11/2/07

AFSCME's controversial fox guards henhouse

Laurie Johnson again had to defend herself Thursday against accusations that her employment as a staff representative with AFSCME is a conflict of interest with her work as a city councilor.

An e-mail tipster sent a message Thursday to several news outlets pointing to an American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees Web site page listing Johnson as the business representative for the American Indian Community Housing Project and the YWCA.

Last month, Johnson was one of five city councilors who voted to take $600,000 from the city’s Community Investment Trust Fund to go toward building an American Indian Housing Center at the YWCA building on West Second Street.

If Johnson would have abstained, the controversial proposal would have failed.

Johnson’s First District opponent, Todd Fedora, has made Johnson’s perceived conflict of interest, as an AFSCME representative and a city councilor, a central theme of his campaign. He said Thursday that he was not the person behind tipping the media, and that he was flabbergasted by Johnson’s vote.

“This is why we have to have independent leadership,” he said.

Radio host Brad Bennett ripped Johnson during his Thursday morning program.

Johnson said that while she represents employees of both groups at the bargaining table, her vote to give them the $600,000 was not influenced by working with them.

“The decision that I made that evening was in the role of a city councilor, and it was in the best interest of a downtown area, that building and a project that was in the best interest of a community,” she said. “I certainly won’t apologize for being an advocate for women who need shelter.”

Johnson said that she did not financially benefit from the vote, and that when the renovations are done, layoffs will likely have to be made.

“It’s always disconcerting as to why is it always a claim of a conflict of interest

for someone who continues to advocate for working people,” she said. “I’ll continue to stand up, always, for the betterment of working people.”

(duluthnewstribune.com)

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