The signing, or lack of signing, of the city’s new code of conduct policy for elected officials, boards and the public sparked the continuation of tensions on the city council dais Tuesday.
At the beginning of Tuesday’s regular meeting, the city council and Mayor Johanna Mouton were asked to hand in the newly adopted code of conduct documents with their signatures to city manager Jeff Dahl. After a short recess more than 2 hours later, Mouton and Dahl brought to the attention of the room that one document was returned without a signature. This document was returned by councilor Cathy Iverson.
The code of conduct was unanimously passed by the council during its Aug. 3 meeting.
“I voted in favor knowing I would not sign it,” Iverson answered. “It’s a personal decision and I would not like to discuss it on public TV.”
Councilor Alex Plechash asked that the code be shared with the public.
“I have grave concerns if I have a colleague that does not want to abide in a code of conduct we passed,” he said. “I want the public that has elected that council member to actually see what she has decided not to agree to.
Iverson noted that while she did not sign the document, she has carried herself according to the code at meetings. While Iverson was speaking, Plechash voiced his disagreement.
“I feel like I’m being bullied right now, and that’s part of the reason I am not signing it,” Iverson responded.
Iverson is not legally obligated to sign such a document, which she mentioned and Mouton agreed.
What inspired the code of conduct?
The code of conduct will be given to all members of the city government’s boards and commissions for signatures moving forward. Dahl noted it will also be included in the orientation process for new board and commission members, as well as a reference point for evaluations.
The code also carries expectations for members of the public who attend these meetings.
In an interview with Dahl, he said it was an incident last fall which inspired the drafting of the code. He did not elaborate on what that incident was.
“It is to keep everyone safe and have a well functioning meeting,” he said. “It’s just nice to have clear expectations for rules and responsibilities of elected officials, staff and members of the public.”
Prior to the vote approving the code of conduct on Aug. 3, Iverson and Mouton engaged in a debate related to conduct. At that meeting, Dahl reiterated the conversation was not a catalyst for the drafting of the code.
“This is just best practice for local government to have an effective and efficient governing body,” he said. “It is not a result of any one thing with the councilors.”
Iverson maintains stance
Mouton referred to Iverson not signing the code of conduct as “another disappointing example.” Iverson quickly answered the comment.
“Do we want to talk about censurship and the repercussions of you guys censuring me?” she asked. “Because that was a question that was asked. What happens if we feel somebody is not following the code of conduct? We will censure them.”
In government, censuring is a formal acknowledgement of disapproval from a body towards one of its representatives. It does not carry any direct punishment such as removal of position, but it can be damaging to public trust in an elected official or among that official and their colleagues.
Mouton answered Iverson’s question by stating censurship is an option anytime a colleague ‘falls outside the norms of behavior,’ or breaks the law.
“It’s a violation of my First Amendment,” Iverson said.
Wayzata Gateway ignites disagreement
The conversation over Iverson’s conduct at council dates back to a meeting on July 19. During that meeting the council approved a redevelopment proposal for 900 Wayzata Blvd E., known as the site of the Wells Fargo building.
The project, referred to as the Wayzata Gateway, will include the construction of an office building, apartments and 5,500 square foot bank.
Iverson was the only council member to vote against the proposal, citing concerns about the design, height and overall massing of the buildings. After the vote, Iverson exited the meeting. There was another new business agenda item remaining, the approval of excessive fund transfers. She was marked on record for leaving at 10:39 p.m.
On Aug. 3, Iverson expressed her disappointment about the approval of the project before the council entered the consent agenda portion of the meeting. She said the approval of the project was not consistent with the 2040 Comprehensive Plan, or with other projects which had been denied by the council.
“In my 11 years involved with the city I have never seen a project of this size approved without any changes to the design, scaling or massing of the building,” she said. “I don’t even know how to react to it. I am just completely baffled.”
Mouton took exception to the comments and the setting in which they were shared.
“It’s an unfair statement to make that this council — were not willing to entertain discussion about many of those items, because we were,” Mouton continued. “We discussed many of those. I am disappointed in that at this juncture you choose to make a statement that you feel we have not done our job.”
Iverson disagreed, stating she did not feel she was given the chance to have an open discussion about her concerns.
“I tried and it did not happen,” she said. “The decision for me to put something on paper did not come lightly.”
Mouton added that she was also disappointed in Iverson’s actions after the item was approved, referring to her leaving the meeting while it was in session.
“You not only disappointed this council but you stormed out and you neglected your duties as a council member,” Mouton said. “You failed your duties as a councilor.”
“My decision to walk out may not have been a professional decision,” Iverson responded. “It was my reflection of the view of the council, of the decision of the council to continue to disregard my design expertise.”
Mouton said no members of the council have tried to limit another’s point of view.
Iverson denied a request for comment. Mouton did not respond before the publishing deadline.
The city council will next meet for a regular meeting on Aug. 30.