An Anoka County commissioner up for re-election next month hasn’t yet donated proceeds from a hand sanitizer promotion in March, according to the business owner who made the sanitizer and was surprised to learn the commissioner still had the money.
Commissioner Matt Look acknowledged having the $3,800 but said there was no timetable for donating it, though he is touting the hand sanitizer event in his campaign.
At the same time, Look accused his opponent in the District 1 race, Ramsey Mayor John LeTourneau, of a conflict of interest for receiving money from the city and county for his employer, CO2 Partners, a consulting business, while working for the Anoka Area Chamber of Commerce.
LeTourneau said Look’s accusations are “baseless” and part of a smear campaign by the incumbent, a County Board member for 10 years.
Dan Baker, owner of an e-cigarette company in Ramsey that helped make and distribute 500 gallons of free sanitizer in late March when the COVID pandemic broke, said he had thought Look donated the proceeds to Youth First, an Anoka-based nonprofit on whose board the commissioner serves. He said Look recently told him he still had the money and didn’t know who to give it to.
Baker said that any nonprofit, many of them struggling in the pandemic, would be grateful for the money and suggested Look give it to St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital or a women’s shelter.
“There is no scenario that is OK to sit on that sort of money that doesn’t belong to you for seven months,” Baker said. “Give it to any reputable charity.”
Though it’s not a huge amount of money, Baker said he didn’t think it was ethical for Look to hang onto the cash especially since he’s made the hand sanitizer event part of his campaign. “I’m disappointed in that and a little ticked off as well because this was a good thing that we did,” Baker said.
Look said he initially intended to give the money to Youth First but decided against it because the nonprofit successfully applied for COVID-19 relief grants. “We haven’t ultimately nailed it down,” he said.
Questions over a conflict
LeTourneau works as director of manufacturing for the Anoka Area Chamber of Commerce, which receives funding from the city of Ramsey and Anoka County partly for his work with the chamber’s program promoting manufacturing in the county. He has been mayor for two years and served on the City Council for five years before that.
Look approved spending $10,000 annually in the past four years to support the program. But he said he doesn’t think an elected official like LeTourneau should financially gain from it. Look said it wasn’t until after the county pulled out of funding the program in 2019 that he learned of LeTourneau’s involvement.
County Board Chairman Scott Schulte said the county pulled out of funding the program not because of concerns about LeTourneau, but because it wanted to diversify the industries it was funding.
“John being an employee there, I have no problem with — every elected official has another job,” Schulte said.
But he added there could be a conflict with LeTourneau voting on the Ramsey Economic Development Authority (EDA) budget, which funds the manufacturing program. It may be technically legal, Schulte said, but “on the surface it doesn’t smell right.”
LeTourneau denied any conflict of interest. “This is not new information and this is something that my opponent is pulling forward in a very political way. It’s been vetted completely through our city attorney,” he said.
LeTourneau has worked with the Anoka chamber for the past 10 years as a business consultant. He said the chamber first partnered with Ramsey five years ago with a $5,000 annual contribution toward the manufacturing program. Look made the motion at a 2017 board meeting to have the county partner with the chamber following a presentation by LeTourneau.
Ramsey City Attorney Joe Langel said votes by LeTourneau, then an at-large Ramsey City Council member, on the EDA budget between 2015 and 2018 didn’t include a specific request for the manufacturing program. As mayor, LeTourneau abstained from voting on specific contributions to the program in 2019 and 2020.
Langel said there was no conflict of interest because LeTourneau contracts with the chamber through CO2 Partners and not the city. His contract is not subject to bidding law, so he said the mayor is a step removed from any conflict.
A spokesperson for the Anoka County Attorney’s Office said it was reviewing the issue but declined to comment further.