Westonka school board violating MN election law

The Westonka school board is planning to appoint people to their absentee ballot board at their school board meeting scheduled for Monday, October 4, 2021, 7pm, 5905 Sunnyfield Road, in the Performing Arts Center, Minnetrista, MN.

The school board packet shows they are appointing only “deputy clerks” (five of them!) to their absentee ballot board, which is in charge of accepting and rejecting all the district’s absentee ballots in the upcoming school board election, for which absentee voting has already begun. Their resolution shows they intend to appoint five deputy clerks and no election judges to their ballot board.

Minnesota Statutes (203B.121 – see below) require that school districts establish an absentee ballot board that must consist of a sufficient number of election judges…” and the school district is either ignorant of Minnesota election law or has chosen to ignore it.

Chapter 203B.121 goes on to say that a ballot board “may” include deputy city clerks. That means a deputy city clerk, of which the city of Minnetrista has only one, not five, and her name is not on the list of persons to be appointed. There is simply no statutory provision for school districts to appoint school district employees, as the board is planning, to their absentee ballot board and arbitrarily call them “deputy clerks” to get around appointing election judges.

You won’t hear the incumbent school board candidates calling out this election law violation. Who wouldn’t want their school district friends in charge of the ballots?

If the Westonka school district wants the electorate to have confidence in the outcome of the school board election this is no way to go about it. If you care about fair elections and believe your school district should follow state election laws please attend the school board meeting Monday night and let your voice be heard.

203B.121 BALLOT BOARDS.
Subdivision 1.Establishment; applicable laws.

(a) The governing body of each county, municipality, and school district with responsibility to accept and reject absentee ballots must, by ordinance or resolution, establish a ballot board. The board must consist of a sufficient number of election judges trained in the handling of absentee ballots and appointed as provided in sections 204B.19 to 204B.22. The board may include deputy county auditors or deputy city clerks who have received training in the processing and counting of absentee ballots.

(b) Each jurisdiction must pay a reasonable compensation to each member of that jurisdiction’s ballot board for services rendered during an election.

(c) Except as otherwise provided by this section, all provisions of the Minnesota Election Law apply to a ballot board.

Westonka School Board Election-VOTE!

The only school district with a school actually located in Minnetrista is the Westonka school district which has three school board seats up for election in November 2021. If you’re in the Westonka district it is imperative you vote. Our community and students’ futures depend on it.

I attended the League of Women Voters school board candidate forum on September 17 and came away more convinced than ever that the Westonka school board needs new members, more connected to the community. You can watch the forum here. There are four challengers and three incumbents running:

Challengers: Katie Holt, Rachael Myers, Kathleen Olesinski and Gregory Snyder

Incumbents: Brian Carlson, Loren Davis and Gary Wollner

As is typical at LWV events many of the questions were designed for incumbents to answer, containing specifics about past board actions, plans, etc. that challengers weren’t privvy to. Regardless, the challengers stood up well and, frankly, any of them would be an improvement over the tax and spend, mask and vaccine mandate supporting, incumbents.

Early voting has started so get yourself over to the Westonka School District office now:

In-person absentee/early voting for the November election began Friday, Sept. 17 and continues through Monday, Nov. 1 at the school district offices, 5901 Sunnyfield Rd. E, Minnetrista. Absentee voting is being conducted during regular office hours Monday through Thursday from 7:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. and on Fridays from 7:30 a.m. to 4 p.m. On the last day for absentee voting, Nov. 1, the office will be open until 5 p.m.

Beginning Tuesday, Oct. 26, through the end of the absentee period, voters will be able to cast their ballots by inserting them directly into a ballot counter, just as they would on Election Day.

The election will take place on Tuesday, Nov. 2, from 7 a.m. to 8 p.m. There are two combined polling places:

  1. Mount Olive Lutheran Church fellowship hall, 5218 Bartlett Blvd., Mound
  2. School district offices, Educational Service Center community room, 5901 Sunnyfield Rd. E., Minnetrista

To determine your polling location, use the Secretary of State pollfinder, http://pollfinder.sos.state.mn.us.

Some bad ideas just won’t go away

I’ve lost track how many times the issue of building out a firing range in Minnetrista’s public safety building has come up before the city council. It’s never gone anywhere because residents (according to the city’s community survey) don’t want taxpayer dollars spent on the expensive and ongoing operational and maintenance costs.

There are several conveniently located firing ranges that provide time for public safety personnel to train regularly, as well as providing range time to the general public. Cities can use them when needed without incurring the overhead of running them. These establishments already have the building, ventilation systems, testing procedures, and safety measures in place to provide these services. They are profitable because most sell firearms, ammunition, training and accessories.

Even if Minnetrista were to share a firing range with other nearby cities like Orono or Mound it’s doubtful it would be fully utilized to the point it would make economic sense compared to what Minnetrista pays now, which is just a few hundred dollars a year, paid to a local gun club that accomodates Minnetrista’s officers.

The carrot dangled is always that the initial buildout costs will be covered by the Crime Fund which is a private group willing to fund the original construction. But the real costs, that will continue indefinitely, begin after the construction is completed.

Here are just a few of the ongoing operational and maintenance costs of running a gun range that (provided by a local establishment owner):

  1. Regular blood testing of all employees working in the building (not just in the gun range) is required to test for lead levels.
  2. Periodic hearing tests are required for all employees in the building.
  3. Hazmat disposal of shell casings (they are incredibly heavy) and inspections for lead contamination are required.
  4. Expensive filters for air filtration systems to purify lead contaminated air require regular replacement.
  5. Rounds need to be removed from “bullet trap” walls to prolong their integrity/longevity
  6. Bullet trap walls need to be replaced periodically
  7. Video surveillance is required for liability reasons should an accident occur.
  8. The air inside the gun range cannot be heated/cooled and then recycled. Because of contaminants it must be purged. Ongoing utility costs can be thousands of dollars/month.
  9. Workers compensation costs go up with the liability of working around the public using firearms.
  10. Many gun ranges have had gun accidents as well as assaults and suicides using firearms at their establishments. Staff training is critical to reduce these incidents, as is continual staff supervision.

Before considering this idea, once again, the city needs to remember, once again, that it must be justified economically to Minnetrista taxpayers before proceeding. A complete ROI analysis needs to be completed that would compare what the city spends now on firearms training vs the ongoing operational and maintenance costs that would be associated with a dedicated Minnetrista firing range.

Just because the city has some extra Federal COVID money doesn’t mean they should spend it without looking at long term costs associated with their decision.

The Work Session agenda shows a discussion on the gun range on Monday, September 20, 2021 at city hall from 5:00pm to 6:30pm.

GreenStep Cities vote fails in Wayzata

So far the City of Minnetrista has refused to take a vote on joining the controversial GreenStep Cities program that is promoted by the League of Minnesota Cities and funded by the Met Council. But those that run this program are relentless in pursuing victories for the green new deal utopias they hope to establish throughout Minnesota.

In the video below Wayzata Council Member Alex Plechash sums up his concerns about the unforseen consequences of the GreenStep Cities program that was voted down that night, August 10, 2021, at the Wayzata City Council meeting (Full council meeting video can be viewed here.)

Wayzata Council votes down GreenStep Cities program

The city of Wayzata follows the city of Plymouth in saying no to this program. Metro cities are looking under the hood of the GreenStep Cities program and realizing the costs and loss of autonomy that come with it aren’t worth the recognition award the League of Minnesota Cities gives out to compliant cities at their annual meeting.

The city of Minnetrista should take notes from Counselor Plechash.

Arbitrary nuisance ordinance…Monday 5:00 work session

Minnetrista may need to update their nuisance ordinance but they don’t need to add 18 vaguely written new definitions that could make the majority of Minnetrista residents guilty of misdemeanors.

The city attorney even advises the council that the city has no intention of uniformly enforcing the new ordinance. So does that mean it will be arbitrarily enforced? Of course it does.

Thesaurus

We wonder why law enforcement doesn’t get the respect they deserve and then we pass laws we don’t intend to enforce. This is one we should throw out completely and start over.

Vague wording allows selective enforcement and despite claims that it would never happen, it has happened. Creating another vehicle that could be used for targeting specific residents is wrong.

Either have an ordinance that is applied uniformly or don’t have one.

Minnetrista residents interested in attending the work session should arrive at city hall by 5:00pm, Monday, July 19, 2021. Meeting is open to the public. Minnetrista 7/19/21 Work Session packet.

Expertly bamboozled

It was very disappointing to see the preferential deal for the school district’s road assessment, masquerading as a “needed” policy change to the city’s special assessment policy, passed Monday night. Essentially Minnetrista’s special assessment policy has always carried an interest rate that has been the same for all assessed properties benefitting from an improvement. It never mattered, and shouldn’t have mattered, who or what entity owned the property. All property owners were assessed under the same rules.

Last January Westonka School District Superintendent Kevin Borg had asked for the school district to be treated differently in a letter to Mayor Whalen and the city council. Some may remember Mayor Whalen had advocated the city pick up 80% of the cost (policy has been 50%) for her buddies at the school district and to reduce their interest rate to 2% (Borg had asked for 0% interest on the 20 year assessment) but lost that battle with the city council on January 4, no doubt a disappointment to Kevin Borg and school board members that worked tirelessly to get Whalen reelected last November.

Mr. Borg was expected to attend the following council work session on the matter, presumably to plead his case, but never showed.

Amazingly, just days before the assessment hearing on the project, a proposal came forward that the city’s special assessment policy was old and needed updating. Yeah, that’s the ticket! Let’s update the city’s policy based on whether or not Minnesota State Aid (MSA) funds will be used, knowing that this school district project will use MSA funds. Nevermind that all other Minnetrista road projects in the past, that had used MSA funds, were assessed uniformly, under the same rules as all other benefitting property owners, as has always been the case for road improvements throughout the city.

So the new policy to lower the interest rate to 2% on just MSA funded projects essentially benefits only the school district for this year’s road improvements. Mission accomplished Madam Mayor. Minnetrista taxpayers have been bamboozled again.

And Borg gets his deal and no one can say it was a “deal” because they only followed policy.

Whalen proposes changing assessment policy to give school district preferential deal

I see on the city’s council agenda for June 7 under “consent agenda” (items that don’t get discussed) that the Westonka School District is going to get their special assessment “deal” at the expense of Minnetrista taxpayers.

Minnetrista’s special assessment policy has always been, regardless of how a road project is funded, to charge properties benefiting from the project, an interest rate that has averaged around 5% until the assessment is paid off. Well, not any more.

Why is the policy changing? Because the city is doing a road project along Sunnyfield Road and the only benefitting property is the Westonka School District. The school asked for a “deal” and the council wouldn’t give it to them, so Mayor Whalen came up with a brilliant idea to change the city’s policy so it couldn’t be called a “deal.” See page 26 of the council packet.

Westonka Schools, if the new policy is adopted Monday night, will only pay 2% interest on their special assessment for the road project. The school district is funded largely by communities outside of Minnetrista as the school district encompasses parts of Mound, Spring Park, Independence and Orono. Many Minnetrista residents are in the Watertown, Waconia, and Delano school districts. If I were a Minnetrista resident paying 5% on a special assessment…oh wait, I am!…I’d be pretty mad.

The school district could choose to pay no interest if it wanted to by paying off the assessment all at once when the project is completed. To be sure they are happier letting Minnetrista taxpayers shoulder the burden.

Speak up tonight Minnetrista!

Your property rights are at stake. Tonight. There is an unconstitutional new nuisance ordinance draft being finalized at the city council work session. They’ve added 18 new “public nuisances” using intentionally vague language so as to allow virtually anyone to be a violator and subject to fines. This unnecessary new ordinance turns the Constitution on its head by putting the city council in the role of writing the law, choosing to whom it should apply, and then acting as the judge and jury on each violation.

Anyone that doesn’t see the problem with this never took a civics course. There is such a thing as separation of powers where elected officials make laws, executive branch enforces them, and the judicial branch adjudicates them. How on earth does the League of Minnesota Cities (this is based on their model ordinance) think this is acceptable!

Keep in mind the contrived urgency to enact this bad idea is because of one property that happens to be located on the same road a city council member lives on. The city has never filed an order against the property to abate the property’s unsightly condition although it could have easily done so in the past.

If you don’t think it’s okay to arbitrarily choose who to go after with these vague newly defined public nuisances (contagious diseases is one!) I suggest dialing in to the council meeting at 7pm and speaking up. Info below:

To listen live to the Minnetrista City Council meeting, call +1 (312) 757-3121 and enter meeting Access Code 618-238-485 #, or join the meeting from your computer, tablet or smartphone by accessing the following: https://global.gotomeeting.com/join/618238485
New to GoToMeeting? Get the app now and be ready when your first meeting
starts: https://global.gotomeeting.com/install/618238485

Persons to Be Heard Instructions:
Join the meeting via Go To Meeting (meeting information listed above), and join between 6:50pm and 7:00pm, and when asked by the City Administrator, identify yourself with your name, home address, and reason for wanting to address the City Council. As with all PTBH comments, remarks are limited to three minutes per speaker. No City Council action will be taken, although the Council may refer issues to staff for follow up or consideration at a future meeting.

Contagious disease defined as public nuisance – Minnetrista draft

Twice during my term on the Minnetrista City Council the matter of adopting a new nuisance ordinance (p.27) came up because of an unsightly property on Deer Creek Road. Both times the council was given the option of modifying the nuisance ordinance and chose not to do so. Why? Because it wasn’t necessary. Instead it was suggested the city write a demand letter to the property owner. It was also suggested the city file an abatement order against the property if the owner refused to cooperate. The city never did the latter.

Now the matter is before the current council once again. The city’s contract attorney from Kennedy & Graven has provided the council with a memorandum recommending all kinds of modifications and additions, justifying why each are needed. They get paid by the hour, by the way. They also state in their memo they “were not able to prepare a redline” showing the proposed changes, ostensibly because the new ordinance replaces the old one. Sorry but that is just plain irresponsible to omit a redlined version and shows a lack of respect for the council and city residents.

The section on “Additional Public Nuisances Defined” includes a total of 18 extra nuisances including:

Subd. 10. The public exposure of persons having a contagious disease or condition which
endangers public health, safety or welfare.

Subd. 12. Accumulations of animal waste, litter or manure which pose a risk of pollution of
ground or surface waters or which endanger public health, safety or welfare.

Many of these additions contain overly vague language (pose a risk?) that could conceivably make any Minnetrista residents with an animal a violator of the code.

Below is a letter I wrote to the Mayor and Council today on the matter. I suggest if you’re concerned about property rights in Minnetrista you may want to do the same or attend the next Work Session where it will be discussed on May 3. Download the Work Session Agenda when it’s posted next week and dial into the meeting. Email addresses for city council: lwhalen@ci.minnetrista.mn.us; pmortenson@ci.minnetrista.mn.us; jtschumperlin@ci.minnetrista.mn.us; amacgregor@ci.minnetrista.mn.us; creffkin@ci.minnetrista.mn.us

Dear Madam Mayor and Council Members,

As you know the previous council discussed the city’s nuisance code on two separate occasions (2018 and 2020) for the same reason it has come before the current council, the property on Deer Creek Road. The previous council did not agree to amend the city’s current nuisance code although it was given that option.

One of the suggestions I made in April 2020 was to take steps to abate the property, which was never done. I don’t know why it was never done. The matter just sort of went away but that question needs to be asked.  Attached is a model order for abatement from the League of Minnesota Cities. I would recommend asking the city why, instead of spending thousands of dollars on attorney’s fees to draft a new ordinance, they don’t just file an abatement order on the problem property.

The previous council did not feel it was responsible to incur the cost of drafting a new ordinance after discussing the matter at length. Chief Falls indicated there were only 2 properties, at the time, he was aware of that were problems.

There is no reason whatsoever to add the plethora of new nuisance definitions to the city code when the city could just file an abatement order. Why hasn’t that been done?

Respectfully,
Shannon Bruce

Where did this nuisance language come from?!

Last week the Minnetrista city council took up the matter of modifying its nuisance ordinance primarily because of a single property on the same road a council member lives on. Several council meetings on this property over the last few years always ended in agreement, by most, that this was an isolated occurrence, not impacting the community-at-large, and with council members not willing to spend money on attorneys to rewrite an ordinance that had served the city well and had provided resolution to virtually all nuisance complaints in the city with the exception of this one. The property is located on a large parcel in rural Minnetrista.

The new nuisance ordinance now being drafted by attorneys from Kennedy & Graven includes a section titled “Additional Public Nuisances Defined.” In a memo from Kennedy & Graven to the council it states this “ordinance tracks closely to the League of Minnesota Cities (LMC) model nuisance ordinance” and included the following additional public nuisance definition:

“The public exposure of persons having a contagious disease or condition which
endangers public health, safety or welfare.”

Yes, you read that correctly. The League of Minnesota Cities is quietly slipping in municipal control and enforcement over where Minnesota residents can freely go and giving cities authority to decide what amounts to a contagious disease or condition. A common cold could be construed as a contagious disease or condition and punishable as a violation of the city’s ordinance. The City of Medina, who also employ Kennedy & Graven as their legal counsel, have already adopted these new “nuisances” into their city code.

It appears the Minnetrista council was uncomfortable with some of the language provided by Kennedy & Graven and will likely remove this contagious disease language from the new Minnetrista ordinance. It should, however, give Minnetrista residents pause that the city’s law firm, who should be representing residents, is attempting to include the LMC’s invasive language into ordinances for cities it represents.

Readers can see the draft nuisance ordinance on page 44 of the March 15 work session packet.