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Hanson cleared; city ethics code will be reviewed

By Heather J. Carlson

hcarlson@postbulletin.com

After clearing city council president Dennis Hanson of an alleged ethics violation, Rochester’s city administrator is calling for changes to the city’s code of ethics.

Steve Kvenvold said that in his 28 years as city administrator, this was the first time an ethics complaint had been filed against a council member. During the process, Kvenvold said he became concerned about issues with the code of ethics.

An issue is the possibility of criminal charges for violators. Kvenvold said he thinks the ethics code should be a guide and not used for punishment. He said the code could be clearer and he questions whether the city administrator should be the one deciding whether an ethics investigation moves forward.

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"It may be rather awkward to have the city administrator’s position being involved in making any judgments on the elected officials," Kvenvold said.

The city administrator and the city attorney are the only staff members employed "at will" by the council. That means they can be fired at anytime.

Kvenvold said he did not allow the potential awkwardness of the situation to influence his decision in Hanson’s case.

"If I had thought in my mind that (Hanson’s actions) would have been a violation for what I perceive to be the code of ethics, I would have sent it on (to the city attorney)," Kvenvold said.

Kvenvold has requested the city attorney review other cities’ ethical codes and draft recommended changes to the city council for approval.

Rochester businessman Pat Devney filed an ethics complaint with the city this week, questioning whether Hanson violated the code of ethics on June 16 by voting on a project. The two-building apartment project is proposed by Weis Development, who has done business with Kruse Lumber. Hanson works as Kruse Lumber’s director of business development.

Devney owns a building near the proposed Washington Village site and also owns Dream Lodge Gifts.

Kvenvold said he interviewed the owner of Kruse Lumber, Bruce Hodge, and determined that Hanson is not involved in ownership of the lumber company, is salaried and isn’t involved in the submission of bids. Therefore, he said Hanson "does not have a direct or indirect financial interest or other personal interest in the Weis Development applications that would tend to impair his independent judgment."

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In an e-mail response, Devney said he is glad the complaint focused attention on the issue of council ethics.

"I think it is important for we citizens to challenge our elected officials on what we believe to be, at the very least, an appearance of conflicts to our mutually agreed standards," he said.

Hanson said he wishes the ethics complaint had never happened.

"Quite honestly, I’m glad it’s over, but it is still kind of a hollow feeling," he said. "It’s over and we’ll just move on."

For more information, go to Postbulletin.com/weblinks

Rochester’s code of ethics http://www.ci.rochester.mn.us/departments/attorney/ordinances/Ch13CodeofEthics.asp

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