Duluth looks for an investigatorby Stephanie Hemphill, Minnesota Public Radio
Officials in Duluth are trying to find someone to investigate Mayor Herb Bergson. Last year, the mayor gave a classified report to the publisher of the Duluth News-Tribune. The report's author, Legislative Auditor Jim Nobles, says that was illegal. But so far he hasn't been able to find anyone to investigate he matter. Now, the Duluth city council has instructed the city's purchasing agent to hire someone to conduct an investigation.
Duluth, Minn. — The flap is about a report on the Minnesota Council on Compulsive Gambling. It's a non-profit organization that used state and city grants to educate young people about compulsive gambling.
Legislative Auditor Jim Nobles conducted an audit of the Council.
"We found that some of the money that was being sent from the state to the Council was not being used appropriately," he says. "And we felt that in general some of the financial controls and internal operations at the Council needed to be tightened up."
Nobles shared a draft of the report with the parties involved, including Duluth Mayor Herb Bergson. The document was marked as confidential, and a cover letter warned against making it public.
But Bergson gave it to Marti Buscaglia, publisher of the Duluth News-Tribune. He says he wanted her advice, and he never thought it would be published.
Auditor Jim Nobles says that's no excuse. He says there's a reason why the draft is confidential until all the parties have a chance to read it and respond to it.
"Certainly the people who are the object of our audits are often criticized and don't like that," Nobels says. "But one of the things that we can offer to them fair process, and that means they're not going to be blindsided by waking up and finding a premature article in the paper when we've told them that the audit report is not going to be released for three days or five or six days, or whatever it is."
The Council on Compulsive Gambling lost its contracts with the state and the city, and now it's a much smaller organization that concentrates on training counselors.
Jim Nobles asked the St. Louis County Attorney to investigate and perhaps prosecute Bergson for breaking the law. The county attorney said if a crime was committed, it was a misdemeanor, and so it was a case for the city attorney.
But the city attorney works for the mayor, and that presents a conflict of interest. Normally Duluth would ask the attorney for nearby Hermantown to take over, but he also does some work for Duluth.
The state attorney general's office said it couldn't get do it, because the state was also involved in the audit.
Monday night -- a year after the audit -- the Duluth city council voted to direct the city's purchasing agent to find a legal firm to conduct an investigation of the matter. Councilor Tim Little introduced the resolution. He says it doesn't matter that Bergson apologized. He says you can't pick and choose which crimes to prosecute.
"He admitted he gave this document to the News Tribune. And that's a misdemeanor," Little says. "The legislative auditor says it's a violation. And that's no different than any other misdemeanor. It's no different from a DUI or an assault or reckless driving or anything like that. It's a misdemeanor."
That sounds like a political slap at the mayor, who fined for driving under the influence last winter.
In fact, Bergson says the whole thing is political. He says some on the council have been mad at him ever since he publicly criticized the salaries paid at the Council on Compulsive Gambling.
"They're angry because I cut off $1.3 million that had been given over the last 10 years to an agency where the executive director was making more than $126,000 a year. More than the governor makes. And that's not okay," Bergson says.
The council vote was 5 to 4.
Councilor Don Ness voted for the investigation.
"I hope that this person will make the determination that it wasn't a serious violation, and that it's not worth pursuing," Ness says. "And then justice will have been served. But until we get that legal opinion, it's just in limbo, and kind of hanging over city hall in Duluth."
Now it's up to the city's purchasing agent can find a legal firm willing to investigate the case.
- All Things Considered, 05/23/2006, 5:19 p.m.