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Biernat resigns from Minneapolis council
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Minneapolis Mayor R.T. Rybak and council President Paul Ostrow react to Biernat's resignation (MPR Photo/Art Hughes)
The Minneapolis City Council moved quickly Friday to accept councilmember Joe Biernat's resignation and set the dates for the election to replace him. A federal jury found Biernat guilty Thursday of five of seven felony counts stemming from corruption allegations.

Minneapolis, Minn. — The first action of the City Council's regularly scheduled meeting was a hastily drafted resolution -- read by Councilmember Barrent Lane -- officially ending Joe Biernat's nearly 10-year political career.

"Be it resolved by the City Council of the city of Minneapolis, that the City Council consents to the written resignation of Joe Biernat, council member of the Third Ward and confirms that the position is vacant," Lane announced.

Biernat delivered his resignation letter late Thursday night to Council President Paul Ostrow, through his brother, state Rep. Len Biernat. Ostrow says he spoke to Joe Biernat briefly.

"I talked to Councilmember Biernat for about 10 minutes. Frankly, some of the conversation was personal. But a good part of the conversation was about his committment to see that this be handled swiftly. He felt this was the right thing to do. I affirmed that and told him that I agreed this was the right thing to do," Ostrow said.

In his resignation letter, Biernat said he is gratified with being acquitted of two of the most serious charges against him; extortion and conspiracy to commit extortion.

Prosecutors claimed Biernat traded $2,700 in free plumbing work in exchange for Biernat's vote to approve a candidate for an appointed city licensing board. The federal jury found Biernat guilty of five other counts including lying to a government official and mail fraud.

The council had endured some criticism for not forcing Biernat out of office sooner, but Ostrow says he deserved his day in court.

"When you're talking about an elected official that's been charged with an offense, an expectation that elected official step aside merely because charges have been filed is inappropriate. The council acted correctly in seeing that the process be allowed to play itself out," Ostrow said.

In his letter, Biernat also says he intends to appeal the jury verdicts against him and believes in his chances of overturning them. He says he has a prolonged series of legal proceedings ahead which would be a diversion for the city if he tried to remain in office.

City officials now are taking up the task of reassuring residents that political scandals are behind them. Biernat's ouster is the second scandal to hit the city in less than a year and a half's time. Earlier this year, 8th Ward City Councilmember Brian Herron was sentenced to a year in jail for taking $10,000 from a grocery store chain owner facing numerous health and safety inspections violations.

Mayor R.T. Rybak says a pending city government ethics policy, the elimination of the licensing boards overseeing the building trades, and other structural reforms will heal City Hall's credibility.

"I think we have a sad day, but a lot to be proud of today. And I think the citizens of Minneapolis should know that we are in charge here with a government that is under great scrutiny, as every public body should be, and we're moving forward," Rybak said.

Eleventh Ward Councilmember Scott Benson is also looking forward. He says Biernat's resignation is tragic but frees the council up to work on outside issues.

"It certainly makes it easier for his colleagues -- us, at City Hall -- to be able to move ahead expeditiously and effectively. So I think for the institution it was the right thing for us to do," according to Benson.

During and after the Herron investigation, the U.S. attorney's office subpoenaed thousands of city documents. No one is saying whether Biernat's conviction marks the end of that investigation.

The council set the special primary election to fill Biernat's vacated seat for Dec. 30. A special election will follow Feb 3. Candidates can begin filing Dec. 3.

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