Republican legislators are demanding more information about whether DFL Sen. Jeff Hayden abused his power and aided the misspending of taxpayer money.
During an ethics hearing Wednesday, lawmakers asked Minneapolis school board officials to submit affidavits detailing whether Hayden and Sen. Bobby Joe Champion, DFL-Minneapolis, threatened to withhold state funding if the district did not award a $375,000 contract to Community Standards Initiative (CSI), a group whose mission was to close the achievement gap.
Lawmakers also are asking the state Commerce and Human Services departments to provide any documents that detail what role Hayden played in Community Action of Minneapolis’ alleged misspending.
DFLers and Republicans provided vastly different accounts of the outcome of Wednesday’s hearing.
“We are pleased the Ethics Subcommittee granted a de facto probable cause ruling regarding our complaint against [Hayden],” Senate Minority Leader David Hann, R-Eden Prairie, said after the hearing. “The subcommittee wants more information and facts before they make their final decision in this important matter.”
The hearing was the first time Hayden has spoken publicly about the allegations. In a statement, he said that the evidence presented at hearing was “nothing more than speculation and misinformation.”
“A thorough consideration of the facts by a bipartisan subcommittee failed to demonstrate that my conduct was in any way unethical or in violation of the rules of the Senate,” he said.
The ethics subcommittee will continue its proceedings on Nov. 5, the same day it will hear a similar complaint against Champion, also filed by Senate Republicans.
The ethics inquiry stems from the Star Tribune’s reporting on Hayden’s connections with CSI and Community Action. Hayden appointed his wife to serve on his behalf on the board of Community Action, which was at the center of a state audit that alleges misspending of more than $800,000, including trips for board members.
The subcommittee tried to determine whether there was probable cause to act against Hayden.
For nearly two hours, it deliberated the validity of the allegations that Hayden threatened to withhold funding to the district.
State Sen. Tony Lourey, DFL-Kerrick, criticized Hann’s reliance on news media accounts without doing his own investigation.
“We are public officials. People can, and do, say all kinds of things about us,” Lourey said.
He said Hann’s complaint relied on an unnamed source quoted in the Star Tribune saying Hayden and Champion threatened to withhold funding if it did not award the contract to CSI.
But Hann pushed back, saying he believed it was the ethics committee’s role to do the investigation. He argued his role was simply to present public facts.
“I did not call the school board, because no one would say that on the record without a subpoena,” Hann said. “I think they will have to be compelled to come and say if that happened.”
Hayden and his attorney, Charles Nauen, strongly denied the allegations.
“I want to be clear, I never threatened or bullied the Minneapolis public schools to enter into a contract with CSI,” Hayden said. “I’m offended by this attack on my integrity. I never realized any personal gain from CSI.”
Several members of CSI, including founder Al Flowers, were present at the hearing. Hayden’s father, Peter, and wife, Terri, also were present. Champion also was in attendance.
Although the two Democratic senators failed to pass a motion to dismiss the allegations, arguing the facts were not strong enough, they voted to allow Hann to press the district for more information.
As for his involvement in Community Action, Hayden said he did not benefit in any way from the organization’s alleged misspending. He also said he did not even know there was any mismanagement going on. “Everything I knew at the time was that things were going well,” Hayden said. “What I want to know now is what actually happened with those dollars.”
Lourey wanted to dismiss the complaint because he believed that the state was already conducting several investigations into the organization that would determine whether Hayden participated in any wrongdoing.
Hann, however, argued those investigations would be too broadly focused. “That’s an investigation of Community Action of Minneapolis as an organization, this is an ethics complaint,” Hann said. “There is some level of concern that we should all have. Do the directors referenced in [the audit] include Senator Hayden or not?”
Alejandra Matos • 612-673-4028