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.
It was very disappointing to see the preferential deal for the school district’s road assessment, masquerading as a “needed” policy change to the city’s special assessment policy, passed Monday night. Essentially Minnetrista’s special assessment policy has always carried an interest rate that has been the same for all assessed properties benefitting from an improvement. It never mattered, and shouldn’t have mattered, who or what entity owned the property. All property owners were assessed under the same rules.
Last January Westonka School District Superintendent Kevin Borg had asked for the school district to be treated differently in a letter to Mayor Whalen and the city council. Some may remember Mayor Whalen had advocated the city pick up 80% of the cost (policy has been 50%) for her buddies at the school district and to reduce their interest rate to 2% (Borg had asked for 0% interest on the 20 year assessment) but lost that battle with the city council on January 4, no doubt a disappointment to Kevin Borg and school board members that worked tirelessly to get Whalen reelected last November.
Mr. Borg was expected to attend the following council work session on the matter, presumably to plead his case, but never showed.
Amazingly, just days before the assessment hearing on the project, a proposal came forward that the city’s special assessment policy was old and needed updating. Yeah, that’s the ticket! Let’s update the city’s policy based on whether or not Minnesota State Aid (MSA) funds will be used, knowing that this school district project will use MSA funds. Nevermind that all other Minnetrista road projects in the past, that had used MSA funds, were assessed uniformly, under the same rules as all other benefitting property owners, as has always been the case for road improvements throughout the city.
And Borg gets his deal and no one can say it was a “deal” because they only followed policy.
As readers may know there was a public hearing Monday night on the Sunnyfield Road project. The Westonka School District, the only assessed property, and the only property, along the route, had submitted a letter to Mayor Whalen asking the city to waive the normal 5% interest on the school district’s assessment which it would have 20 years to pay. The city has proposed paying for 60% of the project cost and the school district 40%. That is already a deviation from the city’s policy of a 50-50 split for everyone else who is assessed for reconstructions. I wrote about that issue here.
It was anticipated that a school district representative, perhaps Westonka School District Superintendent Kevin Borg himself, would’ve addressed the city council at the public hearing Monday night since his letter to the mayor appeared in the council’s agenda packet. Surprisingly, no one from the school district spoke and there was no mention of the interest rate at all during the meeting. That doesn’t mean the matter has gone away, however.
Perhaps the school district would like the issue to fade from public scrutiny a bit before bringing it up again. That next opportunity will be the assessment hearing, likely in May, when the council will formally adopt the assessed amount as well as the interest rate.
Minnetrista taxpayers will be watching then, just as they were Monday night.
As a result of a compromise at the council’s last meeting January 4, the Westonka School District will pay 40% and Minnetrista taxpayers will pay 60% of the Sunnyfield Road reconstruction costs for the road to the high school.
You may remember Mayor Whalen had advocated the city pick up 80% of the cost for her buddies at the school district but lost that battle January 4, no doubt a disappointment to Westonka School Superintendent Kevin Borg and school board members that worked tirelessly to get Whalen reelected last November.
Now Mr. Borg is back begging Whalen for another special favor. He’s asking the city to waive the interest on paying back the assessment…completely…something the city has never done for other property owners it has assessed.
Think about this. One of the reasons the city’s policy is to cover 50% of road reconstruction costs for property owners and not charge property owners for 100% of the cost is because property owners are taxpayers and some of those tax dollars should be used for their roads. The Westonka School District is not a taxpayer. The Westonka School District is only a consumer of city services (snow removal, public safety) but actually pays nothing for those city services as residents do.
According to city policy, if your street needs reconstruction you, as a property owner, and your neighbors along the project route would be assessed 50% of the project cost which can be paid back over 20 years. The interest rate you and your neighbors would pay the city, unless you chose to pay it back all at once, would be 5%. There have been a handful of exceptions over the years to the policy for some low-density areas but for the most part the city has been consistent in applying its policy.
Mr. Borg, in his letter to Mayor Whalen, claims that it would be reasonable not to charge the school district interest on their assessment because the city isn’t bonding for the project and it’s being paid for with MSA dollars. So what? Whether or not the city bonds for the project has absolutely no bearing on whether the city charges property owners interest. Why should the school district be exempt when no one else is? We’ve never exempted other property owners from interest payments when MSA funds were used on their roads.
What Borg is doing in his letter to Whalen (on page 61) is what’s called “anchoring” in a negotiation. By asking for the interest to be waived completely he’s hoping the council might come back with a compromise and lower it from the 5% city policy, especially if Whalen pleads his case. I hope they have the backbone to say no.
By virtue of the fact the school district isn’t a taxpayer in Minnetrista, has a budget close to ten times that of the city’s, is primarily responsible for the road’s condition and whose students are from many other cities, not just Minnetrista, they should not be asking Minnetrista taxpayers for favors. They should be glad we’re not making them pay 100%.
Minnetrista’s road assessment policy is to assess property owners along a project route (gravel to paved or for reconstruction) 50% of the project cost with the remaining 50% paid by the city. The Sunnyfield Road reconstruction planned this year has only one property owner along the route, the Westonka School District. Mayor Whalen, at the council’s work session last night, thought they should get a break. She suggested only assessing them 20%.
Of course it couldn’t possibly be because members of the school board and Westonka School’s Superintendent were instrumental in her reelection (view story here). Maybe it’s because Whalen thinks Minnetrista residential property owners should be assessed more than a school district with a budget almost ten times that of the city and a much larger tax base over which to spread the cost? Or perhaps she doesn’t realize that school bus traffic and student/parent traffic are largely responsible for the road’s condition and much of that traffic comes from outside Minnetrista.
Yes, there have been exceptions to the city’s assessment rate on a few occasions in areas with low density but the majority of Minnetrista’s road projects are assessed at 50%. That is policy.
Both council members Reffkin and MacGregor responded to Whalen’s suggestion to lower the rate for the school with their opinion that the 50% policy should stand. Whalen kept pressing for her school district friends as council members Mortenson and Tschumperlin remained silent, ostensibly gauging the political wind direction. MacGregor finally proposed 40% in the spirit of compromise and Reffkin supported that although somewhat reluctantly.
Mortenson and Tschumperlin saw the compromise as palatable and indicated they could “probably” support it but Whalen kept pushing for her friends. She then said “What about 35%? Would any of you support 35%?” Ultimately Whalen’s valiant effort went unrewarded and the 40% rate prevailed for the school.
I’ve been fielding a lot of questions about my Minnetrista mayoral race from those surprised by the outcome so decided to post an explanation:
Going into September it seemed, based on feedback from social media and door knocking, that winning the mayoral race was not only possible but highly probable. Then, two days before voting began, the Superintendent of Westonka Schools, Kevin Borg, dropped a demand letter to me citing alleged false statements related to Lisa Whalen’s campaign having invoiced the Westonka School District for her campaign expenses in her last contested election. He had been aware of the invoice and the subsequent widely shared social media posts regarding it for over a year and a half and had never said anything about it.
Several Westonka school board members are and have been involved in Whalen’s campaign committees including the “Our Minnetrista” political committee that was sanctioned last year for violating campaign finance laws. Mr. Borg, while professing he had sent the demand letter to me “privately” admitted later he had shared it with school board members that supported Whalen’s campaign.
With only two days before voting would begin, this underhanded, politically motivated attack on my credibility went viral on Facebook and Nextdoor social media groups almost immediately. The school’s logo was used to lend credibility to the allegations online and Whalen published Borg’s demand letter on her campaign page. There was not a single false statement made in any of my campaign’s information on the topic and the Whalen campaign and her school board supporters knew that. The Westonka School District and Mr. Borg knew it as well and had no intention of following thru with the implied threat of legal action, should I refuse to retract everything, because they knew everything I had said was factual.
To make absolutely sure the allegations spread throughout Minnetrista Mr. Borg sent an email to all of Westonka School’s “Key Communicators” a few days later asking them to spread the allegations against my mayoral campaign. Confident I would never see his email message, it openly accused my campaign of spreading lies and claimed the evidence showing the illegal invoice from Whalen’s campaign was just a mistake. We all know it wasn’t a mistake and subpoenaed emails from Whalen’s trial last year prove it. And they know it.
Whalen spent over $15,000 to defeat my campaign but she knew she couldn’t do it honestly, so she did exactly as she had in her last contested election where her illegal “Our Minnetrista” political committee dropped a hit-piece against her opponent, just days before the election, spreading false information about him. You can read about that here. Interestingly, it was that hit-piece mailing that was invoiced to the school district. With just a few days till the election there wasn’t enough time for her opponent to address the lies and he lost by a mere 190 votes. History has indeed repeated itself.
John Adams: “”Facts are stubborn things; and whatever may be our wishes, our inclinations, or the dictates of our passions, they cannot alter the state of facts and evidence.”
Last I checked it’s illegal for a school district to use taxpayer funded school resources to influence elections. That is exactly what has occurred. As I was door knocking on Sunday a resident disclosed she had received an email regarding the Minnetrista mayoral election from Westonka Public Schools discrediting my campaign. Below is the email Mr. Kevin Borg, Superintendent of Westonka Public Schools, sent on September 22, 2020 to “Key Communicators” in the Westonka community. The many false statements contained therein are highlighted and numbered with facts below.
Fact #1: Mr. Borg makes the claim the Shannon Bruce for Mayor committee stated the invoice in question was “sent to the district.” She never made a claim it was “sent” to the district, only that it was “invoiced” to the school’s account. In fact it never was sent to the school for payment. The printer created the Westonka School District invoice, showing campaign expenses on it for Lisa Whalen’s mayoral campaign but never sent it to the school district. Instead, the printer’s sales person, who incidentally was an active member of her campaign committee (according to subpoenaed emails) sent the invoice to the Treasurer of the YesWestonka political committee who arranged for it to be paid by Whalen’s campaign committee manager, David Kolb (ex-Minnetrista police chief). Emails subpoenaed from Whalen’s campaign finance violations trial support the facts above.
Fact #2:The statement “The Westonka School district received an invoice from Tandem Printing” isFALSE. See Fact #1. The school never received an invoice because payment on that invoice occurred outside of the school district with Whalen’s campaign committee (Our Minnetrista/Minnetrista411) paying it directly so it wouldn’t be discovered.
Fact #3: The contact person on the invoice, Bill Latour, was the Treasurer of the YesWestonka political committee which was tasked to promote the Westonka School District’s $22M bond referendum. He was not a school employee but was intimately involved in school district finances and worked closely with Mr. Borg. He was the person that placed the order with the printer instructing them to use the school’s account, but intending to pay for it with the Whalen campaign funds. Presumably this was done to evade paying sales tax and/or take advantage of the school’s discount or postage rates.
Fact #4: Mr. Borg’s claim “We contacted Tandem Printing to explain that the invoice was sent to Westonka Schools in error and would not be paid” is FALSE. See Fact #1 and Fact #3. The invoice was never sent to Westonka Schools. Subpoenaed emails show the printer’s sales person gave it to YesWestonka and it was subsequently paid by Whalen’s campaign committee (Our Minnetrista/Minnetrista411). Why would Mr. Borg claim to have contacted the printer in 2014 when the school district was unaware of the invoice until it was discovered in 2019 during the discovery phase of the lawsuit against Lisa Whalen and her campaign committee?
Fact #5: Mr. Borg claims his demand letter to the Shannon Bruce for Mayor Committee was prompted by a Youtube video released in August 2020. Mr. Borg was first made aware of the invoice in question in February of 2019. He was also aware of several social media posts that same year regarding the invoice subsequent to that date, all of which stated the same facts contained in the August video. After knowing about the invoice and ignoring it for over a year and a half he decided, two days before voting began for the Minnetrista mayoral election on September 16, 2020, to suddenly make claims of false statements by the Shannon Bruce for Mayor committee.
Fact #6: Mr. Borg claims his communication with Shannon Bruce was “private” when he had, in fact, copied the Westonka School Board on his email and one of them had subsequently provided it to Lisa Whalen’s campaign committee who used it, in addition to some of their own misrepresentations, in a post on social media, using the Westonka School logo, in an attempt to discredit the Shannon Bruce for Mayor campaign.
Fact #7: Mr. Borg attached his demand letter to Ms. Bruce to his “Key Communicators” email claiming it “outlines the facts” but, in fact it contains known false statements he knew at the time were untrue. He neglected to attach any of the email exchanges between himself and Shannon Bruce whereby she requested a meeting to share her evidence with him that would prove the video and prior social media posts were entirely factual. Mr. Borg refused the meeting and has never, on any occasion, contacted Shannon Bruce regarding these matters prior to his September 16 letter making false allegations against her campaign.
Fact #8:Mr. Borg claims his communication, timed two days before voting began in the Minnetrista mayoral election, was not politically motivated. What other conclusion can be drawn when he chose to ignore the matter for over a year and a half and then, suddenly, decided two days before voting begins that it was now time to address it? Why then, in his email to “Key Communicators” does he ask them to share this “news with others as appropriate” if not to discredit the Shannon Bruce for Mayor campaign?
There is a political machine at work here that has controlled Minnetrista for years and it not only includes the Mayor and her past campaign committee “Our Minnetrista/Minnetrista 411”, the YesWestonka political committee, several school board members, current and former council members, but sadly it now appears our own Westonka School Superintendent. I am saddened by that and what that means to our community.
It is illegal for a taxpayer funded public school to intentionally influence an election but that is exactly what has occurred in Mr. Borg’s communication to Westonka Schools “Key Communicators.” He has attempted to discredit a mayoral candidate with known falsehoods and unsubstantiated allegations designed to influence the Minnetrista mayoral election. Minnetrista has an opportunity to stop this abuse of power in our community.
I will not be commenting on social media to the continued bombardment of lies Lisa Whalen’s campaign is fabricating against my mayoral campaign except to point people to this post:
I exposed the fact last year that Whalen’s campaign in 2014 had her campaign expenses invoiced to the Westonka school district. I have the invoice from 2014 that was sent to me in 2019 as I was investigating illegal campaign contributions to her campaign. A lawsuit was filed which I won.
Now, four years after the transaction and voting has begun for the mayoral election, Whalen’s campaign is claiming I’ve made false statements, along with the Superintendent of Westonka Schools who has chosen to refuse my request to meet with him to show the evidence.
This could all be cleared up if the printing company involved would produce a corrected invoice showing the transaction was corrected as Whalen’s campaign claims. I have asked for an electronic version of a corrected invoice to verify authenticity but it has not been provided. It doesn’t exist.
Subpoenaed emails during Whalen’s trial for participating in an illegal campaign financing scheme turned up an email showing the printer attached the invoice in question and sent it to the treasurer of YesWestonka (a political committee advocating for the $22M school bond referendum) and it was subsequently paid by Lisa Whalen’s campaign committee (Our Minnetrista/Minnetrista 411) on November 3, 2014. *Note: Many of the same individuals involved in YesWestonka were also active members of the Our Minnetrista political committee.
Minnetrista 411 was the same organization as Our Minnetrista with a different role in Whalen’s campaign. It was created to do the negative campaigning as the artwork shows below. The same leader of Our Minnetrista (David Kolb, the city’s ex-police chief) was the leader of Minnetrista 411 and his wife, court records show, was Minnetrista 411’s treasurer.
6. The artwork above is the piece associated with the Westonka School District invoice shown below.
I sent the following email to the Superintendent of Westonka Schools after he refused to meet with me:
I have been targeted by this group of people called “Our Minnetrista/Minnetrista 411” because I have exposed their illegal activities and they were all sanctioned in the lawsuit subsequently referred to as “Minnetristagate” by the Center of the American Experiment in their coverage of it. The three judge panel said in the final judgement that Lisa Whalen and her campaign committee had “corrupted the political process” in Minnetrista. She is at it again attempting to discredit the person that exposed her and her illegal activities for which she was fined.
Minnetrista voters will ultimately be the judge of allowing a corrupt political machine to control the millions of dollars that flow through our city each year or if they want accountability and integrity in our city government.
When hiring a schill to spread lies about your Mayoral opponent it’s probably best to find one with some intelligence and a good memory for keeping track of all those pesky details in the web of deceptions being spun.
Take, for instance, this paragraph posted on Facebook by Mayor Whalen’s hired gun yesterday:
The backstory: The Lisa Whalen mayoral campaign in 2014 had campaign materials invoiced to the Westonka School District in an effort, presumably, to avoid paying sales tax and take advantage of the school’s discount with the printer, or perhaps their postal rates. It was all handled under the table, quietly paid by her campaign and no one thought anyone would ever know. Until four years later when Whalen was brought up before a judge for an illegal campaign financing scheme.
The three judge panel in that case, which she lost, said she and her campaign committee had “corrupted the political process.” Now she’s at it again.
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 toall 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.
You wouldn’t buy a car from merely reading the manufacturer’s ads would you? If you live in Minnetrista in either the Mound Westonka or Watertown school district there is a very important vote on Tuesday: $Millions of dollars in school referendums that will impact you and your community for the next decade and beyond. I urge everyone to get information from sources other than the school districts promoting the referendums. These referendums are intentionally held in non-election years counting on low voter turnouts. Here is where you can vote on Tuesday, November 5: