City Hall blunders

For the most part, Minneapolis City Hall is not a place people think about when they think corruption. However, with a string of recent events beginning last Tuesday with the resignation of City Council Member Brian Herron, the spotlight is on City Hall as politicians scramble for cover. Unfortunately for the city, Herron’s resignation was only the beginning of trouble. The city now finds itself in a host of small scandals and one can only wonder how long it will take for this entire mess to be cleaned up.

Herron’s resignation coincided with his withdrawal from the upcoming City Council elections. Considering that politicians excel at turning any situation into a game of political maneuvering, it was later discovered that Mayor Sharon Sayles Belton and Council President Jackie Cherryhomes had a part in Herron’s aide, Vickie Ann Brock, filing at the last minute for the vacated seat. In some pathetically blatant backtracking, Cherryhomes first admitted she sought out Brock to file and later changed her story and stated she only mentioned the possibility of Brock running. Cherryhomes and Sayles Belton undoubtedly encouraged Brock to run so the two would continue to have an ally to replace Herron.

In addition to the controversy surrounding Brock’s last-minute filing, issues arose with who would lead the investigation into the corruption. In a blundering move, the mayor announced that Donald Lewis – an attorney who held a fund-raiser for Sayles Belton at his law firm, donated to her campaign, advocated for her within the DFL Party and had her lawn sign displayed in his front yard – would be the investigator. Lewis’ credentials are not in doubt. He was retained by the University during the basketball scandal and has shown the ability to do the job right. However, Sayles Belton must have forgotten where she works and must not think much of her constituents if she is trying something like this.

Fortunately for Minneapolis, Lewis proved to be a bigger and brighter man than all of City Hall. Resigning because he didn’t want to become the focus of the election, he acknowledged his best work would be “meaningless if, in the end, the public questioned its integrity.” As he realized, an investigation of this nature must be fair and impartial, and must also appear fair and impartial. Lewis is clearly the first person involved to be actually looking out for the public good. Ironically enough, he didn’t need to be elected to do so.

Now the controversies must end so the serious investigations can begin. The FBI is currently looking into Herron’s extortion case and has subpoenaed city inspections and licensing records. However, considering the bureau’s track record as of late, it would be unwise to put too much faith into its abilities. An unfortunate consequence of this case for taxpayers is that in order to find an independent investigator now, it will likely require the hiring of someone outside the metro area with no ties to city politics.

Of course, as all of this goes on, the mayoral candidates have been pointing fingers and laying blame, all while trying to promote their own candidacies. Though the candidates blame the incumbent mayor for playing politics, it is clear some of their loud protestations are nothing more than political maneuvering. It is unfortunate that those inside and outside City Hall are caught up in the same sorts of games.

This investigation must occur quickly and objectively. It would be fortunate if most of this could be wrapped up before the elections. With City Hall under a microscope, the results from the investigation will allow voters the opportunity to clean house and perhaps vote in some less tarnished politicians. This situation has shown that some new blood is required in order to turn the atmosphere of City Hall around.