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.
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
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
Yes, there are caucuses tonight for Minnetrista! Below are the major party caucus locations for Minnetrista, February 25, 2020 at 7pm. If you’re not sure which precinct you’re in look it up here (or click above caucus finder) so you can find your room. There are usually people at the door to point you to your precinct room.
Minnetrista DFL Caucus: Mound Westonka High School, 5905 Sunnyfield Road E, Minnetrista, MN 55364
Minnetrista GOP Caucus: Grandview Middle School, 1881 Commerce Blvd., Mound, MN 55364
Delegates will be chosen for upcoming party conventions to endorse various candidates for state and congressional offices. Get involved!
I’ve been meeting with residents in Minnetrista neighborhoods over the last several weeks and invariably someone always asks “What’s so important about this year’s city election?” The answer: Outside interests are running the city and none of them live or pay taxes here in Minnetrista. Outside consultants, contractors, vendors and organizations put pressure on the council to serve their interests ahead of yours. Consequently, taxes go up every year and will continue at an even faster pace going forward. We are growing and have important decisions coming up next year that impact your property rights, taxes, fees and freedoms.
I am also hearing from residents frustrated in their dealings with the city as they seek permits, variances, or access to information. Rather than having an excellent experience they often leave irritated and angry. Instilling a service oriented culture at city hall is important for residents to be treated with respect and for staff to understand their purpose is to serve the community. Unlike private sector businesses that know their survival depends on treating customers well, public sector organizations can become complacent knowing their “customer” has nowhere else to go.
The November election in Minnetrista is of paramount importance to every Minnetrista resident. Unlike the national elections where partisan politics divide the country, every Minnetrista resident can agree that outside interests should not continue running our city and public servants should treat residents with the respect they deserve.
- “…Our Minnetrista is a committee under Minn. Stat. § 211A.01, subd. 4.
Our Minnetrista violated Minn. Stat. § 211A.02 in 2018 by failing to file campaign financial reports despite spending more than $750 in support of candidates.”
- “Our Minnetrista did not file any campaign financial reports in its own name
disclosing contributions it received or expenditures it made…”
- “Because Our Minnetrista failed to file financial reports disclosing
contributions it received and expenditures it made, and due to the manner in which Danielson [Our Minnetrista Treasurer] reported the contributions and expenditures on the candidate’s reports, Our Minnetrista’s role in the candidates’ campaigns was concealed from the public.“
- “The campaign financial reports for Mortenson, Thoele, and Whalen did not
list any contributions from Our Minnetrista” [Neither did the 2018 candidate financial reports for Mortenson and Tschumperlin]
- “Mortenson, Thoele and Whalen were also aware that the expenditures
listed on their 2014 financial reports as having been made by them, were actually made by Our Minnetrista.”
- “Mortenson and Tschumperlin were also aware that they had not made the expenditures listed on their 2018 financial reports, but that these payments were actually made by Our Minnetrista.”
- “Danielson completed the campaign financial reports for Mortenson and
Tschumperlin. Danielson marked the reports as “candidate” reports as opposed to
“campaign committee” reports. Once completed, she sent the reports to the candidates to review and approve.”
- “Our Minnetrista received at least one donation of $750, six donations of
$1,000, and one donation of $1,800 in 2014. Danielson allocated these contributions
in equal amounts to Mortenson, Thoele, and Whalen.” [Statutory contribution limit is $600]
- “Two donations to Our Minnetrista were drawn on corporate bank accounts,
but these contributions were reported on the candidates’ campaign financial reports as having been made by individuals. These contributions were divided equally between the three candidates as well.” [Minnesota Statutes prohibit corporate contributions to campaigns for public office]
- “Complainant established that Respondents Mortenson, Thoele, and
Whalen violated Minn. Stat. § 211A.12 by accepting contributions in excess of $600 from Our Minnetrista in 2014.”
- “Complainant established that Respondents Mortenson and Tschumperlin
violated Minn. Stat. § 211A.12 by accepting contributions in excess of $600 from Our
Minnetrista in 2018.”
“Our Minnetrista’s failure to file campaign financial reports…corrupted the political process, and created an unfair advantage for the candidates it supported.”
Trial Testimony Exerpt:
The evidentiary hearing concerning the alleged campaign finance violations of the “Our Minnetrista” organization and the candidates they supported in the 2014 and 2018 elections concluded Wednesday, May 8, 2019. Testimony began the morning of Tuesday, May 7 and was heard by three Administrative Law Judges with the Office of Administrative Hearings in St. Paul, MN. Final arguments to be submitted in writing by both the Complainant and Respondents are due June 7, 2019 and a final judgement will be issued approximately 14 days following.
Audio recording of testimony is available to order from the Office of Administrative Hearings (Case# 71-0325-35774) https://mn.gov/oah/media/media-contacts.jsp
Coined “Minnetristagate” by the Center of the American Experiment writer, Tom Steward, the Minnetrista campaign finance violations matter, involving the current Mayor, two current and one past council member and leaders of the Our Minnetrista organization, has been scheduled for an evidentiary hearing May 7. The Administrative Law Judge issued an order denying Respondents motion for a summary disposition on all but one minor allegation having to do with providing literature disclaimers.
The complaint, filed with the MN Office of Administrative Hearings, deals with allegations of campaign finance violations against the Respondents occurring during both the 2014 and 2018 Minnetrista city elections. An excerpt regarding the 2018 elections from the Judge’s order on page 8:
“Our Minnetrista engaged in all of these activities without ever being identified as a source of the funds on the candidates’ campaign reports. Though Respondents maintain that Our Minnetrista acted as the campaign committee for the candidates, Mortenson and Tschumperlin’s financial reports were filed as candidate reports, rather than campaign committee reports, further obscuring Our Minnetrista’s role in the candidates’ campaigns. Additionally, the funds expended by Our Minnetrista greatly exceeded the $600 contribution limit.”
Minnesota Office of Administrative Hearings Media contact: https://mn.gov/oah/media/media-contacts.jsp