The recent leak of an email sent by City Council Member Alondra Cano to council President Barb Johnson has escalated the confrontation over an ethics complaint against Cano, which has until now occurred mostly out of public view.
Facing a public vote on the complaint by the City Council, Cano in her Sept. 10 email threatened to release screenshots of emails by fellow council members that she has been saving since January. Cano contends they are evidence of her colleagues violating city ethics guidelines that govern the use of city property for political purposes.
The email was first published by City Pages and the Star Tribune on Sept. 22.
The complaint against Cano, who represents Ward 9 on the council, stems from her participation in December in a Black Lives Matter protest at the Mall of America. When her office received messages critical of Cano’s actions, the councilwoman shared some of those messages on Twitter, including the names and contact information of the writers.
“The allegation is that city property was misused for political purposes,” she said.
A city spokesperson could only confirm the existence of the ethics complaint but could not comment on its content. The section of the city’s Ethics in Government Code relating to “political activity” states: “A local official, employee or candidate for elective office shall not use city facilities, property, funds, personnel, the city logo, the city seal or other city resources to engage in political activity.”
Cano contends City Council members regularly violate that section of the code when they use their personal social media platforms — including Facebook and Twitter — to share information received through official channels.
“I disagreed with the findings and have kept screenshots of the ways other Council Members including CM Frey, Bender, Glidden, Abdi and others have used city property for ‘political’ purposes,” Cano wrote in the email. “If the Council votes to approve the Ethics findings I will speak out against the vote and circulate a press release to the media about the issue with the screenshots I’ve gathered since January of 2016.”
“My lawyer and I are also ready to take this to the next level if the Council votes to approve the Ethics findings,” she continued in the email.
Attempts to get a response from the council members named by Cano in the email were largely unsuccessful. City Council Vice President Elizabeth Glidden and council members Lisa Bender and Abdi Warsame did not return calls seeking comment.
“I have no interest in getting involved,” said Council Member Jacob Frey (Ward 3). “I’m just going to keep doing my job.”
A call to City Council President Barb Johnson also went unreturned.
The City Council and the city’s Ethical Practices Board met jointly in a closed session Aug. 19 to consider two ethics complaints “against an individual subject to the City Council’s authority,” according to the council’s official proceedings. One complaint was dismissed, but the other was continued.
Stephen Dent publicly identified himself as the source of an ethics complaint against Cano. Dent didn’t return a phone call seeking comment on the latest developments in the situation, but he told the Star Tribune in December he was one of the people whose contact information was tweeted by Cano.
Although she later deleted the tweets, Cano was criticized for “doxing,” or posting someone’s personal information online without permission. (Dent’s message to Cano would have been subject to the state’s open records law.)
“I can’t really tell you why those people were angry or upset that I was participating (in the protest) at the mall, and then they even got more upset when I responded publicly because I think they were ashamed of the messages they had sent me, which I had put out there in a public way and that they weren’t aware could be (part of) a public conversation,” she said.
Cano said she didn’t break any laws and was being targeted on a “technicality” because of her support for Black Lives Matter.
She said other council members use social media in ways that could raise ethics questions. Instead of singling out one member for reprimand, Cano suggested they “make it very clear about how you can or can’t use this information in your social media platforms.”
Cano said her email to Johnson was “written in a frustrated tone,” but maintained she wasn’t threatening anyone or retaliating.
“If I were the council president, I would have never let this have gone forward in such a way, such an irresponsible manner,” she said. “And, honestly, it’s just been such a disservice to all of us as colleagues internally, because we have to find ways to work together outside of this, and leaking that information was really a way to try to damage those relationships.”
Cano said the council could vote on the ethics findings in early October, but that it was ultimately up to Johnson.