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Senate ethics committee 'stuck in the mud'

Posted by: Rachel E. Stassen-Berger under Minnesota legislature, Minnesota state senators, Democrats, Republicans Updated: April 17, 2012 - 2:00 PM

A Minnesota Senate ethics committee, charged with judging whether one of their own mishandled the affair between the former Majority Leader and a former staffer, remained "stuck in the mud" after a two hour meeting on Tuesday.

The committee, made up of two Republicans and two Democrats, deadlocked again on whether any action was appropriate to deal with the complaint against former Deputy Majority Leader Geoff Michel, R-Edina.  A similar meeting last month also deadlocked.

A DFL complaint alleges Michel lied to  the press, and therefore the public, last year in talking about the timing of when he discovered the affair between former Majority Leader Amy Koch and former staffer Michael Brodkorb. DFLer Sandy Pappas wants Michel to publicly apologize, much like former DFL Majority Leader Dean Johnson was forced to do in 2006 after an ethics complaint about statements he made.

The two Republicans on the committee -- chair Sen. Michelle Fischbach and Sen. Bill Ingebrigtsen  -- have voted that there is no probable cause for the complaint and no reason to investigate further. The committee's two Democrats -- Sen. Kathy Sheran and Sen. John Harrington -- have voted the opposite.

"Is it fair for me to say that we're basically stuck in the mud here?" asked Ingebrigtsen, R-Alexandria. "We're basically stuck. Is that fairly accurate?"

While committee members appeared to agree with that,  Harrington also said that the committee must continue trying to hammer out a solution to clear the Senate's name.

Harrington, a former chef of police, pushed aside Republican concerns that any action by the ethics committee could impact pending wrongful termination and sexual discrimination lawsuit from Brodkorb. He said that police and cities are able to deal with employee ethics issues despite the threat of litigation in the name of public trust and the Senate should do the same.

But Ingebrigtsen, a retired county sheriff, countered that the ethics complaint has little to do with public trust it has to do with a dispute over Michel's management style. He also  suggested that he, like Michel, believes that the root of the complaint,  is politics not ethics.

Although committee members admitted they were deadlocked, they plan to resume deliberations Tuesday evening after a Senate floor session. Last month, the committee similarly deadlocked with a plan to continue meeting in the evening but GOP senators did not show up for the night session. Fischbach said Tuesday that would not happen again.

It is rare, but not unheard of, for legislative ethics committees to deadlock.

According to research for the Minnesota Legislative Reference Library, in 2003 a House ethics committee split 2-2 along party lines over whether Republican member Arlon Lindner violated ethical standards by making what were alleged to be racist and homophobic remarks. DFLers brought the issue to the full House and it voted to take no action on party lines. 

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