My decision not to support the reappointment of Susan Segal
as City Attorney has gotten a bit of interest and generated some
I’m going to take the
opportunity to share some additional thoughts below the fold.
To see my original statement on this reappointment,
First, I want to make clear again that I value Ms. Segal and
the work she has done on behalf of the City of Minneapolis.
Her supporters have pointed out her great
work on the pension litigation and defending Ranked Choice Voting at the Supreme
I agree that those were major
successes, and that Susan played an integral role in them. But f
or the reasons that I outlined – especially her
handling of the Vikings Stadium opinion – I cannot support her reappointment,
despite all of that great work.
her to be reappointed, and look forward to working constructively with her in
A few things about my statement on the Vikings Stadium
opinion have gotten some comments from my colleagues, and I think I should
clarify some things.
The fact that I requested an opinion from the City Attorney’s
Office in January of 2012 and only received a response in April of that year has gotten
some notice. Some of this is due to the
fact that Council Member Blong Yang asked about it in the Ways and
Means committee yesterday. Ms. Segal
responded that she did not recall receiving the requests from me. I offered to share the emails detailing his
requests with my colleagues so that they could see that I did indeed make those requests.
There seems to be some sort of disagreement about what
constitutes a “request for an opinion.”
One of my colleagues has expressed an opinion that my request was not
really a request, because it was not a formal staff direction made by the
Council. I find this a little confusing,
because individual Council Members ask for opinions from the Attorney’s Office
all the time. When a CM is working on an
ordinance change, for example, it is common practice to send an individual
email from that CM to the appropriate attorney and ask for review. The CAO tends to be very prompt and
professional in their responses. This
situation – in which I asked for an opinion in January, again in March, and
again in April before finally receiving a response – is notable for its
rareness. A response from the CAO in
January that in this instance she would not provide this opinion to one individual CM, but only
in response to a direction from the Council would have been appropriate and
welcome. Instead I heard no response at
all for approximately three months.
All of this is a little bit of a distraction from the
main concern I have about Ms. Segal’s handling of the Vikings Stadium deal,
which is that, in my estimation, her opinion on the Vikings Stadium deal was wrong.
I expressed that opinion at the time.
Judge Bush has since agreed in his formal ruling. That ruling dismisses the contortions that
the CAO went through to explain how sales taxes, which are explicitly defined
as “City resources” in the stadium clause of the charter, were not “City
resources.” I’d encourage everyone to
There seems to be an argument out there that the blame
for the Vikings Stadium vote belongs with the seven Council Members who voted
for it, or even the Legislature and Governor who supported a bill that
superseded the Minneapolis Charter, not the City Attorney. I agree that the ultimate authority belongs
with the policymakers, but that does not mean, from my perspective, that the
City Attorney bears no responsibility.
Yes, the legislation superseded the Charter – but it only
took effect after an affirmative vote of
the Council. In effect, the Council
gave permission to the legislature to overrule our Charter. That vote, which passed on a 7-6 majority,
was itself in my view a violation of the Charter. It is something we should not have done.
The opinion of the City Attorney made that vote to
disregard the Charter possible. At least
one Council Member stated, for the public record, that she based her vote in favor of the
stadium deal in large part on the opinion of the City Attorney that a “yes” vote
would not violate the Charter. A judge
has subsequently ruled very clearly that this advice was wrong.
The City Attorney must be able to give the Mayor and
Council legal advice that we don’t want to hear. As Mayor Hodges said at the Ways and Means committee meeting on Monday, we don't always have to like the City Attorney's opinion, but we should always be able to trust it.
Well, I did not trust her opinion in this case, and I think my distrust was warranted. I do not believe that she gave us sound legal advice about the stadium deal. I believe that under considerable
pressure from powerful policymakers – the Governor, majorities in the
legislature, the Council President and a slim Council majority – she developed
a contorted legal justification for the answer that these powerful policymakers
wanted to hear; a justification that has since been rejected by the courts. In doing so, Ms. Segal did not represent the
interests of the whole City enterprise, including the six Council Members who
voted against the stadium deal. But more
importantly, I do not believe that in this case the City Attorney gave the City
good, independent, and accurate legal advice.
In part due to the City Attorney’s failure to give good,
independent, and accurate advice, the City Council made what is, in my
estimation, a terrible mistake. There is
enough blame to go around, and most of it belongs with the policymakers who
voted for the stadium deal. But in my
opinion, Ms. Segal bears some of the responsibility for this public policy
failure, and that is a major part of why I will vote against her reappointment