The inside story on Minnetrista local issues: This blog is to inform citizens and give them a perspective on matters of importance in Minnetrista, MN. Opinions posted here are my own and do not reflect official positions of any public body or official.
Author: Minnetrista Governance Blog
Blogger, Shannon Bruce, writing about matters of civic importance in Minnetrista, MN. BA, Political Science, University of Colorado-Denver, Graduate work at University of Colorado Masters in Public Administration program. Former AT&T Government Affairs Specialist; Internship National Conference of State Legislatures, Denver. Minnetrista city council 2017-2020.
Minnetrista residents owe a big thank you to a resident that cares enough about his city to research and evaluate water infrastructure plans and speak into them with some clear thinking.
Should the city spend $20,000 to $30,000 on engineering analysis to determine if it should buy $5K-$7K worth of water from St. Bonifacius to deal with Minnetrista’s water shortfall for summer irrigation requirements? Mr. Dakolios thinks not. How about just paying St. Bonifacius for the water?
I haven’t blogged for quite a while; however, I just learned the building out of a gun range is once again on the Minnetrista city council’s worksession agenda Monday night, May 2 at 5:30pm. Meeting is at city hall so the public can attend.
There is no reason to incur hundreds of thousands of ongoing annual operational expenses over the years when there are plenty of gun ranges available for training our public safety officers at minimal expense. Other nearby gun ranges allow public safety officers to use them. This is just another excuse to expand facilities, budget and overhead that will lead to more property tax increases.
This issue was voted on in the community survey:
I’ve blogged about this issue a number of times here, here, and here. This is a bad idea that just keeps coming back. This is what happens when the government has a surplus of your money and desperately needs to spend it!
Powerline Blog’s John Hinderacker posted an excellent discussion this morning on Critical Race Theory (CRT) being the top issue in school board elections throughout the country. I encourage voters to read it here: CRT: IT DOESN’T EXIST…AND IT’S AWESOME! The local Westonka community has had it’s share of these discussions and the issue will hopefully drive a much higher turnout to the school board election tomorrow, November 2, than most.
CRT, as Hinderacker states, “is a racist and anti-American set of dogmas” and is a vehicle to influence our students’ perceptions of the world and indoctrinate them. We must ask current school board members why they don’t denounce it. To claim it doesn’t exist is nonsense but unfortunately that is all the incumbent school board members are willing to say and how they have evaded the issue that everyone else is aware of.
GET TO THE POLLS, WESTONKA, AND VOTE!
November 2, Polls open from 7am-8pm. Two locations:
Mount Olive Lutheran Church fellowship hall, 5218 Bartlett Blvd., Mound
School district offices, Educational Service Center community room, 5901 Sunnyfield Rd. E., Minnetrista
Westonka Schools established additional criteria for people to serve as election judges on their absentee ballot board for their 2021 school board election scheduled for November 2. One had to have served as an election judge in the 2020 general election in order to serve. At least that’s what this Republican applicant was told by the school administrator.
The school board then appointed five school employees, who had not served as election judges in the 2020 general election, to their absentee ballot board and appointed them election judges as well. When they realized that ruffled the community they called a few ‘real’ election judges and scheduled them for a few absentee ballot board duty shifts. The problem is these five school employees, who do not qualify to be election judges according to the school’s criteria, are, and have been, scheduled on the ballot board duty roster without ANY election judges present since the beginning of October.
This means employees of the school are accepting and rejecting ballots for the same candidates who will have authority over them and their livlihoods. This is the very reason the legislature mandates that election judges, and not government staff, must accept and reject absentee ballots. Elections should be fair and free of any appearance of conflicts of interest. No one is accusing anyone at Westonka Schools of mishandling ballots and that is not the point here. The point is the Westonka school board has shown contempt for Minnesota election law by violating statutes they have been made aware of:
I noticed last weekend the supposedly brand new “independent” political committee promoting the incumbent Westonka school board candidates had not filed a campaign finance report, despite seeing lots of signs around town. So, I sent an email to the address listed on their signs asking why. I got a response on Sunday that they had filed their report with the school district. Miraculously Sunday afternoon their report was uploaded to the school district’s campaign finance page. Guess that was an oversight. I can overlook oversights.
What I first noticed, upon opening the We Are Westonka campaign finance report filed Sunday, October 17, was that the political committee’s expenditures far exceeded their reported contributions on this first (ever) report. In fact they only reported $100 in contributions while spending over $1,100 on signs and buttons. Hmm. A brand new committee isn’t going to have funds to carry over…unless they’re not brand new….I’m confused.
A campaign finance report is supposed to account for all contributions and all expenditures but this one clearly did not.
I noticed reports filed by Yes Westonka, the former political organization that pushed the school’s past bond referendums, and this is what I found:
The Yes Westonka Annual Report 19-20 showed a $1,200 contribution from the Teacher’s Union and showed cash on hand of $1,498.20. To-date no subsequent reports show expenditures of those funds.
The Yes Westonka Annual Report 20-21 shows $0 contributions, $0 expenditures but, interestingly, the “cash on hand” field was deleted entirely from the report. Was there a reason they didn’t want to show the $1,498.20 sitting in the account prior to the school board 2021 election? Did they think they could just delete a mandated field from a required report and no one would notice? What happened to the $1,498.20??
The signature at the bottom of both Yes Westonka reports is Lori Wollner, school board incumbent Gary Wollner’s spouse. Well, that explains why they couldn’t use Yes Westonka as an independent political committee now, doesn’t it.
This is the kind of thing one could file and win a campaign finance violation over, but why? The complainant would likely incur thousands in attorneys fees and the political committee would get a slap on the wrist without any meaningful consequences.
Better to just let the community know and ask the school district why they are overlooking these violations.
If you are a Minnetrista resident and want to get involved in your community consider filling outMinnetrista’s Application for Commissions and Committees and volunteer to be on the city’s Planning Commission or Parks Commission. Each commission has two seats to be appointed with terms beginning January 2022. There is one incumbent on each commission requesting to continue and one open seat on each commission as well. Applicants interview with the city council and are appointed by the council.
Planning Commission The Minnetrista Planning Commission consists of seven (7) members and two (2) alternate members who serve as a volunteer advisory commission appointed by the City Council. The Planning Commission is a recommending body to the City Council which reviews public and private development proposals for consistency with the Comprehensive Plan and the City Code. The commission meets the fourth Monday of each month. Each commissioner serves a four (4) year term.
Parks and Recreation Commission The Minnetrista Park and Recreation Commission consists of five (5) members and two (2) alternate members who serve as a volunteer advisory commission appointed by the City Council. The purpose of the commission is to advise the City Council in the providing of recreational areas and facilities in relation to land use and citizen requests within the community. In addition to the five (5) members, a council member designated by the council is an ex-officio nonvoting member of the commission. The commission meets the second Tuesday of each month. Each commissioner serves a three (3) year term.
This school board election is one of the most important votes you will ever cast and will determine the curriculum and values taught to our students for years to come.
There is literally NO EXCUSE not to vote. You can vote any weekday between now and the official “election day” of November 2 by going to the school district offices (doesn’t matter what precinct you’re in) at 5902 Sunnyfield Rd. E, Minnetrista. Bring an ID with you because technically this is absentee voting, but it’s “no excuse absentee voting”. Between Oct. 26 and election day the process is a bit more simple and voters can feed their ballot directly into the voting machine intead of putting it in a sealed envelope to be processed by the absentee ballot board.
The above challengers are focused on education, not politics, and making sure our students get the skills they need to become productive adults in our communities. In my opinion any of them would be preferrable to the incumbents below. GET OUT AND VOTE!
Current school board incumbent candidates (running again) are:
Brian Carlson: Unable to locate candidate FB page or website at time of publishing Loren Davis: Unable to locate candidate FB page or website at time of publishing Gary Wollner: Unable to locate candidate FB page or website at time of publishing
Approximately an hour after yesterday’s blog post was published regarding the school board’s improper resolution appointing school employees to its ballot board, the school sent a letter to election judges inviting them to serve on the absentee ballot board for the school board election.
How to win an election in Minnetrista? Have your friends accept and reject all the absentee ballots and exclude statutorily required election judges from the process. Done.
Despite being informed on Monday of Minnesota’s election law requirements for establishing absentee ballot boards (203B.121) for school board elections, the Westonka school board voted unanimously at it’s Monday, October 4 meeting to ignore the law and appointed five school employees to the ballot board instead of election judges.
These five people are school employees, who are accountable to the school board for their employment, and will be accepting and rejecting all the absentee ballots (likely a majority of ballots cast) for the incumbent school board candidates that currently fund their jobs in Westonka schools. Somehow that conflict of interest appears just fine with the school board and the incumbent school board candidates running in the November election.
The video below is my testimony to the school board Monday evening.
The school board resolution and list of appointments that passed Monday is below.
“This matter, and how it is handled, will either show the district voters they can have confidence in the school board election outcome, or they cannot.”
An election judge that was trained in the duties of an absentee ballot board in the 2020 election in Minnetrista spoke as well. She had requested to be on the ballot board but was not appointed. No reason given.
How do we expect our children, who attend Westonka schools, to abide by the law when their school leaders thumb their nose at election law and blatantly violate it with impunity for their own benefit.
I thought it was fair to give the school board a chance to do the right thing. However, they’ve made a choice that will undermine the confidence Westonka district voters have in the outcome of the school board election. It would’ve been a simple thing to appoint election judges and put the matter to rest.
Thank you, Westonka school board, for proliferating distrust in our government institutions. And thank you as well to the incumbent candidates on the school board for making sure the votes are counted by your friends. And we wonder why we can’t get good people to run for office anymore.
The full recorded video of the school board meeting can be found here.