Council President Criticized for Language in Facebook Messages

Baihly Warfield
September 12, 2017 08:57 PM

Some have called for Duluth City Council President Joel Sipress' resignation, while others would like to see the council censure him because of strong language he used in a private Facebook message. 

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Sipress said he is not resigning. 

Sipress wrote, "Go f*** your self. I mean it," to start off a message to Justin Perpich late Saturday night. 

"To be perfectly honest, I lost my temper," Sipress said Tuesday. "That's not an excuse, but that's what happened."

He said the message stemmed from a comment Perpich made on a different thread about the role corporations should or shouldn't play in local elections. 

Perpich said his comment was, "I don't like when any outside groups try to dictate elections. Goes both for Polymet and the Minneapolis funded group Duluth for Clean Water." 

Duluth for Clean Water opposes the Polymet project and has endorsed Sipress in his re-election campaign. 

Sipress' message to Perpich went on, "I respect your right to shill for Polymet, but when you start lying about hard working local Duluth volunteers- who are really good people- then we are done. So take a moment and examine your soul. Then cut this s*** out. And if you don't, we are done. Got it?" 

Perpich had been critical about the fact that Duluth for Clean Water has not filed a disclosure about how much money they have spent on the election. 

"I was shocked," Perpich said in an email. "I wanted to share this post because I wanted to call attention to aggressive online bullying and personal attacks that are being used by Sipress and other volunteers with the Duluth for Clean Water dark money political nonprofit."

Sipress acknowledged that Duluth for Clean Water's financial disclosure is late. He said that when they do file, people will see DFCW is a low-budget organization. 

"To compare a group like Duluth for Clean Water, which really is a local volunteer organization, to the kind of big money, dark money operations that are corrupting our politics I think was really, really unfair to people who are just trying to make our community a better place," Sipress said. 

Sipress said he has known Perpich for years and worked with him before. Perpich is the chair of the 8th congressional district DFL.

Sipress said he would be willing to sit down with Perpich and talk it out. Perpich said, "Right now I am not interested in talking with him." 

Perpich said, "Speaking with other community members this isn't the first time that he has lashed out against people that he didn't see eye to eye with." 

Perpich and his supporters want Sipress to resign from his role as president and were upset the City Council did not bring up Sipress' comments at Monday night's meeting. 

Eyewitness News contacted each of the city council members and Mayor Emily Larson. 

A spokesperson with the city speaking on Larson's behalf declined to comment. Councilor Em Westerlund also said, "No comment." Councilor Howie Hanson said he is "still formulating" his response. 

Councilor Noah Hobbs said that he would be open to a discussion about what to do. 

"Stepping down from council would be too much," Hobbs wrote in an email. "However, stepping down from Council President could be appropriate, but that would be a conversation the council would need to have. It's a conversation that clearly some would like us to have given the emails we have received today."

The Duluth City Council received around 15 emails from constituents, many of them copying and pasting language posted on an online petition

Duluth for Clean Water had issued a statement on its Facebook page. 

"A number of nasty smear efforts have surfaced over the weekend, evidently in relation to a needed campaign filing. While we question the motives of those initiating these smears -- including the 8th CD DFL Chair who is also a public promoter of foreign mining conglomerate Glencore/Polymet -- we note that if we are late on a filing, we will get it fixed as soon as business hours allow.

While we appreciate that people are impressed with our work, our reports will reflect that our all-volunteer crew does a lot with a little. We are group of Duluthians who really care about something, and we thank those who have made efforts to defend us against these disingenuous and highly divisive attacks." 

Sipress' opponent for the second district city council seat, Ryan Sistad, said in a release he was "deeply troubled by the divisive dialogue" from Sipress. 

"As a non-native of Duluth, I've come to expect better behavior of all Duluthians, especially elected officials who represent our image here at home and throughout the state." 

The next regular City Council meeting is Monday, Sept. 25. The city council election is Nov. 7.


Baihly Warfield

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