A Shakopee City Council member censured in April for boorish behavior may be asked to resign Tuesday for accusing another council member of a crime without any proof.
The center of the firestorm, Mike Luce, says he already has a response in mind if he's asked to quit: "Pound sand!"
Luce set off the latest controversy in late August by filing a complaint with the Minnesota attorney general's office that accused Council Member Jay Whiting of misspending money from the Shakopee Heritage Society. Shakopee police found Luce's complaint baseless.
"This case smelled from the get-go," Police Chief Jeff Tate said. "There's not even a smolder, or an ember, let alone smoke."
Shakopee's 40,000 residents are growing weary of political scandals that distract from the southwestern suburb's revitalization efforts and rapid growth, which has recently attracted major employers like Amazon. Some business owners fear that continued infighting on the council will sink prospective development downtown and at Canterbury Park, while residents say they are simply exasperated by the turmoil.
"There's a lot that hangs in the balance," said Billy Wermerskirchen, owner of the men's clothing store Bill's Toggery. "The whole metro area is gonna grow up all around us, and we'll be left wondering what happened."
Whiting was on vacation and could not be reached for comment. But he told the local Shakopee newspaper that he plans to ask for Luce's resignation at Tuesday's City Council meeting.
Messages among Luce, city staffers and the five-member City Council detail a pattern of rogue behavior in which Luce frequently acted outside of his authority as a City Council member. The council stripped Luce of his key card, preventing him from entering City Hall after hours, and eventually removed him from all city boards and commissions.
The dueling began last month when Luce reported Whiting to the state in response to what he called "citizens' complaints." The attorney general's office advised him to raise his concerns with law enforcement. Luce, fearing a conflict of interest with Shakopee police, filed a complaint with the Scott County Sheriff's Office in which he admitted to having no "personal knowledge, evidence, or facts" related to the accusation.
The allegations involved an antique 1941 soda delivery truck that Whiting had taken on as a personal project, allegedly with funds stolen from the Heritage Society. Luce, citing anonymous sources, accused Whiting of tapping into the nonprofit's accounts through its treasurer — his wife.
But Whiting painted a different picture of the truck's restoration in a 2011 article in Shakopee Valley News. Whiting explained that, as a collector and president of the Heritage Society, he had lobbied the organization's board to buy the art deco Chevy in 2006 as a piece of "living history." When some board members showed a lack of enthusiasm for the project, Whiting paid $1,500 for the nonprofit's interest in the vehicle, he wrote.
Because the alleged crime would have occurred within city limits, the Sheriff's Office referred the case to Shakopee police.
Law enforcement records show that two Heritage Society officers refuted Luce's allegations against Whiting.
"We had a group of people who watched every penny," said Don McNeil, a board member of the society. "He did not take a nickel."
Within a few hours, authorities said, it became clear that the allegations lacked merit.
Tate was annoyed by what he viewed as diversion of resources while his staff was busy investigating former Shakopee Schools Superintendent Rod Thompson for misspending school district money. Even if Whiting had committed a crime, Tate said, the three-year statute of limitations would have prevented charges from being filed.
Even so, Tate said his investigators are ready to talk if Luce's purported sources want to present evidence that Whiting did something wrong. "But we can't be spending valuable time and resources chasing ghosts," he said.
Luce won't let the matter drop. In an interview Tuesday, he speculated that the police purposely "dummied up" the case. He posited that city staff is attempting to push him off the City Council.
Those kinds of comments from Luce exasperate City Administrator Bill Reynolds. "One person is clouding the city's otherwise great reputation," Reynolds said. "Everything is a conspiracy."
Mayor Bill Mars agreed. "It just feels like he has an ax to grind," Mars said of Luce. "It's very unbecoming of a council member."