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.
Out of sight, out of mind. Most people don’t want to think about local government. They just want their roads plowed and their streets safe. As long as that gets done most people are happy. But when we ignore something it doesn’t usually get better.
Think about your refrigerator. What happens to the food in there if you ignore it, push it to the back, and don’t take it out for examination? Bad stuff. Leave it long enough and “out of sight-out of mind” will eventually get your attention in a very unpleasant way. The city of Minnetrista has been operating in the “back of the fridge” for far too long.
In January 2017, the beginning of my council term, all seemed well. After several months, however, I realized it wasn’t. There were forces at play that were at odds with transparency, market competition, and election integrity. Secret meetings, illegal donations, rogue political committees, pay-to-play arrangements and even a school district involved in it all made me start to question everything.
I was only one vote and not able to make policy changes on my own but started the Minnetrista Governance Blog to at least shed some light on the “back of the fridge.” My candidacy for mayor needs your involvement. There will undoubtedly be rumors and secret post-card mailings full of unfounded allegations and falsehoods mailed to residents as we saw in the last contested mayoral election. But it won’t work because, this time, the lights are on.
Largest historical Minnetrista campaign donation ends with donor in top job – Just days after Mayor Whalen took office and was appointed as the Minnetrista council liaison to a government agency, her campaign donor, who had just made the largest campaign donation in Minnetrista history, was appointed to that agency’s top position which would soon have oversight of a proposed 80 acre development in Minnetrista.
The donation was discovered during the recent “Our Minnetrista” campaign finance violations case but what raised red flags, other than the fact the donation was three times the legal limit, was the donor failed to list his real employer and also completed the transaction using a PayPal account. Writing a check is the norm for large donations and checks are traceable. PayPal accounts can be used by anyone with a login and password to an account.
The land for this proposed development would need to be rezoned and a PUD approved by the council for it to begin. With “Our Minnetrista’s” candidates (Whalen, Mortenson & Thoele) elected to the council that path would be clear. The developer chosen for building the high-end homes had a previous relationship with the donor’s real employer evidenced on the developer’s website.
An interesting side note is Mayor Whalen had been the Minnetrista council liaison to the government agency for many years prior to her leaving the council in 2010 and was immediately reappointed upon taking office in January 2015.
So who is the mystery donor, government agency, developer and donor’s employer at the time of the donation? The donor and donation were listed in a trial exhibit and are public information as part of the recent OAH ruling (OAH#71-0325-35774):
The Westonka School District was invoiced for the Mayor’s campaign brochures as well as a hit piece on her opponent. But the cost of the brochures and hit piece wasn’t
disclosed by the Mayor or “Our Minnetrista,” the political committee backing her. A political committee named Minnetrista411 falsely reported the expenditure on its own disclosure report to the Campaign Finance Board. Yes, complex crimes are complicated but the invoice shown here is irrefutable proof that corruption in Minnetrista is not limited to city hall. It extends to the Westonka School District and who knows how much further.
In discussing this with the Hennepin County Attorney’s office I was asked if the Westonka school board was aware of this. My reply was, yes, but many of the school board members are also “Our Minnetrista” members and appear more eager to bury it than expose it. The contact person on the invoice was the Treasurer for the YesWestonka political committee responsible for pushing through the $22M Westonka Schools bond referendum. He is identified in subpoenaed “Our Minnetrista” emails as an active member involved in Our Minnetrista’s fundraising and campaign activities, specifically coordinating their printing.
The invoice and artwork associated with it was obtained during discovery in the Office of Administrative Hearings’ case involving campaign finance violations against Mayor Whalen, one former and two current Minnetrista city council members (OAH#71-0325-35774).
WHY THEY HID “OUR MINNETRISTA” – The June judgement handed down to the mayor and council members involved in the “Our Minnetrista” scandal ordered them to file accurate campaign finance reports and pay their fines by August 1. One need look no further to see why they hid the role of the political committee “Our Minnetrista” in their campaigns. They would’ve had to truthfully disclose this:
Keep in mind there were other, legitimate, candidates that spent money of their own in these elections. The mayoral candidate opposing Whalen in 2014 lost by less than 200 votes. These violations affected the outcome of these elections in both 2014 and 2018. The three judge panel called it corruption citing their actions “corrupted the political process” and gave the Our Minnetrista candidates “an unfair advantage.” Our mayor calls it an “administrative error.”
Destruction of evidence during an ongoing civil suit is a criminal offense last I heard. On the very day screen shots from www.ourminnetrista.com were taken showing donations going into an “Our Minnetrista” account (something they had been very careful to obscure by reporting all donations as going directly to their candidates) the entire Our Minnetrista website was deleted. The screenshots were shared with them as part of the discovery process of the civil suit and within hours of that notification the entire website was deleted, all their Facebook content was deleted and no online evidence remained of their activity. Sound like an innocent “error?”
MORE MINNETRISTA-GATE DISCOVERY – Just when you think it can’t get any worse… The following testimony from the recent campaign violations trial shows us that long before Minnetrista Councilor Patricia Thoele publicly resigned her council seat the end of March 2018, the “Our Minnetrista” political committee members (which included Mayor Whalen and Councilors Mortenson & Thoele) were busy recruiting Thoele’s replacement the previous January. According to trial testimony they invited John Tschumperlin to meet with them in January, keeping Thoele’s pending resignation a secret until the end of March, and then voted Tschumperlin in as her replacement.
All this while inviting residents to interview for the vacancy they had already rigged.
It is a violation of Minnesota’s public meeting law for a quorum (3 or more) council members to discuss city business outside of noticed public meetings.
*There is no relation between Judge Mortenson & Council Member Pam Mortenson
“…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.”
Minnetrista certainly has had its share of controversy over the years but “Minnetristagate” surpasses them all. The political committee “Our Minnetrista” and their candidates violated multiple campaign finance laws in order to influence the 2014 and 2018 Minnetrista city council elections. The financial scheme concocted by the group bypassing Minnesota’s Fair Campaign Practices Act was concealed from the public and according to the final order by the Office of Administrative Hearing’s (OAH) three judge panel:
“…corrupted the political process, and created an unfair advantage for the candidates it supported…”
“Our Minnetrista” and its candidates accepted multiple contributions far exceeding statutory limits and then divided them up among their candidates, only reporting afraction of the actual check amounts on each candidate’s disclosure reports. They accepted illegal corporate contributions and then reported them as coming from individuals. They had the Westonka School District invoiced for their campaign mailings*, and in the courtroom “I don’t know” was the most frequently heard phrase from Respondents that included Minnetrista Mayor Lisa Whalen, Councilmembers Pam Mortenson and John Tschumperlin, past Councilmember Patricia Thoele, and Our Minnetrista leaders David Kolb and Karen Danielson.
Erick Kaardal, Attorney for Complainant, Shannon Bruce, remarked in his opening statement “How candidates operate in the campaign environment with respect to law reflects on how our public officials act when they are in office. And so, this is a very important case regarding how our campaigns for public officials are going to be operated consistent with the law or in violation of the law.”
Respondents defended their scheme to the very end claiming to have researched its financial structure with the city clerk, Secretary of State’s office and the Campaign Finance Board. Interestingly they didn’t have a single witness from those offices willing to testify on their behalf, provided no evidence such contacts ever occurred and couldn’t remember most of the names of the persons with whom they had allegedly spoken.
A highlight from the two day trial came from Mayor Lisa Whalen who, after being shown two checks, each for $1,000 from the same individual (contribution limit is $600) displaying clear, easily recognizable signatures on each check, feigned she didn’t know who made the contribution because she couldn’t make out the signature. Here are the exhibits she was shown: