The Alexandria City Council voted 4-0 Monday night to direct staff to draft a resolution censuring Ward 5 council member Todd Jensen.
The council also voted 3-1 to remove Jensen from all of his council-appointed committees, effective immediately. Council member Bobbie Osterberg, who is running against Jensen for Alexandria mayor, voted against the measure.
The actions were taken a couple of hours after Jensen walked out of a council work session to discuss allegations about his behavior. Jensen’s estranged daughter started a Facebook page, The Truth About Todd, detailing angry exchanges he had with the public culled from police reports.
The council called for the meeting to determine if his behavior, which allegedly took place away from council meetings, violated the city’s code of ethics.
If the council approves the resolution to censure Jensen, he won’t be removed from office and he can still participate and vote in meetings. Censuring is a way for the council to express its severe disapproval of Jensen’s behavior.
Mayor Sara Carlson presided over the work session, advising the council to keep the scope of their questions to incidents that were alleged to have happened while Jensen was serving on the council, not 20 or 30 years ago.
Each council member was given the opportunity to ask Jensen questions.
After Bill Franzen asked Jensen whether his derogatory comments on Twitter reflected his own opinions and not the council’s, Jensen said the opinions were his own and that he’s entitled to his freedom of speech when he isn’t in the council chambers.
Jensen said that none of his comments or behavior were criminal and the allegations against him are not actionable.
Council member Roger Thalman disagreed. He said although Jensen made the comments away from meetings, he could still be judged by the court of public opinion. “I don’t agree the only time that you represent the council is when you are in here,” Thalman said.
Thalman also took issue with statements that Jensen made about the county and city attorneys collaborating against him. “I have the right to question that,” Jensen said.
Thalman referred to another incident when Jensen allegedly called a Lakes Area Recreation leader a liar. “You can’t be acting that way,” Thalman told him. “We have to keep a higher standard.”
When Osterberg began asking questions, Jensen grew angry, talking over the mayor and Osterberg. Jensen said Osterberg should recuse herself from the discussion because she had a conflict of interest since she was running against him.
“You want to railroad this through,” Jensen said. “We are done here. You’re playing games and I’m not putting up with this.”
After several attempts to stop Jensen from talking while Osterberg was trying to ask a question, Mayor Carlson called for a five-minute recess so Jensen could calm down.
When the council reconvened, Jensen was still angry.
“I’m done with this game,” he said. “I’m not going to be a part of this circus sideshow.”
With that, Jensen gathered up his materials from the meeting and walked out of the room.
Carlson asked the council to continue with their comments.
Osterberg said that she was going to ask Jensen if he participated in the discussions the council had years ago about the city’s code of conduct and the warnings they all received about making comments on social media. She added that some of Jensen’s derogatory comments in social media came from his accounts that identified him as a member of the council.
“I have seen and heard enough to have an opinion (about whether to censure),” Osterberg concluded, “but I’d really like to hear from the other council members.”
Dave Benson said he can understand the anger that can erupt on social media and during rebuttals but he said he couldn’t understand why Jensen didn’t respond to the council’s questions.
“It’s obvious Todd has an anger problem,” Benson said. “He needs to respond to normal questions in a normal way.”
Carlson said that the allegations against Jensen could have been easily resolved through a private meeting with her and the city attorney, which is part of the code of conduct process, but Jensen refused.
Thalman said he was shocked by the amount of calls he received recently from local business people who had “run-ins” with Jensen.
“He does have anger issues that can get out of hand,” Thalman said. “His comments about railroading, circus, yelling at the mayor – that alone is a violation of the code of conduct.”
Franzen said the meeting was a taste of what the council has been dealing with. “It’s unfortunate,” he said.
Carlson agreed. “Alexandria is better than this,” she said. “We’ve taken pride in being responsive to people’s needs and their questions. We’re better than what we are doing right now.”
When the council began its regular meeting, Jensen did not attend. But during the public comment period, statements were made from those concerned about his anger and from those who support him.
One of Jensen’s friends said the council’s actions to allow public comments to be made against him, starting just eight weeks before the election, were “pathetic” and “a fiasco.” The friend said that someone from the group who opposed Jensen made his wife’s phone number public on social media and she was verbally attacked.
“Enough is enough,” he said.
Jensen’s wife, Peggy, said the allegations against her husband were blown out of proportion and that he wasn’t allowed to speak freely during the work session because he was cut-off or gaveled to stop by the mayor. She called the upcoming election “a sham.”
Former council member Bob Kuhlman, speaking through Zoom video, said that he was one of Jensen’s victims. After a council meeting, he felt threatened when Jensen allegedly told him that if he didn’t watch out, he’d be sorry.
This will be the last time public comments will be allowed at council meetings for a while. After the council authorized the drafting of a censure resolution, it also voted to temporarily suspend the public comment period until the council finds a way to balance freedom of speech with running a meeting.