DULUTH, Minn. — A placard from an opioid crisis roundtable that identified Pete Stauber as “Candidate for U.S. Congress” took center stage in the race for the 8th Congressional District seat on Wednesday, Sept. 19, as opposition activists in Duluth wondered if it was evidence of conflict of interest.
“We need resources to help people, not county commissioners to run for higher office,” said Dennis Frazier, a 30-year St. Louis County employee in child protection.
Frazier appeared outside the county courthouse, speaking to media after having filed a written complaint against Stauber with the county. The complaint, and another filed by the 8th District DFL chairperson Emily Nygren, cited the county code of conduct policy, which prohibits use of county resources for political gain.
Stauber is the Republican candidate running in the November midterm election against Democrat Joe Radinovich and Independence Party candidate Ray “Skip” Sandman, neither of whom were invited to the August roundtable.
In August, Stauber, a St. Louis County commissioner, hosted and moderated the roundtable discussion which featured U.S. Rep. Greg Walden, R-Ore., and several local officials whose work intersects with different aspects of opioid addiction.
The event was held at Clear Path Clinic, which offers multiple services and remedies for people with opioid addictions. The county administrator’s office publicized the event in advance, billing it as “Commissioner Pete Stauber” having invited Rep. Walden to Duluth.
“I should have made a clear distinction for the county when it promoted the worthwhile event,” Stauber said in a written statement. “I regret the confusion.”
The county seemed to side with Stauber.
“Regardless of how others might characterize this meeting, this was an opportunity for St. Louis County to showcase and tour the ClearPath Clinic and the six-bed opioid withdrawal unit that is being funded with money made available by the (federal) 21st Century Cures Act and other state and county resources,” said a one-page statement from county spokesperson Dana Kazel.
Kazel called the meeting “productive dialogue,” and Stauber, a retired Duluth police officer, added he was pleased to have brought it together.
“As a 23-year law enforcement officer, I have seen firsthand the devastating effects the opioid crisis has on our community and I was proud to bring together stakeholders and local and federal officials for an informative meeting last month at a treatment facility in Duluth,” Stauber said in his statement.
A similar roundtable, on the topic of homeland security, was held in May at the Public Safety Building, home of the Duluth Police Department and St. Louis County Sheriff’s Office. Stauber moderated that event too, but was not mentioned in the county news release announcing the event and involvement of special guest U.S. Rep. Michael McCaul, R-Texas.
In alleging the conflict of interest, Frazier, president of the public employee trade union, AFSCME Local 66, and the Democratic-Farmer-Labor party official Nygren called on County Administrator Kevin Gray and Commissioner Keith Nelson, chair of the county board, to further investigate the matter.
Frazier also pointed out a tweet about the opioid seminar sent by the Stauber campaign as being further illustrative of a conflict.
“Stauber’s decision to appear at the event in order to promote his candidacy for U.S. Congress, rather than attending in his official capacity as a County Commissioner, allowed him to take advantage of his position as Commissioner,” Frazier wrote in a letter to Gray and Nelson.
In remarks to the media, Frazier was flanked by a pair of other county employees. He called county resources “scarce,” and said he and others in child protection are expected to solicit donations of clothing and food for their client families. He repeatedly claimed Stauber uses county resources for “personal and political ambitions,” and said the county treats him with a double standard.
“Pete Stauber seems to believe he can live by one set of rules while the rest of us live by another,” Frazier said.
Kazel said the county received the formal complaints and that it will issue responses by mail to both Frazier and Nygren.
“We followed the protocol as set forth in the policy, met internally and developed a response for each individual,” Kazel said.
The county’s statement did not address Stauber’s placard — and how it came to refer to him as “candidate” despite his appearance coming at a county event.
According to the online St. Louis County Policy Manual, “St. Louis County elected officials will not use St. Louis County funds, equipment, supplies, employees, or facilities in support of their own campaigns for reelection, other candidates for public office, or political organizations.”
Earlier this month, a Minneapolis Star Tribune report found Stauber’s county email account had been used in correspondence with the National Republican Congressional Committee. The report identified 15 emails, which were confirmed by the county. Neither Stauber, the NRCC nor St. Louis County has released the emails despite public records requests and legal remedies being applied by media outlets. The county says the emails are protected as communication between Stauber and an individual.
The county has said it reviewed the emails and “were satisfied that no investigation or further review was warranted.” Nelson previously called it a “nothing complaint.”