Some time back, I noticed that East St Paul blogger Ken Martin had comments about "partisanship"
in relation to Maplewood and the Maplewood Citizen's League. Martin describes the league as "a reaction to the new conservative majority leadership."
The term "partisan" conflates a few different meanings. In common political usage, it will refer to opposing political parties (Republican versus Democrat). In another connotation, it can simply talk about opposing factions in a political landscape.
But let's make a few things clear about the situation in Maplewood.
To start with, in the first sense of the term, Maplewood's city council is a non-partisan body. Unlike some larger cities, Maplewood does not have municipal candidates endorsed by the established political parties. The races appear in the "Non-Partisan" section of the ballot.
If the races were partisan, I expect we would see different election results, because Maplewood clearly is weighted toward the Democratic party -- just look over the recent partisan election results if you have any doubts, and see the margins by which Maplewood's state legislators (Slawik, Wiger, and Lillie -- all Democrats) won this past November, particularly in the Maplewood precincts (since Senate District 55 extends into North St Paul and Oakdale).
While I'm not happy with the current council majority, I do think that local races are better off without endorsements from the major parties. Party-line voting could turn local elections into stale ratification of the endorsements of party activists, which I don't think is a good political process. Moreover, the agendas of the major parties, on the state-wide and national levels, often don't align with the concerns of operating a specific local government, and if anything I think local government can do its job better if it is not aligned with one partisan camp or the other (to avoid political favoritism or payback based on party affiliations).
I think there may be room for parties or party-like organizations on a local level built around local concerns, endorsing candidates, but I would think such groups should cross the traditional party boundaries and should actively avoid identification with state and national parties.
On the question of a "new conservative majority leadership," I must confess, I don't think things stand like that.
New? The previous Mayor, Bob Cardinal, was an active Republican (by party affiliation, not endorsement for this office). So we had conservative leadership directing the council already, at least as much as the current leadership can be labeled "conservative."
Indeed, is it fair to call the current majority "conservative"? I suppose, if you think that "firing
and driving away
experienced and committed city employees, in the name of saving money
while pursuing personal vendettas" and "adding an expensive new layer of mangerial bureaucracy
to city government just out of spite, in order to effectively demote city managers who had formed a bargaining unit" are longstanding conservative ideals, this may have some grounding in fact. Personally, I don't see conservatism that way.
They talk about wanting to save money and lower taxes, which are ostensibly conservative goals (I'm personally all in favor of saving money and holding down or lowering taxes -- I just don't see them as goals to be held above all others). However, they keep going about it in ways that will cost us more in the long run -- adding layers of bureaucracy to City Hall (demonstrating that their love of vendetta
ranks a lot higher than their love of fiscal responsibility in their hierarchy of values), paying a big severance package to a terminated employee in order to hire an unqualified person
at a lower salary, firing someone in a way that was sure to get big lawsuits
(which will cost the city a ton in legal fees, regardless of the outcome), etc.
Erik Hjelle does occasionally suggest some things that seem a bit beyond conservative. He appears to think that 100% of road repair bills should be paid by assessments of residents on those roads. (He complained at one meeting that he lived on a private road that he'd already paid for, so he doesn't see why he should have to pay, through city funds, for anyone else's road.) He thinks that Xcel should have to pay for fire trucks
that are on hand any time a gas leak is being repaired. He seems to wish that we had no full-time public fire department at all, but rather the old system of private contractors serving different parts of the city (and maybe that would give him clearer title to claiming his own fire station as personal property
). So he perhaps falls into the radical libertarian camp, which holds that ultimately government should be as close to nonexistent as possible, with all revenues raised by user fees and the like (hence his wish to cut back property taxes and instead raise that money with per-meter flat fees
on utility customers).
I'm pretty sure that within the conservative ranks, these views would run into some resistance, especially from citizens who would be told that they have to cough up $15,000+ for their share of repairs on their road next summer, rather than the much smaller assesments seen today (where the city now pays 70% or something of the costs through bonding).
On other traditional conservative concerns, such as issues of eminent domain, development subsidies, property rights, and supporting business, we often find that the trio vote against conservative principles.
In the case of eminent domain, the council is forcing one mobile home owner to sell his property for demolition at a price they set
, in order to serve the interests of a big developer. (Hjelle dismisses this concern because the land itself is not the evicted tenant's, so I think he doesn't see this as really being a property rights issue. Maybe he has a grudge against renters, since he was also eager to stick them with higher taxes via Xcel. You know, in the old days, if you didn't own land you didn't even have the right to vote! What kind of conservative is Hjelle if he pines for those good old days? What next, legally binding tenants to their land as serfs?)
Speaking of that developer, Erik Hjelle reversed course
and now seems interested in offering tax-increment financing to him, after making a big deal about how Maplewood didn't need to provide tax relieve to lure development for lakefront property in the heart of the metro. (So much for fiscal restraint there.) The need to be seen as doing something about Gladstone outweighs whatever principles he might have imagined he had.
In terms of other property rights, we have the city enacting new codes about the cutting of trees on private property
, and enacting a moratorium on development
, preventing private landowners in south Maplewood from doing anything on the property they already have bought. (This of course is bringing more lawsuits
to the city.)
In many of these cases, I think the voice on the council that seems most consistently to fit the pro-business profile of what you would normally expect of a conservative is actually Will Rossbach.
Let's be honest. Even in the reactionary gruntings of Chumpelopithecus hjelle
, this council is not truly conservative, merely selfish. (I know, the two are often hard to distinguish.) They are pro-business if it's their friends; anti-business if the business risks bringing higher-density (lower-income) housing into their neighborhood. Pro-property rights when it's easy; but they throw those concerns aside if they can land a development deal that allows them to claim that Gladstone redevelopment is on track (never mind that the parcel in question was not part of the Gladstone redevelopment plan to begin with). They claim to be in favor of saving the city money, but are demonstrably much more in favor of pursuing their personal/family grudges and hiring their personal friends, regardless of the cost to the rest of us taxpayers. Longrie's idea of fiscal conservatism is like a caricature sometimes, when she suggests that the city buy used furniture and used sewer monitoring equipment. And in any case, their longing for jackbooted authoritarianism (whether the Stalinesque purges of city hall, breaking into the city clerk's office to read the e-mail of city councillors without the pesky privacy-protecting process mandated by law
, or Hjelle's grandiose delusions
that criticism of him is nigh treasonous) is not what I honestly associate with the healthy tradition of American conservatism.
Above all, this council majority has rejected the rule of law. Even before they were elected, they flouted city
and campaign laws
as they were running for office. Since coming into office, their ignoring of legal advice has been so bad that it led the city attorneys to resign
. When they hired an outside analyst to study the functioning of the new council, he came back with a scathing report
about how unprofessional they were and how far they were straying from the processes of good governance. As I quoted at the time
, Prof. Schultz wrote, "The meaning of being a professional is placing personal animosities off to the side and learning how to work for a collective good." This is a lesson the council majority has utterly rejected; all year we have seen them follow personal animosity as their guiding star. Whatever they may claim
their political compass is aiming at, the magnet of grudge and payback
inexorably draws them, and their decisions are distinctly lacking in reasoning, ideological or otherwise.
Consider the CoPar lawsuit
. Longrie's formal denial of CoPar's application for their development states, "The applicant has not proven the use would meet all of the standards required." When the Review
asked for some specifics (what are some of the required standards that they're failing to meet?
), Longrie replied, "I don't know what you mean by specific examples." While going through a few formal motions of deliberative and reasoned governance (the "required standards" line in a written document), behind it so often is simply the arbitrary exercise of power.
In what world is the arbitrary exercise of power to block the business plans of a private business entity on land that it owns to be held up as the work of a "new conservative majority"?
We see similarly arbitrariness followed by obfuscation in documents on the city website, which originally were blunt in describing the major city reorganization as a retaliation against city managers forming a collective bargaining unit. After numerous observers pointed out (such as in comments in our own blog
) that such retaliation is illegal on the face of it, they changed their description
of the rationale to some mish-mash about increasing efficiency and accountability.
Even a local conservative cable access TV personality (and close friend, I hear, to the Mayor and her husband), Bob Zick, has taken the council to task for their assaults on the role of process -- in one meeting criticizing their dead-of-night decision to cut off the hiring process and make Copeland permanent, in another criticizing their proposed rules to ban parties engaged in legal action against the city from speaking at council meeting visitor presentations. (Zick and the mayor's husband, after all, had legal disputes with the previous councils about first amendment issues. Under the proposed rule, they would have been required to only submit written testimony if they had wanted to address the council and assembled public on any topic while they were engaged in freedom-of-the-press litigation with the city.) The latter proposal failed, but it speaks volumes that the council brought it forward and Copeland recommended passing it in the first place.
As we question the purported conservatism of this council majority, it is fitting that our Republican former Mayor, Mr. Cardinal, is the one requesting that legal authorities investigate the council
for their flagrant violations of the law, specifically the open meeting law. The council trio, of course, are dismissing his complaints as "sour grapes" (Longrie) and "a lie" (Cave). Similar sour-grapes liars include the former city manager, who was fired in part for warning the new councillors about open meeting law violations; and Prof. Schultz, who also raised concerns about this in his report. Hjelle dismisses Cardinal's concerns, saying "He's a politician" (which distinguishes him from Hjelle, I suppose, for whom "politician" would be a definite upgrade from "vindictive buffoon").
At this point, I'd happily settle for an actual
"new conservative majority" on the city council, since that would mean leaving behind the current majority that is not just failing to do the people's business, but digging a deep hole that future councils will be saddled with getting us out of, at considerable expense and inconvenience to the citizens of Maplewood.
The struggle in Maplewood today is not conservative versus liberal -- it's the demand for good, inclusive governance and the rule of law versus incompetence, petulance, cronyism, self-serving agendas and personal vendetta.