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City, police chief part ways

After Farmington City Council voted 3-2 to approve a separation with the chief of police, Council member Terry Donnelly said it was a sad night the community. There wasn't enough room in the chambers to accommodate the crowd. Kara Hildreth / Cont4ibutor1 / 3
Farmington resident Brian Rezny speaks at the open forum Monday, Aug. 20, 2018, against the termination of Police Chief Brian Lindquist. Kara Hildreth / Contributor2 / 3
Farmington Police Chief Brian Lindquist stands outside council chambers Monday night and listens to residents' who showed up to protest against his termination. Farmington City Council voted 3-2 to approve the separation agreement. Kara Hildreth / Contributor3 / 3

FARMINGTON — A firestorm of public support wasn't enough to save Police Chief Brian Lindquist's job. The Farmington City Council voted 3-2 to approve the separation agreement in a heated meeting Monday, Aug. 20.

For more than an hour, community members spoke favorably of Lindquist.

More than 2,500 "votes" had been captured online and for days residents rallied on social media and asked for explanations from council members.

Many spoke with passion, anger, frustration and many shed tears. A few held signs in protest and wore black and dark blue in support of Lindquist and his service.

Longtime Farmington resident Leon Orr said the city does not want to go in a new direction, pointing to who the city is — the residents who packed the chamber and who stood outside the chamber to watch the meeting on the TVs in the atrium.

The City Council approved the agreement with a split vote. Mayor Todd Larson and Terry Donnelly voted "strongly against" while Jason Bartholomay, Robyn Craig and Katie Bernhjelm voted for separation agreement.

Many Farmington police officers showed up in support of Lindquist along with the former Mayor Kevan Soderberg and former City Administrator Peter Herlofsky. Lindquist has led the department for nearly 12 years.

Council feedback

Bernhjelm offered a lengthy explanation after the vote saying she chooses to talk face to face and not behind computer screens or social media posts.

"Each of us has difference experiences and different reasoning for our vote tonight," Bernhjelm said. "I can't speak for city administrator, but I do trust his leadership and judgment on this matter."

Back in May, Administrator David McKnight notified Lindquist that the city would be moving in a new direction and looking for a new chief.

She added, "Chief Lindquist is a good police officer but this was about his role as chief of police, that is an administrative role that extends far beyond patrol."

Police study

Bernhjelm said after a police study found the department was short staffed and the chief requested more patrol positions and an additional captain's position.

"The study was important because it had the potential to raise taxes by more than 5 percent without any other budget increases taken into consideration, and with an open mind, I reached out with a list of questions so I could get a better understanding about the workings of our police department and make a formal decision if this would come to fruition," Bernhjelm said, adding that he wasn't forthcoming.

When the council instructed all city department heads to cut unnecessary spending and find a way to cut $10,000 from their budgets, Bernhjelm said the council did not hear from the police chief.

When McKnight instructed Lindquist to get to know each council member, he had one-on-one meetings with each member.

Bernhjelm shared how she asked Lindquist how his department was doing, where he would like to see improvements and what he needed from council to be successful.

Lindquist replied he needed more bodies. She asked him about if more officers could be used for aid with fingerprinting, car seat checks, daily briefings at role calls or even improve internal and external communications.

She said Lindquist replied, "We just need more bodies."

When the council found out Lindquist invested in $20,000 for camera technology on officers' guns, he failed to justify the need, Bernhjelm contends.

Emotions ran high

After the vote, residents appeared angry and some cried out. Lindquist came to the podium and ask the community to respect the council's vote and maintain peace.

"I cannot begin to thank everyone who has emailed me and called me, and I appreciate that immensely but I am a public servant and I serve you and I have enjoyed serving you for 20 years, and you will always have a place here (pointing to his heart). I wear the badge to represent my profession and the patch to represent my town," Lindquist said. "I haven't tarnished any of them and I won't do it tonight and I don't want you to."

In an interview Tuesday morning, Donnelly commended Lindquist.

"That was an extremely class act no matter what you think about the chief — that was extremely classy and showed his character because he could have said something that was far different," Donnelly said.

After hearing the diverse, heartfelt testimony from Farmington residents, Donnelly said, "I find it hard to believe you could ignore all those people, and you cannot ignore the residential outrage even if you think it is right because they will have the final say and they will."

Donnelly said it will take time for Farmington residents to heal and time for the council to work through the consequences of the vote.

Craig said, "I fully understand the frustration here on the limited amount of information you have and if I was in your situation, I would probably feel exactly the same way."

City Attorney Joel Jamnick said Minnesota law limits what personnel information the city can release.

"This is frustrating for me, too, I want to be open, honest and transparent and we have had our hands tied and I am speaking the truth," Craig said.

Farmington Patrol Sgt. Rutherford is the acting police chief. There will be an interim police chief named until the city hires a permanent police chief.