What's Left of Maplewood (MN)

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

Tuesday, August 29, 2006

Understated Dramatic Tension

Looking back at the workshop where the council talked about the process for hiring a new city manager, I have been meaning to expand on the observations of my esteemed colleague, drawnLeftward. I did find one interesting undercurrent in a meeting that never quite rose to the level of drama we might have expected (or secretly hoped for, those of us in the snark business).

The fascinating tension to me was a sort of dialogue playing out between Diana and herself. On the one hand, she was drawn time and again to agree with the idea of hiring a search firm to help find qualified candidates for the city manager position. "Rational," she called it. On the other hand, it kept coming up that this is how Fursman was chosen, and in fact Fursman is the only city manager that Maplewood has chosen by this method. And, to be honest, the fact that this method resulted in the choice of Fursman is in itself a solid endorsement for the approach. She seemed time and again to stray perilously close to acknowledging that, but Diana would veer away at the last moment, for the obvious reason that it would credit Fursman and cast doubt on Diana and her triumvirate's decision to terminate him.

Thursday, August 24, 2006

The Firings Will Continue Until Morale Improves

The new Maplewood-Ramsey County Review has an article with more details on the Sherrie Le firing.

As far as I can tell, Copeland (or the Mayor Longrie standing behind the oversized sock puppet) decided the most expeditious way to resolve a "hostile work environment" complaint was to fire the person complaining.

Hmm. One can imagine the potential applications for this strategy. No wonder they're talking about disbanding the Human Relations Commission.

Wednesday, August 23, 2006

Math skills, part II

Maybe Frostbrand can help me out with my math skills. I've been trying to figure out how many of the unknown quantity 'Hjelle' there are in the highly valued constant 'Thomalla'. But when I set it up like this in Excel


Thomalla
__________
 
Hjelle 



I get "Error: division by a zero".

Friday, August 18, 2006

Appendicitis

I keep thinking about the workshop where city manager qualifications and a hiring process were discussed.

The Cave soliloquy about professionals runs through my head like a bad song - she is remembering some situation where she was interviewing about 10 professionals and they were all alike, all had the same ideas. Maybe she was remembering some old Apple commercial about IBMers. Anyway, what does she expect? You have a problem, you ask 10 people who know how to solve the problem, you get 10 variants on the same answer. But she wants something outside of the box, something more Copelandic.

If you have appendicitis , what is thinking outside the box - tapeworms?

Watch the teevee, ask some questions

Thursday afternoon at 5:00 we cable junkies got to watch the continuation of this week's city council meeting. The main events were the first reading of the formal ordinance creating the Environment Commission from the Environment Committee and the first reading of the Tree Ordinance.

Questions

1) What's up with Rachel Carson-Longrie dominating the discussion when an actual environmentalist who actually created the Environmental Committee was sitting just a few chairs down the council table?

2) What's creating such a big rip to get the tree ordinance done that Rachel Carson-Longrie has to accuse the staff person of stalling (didn't catch his name) for wanting more public input?

3) Do Rachel Carson-Longrie and the Forest Gnome even know what "sustainable practices" means?

4) Will anyone rush to volunteer to serve on this new Commission? That didn't go so well with the Housing and Redevelopment Authority earlier in the week.


5) Will developers discover the tree house market?

Wednesday, August 16, 2006

The Gnomes of Maplewood

Watching the city council at their meetings, I often find myself imagining them as caricatures. Somehow Diana Longrie and Rebecca Cave -- especially Cave -- keep looking to me like some kind of gnomes. "According to myth," says the Wikipedia, "gnomes hoarded secret knowledge just as they hoarded treasure." This reminds us of Longrie's twin obsessions with saving money (not always successfully) and getting her hands on all information available (by, for example, sending her Gnome-in-Waiting, Copeland, to pilfer it from the city clerk's office -- though I'm sure the Tolkien fans out there will tell me this was a job for a hobbit burglar, not a gnome). On the other hand, Cave's painted-on look of alertness and smiles would be right at home on a porcelain sentry, protecting a surburban garden from nefarious squirrels or what have you.

As for tending Maplewood's own garden, the big news on Monday night was the dismissal of HR director Sherrie Le. It's a little hard to keep track, but I think we now have...
  • - Interim City Manager
  • - No Assistant City Manager
  • - Interim City Attorney
  • - No HR Director
  • - Interim Community Development Director
  • - A police chief ready to jump to another city
I think the strategy is becoming clear -- it's a variation on the famous South Park Underpants Gnomes Business Plan:
  • Phase 1: Fire or drive away everyone in City Hall.
  • Phase 2: ???
  • Phase 3: Good government!
It's not very good as plans go, but at least we've known what they're up to. To quote the Pioneer Press, 4/8/06, regarding the firing of former City Manager Richard Fursman: "Council Member Erik Hjelle said if it were possible, he also would seek to remove the city's human resources director, finance director and police and fire chiefs." Two down, three to go.

We can only hope that after emptying city hall of its staff, the council will do us the favor of firing themselves en masse, and at least giving us the hope of an interim mayor and council to start cleaning up the mess.

Vocabulary Lesson

Frostbrand likes to rub Lillie News' head for joining in. This week they added to their 'help your child learn' series by showing us in the Letters to the Editor what happens when you leave the thesaurus lying around:

Good reason for Copeland’s police calls
What a drama being played out in the Maplewood City Council. The current chief protaganist seeking center stage is Council Member Will Rossbach whose histrionics theatrically suggest interim City Manager Greg Copeland has “driven away” some city management staff and caused other city department heads to - Heaven forbid! - seek union representation.
Mr. Rossbach must believe the Maplewood city administrators are thespians in a one-act play with no time for proper development of character or storyline. For he to insinuate that Mr. Copeland is a villian so foul only suggests that either the departing are totally without rehearsal, patience, or forethought, but more logically, preexisting conditions precipitated their exit from the scene.
Mr. Rossbach’s drama-queen antics (with an ambiguously forgettable bit-part appearance by Council Member Kathy Juenemann) included some ill-conceived personal attacks on Copeland which errantly deflect onto his seriously disabled wife, Betty.
The only one worth responding to would be the calls to police for service to the Copeland’s home address. Having myself abandoned that area (the Lower East Side) I can assure you those were the Copeland’s calls for help, because the neighborhood has become a virtual war zone. A well prepared actor would at least have known the difference. Mr. Rossbach, I’ll be glad when your little dog and pony show gets cancelled.

[name deleted]
Dieter Street


At least Mr. X gets the Clowncil Theater drift.

Wednesday, August 09, 2006

Hero for Democracy

You may have heard about a story from across the country, about how a Green candidate for senate in Pennsylvania has been funded almost entirely by big Republican donors (TPM Muckraker has had some great coverage of this topic, for example), who obviously are using him to their own ends (to draw votes from the Democratic candidate).

Apparently you don't have to go all the way to Pennsylvania to find Greens lining up to serve as dupes for interests that, to be honest, don't really coincide with theirs. Check out this mailing list archive from January (do a search for "Longrie" to find the relevant posting). Without a trace of irony, the author suggests,
[Mayor Longrie] seems capable of keeping a collar on corporate greed and corruption, and it would be wise for St. Paul Greens to form an alliance with her administration. I do not know her political affiliation, but she seems too be a hero for democracy.
The writer notes in support of this belief that Longrie "gave the old City Council a hard time on her TV show over its plans for the Gladstone installations in the recent past" (the writer refuses to use the word "development" because that implies improvement of nature by humans, which in her ideological view is not possible).

Consider this another data point for the power of Gladstone in the election, and for understanding why Cave needs to be seen hugging a tree now and then.

Monday, August 07, 2006

Let's talk about the weather

Watching the council/manager workshop on the teevee was a little sad. With an agenda to decide on a city manager hiring process, I expected a non-stop product placement ad for the great communicator. But all I got was a half-hearted attempt to cram Copeland's foot into the manager qualifications slipper, a few verses of "let's blame Fursman", and a production number called "who needs professionals and their lame organizations?".

Mostly they were just phoning it in. Maybe the heat wave. Maybe the mirror on the wall.

Saturday, August 05, 2006

Fun With Maps and Data

What happened to bring Maplewood to where it is today? Did the people speak, and are the new council members simply executing (or incarnating) the popular will?

The night that Fursman was fired, I remember one woman rising to speak, to remind the council how very few people actually put them in power. The reality is that local elections are decided by small numbers of people who are motivated, either by personal interest or a sense of civic duty, to go out and vote. A lot of people (me included, most of my life) would often skip local elections, if there's no national “headliner” (like a congressional seat or statewide race) driving interest. Since Maplewood's elections are in off years, turnout tends to be even lower than the already low baseline of American electoral apathy. And one council member, Rebecca Cave (Cunnien), was selected in a special election, with even lower turnout still.

On the other hand, the small turnout means that we can read a lot in the voting data. While some dutiful voters would show up at the polls no matter what, the people who got out to vote in a special election earlier this year were more likely driven by personal interest in a candidate or cause. The special election had fewer than half as many voters as the general election in the fall of 2005 (2,666 versus 5,457, according to Ramsey County), so it was really decided by those who felt a strong reason to show up.

If you visit the Ramsey County website, you can find the precinct-by-precinct data (PDF, 156k) from Cave's special election earlier this year. I hope to do some more detailed study of it later, but one precinct really stands out at first glance.
  • City-wide turnout was 11.9% of registered voters. In Precinct 4, a much larger 19.5% of registered voters cast ballots.
  • In P-4, 3.05% of voters registered at the polls on election day. That may seem like a small number, but it's almost twice the city-wide aaverage of 1.57%. In fact, almost a quarter of the newly registered voters in the entire city were in this precinct.
  • City-wide, Cave received 63.4% of the total ballots cast. In Precinct 4, she received 73.8%.
  • To put it another way, P-4 has 7.5% of the registered voters in Maplewood, but it gave Cave 14.3% of her total votes.
What is it about Precinct 4 that brought out the Cunnienistas for the special election? (She lives in a different precinct, if that was your first guess.) Well, here's one clue...

Precinct 4 (map from the MN Secretary of State website, a 1 MB PDF), boundaries outlined in green:

The Gladstone development area (from Maplewood's website), with its boundaries marked by a dotted line:
As you may recall, the triumvirate of Cave, Longrie and Hjelle campaigned hard on opposing development plans for Gladstone, and did their best to paint their opponents as wanting to destroy the savannah in Gladstone, sell off open space to developers, etc. -- charges their opponents strenuously denied (search for the campaign complaints against Hjelle, for more background).

Sometimes it's hard to figure out what supporters see in Longrie/Cave/Hjelle, in the face of all the facts. For some of them, the answer is Gladstone, and a fear of city hall bringing unwanted changes to their neighborhood. (In a Gladstone meeting earlier this year, one Gladstone resident voiced her concern to make sure a development "attract the 'right type' of people" by being expensive enough, "so that all of us who are living here want to stay here.") As a wedge for low-turnout, non-partisan municipal elections, paired with a willingness to play fast and loose with facts about opponents, Gladstone has been a powerful and effective tool.

But if you ever feel like your part of the city is being neglected while the council obssesses with getting yet more input from Gladstone residents and spending yet more of all our tax dollars on studies and plans (while delaying any actual implementation), you can now understand why. They're just dancin' with the one what brung 'em. The one thing that may sour their date is whenever they commit to a final plan of action. That risks alienating some of their base, who have been led along with vague promises of respecting their wishes all the way through the night. As long as the promises were vague, everyone could believe they would get what they want in the end; when you make real decisions and take action (you know, governing as opposed to commenting from a cable access show), some people will get what they wanted and others won't.

Friday, August 04, 2006

"Rebecca Cave (Cunnien)"?

In the elections of the last year, why did Rebecca Cave appear as "Rebecca Cave (Cunnien)"? She doesn't appear that way on the City's website today.

Someone recently told me that Cunnien is her maiden name, and that her father threw a lot of weight (and maybe money?) around helping get her elected, particularly leaning on people in her church to get out the vote (something not all of them were happy about). This is all hearsay, but the inclusion of her maiden name on the ballot corroborates the idea – people who knew they were supposed to vote for "Mr. Cunnien's daughter" would be able to spot her on the ballot in spite of her married name.

Erik Hjelle recently wrote, "Previously, Maplewood was controlled by a few powerful families that have now lost their control." Do we now have a new "powerful family" with its own puppet installed?

What does anyone know about the Cunnien family and their interests? Share your tips in the comments.

La Ville, C'est Moi - revisited

For today's entertainment, we have a letter/opinion piece from Erik Hjelle in the Maplewood-Ramsey County Review (hat tip to www.savemaplewood.com for spotting it).

To be honest, the headline provided by the editor (“Criticism of council 'un-American'”) seems a bit unfair at first glance. What Hjelle actually states is “Attacking our form of government and attempting to negate the will of the people is improper, unjust and un-American.”

Ironically, many critics of the new council (this blog included) contend that a big part of the new council's problem is that they have been attacking our form of government – circumventing or undermining the structure of Plan B government, violating the open meeting law by planning their actions as a threesome outside of public meetings and then voting en bloc when those meetings do occur, etc. (Are we to believe that Hjelle and Cave had no advance knowledge of Copeland when they voted for him as a complete stranger put forth by Longrie the night Fursman was fired? And that learning of Copeland's train wreck of a background only increased their comfort level with the decision?)

But we can't really suppose that Erik is engaging in constructive self-criticism, pondering the depths of his personal anti-Americanism and authoritarian yearnings.

No, as I think about it, the headline cuts to the chase. As we feared might happen, Mr. “It's My Personal Fire Station” has been shifting into the view that he is in some way the living incarnation of the city, if not American Democracy itself; and so attacks on him are in fact attacks on the people of Maplewood and our very way of life.

My prediction: Sometime in the next sixth months, Hjelle & Co. will publicly compare their opponents to Nazis. It's the inevitable next step.

Thursday, August 03, 2006

Doubleplus Unbad Manager

-- Press Release --

--for continuous and constant release for the next few months--

Now that the lying liars have lied about all the lies in the lying background report, and the especially lieful summary report, we can officially announce that Greg Copeland is the best possible city manager we could have right now here in Oceania Burglandia.

You'll see.

Mayor Orwell

More in the Local Paper/Website

The Maplewood-Ramsey County Review webpage got an update this week as well, with two more stories on the mess in city hall:

Wednesday, August 02, 2006

Better Lillie Coverage

Looks like the Maplewood-Ramsey County Review webpage got updated. Three Maplewood city council-related stories are currently on the front page -- here are direct links (all stories were written prior to last Monday's Copeland-keeping meeting, but they are good to have on the record for reference):

Maplewood city manager under fire for filling data request
Council member wants new interim city manager
Background check questions left unanswered

Since I was whining earlier about their website, I have to express my appreciation for these updates, and hope it continues.