Senate ethics committee adjourns: no decision on Michel ethics complaint

By T.W. Budig, ECM Capitol Reporter

Sen. Geoff Michel considers it a victory.

The Senate Ethics Committee Tuesday, April 17,after hours of meandering debate adjourned without rendering a decision on the issue of probable cause regarding an ethics complaint filed against Michel by a Democratic St. Paul senator.

In an evening hearing punctuated by extending moments of silence, the committee finally broke the pattern of ties votes that kept the four committee members discussing the allegations made against Michel in Sen. Sandra Pappas’ complaint.

Pappas alleged that Michel had lied to the public and otherwise mishandled events relating to the Koch scandal.

“I consider that a victory,” said Michel of the committee adjourning to the call of the chair without rendering a probable cause finding.

“The (ethics) complaint was a DFL press release,” said Michel.

The ethics committee met for more than two hours and in a circular fashion debated the intricacies of the Pappas’ complaint, a complaint filed against the background of pending legal actions against the Senate by former Republican communications director Michael Brodkorb.

Brodkorb believes he was wrongly fired by the Senate for his involvement in the Koch scandal.

The ethics committee immediately began to replow familiar ground during its evening hearing, ethics committee member Sen. John Harrington, DFL-St. Paul, again arguing for greater opportunity to study events cited in the complaint.

But the two Republicans on the ethics committee, Chairwoman Michelle Fischbach, R-Paynesville, and Sen. Bill Ingebrigtsen, R-Alexandria, said it was pointless to continue discussions.

“I think we’re moving around in circles,” said Fischbach.

“My suggestion is that we’re at an impasse — we’re done,” said Ingebrigtsen.

Fischbach said that Harrington was attempting to validate his opinion by wanting to pursue an investigation.

“I have decided,” she said.

Harrington indicated he, too, held a position.

“I have my own beliefs,” he said.

All he’s been asking for is for someone bring him more evidence, Harrington said.

Eventually, as the silences at the committee table began to lengthen, discussions began to turn towards adjournment.

The committee, with Sen. Kathy Sheran, DFL-Mankato, breaking the tie-vote deadlock by voting with the two Republicans, adjourned to the call of the chair.

Pappas, in statement issued after adjournment, expressed disappointment.

“I appreciate the time and consideration that the members of the Subcommittee on Ethical Conduct gave my complaint, and I respect their attempt to resolve it,” she said in the statement.

Even so, Pappas said the committee had not met its obligations.

“For me, this is not about politics. It is about restoring trust in our institution. I think it is unethical for any elected official to deceive the public and the press, and I am disappointed that the Republicans on the ethics committee do not agree,” she said.

Michel insisted that he would sleep well tonight.

“I go home to five wonderful women,” he said, referring to his wife and four daughters.

Asked whether he found himself rethinking events relating to the handling of the Koch scandal, the former deputy majority leader indicated that he doesn’t.

“I don’t do second guessing,” Michel said.

He spoke of Senate Republicans and staff going through tough times in dealing the with scandal that removed the state’s first woman Senate majority leader from her post.

Neither Sen. Amy Koch, R-Buffalo, nor Michel are seeking re-election.

“But that’s part of the deal,” Michel said of handling difficult situations and serving in the Senate.

Republican senators knew that “Monday morning quarterbacks” would second-guess the actions they took, said Michel.

But they didn’t think it would be quite so extensive, he said.

Michel repeated his recommendation that the Senate upgrade its human services policies to better direct senators and staff on how to deal with situations as presented by the scandal.

As for now, Michel spoke of finishing the legislative session strong.

Michel left it to others to judge his fitness as a public servant based on his actions and words.