Hackbarth won the mayoral election by 67 votes, ousting an incumbent and starting the four-year term in January 2013. He told the Pioneer in 2012 that “it’s time for new leadership that respects people rather than calling them names in public. Setting the tone and direction for the city starts at the top. I am someone who has always listened to the needs of the people.”
Before mayor, he was a council member for six years; Young said no other formal complaints have been filed against him. Hackbarth also has a clean criminal record, according to public records.
But in January, the female employee filed a complaint, saying that soon after she started the job, Hackbarth made inappropriate comments, including telling her that he loved her, asking about her husband and their relationship, and talking about putting up mirrors in the bedroom.
She also said Hackbarth repeatedly asked for a hug at work and social events, once scolding her for not giving him a hug and asking when “he will get some of that.”
The city hired an outside investigator, which determined this month that Hackbarth acted inappropriately.
‘Extreme anger’ issues
The four City Council members approved the censure resolution last week; Hackbarth didn’t attend the meeting or any others the last month. In the censure, they said his recent behavior has created “great concern,” listing his “extreme anger” in public city events and his outbursts of anger and vulgarity in public toward officials and staff, which created an “unsafe and unfriendly” atmosphere. The council also started a personnel committee to review future issues.
“This isn’t something you do on a whim,” said Council Member Dave Eisinger, who said he’s been neighbors and friends with Hackbarth for 38 years. “None of this is taken lightly. With the information we were given, we acted as we felt we had to.”
Hackbarth told the Pioneer he’s been bullied the past two years, leaving him “very frustrated and yes — very, very angry.”
In February, Young said some council members in a session closed to the public suggested that Hackbarth resign, but Young said Hackbarth refused, saying that “everybody’s out to get him.”
The female employee said she’s not seeking criminal charges or a civil case. “Hopefully,” she said, “we can continue to do business.”