Council candidate caught on camera (0:56 sec)

There are two city council seats up for election in Minnetrista and three candidates  on the ballot competing for them. It appears current council member Mike Molitor will not be running again which is too bad. Although we didn’t always agree on everything he had a mind of his own and I respect that.

Returning trust and integrity to city hall is what this election is about but the following video is an example of what we’ve had in the past. The person in the video is one of the three candidates for city council, Damian Young, who is currently serving on Minnetrista’s Planning Commission.

The clips below were taken from a Minnetrista City Council Meeting during a hearing on the licensing and regulation of golf carts. Mr. Young was in support of regulating and licensing golf carts and was trying to convince the council that, not only was he in favor of the ordinance, but the Planning Commission was in favor of it as well. In spinning his tale he had forgotten I had attended the Planning Commission meeting he was referring to.

Minnetrista needs elected officials that don’t resort to deception to achieve their goals. We’ve seen enough of that in Minnetrista.

Below are the websites and Facebook pages for Minnetrista council candidates:

Ann MacGregor
website: https://macgregorforcouncil.com
Facebook: MacGregor for Council @MinnetristaCouncil2020

Cathleen Reffkin
Facebook: Reffkin for Minnetrista City Council @reffkinminnetristacitycouncil)

Damian Young
No campaign website or Facebook page as of 8/12/2020

http://www.ShannonBruceForMayor.com

High-speed internet in Minnetrista – not just possible – IMPERATIVE

Ask anyone who runs a business in Minnetrista about high speed internet and you’ll hear things like “I never would’ve moved here had I known how awful the internet service was!” and “I moved here from a much smaller town where we had excellent high speed internet. Why can’t Minnetrista figure this out?” or “My kids have to go to the coffee shop to do their online homework because our service is so unreliable.” Sound familiar?

I was successful getting “High Speed Internet” added to the city’s goals at it’s strategy high speed internetsession lasts year and then modified last March to “proactively” get creative about it. We even scheduled a work session on “Technology Issues” last June but it was postponed. I sent an email to our City Administrator two weeks ago asking for a date certain when it would be rescheduled and still have not received an answer.

High speed internet issues in Minnetrista are not unresolvable. It requires a mayor, council and staff to make it a priority. We need to take a good, hard look at our legal agreements with service providers, at our fee structures and regulatory policies to make sure we are doing EVERYTHING possible to encourage bringing competitive services to Minnetrista.

It starts with making it a priority. Reliable high speed internet for ALL of Minnetrista is not just possible it is imperative.

www.ShannonBruceForMayor.com

Minnetrista poised to step off ethical cliff

Minnetrista is poised to step off a steep ethical cliff. Minnetrista staff and legal counsel advocated Monday night for using Minnetrista’s $579,000 Coronavirus Relief Fund (CRF) on city payroll even though none of Minnetrista’s personnel have been substantially dedicated to COVID-19 related activities. None.

The city’s Administrator had to sign the form (below) requesting the funds, certifying their use according to guidelines which clearly state that any expenditure included in the city’s budget prior to the pandemic is not allowed.

CRF form

The funds have now been received by the city. But guess what? Despite the intention to spend the funds on payroll that was budgeted before the pandemic (specifically public safety payroll) the $579K of revenue is not reflected in the city’s projected 2020 fund balance that was provided to the council at its work session Monday night and therefore will not reduce the city’s preliminary tax levy. How do you like that Minnetrista taxpayers? **See update below re prohibition on federal COVID funds being used to reduce the tax levy.**

Follow along:

  1. City Administrator requests CRF funds of $579K.
  2. City Administrator promises to only use funds for valid COVID-19 related expenses.
  3. Minnetrista receives the funds based on it’s certification to follow the rules.
  4. City staff advocates using the funds for non-COVID-19 related payroll.
  5. City staff omits the $579K revenue from the 2020 fund balance keeping it from reducing the preliminary tax levy.
  6. Minnetrista taxpayers don’t benefit at all and in fact will likely see a property tax increase instead of a decrease due to receiving the $579,000 in Coronavirus Relief Funds.

I attended a League of Minnesota Cities webinar on CRF reporting last week where at approximately 24:40 they talk about how Minnesota Management & Budget (MMB) doesn’t plan to audit reports and that local governments are on the “honor” system.

LMC CRF Reporting webinar

What is even more concerning is that our city attorney from Kennedy & Graven indicated the MMB makes a presumption that all payroll costs reported are substantially due to COVID-19 related activities. He also seemed confident that because other Minnesota cities were using the funds for payroll that Minnetrista could too.

From attending the webinar on CRF fund reporting requirements, it was clear the state does not want to be in a position of advising cities on whether or not their spending qualifies under the guidelines. Making the “presumption” that reported payroll spending is due to COVID-19 is their way of looking the other way.

I had proposed using Minnetrista’s CRF money to address the city’s information technology architecture and it’s ability to support remote operations which has been difficult under our current infrastructure during this pandemic. That would have been a legitimate use of the funds.

It was decided to check with the state auditor to see if Minnetrista could legitimately claim payroll expenses and then to report back to council. My guess is the auditor will just say they presume the city is following the rules.

Unfortunately we have individuals on the council and staff that have no problem promising to follow the rules and then deciding not to. As long as they can get away with it.

Readers can listen to the work session and council meeting where these issues were discussed Monday night.

**UPDATE 8/8/2020 – Learned from a state legislator today who read the post that using federal COVID funds to reduce the city’s tax levy is explicitly prohibited. Likely the reason federal CRF rules say a city cannot spend the money on previously levied categories budgeted prior to the pandemic, as Minnetrista is contemplating.

www.ShannonBruceForMayor.com

Minnetrista is not a dictatorship. City’s emergency order bypasses spending laws

Minnetrista’s Mayor refuses to rescind her emergency order which allows her, singlehandedly, without council approval, to “execute any agreements, contracts and related documents regarding the local emergency…” Minnetrista has just received over $579,000 in federal funds to be used for coronavirus relief. Your city council should determine how these funds are spent, not just the Mayor. We have elected representatives on the council to represent you. Minnetrista is not a dictatorship unless you allow it to be.

We heard plans at our last council meeting for these funds to be used for purposes that conflict with the fund rules. With the Mayor’s emergency order in place those plans don’t need council approval. This is unacceptable.

I made a motion to revoke the emergency order at our last council meeting because it has not been necessary for a single action taken by the city since it was invoked over four months ago (motion died for lack of a 2nd). An emergency order can be invoked at any time, if an emergency is imminent, by the Mayor, so there is absolutely no reason to let this continue. Let your council know you want the order revoked: lwhalen@ci.minnetrista.mn.us; mmolitor@ci.minnetrista.mn.us; pmortenson@ci.minnetrista.mn.us; jtschumperlin@ci.minnetrista.mn.us

Emergency order (page 31) provides: “City staff is authorized to enter into agreements and contracts necessary for the procurement of materials, equipment, and services required to respond to the local emergency.” and “The Mayor and City Administrator are authorized to execute any agreements, contracts, and related documents regarding the local emergency necessary to implement corrective action relative to the local emergency to protect the health, safety and welfare of the City and the community.”

Send a message to revoke Minnetrista’s emergency order and return council oversight of all city spending to Mayor Whalen, Council members Molitor, Mortenson and Tschumperlin below: lwhalen@ci.minnetrista.mn.us; mmolitor@ci.minnetrista.mn.us; pmortenson@ci.minnetrista.mn.us; jtschumperlin@ci.minnetrista.mn.us

www.ShannonBruceForMayor.com

Design flaw to cause Minnetrista north water treatment plant to shut down for 2.5 months

Minnetrista’s Public Works Superintendent Gary Peters explained to the city council last night that a “design error” in the construction of the city’s north water treatment plant will cause the plant to be taken offline while the Sunnyfield water tower is refurbished which is estimated to take approximately 2.5 months. “The north water treatment plant will be shut down during this process.”

north water treatment plant interiorMr. Peters further explained “It was a design error that did not get looked at when the plant was built, so unfortunately we will be without treated water on the north end. It’s either that or they’ll have no water. I think they’ll understand when they hear what the alternative is.”

We were informed the timing on this is to be within the next 2 weeks and the city will notify residents affected. Mr. Peters further commented referring to himself and contractors involved in the oversight of the plant: “We’re not water gurus….it would’ve been nice if someone had thought about it.”

I agree. It would’ve been nice. Perhaps this is a reason Minnetrista needs it’s own staff city engineer as I’ve proposed on numerous occasions.

Below is the audio file of the discussion from last night:

It was further clarified that the water will have chlorine added but will not go through the water plant filtering process. Residents will receive a notification explaining the timing and details on the matter soon.

www.ShannonBruceForMayor.com

Minnetrista Mayoral campaign signs stolen

2020-07-15_11-22-45
Example, not actual Minnetrista theft

To the thieves who took my campaign signs that don’t believe in fair elections, the 1st Amendment or law and order: You have clearly demonstrated the need to elect someone that does. Stealing  campaign signs shows a complete disrespect for our election laws as well as the 1st Amendment rights of property owners to display support for the candidate(s) of their choice.

This malicious act only serves to motivate me more than ever to work hard and win in November!

I hope blog followers and supporters will consider helping to cover the sign replacement costs. I need your help. $900 is needed this week so I can order more signs and posts and get them placed again before the end of the month. Please help if you’re able by donating below: 

donate button

Thank you for your support!

County and city officials confirmed today they did not remove any of the signs. If anyone has information about these thefts or witnesses future ones please contact the Minnetrista police department where the case is under investigation: police@ci.minnetrista.mn.us

UPDATE 7/17/2020 – Thanks to a witness that came forward and identified a truck and two adult males taking the signs we have recovered most of the signs and are investigating the incident. My campaign is seeking damages to replace the signs so anyone that donated because of this post and would like their donation returned please email: sbruce@ShannonBruceForMayor.com.

www.ShannonBruceForMayor.com

What’s the big deal?

Election integrity is the big deal and the city of Minnetrista took an enormous stride toward that end last Thursday at a specially called council meeting to discuss the election process in Minnetrista and the role of election judges and absentee ballot board members.

State law requires that an absentee ballot board be established by the city council that is comprised of election judges, chosen from the major party lists, to accept/reject absentee ballots. It was discovered that in the past Minnetrista had not been appointing an absentee ballot board and had, instead, been using city staff to perform these duties.

Thanks to the Minnesota Voters Alliance filing a petition against the city of Minneapolis for doing virtually the same thing (Minnetrista differs slightly in that it only handles walk-in absentee voting presently) and pointing out applicable statutes showing cities magnifying glass2are required to use election judges, chosen from party lists to establish the ballot board, Minnetrista was given the opportunity to scrutinize their past practices and to comply with the law.

As a result, for the first time, the Minnetrista city council has established an absentee ballot board comprised of election judges chosen from the party lists and will not be using city staff to accept/reject absentee ballots.

So why is this such a big deal? Because local government staff, whether from a city or county (both process absentee ballots), care very much about who will serve on their city council, board of county commissioners, state legislature, on up to the Governor and POTUS. They work closely with these elected representatives and develop relationships with them over time. Those relationships, good or bad, create an inherent conflict of interest in the performance of certain election duties that can impact election outcomes. No one would argue they don’t. That’s precisely why our laws require elections judges from different major political parties to be present when absentee ballots are accepted & rejected.

Unfortunately the practice of using local government staff to perform election duties meant for election judges is widespread throughout the state of Minnesota and likely the country.

Other cities’ and counties’ elected representatives need to ask questions of their election administrators to make sure they are complying with the law. There’s still time to get it right before the general election. And that’s a big deal.

www.ShannonBruceForMayor.com

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?