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Editorial: Fallen leader can do right by stepping down

Published 10:01am Friday, December 14, 2012

A year ago Cook County Attorney Tim Scannell was a hero after being shot and seriously wounded by a sexual predator of young girls he had just successfully prosecuted and who then opened fire in the Cook County Courthouse in Grand Marais. His actions and the actions of others were credited for saving lives.

Last week, Scannell was back in the headlines but hardly as a hero. He was being ordered by the court to stay away from a 17-year-old girl with whom he apparently started a romantic relationship. The petition seeking a restraining order against Scannell, 46, was signed by the girl’s parents, his one-time friends. The girl’s mother said Scannell came to her workplace this fall to tell her he loved her daughter and that their relationship over the summer had become physical.

“But nothing illegal,” Scannell reportedly said to the girl’s mother.

Even if not technically illegal — Minnesota’s age of consent is 16 — Scannell’s relationship with an impressionable, still-maturing minor nearly 30 years younger is, at the very least, inappropriate. His decision to participate actively in such a relationship is not in line with behavior Cook County voters and constituents can expect and demand from an elected leader, someone supported and trusted by the community and someone who can expect to be held to a higher standard of conduct and a stricter level of scrutiny.

Troublingly, Scannell is just one on a growing list in the past year or so of badly behaving elected northern Minnesota leaders, some of whom have owned up to their actions and taken responsibility while others have not. The list includes Duluth School Board member Tom Kasper, who was the subject of an investigation by his employers with the city of Duluth after an undisclosed complaint; Carlton County Attorney Thom Pertler, who pleaded guilty to driving drunk; state Rep. Kerry Gauthier, DFL-Duluth, who stepped away from a bid for re-election after an oral sex scandal involving a boy at a public rest area; and state Rep.-elect Erik Simonson, whose estranged, 20-year-old daughter said during the fall elections that he abandoned her except for financially when she was 2 years old.

Scannell can do the right and responsible thing by not waiting until re-election time for voters to decide whether they want a county attorney with a restraining order against him. He can consider stepping aside now, giving himself time to take stock of decisions he’s making, at least one of which seems, at the very least, inappropriate.

— Duluth News Tribune, Dec. 11