Minneapolis government ethics: How many gaps?

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On March 21, the Minneapolis City Council officially accepted an annual report from the city’s Ethical Practices Board that included this item from the board’s 2008 to-do list: “Research issues related to potential gaps in the City’s conflict of interest ordinance.” Exactly what gaps are those? Susan Trammell, the city’s ethics officer, told the Minnesota Monitor it was the Star Tribune that pointed out a gap, referring to Steve Brandt’s Christmas Day article on Council member Lisa Goodman’s lobbying of state officials on behalf of a South Minneapolis wood-burning power plant development in which she has invested. Brandt quoted Hamline University Law School Professor (and Minnesota Monitor political commentator) David Schultz as saying Goodman’s situation fell into a “statutory gap” because the city’s ethics ordinance applies narrowly to city government actions, not state actions. “She’s got a conflict of interest, no doubt about it,” Schultz told the Strib. “What she’s doing here more than anything else is using her position as a council member for personal gain. That fits under one of the classic definitions of conflict of interest.”

Today Brandt has a new story on the burner, and what do you know? There’s a new ethical gap. Goodman’s business partners, Michael Krause and Kim Havey, left their city posts and then sought city aid for the project. Council member Gary Schiff told the Strib the city needs to put an end to such revolving-door deals: “That’s a gap in our ethics policy that we need to close.” Serious stuff that the ethics board is going to get cracking on before ethical gaps multiply further? “There’s really nothing to it,” Trammell told the Minnesota Monitor Thursday, before today’s Strib story appeared. “It’s just a routine review.”

Considering the rap sheet on Minneapolis City Council members since the turn of the century, “routine” indeed seems a word sadly applicable to the work of patching City Hall’s ethical gaps.

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