In a welcome turn of events, Minneapolis Mayor Betsy Hodges now says she's "happy to remove'' an overreaching non-disparagement clause from the settlement package of former Police Chief Janeé Harteau.
Hodges' reversal on the clause is the right call, but it never should have been in the agreement to begin with. It's not usual for employee separation agreements — especially those in the private sector — to include non-disparagement language. The idea is that the parties can end a contract early and part ways in a fashion that allows both sides to move on. But the deal initially sought by Hodges overreached.
Harteau resigned in July under pressure from the mayor and City Council members less than a week after the police shooting of Justine Ruszczyk Damond. Hodges wanted an agreement that would prevent Harteau from saying anything negative about the mayor, council members or other high-ranking city officials. In return, they would say nothing negative about Harteau. The deal Harteau's lawyer and City Attorney Susan Segal struck — which was signed by the chief — also would pay Harteau $183,000 through the end of 2018, which would have been the end of her term as chief.
But the ex-chief later objected to the non-disparagement clause, she said, because she wants to be able to answer questions honestly and be truthful about her experiences. And some council members shared her concern because they were not involved in negotiating the deal and rightly believe they should learn from what happened during Harteau's tenure.
As Council Member Linea Palmisano said, "Transparency is important here, and if the chief has feedback for council or for her department, I hope she comes forward with that. … Shouldn't we all be learning lessons and getting feedback?"
Hodges acknowledged last week that the gag order was her idea. "When Chief Harteau asked for a letter of recommendation from me, I thought there was an opportunity for everyone to take the high road and that the non-disparagement clause, which is a common practice in separation agreements, could help bring the negotiation to a close," Hodges said in the statement.
It's no secret that Harteau and Hodges at times had a strained relationship. That makes openness in the separation agreement negotiations even more important.
Some council members also may take issue with the city agreeing to pay Harteau $183,000 through the end of 2018. But the compensation terms are fair given the circumstances of her resignation.
The city's Executive Committee will review the agreement on Wednesday, and the council is expected to vote on it Sept. 20. The package should be approved — without the non-disparagement provision.