Glen Stubbe, Star Tribune
Jim Mone, Associated Press
Secret GOP meetings spelled the end for Koch
- Article by: BAIRD HELGESON and JIM RAGSDALE
- Star Tribune staff writers
- December 20, 2011 - 6:44 AM
Leaving a meeting at the Minneapolis Club last Wednesday, Senate Majority Leader Amy Koch thought she was bound for a social event in St. Paul.
Instead, sources say, Deputy Senate Majority Leader Geoff Michel hustled her into a nearby meeting room. There, he and three other GOP senators confronted her about an alleged affair with a male Senate staffer who reported to Koch. After a meeting that lasted for hours that night and resumed on Thursday morning, the Republican from Buffalo resigned her leadership post and announced she would not seek re-election.
The next afternoon, Michael Brodkorb, the Senate's powerful communications chief, was asked by an old junior high school friend who also worked in the Senate to meet at the Moose Country restaurant in Mendota Heights. Once there, Brodkorb was shocked to see Secretary of the Senate Cal Ludeman walk in and tell him he was out of a job and barred from Senate offices.
The fresh account provides new details on what could be the most tumultuous 72 hours in state Senate history. The events snuffed out Koch's fast legislative rise and leveled a chief aide who had helped lead the Senate's Republican caucus and served as deputy chair of the state party.
Party leaders have steadfastly refused to discuss whether the departures are related, as have Koch and Brodkorb.
As Koch tries to hang on to her last year in elective office, rumblings of an ethics investigation have begun, with a member of that committee saying that she may need to leave the Senate if the allegations prove true.
The events have sparked further turmoil among Republicans who are still coming to grips with departures of their state party chairman and executive director and the news that their party is deeply in debt.
Assistant Majority Leader David Hann, R-Eden Prairie, denied there were any political reasons behind how the remaining Senate leaders handled Koch.
Hann said the senators had gotten several reports about the alleged affair. They conferred with Ludeman and human resources staff members and decided that meetings away from the Capitol were best.
"We had information from more than one source that we believed to be credible. So that's why we had the meeting," Hann said.
Two sources with direct knowledge of the incident who spoke on the condition of anonymity said the senators held a grinding, emotional, three-hour meeting with Koch at the Minneapolis Club about options. Exhausted, they broke for the night and met again Thursday at a location in Chanhassen.
Sources said on Thursday the senators gave Koch three choices: Deny the allegations, resign as majority leader or face the fact that they would share the allegations with other Senate leaders.
Hann declined to share details of the conversations but said that "we told her, 'You need to let us know if this is not true. If so, we will help you fight the rumors.'"
In the end, Hann said, she never did.
Hann said they decided to call a news conference Friday, where they disclosed that Koch had resigned her leadership post because of an "inappropriate relationship" with a male Senate staffer.
"There were a number of stories that were being circulated that we were aware of that were absolutely not true," Hann said, including rumors that the Senate caucus was in financial shambles. "Things being said needed to be corrected."
Sen. Bill Ingebrigtsen, R-Alexandria, a member of the Senate subcommittee on ethical conduct, said he takes seriously the issue of inappropriate relations with subordinates. He said Koch's alleged relationship could become a matter for the subcommittee to look at.
As a former Douglas County sheriff, he said, he was instructed on the serious legal ramifications when a supervisor has a relationship with someone under their command.
"There's a real difference between that and just having some kind of affair, if you will,'' Ingebrigtsen said.
The subcommittee generally responds to complaints filed by other senators and no complaint has yet been filed, but Ingebrigtsen said the issue could still come before the panel. "I would never sit and pass judgment until I heard all the facts,'' he said.
"Amy Koch is someone who has done a lot of good things for the caucus,'' Ingebrigtsen said. "You can't throw that out the window." But if the allegations are true, he said, the Senate must take steps to protect the work environment.
If the allegations are true, he said, Koch should resign from the Senate. "I seriously feel I certainly would step down,'' he said. "If it were me, I would in a heartbeat. It's too damaging to the public, first and foremost."
Senate bylaws set a 14-day limit to appoint a new leader, which means the caucus will have to meet by Dec. 29. No date has yet been set. Michel, Hann and Sen. Mike Parry, who met Monday to discuss scheduling, would not say whether they will be candidates.
"A lot has happened very quickly,'' Michel said.
A late-night departure
By midnight on Friday, according to a source, Brodkorb met a security officer at a Capitol door. He was escorted to the Senate offices on the second floor of the Capitol, where he packed his belongings.
Brodkorb walked out of the stately marble building, loaded his boxes into his sports-utility vehicle and drove off into the darkness.
Staff writer Rachel E. Stassen-Berger contributed to this report.
Baird Helgeson • 651-222-1288
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