Minneapolis City Council President Lisa Bender on Thursday filed an ethics complaint against Mayor Jacob Frey and Police Chief Medaria Arradondo a day after the chief held a news conference criticizing a proposal asking voters to replace the Police Department.
"I'm worried that the mayor and chief of police are sending a message that our ethics rules are a joke, and there's no consequences to breaking them," said Bender, a strong supporter of the proposal and frequent critic of Frey.
A spokesperson for the Minneapolis Police Department said Arradondo will cooperate with the ethics process but "stands by every word that he said." In a statement, Frey said the chief "made the decision to speak out on his own."
"Council President Bender's baseless decision to include me in the complaint is simply a desperate, last-ditch political stunt on her way out the door," the mayor said.
Frey faces re-election on Tuesday, and Bender has endorsed one of his leading challengers, Kate Knuth. Bender decided not to run for re-election and will leave office at the end of this term.
The complaint and the chief's remarks came in the waning days of a fierce election campaign that is being watched around the country as people wait to see whether — and how — Minneapolis will transform policing in the wake of George Floyd's killing.
Question 2 has become a focal point of those debates. If voters approve the proposal, it would remove the charter requirement for Minneapolis to keep a Police Department with a minimum number of officers.
Instead, the city would be required to have a public safety agency that could include police "if necessary to fulfill the responsibilities of the department."
Supporters argue the change would allow the city to provide more mental health and social services and is crucial to breaking down a police system that has subjected Black residents to disproportionate levels of both violent crime and officers' use of force. Opponents argue the city is already working to expand those programs and that nothing in the proposal would improve accountability for police or reduce racial disparities.
Arradondo issued his most forceful rebuke of the proposal in a news conference Wednesday. Standing in uniform in front of the MPD logo, the chief said he hasn't seen a solid plan for implementing the change and doesn't believe it will deliver the results residents are seeking.
"This is too critical of a time to wish and hope for that help that we need so desperately right now," Arradondo said. "Again, I was not expecting some sort of robust, detailed, word-for-word plan. But at this point, quite frankly, I would take a drawing on a napkin, and I have not seen either."
Bender said she was participating in a meeting of the council's Transportation & Public Works Committee on Wednesday afternoon when people started texting her about the chief's news conference. She said she watched his remarks for the first time Thursday morning and felt obligated to file a complaint.
It appeared, she said, as if the chief had violated both an MPD rule about campaigning in uniform and a section of the city's ethics code that prohibits the use of "city facilities, property, funds, personnel, the city logo, the city seal or other city resources to engage in political activity."
Bender said she believed Arradondo's remarks ignored work that city leaders had already done to analyze which types of 911 calls could be handled by civilians and to expand mental health, violence prevention and other programs.
"There isn't a public-facing presentation that says 'On Dec. 1, I do this. On Dec. 15, do this.' " she said. "But the pieces are all there."
Cyndi Barrington, a spokeswoman for MPD, said on Thursday that the chief stands by his initial remarks. "The Chief firmly believes that he has an obligation to be honest and truthful with the residents of the city regarding their public safety and he will continue to do that," she said.
Bender said she feared that council members were being held to a different ethical standard than the mayor and police chief.
In mid-May, during a meeting of the council's Committee of the Whole, a trio of council members who support the proposal began outlining a timeline for creating a new public safety department. That included an effort to launch a citywide survey and hold public meetings during the summer — before the election occurred.
The city's ethics officer, Susan Trammell, warned elected leaders they needed to be careful not to use city resources to advocate for either side of a ballot initiative that would go before voters.
On the campaign trail, opponents seized on what they saw as the lack of a concrete plan for creating a new department. Council members who supported the measure said they felt her warning prohibited them from writing that plan.
Amid the frenzy, Trammell issued a public statement saying council members "can work behind the scenes with professional staff on developing the framework for and the components of the policies necessary to implement the measure, if approved by voters." But, she reiterated that they couldn't cross into advocacy on government time.
The ethics process will begin with Trammell, who is tasked with reviewing the complaint and providing a recommendation to the city's Ethical Practices Board. The board's three members are appointed by the chief judge in Hennepin County and the deans of two local law schools.
If the board "sustains" the complaint, it provides recommendations for sanctions, and the matter heads to the City Council. The process could include an investigation and hearing and could take several months.
Arradondo's term ends early next year, and he hasn't said whether he wants another one.
Staff writer Susan Du contributed to this report.
Liz Navratil • 612-673-4994