What's Left of Maplewood (MN)

We can't draw, so we are left with verbal cartoons about Maplewood city politics.

Sunday, July 30, 2006

Diana's Defenders Push Back

The Defenders of Diana made an appearance this week, in an effort to spin another news cycle which, prima facie, demonstrates the ineptness of the city council triumvirate. (After reviewing in detail why the interim city manager is an unqualified hack, the 3-2 majority voted to keep him on the job for at least five more months.)

In the Pioneer Press, letter writers Michelene Miner and Dave Hafner voiced their support of the mayor and her posse. (Shorter Miner: I trust the new council members no matter what. Shorter Hafner: If we purge the dissenters, then this council can get things done.) Even on a web forum, we saw a "carol" assert her own blind faith in Diana: "I think that Copeland is doing a fine job. Diane [sic] would not have hired him if he was bad."

From what we heard about Copeland's background (unemployed for more than a decade, up to his neck in personal debts and unpaid court judgements, unable to finish his 12-course graduate degree with 14 years of trying so far, etc.), he hardly seems like the best qualified interim manager available. His primary qualification seems to be that he's a personal friend of the mayor and her husband who really needed a job.

Carol also added a familiar line: "There was a lot of things going on with the previous manager that the public does not know about."

I've heard this vague claim before, and to be honest it frustrates me, because I've never been able to pin anyone down on the details. (She doesn't even say they were bad things -- for all we know, she could be talking about a hitherto unreported passion for Russian cinema.) The ineptitude of the new city council is easy for us to see (just peruse the archives below for many examples), but I didn't used to watch things so closely. As a result I really don't know what horrible things the past administrations are alleged to have done. Why doesn't someone tell us about them? (You can mail us your tips at WhatsLeftOfMaplewood@yahoo.com, if you'd rather not leave a comment below.) Maybe the last council was just as bad as this one, and I was simply blissfully ignorant of it.

If these things were so bad, why wasn't the previous manager fired for cause, instead of being let go for a vague "difference in vision" and given a comfortable severance package? If department heads and other city employees were in on the corruption, why haven't they been terminated by the interim manager? Shouldn't there be a paper trail of wrongdoing that the new rulers of city hall can uncover? Shouldn't there be lawsuits against the city by aggrieved parties (besides the mayor's husband) getting media coverage?

Is it possible that some of these alleged misdeeds were made up by the people who got elected to the council, in order to rally support? I have one friend who voted for Diana (and now regrets it) because of things that she told him when she was door-knocking -- things that were misrepresentations or outright lies (like saying the city was in terrible financial shape, $20 million in the hole or something).

We've seen Diana lying on the record when she thinks it's safe (as in her claim that she did not authorize an internal background check of Copeland, against the advice of counsel and staff who recommended an outside entity be hired to do it -- yes, I'm assuming that she's lying, but that's no less valid than the letter writer who assumes the head of the Minnesota State Bar Association, our former city attorney, is lying . . . but he wasn't there to defend himself when Diana accused him). It's not hard to imagine that she and her crew would spread lies in their efforts to get elected. We know that the Office of Administrative Hearings found that Hjelle, at least, distributed false campaign information. And that's what he actually put into flyers on paper -- maybe Rebecca and Diana are smart enough to use whisper campaigns for their innuendo.

It seems like it would be easy, if you're writing a letter to the editor, to state even one simple claim of wrongdoing: "Richard Fursman drowned my kitten," or whatever. But they never do.

My working hypothesis, therefore, is that they are making things up. They can spread vague claims of malfeasance by whisper among their supporters, and let the rumors drift out into the larger community. They don't want to put them on paper because they don't want to be at risk for libel.

If someone can disprove this hypothesis, I'm open to hearing about it.

Thursday, July 27, 2006

The Maplewood Horror Picture Show

Sometimes people* ask me, "Frostbrand, why are you so mean to that poor little monkey, Erik Hjelle?"

First of all, he's not a monkey. Chumpelopithecus hjelle is of course a hominid, and there's just no need for insults like that. Besides, what did the monkeys ever do to you?

Second, we're really on Erik's side. You see, he told the Star Tribune that the problem with the old city council is that it "was boring." His goal is to drive boredom out of the city council chambers, and I for one stand** with him 100%.

We at What's Left of Maplewood recognize that Erik has an uphill battle, facing formidable obstacles such as Diana Longrie's apparent wish to introduce the filibuster to city hall. (She spent what, three or four hours reading in monotone from the city code on Monday night? At least it felt like that.) And his own very heavy eyelids.

One route to a reliably non-boring public performance is, we think, audience participation. Imagine the fun if on Monday night, after Longrie and Copeland explained how the judge went back in time to erase Copeland's crime and grand jury indictment from ever having occurred, everyone in the audience stood up and joined in dancing the Time Warp, just like The Rocky Horror Picture Show!*** (Since council meetings typically run so late, interested persons could even go directly to a midnight showing after adjournment.)

So think of this blog as our audience participation. I'd like to think that we're helping enliven our municipal dialogue -- encouraging people like Hjelle to stay awake and display a bit of activity (my, didn't he talk a lot more than usual on Monday? we're making progress!), and keep the folks at home watching this ongoing theater of the absurd, laughing, munching their popcorn, and occasionally throwing things at the TV screen.

*When I say "people," I mostly mean the voices in my head. They've also been suggesting that I should talk to the Dauphin about driving the English out of France, so I've learned to take everything they say with a grain of salt.
** Or, you know, hunch with him in a more or less upright pose with only minimal support from the knuckles.
*** Doesn't it just cast itself? Longrie as the (Juris) Doctor Frank-N-Furter, Copeland as Riff Raff, Cave as Magenta, Hjelle as Rocky, and Rossback/Juenemann as Brad and Janet, stumbling unhappily through this production...

Wednesday, July 26, 2006

La La Land Longrie

How out of touch with reality is Mayor Diana Longrie? Her public statements repeatedly describe a world not in synch with what the rest of us see.

Exhibit A: "Longrie...said she was among those surprised when the Kelly and Fawcett law firm severed its ties with Maplewood. 'I don't know about the strained relationships,' she said."

Comment: Does Mayor Longrie suffer from some kind of receptive aphasia?

Exhibit B: "Le said ... that [former city attorney] Kelly said he was told by Mayor Diana Longrie [the Copeland background check] was to be an internal investigation . . . Longrie on Tuesday called that a 'bald-faced lie' because she would have recommended an outside investigation. She said she did not know who determined the background check would be internal."

Comment: Asked about this at Monday's meeting, Chief Thomalla identified the specific date on which Diana gave the order for the check to be internal. (It was a funny moment -- Diana asked Can you tell me exactly what day this meeting occurred? and Thomalla gave her the specific day. Diana then said, oh, she herself didn't remember exactly when she met with whom or what was said.)

Exhibit C: "Why would I want to offer up somebody's name who had a criminal record or things I didn't know about? I did the check; I have it in my computer. It's not any different than what they already have."

Comment: She also said she was very surprised to learn from the city's background check that Copeland was in business with her husband. It doesn't bode well for her background checking skills that she was not able to uncover that one. Or, she lied to the council (and the rest of us) when she feigned surprise about the relationship.

Exhibit D: "I don't think the [Schultz] report was talking about me. I always treat everyone with respect."

Comment: It's remarkable to assume that any time she is not named specifically, the report wasn't talking about her. (By that standard pretty much everyone can say the negatives in the report weren't about them, since it never actually says something like "Hjelle is a chump.") Even if you buy that, just run a search for mention of "Mayor" in the Schultz report, and find passages like these:
  1. "...the Mayor was repeatedly not recognizing those who were in the minority..."
  2. "...these questions were also directly sent to the Mayor to forward to Council and as far as can be ascertained, they were not forwarded on..."
  3. "The roots of the trust and communication problems are deep-seated and proof of the proposition that 'you reap what you sow.' Specifically, much of the conflict here stems from a cable access television show hosted by the Mayor's husband."
Exhibit E: "Maplewood Mayor Diana Longrie said Coleman’s announcement she was leaving took her by surprise."

Comment: It says something about how in touch the mayor is if she missed the widespread rumors that a lot of people in city hall were updating their resumes and watching for new job prospects. Ultimately, employee concerns have led them to begin the process of forming a bargaining unit, to protect them from the capriciousness of the new controllers of the city. As the Pioneer Press quoted her, "This was kind of a surprise to me,'' was Longrie's response.

Exhibit F: "[Longrie] said Guilfoile gave Copeland permission by telephone to enter the clerk's office and retrieve the records."

Comment: Ask Guilfoile's attorney about this one.

~ ~ ~

This is just casual sampling of course -- there's a lot more out there, in the written record and even more if you watch the meetings (feel free to contribute them in the comments!). I don't really think that Diana suffers a neurological disorder. However, she just loves to play the ingenue.

Whether you accept her role as genuine (in which case she is naive, emotionally tone-deaf, unobservent, forgetful, and self-deluded) or a calculated, deceptive pose, it's not what we should expect from a city leader.

Tuesday, July 25, 2006

The 28-year Degree Plan

It was getting late last night as I transcribed my notes from yesterday's meeting, so I didn't get to all of them. I must have been tired, because I overlooked this one entirely.

Copeland's resume proudly declared that he was pursuing a Masters in Public Administration from Hamline University (and I have this vague recollection that Diana highlighted that point when she introduced him at the Fursman firing meeting). The background checkers, with the diligence you'd expect, looked into this. What did they find?

In short: Over the past 14 years, he's completed six of the twelve courses required for the degree.

Maybe the dog ate his homework? Repeatedly? And this academic history was touted as a major qualification for him?

On the bright side, on the list of benefits that Sherrie Le (Human Resources director) rattled off at the mayor's request was "tuition reimbursement." Maybe that will help him finish the second half of his degree a bit more quickly.

Recent Lillie Papers Coverage

Is it just me, or does the Lillie News family of websites kind of suck? As of today (July 25th), the splash page for the Maplewood/Ramsey County Review still has a photo and caption from May 17th, and when you click "Front Page" it tells you "There are currently no articles in the section."

I guess Maplewood also gets covered in the Woodbury/South Maplewood Review, and there you can find a couple of Maplewood articles: one about the resignation of Kelly & Fawcett and another about Copeland purloining unredacted files from Karen Guilfoyle's office at the behest of Mayor Longrie.

So, while I'm continually frustrated by their website, I have to give the Lillie papers thumbs up for solid and in-depth coverage of these matters.

Penny Mason moons city

In her plays one on teevee role, the attorney for the defense finally allows a glimpse of what has been kept out of sight for so long.

An onlooker captured the moment -- "Eeeeewwwwwwwww".

Monday, July 24, 2006

Panning for Dirt

OK, so tonight's meeting (to clarify: tonight's continuation of last week's special meeting, which came before tonight's "real" meeting) was a goldmine of dirt, as it were. Just to move some things from notes to blog, here are some of the things we learned, through the questions and statements. A lot of this stuff was only spoken of in fairly vague terms, so this is necessarily a bit of "paraphrase of a paraphrase," but that's what we've got to work with.
  • - Copeland has a really, really bad credit history. Late property tax payments, unpaid judgements, lawsuits pending, the works. I got the feeling that even those "Bad Credit Not A Problem!" used car salesmen on the TV ads wouldn't offer to lend him a dime if he paid them back in advance.
  • - None of it is his fault. He just has bad luck. And malicious enemies, like the conspiracy of hardcore smoking activists who ousted him from the District 5 Council in St. Paul. Exactly the kind of luck and enemies we should look for our city managers to have. (Expect a new requisite to be added to the job description whenever they get the process rolling for a permanent replacement: "Must have been struck by lightning at least once, preferably twice or more." That would substitute nicely for the previous silly stuff about relevant job experience or education.)
  • - Mayor Longrie was delighted that he has often stayed in public service positions for a long, long time. Not just a year or a term, nosirree. Really long time, like three terms, each term itself several years long. Think she was hinting at something?
  • - The cops in St. Paul have visited his house. A lot. Did I hear 84 calls in one year? That's more than 1.6 times per week. I don't even visit my favorite restaurant that often. What's up with that?
  • - That vast emptiness on the job part of his resume is because he hasn't held a job in more than a decade. Due to the aforementioned bad luck (involving accidents, malicious insurers, malevolent health care providers, and maybe underpants gnomes, for all we know), of course. Despite not having the time for a job, his resume is full of volunteer political activities. So we're to believe he had plenty of time to run a state senate race against Mee Moua, and serve on the St Paul Charter Commission, but even in the late-'90s expansion (when the problème du jour was low unemployment and not enough workers -- one state fact sheet declared, "it seems that job opportunities in Minnesota have never been better"), he couldn't find time to drop off an application at Burger King or something.
  • - But wait, you say! He had a consulting business on that resume! So he was employed! Well, that "business" apparently has had a grand total of two clients, neither of which paid him anything: Bob Zick and Rich O'Connor. Zick, who is close to Longrie & Co. (and has a long history of losing elections in Maplewood, in between rants on cable access TV, where he produces a show with Longrie's husband), declined to tell the council minority anything about Copeland's consulting work; O'Connor said Copeland was an unpaid volunteer.
  • - He could have declared bankruptcy ("Dude, you TOTALLY should have!" to paraphrase Hjelle), but Copeland says he's too proud. I guess it's better to go on not paying your debts, not getting a job, and letting the court judgements stack up, while waiting for your business partner's wife to score you a cushy job as her personal lapdog/break-in artist in some suburb. Somehow it doesn't fill me with confidence to hear that this guy ranks "saving my pride" above "reading the writing on the wall" when it comes to financial decisions. That's the kind of thinking that turns little problems into massive debacles.
  • - A grand jury indicted Copeland for forging false campaign materials. Copeland and Longrie spent a long time explaining that it wasn't really forgery, and it wasn't really an indictment, because his record was subsequently expunged. After he admitted to it and did 100 hours of community service and agreed to not to break the law any more. So really, it's like he never did anything wrong in the first place.
OK, I have to stop at this one. Putting aside the hilarity of the Clintonesque parsing exercise over whether or not he was "indicted" of "forgery," is there any doubt that this is EXACTLY THE KIND OF FREAKING THING THAT YOU LOOK FOR IN A BACKGROUND CHECK? This is a guy who happily broke the law and lied when it served his short-term political goals. I don't care if the district judge constructed a time machine to take Copeland's future self back to stop his past self from doing it in the first place, the point is that this is a guy who would pull this kind of stunt, and then obfuscate to make it sound like he was exonerated in a court of law (rather than having his record expunged after fulfilling his sentence). Not just would, but DID!

I mean, if you were hiring a cashier, and your background check found out that they had been indicted for stealing from another employer, but after doing their community service the crime was expunged from their record -- would you say, "Well, it's like it never happened then! Running the till? Shucks, let me entrust you with my ATM card and PIN number too."
  • - Oh, and those 100 hours of community service? They were apparently logged in a charity on whose board he served, and of which his wife was the president.
  • - At some point Copeland sued KSTP-TV for trespassing. He won the case. The judgement in his favor: $1.
Interestingly, KSTP-TV (Channel 5) covered the council meeting tonight, and mentioned citizen activism like this blog and the Maplewood Citizens League. And they seemed to like my "clowncil" idea.

Now I just need to lure some people into showing up at future council meetings dressed as clowns. Sort of like camo, so they could blend in...

Cliff's Notes Minutes

Shorter Will Rossbach: Do we want a loser who hasn't had a real job in the past dozen years running our city?

Friday, July 21, 2006

A Quote for the Day

My friends tell me that I have a tendency to point out problems without offering solutions, but they never tell me what I should do about it.
-Daniel Gilbert

Monday, July 17, 2006

Little Annie Longrie Opts for the Orphan Defense

Well, it's July 17th and the key grip did it again. Last week s/he was just playing, putting a sign in front of H. Alan, who collects fountain pens, reading 'Interium city attorney'. This week, s/he sort of accidently dropped the scripts for the next three weeks, getting them all jumbled up. But it was a good crowd, so they went along.

We started out with a scene from The Treasure of the Sierra Madre. Rossbach does just what you would expect and brings an expert to a stupid fight, thinking that a lawyer from the MN State Department of Administration specializing in data privacy issues would be helpful in a discussion centered on data privacy issues. But nooooo, H. Alan declares, "experts? we don't need no stinkin' experts! Why my partner and I practically wrote that data privacy law." What a guy, he sure has a Knaak. No wonder they gave him a speaking part so soon.

But then it started to go south. The crowd was pretty restless, so Little Annie Brutus decides its time to defend Greg like he was a village in VietNam. [sorta quotes from memory] "you all think he is my friend. Well maybe he is my friend. But just cuz he's my friend doesn't mean he wouldn't sue us for defamation in a New York minute if we actually talked about what was in this report, and the 13 people that voted for me sure don't want their hard earned money spent on law suits when there is more important city business to not do." [end sorta quotes]

The crowd got a good laugh from that, which flustered everybody. Little Annie Brutus Becqui♥ was supposed to motion to adjourn with her adaptation of Tomorrow, but Li'l Erik got to beating up on the supposed expert, so ? Little Annie had to go with the orphan defense: "last week we shot our lawyers so now we have no competent counsel." 'H' was a little stunned, just having done his I'm an expert on data privacy and municipal law lines letter perfect, but he played along, knowing where his fountain pen is going to get inked.

Now the crowd got really nasty. They'd paid for a 4 hour show and the curtain was coming down, so Little Annie Brutus ? Aretha did two verses and a chorus of "R E S P E C T" the Mayor of Nottingham, which shut them up just long enough for the clowncil to vote 3/2 on the splendid idea of doing nothing.

They didn't even validate parking.

Thursday, July 13, 2006

Spelunking with Becqui

The endless series of one-act plays continued last night at the Clowncil Theater.

Her shot at a little impromptu led us through the arched-eyebrow entrance into the cavern of Becqui's fantasy mind, where we find her hugging a tree to protect it from the roaring chainsaw wielded by Kathy, who has cleverly pretended to be an environmentalist for 50 odd years in preparation for this moment.

The unpretentious H. Alan, known to his chums over at the Fountain Pen Collector Club as 'H', stuck to the script as he sat nodding approvingly.

A little fact checking from Will and the stunned disbelief of the crowd led the director to call for the hook and curtain. We imagine rehearsals will be a little more thorough before Monday night's play,"Plan B Crocodile Tears". H. Alan might have a more extensive speaking part, his walk on appearances having gone so well. The pay is better, too.

Wednesday, July 12, 2006

Mad Monkey Mayhem Molests Maplewood!

Today's council meeting continuation (I'm thinking we should rename it the Maplewood City Clowncil) was one of the ones that is very good for snarky bloggers, but not really so good for Maplewood and its residents.

I'm torn, as both a devoted Hjelle-watcher and a resident of Maplewood. In the end, I have to admit that what really made the meeting wonderful for me was that moment when the elusive Chumpalopithecus hjelle swung down from that lofty perch from whence he quietly surveys the maple woodlands most of the time (or naps). On he came, beating his chest and flinging metaphorical poo at his rivals, in an effort to rhetorically claim and mark the territory of "plan B form of government" and "data practices" and what have you. This is startling to someone who has studied the Chumpalopithecus in his native habitat for some time, as other councillors' past bleatings on these topics (even the ones just minutes before) had always appeared to be less interesting than to him than dirt. He howled about Schwartz's "gossip report", bared his fangs at the ever-scowling Homo grumpycus rossbachi beside him, and shook the tree of civil bureaucracy so that myriad leaves of hitherto undistributed reports and past job applications filled the air. Watching this magnificent beast in rare and glorious action, as the leaves of unredacted data practices requests twirl around me, my heart sings out -- "It's autumn ... for Maplewood ... and Hjelle!" (to the tune of that song from The Producers).

Whew. I think I may need to go find a cigarette.

Inspector Clouseau Longrie

A certain someone (you know who you are) has been trying to convince me that Inspector Longrie is no longer the Maplewood Weed Inspector. Someone forgot tell the state.

Counsel-less Council

Things have kept me busy and away from the blog lately, but the lack of my commentary sure hasn't slowed the excitement in Maplewood city hall. Earlier this week Maplewood's city attorneys resigned, citing ethical concerns with the new city council. If memory serves from recent council meetings, isn't our now-former lead city attorney the current head of the Minnesota Bar Association? The triumvirate has a special knack for driving away some of the most qualified personnel around.

According to an article in today's Pioneer Press, the straw that broke the camel's back was Longrie directing her henchman, Copeland, to enter the city clerk's office while she was gone and dig around for documents she wanted -- a flagrant violation of the confidentiality of information that is NOT public record (there's a reason they have the city clerk respond to data pratices requests rather than, say, just having an unlocked room with a "help yourself" sign, containing copies of all the city's documents).

As has come to be the usual practice, Monday's council meeting ran very long, and is set to be continued this evening at 5:00. Should be interesting to watch. While we may not have any city attorneys at the moment, I'm sure Diana can step in and fill the role herself for now -- after all, she's told us many times that she is an attorney.

I look forward to hearing how much money we will save by having interim city attorneys who will be paid less than Kelly & Fawcett. Maybe Diana has an employee or co-worker at her own law practice she could appoint out of the blue to be interim attorney. I'm sure a paralegal or office manager would do just fine, or maybe a crony of Diana's who thought about someday going to law school. As Copeland's resume demonstrates, real qualifications are not given too much weight in these "interim" hiring decisions.