Brooklyn Park City Council Censures Council Member Boyd Morson
In the most severe form of action a city council can take against another elected city official, the Brooklyn Park City Council voted Monday night to censure city council member Boyd Morson.
Morson is accused of violating several city policies, including Section 7.12, the city’s Respectful Workplace Policy. A female city employee initially accused Morson of inappropriately touching her and sending her belligerent and disparaging emails. The city hired an outside law firm, Pemberton Law, to look into the matter. The firm found in its redacted report that Morson violated city policies. It also stated the employee “gains nothing by raising her concerns regarding the interaction with Morson.”
One of the allegations by the employee accused Morson of “leaning over her, whispering in her ear, and touching her shoulders and neck in a way that made her very uncomfortable.” In regards to the emails, the employee believed “Morson’s intent was to intimidate her,” the report said.
During Monday’s night meeting, Morson denied the allegations calling the outside investigation “foolish.”
“I stand before or sit before you, sharing with you that this is a frivolous case. That I did nothing whatsoever to anybody in this city to touch them inappropriately,” said Morson.
Morson also said the council never heard his side of the story. Brooklyn Park City Attorney Jim Thomson refuted that claim, saying the outside investigator gave Morson several opportunities to cooperate, but said Morson willingly chose not to.
“Council member Morson had very ample due process opportunity to set forth his side of the story before the investigation. And he chose voluntarily not to do so. Which is his right, but that was his choice,” said Thomson.
The report said Morson made demands to present his side. One of the conditions was that he received the identity of the alleged victim. The city council took steps toward the censure at its Feb. 28 meeting.
‘It Makes Me Angry and It Makes Me Sad’
Several council members made statements on the report and the allegations. Brooklyn Park City Council member Tonja West-Hafner said Monday’s action by the council was one she wished the city didn’t have to take.
“Having to talk about this, having to take these steps, it disappoints me, it makes me angry and it makes me sad,” said West-Hafner.
West-Hafner also shared that she was a victim of sexual harassment at a previous workplace.
“It’s not fun. And who knows if my employers at the time understood that they were doing that to me,” she said.
Other council members also felt that based on the report’s findings, action needed to be taken.
“Improper behavior and sexual harassment cannot be tolerated no matter what color or race,” said Brooklyn Park City Council member Susan Pha.
“This issue is not a matter of differences in communication styles, personality traits, or political beliefs,” said Brooklyn Park City Council member Wynfred Russell. “It is about upholding a standard where staff feels safe to engage with elected members without fear of retribution.”
Morson Removed from Commissions, Task Forces
Due to Monday’s censure vote, Morson will be removed from city commissions, task forces and similar committees through 2022. He also will not be allowed direct communications with city staff other than City Manager Jay Stroebel and Economic Development Authority Executive Director Kim Berggren. If Morson agreed to training and education on workplace behavior matters, the city council could opt to lift those restrictions.
Morson will not lose his council seat. His four-year term runs through 2024.
When Morson initially spoke on the matter, he offered an apology, but not to the city employee.
“I want to apologize to our residents. Apologize to our residents for having to endure such a … I’m going to call it a comical situation that we have here before us.”
Council members felt differently in the 6-1 vote, with Morson the lone dissenter.
“This is not some political hit job against council member Morson,” said West-Hafner. “Maybe he doesn’t feel like what he did went to the level that the employee felt like it did. The fact of the matter is it did. She felt that way. She felt unsafe.”