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Nondisparagement clause for former Minneapolis Police Chief Harteau causes dust-up at city meeting

Council President Barbara Johnson, left, and Mayor Betsy Hodges
MinnPost photo by Peter Callaghan
Council President Barbara Johnson, left, and Mayor Betsy Hodges shown during an Executive Committee meeting last month.

It wasn’t going to be routine, exactly, given the controversy over the details of a separation agreement with former Minneapolis Chief Janeé Harteau. But once Mayor Betsy Hodges agreed to remove a clause that prevented pretty much everybody who could even possibly be involved (including all past and future mayors) from trash talking one another — you’d think it should have been easier.

But no.   

At a Wednesday meeting of the city’s Executive Committee — made up of Hodges and four members of the City Council — the mayor asked that the $182,876 settlement with Harteau be sent to the council’s Ways and Means Committee without the nondisparagement clause.

That, from their public comments anyway, appeared to be what a majority of council members want to happen. Once that occured, after all, the separation agreement would become a routine matter: Harteau will get paid until the end of her term in early 2019. In exchange, she would agree not to sue the city over her dismissal.

But Council President Barbara Johnson, a member of the Executive Committee, made a different motion. She wanted the original agreement, including the hated clause, to go to the full council. Not because she favors it, but because she doesn't like the way it was handled — and wants the entire council to be able to weigh in. 

“I fully intend that council will eventually take this out,” Johnson said. “But I feel the City Council was pulled into this agreement. The nondisparagement clause includes council members, and so we were pulled into this without any input whatsoever.”

“I think it is important that council members have the opportunity to discuss it,” she continued. 

Hodges spoke against Johnson’s motion, saying the council would be free to debate and discuss the nondisparagement clause whether it was in the language sent to Ways and Means or not.

But Johnson said since the council was implicated without its consent, it should be the body to remove the clause, not the Executive Committee.

Johnson’s motion failed on a tie vote with Council Member Kevin Reich joining Johnson and Council Member Cam Gordon joining Hodges. The fifth member of the committee, Council Vice President Elizabeth Glidden, was absent from the meeting.

Former Chief Janeé Harteau
MinnPost file photo by Bill Kelley
Former Chief Janeé Harteau

When a motion to send the agreement to council minus the nondisparagement clause came to a vote, Reich joined the mayor and Gordon in voting yes. But Johnson continued to vote no. Hodges then praised Harteau’s service and noted that the agreement includes a positive letter of recommendation for the former chief. 

The clause itself was controversial enough. Some council members — as well as Hodges’ challengers in this year’s mayoral election — thought it unwise to prevent the chief from talking freely about what has been going on in the department. (The clause would have allowed everyone to talk freely if testifying in court or by subpoena or as required by law, however.) That was especially true in the midst of the investigation into the shooting death of Justine Damond by a Minneapolis police officer.

But how it ended up in the agreement made it even more troublesome for some on the council. While it initially appeared that the nondisparagement clause was wanted by the former chief, Harteau later said it had not been her idea. In response to the complaints, Hodges acknowledged that the clause had been her idea, but that she was “happy” to remove it. 

The backstory is what led Reich to vote as he did Tuesday. He said he supports Harteau and the job she did as chief and was willing to consider the nondisparagement clause if it had been something she wanted. When he learned it was the mayor, not the chief, who had pushed the clause, he wanted it removed. “My motivation to even consider it was dead,” Reich said. 

He said that while he preferred to have the full council remove it rather than the Executive Committee, when Johnson’s motion failed he decided it was best to move the matter along. “That disparagement agreement needed to go, so that’s why I was happy to move it on to council,” he said.

But he also said council members will fully discuss the clause — even though it will not be part of the agreement that reaches them.

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Comments (1)

If I were a conservative...

...I'd say this case demonstrates the liberals' love of style over substance and the mayor's lack of intellectual depth. As a liberal I feel exactly that way too.