Pioneer Press, St. Paul, Minn.
Email messages among Farmington leaders reveal the increasing tension between some city council members, the city administrator and the police chief that eventually led to the chief’s dismissal Aug. 24.
Much of the acrimony stemmed from an April 16 meeting, according to the emails, part of a data-practices request made by the Pioneer Press. During the meeting, Farmington Police Chief Brian Lindquist held a public hearing, required by law, to inform residents of the department’s purchase of gun cameras for the city’s 24 officers.
The law came about in 2016, with the rise of body cameras on police officers, in order to set guidelines to protect privacy rights regarding data requests of camera footage.
Lindquist, who had been chief for 12 years, told the council that the gun cameras had already been purchased through a Minnesota-based vendor called Viridian Weapon Technologies with money previously budgeted for police equipment. The cost was $500 per gun, or about $13,000 overall. City Administrator David McKnight said $18,000 was budgeted for equipment.
Lindquist told the council the gun-mounted camera, a new technology, was preferred over the cameras mounted on the officer’s heads because those cameras were uncomfortable and required cables that continually broke.
The department implemented body cameras in August 2014. Its officers also have cameras mounted in the squad cars. The gun camera activates only when the weapon is removed from the holster.
The meeting seemed amicable enough, with the council asking questions and the chief answering. But later, in emails between council members, McKnight and Lindquist, the tone changed.
‘I FEEL A LITTLE BLINDSIDED’
Three council members — Jason Bartholomay, Robyn Craig and Katie Bernhjelm — did not think the cameras should have been purchased.
“I am very disappointed in how this purchase/budget item was handled,” Bernhjelm wrote in an email to McKnight on April 18. “I feel a little blindsided that it wasn’t brought to our attention last fall during the budget process.”
Craig also expressed her displeasure in an email to McKnight on April 19.
“The council members trust you when you bring us information as we look at highest and best use of city funds,” she wrote. “David (McKnight), Brian makes you look bad as well. Do you realize that? Because you are his boss. It makes you look weak as an administrator.”
Bartholomay suggested the chief begin sending regular reports.
SEEMINGLY BAFFLED BY RESPONSE
In emails between McKnight and Lindquist, the two seemed baffled by the council’s response to what they saw as the department rightfully using budgeted money for equipment.
“I got beat up good last night after the meeting on the camera issue/purchase,” McKnight wrote in an email to Lindquist on April 17.
Lindquist responded: “What am I missing here? How did this become such an issue?”
Emails do not reveal how the budget concern escalated to the separation agreement with Lindquist.
In August, McKnight told the Pioneer Press, “There has been no disciplinary action taken against the chief and no complaints that resulted in disciplinary action.”
NEGOTIATING AN OUT
Bartholomay began pressing McKnight in June to move on a “personnel matter” so it could be in place for approval at the next meeting. “Don’t think it’s a good idea to wait until mid July’s meeting and leave the person working until then,” he wrote in an email June 21.
McKnight began working with Chief Lindquist on a separation agreement.
On July 19, McKnight informed council members that a deal had been reached. “I offered an additional $6,000 from our last offer and it has been accepted,” McKnight wrote. Lindquist’s agreement, which he signed, gave him $125,770 severance with his last day Aug. 24.
McKnight also informed the council that Sgt. Gary Rutherford would serve as acting chief until the position was filled.
Bartholomay expressed concern over McKnight’s choice.
“I do have some big reservations with him as I feel he will be reporting back to Brian everything that is taking place,” Bartholomay wrote in an email July 20. “It would also be nice to show we are going in a completely different direction if challenged by who is picked to represent the department during your search for our new outside chief.”
The city sent a news release Aug. 14 announcing the separation agreement, which shocked many in the community.
More than 300 people attended an Aug. 20 meeting hoping to change the council’s mind. They were unsuccessful. The council voted 3 to 2 to approve the separation agreement. Mayor Todd Larson and council member Terry Donnelly voted against it.
Farmington is looking for a new chief.
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