Rocco Forte, a well-known Minneapolis crisis manager who led the city's response to the Interstate 35W bridge collapse, quit in 2011 during a misconduct inquiry that likely would have resulted in his firing, documents obtained by MPR News show.
Investigators found Forte carried on a secret, romantic relationship with an employee he called "My Little Angel." The pair took revenge on co-workers they viewed as enemies, according to the documents, triggering "wide-spread fear of retaliation" among staff outside Forte's small "inner circle."
The investigation also reported nine people claimed they heard Forte make derogatory comments about the sexuality of several employees.
"[I]t is my belief that formal discipline — including termination — would have been the appropriate consequence," Human Resources Director Pamela French wrote in a September 2011 internal memo to then-Mayor R.T. Rybak and council president Barbara Johnson.
Forte had resigned three months earlier, which ended the investigation. He did not return calls or emails seeking comment Friday evening.
In an interview with the city's independent investigator, Forte acknowledged having a "command and control" management style, but denied retaliating against employees. He also denied "engaging in communications of a personal, private or sexual nature" with people who worked for him.
His own emails contradict those statements.
Forte and the employee engaged in numerous exchanges laced with sexual innuendo using their city email accounts. They also corresponded extensively about employees they considered disloyal to Forte, and they plotted retribution.
"Payback time," Forte wrote on Nov. 15, 2010, regarding the woman they describe as the "ring leader."
"You are right[. S]he tried to prove me wrong. Big mistake on her part!!! Yes, pay back time for Me, too," "My Little Angel" (MLA) replied.
"Rest MLA pay back time for you tomorrow," Forte wrote back.
The next day, according to the documents, Forte told the "ring leader" she would be removed from the Emergency Preparedness team because of unauthorized calls made with her city-issued cell phone.
He took away the phone and other equipment and placed her in an unspecified position where she "initially had no meaningful duties," according to investigators, who also reported Forte started rumors that the "ring leader" or her daughter had used the phone to call "sex lines."
Exactly what the payback was for is unclear because the documents MPR News obtained through the state Data Practices Act are heavily redacted. The documents became available because a 2013 law allows the release of more personnel data of high-ranking public officials.
In nearly all cases, Forte is the only name not blacked out.
According to a February 2011 memo, the investigation was sparked by allegations that Forte used anti-gay language and engaged in nepotism, bullying and favoritism.
The emails revealing Forte's relationship with the employee and detailing their "deliberate and malicious personal attacks" on co-workers came to light after Forte resigned, French's memo said.
Forte joined the city as a firefighter in 1975. He served as fire chief from 1998 to 2004. After retiring from the fire department, he became the city's director of Regulatory Services and Emergency Preparedness.
Forte's department contained an eclectic array of city services. Its nearly 380 employees included the city's 911 operators, housing inspectors, animal control officers and emergency management specialists. It had an annual budget of more than $48 million at the time he resigned. Those functions have since been reorganized and the Regulatory Services staff is less than half its former size.
Forte earned $131,972 plus benefits at the time he resigned. He did not receive any settlement or severance; Minneapolis was not sued over his alleged behavior, city officials said.
Minneapolis emergency responders were widely praised for their quick action following the Interstate 35W bridge collapse in August 2007. It made Forte a sought-after speaker in the world of emergency management. He's given presentations at conferences all over the U.S. and as far away as Australia.
Forte's successor, Gregory Stubbs, resigned in 2012 after only nine months on the job. The city was in the process of investigating sex discrimination allegations against him at the time, according to the Minneapolis Star Tribune. Stubbs received a $65,000 "severance settlement," approved by the city council.
MPR News reporters Matt Sepic, Brandt Williams, Trisha Volpe and Jon Collins contributed to this story.
Memo from Pamela French to then-Mayor R.T. Rybak: