What's Left of Maplewood (MN)

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

Saturday, December 30, 2006

The Double-Digit Lie

It's an accepted article of faith among the Longristas that we've been suffering double-digit tax increases in Maplewood for years under the previous city manager, mayors and city councils. When they campaigned door to door, talking about the supposed wreck of Maplewood city finances, you know this is a talking point they harped on to voter after voter. (Sometimes claims like this even made it into written literature, and resulted in hot water for a candidate.) Longrie's sock puppet in our comments has repeated this claim, and went so far as to write it into Wikipedia to make it seem more factual. Specifically, she claimed "double-digit increases over the past five years."

It was easy to prove that this claim about the 2006 budget was false. But it is fair to observe that 2006 is only one year, so this doesn't give us a very big picture, and it certainly doesn't disprove a claim about a five-year span.

Therefore, I went back into the archives and dug up the actual levy data to see what is there. Here are the results: more than a decade of Maplewood's tax levies, with the rate of increase of each year over the previous.

Total Tax Levy
% Increase
(unknown to me)
$8,984,800 4.80%
$8,987,718 0.03%
$8,986,925 -0.01%
$9,167,607 2.01%
$9,842,953 7.37%
$10,238,175 4.02%
$11,855,546 15.80%
$12,679,422 6.95%
$13,434,640 5.96%
$14,106,370 5.00%

(Sources: draft 2007 budget with the Review article on final cuts from the draft budget for the 2007 figure; 2006 budget summary for the 2006 figure; and the 2005 Annual Financial Report, which on page 152 includes the tax levies back to 1995.)

Looking at the past five years, we see levy increases of 4.02%, 15.8%, 6.95%, 5.96% and 5.0%. By no stretch of reason can you claim that this represents "double digit tax increases over the past five years." There was one double-digit increase in that period. The average increase each year was 7.54%.

As far as holding down taxes, this council is objectively doing a worse job than their predecessors. Only one year in the last five had a higher levy increase. They are increasing the levy by a rate 36% higher than the average increase of this period (10.24% versus 7.54%).

Looking at the even bigger picture, you can see that this city council majority's first budget, in which they get to demonstrate their claims of superior fiscal restraint, increases the levy almost twice as much as the average of the past decade of budgets (10.24% versus 5.19%). Again, only one budget in the past decade (2003) has a higher levy increase.

In other words, they lied about the record in order to get into office; and they lied when they promised to do a better job of holding down taxes — or, if you feel more charitable, they promised something that they and their appointed lapdog, Mr. Copeland, are utterly unqualified to deliver.

Thursday, December 28, 2006

Reader Mail: Vote of No Confidence?

A reader wrote an e-mail this afternoon to ask,

"Is it possible for the people of Maplewood to collect signatures for a Vote of No Confidence in the Mayor? Or an impeachment?"

The answer, as far as I know, is no; there is no recall or impeachment process for our city under current law.

It might be possible to lobby the state legislature to introduce a bill to make this possible, but I'm totally speculating on that.

Civil Service Protections

This morning the Police Civil Service Commission had an emergency meeting about Banick's effective dismissal. While we wait for reports of what transpired, I thought I'd share a some thoughts on the whole idea of civil service protections.

I'm no expert on the history of this stuff, but I have a suspicion that a lot of the laws and rules about government employees were put in place precisely to prevent people from getting elected office just to execute personal vendettas. People who had a broader perspective than the narrow, self-interested views of Longrie, Cave and Hjelle, were aware that purges in the ranks and the installation of masses of new loyal toadies (who then would have to be purged again when power shifts hands) would create a cycle of instability and unpredictability, and would steer away a lot of talented people who would wisely not want to get caught up in that kind of mess. And that would not serve the good of the People.

Just as tenure in academic environments was created to give assure thinkers the freedom to express themselves without fear of reprisal, and to pursue threads of research that may not fit the agendas of political, religious, or other institutional authorities or popular wishes (though certainly tenure is an institution with its share of problems and imperfections as well), civil service rules are created to give government employees some security in enforcing the law even-handedly and speaking the truth, even when that is not what their elected bosses or the public mood of the moment might like. There are plenty of imperfections, and the systems can be abused to protect lazy or incompetent individuals. (There are also appropriate ways to respond to such abuses, and it's not by throwing the whole system aside.) However, like many things in our system of governance and law, we have gone down this path not because it is perfect but because its problems are less bad than the problems of alternative approaches. As Churchill famously said, democracy is the worst form of government, except for all the others that we've tried.

The Gang of Three and their supporters are asking for a world where every government employee needs to ask of every fact that should be shared with the public, "Will my bosses fire me for saying this, even though it's true?"; a world where every police officer and government attorney would weigh just application of the law against their own self-interest if the offender is a member or ally of the ruling group, or if following the law might go against the current sentiment of the majority.

If this were Rome versus Galileo, the Gang of Three is on the side of Rome, using whatever inquisatorial tools they can find to project their vision of reality and silence voices that question it.

There are plenty of people today who would still side with Pope Urban VIII, or who long for a world where all victors in war or politics are entitled to pillage and despoil the defeated. I just think that these people are wrong, and I think our society has come a long ways to limit the damage that their way of thinking does to us all -- including the very people who want to bring the world back to the bad old days.

Wednesday, December 27, 2006

Facts for Wikipedia

Our resident troll went to Wikipedia last night to slant its Maplewood content in favor of Longrie, Cave and Hjelle (click here to see the edits he or she made). Not surprisingly, an experienced user there went in today and cleaned up some of our troll's spelling and grammar, and also inserted notes looking for factual support for various claims.

I thought it might be fun to run down a couple of the mistakes our troll introduced, or add information to put it in context.

There are lots of subjective changes in language (such as removing the "controversial" adjective from the reorganization plan, or rearranging the names of the council members so that they are not listed by seniority, but instead alphabetically, so the troll's favorites are listed first). But let's go for the meat.

Our Troll Wrote: "Supporters [of the Gang of Three] point to higher than average management costs in Maplewood versus other cities which has driven double digit tax increases over the past five years."

Fact: The new council has approved a 10.2% levy increase for 2007. (Citation: Maplewood-Ramsey County Review article about the final levy approved.) In contrast, the last budget of the previous council had only a 5% levy increase (citation: 2006 Budget Overview, from the Maplewood city website). This new council majority is increasing taxes by double digits, while the previous budget did not.

Our Troll Wrote: "Detractors have also claimed that the other reorganizations were due to personal vendettas while supporters point to cost savings of $500,000."

Fact: If we're saving $500k on some job eliminations, we're more than making up for it with increases elsewhere, since the total taxes paid by the property owners of Maplewood are rising by about $1.4 million (citation: the Review article quotes Copeland saying the new levy will be about $15.5 million, and according to the 2007 budget, page 6, the 2006 levy was about $14.1 million).

Exactly where they are spending this extra money they're taking out of our pockets is a little hard to figure out, because of how they rearranged everything in the budget. If you look on page 11 of the 2007 budget, though, we have "Total By Classification," where you can see the biggest increase is 8.7% for "Contractual Services." We're spending another $692,540 there. It looks to me like all the much ballyhooed "savings" from eliminating these enemies of the Gang of Three are going straight into the hands of new independent contractors, such as Bethel & Associates, and then some.

Every time our troll or another Longrista talks about how much their staff cuts are saving the city, ask them back, so why are we going to pay 10.2% more in taxes? The fact is, their added hiring (new super-managers) and other spending increases will more than offset savings from the positions eliminated, plus they'll be doling out big new checks to their pals as "independent contractors" as well.

I don't know if we had higher than average management costs before (all we know is that half of our managers are paid better than average, and even that requires us to believe Copeland), but if we did, this council and manager have only rearranged them on paper.

Our Troll Wrote: "Supporters point out that it was Ms. Cave who ran for office and won by an overwhelming majority (approx 70%)."

Fact: Cave won less than 64% (documentation: Ramsey County website, Special Election results) in the special election on February 28th, which doesn't quite round to 70%. As impressive as this sounds, it's important to remember that turnout in this special election was very low (less than 12% of registered voters), and though she won, her vote total was actually lower than the number of votes she had gotten in the regular election the previous November, which she lost (documentation: Ramsey County website). Turnout was on the level where, say, a group of people in a church could swing it by pressuring their fellow congregants to get out and vote for a member of the parish.

Our Troll Wrote: "Supporters of Copeland pointed out than his failure to complete an advanced degree, limited work history, and legal problems were the result of a car accident many years ago (the other vehicle being at fault) leaving his wife seriously and permanently injured, requiring Copeland to serve as a full-time caregiver for his wife to the present day."

My Question Still Remains: How is it that now he is able work more-than-full-time as city manager, after so many years of being unable to work or go to school? Has he abandoned her? Did she get better, or pass away? Is the city health plan paying for the care that he used to have to do himself? (And if so, why couldn't he get a similar job before, if he's so well qualified?)

I am not really keen to drag the poor woman into this, but if she's the true reason for his decade of failing to accomplish anything, I have to wonder, what changed? And when? Was it just good timing that exactly when he no longer needed to care for his disabled wife, this Maplewood opportunity arose?

Rebecca Cave's Spine

Our regular troll thinks that Rebecca Cave is not Diana's puppet, but is an independent thinker.

I thought it might be fun to quantify things a bit.

From the beginning of her term through November 30th (a date chosen because that's as far as the minutes I have on hand go), looking at all regular and special city council meetings, there were a total of 13 votes where Rebecca's and Diana's votes diverged. In other words, there's less than a 50% chance that Rebecca will vote differently than Diana even once in any given meeting.

The first time she voted differently than the mayor was Cave's 8th council meeting, on May 8th.

Starting with that, here are her diverging votes.

• May 8: Rossbach moved to waive the rules of procedure for a code revision requiring two readings of an ordinance. Cave seconded. Only Longrie voted against it. (She likes longer meetings, as we've seen.) Maybe Cave didn't realize how Diana would vote, and felt she couldn't vote nay after being the second.

• May 22: Jueneman moved a senior citizen deferral for Joseph Cote on the Kenwood Area Street Improvement Project. Rossbach seconded. Only Cave voted against it. (Maybe she doesn't like old people? I don't know the voting order -- maybe she went first and figured that if R&J favored it, she ought to oppose.)

• June 12: Rossbach moved to adopt the second reading of amendments to the noise ordinance. Hjelle seconded. Only Longrie voted against it. (She seems to have persistent trouble with listening, and certainly loves to hear herself talk, so maybe noise doesn't bother her.) Maybe Cave was following Hjelle's lead.

• June 12: Rossbach moved to authorize planning for a drainage improvement at Valley View Drive. Juenemann seconded, only Longrie voted against.

• June 12: Hjelle moved to adopt a resolution for Brand Avenue Draining Improvements. Longrie seconded "with a friendly amendment that community involvement be explored" (always looking for more chances to hear herself talk). In spite of her second, Longrie then voted against the motion, as did Rossbach. Cave was probably confused by Longrie's second and thought she was supposed to vote in favor.

Almost a quarter of Cave's divergent votes were at this meeting, which took place down at the Carver School. Maybe the unusual setting made it harder for her to read her cues? Afterwards, she went three meetings straight without contradicting the mayor. Maybe she got a stern talking-to.

• August 14: Rossbach moved to deny a building setback variance for Carpet Court. Hjelle seconded. Longrie and Juenemann voted nay. (As in previous cases, Hjelle's second may have given Cave mixed signals on how she was supposed to vote.)

• August 28: Rossbach moved to deny the removal of two stop signs on Atlantic at Leland and to approve the removal of two on Junction at Atlantic. Juenemann seconded. Only Cave voted against.

• September 29: Hjelle moved a four-way stop and stuff. Following his lead, Cave seconded. Longrie and Rossbach voted against.

• September 29: Rossbach moved a resolution authorizing preparation of a preliminary report on utilities and streets within the Crestview Forest Addition. Juenemann seconded. Longrie alone voted nay.

• October 23: Rossbach moved a substandard buildings finding, which keeps TIF open as a option for the St Paul Tourist Cabins site. Hjelle seconded. Only Diana voted against, allowing her to posture against TIF when she knew how the vote would go (given Hjelle's second).

• November 13: Juenemann moved awarding a contract for the new sewer cameras. Hjelle seconded. Only Longrie voted nay.

• November 13: Jueneman moved adopting assessment rates for 2007 street improvements. Hjelle seconded. Only Longrie voted nay.

• November 27: Hjelle moved that the city attorney research options dealing with liquor licensing. Juenemann seconded. Only Longrie voted nay.

So, we have 13 diverging votes. In 8 out of those 13, Hjelle either made the motion or seconded it. Moreover, in only two votes -- the senior citizen deferral on May 22, and the stop sign issue on August 28 -- did Cave vote against both Hjelle and Longrie. In both cases, the motions were made and seconded by Rossbach and Juenemann (which may have given the Longrie or Hjelle less opportunity to signal Cave how to vote), and in neither case was it a big or controversial matter.

Anyone have the tapes for those meetings? I wonder if Cave or Rossbach voted first, meaning Cave didn't get a chance to see how Hjelle or Longrie were going to vote.

In any case, I see a pattern here, and "independent thought" isn't the right description for it.

Don't mistake that for a spine on Rebecca -- it's actually Diana's arm stuck up there, moving her around like the puppet she is.

Personnel Policy Revisions

Today's Maplewood-Ramsey County Review has a fairly lengthy article on the personnel policy changes that Copeland has made.

The article states:
According to Copeland, the changes will not be brought to the City Council for any kind of review, and their approval is not required in a "Plan B council-manager" form of government.

Guest Comment

One of our frequent commenters, LookingNorth, sent this by e-mail. I agree that it is worth making into a blog entry of its own.
- Frostbrand.


For our anonymous Longrie-ite:

Here’s the gist of it for me…I know you may find it hard to believe, but not all of us are anti-musketeer for the sake of being anti-musketeer. The three stooges brought all of this on themselves.

I can understand Hjelle’s comment about not getting elected to win a popularity contest. And, for me, it’s not about replacing or not replacing Fursman. It is also not about hiring or not hiring Mr. Brilliant. What it is about is process. It is about discourse. It is about ethics. With the three musketeers, there has been nothing in the way of process or discourse, much less ethics. I agree that they had a platform that they ran on. However, did the platform explicitly lay out that we were going to have nothing but scorched earth when the three of them rode thru town? Do you really think that they would’ve gotten elected if they had mentioned that they were going to pull the 2:00 am stunt? Yes, they would have received votes. But I am sure a significant portion of the voters, knowing what they know now, would certainly vote differently. I know I would!

I understand that Rossbach & Jeunemann could more often than not be voting in the minority on many issues. However, on most of these issues, at least the ones that truly mattered, there was never any substantive discussion, at least from the threesome. NEVER! Never a question about Mr. Brilliant’s background. Never a hint of ethical misgiving about the 2:00 am stunt. And, they can dress it up all they want, but the "reorganization" has been given up on more than one occasion as being for rather nefarious reasons.

I would be OK with change when there has been some real thought put into it. Hell, I would even welcome change down in my end of town (yes, I live near the Schlomka/CoPar mess) if that change is thoughtfully done. However, this business of running thru town like a band of thugs with a giant torch, burning everything in site doesn’t work.

Daily troll highlights

Dear troll(s):
Please use bullet points in the comments to this thread to post the daily messages assigned to you. That will save us all the time of reading the camocrap you normally use to embed your assigned message. LI is a useful tag.

  • (from comments) They can also call the papers from time to time and make accusations.
  • (from the magicly appearing wiki article) Several efforts have been made by detractors to generate newspaper articles critical of Longrie, Cave, and Hjelle

If you cooperate we will give you a daily message to feed in.

Thank you.

Tuesday, December 26, 2006

Cave Not Running?

A reader comment on the last post mentioned that the Wikipedia entry for Maplewood has been updated to include mention of the Banick firing, sorry, "reorganization."

Besides providing a thumbnail sketch of the current state of chaos in Maplewood government, the entry also includes this line: "Cave recently announced that she would not seek re-election in 2007."

I had not heard this before, and wonder if anyone can verify it?

Friday, December 22, 2006

The Banick Case in the Review

This week's Maplewood-Ramsey County Review has an article on the Banick firing and the lawsuit it is becoming.

Besides the usual song and dance (Copeland claims unprecedented, sweeping powers; outside experts interviewed voice "bewilderment" when asked what they think of it...you know how it goes), the article also gives us some meet on the perennial topic of lawsuits and insurance. Specifically, it reports that the city is liable for up to $50,000 per lawsuit, to a maximum of $200,000. It also suggests that the number of lawsuits we get embroiled in "could eventually affect the cost of the insurance premiums paid to the League."

I have no idea how that gets quantified, but if I were the insurer paying to defend Maplewood, I'd be pretty unhappy about their recent launch of what appears to be a major, ongoing lawsuit-creation program.

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

Cave: The Weakest Link

The folks at Maplewood Voices put up an audio clip from Monday's meeting, where the mayor discusses her "math" about possible open meeting law violations. According to Prof. Schultz, one of the council members confessed to violating the law. Longrie says that she didn't violate it. She also says Hjelle never let Prof. Schultz interview him, so it couldn't have been him.

I suppose she might like people to infer that either Rossbach or Jueneman confessed to a violation, but that defies logic, since they aren't a quorum and they're the minority in all the substantial votes that might be at issue. (I suppose Diana's supporters might like to believe that Rossbach, Jueneman and Cave conspired to agree to approve the minutes or agenda in advance of public discussion, and this is what Prof. Schultz is talking about.)

In effect, Diana pointed a big fat arrow at Rebecca Cave.

Of course, Rebecca couldn't violate the meeting alone. So that means that Diana is also calling Rebecca a liar, or she's saying Rebecca is ignorant and doesn't know what she's talking about.

Either way, it shows the contempt that Mayor Longrie actually has for Rebecca. Cave is just her empty-headed cheerleader (watch their body language closely in the meetings, as Diana all but says "you can go ahead and make this motion for me now, dearie"), and Diana will throw her under a bus in a heartbeat if it serves her agenda. As long as Rebecca faithfully and unquestioningly follows the mayor's lead, she'll get the pampering of a prized poodle -- but cross her on anything serious (those 4-1 votes where the mimes concern for fiscal responsibility after everyone else has voted don't count), and there will be hell to pay.

The information emerging also paints a picture of what may have happened. Here's the emerging likely scenario:

First of all, the mayor trusts Rebecca, as her protege lacking a will of her own, to follow her lead without asking questions. Had Diana appointed a convicted child molester, she trusted that Rebecca would have voted for him, out of fear of Diana if not blind trust. (As an anonymous pro-Diana individual puts it in our comments, "Could you even fathom a scenario where one of the three would have voted no on manager replacement? No." Mindless obedience is what Diana's followers celebrate.)

Hjelle is a bit more of a wild card. Unlike Rebecca, he was a winner in the open election. His voting pattern more often strays from Diana (though still not by much), and he often shows exasperation with the tedious way that she slows down the meetings to hear herself talk more. So to be sure of getting her way, Diana would likely have gone to Hjelle beforehand to know that he would support her move to install Copeland.

But Rebecca may not have been quite the empty puppet that Diana believes. Rebecca may herself have talked with Hjelle, perhaps with specific concerns about who to install in the position. They knew from the previous meeting that they needed someone, and Cave may have been concerned about the previous plan to elevate a person from the staff.

So if Cave asked Hjelle (remember, Hjelle and Cave's husbands are fellow firefighters, with their personal grudges against the old city manager and other people in city hall), which only makes sense, he might have reassured her that Diana was planning to nominate a friend of hers, who they could trust to do their bidding.

In spite of the mayor's contempt for her, Rebecca may have the intellect to put things together, and realize that this constituted a serial meeting and a textbook case of an open meeting law violation: a quorum coming to a decision on a course of action, outside of public meetings, specifically in order to avoid public discussions of the issue at hand. They wanted to avoid questions of "why not promote someone temporarily from within city hall, to maintain continuity?" and they wanted to avoid discussions of Copeland's background, details of his relationship to the mayor and her husband etc. The earlier the information on Copeland's background came out, the harder it would be to install him. By delaying the background check and discussion of it as long as possible, they were able to say, "See, those qualifications didn't matter -- he's been in the position for months, and the whole city has not caught fire and burned to the ground, so he's doing just great!!"

In any case, to be clear, the trio's explicit defense against the open meeting law is that they didn't really care about the qualifications of the interim manager and of course they were going to do whatever the mayor wanted without asking any questions. That's a heck of a defense for an elected leader to put forward.

A Reader Comments on the Comments

A reader sent us an e-mail to synopsize a lot of recent activity in our comments, with added commentary:

Reading the postings of the supporter of the three musketeers is getting tiring. In fact, the whole debacle is getting tiring. We stay up way too late every other Monday to watch at least 3 people who really don't care that much about the WHOLE city of Maplewood. The only things they are interested in is their little corners of the city. The discussion of the Open Meeting Law illustrates this perfectly.

For the poster who appears to be one of the sitting three musketeers...

You simply cannot deny, as Frostbrand has put it before, that one of two things has happened. Either the three musketeers are really irresponsible council people or they have certainly violated the open meeting law.

Frostbrand has brought up the issue of Copeland's unveiling by Diana and how Erik and Rebecca simply passed muster without so much as a question. Please Mr/Ms musketeer, explain your interpretation of this event. How is it that, if you are a responsible council member, you don't ask any background questions? Could it be that you have already asked your questions in a meeting outside of the council chambers? Was it just a passing question in the grocery store? Or perhaps a few words at a basketball game? Or a full blown backroom discussion about the direction of the city?

Another event that has, to a certain degree flown under the radar was the vote to (temporarily) remove the interim tag from Mr. Brilliant. Again, a motion put forth by one of the musketeers and not so much as questioned by either of the other two. If either Diana or Rebecca cared at all about the city, wouldn't either of them want to discuss this motion and it's ramifications at length? Wouldn't we be concerned about the ethics of the situation? Apparently not. Couldn't one of you at least appear to be concerned about the process? Please, just once...Fake it at least. Then again, I have been told directly that at least one of the threesome does not care about the process.

It's really too bad. Each of the musketeers has had a chance to become a leader and do something really good. They have had at least two glorious chances as illustrated above. And they each have failed.

These two events in and of themselves represent how little the threesome cares about the city.

People have been run up the pole. Facts have been twisted...The three of you keep taking care of your own little corner of the city. For the rest of you...you can wait for Erik's spot in 3 years...

Strange Request for our Readers

I have an odd request for our readers today.

I would be grateful if someone could forward me some e-mails received from Mayor Longrie. The topic doesn't matter, but I need the entire e-mail, with the full internet headers. I will probably need multiple e-mails, so if you have more than one you are comfortable sending, please do.

Send to WhatsLeftOfMaplewood@yahoo.com.


Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Monday Night Reader Commentary

Another council meeting, another batch of mail from our readers with their running observations:

Early musings from tonight's meeting...

- John Nephew for Mayor! Or, maybe better yet, John Nephew for President! He deserves something for making Hjelle look like the fool that he is. Do these people not pay attention to what they have said in the past?

- Oh no. I thought the we were done counting at 4. Based on the comments of Mr. Kantrud on the County Attorney's Open Meeting letter, it sounds like he is in on the gig as well. Make it a fivesome. I can hardly wait to see what is in the County Attorney's letter (if it ever shows up on the website). Is Will right? Or is it our new fangled city attorney?

- Poor Strib reporter. He will probably soon be reorganized out of his job for disparaging our interim (yes, he will be gone sooner than he thinks) city manager.

- Diana saved the best for last. I guess if Diana says that something didn't happen, then, aw shucks, we should definitely believe her. And that's that. I am not sure I understood her math. Then again, she is a lawyer, not an accountant. Unless Schulz is lying, someone admitted that the open meeting law was violated. Also, has Diana (or any of the fearsome foursome for that matter) read all of the way thru the law. Consecutive meetings/phone calls/e-mails consitute a violation. She demonstrated CLEARLY that she does not understand that part of the law...even though she claims to be a lawyer.

On the topic of the Ramsey County Attorney's letter: I see that Maplewood Voices has a digital copy online this morning.

Our same reader has more thoughts on the letter and Kantrud's interesting interpretation of it:

It's official. Kantrud is in. He is a member of the club. After reading the response from the County Attorney's (CA) office and comparing it to the analysis of our shiny new city attorney, there is a bit more clarity.

One of two things is happening. Either Mr. Kantrud has some trouble with reading comprehension and is unable to follow along with the logic in the letter. Or, he is doing what he can to keep a listing ship afloat. I tend to think it is the latter since he made it all the way thru law school.

Mr. Kantrud vigorously insisted that, based on the letter, the Open Meeting Law issues were baseless when, in fact, it was the conflict of interest issues that were baseless. The only thing the letter from the CA's office said about the Open Meeting issue was that the CA's office was not the place to take this up. THAT'S ALL.

Maybe he HAS to defend the threesome/foursome because it is his job as city attorney? Someone help me with this one.

Either way, the soap opera continues. Except we now have a new character in the story...

This isn't really surprising. The old attorneys resigned because the Gang of Three refused to heed their advice. Who would they hire except someone who would give them the advice that they want to hear? Kantrud must realize that his job is only secondarily to give sound legal advice; it's mainly to provide cover for the Gang. His misreading of the county attorney's letter is only the most egregious example to date.

Monday, December 18, 2006

Open Meeting Law

I wanted to follow up with a reply of my own to an earlier thread. Given that it's a little long, I figured I'd make this a posting of its own.

Our first anonymous commenter on that topic wrote,
What get me though with this Maplewood situation is why don't all of these people making open meeting violation claims actually file a complaint with the appropriate people? Note that the County Attorney is not the appropriate party since she only can handle felony cases and open meeting violations are simple misdemeaners. The complaint is supposed to be filed with the city prosecutor who will be required to farm it out to another city prosecutor in another city.
I dare say we have a case here of another self-proclaimed expert making erroneous claims (after humorously criticizing others for the same). :)

For a start, it is false that the county attorney "only can handle felony cases." While the county attorney is responsible for felony cases, they clearly may be involved in lesser charges as well. For example, on the Ramsey County Attorney's website, we read "The three prosecutors in the [Joint Domestic Abuse Prosecution] unit review all levels of domestic assault – from misdemeanors to felonies." It is absurd to think that a county attorney would be prohibited from prosecuting misdemeanors; wouldn't that mean that they would not be allowed to plea bargain a felony down to a misdemeanor, because then they would no longer have jurisdiction? Or that if they determined a case under investigation did not warrant felony charges, they would be forced to drop it entirely?

Moreover, according to the Minnesota Legislature document referenced by our original reader, open meeting violations are an issue of civil law, not criminal, so they are neither misdemeanors nor felonies. I don't know if this specific matter falls under the county attorney's purview, but clearly the county attorney does handle both civil and criminal matters.

I could be wrong, but I have the impression that open meeting law cases tend to be brought by individuals. Past open meeting law cases I'm aware of have included parents suing a school board for allegedly making decisions outside of public meetings about which schools in a district to close, for example. I don't know if this is so because of the law, or just because it's individual parties that have had the interest in pursuing cases.

According to that document on the legislature's website, the remedies for violations of the law are as follows:
The open meeting law provides a civil penalty of up to $300 for intentional violation. A person who is found to have intentionally violated the law in three or more legal actions involving the same governmental body forfeits the right to serve on that body for a time equal to the term the person was serving. The Minnesota Supreme Court has held that this removal provision is constitutional, provided that the violations occurred after the person had a reasonable amount of time to learn the responsibilities of office.
Given that the former city manager, the city attorney, and the outside consultant Prof. Schultz, all quite strongly and repeatedly warned the council about the law and its implications, and did so on the public record starting in the earliest days of the terms of Longrie, Hjelle, and Cave, it seems clear that these people know their responsibility to follow the law in this area.

The legislature's document continues:
A public body may not pay a civil penalty on behalf of a person who violated the law. However, a public body may pay any costs, disbursements, or attorney fees incurred by or awarded against a member of the body in an action under the open meeting law if the member was found not guilty of a violation. [emphasis mine]
So if suit is brought against the triumvirate and decided against them, they are personally on the hook for both the $300 and the cost of their defense -- and possibly the cost of the plaintiff's attorney as well. What might that come to? The legislature's document continues:
A court may award reasonable costs, disbursements, and reasonable attorney fees of up to $13,000 to any party in an action under the open meeting law. However, the following conditions apply:
• A court may award costs and attorney fees to a defendant only if it finds that the action was frivolous and without merit
• A court may award monetary penalties or attorney fees against a member of a public body only if the court finds there was specific intent to violate the open meeting law
Again, there have been multiple warnings about the open meeting law (all the way up to the city attorneys resigning because their warnings were repeatedly ignored), which I think would play into the question of intent against the gang of three's favor.

Finally, the document tells us:
The appropriate mechanism to enforce the open meeting law is to bring an action in district court seeking injunctive relief or damages. The statute does not provide for a declaratory judgment action.
So district court is where the action occurs, but it's still not clear to me who has standing to bring it (if it has to be individual citizens, or if for example the County Attorney could bring suit on behalf of the people).

In terms of “putting their money where their mouth is,” this may indeed be required. It may be necessary for interested parties – for example, a group of Maplewood citizens, or wrongfully terminated employees, or developers who suffered from decisions against them made behind closed doors, or what have you – to take the initiative and file a suit in district court. Three such successful legal actions could remove the mayor or councilor(s) from office before the expiration of their terms.

At the very least, the discovery process would no doubt turn up some very interesting records about what this council does behind closed doors. Given the evidence and testimony already on the public record, it's hard to imagine that a suit would be deemed frivolous.

Hjelle: Not Running Again

In a wonderful article in yesterday's Star Tribune, we are treated to some good news as an aside: "Hjelle ... said last week he will not run for reelection."

That's still three years away, though, so we still have a lot of entertainment yet to get from our Chumpelopithecus.

Lawsuits and Rumors of Lawsuits

Another reader shares an anonymous tip: "Word on the street ... is that Linda, the manager that got fired, has already filed a lawsuit."

The same correspondent asks, "Is there an easy way to check Ramsey County and/or federal court filings against the city?" Give us your suggestions in the comments.

We have another closed session about litigation this evening, don't we? Anyone know if it's the same lawsuit topic as last week, or a different one?

Thursday, December 14, 2006

Nepotism Clause?

A comment anonymously submitted to an earlier thread shared this tidbit:

Not sure where to post this, but I recently found out that the City has removed its nepotism clause from its City Employment Agreement. Yeah, now Longrie and Cave's husbands can get a supervisory positions within the City.

How is Hjelle going to benefit? I'm sure the buffoon will figure out some way to make this work to his advantage. [...]

I think this rumor deserves a posting of its own. Can anyone confirm the change?

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Reader Mail: Closed Sessions

Another reader wrote on Tuesday with some helpful research on the topic of closed sessions:

Here is an answer to question about the closed session litigation...

In order to close a meeting under the attorney-client privilege exception, the governing body must give a particularized statement describing the subject to be discussed. A general statement that the meeting is being closed to discuss pending or threatened litigation is
not sufficient.

...This comes from a open meeting law document found thru Google at the address given here...


Based on this little nugget, am I missing something here? (Seriously, am I off my rocker on this one???) I am not an attorney. I have never been involved in a situation that required my knowledge of the open meeting law. But I have known about the law. How can one not? If nothing else, it is just good ethics to follow everything laid out in it. And how is it that the powers that be, including our new city attorney missed this item with regard to the closed meetings.

And while we are on the subject of the open meeting law...

As I comb thru this site as well as the Maplewood Voices site, one comes across the items concerning the Open Meeting Law in the Schulz Report. Why is it that nothing has been done about the Open Meeting Law violations even though it has been freely admitted by the Mayor that these actions actually occur?

This just shows that the threesome plus our brilliant city manager really don't care about the laws much less anything concerning that dirty word known as ethics...

Monday Night Reader Commentary

First, a general note. Our assumption is that if you send us e-mail you don't mind it being used in the blog (without attributing you by name, unless you explicitly say so) -- if that's not the case, be sure to tell us.

One of our readers on Monday night sent a bit of running commentary as the council meeting was in session, so I thought I'd share it with our whole audience (which seems to be growing, to judge from the number of unique viewers and page views in recent weeks).

* * *
Subject: Dodgeball!!

A new name for our brilliant city manager...

Roger Dodger!!

He has not answered a question all night even though he has been asked many and spewed much hot air. Could it be that he cannot answer questions without trading private e-mail with his 3 cronies? Oh. Pardon me. That would amount to a violation of the Open Meeting Law...

I keep thinking of the Guiness commercial when thinking of his greatness ... BRILLIANT!!

* * *

Subject: The Chief

Kathy keeps hammering on the loss of the Deputy Chief. Why not simply ask the real Chief himself? Then mr. brilliant will be exposed for who he is.

* * *

Subject: Teams

I should have gotten to this a few minutes ago. However, I just got off the floor after falling out of my chair from laughing so hard I was crying. Or was I simply crying for the sadness of it all...?

George...er Rebecca, wants everyone on the council to work as a team? Funny this teamwork since they were so afraid to work with the team that was already in place in the form of the department managers, especially when those managers formed the more exclusive team called a bargaining unit.

Now that the threesome has gotten their way and squashed the bargaining unit and any other non-cooperators in their path, teamwork is back in vogue.

The double standard makes me want to throw up...

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Breaking News: De Nile Rerouted to Flow Through Maplewood

Late-night watchers, or those with recording equipment, had a chance to see Diana Longrie voice a new opinion on the letter from former mayor Bob Cardinal to the Ramsey County Attorney, calling for investigation of possible open meeting law violations by the Mayor and her cohorts. Previously Diana's uncharitable view was that Cardinal was just "sour grapes," since he lost the primary election last year. Now Diana has a different theory that, because she and Mr. Cardinal are great friends, it's not possible that he actually wrote the letter.

I see a couple of lessons here. First is that Diana is maintaining her record of denying reality even when it's staring her in the face. Second is that in Diana's world, personal friendships and alliances (one might say "cronyism") are supreme; it is hard for her to imagine that a friend of hers would place principles of good governance and the rule of law above personal loyalty to her.

Monday, December 11, 2006

Closed Session: Litigation

The city council is scheduled to have a closed special session meeting at 6:00 this evening, to discuss litigation. My question is, which litigation? The agenda on the city website doesn't say. It might be CoPar's suit against the city; or Sherrie Le's wrongful dismissal suits; or the Keyser/Lazaryan imbroglio (which, to be fair, I don't think can really be laid at the triumvirate's feet, unlike the other two); or, for all we know, it might be something coming down the pike about violations of the open meeting law.

I realize the discussions at the meeting are confidential, and rightly so if matters of legal strategy are being discussed, but it would be nice to know which lawsuit(s) are at issue.

And, finally -- let's remember that this mayor and her majority promised that reducing the city's exposure to lawsuits would be a big priority on their agenda. Yeah, we've said it before, but it bears repeating every time that Kantrud & Co. get to bill us all for a bunch more hours defending us against lawsuits that didn't need to happen in the first place, were it not for the clowncil's myopia and incompetence.

Sunday, December 10, 2006

More Firings

A tip from one of our readers:

The manager and assistant manager of the Community Center were informed [Friday] that their positions are being written out of the budget and they are done as of December 31. The AM was taken to lunch to be informed of this on his 30th birthday [Friday]. He has a new premie baby at home so wil have no health insurance as mom needs to stay home.

Both were informed that they will get one month’s severance if they resign prior to the end of the year. They will be far better served by being ‘laid off’ so they can collect unemployment. These two worked alternate shifts at the Center to keep the it open 18 hours a day, 7 days a week. They have been at the Center since it opened. How will the city replace them with no money in the budget for those positions? Legally they can’t but I am sure the ‘powers’ think they can figure out a way to do it. Maybe with their friends and family???

These two make the 10th and 11th employees victimized by the triumvirate and their hatchet man. How much more can the community take before there are no services left?

Friday, December 08, 2006

Payback: A Reader's Thoughts

Monday night we got this e-mail at WhatsLeftOfMaplewood@yahoo.com, which I thought I'd share:
Payback sucks. It really sucks for the little people. People like all of us on our little street in the South End of Maplewood. Thanks to an apparently idiotic action by our apparently stupid Deputy police cheif, we will be losing one fine member of our police department who apparently did nothing but listen to the radio. The problem is not that the Deputy Police Cheif is tuned to the wrong station. Quite the contrary. It is the three musketeers who need to adjust thier dial. I can't help but think once the services start eroding due to the current joke of a budget, how difficult it is going to be to get someone down here to check out the wholesale/retail operation we have going next door. Let me give you one clue...They aren't selling bubble gum. If it was just me, I would have to reserve judgement. However, when I have every neighbor down the block with the same independent opinion as I do, then how can I be wrong? It is so bad that someone outside of the neighborhood asked me if it was what I thought it was. As it is now, I have trouble getting someone to do something. What's it going to be like next year when there is no one there to listen? (As I write this, two more cars have pulled up to pick up thier "goods" at 11:13 PM. They are gone by 11:15 PM)
Government . . . it's a balancing act. That difficult choice between getting vengeance on the guy who researched the details of Emperor Copeland's stark nudity, versus little things like having the police staff level to respond to complaints of drug dealers in our neighborhoods.

Thursday, December 07, 2006

Partisanship and Maplewood

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.

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

Sink or Swim

Another experienced deckhand has decided to grab a life preserver and risk the cold waters rather than get sucked down by our foundering Good Ship Maplewood and the incompetents at its helm: MaplewoodVoices is reporting that Parks & Rec Director Bruce Anderson has resigned.

Don't worry. I'm sure the anti-heroic trio have some unemployed pal waiting in the wings who can do the job almost as well as this long-time veteran public servant. If not holding a job in a decade qualifies you to be city manager, a lower managerial position like this probably doesn't even require a G.E.D.

Sunday, December 03, 2006


Payback is the theme in city hall this year. First we had Fursman ousted by Hjelle/Cave/Longrie, nursing personal grudges or those of their spouses. Then came Sherri Le, who was also on the personal hit list of city employees Hjelle and Cave. And now a deputy police chief is being reorganized out of his job -- the deputy police chief who simply did his job in assembling the legally required background report on the interim city manager who was appointed out of the blue by his friend the mayor. (Hat tip to Maplewood Voices.)

To the extent that the clowncil has anything resembling a coherent political philosophy, it seems best described as just "personal vengeance."

Saturday, December 02, 2006


The packet for Monday's special council meeting includes this passage:
The city departments have been reorganized into three management groups each with their own manager reporting to the City Manager. This reorganization is required for accountable management of all city departments given the action by department heads to vote to form a labor bargaining group in October 2006.
Is it just me, or does that sound, well, petulant?