What began as tweets and an ethics complaint against a Minneapolis City Council member has devolved into a behind-the-scenes political battle between Alondra Cano and some of her colleagues.
Cano, who has been the subject of an ethics complaint over her use of city e-mail for political purposes, sent a pointed letter Sept. 10 to Council President Barbara Johnson and two other members. In it, she threatens to release evidence about other council members’ political internet use if the council holds a public vote affirming the ethics complaint against her.
The complaint stems from Cano’s decision in December to tweet screenshots of e-mails and contact information of people who contacted her office angry about her involvement in a Black Lives Matter protest.
The council met in closed session with the city’s Ethical Practices Board in August — an unprecedented event — to discuss sustained findings against Cano. Because no decision was reached, Johnson said she was advised that the next deliberation would have to happen in public.
In the letter, Cano wrote that she has been keeping screenshots of other council members’ use of “city property for ‘political’ purposes” and names Council Members Jacob Frey, Lisa Bender, Elizabeth Glidden and Abdi Warsame. “If the Council votes to approve the Ethics findings I will speak out against the vote and circulate a press release to the media about the issue with the screenshots I’ve gathered since January of 2016,” Cano wrote.
Johnson said Thursday that she was disappointed with Cano’s comments. “It’s terrible to treat colleagues like that,” she said. Johnson said she shared the e-mail with several of her colleagues because their names were mentioned, “and I want people to think about what they want to do.”
‘Drag me through the mud’
In an interview Thursday, Cano said her frustration stems from the decision to not resolve the ethics complaint at the initial meeting. She said she is being attacked for her positions on a $15-per-hour minimum wage, Black Lives Matter and other issues.
“I think that there are a few people here who are just really trying to take me down for those issues and they disagree with me politically,” Cano said. “So they’re going to find any way to drag me through the mud on what I think is an issue that we should have resolved and concluded on.”
Cano challenged the assertion that her comments were a threat. “I don’t want to be criminalized. … I’m not holding anybody hostage,” Cano said.
Asked about the screenshots referenced in her e-mail, Cano said they largely involve council members posting information they have received over city e-mail on social media. One example she cited was posting updates about a shooting based on information received from police inspectors.
“Sometimes council members copy and paste that text and will put it into their social media accounts and say, ‘Hey this is the update from [Minneapolis police],’ ” Cano said, adding that she sees no distinction between that and her activity.
Cano said one solution discussed at the closed-session ethics meeting was having her make an apology. But “that deal was off the table when you all voted to keep the discussion going,” Cano wrote.
The ethics matter must still go before the City Council, though no date has been set. In her letter, Cano said she is talking to her attorney about taking the issue “to the next level” if the council sustains the ethics findings. That could include an appeal, she said Thursday.
The complaint against Cano dates to a Black Lives Matter rally at the Mall of America in December. Several people unhappy with Cano’s involvement sent criticisms through the city’s website, which she then posted publicly on Twitter along with messages affirming her support of the Black Lives Matter movement.
At least one person whose contact information went public, Stephen Dent, filed an ethics complaint.
Council members have discretion to release such messages from the public under state law. The city’s ethics code does, however, bar the use of city resources for political activity. But Cano said Thursday that the city hasn’t clearly outlined the boundaries for what constitutes “political” work.
“How are we defining political purposes?” Cano said. “That’s just a really gray area.”