Westonka School District Superintendent issues letter regarding Whalen invoice for campaign materials

I received an email from the Superintendent of Westonka Schools, Kevin Borg, regarding the invoice that showed Lisa Whalen’s campaign materials were invoiced to the school district. That invoice was found during the discovery process in the lawsuit against Mayor Whalen and her campaign committee and exposed over a year and a half ago. I have not, until today, received any correspondence or concern from Westonka Schools about the invoice.

The timing on this correspondence might be construed as politically motivated, if I didn’t know better, as it is, after all, two days before voting begins in the Minnetrista Mayoral election.

Mr. Borg’s email says “I am asking that your campaign immediately remove and post corrections to all false claims involving the Westonka School District.” and demands a response by Friday. Considering the fact no false claims have been made (by me), he didn’t have to wait that long for my response [emphasis added in bold]:

Mr. Borg also expressed his wish was to resolve this matter in private. However, when I asked if he had shared the email he admitted he had shared it with the school board. Well then, I guess this isn’t private after all. That might explain why one of our school board members is attempting to censor my social media accounts tonight.

This election is important. Minnetrista deserves better than this.

http://www.ShannonBruceForMayor.com

Two firsts in Minnetrista last night

Last night’s council meeting was notable in that two “firsts” occurred. One, it was the first time since elected in 2016 that I voted to approve the city’s preliminary tax levy and the reason I did was it would actually result in a net decrease in most resident’s property taxes. Two, it was the first time Mayor Whalen voted for a preliminary tax levy that would result in a tax decrease since she was elected Mayor. I’d like to think it was because she knew it was in the best interests of Minnetrista property owners but something tells me this dichotomy with her past voting record won’t happen again for another four years if she’s re-elected.

I predicted here that this election year would prompt a political change of heart for a mayor facing a challenger in a community less than happy with the steady tax increases she’s supported every year.

One of the budgeting games played by administrative bureaucracies, since they’re always seeking to increase resources, is to under-estimate projected revenue and over-estimate projected expenditures in the budget. Doing so always ends up with a tax increase being the only way to “make ends meet.” We saw that in the council’s budget work sessions where, seeing that permit fee revenue was underestimated, I was successful in getting the city’s 2021 projections for permit fees increased to more accurately reflect a higher number based on past and anticipated growth. As a result we were able to add those dollars to the road budget without increasing anyone’s property taxes.

That’s a win-win. We don’t always need to increase taxes to pay for what we need.

http://www.ShannonBruceForMayor.com

Minnetrista prediction – wagers anyone?

It’s an election year and strange things happen in election years. Mayor Whalen has voted every year since she was elected to increase the city’s tax levy to the point of increasing your property taxes. Every. Single. Year. But this is an election year and even Whalen understands voters don’t like seeing their taxes go up year after year after year.

I predict this will be the first year Whalen votes in support of a tax levy that doesn’t increase your city property tax. But remember, the best predictor of future behavior is past behavior. Rest assured that will hold true for the next four years.

Past city levy increases have far exceeded Minnetrista’s growth rate. Since elected I have voted against each and every one. The growth we are experiencing, and are told will continue, should generate more than enough revenue to support city services without increasing anyone’s city property taxes. The city also has several “special funds” not reflected in the general fund (where levied revenues and expenditures appear) with hundreds of thousands of dollars sitting idle. Some of these funds should be re-allocated to roads instead of using roads as an excuse to raise taxes every year.

Our council meeting Tuesday night will likely include a vote on the 2021 preliminary tax levy. Anyone willing to wager it will be the lowest since Whalen took office?

http://www.ShannonBruceForMayor.com

The pattern continues. Whalen flyer selectively distributed

One thing everyone knows about me is everything I say or write is public, available for everyone to read and I don’t distribute campaign material secretly or selectively. That’s not been our incumbent Mayor’s pattern, however.

Door knocking this past weekend several people shared Whalen’s flyer with me and after asking around I found it had been selectively distributed. None of my neighbors received one and neither did many in other parts of Minnetrista that I contacted.

The flyer has the statement from Whalen saying “My leadership style is quite different from that of my opponent.” I couldn’t agree more.

If I have something to say I will say it directly and am not afraid to call out corruption, deceit, or pay-to-play politics…all too many of which have been documented with evidence on this blog. Whalen, on the other hand, pretends to be positive, civil and respectful on camera but then secretly distributes hit pieces like the one below on her last opponent. This was the artwork on her campaign’s invoice to the Westonka School district:

Vanderlinde hit piece
Artwork associated with Whalen campaign committee’s invoice to Westonka School District

Old habits die hard and we see the pattern continuing with selective distribution of Whalen’s 2020 campaign flyers implying her opponent is “dismissive or divisive.” Anyone that disagrees with Mayor Whalen is labeled or discredited, but not openly. Secret postcards appear in mailboxes, mailing lists are scrubbed to eliminate those that might challenge misinformation and on and on the pattern repeats.

Someone once told me that people with nothing to hide, hide nothing. I’ve always believed that’s true. Selectively communicating to residents reveals a troubling pattern that’s not likely to change.

I believe every Minnetrista resident, whether they agree with me or not, deserves to know what I’m saying about Minnetrista or the election.

http://www.ShannonBruceForMayor.com

“Technical error?”

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Minnetrista’s mayor surprised residents when she announced in July she would be running again. Most of us haven’t forgotten the judgment against her last summer  for the illegal financial scheme she was involved in that birthed the term “Minnetrista-gate” and, in the judge’s words “corrupted the political process” in Minnetrista.

Calling the illegal financial scheme a “technical error” underscores the fact our current mayor doesn’t think she did anything wrong. She doesn’t agree with the three judges that do. Watch the video below to understand what really happened and why.

The illegal scheme concealed who her campaign donors wrote checks to as well as who paid for her campaign expenses. Her financial involvement with the illegal political committee “Our Minnetrista,” whose leaders were sanctioned as well, was kept secret, as was a donation to her campaign for over 10 times the legal limit from the committee (the reason for the illicit scheme). And on top of all that her campaign mailings were invoiced to the Westonka School District.

If she’ll blatantly lie and break the law campaigning, do you trust her to govern your city?

http://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**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.

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 could 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

Head scratcher – not really – “Indefinite” emergency order in Minnetrista continues

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.

fingers crossedAbsentee 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.

election integrityTo 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.

www.ShannonBruceForMayor.com

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Mayor attacks opponent reading personal blog at council meeting

The politicization of the Minnetrista city council meetings are in full swing. Mayor Whalen, in an unprecedented breech of civil decorum, decided to turn the February 18

cats

council meeting into a political attack on her opponent for the Minnetrista mayoral seat by reading a personal blog post outlining why the Minnetrista 2020 election is important. Yes, this was at a public council meeting, paid for by taxpayers, to attack a political opponent. I’m not making this up.

First, I should thank the mayor for sharing the blog post and giving it more visibility. The fact our city is being run by outside interests is real. What is more disturbing, however, is how anyone expressing an opinion that differs from those outside interests is targeted.

These past months I’ve had personal social media accounts disabled twice because of pressure from these interests that donated to the mayor’s previous election campaign. I’ve had to fight battles to have official minutes reflect what actually occurred instead of what these interests wanted in the public record. Outright blatant lies have been circulated in the community alleging illegal campaign contributions on my part that never happened. I’m sure there is more to come.

It appeared the most troubling aspect of the post, to the mayor, was about “instilling a service-oriented culture” at city hall. Apparently she doesn’t feel a need to address that and didn’t like hearing that people in the community do.

I’ve always tried to “leave my stuff at the door” when I attend council meetings. Council meetings are for getting the work of the city done, not to intimidate or shame those you disagree with. Using a public forum, paid for by taxpayers, is an inappropriate venue to wage political warfare. But apparently not in Minnetrista.

Mayor Whalen’s blog on increasing your taxes

I think some clarification is in order here.

Mayor Whalen states on her new blog “When determining our levy one of the things we look at is growth. The County Assessor estimated that we saw a 2.0% – 2.5% overall new home growth. If you subtract that from the final levy increase (over 2019) of 5.66% it leaves an increase of approximately 3.2%-3.7%”

mayor's blogThat’s assuming, incorrectly, that for every percent in growth the city needs a 1:1 ratio increasing the tax levy. That’s simply not true. First, the 2-2.5% referenced here is the increase in the city’s total market valuation from new homes, not the number of new homes built. That could be a very small number of expensive homes or a lot of inexpensive homes. There is no correlation between market valuation increases and a need for higher taxes.

The tax levy should only be increased because of increased costs (plus inflation) due to growth, not simply because of market valuation increases. Theoretically you could have one home built that accounts for the entire 2% growth…which wouldn’t justify any tax levy increase at all. I’m not implying that is the case, just using an example that makes the point.

Shannon Bruce announces bid for Mayor of Minnetrista

I announced my bid for Mayor of Minnetrista today. Please visit www.ShannonBruceForMayor.com to learn how you can get involved in Minnetrista’s future. It’s in your hands. Here is the official announcement below:

Council member Shannon Bruce announces candidacy for Minnetrista Mayor
Bruce pledges to bring a customer service culture back to city hall and end Minneapolis-style top-down governance

Minnetrista Council Member Shannon Bruce announced her candidacy for Mayor on Tuesday, December 3, 2019, citing a need to restore trust in city leadership and refocus city hall on serving local residents.

“Far too often I see decisions being made at city hall without considering long term rubber stampconsequences to residents. Unelected officials from Minneapolis/St. Paul want to tell us how to run our city, and Minnetrista needs a mayor that puts Minnetrista first and won’t rubber stamp their agendas. Under my leadership, I will work with the council to protect our community from decisions that will lead to heavier traffic, more crime in our neighborhoods, higher fees and property taxes” said Bruce.

“I will refocus city government on its core responsibilities: public safety, roads, infrastructure, and zoning. Unfortunately, as a council member I’ve seen taxpayer dollars wasted and special treatment given to vendors and outside interests. As mayor, I pledge to put an end to special vendor relationships and will require open bidding for all significant city contracts, regardless of whether state statutes demand it.

“Minnetrista is a growing community, so we need to have an open dialogue with residents about their needs and adopt an attitude of customer service at city hall. Whether it’s responding to a 911 call, paving roads, or helping a property owner navigate a variance, Minnetrista residents deserve to have an excellent experience every time.”

Bruce also cited election integrity as a reason for running for mayor. The current Minnetrista mayor, Lisa Whalen, was sanctioned earlier this year for violating campaign finance laws. A three-judge panel ruled in June that Whalen’s arrangement with the Our Minnetrista political committee had “corrupted the political process,” in Minnetrista’s elections.

Website: www.ShannonBruceForMayor.com
Email: sbruce@ShannonBruceForMayor.com
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