Here is my statement to the Ethical Practices Board:
Fraud: “deceit, trickery, sharp practice, or breach of confidence, perpetrated for profit or to gain some unfair or dishonest advantage.
I received what I viewed as a credible tip indicating that Bari Amadio was attempting to change the conclusions of the Public Arts Masterplan to benefit herself and her organization. Through investigation on behalf of those I serve, I acquired evidence that showed, despite statements to the City otherwise, the Greater Rochester Arts & Cultural Trust was not committed to transparency, was not working with the collaborative arts community, and had no intention of creating an independent plan.
When I successfully received the Public Arts Masterplan through a valid data practices act request; I received an additional document that showed both Brad Jones and Bari Amadio had written a summary document refuting a core finding of the Public Arts Masterplan as written by the consultant. Particularly concerning was that they wrote this before the groups that they promised to work with had even seen the draft document. The effect of the change they proposed would likely result in the directing of substantial public funds to their own organization.
I believe that Bari Amadio and the Greater Minnesota Arts & Cultural Trust committed fraud against the people of Rochester. I do not like Bari Amadio and I certainly do not trust Bari Amadio. If any of these items represent a violation of our code of Ethics, I am guilty. Fortunately for me these beliefs and my willingness to state them have nothing to do with our adopted Code of Ethics.
What I am here to do is respond specifically to how there are no violations of Chapter 13: Code of Ethics as adopted by the City of Rochester.
While I greatly appreciate that the investigator Ms. Soldo rightfully dismissed most of the complaint, I am here to correct her errors and ensure that this is thrown out in its entirety. I am incredibly disappointed in both the technical errors committed Ms. Soldo and her unwillingness to even follow up on the statements I made regarding her incorrect assumptions with the City Attorney. You now have a separate sheet which I am not making public stating what those errors are. You can see that almost every section of the report contains an error. You can of course also check with the City Attorney on the factual basis behind these. Further I believe it was inappropriate for Ms. Soldo to suggest modifying the Code of Ethics to include areas which have nothing to do with ethics, it was not her job to change our ordinance to her liking.
There are two significant allegations by Ms. Amadio and the GRACT. Let’s start with the easiest.
Bari Amadio alleges that I committed libel. For numerous reasons I did not commit libel, but even more important, libel is not covered by our code of ethics and as such there is no violation of our code of ethics. Bari likely filed the complaint here because she knows she would have no chance in a civil court where this complaint belongs.
This should be dismissed.
Secondly, Bari Amadio alleges that I violated our conflict of interest policy 13.04 Subd. 2(B) which reads: [A conflict of interest shall include] Use of the person’s public position to secure special privileges or exemptions for the person or for others. For numerous reasons I did not violate this clause. To keep it simple, I did not secure anything, even Bari agrees with this. As such there can be no violation of this section. There is no violation for asking for data regardless if it is public or private and not securing it. Similarly, there would be no violation for asking and receiving data voluntarily. Bari might not like it; but the decision is crystal clear, I did not secure anything therefore there can be no violation here.
Bari Amadio also insinuated that I intimidated her right before saying she wasn’t intimidated. I concur with the report which points out the silliness of this situation.
This should also be dismissed.
And with that all the substantive claims raised by Bari Amadio are gone.
All that is left is fluff, where there is no specific language there is nothing in the Code of Ethics to address. What some are trying to do is use a vague descriptive phrase to imply misconduct, and even that is achieved by several errors as confirmed by the city attorney.
Let’s review the general language in the in the Code of Ethics:
Responsibilities of Public Office. Public officials hold office on behalf of the public. They are bound to uphold the Constitution of the United States and the Constitution of the State of Minnesota. Public officials must carry out impartially the laws of the nation, state, and city in fostering respect for all government. They are bound in their official acts to the highest standards of morality and to discharge faithfully the duties of their office. Public officials shall be dedicated to fulfilling their responsibilities of office. They shall be dedicated to the public purpose and all programs developed by them shall be in the community interest. Public officials shall not exceed their authority or breach the law or ask others to do so. They shall work in full cooperation with other public officials and employees unless prohibited from doing so by law.
This is incredibly vague. The Code of Ethics then goes into detail about what is and is not a violation. When no violation could be found, this generic language was then used to try to create a violation.
These are the statements in their entirety between Bari Amadio and I:
“And Michael, the only thing I’m sitting on is my chair. I’m not sure where you’re hearing that nonsense but it’s not surprising. Next time, since you work for me in Ward 2, please feel free to contact me directly. I’m always available to answer questions. “
“I would like to see the report in its current form, by the end of the week. The public owns it and has a right to see it… And oh by the way Bari, that request is on behalf of several artists in Ward 2, who have expressed a great mistrust in you. Elections have consequences and you get my oversight of the taxpayers dollars…”
“I asked for and did not receive the draft of the public arts master plan last week. This is now my 3rd written request for that document. Please send it to the council this week.”
I understand from a legal perspective that you have been informed by the city’s legal counsel that you are not entitled to this information at this time. So I need to understand, why are you still asking for this?”
“Because the taxpayers paid 50% of the cost. Regardless of staff not writing legal protections into a contract, the public should see this plan. I am currently concluding that the official position of the Trust is that you will not provide the document because you are not legally obligated to. I disagree, but want to make sure my understanding is factually correct.”
“Your conclusions are self-serving. The Trust operates independently as a private organization and it will determine the process by which the report is distributed to the public. You do not.
The report will be revealed to the public when we are prepared to do so, which is actually next month, unless you have a legal opinion from the city attorney that states otherwise. I know for a fact that you do not as the city attorney has specifically stated that the disclosure of the report is not within your rights as a councilman. I consider this matter closed. If you have an issue, please take it up with the city attorney or my board chair.”
From Me (to Brad Jones, cc: Bari):
“Brad, I am requesting the immediate release of this publicly funded document as board chairman will you honor this request? I would encourage you to operate with transparency as the funding was pushed for by 2 elected officials who were found guilty of violating Rochester’s code of ethics. I look forward to a written response.”
This is what is apparently so scandalous that it justified thousands of dollars and hundreds of hours of expense. These are the harmless communications that simultaneously are said to be a violation of the code of ethics and yet not even covered in the code of ethics.
Note that the very first time that Bari told me in writing that she would not provide the report, it was the last time I asked. I had what I needed, she was refusing to let the public see the report they paid for. Further she suggested that that I take it up with her board chair. I did, but never received a response. She also stated that the report would be revealed next month unless I had a legal opinion from the city attorney that stated it was public data.
So, I got one… Both the legal decision stating this was public data, and then subsequently the data. I also got evidence of how she was attempting to manipulate the process and change the outcome in secrecy.
I never expected that Bari Amadio or GRACT would willingly provide documentation that would show their attempt to defraud the public and redirect public funds to their organization. But, I knew I could get the document by other means as it was public information. By asking the question and getting a written response to the request from Bari Amadio, I created a record whereby I could demonstrate not only the fraudulent activity that was the Public Arts Masterplan; but also, the lengths she would go to hide the evidence.
You may like my style, you may hate my style, but there is not a single line in the code of ethics that has been violated. If you think I did something wrong, then propose a change to the ordinance, don’t try to make up language to justify a violation.
Lastly if you think that sending emails because of a suspicion of fraud on my part is a violation of our Code of Ethics, I am going to have to disclose many other violations. First, there is a young woman that is losing her home. She has a very limited fixed income and special needs. I am actively working with private developers and non-profits to find her safe housing that she can afford. Monday, I worked late into the night after a council meeting to better understand her needs. This is unquestionably exceeding the authority of a councilmember, in fact far more so than anything mentioned in Bari’s complaint. Since there are no standards in the code of ethics to evaluate “exceeding their authority” or “shall work in full cooperation with other officials” A decision that my requests for information violated the code of ethics in the absence of any language or standards would likely result in the need for myself and other city officials to self-report hundreds of violations like the one I just disclosed.