What's Left of Maplewood (MN)

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

Tuesday, February 27, 2007

A Council Meeting Best Served Cold

The big news at last night's council meeting was of course the Gladstone redevelopment plan, which was put on ice by the council minority. The 4-1 supermajority required for amendments to the comprehensive land use plan gave Rossbach and Juenemann a rare opportunity to flex their governance muscles.

But let's not lose sight of the majority's continuing commitment to vendetta. At the tail end of the meeting, the votes were tallied for the Police Civil Service Commission seat of Debra Birkholtz. No other eligible candidates applied, so it was aye or nay votes on whether to reappoint Ms. Birkholtz. It should come as no surprise that the nays carried it 3 to 2. Evidently a record of holding state law above the council majority's longing for vengeance meant that she made it onto the enemies list herself. I guess this means the seat remains vacant until the council majority can recruit a more malleable individual to fill it and do their bidding.

Monday, February 26, 2007

This Communication May Be Monitored

One of the duties of the new Public Safety über-Manager: "reports all contacts and communications with members of collective bargaining units to City Manager."

At the present time, all city employees belong to collective bargaining units except the über-managers and pay-per-call firefighters. So if this person has a conversation with any full-time firefighter or police officer, he must report it to the city manager. The language doesn't limit this to communications about city business, either, so it sounds like private e-mails or social contact with city employees (say, chatting with a staffer from a different city department at a church service or neighborhood gathering) must be reported to Mr. Copeland.

Is this a standard clause for managerial positions?

Since communications and contact with NON-union city employees (such as pay-per-call firefighters) is A-OK, no reporting necessary, it sure sounds like the idea is just to limit and monitor contact between this new manager and union members. Maybe Copeland is afraid the new manager would want to join a bargaining unit him/herself?

Saturday, February 24, 2007

Where will all the applicants line up?

(click for a larger image)

Crystal has 28 sworn officers.
Police Chief salary range $79-97,000.

Maplewood has 52 sworn officers.
Police Chief's boss's salary range: to $85,000.

Friday, February 23, 2007

Agenda Addition: Item L5

The latest revision to the agenda and council packet for this coming Monday's meeting has this addition under "New Business": "Authority to Contract Additional Services from City Auditor."

Since Assistant Finance Director Gayle Bauman departed this past week, our city's finance department now appears to have four employees (a secretary, a payroll technician, and two accounting technicians). With a city budget around $30 million, there are apparently a few financial management tasks that do still need to be taken care of here and there. Copeland's memo to the council recommends hiring our current independent auditors to shoulder some of the burden:

Those additional services are as follows:

1. Preparation of the 2006 Comprehensive Annual Financial Report - $8,000 - $9,000

2. Implementation of Government Auditing Standards Board Statement, GASB,44
Economic Condition Reporting - $1,000 - $2,000

3. Workpaper/schedule preparation for the 2006 Audit – Not to exceed $5,000.

Recommendation: Adopt a motion giving the City Manager authority to contract with the City’s Auditor, HLB Tautges Redpath for additional services up to the amount of $16,000.

I don't know if it's standard practice in city government to hire your auditor as a financial consultant to perform additional services. I seem to recall the mixing of auditing work with other kinds of contractual services has led to problems for some entities in the past, at least in other contexts (the name Arthur Anderson springs to mind).

I mean, does it make sense to have the same firm both prepare an annual report and then audit it? Will we at least be reassured that individual staff from this firm who audit the books will be different from the ones who prepare them?

In the more than two weeks since Bauman announced her resignation, was Copeland unable to shop for bids from multiple accounting firms to offer to the city council for interim financial assistance? Or were none willing to bid?

Tuesday, February 20, 2007

Welcome City Pages Blotter readers


For those readers who insist on knowing what we are talking about: City Pages 2/20 Blotter entry

Frostbrand, drawnLeftward, and LookingNorth follow the strange municipal politics in the eastern suburbs at What's Left of Maplewood (MN).

Sunday, February 18, 2007

It's not too late!

Forgot to apply by the Feb 9 deadline?

Don't worry, you still can - and now there is no deadline!

FINANCE AND ADMINISTRATION MANAGER City of Maplewood Starting Salary up to $85,000 The City of Maplewood as an immediate opening for an experienced manager to oversee City's Finance & Admin Mgmt group. Provides oversight of Public Works; Inspections, Planning & Building Ops; and IT Depts.
as well as leadership of Finance Dept. This position is Chief Financial
Policy Advisor providing innovative initiatives & accountable
service delivery. Email resumes for priority consideration toharriet.rydel@ ci.maplewood.mn.us or visit our website at www.ci.maplewood.mn.us for application packet or call (651) 249-2051. EOE
(Star Tribune - Jobs online)

Saturday, February 17, 2007

The Out of Towners

(click image for a bigger view)

earlier plot version

Friday, February 16, 2007

Godwin's Law

On August 4th, I made this prediction: "Sometime in the next six months, Hjelle & Co. will publicly compare their opponents to Nazis. It's the inevitable next step."

I almost was proven wrong, but at the 11th hour one of the council majority's proxies delivered the goods at the Mayor's Forum on February 3rd, in the approving presence of both Mayor Longrie and Mr. Hjelle, neither of whom voiced any disagreement with the speaker. (Mayor Longrie even stepped up to help clarify his remarks, and gave him the floor to have the last word after the meeting was scheduled to end.)

Why did I say it was the inevitable next step? Well, it's predicted by Godwin's Law, AKA Godwin's Rule of Nazi Analogies. Godwin was talking about internet discussions, but his observation has been generalized to other public discussions as well. The longer a debate goes on, observed Godwin, the more likely someone will make a comparison to Nazis, regardless of how absurd such a comparison may be. Back in August, I figured that calling something really profoundly American -- such as exercising our first amendment rights to criticize our government -- "un-American," as Hjelle did, is a warning sign that a Nazi comparison can't be far away.

A widely accepted corollary of Godwin's Law is that once somebody brings up the Nazis, the argument is pretty much over, and the person who invoked the Nazi comparison almost certainly lost it. It's an emotional outburst, more of an expletive than an argument. The person making the comparison thinks it is very compelling and rhetorically forceful, but he usually winds up sounding silly, as he seems to argue that something like a citizen taping a public meeting deserves the same level of moral condemnation as mass murder and genocide.

There are exceptions, of course. For example, if you're talking about mass internment of political dissidents, or the extermination of entire groups on account of religion or ethnicity, a comparison to Nazis isn't absurd.

But talking about Maplewood? Saying (I got a copy of the audio via data practices to make sure I quote this accurately), "if we fall for this baloney, these organizations [i.e., citizens who criticize the council majority] with their computers will raze our cities just like Berlin in the early 1940's" -- well, that's just the kind of hyperbole Godwin's Law is talking about.

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

And you may ask yourself, “Well, how did I get here?”

This all started as a hobby.

Early last year, citizens of Maplewood starting seeing signs that things were not right in city hall. I went to my first-ever city council meeting. My first impression was that this council was, to put it mildly, dysfunctional.

When drawnLeftward and I started this blog, we saw it as a sort of entertainment project. Admittedly, making fun of a city council that displayed a serious commitment to acts of self-parody wasn't the most challenging project in the world, but we thought we'd give it a whirl. The new council majority seemed to invite ridicule, and as polite Minnesotans we could hardly refuse them.

As the year went on I found myself drawn more and more seriously into the issues of Maplewood — both the details (things like the budget) and the bigger picture (things like the fundamental questions of good government and respect for process, and the implications beyond Maplewood of council actions like their undermining of civil service protections). We've also had an increasing number of readers and commenters.

Now it's 2007. In Maplewood, that means it's an election year. After a year of escalating bafflement as the Gang of Three unveiled one travesty of governance after another (and we at WLOM did our best to poke fun at them), we're now in a year where something can change. A new member can be elected to the council, to change the balance of power and start restoring reason to city hall.

I'd like to be that person. You've come to know me as Frostbrand, but my name in real life is John Nephew, and I will be running for Maplewood City Council. You can read more about me and my campaign at www.johnnephew.com.

What does this mean for What's Left of Maplewood? Frostbrand will still be on the masthead as a contributor, but I won't be able to write or comment as much as I have this past year. That's one of the reasons we invited LookingNorth to join us, to help keep the conversation going here.

When I came home from my first city council meeting, I went looking on the internet for a place where people might be talking about the situation in Maplewood, as I had become accustomed to finding blogs all across the political spectrum on state and national issues. There didn't seem to be such a place, so we decided to create it. I enjoy writing here, with a mix of whimsy and serious discussion, and I hope that it will continue to flourish while I'm busy trying to win an election.

Monday, February 12, 2007

The Double Standard

I was beginning to worry that we would have to continue beating the dead horse of off-agenda 2 AM appointments for lack of anything new to write about. Then, along comes a council meeting to provide fresh fodder. Monday night's theme is something that has been touched on before. That is, the mayor's double standard. Sometimes subtle. Sometimes not. The double standard reared it's ugly head on at least two occasions tonight.

Since when is it OK ignore the rules of civility posted on the council meeting agenda? Well, apparently it is OK to ignore those rules when the anti-civility of dave h is directed at people who threaten the mayor in some way. Apparently, Mr. Nephew & Ms. Flister make the mayor sweat. Why? Is it because they provide a very real threat to expose her for the vindictive nepotistic agenda that she is? Evidently, as long as the mayor's underarms are moist, it is OK for a citizen to launch a personal attack on other citizens.

The second hideous double standard head-rearing came at the end of the meeting. (It seems as if alot of the good stuff is saved for the end...Kind of like dessert!) The council (this very council) has been doing commission appointments the same way for some time. Namely, taking the candidates that are presented by a certain point in time and working with what is there. All of a sudden, we are going to change the routine. We as a council majority don't like what we have for candidates. So, let's hold the process until we find someone who will do what we want. Never mind that we haven't held the process up before. We're going to now. Sometimes I wish Rossbach would call it for what it is. That being naked political maneuvering. I couldn't help but laugh at queen diana calling (pleading?!?) for additional applicants, hoping that they will find someone who will fit the majority's agenda. Since Rossbach won't do it, I will. Queen diana, how stupid do you think we are? It is painfully obvious you are still trying to find some way to stick it to Banick. Get over it. Admit you are wrong. Quit wasting precious city resources in pursuit of a legal action you have obviously lost...

Saturday, February 10, 2007

Rules? We don't need no stinkin' rules

We moderate comments. A bunch of questionable ones have built up over the last couple weeks until one of us had time to deal with them. This turned into a good opportunity to review why we are moderating and what the rules are. Side note - the new Blogger makes it even harder to edit a submitted comment, so the choice on any one comment is now "all or none".

One from the troll alleges criminal behavior on the part of a private citizen, not even from Maplewood. Rejected.

One from a not-troll has some good council bashing, but it is so tangled up with allegations against some mid-level Maplewood employees that it could not be saved even if we could easily edit. Rejected.

One with criminal allegations so obscure it is not clear if it is troll or not-troll. In the end it didn't matter. Rejected.

One from a not-troll making campaign finance allegations against Copeland with a general link to the campaign finance board webpage. Rejected.

One from Barbara wondering why it is not okay for her to question why Diana would leave a perfectly good job at Target. Good question. Accepted.

One from the troll on a fishing expedition. Rejected.

So here are some rules:

No allegations of illegal behavior without some sort of credible proof. If you have that for a new crime you should think about going to the police.

Nothing critical of private citizens, especially if they have not gone out of their way to be in the public eye.

Nothing critical of individual city employees who are not usually in the public eye. The line is fuzzy. Live with it.

Finally, let us be clear that this blog is private property; it's our back yard that we have invited you to come and play in. In the end, we make and interpret the rules, and can change them isf we wish, or choose not to apply them to ourselves. We are not likely to be perfectly consistent, especially since there are three of us and we will each see things a little differently when we happen to be making judgement calls.

If you have a burning need to communicate something to the world and we reject your comment, keep in mind that you can write letters to the editor, post to other discussion forums on the internet, or even create your own blog with your own rules.

Thursday, February 08, 2007

Reader Mail: Check Out the Ads

A reader sent us the following link and comments:

Subject: check out the ads here


Check out both Brooklyn Park vs. Maplewood. Not only are the styles and details different, Maplewood is offering more (multiply hourly by 2080 for annual salaries).

I just thought I'd add this to the mix for your readers to see if they chose to check it out.

Keep up the good work. I lived in Maplewood many years ago and thought it had finally crawled out of the dark ages.

Looks like Brooklyn Park's job has a slightly higher range of salary ($51,540 to $60,636 versus $44,616-$59,800 for the Maplewood job, using the 2080 x hourly rate calculation).

Boy is there a world of difference between the minimum qualifications, though -- Maplewood wants only BA in Recreation or 2 years of rec programming experience, and a valid driver's license; Brooklyn Park requires the BA (and prefer post-graduate work as well) plus at least five years of experience, etc.

Wednesday, February 07, 2007


It has taken a bit for me to put fingers to keyboard. I am not sure why. After the couple of posts this AM, I think I have found the answer. It is that I am troubled. Not in a Mr. Brilliant/troll/diana sort of way. No, I am good about taking my meds. Instead, I am troubled by the confusion that reigns amongst these parties. It seems that they stir up confusion in an attempt to obfuscate the truth on important issues.

As the reader pointed out in the post from this morning, Diana was, according to her, given bad advice from the attorney when in fact the attorney was counseling them correctly about the open meeting issues. It would be interesting to try to figure out where the advice went wrong. Why have the other parties to the possible Open Meeting Law violation not cried "foul advice" like our fair mayor? Based on the way that the threesome/foursome has been interpreting the rules of law lately, could they have misinterpreted the law as it was put before them by our previous city attorney & city manager? I am not sure how they could have misinterpreted it. I am not a rocket scientist. I read thru it. It was pretty clear to me.

To the point of what is beginning to REALLY trouble me...

Item 1: The judge at the Banick trial made it very apparent that the city will lose the case with Banick if it continues down the path.

Item 2: We have the Police Civil Service Commission exercising their legal jurisdiction over the process, contradicting the wishes of the City -- well really not the City, more the wishes of the puppet city manager and the puppet's hand, the mayor. I have not read the legalese regarding the Civil Service Rules. However, it sounds like, very similar to the open meeting law, a pretty clear case.

The troubling part is that we now seem to have the city attorney (Kantrud) as well as another appointed attorney (Bethel) ignoring the storm that is at the doorstep. "We can beat it out" they say. Of course, that's what many said before Katrina.

So, at what point do said attorneys start "doing the right thing"? At what point do they quit wasting taxpayer/League dollars and make the City Manager/Mayor admit that the city has made a mistake? I thought we were paying the Kantrud & Bethel to be the voice of reason, not a couple of trouble making pot stirrers.

Reader Mail: Last Saturday's Pioneer Press

A reader submitted this piece our Yahoo! account on Monday evening -- our apologies for not getting it posted sooner.
1) So this Saturday in the Pioneer Press, Longrie is mad at Schultz for releasing his report to Maplewoodvoices.com. But she is WRONG. Maplewoodvoices.com asked for a copy from Schultz and he declined, citing ethical and confidentiality reasons. Rossbach provided a copy of the report, not Schultz. Longrie is crazy and the Pioneer Press needs to be notified of this fact for a correction or a follow-up.

2) Also, the Pioneer Press article from Saturday states "Longrie attributes the e-mails to wrong advice from Maplewood's former city attorney and says council members immediately complied with the law once it was clarified to them." She's talking about emails between council members that could be viewed in violation of open meeting laws. I'm not sure, but didn't Fursman warn them about this? Wasn't that one of the "run ins" he had with the gang of three leading up to his firing? I can't recall, but I'm thinking the law firm was saying the same thing. Do we know what their legal opinion REALLY was, not what Longrie CLAIMS it was. Again, the woman is nuts in a mental way. Talk about selective memory. Again, if this is indeed how I remember it, I think we need to let the Pioneer Press know so they can follow-up or run a correction.

Hopefully the readers of this blog have better memories than Longrie and her goofy minions.

A Step Toward Justice

Monday evening, the Police Civil Service Commission met for the first time in front of cameras for live cable broadcast. The hot topic of the evening was former Deputy Chief John Banick. Their decided to assert their statutory powers over hiring and firing of police officers, by ordering Banick reinstated as a lieutenant, the position he held before his promotion to the Deputy Chief position.

This morning's Pioneer Press has an article about it you can read online, in case it's not in your edition of the paper or you don't see it in hard copy.

It sounds like Banick may not actually be on the job for a while, since the city asserts that the Commission lacks the authority that statute clearly grants them. I imagine that the Commission's ruling can only help Banick's court case, however.

Friday, February 02, 2007


Changes are coming to What's Left of Maplewood!

First of all, we apologize for the "radio silence" this past week. Blogger now belongs to Google, and they are forcing migration to the "new Blogger," a process that was giving us some problems in the last few days. We think we're all set on the new system now, but please be patient with any difficulties we might have, or any technical things that may have changed that we don't even know about yet.

Second, DrawnLeftward and I are pleased to welcome another name to our masthead. LookingNorth may already be a familiar name to you, from the discussions in our comments and his frequent missives that have been topics unto themselves; now he's an official contributor. We're looking forward to his continuing commentary on Maplewood politics, and the "south leg" perspective he brings.

Finally, we are expecting to make a significant change in comment management in the near future. Up until now, we have allowed unregistered, anonymous commenters. What we would like to do is to require registration, as some of our frequent visitors have requested. We would not force people to reveal their real-world identities; rather, commenters would log in with Google and write under unique handles (like Frostbrand, drawnLeftward, and LookingNorth). We think this would make it a lot easier for everyone to follow and participate in the discussions.

As usual, we welcome your feedback in our comments or by e-mail to WhatsLeftOfMaplewood@yahoo.com.