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.
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:
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 session 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.
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.
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 nightand 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.**
City Administrator requests CRF funds of $579K.
City Administrator promises to only use funds for valid COVID-19 related expenses.
Minnetrista receives the funds based on it’s certification to follow the rules.
City staff advocates using the funds for non-COVID-19 related payroll.
City staff omits the $579K revenue from the 2020 fund balance keeping it from reducing the preliminary tax levy.
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.
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.
**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.
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.
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.”
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.”
Mr. 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.
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:
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: email@example.com
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.
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 impartiality, 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.
Minnetrista poll* results are in. The top three concerns of Minnetrista residents polled were:
Conflicts of interest with city contractors and consultants (89.7%)
Wasteful spending (86.7%)
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.
*Not a scientifically conducted random sampled poll
Minnetrista poll – What concerns you? – Minnetrista Governance Blog is interested in hearing from you! What are the most important issues, from your perspective, facing Minnetrista? Check all that apply. No donations or email required.
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.