Several weeks ago I saw in the Pioneer Press an article that described the millions of dollars that St Paul taxpayers had to pay for the bad behavior of some of the saintly city's cops. What "intrigued" me about the article was the following statement:
"The city attorney's office sends memos to all city departments at the conclusion of lawsuits, which include recommendations for any changes. Grewing (City Attorney) said they're confidential under attorney-client privilege, so she can't specify what suggestions have been made, but sometimes they recommend changes to training."
When I saw this statement I said to myself, “That is not right - the public has a right to know."
The "corrective actions" that the St Paul Police Department are going to take should be public. The public has paid out millions of dollars because of lawsuits over police actions, and they have a right to know what steps are being taken to correct those actions.
Should it be a secret what new training the St Paul Police Department is doing to make sure that the residents of St Paul are not beat upon? Is it so "top secret" that the public should not know what policy changes are made to be sure that bad cops are held accountable by the Chief and the public?
I decided to approach St Paul City Council President Kathy Lantry's office and speak with her. I had communicated with her in the past - most recently about the $300,000 plus payout for the violation by St Paul cops of Anne Rasmusson's privacy.
Ms, Lantry was not available so I spoke with her staff person Ellen Biales. I stated that the data should be public and I encouraged her to ask the appropriate people to make it public. Our interaction on this issue continued over the next couple of months, with her telling me yesterday that the memos that were given to the St Paul Police Department outlining "corrective actions" will remain secret under attorney/client privilege.
The memos she described to me do not deal with specific individual behavior, but recommendations for changes for the Police Department to make sure there's accountability.
Now I appreciate Ms. Biales and Council President's Lantry's office efforts to find out what the documents were about and to entertain my questions. Whether or not Ms. Lantry wants to have those documents public is another matter. But as my conversation with Ms. Biales ended yesterday in the hallway of City Hall she made it very clear to me they will not be public.
But Ms. Biales is not the person that decides … it is not the City Attorney who decides … it is the client. The privilege rests with the client, not the City Attorney. In this situation as in most municipalities and in the City of St Paul, the most logical person is Mayor Chris Coleman.
Mayor Coleman, the privilege should not be claimed here, and the memos should be public.
It is interesting to note that nearly $500,000 has already been spent in 2013 on settlements, courts costs, and staff time for bad cop behavior.
Will actions of the cops be corrected if the public does not know what the suggested recommendations for corrective action are?