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John Nephew

Maplewood City Council Policy & Politics


Auditors and Obsessions

Mayor Longrie placed an item on the May 12 agenda, described as "Discussion and Resolution calling for an Audit by the State Auditor’s Office for the Past Seven Years." Since we didn't get to this before the end of the meeting on Monday, it will be part of the Thursday continuation.

The Mayor has made public statements that give us an idea of what she's planning for this item -- an opinion piece on the topic in the Pioneer Press on April 8th, and then the same text and more in her lengthy opinion column in the city's May newsletter. She claims that she wanted to call in the state auditor when she was first elected mayor, but even when she had a controlling majority of the council she was "scoffed at." She identifies specific areas that she thinks need investigation. For example, she's very concerned that several years ago someone made a joke about naming a street after Councilmember Will Rossbach.

I admit that I've wondered about calling in investigators, after the things I've seen and heard about in the past couple of years. The thing is, it would cost Maplewood a lot of money – the state auditor doesn't go through a city's dirty laundry for free, after all. More importantly, instead of helping Maplewood to heal its divisions and move forward, would we really rather launch into some kind of scab-picking hootenanny, revisiting all the petty grudges and rumors of the past seven years?

I guess I'm not quite ready to sign on with that plan. However, in the interests of frank discussion, I thought I would do my part in preparation for this agenda item. So I quickly threw together some highlights from just the last few months before I joined the council – things that were distressing to me and other residents, and that I think we would want to bring to the auditors' attention, should we decide to take tax dollars away from other priorities in order to pay them instead.

The Copeland-Longrie Contract
The state auditor could investigate the mayor's involvement in the creation of an unauthorized contract promising Mr. Copeland a large sum if he were terminated and if "elected City Council officials" subsequently made any "negative comments" regarding Mr. Copeland's "character and job performance with the City." Given the close association between Mr. Copeland and the mayor herself, this appeared designed to shield her from criticism.

While the FBI declined to pursue criminal charges, and the city's agreement with Mr. Copeland promises not to bring a civil suit against him on this matter, the mayor has no such shield from potential civil action if the state auditors were to deem it appropriate.

Wipers Recycling
Mayor Longrie and former Councilmember Cave frequently touted Wipers Recycling as an example of their success in attracting business to Maplewood, in campaign literature as well as in city publications. In an e-mailed report from the acting city manager on 3/17/08, the council learned that one city employee last year "was in fear for his job for being insubordinate to the City Manager or for not doing his job as a building official as required by MN State Statute." The state auditors could investigate whether there was improper meddling on the part of Cave, Longrie, or former City Manager Copeland to prevent or delay the enforcement of health and safety regulations on this business, either due to friendship with the business owner or in order to prevent any political controversy because of the public association between the business and these members of the city council.

Taxpayer-Funded Campaigning
The State Auditor could be asked about the use of the taxpayer-funded city newsletter for election campaigning. Two days after the primary election, in which Ms. Cave had placed a distant third, she proposed a tax levy freeze, which the council approved 3-2 after very little discussion. Ms. Cave promoted the freeze as a major accomplishment in her campaign literature. Articles in the October and November city newsletters also focused on the levy freeze. In the October issue, an unsigned article that quoted Mr. Copeland extensively spoke glowingly of the freeze, and downplayed the potential impact on city services. In the same issue Ms. Cave touted the freeze she proposed, and highlighted the 3-2 vote on it. In the November issue, Mr. Hjelle campaigned even more explicitly, praising Ms. Cave's freeze, emphasizing the 3-2 vote, attacking Mr. Rossbach, and warning "how important it is to have at least 3 council members who understand the need to 'protect your wallet.'" He concluded with an exhortation for residents to vote in the election just days away.

Removal of City Documents
There have been numerous reports that Mr. Copeland, immediately prior to his suspension, removed or destroyed many documents from his office. Certainly we have found as a council that important records, such as letters received from the LMCIT, were not left behind for his successor. While we have agreed not to bring any civil charges against Mr. Copeland on this matter, the State Auditor might determine whether the destruction of government data and failure to preserve necessary records for a successor is a criminal offense under state law. There could also be an investigation as to whether any other individuals may have participated in these acts, or if any confidential data was given to unauthorized parties.

The Roswell Alien Crash*
Since the Mayor seems fixated on the idea of hunting for suspected conspiracies from years ago, I thought we might as well add this to the list, too.

*Not documented.


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