City Council OKs new search criteria for inquiry head

Shira Kantor

In an attempt to secure an unbiased attorney to head Minneapolis’ regulatory services investigation, City Council members voted Friday to adjust search criteria to include a measure stating the investigator must come from outside the seven-county metropolitan area.

All but one council member, Joe Biernat, favored the amendment, which they discussed Thursday in a meeting with City Attorney Jay Heffern.

The investigation was spurred by former 8th Ward City Council Member Brian Herron’s July 17 resignation and guilty plea to federal extortion charges. The investigation was halted last week after public cries of impropriety caused attorney Don Lewis to step down as the inquiry’s head. Though his investigative abilities were not questioned, Lewis drew criticism for openly supporting Mayor Sharon Sayles Belton’s re-election.

Heffern, who originally appointed Lewis, has since been looking for a replacement and last week turned to the City Council for guidance.

Council Member Joan Campbell, who asserted Thursday that questioning someone’s political beliefs was unconstitutional, said she stands by her position, despite the flak it generated among fellow council members.

“I think other people thought I was exaggerating the issue,” she said. “I don’t think I was.”

Campbell said she doesn’t object to looking outside the metro area for counsel, but claimed she never had a problem with the original guidelines. It was the political screening that upset her, she said.

“I’m not comfortable with the whole process, but I think more people are comfortable with it now.”

Campbell also expressed concern at the added cost and time it could take the city attorney to find a replacement.

“I think it might be more costly for us,” she said. “But I think it’s really important that we have an internal investigation.”

The city’s investigation accompanies a federal inquiry into Herron. On July 20, the U.S. district attorney’s office subpoenaed the licensing and inspections records of three area businessmen linked to Herron.

Deputy City Attorney Michael Norton could not be reached for comment on more recent federal subpoenas.

Shira Kantor encourages comments at [email protected]