Minneapolis board finds former board member Phillipe Cunningham violated code of ethics

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The Minneapolis Board of Ethical Practices found then-council member Phillipe Cunningham violated the city’s code of ethics when he deleted a Fourth Ward Facebook discussion last fall.

Cunningham’s original Facebook post alleged code violations at a north Minneapolis body shop, sparking a barrage of angry comments from advocates for the popular small business. At least one comment used a racial slur. Cunningham later deleted the entire post, leading voters to complain that he violated the city’s social media policy against deleting public data.

Cunningham testified before the ethics committee on Jan. 25, saying the complaints-based enforcement of the social media policy was inherently against council members who faced more harassment because of their identity.

This week, board members Walter Bauch and Kyle Kroll discussed findings that Cunningham violated the code of ethics by destroying city property and depriving the public of a chance to appeal the deletion of the post on Facebook, thereby exposing the city to liability.

“The racial and other slurs that were directed at then-Council Member Cunningham are absolutely reprehensible in my mind and have no place in civil discourse,” Bauch said. “And even though I will never walk in the shoes of Councilman Cunningham and these kinds of insults will be directed at me, unfortunately, I believe the Councilman has violated … the code of ethics.”

Board members assessed whether Cunningham’s neutral decision to remove the entire post was better than if he deleted a single comment, and whether deleting the Facebook post constituted destruction of property if the city ​​managed to save a copy via archiving software.

They ultimately agreed that because the city owns the official neighborhood Facebook pages, the content of those pages is property of the city which, once removed, cannot be restored to its essential purpose of being accessible to members of the public.

Once finalized, findings against an elected official should be reported to the mayor and city council. However, since Cunningham is no longer a member of the city council, the town cannot discipline him.

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