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Former Minneapolis City Council Member Phillipe Cunningham may have violated the city's ethics code when he deleted an official Facebook post in August.

The original post discussed a Fourth Ward auto body shop allegedly violating its business license, and critical comments flooded in. Many defended the small business while others blasted Cunningham's response to crime in the community. One commenter employed a racial slur that is a variation of the n-word, and called North Side high schools "pointless."

Testifying before the city's Ethical Practices Board on Tuesday, Cunningham said he deleted the post when he believed the forum had become volatile and a potential liability for the city.

Cunningham, who was elected to the Fourth Ward seat in 2017, left the council at the end of 2021 after losing the November election.

The city's social media policy states that posts made on council members' official Facebook pages are public records and city property. Software called ArchiveSocial automatically copies content posted to city social media pages and indicates whenever something in the archive is no longer publicly available. Policy violations are referred to the ethics board.

Jordan Gilgenbach, the city's digital communications coordinator, testified that in the past he was not notified when a social media post disappeared and did not report each potential violation of the social media policy to the ethics board. He said that as far as he knew, Cunningham had not violated the social media policy before, but in this case members of the public complained.

Cunningham's lawyer, Carla Kjellberg, called it "disturbing" that Cunningham would be called before the board instead of given a warning. She said at least one person who complained about Cunningham's deletion of the Facebook post, Jon Shanahan, had a history of "harassing and threatening" Cunningham, who obtained a restraining order against him.

"You are opening up the ability for selective and discriminatory enforcement of city policy," Kjellberg told the ethics board. "It is again not an accident that the person before this committee today is the first Black, trans-masculine person to ever be elected to any office in this country. ... You need to always enforce your power, invoke your power when it is a real violation."

Shanahan, who is deaf, last year filed a discrimination complaint against the city to expand closed captioning and American Sign Language interpretation services during intensive hearings about the future of the Minneapolis Police Department.

"I took [the deletion of the Facebook post] really personal," Shanahan said. "[Cunningham] was the one who made up the [social media] policy when he was a city councilman. ... He let the policy pass, then he deletes his own post. I'm like, 'Why would you do that?'"

Shanahan acknowledged repeatedly complaining about Cunningham on social media, but denied threatening him.

Cunningham said he received death threats and doxing (revealing private information about an individual) throughout his four-year term. Facebook comments have intensified in recent years, with Fourth Ward discourse sometimes taking on an "anti-Black tinge" and alienating constituents of color, he said.

"[The social media policy] is a complaint-based system, which is the core of the problem. It's inconsistently enforced," Cunningham said in an interview following the ethics hearing. "The elected officials who have more people harassing them inherently will have more complaints against them."

In his closing statement, Assistant City Attorney Matthew Wilcox maintained that Cunningham's testimony proved the former council member deleted social media comments that painted him in a negative light, most of which did not contain slurs.

"Council Member Cunningham did not simply disregard city policy, he did so publicly," Wilcox said. "He took action on a public social media profile and then informed his constituents that he took the action because the comments had turned, in his words, 'toxic and unproductive.' He made that call. His constituents weren't given an opportunity to explain their analysis or plead their case."

The Ethical Practices Board will typically issue findings within 30 days of the public hearing. If the board finds that the ethics code has been violated, it will submit recommendations for discipline regarding an elected official to the mayor and council.

It's unclear what consequences Cunningham might face, since he is no longer an elected official.