What happened?

I’ve been fielding a lot of questions about my Minnetrista mayoral race from those surprised by the outcome so decided to post an explanation:

Going into September it seemed, based on feedback from social media and door knocking, that winning the mayoral race was not only possible but highly probable. Then, two days before voting began, the Superintendent of Westonka Schools, Kevin Borg, dropped a demand letter to me citing alleged false statements related to Lisa Whalen’s campaign having invoiced the Westonka School District for her campaign expenses in her last contested election. He had been aware of the invoice and the subsequent widely shared social media posts regarding it for over a year and a half and had never said anything about it.

Several Westonka school board members are and have been involved in Whalen’s campaign committees including the “Our Minnetrista” political committee that was sanctioned last year for violating campaign finance laws. Mr. Borg, while professing he had sent the demand letter to me “privately” admitted later he had shared it with school board members that supported Whalen’s campaign.

With only two days before voting would begin, this underhanded, politically motivated attack on my credibility went viral on Facebook and Nextdoor social media groups almost immediately. The school’s logo was used to lend credibility to the allegations online and Whalen published Borg’s demand letter on her campaign page. There was not a single false statement made in any of my campaign’s information on the topic and the Whalen campaign and her school board supporters knew that. The Westonka School District and Mr. Borg knew it as well and had no intention of following thru with the implied threat of legal action, should I refuse to retract everything, because they knew everything I had said was factual.

To make absolutely sure the allegations spread throughout Minnetrista Mr. Borg sent an email to all of Westonka School’s “Key Communicators” a few days later asking them to spread the allegations against my mayoral campaign. Confident I would never see his email message, it openly accused my campaign of spreading lies and claimed the evidence showing the illegal invoice from Whalen’s campaign was just a mistake. We all know it wasn’t a mistake and subpoenaed emails from Whalen’s trial last year prove it. And they know it.

Whalen spent over $15,000 to defeat my campaign but she knew she couldn’t do it honestly, so she did exactly as she had in her last contested election where her illegal “Our Minnetrista” political committee dropped a hit-piece against her opponent, just days before the election, spreading false information about him. You can read about that here. Interestingly, it was that hit-piece mailing that was invoiced to the school district. With just a few days till the election there wasn’t enough time for her opponent to address the lies and he lost by a mere 190 votes. History has indeed repeated itself.

Summergate, Ground mounted solar and Salary increases – Minnetrista 11/9/20

Summergate Housing Development: For the Minnetrista council to consider the concept plan for the Summergate housing development, proposed for North of County Road 110W and West of Saunders Lake, first it had to decide whether or not to amend the city’s 2040 Comprehensive Plan which has those parcels zoned as Urban Reserve (guided for future residential development). Part of the amendment process would be to rezone and extend utilities to the area. The Metropolitan Urban Service Area (MUSA line) abuts the SE corner of the area.

Several residents of the South Saunders neighborhood to the East of the proposed development expressed concerns about increased traffic, safety and demands on the city’s water and sewer infrastructure as well as the housing density in the current concept plan.

Amending the comprehensive plan would have indicated the council’s openness to rezoning and extending utilities and would give the developer an opportunity to submit a revised plan addressing all the concerns.

To amend the city’s comprehensive plan requires a super majority of 4 (out of 5) votes. The council did not vote on the matter as it became clear 3 of the 5 members were opposed to it. The audio of the discussion is available here and starts at about 10:21.

Ground mounted solar on Ag Preserve: There were two items on the council’s agenda regarding ground mounted solar on Ag Preserve properties Monday night. One was to deny the site plan submitted for the solar farm on the parcel located on the NE corner of Highland Road West and CR92 and the other was to impose a moratorium on ground mounted solar energy systems on Ag Preserve parcels.

The council went into a closed session prior to the council meeting regarding possible litigation related to these items.

At the council meeting the resolution to deny the site plan was postponed to the council’s December 7 meeting. The resolution authorizing a moratorium on ground mounted solar energy systems on Ag Preserve parcels was passed and the city will conduct a study for the purpose of determining whether and how to amend the 2015 zoning ordinance that made these systems a “permitted use” on Ag Preserve parcels.

9% wage increase over 3 years for Public Works: Minnetrista’s Public Works employees will receive a 9% wage increase spread out over the next 3 years. The council passed a resolution authorizing the labor agreement on a 4-0 vote with Bruce absent (I had dropped off the council meeting due to illness at approximately 9pm). My one vote wouldn’t have made a difference and I was too miserable to argue about union negotiations that exclude council members and are conducted solely by the city administrator.

Tonight’s council meeting – Listen live

Minnetrista’s city council will be reviewing the concept plan for the “Summergate” housing development proposed for North of County Road 110W and West of Saunders Lake along with a number of other agenda items readers can review in the November 9, 2020 council packet.

There will also be discussion on a resolution to authorize a study of ground mounted solar energy systems as they relate to Ag Preserve zoned properties (Ord. 461). The agenda lists it as simply imposing a moratorium on ground mounted systems but the resolution calls for a study, not just a moratorium, to evaluate whether and how to amend the 2015 ordinance that made them a “permitted use” on Ag Preserve parcels.

To listen live to the Minnetrista City Council meeting at 7pm tonight, November 9: call +1 (312) 757-3121 and enter meeting Access Code 498-912-997 #, or join the meeting from your computer, tablet or smartphone by accessing the following: https://global.gotomeeting.com/join/498912997
New to GoToMeeting? Get the app now and be ready when your first meeting
starts: https://global.gotomeeting.com/install/498912997

To listen live to the Minnetrista Work Session meeting at 5:30pm tonight, call +1 (646) 749-3112 and enter meeting Access Code 138-217-013 #, or join the meeting from your computer, tablet or smartphone by accessing the following: https://global.gotomeeting.com/join/138217013
New to GoToMeeting? Get the app now and be ready when your first meeting
starts: https://global.gotomeeting.com/install/138217013

Work Session packet for November 9 includes a discussion of the Park Dedication and Tree funds as well as a Recycling Fund budget discussion.

Minnetrista 2020 election results

Congratulations to all the Minnetrista candidates that won by working hard, door knocking and engaging with residents in person and on social media. It was a pleasure working with you and I wish you well! Minnetrista election results:

A sincere thank you to the voters that supported my mayoral campaign, the donors that invested in a vision for integrity in our local government and all the volunteers that door knocked, put up signs, made videos, and weren’t afraid to engage in conversations about things that matter. You are the best!

Colorful Minnetrista electoral history

History is destined to repeat itself if we ignore it and it’s my hope Minnetrista is more aware now of our city’s political history. But I also know from door knocking that a good many residents have never paid much attention to our local government, so for those voters here is some history.

Minnetrista’s last contested mayoral election was in 2014 when council member Mark Vanderlinde ran against previous council member Lisa Whalen. Despite Whalen’s illegal political committee Our Minnetrista outspending Vanderlinde by 300% it appeared Vanderlinde, a well respected and well liked candidate, was going to win the election.

Knowing a fair fight wasn’t going to produce the desired outcome for Whalen, the Our Minnetrista political committee, which concealed their involvement in the election and didn’t report a single contribution, decided to drop a postcard full of false allegations against Vanderlinde just days before the election so he wouldn’t have time to respond to it. The postcard hit-piece is below and the bill for it was invoiced to the Westonka School District and paid by Whalen’s campaign.

Mark Vanderlinde lost the 2014 mayoral election by only 190 votes

Lisa Whalen, according to her latest 2020 disclosure report has raised over $15,000 and spent most of it on direct mail. Her campaign has already begun to post false allegations about illegal contributions by my campaign that never happened, has attempted to tie me to controversial actions I was never a part of and implying that the proven campaign violation charges for which she was sanctioned by the court were just my conspiracy theories. They know all they have to do is repeat things a few times and people will start believing even the most egregious lies.

The Our Minnetrista group is alive and well and their tactics haven’t changed. The best predictor of future behavior is past behavior and I ask that Minnetrista voters not let history repeat itself on election day.


Connect the donor dots…Whalen spends $15,000 on 2020 mayoral campaign!

Here’s a fun game for Minnetrista voters to play. Below is the donor list from Lisa Whalen’s pre-general mayoral campaign report totaling over $15,000. See if you can match up the highlighted individuals from Whalen’s trial exhibit, which shows those involved in setting up the illegal “Our Minnetrista” financial scheme, to her donor list. You’ll get bonus points for identifying other school board members, council members (or their spouses), and planning commission members (or spouses). Comment your results below and the winner with the most dots will be announced November 3.


New housing development concept plan at Monday’s planning commission meeting

A new housing development proposed in Minnetrista to be located north of CR110W and just west of Saunders Lake will be before the city’s planning commission tomorrow night, Monday, 10/25/2020, at 7pm (call in numbers below). The planning commission agenda shows the concept/sketch plan from Summergate Companies is the only item on the agenda.

I intend to call in and I encourage other residents that value our parks and open spaces to attend as well.

Minnetrista, in my opinion, should encourage developers to include parks and open spaces in their plans rather than to pay cash in lieu of providing them.

Shannon Bruce

When a developer is forced to pay cash in lieu of providing land for parks the inevitable result is housing that is denser and of lesser quality in order to afford paying those fees.

I’m guessing Minnetrista residents would rather see the very generous allocation of lands in this development going to parks and open spaces than to see those spaces crammed with dense housing. It appears, however, the Parks Commission, at the direction of staff, is recommending cash in lieu:

“After review, the Parks Commission unanimously directed the
Applicant to consider a hybrid, land dedication and cash-in-lieu, approach to the
required park dedication as well as possible trail connections. If cash-in-lieu is
considered, an appraisal should be required to determine fair market value.”

10/13/2020 Parks Commission meeting

If we are to preserve and protect the rural landscape and ambience of Minnetrista we must have policies that do just that and a mayor that values our parks and open spaces more than the cash balance in our parks fund which, btw, has over $1M balance at the moment.

To listen live to the Minnetrista Planning Commission meeting: call +1 (571) 317-3122 and enter meeting Access Code 651-586-797 #, or join the meeting from your computer, tablet or smartphone by accessing the following: https://global.gotomeeting.com/join/651586797
New to GoToMeeting? Get the app now and be ready when your first meeting
starts: https://global.gotomeeting.com/install/651586797


Meeting residents in Woodland Cove

I have been door knocking in Woodland Cove these past few days with Minnetrista city council candidate Ann MacGregor and finding most people we’ve talked with already know they have another great city council candidate as their neighbor in Woodland Cove, Cathleen Reffkin. Ms. Reffkin is well known as being active in the Woodland Cove HOA, her local church and Westonka Schools where her children attend.

Cathleen Reffkin, Minnetrista city council candidate

Woodland Cove residents are excited to support someone from their development to be on the city council and happy to see a new face with business savvy and impressive credentials. A graduate of the University of Minnesota’s Carlson School of Management Reffkin holds a degree in Marketing and Insurance & Risk Management. Her work in that field helped her to develop, she says, “an understanding of how policy and risk management intersect. Another key skill I gained while working in insurance is the ability to bring people who have disparate, and often competing, interests together to compromise for mutual benefit.”

As a mother of three young children Reffkin is plugged in to our community’s schools and her approach to problem solving is a great example to them all, which is to do something rather than complain. “I am seeking office so I can make positive changes…I want our residents to have a beautiful place to live, work, and raise their families.”

Cathleen Reffkin Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/reffkinminnetristacitycouncil

Residents’ Opposition Leads Minnetrista to Slap Moratorium on Solar Projects (Center of American Experiment)

Our friends at the Center of the American Experiment picked up the story about Minnetrista’s solar gardens on Ag Preserve land. As usual they did a better job than I could of laying it out: https://www.americanexperiment.org/2020/10/residents-opposition-leads-minnetrista-to-slap-moratorium-on-solar-projects/

Minnetrista CARES Act dollars for Coronavirus relief to go for Public Safety payroll (why I voted no)

Back in August when Minnetrista received its Coronavirus Relief Funds of $579K I wrote about the city’s plans to spend the bulk of the funds on previously budgeted (pre-pandemic) Public Safety payroll despite authorizing the document below stating the city would not use the funds on previously budgeted, non-COVID19 related expenses.

Since that time guidance from the feds and state have given local governments permission to presume that their public safety personnel were substantially dedicated to COVID19 related activities without documenting or justifying the expenditures, and, if they were, they can legally use the funds for those purposes regardless of when they were budgeted.

The fact is, however, that Minnetrista didn’t have Public Safety personnel substantially dedicated to COVID19 related activities, that is if you use the dictionary definition of “substantially.” When asked at a council meeting if he could show we did, our Director of Public Safety said “If I had to prove it, no.”

Many hours of discussions followed, some centered around the definition of “substantial” and exploring other ways to spend the funds on IT infrastructure to support remote access, school district needs, food shelf needs or support for employees or businesses in the community impacted by the lock downs. The council did ultimately decide to give $20K each to the Westonka Food Shelf and WeCAN which are legitimate uses of the funds.

The easiest thing to do, with the majority of the funds (roughly $500K), was to simply take the money and apply it to the city’s Public Safety payroll knowing the city wouldn’t need to document anything to prove the expenses were COVID related. I’m sure the Mayor and most of the Council figured the end (money in our reserve fund) justified the means (pretending Minnetrista had personnel substantially dedicated to COVID when it did not).

No doubt there will be criticism and claims made that I would have returned the funds to the county but that is not what I would have done and I stated that at our council meeting Monday night. If we had acted back in July when we first learned of this funding we could have, over the five months given (August thru December), spent these funds on a number of other legitimate things that could’ve helped our community work remotely, helped our schools, given funds to businesses or individuals impacted by the coronavirus lock down, purposes for which these relief funds were intended. It seemed to be a foregone conclusion on the part of staff and most of the council, however, that the easiest solution was best.

I know the city has needs and will find a good purpose for using the half million dollars now in our reserves. That is not the point. The point is I could not in good conscience, knowing the city did not have any personnel that had been substantially dedicated to COVID19 activities, say that we did. The resolution passed 4-1 and can be found on page 202 of the council agenda packet for 10/19/2020.

Others will claim it was a perfectly legal thing to do, and it probably was, but legal doesn’t always equate with principled or moral and I’ll leave readers to ponder that point.