Former Minneapolis Police Chief Janeé Harteau would receive $182,876 in separation pay plus 12 months of health benefits under a severance deal with the city released Friday.
The deal must earn City Council approval. It includes a sweeping mutual non-disparagement clause: Harteau must say nothing negative about Mayor Betsy Hodges, the City Council or other high-ranking city officials, and they must say nothing negative about her.
Harteau resigned in July under pressure from council members and the mayor a little less than a week after the police shooting of Justine Ruszczyk Damond. She has not spoken publicly since.
Harteau started a vacation in Colorado on July 15, the day officer Mohamed Noor shot Damond, then faced criticism for being out of town in the shooting’s aftermath. She returned to Minneapolis two nights before she lost her job. Hodges said then she had “lost confidence in the chief’s ability to lead us further.”
Hodges said in a statement that “the City Attorney’s office has negotiated a fair agreement” that reflects Harteau’s 30 years of service.
Several council members signaled unease with the terms of the separation.
“People will begrudge the cost,” said Council Member Linea Palmisano, and she said the non-disparagement clause gives her pause.
“Transparency is important here, and if the chief has feedback for council or for her department, I hope she comes forward with that,” Palmisano said. “Shouldn’t we all be learning lessons and getting feedback?”
Palmisano said as far as she knows, no council members were involved in negotiating the deal.
According to the agreement, Harteau would be paid the $182,876 in installments through the end of 2018. Harteau’s salary in 2016 was $169,411, so the package equals about 13 months of pay.
The non-disparagement agreement is “not uncommon at all,” said Darren Sharp, an attorney at Schaefer Halleen LLC, but it prohibits a wide range of speech by either party, even if it is factual.
“In general, disparagement would be a negative statement, or something that would harm a person’s reputation,” Sharp said. “There’s a huge distinction between non-defamation and non-disparagement. For defamation it has to be false as well.”
The agreement would allow Harteau or any of the city officials mentioned in the agreement to testify truthfully if required by court order or subpoena or “as may otherwise be required by law,” and it would not prevent Harteau from “providing factual information to prospective or future employers or clients.”
Harteau was appointed chief in December 2012 by then-Mayor R.T. Rybak. Harteau and Hodges, who took office in January 2014, had a strained relationship, and Harteau was replaced by Chief Medaria Arradondo.
In a statement Friday, Harteau said serving in the Minneapolis Police Department has been her No. 1 priority for 31 years and the city will always have a place in her heart.
“Although this has been a challenging time, I am proud of what was accomplished during my tenure,” Harteau said. “I am looking forward to the future and the next chapter.”
While the package negotiated with Harteau is pennies compared to the severance packages paid in the corporate and media world, it is large compared to what’s been paid to other Minneapolis officials upon their exits.
Former Police Chief Robert Olson received six months of severance pay when he was replaced at the beginning of 2004. City coordinator John Moir received the same, about $66,500, when he was replaced in 2005.
D. Craig Taylor, the director of Community Planning and Economic Development who left the city over the summer, received six months pay and six months of benefits. Taylor’s separation agreement did not include a non-disparagement clause.
The combination of the price for Harteau’s severance and the non-disparagement clause will bring scrutiny from a City Council that is set to discuss the deal at two committee meetings before it comes before the full council on Sept. 20.
“I’ve got real questions about what this $200,000 in public money is paying for,” Council Member and mayoral candidate Jacob Frey said in a prepared statement. “Namely, did the mayor negotiate away the largest severance in recent history to pay for the chief’s silence, and why did the mayor insist on the hush clause?”
Hodges said in her statement that Frey, a lawyer, should know better than to comment on negotiations.
“As usual, Council Member Frey is trying to have it both ways,” she said. “A few weeks ago, he suddenly talked big about wanting a new chief, but now isn’t willing to do what it takes to pave the way for a smooth transition to Chief Arradondo.”