Minnetrista to get $580K for COVID expenses?

Well, I think Minnetrista can rescind it’s emergency order now. Gov. Tim Walz announced last week that he will distribute $841 million in federal funds to cities, counties, and townships for coronavirus-related expenses. The city of Minnetrista is on the Minnesota Department of Revenue’s list to receive $579,517 of those funds and there is no requirement for a city to have an emergency order to receive them.

When I saw the amount I thought: How in the world would Minnetrista spend that much on COVID related anything? Then I remembered the advocacy of mail-in balloting by the National League of Cities and their state chapter the League of Minnesota Cities I wrote about here.

Do you think any of this money will be used to advocate for mail-in balloting and additional staff for ballot processing under the guise it’s COVID related?

Those vulnerable to COVID-19 should know that any resident can already request an absentee ballot or go to city hall to vote without crowds before the election. Mass/universal mail-in balloting opens the door to election fraud because it doesn’t provide the security in place at polling locations with supervision by election judges from different parties. No one can dispute there are plenty of incentives to manipulate election outcomes and we should make fraud more difficult, not easier.

dollarsCities’ coronavirus relief funds must be spent by November 15 (isn’t that an interesting date?) or returned. There is no requirement to submit expenses for reimbursement as had previously been discussed. There is also no requirement for a city to have an emergency order in place to receive these funds. All a city needs to do is certify that they will follow state and federal guidelines for use of the relief funds and fill out a Coronavirus Relief Fund Certification Form to get the check.

Here are the official guidelines:

1. The distributed funds will be used by the local government only to cover those costs that:

a. Are necessary expenditures incurred due to the public health emergency with respect to the Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19) (“necessary expenditures”), as described and defined by official federal guidance on section 601(d) of the Social Security Act, as added by section 5001 of Public Law 116-136 (“federal guidance”);

b. Were not accounted for in the budget most recently approved as of March 27, 2020, for the local government; and

c. Were or will be incurred during the period that begins on March 1, 2020, and ends on December 1, 2020. A cost is incurred when the local government has expended funds to cover the cost.

2. The funds distributed pursuant to this certification will not be used by the local government in any manner contrary to federal guidance. This includes, but is not limited to:

a. As a revenue replacement for lower than expected tax or other revenue collections; and

b. For expenditures for which the local government has received other emergency COVID-19 supplemental funding for that same expense, regardless of the funding source.

Minnetrista has been keeping track of it’s COVID-19 related expenses and at our last council meeting had only identified a few hundred dollars, mostly from cleaning supplies, gloves and hand sanitizer. There is also plexiglass being installed in the lobby to protect administrative staff. We’ll have to wait to see if Minnetrista files for its $580K coronavirus relief check but I think it’s a pretty safe bet. It’s also a safe bet it will be spent on the election.

www.ShannonBruceForMayor.com

Minnetrista hides 65% recycle fee increase from public

MINNETRISTA HIDES 65% FEE INCREASE FROM PUBLIC – Anyone reading the Minnetrista city council agenda for June 15, 2020 would never have known the item titled “Res. No. 068-2020 Approving Recycling Services Contract with pick pocketWaste Management of MN for September 1, 2020 – August 31, 2025″ called for the approval of an initial 41% increase over last year’s recycle fee and by the end of the five year contract would approve a whopping 65% increase over the 2020 fee.

This kind of deception is egregious and unacceptable but apparently not to the Mayor or other council members who voted to approve the increase that evening on a 4 to 1 vote. Below is the memo from staff to the council explaining to the council, and more importantly to the public, what the resolution proposed. The actual resolution itself, below as well, makes no mention of the increase. (Exhibit B referenced in the memo just listed the new rates but did not compare them to 2020’s).

staff memo recycle

City staff appears to think that “doing some research” on competitive rates excuses them from doing an actual Request for Proposal (RFP) from several companies to ensure rates Minnetrista residents pay are competitive. My recommendation for doing an RFP was not supported by staff or council at a previous work session.

Recycle resolution

Mayor Lisa Whalen, obviously not in agreement with my concerns about this deceptive tactic to avoid complaints from residents, asked me “Ms. Bruce, what are the dollar amounts?” knowing the monthly recycle fees are small compared to others. What she doesn’t get is that Minnetrista residents object to deception. 

www.ShannonBruceForMayor.com

Minnetrista election integrity?

I received a very concerning email on May 26 from our city clerk in response to my inquiry asking for the identities of those individuals who will be appointed to Minnetrista’s statutorily required absentee ballot board and who will be processing (accepting, rejecting, and counting) Minnetrista’s absentee ballots and was told “In past years, staff members have been trained to do so.”

The legislative intent in establishing the rules for appointing election judges and absentee ballot boards was to ensure impartiality in those appointments and Minnesota Statutes (203B.121, 204B.19-.22) reflect the important role party balance, and that absentee voteimpartiality, plays in the activities of election judges and absentee ballot boards. The city of Minnetrista appears to have been routinely bypassing the statutory requirements that provide for their governing body to act as the appointing authority for these positions and are improperly allowing the appointment of city staff members to accept, reject and count absentee ballots.

The moment an individual, however qualified they may be to perform election duties, becomes an employee of a city or county, earning an income from that city or county, that individual’s impartiality is compromised due to the authority the city has over the individual as the individual’s employer. An inherent conflict of interest is present that can influence the individual’s ability to impartially perform their election duties.

An election judge or ballot board member not in the employ of a local government entity is free to perform their duties unencumbered by a supervisor that may have influence over their continued employment. That is the reason the legislature gave the appointment authority for these important functions to elected representatives, not city clerks. It is also the reason for party balance requirements and for these individuals to be chosen from party lists, rather than local government staff, yet there is no evidence I can find of individuals other than city staff being given the important role of processing absentee ballots.

Party balance rules require ballot board members and election judges to be from different political parties and appointed by “the appointing authority” which is the “governing body,” i.e., city council. This Minnetrista city council has never been given a list of election judges or ballot board appointees showing party balance, even though the council is statutorily responsible for making these appointments. This city council has also never been given the specific names of individuals appointed to the ballot board responsible for processing absentee ballots.

This concerns me as it should every voter in Minnetrista.

www.ShannonBruceForMayor.com

Related posts: Head Scratcher and Emergency Orders are for what?

Minnetrista poll results are in!

Minnetrista has spokenMinnetrista poll* results are in. The top three concerns of Minnetrista residents polled were:

  1. Conflicts of interest with city contractors and consultants (89.7%)
  2. Wasteful spending (86.7%)
  3. Corruption of Minnetrista political process and history of campaign finance law violations (86.2%)

Below are all the questions showing the top response in each category highlighted. Thank you to all the participants for your “other” comments many of which were too colorful to publish but appreciated nonetheless.

Poll Results

*Not a scientifically conducted random sampled poll

www.ShannonBruceForMayor.com

Emergency orders are for what now?

I thought emergency orders were for protecting the public from something. I was wrong. Listen to the city of Minnetrista’s attorney from Kennedy & Graven explain:

Got it? If you ask how Minnetrista’s “indefinite” emergency order makes anyone safer you will come up empty. But if you ask how it might help the city get it’s hands on federal taxpayer dollars, well…there’s still time to figure all that out as long as the order stays in place…indefinitely.

The Center of the American Experiment posted the story below asking “Could Cities Extended Emergency Orders for Coronavirus Undermine 2020 Elections?”

Could the municipal emergency order pave the way to position the city to receive federal funds to implement mail-in voting?

CAE Article

Asking questions is a good thing. Election integrity is a good thing. Making sure everyone who is legally entitled to vote can do so knowing their vote will be counted is a good thing. Using a pandemic for political purposes is not.

 

Head scratcher – not really – “Indefinite” emergency order in Minnetrista continues

Head scratcher? Not really. Are you wondering why, as we all are, Minnetrista has an “indefinite” emergency order (it never expires) when the city has had no staff or first responders test positive for COVID19, has taken no measures since implementing the order in March that would have required an emergency order, nor had any significant expenses for federal reimbursement related to COVID19? You can stop wondering.

fingers crossedAbsentee mail-in balloting is why. If the National League of Cities (a bastion of nonpartisanship) can help prolong the pandemic (i.e., flatten the curve) thru the fall, the opportunity to use the “crisis” to justify the mailing of absentee ballots to all registered voters is likely. Here is their “Cities Vote” program being promoted locally by each state chapter. Absentee ballots are filled out in private and the potential for fraud or coercion is much higher than voting in person where election judges are present, not to mention the millions of absentee ballots that have “gone missing” in past elections.

We’ve already seen attempts, one in Minnetrista I wrote about here, by cities to advocate for absentee mail-in ballots for the general election. Should they be successful, county and local offices will need to make sure they have the personnel, technology and time to process the volume of absentee voter registration applications and mail-in ballots. What better way to get money than to justify it with COVID-19 federal dollars tied to protecting public health. To get that funding requires local emergency orders stay in place beyond November to get reimbursed.

Cities around the country are being advised by legal counsel from their state’s municipal league to enact local emergency orders for an “indefinite period” as regional public safety teams meet weekly to ensure all cities stay on the same page and resist pressure to lift the orders.

Monday’s Minnetrista council work session heard justification for not rescinding the order come from the city’s Public Safety Director, the city’s contract attorney (whose legal firm is on  the League of Minnesota Cities advisory board), and Mayor Lisa Whalen, who published a blog on the topic yesterday. The “biggest risk factor” was stated by the Public Safety Director as being staffing, even though the city has yet to have a single employee, or first responder in the city test positive. One must ask why, absent any logical reasons, are cities keeping these orders in place indefinitely.

election integrityTo extend an emergency order requires consent of the city council which happened on March 23 in the midst of the wildly unfounded projections of the pandemic and the pandemonium that followed. We now know that 98-99% of COVID-19 deaths in Minnesota have come from long term care facilities (Minnetrista has none of these) and people with serious underlying medical conditions. We now know the risk of long term health impacts to the vast majority of Minnesotans is low.

The risk factor to the integrity of our elections, however, is extreme.

www.ShannonBruceForMayor.com

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What happens in Minnetrista when you don’t go along

I had the audacity to vote no on approving a professional services agreement with WSB Engineering that referenced a fifteen year old contract that was not provided to council. Listen to the 3 minutes of challenge that followed:

WSB Engineering, the city’s contracted engineering firm, receives more money from the city than any other vendor yet none of their services are subject to competitive bidding. They advise the city on what projects to do, determine their feasibility, get paid to develop project specifications and then earn “indirect costs” of 20% on many of those projects when awarded. The city has no professional engineering expertise on staff to evaluate WSB’s proposals, studies, specifications or costs. That needs to change. www.ShannonBruceForMayor.com

 

Should city of Minnetrista advocate for mail-in voting for general election?

Offering absentee mail-in voting, especially for the elderly or those vulnerable to infectious disease, traveling or physically unable (military) to get to the polls is, of course, legitimate. The city of Minnetrista has taken it to another level, however. City staff last week posted on Facebook the following message advocating that all voters vote by mail in the August primary and the general election which is five months away:

“Starting today, Minnesotans can request an absentee mail ballot for the upcoming August and November elections! To maintain social distancing, the City of Minnetrista encourages everyone to vote absentee by mail instead of in person on election day. ” [emphasis added]

The Minnetrista city council did not issue the statement above. In fact, the city council hasn’t even discussed, to-date, the matter of absentee or mail-in voting. So it was obviously someone on staff that made the post. Upon seeing the post I requested it be taken down immediately, which it was. However, it had a life of over 8 hours and was shared by several people.

There has been much discussion and controversy nationwide over the use of absentee mail-in ballots and the oversight, or lack thereof, of the process that makes it more vulnerable to fraud. The city’s job is to make voting methods available, not to advocate for them, especially with the politically charged environment out there today. www.ShannonBruceForMayor.com

 

Minnetrista emergency order

It’s been well over a month since Mayor Whalen issued the 3 day emergency order for Minnetrista that removed council oversight because of the COVID19 pandemic. The night it was declared it was also extended by the city council indefinitely on recommendation of the city’s legal counsel. Back then there were a lot of unknowns that are now known.

We know the projected death rate of COVID19 has fallen dramatically from what original models predicted. We know that the recovery rate is close to 99%. We know that the vast majority of deaths have been in long term care facilities (Minnetrista has none of these) and to date none of our first responders have been infected according to weekly reports the council receives (one is awaiting test results).

So I asked to add an agenda item to our 5/4 Monday council meeting to discuss rescinding the emergency order in Minnetrista. The order can only stay in force until the council votes to remove it. We are all still under the Governor’s stay-at-home order and I questioned the purpose of even having a local emergency order continue since it has essentially not been needed for anything so far.

The answer was that none of the other cities are rescinding their emergency orders and we don’t know what will happen in the future so it should stay in place. So it seems developing powers of clairvoyance is required. We will have another opportunity to discuss it at our next meeting.  www.ShannonBruceForMayor.com