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?
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. 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.
Absentee 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.
To 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.
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
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
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
If you want to adopt a policy in Minnetrista that creates future city liabilities and know there won’t be money available for those future liabilities what do you do? You do what Mayor Whalen suggested Monday night and that is, when the money runs out you just change the policy and declare the city won’t be responsible anymore.
We are talking about the city’s tree fund that has a current balance of over $416,000, dollars contributed by developers that took out more trees than allowed and had to pay into the fund. That money has been sitting idle, not being used (Minnetrista has no shortage of trees) and the balance continues to grow, but once the city is developed the deposits to that fund will stop.
Knowing this tree fund has been sitting unused for years I’ve suggested we should look at using part of it for road maintenance since that seems to be the most challenging aspect of our finances and is the primary reason given each year for increasing the tax levy. There are other “special” funds with balances of hundreds of thousands of dollars that have been sitting relatively idle for years as well (see highlighted chart).
Interestingly, after these many years, staff recently decided it was time to discuss establishing a “tree replacement policy” to use these funds to replace trees planted in right-of-way areas on private property.
I have no issues with replacing diseased trees along rights-of-ways because our housing development HOAs and other property owners do not cause tree disease. That is a legitimate use of these funds to beautify our boulevards. But private property owners (or HOAs) are responsible for the care and maintenance of all trees and landscaping on private property, not the city. If the city assumes liability for replacing trees caused by neglect or any cause other than disease it is taking on more liability than it should, in my humble opinion.
The council work session discussion ended with staff being given direction to replace all dead trees in rights-of-way areas regardless of the cause. Votes are not taken at work sessions but had there been mine would have been a “No.” It was stated during our work session that we currently are not aware of any diseased trees at this time. I guess you never know when a tree pandemic will hit that requires using up the entire fund. Meanwhile residents are demanding better roads and being told their taxes will need to go up to get them. www.ShannonBruceForMayor.com