The Laker Pioneer has this down almost as well as their artistry in burying stories that are damaging to the public officials they protect. Their July 20 article covering Minnetrista’s July 15 council meeting is blatantly misleading when it says the Office of Administrative Hearings (OAH) found “no criminal activity took place” on the part of the Minnetrista-gate Respondents. Someone needs to tell the Laker that the OAH is a civil court and can’t rule or convict anyone criminally. The evidence of criminal activity found during the discovery phase of the civil trial was not even heard by the OAH. It has, however, been submitted to the county Sheriff’s office and county attorney. That is a fact, not a rumor as the Laker asserts.
The Laker, in their predictable “unbiased” fashion, quoted only supporters of the mayor and council member Respondents. Not one of the many people that spoke demanding their resignations was quoted in the story.
It then goes on to say the mayor “promised that there would be no debate,” ostensibly to seem fair since one of the sitting council members was the Complainant in the case, but then [unilaterally] went on to give “corrections to some of what was said” and made an “attempt to put to rest certain rumors…” And people wonder why I blog.
A gentleman was quoted in the story saying we shouldn’t continue “to beat a 5-year-old dead horse.” I’m sure the reporter knows these violations were from the 2018 election which wasn’t even a year ago. Violations from 2014 were litigated as well because the role of Our Minnetrista was concealed and prevented their discovery back then.
“We take ownership of this error,” the mayor is quoted as saying and elsewhere the violations are referred to as an “administrative error.” Translation: “We are unapologetic and do not admit to any wrongdoing whatsoever and never will.” The OAH doesn’t impose a $5,000 fine because of an “error”. The council candidate which the “Our Minnetrista” member, Jane Norling, spoke of that evening (which the story conveniently leaves out) who was fined for an inadvertent contribution limit “error” last year was only fined $250, hardly comparable to the seriousness of these violations the judges said gave “an unfair advantage” to Mayor Whalen and Councilors Mortenson and Tschumperlin. They cheated to win and see nothing wrong with it.
Did anyone notice the headline typeface on this slanted piece was twice the size of the ones used on the buried stories about the original allegations and the judgments handed down in June? Intentional? I’m sure it was just an “administrative error.”
If there is a remnant of professional journalism left in America it certainly won’t be found at the Laker-Pioneer.
Related Post: There’s an art to burying a story
I’ve received a lot of inquiries about the status of the Minnetrista campaign finance violations alleged against Minnetrista’s mayor, 2 sitting and one past councilmember and leaders of the “Our Minnetrista” organization. A three judge panel heard testimony by all the Respondents and Complainant during an evidentiary hearing that lasted two days (May 7 & 8, 2019) at the Minnesota Office of Administrative Hearings in Saint Paul. Closing statements are due today, Friday, June 7, 2019, and a judgement will follow within two weeks.
GREENSTEP CITIES RED FLAGS: Mayor Whalen invited a representative from the GreenStep Cities program to address the city council last August. Enticed by the lure of recognition and their seemingly benevolent mission, “Minnesota GreenStep Cities is a voluntary challenge, assistance and recognition program to help cities achieve their sustainability and quality-of-life goals,” it gained legs with staff and was advocated again at the city council’s strategy meeting in February.
When the GreenStep representative was asked last August about where their funding came from they said it was primarily nonprofits, foundations, and grants. What they failed to disclose is they have two major funders, one of which is the Met Council. And we all know the Met Council’s allegiance to local government autonomy.
Red flag number one: Not being transparent when asked a direct question about funding sources.
In conversations over the weekend I learned from one of our state legislators that the GreenStep Cities program is “Repackaged from what was formerly known as Agenda 21 (for the 21st Century) GreenStep appears to be an obfuscated friendlier name for the same thing.”
Those unfamiliar with the United Nations Agenda 21 need only know it didn’t receive a warm welcome in the United States, with states passing resolutions condemning it and one even passed legislation prohibiting government involvement in the program.
Red flag number two: Changing the organization name when it’s reputation is exposed as undermining federal, state, and local autonomy.
The GreenStep Steering Committee is comprised of representatives from several nonprofits that are all climate change evangelists working together with the University of Minnesota, League of MN Cities, and various state agencies.
Red flag number three: Human caused climate change is a controversial topic and there is no diversity represented on the steering committee.
This is not a program that will benefit the Minnetrista electorate. In fact, the sample ordinances they provide to cities appear to be designed for more government control over building regulations and private property use.
No award from the League of MN Cities is worth this.
Minnetrista is allowing Three Rivers Parks District (TRPD) to take valuable revenue generating parcels of land off the city’s tax rolls without disclosing to public officials what the long term fiscal impact is on the city. If a government entity, like TRPD, wants to purchase land it must get permission from the local government in whose jurisdiction the land resides. The reason being once the land is purchased it stops being taxable and will no longer generate revenue for the city, county or school district. Once the revenue is lost taxes increase on all city property owners to cover the loss.
I attended a Minnetrista Planning Commission meeting recently where there was an agenda item on TRPD acquiring a 17 acre parcel intended to preserve a small section of shoreline on Little Long Lake. In the background information provided to the Commission there was no mention of any fiscal impact to the city, county or school district. It was also clear, during the course of the meeting, that the fiscal impact was not going to be shared with the Commission. I had researched this parcel’s property tax information and, as the discussion was winding down, shared the fact it was generating over $16,000 per year in revenue (approx. $4K city; $7K county; $5K school district).
I also shared the fact this parcel is zoned Agricultural so the probability of the land use changing over the next several decades is extremely low, if not zero, given it can’t be subdivided. For all intents and purposes this parcel will continue to be undeveloped with just the single existing dwelling on the property. One must ask what benefit the community gets by taking this property off the tax rolls and transferring ownership to TRPD when the land use will not change.
Earlier this year TRPD requested approval from the city to purchase another 56 acre parcel on Halstead Drive for a future regional trail. Again, no mention of any fiscal impact to the city, county or school district. In fact, at the July 16, 2018 City Council meeting where this was discussed, Mayor Whalen actually stated “It’s not going to cost us anything.” The background information given to council members also neglected to mention the large size of the parcel. This item was put on the consent agenda hoping it would pass without a discussion.
Disclosing important information regarding these transactions is critical to public officials making decisions, whether it be the Planning Commission, Parks Commission or City Council. Taxpayers are entitled to know what the full impact of these decisions are. Pretending governmental entities can gobble up valuable parcels of land and “It’s not going to cost us anything” is naive at best, and at worst flat out dishonest. We need full disclosure and transparency on these matters and we also need to make sure TRPD is accountable for returning unused land back to the city tax rolls. I support our parks and trails but, like anything else, we can’t make good decisions without all the facts.
Minnetrista’s Mayor appears to prefer council members not ask difficult questions or make comments at public meetings (on camera) about WSB Engineering, Minnetrista’s contract engineering firm. The video below shows Councilor Molitor being admonished (respectfully??) for not asking his questions prior to the public meeting regarding the costs of a WSB proposal. He exhibited considerable restraint. Watch the interchange cued up below:
A strategy long employed by the city to keep controversial topics out of view of residents is to have the City Administrator call each council member the morning of each council meeting. Council members are encouraged to air any and all questions during this scheduled call. While this practice helps the city control what’s brought up at the public meeting it deprives all the council members of hearing each other’s questions and concerns.
Minnesota has an open meeting law preventing serial communication among a quorum of council members outside of a public meeting. The city of Minnetrista violates the spirit, if not the letter, of that law by using the City Administrator as a conduit, fielding questions and influencing council members outside of public meetings.