Bruce vs Whalen on Transparency

There are some very clear differences between the Minnetrista mayoral candidates. Transparency is a big one.

One of the Minnetrista candidate forum questions was “What does the word ‘transparency’ mean to you?” I didn’t participate in the forum for a variety of reasons which can be found here, but I’d like to answer that question.

Transparency, to me, means honesty, openness and a commitment to the public that nothing in our city policy making process will ever be hidden from them. It means decisions will never be made behind closed doors before matters are discussed with the council and open for public scrutiny. It means controversial issues will not be relegated to the very end of council agendas when the public has gone home or the council is too tired to engage. It means the title of agenda items will never obscure sensitive issues. And it means information will never be selectively distributed to avoid dealing with different perspectives.

http://www.ShannonBruceForMayor.com

Minnetrista residents can now be heard at council meetings

Since our city council meetings have been held online since March, citizens had been told they could no longer speak during the Persons-to-be-heard part of our meetings but that they could address the council by sending an email to the city administrator for him to read. I had questioned this change months ago and suggested we allow citizens to actually speak but it seemed I was the only one.

At our last meeting 9/8/20 I asked to add an agenda item to discuss reinstating the participation of residents in our council meetings by allowing them to actually speak to the council. Hearing no objections to having the discussion it was put on the agenda.

We heard several logistical challenges from staff about how to manage the calls but none of them were insurmountable and they were directed to figure it out so future council meetings will include the ability to actually speak, rather than have an email read, during the Persons-to-be-heard section. This is important because an email doesn’t allow the council to ask questions or for citizens to elaborate on important topics.

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

Declining LWV forum invite. Not live or nonpartisan

I received an invitation to participate in an online League of Women Voters (LWV) candidate forum in September. LWV claims to be a nonpartisan group so I wanted to find out if it was true. I had reason to be skeptical from watching their local 2018 forums (see blog post “Were incumbents given forum questions?”) but was curious about their claim of nonpartisanship.

I looked up their organization on http://www.Guidestar.org, a site that publishes the IRS 1099 forms of nonprofits. From their most recently filed 1099 I found the names of their Communications Chair (Jeorgette Knoll) and Executive Director (Amy Arcand) and looked them up on Facebook to see if they appeared to be objective nonpartisans as advertised. Below is what I found:

Jeorgette Knoll shareJeorgette Knoll Biden HarrisAmy Arcand WarrenAmy Arcand protest songAmy Arcand Klobuchar WarrenAmy Arcand Trump propaganda

No bias there on the part of those in charge of communications and running the Minnesota League of Women Voters organization. No doubt these two will be reprimanded and their Facebook accounts locked up tight going forward but I think I’ve seen enough to know this group is not transparent about their ideology.

The email I received from LWV indicated the forum would not be live-streamed (what if someone says something they don’t like?) but would be recorded “in case there are technical difficulties” and broadcast later. Candidates appearing must agree to the airing of a possibly edited version of the recording at a later date. Sorry, I will pass.

It’s time for people to stop accepting the fraudulent claims of “nonpartisan” nonprofits when there is evidence to the contrary. The League of Women Voters is obviously a partisan organization. There’d be nothing wrong with that if they were just honest and didn’t pretend they weren’t. No doubt our incumbent mayor will be more than happy to play that familiar game with them.

http://www.ShannonBruceForMayor.com

 

 

The street where I live

In reading Minnetrista’s “Council’s Corner” this morning covering our meeting last Monday, August 17, 2020, I noticed two things: 1) it mentions nothing about the city’s COVID-19 Emergency Order being terminated nor the discussions about spending CARES Act funds or Internet service improvement, and 2) it reports that, Fielding Trail, the street where I live, was added to the 2020 Overlay project.

Council's corner 8-17-2020The 2020 Overlay project originally included all the connector roads to Game Farm Road (Sterling Drive, Retreat Circle, Game Farm Circle, and Fielding Trail). All these property owners had been assessed large amounts for the paving of Game Farm Road several years ago and are all still making assessment payments for several more years. Because these roads were deteriorating, and if ignored would soon require reclamation meaning another large assessment, it was determined to try to extend their life with an overlay.

When the engineering estimates came in higher than anticipated in the spring the council decided to drop Fielding Trail from the project. When the city received the actual bids from contractors, however, they came in low enough that Fielding Trail could be added back to the project without going over budget.

I abstained on the vote to add Fielding Trail back to the project for obvious reasons but it was passed with all the other council members’ approval.

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

Minnetrista hides 65% recycle fee increase from public

MINNETRISTA HIDES 65% FEE INCREASE FROM PUBLIC – Anyone reading the Minnetrista city council agenda for June 15, 2020 would never have known the item titled “Res. No. 068-2020 Approving Recycling Services Contract with pick pocketWaste Management of MN for September 1, 2020 – August 31, 2025″ called for the approval of an initial 41% increase over last year’s recycle fee and by the end of the five year contract would approve a whopping 65% increase over the 2020 fee.

This kind of deception is egregious and unacceptable but apparently not to the Mayor or other council members who voted to approve the increase that evening on a 4 to 1 vote. Below is the memo from staff to the council explaining to the council, and more importantly to the public, what the resolution proposed. The actual resolution itself, below as well, makes no mention of the increase. (Exhibit B referenced in the memo just listed the new rates but did not compare them to 2020’s).

staff memo recycle

City staff appears to think that “doing some research” on competitive rates excuses them from doing an actual Request for Proposal (RFP) from several companies to ensure rates Minnetrista residents pay are competitive. My recommendation for doing an RFP was not supported by staff or council at a previous work session.

Recycle resolution

Mayor Lisa Whalen, obviously not in agreement with my concerns about this deceptive tactic to avoid complaints from residents, asked me “Ms. Bruce, what are the dollar amounts?” knowing the monthly recycle fees are small compared to others. What she doesn’t get is that Minnetrista residents object to deception. 

www.ShannonBruceForMayor.com

Emergency orders are for what now?

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?

CAE Article

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 – “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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