The separation agreement with former Minneapolis Police Chief Janeé Harteau that was announced Friday will face scrutiny in coming weeks from a City Council that must abide by a set of terms it had nothing to do with deciding.
The sticking point will be the mutual nondisparagement clause negotiated by City Attorney Susan Segal, the office of Mayor Betsy Hodges and Harteau. Most council members are fine with the $183,000 in payments to Harteau through the end of 2018, which would have been the end of her term as chief.
“I think the amount is fair,” Council President Barb Johnson said. “The challenge is going to be the nondisparagement clause.”
That nondisparagement clause creates sweeping restrictions on speech — even if it’s factual — for the former chief, 14 elected officials and several more department heads. Harteau must say nothing negative about Hodges, the City Council or other high-ranking city officials, and they must say nothing negative about her.
Johnson said she can’t remember such a clause in any separation agreement in recent Minneapolis history, and she’s troubled by the concept. “People should be free to speak their minds,” she said.
All 13 City Council members said they did not take part in negotiating the deal.
The agreement, which is scheduled to go before two council committees before a Sept. 20 vote on approval, allows for truthful testimony in court or under subpoena, or “providing factual information to prospective or future employers or clients.”
Council Member Andrew Johnson said defamation law should be adequate in preventing anyone from “trashing” anyone else, and Minneapolis residents are looking for a frank conversation about policing, even as new Chief Medaria Arradondo takes over.
“It’s really important for advancing public safety to have open and honest dialogue about what went well and what could have gone better,” Johnson said. “We’re all looking forward to Rondo’s vision, but we can’t prohibit reflecting on and learning from past leadership if we’re really going to do our best job moving forward.”
Not all council members object to the nondisparagement clause. Council Member John Quincy said it’s worthwhile to have that part of the agreement on paper.
“I don’t know who brought that up or entered it into the conversation, but since it’s signed by both parties I thought it would be amenable,” Quincy said. “I don’t have any problem with the terms at all.”
Council Member Blong Yang, chairman of the Public Safety Committee, said Harteau has a good lawyer and he assumes she knew what she was agreeing to. He called nondisparagement clauses “par for the course” in many separation agreements.
“I don’t see anything that’s out of the ordinary about this,” Yang said.