A complaint has been filed against a Brainerd City Council member, alleging he used bribery while campaigning for his position last year.
The complaint, filed Monday with the Minnesota Office of Administrative Hearings, accuses council member Gary Scheeler of buying votes from residents.
Not true, said Ed Shaw, Scheeler’s lawyer.
“This is pathetic,” Shaw said. “This is a vendetta.”
The complaint was filed by Brainerd resident Jeff Czeczok. Shaw said the underlying issue is a “personal vendetta” Czeczok has against Scheeler.
“It looks like sour grapes to me,” Shaw said.
Czeczok ran against Scheeler during the last race for city council, but Scheeler came out victorious. Both men serve on the Brainerd Lakes Regional Airport Commission. Scheeler also had a restraining order against Czeczok that ended in fall 2005 after Scheeler alleged Czeczok threatened to kill Scheeler in a 2004 phone call.
Czeczok says he’s over the bad history, that the complaint speaks for itself.
Czeczok at one point denied threatening to kill Scheeler. Czeczok pleaded guilty to misdemeanor disorderly conduct. As part of a plea agreement charges of felony terroristic threats and gross misdemeanor harassment were dismissed.
The complaint stems from a closed session meeting on Jan. 7 when the city council was discussing possibly giving raises during a round of union contract negotiations.
According to the complaint:
“(Scheeler) described his campaign activities in the 2012 campaign season ... (Scheeler) provided money to a woman and her two children for a meal. He described how he estimated how he donated more in the 2012 campaign than to all the churches. He described how a homeless man approached him and asked (Scheeler) what he could do for him. (Scheeler) described how he told the homeless man to go to Brainerd Country Power and apply for a job.” (Scheeler owns the business.)
The complaint continues, “(Scheeler) stated how his wife told him he was going to go broke if he continued campaigning in the manner he was describing during the closed meeting.”
Minutes after listening to the recording from the meeting, Shaw said he heard nothing “that would be a violation of anything.”
The references to being able to donate more to the campaign than to all the churches and about going broke were a figure of speech, Shaw said, adding that Scheeler was trying to make the point of how a lot of people in the area were facing tough economic times.
As for giving the mother and two kids money for dinner, Shaw said the woman isn’t in Scheeler’s ward, and therefore couldn’t vote for him anyway. When Scheeler knocked on her door while campaigning, he wasn’t sure if she was in his ward since there was no house number. Scheeler said he found out she wasn’t in his ward and was about to leave when she started talking about how hard things were for her family, that they were having dried bread for dinner. That’s when Scheeler said he gave her money for a warm meal.
Scheeler said he never again saw the homeless man he talked to while campaigning, and that he never applied to Brainerd Country Power.
Shaw added that the homeless man can’t be viewed as a constituent in Scheeler’s ward since he doesn’t have a residence.
Shaw says Scheeler’s actions were “acts of human decency” and that in the same situation, most people would help out a struggling person.
“I don’t know how I can win an election when someone else gives things to people during their campaign,” he said.
He added, “Behavior like that can’t be tolerated. It’s simply inappropriate.”
An administrative law judge from the Minnesota Office of Administrative Hearings will review the complaint from Czeczok and will determine if the allegations are sufficient enough to show a violation. If a potential violation is shown, a hearing will be set. If a violation has not been shown, the complaint will be dismissed.