City ethics board accepts complaint by Mazzeo against Lupien
Rochester Police Locust Club President Michael Mazzeo has filed an ethics complaint against City Council member Mary Lupien, and the city’s ethics board has accepted it.
The complaint stemmed from a mass email Lupien sent on March 11, which included a petition from the nonprofit civil rights and social justice group Color for Change. The petition called for a Department of Justice investigation into potential civil rights violations by the Rochester Police Department.
Mazzeo alleges that Lupien violated sections C4 and C5 of the city’s Code of Ethics, which state that an official should not treat “any person more favorably than it is the custom and practice to treat the general public,” and an official should not use city-owned “vehicles, equipment, materials or property for the convenience or profit of himself or any other person.”
The board is considering whether the email sent from Lupien’s official city email address showed preferential treatment toward Color of Change and its cause. If it finds that her email constituted preferential treatment, the city’s Code of Ethics allows for penalties up to removal for violations.
“It may come down to whether or not Council member Lupien is treating one private group more favorably than the public or another private group,” board member Timothy Weir said during a board meeting Tuesday.
No one on the Board of Ethics, which includes Council President Loretta Scott, believed Lupien stood to profit by promoting the Color of Change petition. But board members indicated that they believed there was merit to exploring whether Lupien showed an inherent bias that violates the public trust.
“There’s this whole concept of fiduciary responsibility, which I don’t interpret as being only about money, but about the well-being of the organization,” Scott said. “If that action does not support the good of the body, of the organization, that to me is a violation of fiduciary responsibility.”
Scott said the situation gets “really murky” when a councilmember is “advocating for a side,” and the issue of Lupien’s ability to vote in good faith on issues like the Police Accountability Board or police reform was called into question.
Lupien has never been shy about her positions on policing in Rochester. Last June, she was the sole Councilmember to vote against a 4 percent cut to the department’s budget; she wanted to see the police budget halved. Lupien, who was shot in the back with a PepperBall at a protest last fall, has also called for banning police use of chemical irritants.
“At some point, especially if you’re using city resources, you should be fair and objective to all interests, even if you don’t agree with one,” Weir said. “There is an appearance here that the template and the talking points and the guidance is favoring this particular organization.”
The Board of Ethics vote came as a surprise to Lupien, who was first made aware that the board was meeting about her during a phone call with CITY earlier Tuesday. Lupien said she had a conversation with Mazzeo “just the other day” about the police budget, which is set to go to vote June 15. The police union leader made no mention of the complaint at that point in time. Scott had also made no mention of the complaint.
“I have to be careful, because they’re going to try and get me for anything,” Lupien said.
The Board of Ethics voted unanimously to accept the complaint, but did not take any steps Tuesday to make a determination on its substance. The Board is planning on reconvening in coming weeks to determine whether to reprimand Lupien.
Lupien believes the complaint from Mazzeo is purely politically motivated. A message sent to the Locust Club’s public relations representative late Tuesday requesting comment from Mazzeo was not immediately returned.
“How is this different from what I talk about all the time?” Lupien said. “Clearly, I feel a certain way. I don’t see how promoting a petition asking to investigate the RPD is any different from me talking about investigating RPD, which I’ve done.”
Gino Fanelli is a CITY staff writer. He can be reached at (585) 775-9692 or firstname.lastname@example.org.