Despite objections of legality from the city attorney, a split Lake Elmo City Council voted last week to keep a censure of Councilmember Justin Bloyer in place with one change — the restrictions are now “voluntary.”
Earlier this summer, Councilmember Julie Fliflet brought forward the original resolution to censure and place restrictions on Bloyer’s interaction with all of the city staff and to require Bloyer to attend a training on the management of private data. After hearing city attorney Sarah Sonsalla’s opinion July 19 that the terms of the censure violated Bloyer’s First Amendment rights to political free speech, Fliflet presented a modified version to the council Aug. 2 that would make the previous restrictions “recommendations” for Bloyer to voluntarily follow.
“I don’t see them being followed or respected, so to me there is not a lot of difference in removing them or not,” Fliflet said. “Just to be clear, this is not a recommendation to lift the censure — this is a recommendation to lift the restrictions.”
Sonsalla told the council that she reviewed Fliflet’s resolution that modifies Bloyer’s censure and found it still had several legal problems. In one paragraph, Fliflet alleged that Bloyer released private data to the press on several occasions.
“I don’t have any conclusive evidence that Mr. Bloyer did these things,” Sonsalla said. “By saying this in the resolution, the council is making an admission on behalf of the city and I am concerned about the city’s liability in potential litigation related to the release of the data.”
On July 29, former city administrator Dean Zuleger filed a lawsuit in Washington County Court against the city of Lake Elmo for alleged violations of data privacy. While not referencing the case specifically, Sonsalla warned the council that it is admitting to a release of data and that she has no conclusive evidence of the source of the release.
“By saying that it is only a recommendation is fine, but it is really only half a step away of the restrictions imposed on him … the restrictions are still there,” Sonsalla said. “My recommendation is just to remove them all together.”
Fliflet said she felt it was appropriate to keep the paragraph about private data in the resolution.
“This whole is defamatory, illegal and unconstitutional,” Bloyer said. “We had two administrators tell us not to do it, two city attorneys tell us not to do it and the League of Minnesota Cities tells us not to do it, and here is where we find ourselves.”
“This is just a zoo,” Mayor Mike Pearson said. “We should remove the censure all together.”
Those in favor of the censure said that some members of the staff did not want to have contact with Bloyer, and they hoped he would follow the recommendations.
“I wish that council member Bloyer would simply adhere to the restriction put on him — like I did — out of respect for the council,” Councilmember Anne Smith said.
The council voted 3-1 with Pearson dissenting and Bloyer abstaining to rescind the former censures place on Bloyer and to make the restrictions placed on him voluntary.
Contact Alicia Lebens at [email protected]