When Shakopee’s shiny new $8.5 million City Hall opens later this month, one City Council member may need help getting through the front door.
City staff members stripped Mike Luce of his key card. Then, fellow council members formally censured Luce, removing him from his position on all city boards and commissions.
Since taking office in 2014, Luce has piled up serious allegations, from misrepresenting council business to intimidating city employees to entering city offices after hours and rummaging through workers’ desks.
He denies all wrongdoing.
“It’s all bogus and made up. They’re trying to paint me as some sort of ogre,” said Luce, a 61-year-old lifelong Shakopee resident.
Luce’s turbulent tenure comes on the heels of a scandal involving Shakopee schools Superintendent Rod Thompson, who resigned in June after a police investigation uncovered $3,500 in personal spending on the district’s credit card.
At a time when the southwestern suburb’s leaders should be touting its rapid growth, which has attracted major employers such as Amazon and sparked a development boom downtown, the controversies have many feeling exasperated.
“Our city deserves better. Our residents deserve better,” said Mayor Bill Mars. He said elected officials should be held to a higher standard. “We should be protecting the city, not creating a liability.”
Internal messages between Luce, city staffers and the five-member City Council detail a pattern of rogue behavior.
Top city officials say Luce regularly sidesteps the chain of command. E-mails reveal their growing frustration with Luce, who they say often acts as a lone agent, speaking on behalf of the City Council without approval, activity deemed inappropriate by the League of Minnesota Cities.
City Administrator Bill Reynolds wrote to Luce in a June 21 e-mail summing up his frustration. “Much like our former school superintendent, the rules apparently do not apply to you,” Reynolds wrote.
The saga came to a head this spring after the owner of an auto shop complained that Luce had spent months trying to get the shop condemned. The structure passed inspection, but Luce declared the building an “eyesore.” The owner threatened to sue, reporting that Luce even tried to get the property’s insurance canceled.
Luce disputes those allegations.
On more than one occasion, Reynolds told staffers to brace for a lawsuit. Council members, acting on reports from residents who felt singled out, accused Luce of abusing his political power to bully people. In one incident, Luce demanded private personnel data after his daughter was rejected for a city job.
(He admits to this, saying that he didn’t realize the records were private and that he just wanted to know how she could improve her prospects in future applications.)
A last resort
E-mails show that the City Council’s unanimous decision to censure Luce largely centered around concerns that he continuously acted outside of his authority.
On a council that’s often split along stark political lines, the decision to censure Luce prompted consensus. Each of his colleagues agreed that he’d crossed a line.
For some, that happened long ago.
Council Member Kathi Mocol and Luce have clashed since the fall of 2015. She has accused him of harassing her and making anonymous calls to her husband’s workplace, spreading gossip in an unsuccessful effort to get him fired.
“I don’t feel that at any point in time he was putting the city first, which is what he was elected to do,” Mocol said.
E-mails show that city staffers have tried to rein in Luce’s behavior for at least 18 months. Mars, Reynolds and the city attorney told Luce that his conduct put him and Shakopee at risk.
City officials indicated that they considered censure as their last resort, fearing that it would tarnish the city’s reputation.
The City Council took that step on April 27.
Even so, Luce refused to apologize and dared his colleagues to back up their claims with physical evidence.
The censure required that Luce route all future correspondence through the city administrator and that he cease verbal and written contact with other staff members.
Luce later declared the punishment “a slap on the fingers.” Records show he continued e-mailing department heads.
Last week, authorities slapped Luce with a citation for code violations on his property that included unlicensed vehicles, a broken fence and overgrown weeds.
He openly questioned the timing, insinuating that the infractions were simply piling on after he has fallen out of favor.
“I can assure you that you are being treated the same way any other citizen would for a similar violation,” Police Chief Jeff Tate wrote in a June 23 e-mail.
Citizens take action
Shakopee’s 40,000 residents are growing weary of political scandals.
After the superintendent’s exit, petitioners gathered nearly 200 signatures demanding the resignations of the entire school board. A Facebook group called Concerned Citizens of Shakopee formed to hold public officials accountable for their actions.
Some called for Luce’s resignation, while others demanded a purge at City Hall.
Luce remains sanguine.
“I tend to speak my mind,” he said. “They like somebody who holds [the council’s] feet to the fire.”
Luce cannot be recalled under Minnesota law, and he said he has no plans to quit.
“I’ll resign when the school board resigns in entirety,” Luce said.
Liz Sawyer • 612-673-4648