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Intimidation or friendly greeting? Ethics committee considers Two Harbors mayor's drive-by yell, other issues

And the committee recommends more potential conflicts of interest head to the Minnesota Attorney Generals office for consideration.

chris swanson crop.png
Two Harbors Mayor Chris Swanson takes the stage to present a letter from six Iron Range mayors supporting the Trump-Pence campaign during Vice President Mike Pence's campaign visit to Lake Superior Warehousing in August 2020 in Duluth.
Clint Austin / File / Duluth News Tribune
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TWO HARBORS — A resident reported to the City Council that after their meeting Monday night, which Mayor Chris Swanson left, the mayor drove past, rolled down his window and yelled at several attendees who were there in opposition of him.

Swanson said the interaction was meant to be friendly, but Two Harbors resident Jean Sewall wrote an email that evening to councilors with the subject line “threatening behavior” and asked them to address the incident and for Swanson to cease and desist.

“No one should ever feel threatened or frightened to attend or speak at a public city council meeting. I know that Chris is under a lot of stress right now and I’m unsure what other issues he is facing, but the citizens of Two Harbors deserve to see a little more stability from our mayor,” Sewell wrote in the email. “This is not what this community is about. It’s gotten to be like a bad movie.”

In an email to the News Tribune on Thursday, Swanson confirmed he rolled down the window and greeted residents on First Street after Monday’s meeting, but said it was friendly in nature.

“As I was leaving the meeting, I said, ‘Have a great night,’ and smiled and waved to some of my constituents who were walking down the street,” Swanson said. “I love Two Harbors and I will not stop being kind and friendly to everyone.”

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Earlier that evening, Swanson left the meeting as the Pledge of Allegiance wrapped up. He did not return.

It was just before four people spoke out against the mayor, expressing embarrassment for the community over his recent actions. Several people in the audience held signs saying "resign" and "do the right thing.”

Swanson said he left not because people would be sharing their concerns about him, but because he has Type 1 diabetes and went to his office so he could take glucose and get his blood sugar back to normal.

“I felt that this would be wiser than me passing out during the meeting,” Swanson said in an email to the News Tribune.

The drive-by incident came to light during the inaugural meeting of the city’s ad hoc ethics committee, which was formed after the city received numerous concerns over Swanson in light of his underwater hotel and city cryptocurrency plans.

The committee is made up of Councilor Miles Woodruff and council President Ben Redden.

The two ultimately decided to table any action on the incident until the next meeting so they can hear Swanson’s side of the story. Swanson was not at Thursday afternoon’s ethics meeting.

“If it did indeed happen, my apologies to the public,” Redden said. “I want this place to be a very safe place for people to come and share thoughts and feel respected.”

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The committee also recommended two complaints be sent to the Minnesota Attorney General for review.

The first stems from a complaint by former Two Harbors city planner Mark Johnson made in 2020, then again in February 2022.

Johnson said Swanson was using his mayoral title and official city email to solicit funds for Friends of the Band Shell Park, which is hoping to replace the bandshell in Thomas Owens Park with a performing arts center.

Additionally, Johnson said the bandshell group had entered into a $10,000-per-month contract with Garage Starts and that Swanson was billing the group $65 for each call he had trying to solicit funds from Johnson.

Swanson serves as Garage Starts CEO, according to its website . Swanson is also listed as the “manager” of two related companies, Life Garage Holdings LLC and Life Garage LLC, on business filings with the Minnesota Secretary of State. His daughter, Callie, has been listed as “president” of Life Garage LLC in loan documents .

The other complaint came after the Duluth Monitor news site on Thursday reported Swanson’s family purchased the Lou’s Fish House building and opened several businesses in the space after Brian Entzion, of Knife River, had met with Swanson and Lake County Chamber of Commerce President Janelle Jones to share his vision to buy the space for his own business.

“It doesn't look good,” Redden said. “It makes me feel icky.”

The committee also recommended the City Council consider a communications policy change that would prohibit elected officials from having official social media accounts tied to their position over concerns that Swanson regularly promoted his own businesses on his official mayoral Twitter account.

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“I think that sometimes you got to take off the mayor hat. … I think that’s forgivable, in my opinion,” Woodruff said of Swanson’s mixing of business and mayoral tweets. “You got to learn to separate those two. ... You can’t continue to wear two hats.”

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Jimmy Lovrien covers energy, mining and the 8th Congressional District for the Duluth News Tribune. He can be reached at jlovrien@duluthnews.com or 218-723-5332.
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