John Nephew

Maplewood City Council Policy & Politics


Monday, January 26, 2009

Clean Slate

This past weekend, the Pioneer Press ran a story about our city manager search. It ended with a quote from me, as follows:
Nephew said he's looking forward to a city manager who has no previous ties to the city.
“These guys weren't associated with some of Maplewood's political stuff or previous management on either side," he said. "They'll at least be starting from a clean slate."
I wanted to take some time to unpack this and try to articulate how I'm looking at the city manager search process, especially as we'll be making the major decision tonight as to whether or not to hire a new city manager.

Conventional wisdom divides our council into two factions. One way to look at the factions is to see which managers they supported. For example, Mayor Longrie and Councilmember Hjelle removed former city manager Richard Fursman as soon as they could in 2006. They installed Greg Copeland as interim manager, and a few months later decided to cancel the search process that had begun and appoint Mr. Copeland permanent manager.

Councilmembers Juenemann and Rossbach opposed Fursman's removal, and Copeland's appointment. Many times on the campaign trail (and in this blog), I criticized Mr. Copeland's performance and qualifications, and I agreed with Rossbach and Juenemann that Maplewood needed a change of management. Thus at my first meeting on the council we let Mr. Copeland go.

We must have a manager, however, and our city is very lucky that we had Chuck Ahl, Director of Public Works, at hand and willing to assume the mantle of Acting City Manager. He has done an amazing job in highly adverse circumstances, and I can't praise him enough for his performance. The budget we recently passed and the contracts reached with all the city's bargaining units are testimony to his leadership. After a period of difficult relations among management, employees, and the city council, Mr. Ahl has provided stability, an environment of teamwork, improved productivity, and superior results.

But as they say, no good deed goes unpunished. Because Mr. Ahl was willing to accept that responsibility when the new majority decided to remove Mr. Copeland, his very act of stepping forward made him “the enemy” to some people. For example, at one meeting last year, I was told that the mayor's husband was in the back of the room handing out flyers attacking Mr. Ahl. I don't agree with the criticisms or attacks on Mr. Ahl; rather, I think that they spring from a sort of “tit for tat” mentality. People who supported Mr. Copeland may feel that criticism of him was purely political, despite the evidence to the contrary, and that same political sentiment then drives them to attack and criticize Mr. Ahl.

What I see here is a political dynamic that is destructive and costly to our city. On the campaign trail I sometimes compared this to the legendary “Hatfield and McCoy” family feud, and said that I wanted a city manager search process that would move us beyond it. By taking our time with this process, and engaging the entire council and the larger community as we have, I believe we have an opportunity to break that cycle. Of course there's no guarantee that a manager who begins with the support of both factions will keep that support in the months and years that follow. A manager takes direction from the majority, and it's hard for people not to associate the messenger with the message. But my hope is that removing the perception that the city manager's office is aligned with one council faction or another will help build long-term stability – to better insulate the manager's office, and the city staff, from the shifting winds of city politics.

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Tuesday, January 06, 2009

Interviews and Social Reception

Today the three candidates for City Manager are being interviewed over at City Hall by the two panels, one made up of residents and Maplewood business owners, the other city employees. The day's events culminate in a social reception at the Maplewood Community Center, from 5:30 pm to 7:30 pm. The interviews and the social reception are open to the public, and I'd encourage members of the community to come and get a first-hand impression of the candidates.

I'm looking forward to meeting the candidates, and I hope that one of them will be the perfect fit for Maplewood's future.

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Friday, January 02, 2009

For the Record

If you read both my website and the City News, you might find that part of Mayor Longrie's letter in the January issue seems familiar. Portions of it are identical to text I posted here on December 14, 2008.

For example, my article reads, "Even including those bond payments, the final levy increase of 2.12% is well below the rate of inflation, whether you measure that by the Consumer Price Index or the Implicit Price Deflator for State and Local Government Consumption."

The mayor's article reads, "There will be those who say the Council majority did a great job getting a final levy increase of only 2.12% and that this is well below the rate of inflation, be it measured by the Consumer Price Index or the Implicit Price Deflator for State and Local Government Consumption."

Mine says, "$43,000 from Police. We will not buy a hybrid SUV ($26,000 savings). We also can account for $17,000 in savings from a recent change of provider for youth diversion services (the budget was written before we had finalized that deal and locked in the savings)."

Hers says, "$43,000 from Police Department budget to not purchase a hybrid SUV ($26,000 savings) and account for $17,000 in savings from a recent change of provider for the youth diversion services"

Her listing of the final round of cuts follows the same order as my bullet listing. This is not the order of the potential cuts listed in the agenda report.

Normally our columns in the newsletter are due about a month ahead of the issue date (my February article deadline was January 2nd), so I want to make it clear that my website entry was written before her article. She took text from my blog, and not vice versa. The following is clear evidence to support my claim.

  • As the date at the bottom of the entry indicates, my article was published to the web on Sunday, December 14th at 10:43 AM.
  • On Monday, December 15, at 11:47 AM, Acting City Manager Ahl sent an e-mail to the mayor and copied the city council. The main topic of the e-mail was scheduling of a special meeting. He also noted,
“On another issue, we are far behind our deadline for processing the City News. We do not have your letter yet and if we do not go to print this afternoon, we will not have the January issue in homes prior to January 2nd, and there is time-sensitive material. I informed the staff to proceed without your letter if it is not received by 4:00 pm today (Monday). I know that you have been busy, but we need to proceed. Thank you for your understanding.”
  • From e-mail internet headers and my web server logs, I can see that the same computer used by the mayor to send e-mail on the morning of December 15th was used to access my website – when my Dec. 14th entry was on the top of the page – on both December 14th and 15th.
  • Because I had to write the article for our February newsletter, and I didn't want to duplicate information from the January issue (which was at that point already at press), I asked staff for an advance copy of the mayor's article. I was given her Microsoft Word document. The embedded document properties show that it was created on 12/15/08 at 2:02 PM.
  • The mayor's letter was sent to city staff as an e-mail attachment at 3:18 PM, 12/15/08.
The record thus suggests that after being warned that the city would need to send the City News to press with or without her article on December 15th, perhaps feeling under pressure from the deadline, the mayor cut and pasted my summary and analysis of our final levy decision from my website into her article. While she made some changes, portions of my original text were used verbatim.

I'm sure that some folks will shrug and say this is no big deal. I guess lawyers often borrow and re-use contract language, for example, so maybe in Mayor Longrie's world it didn't even occur to her that there would be anything wrong with using text from a colleague's website without attribution or permission.

However, I've worked as a professional writer for more than twenty years. In my line of work, taking someone else's writing and presenting it as your own is a serious ethical breach. I want to make it clear for the record, given the identical sections of text in these two documents, that my article on this website was the one written and published first, not vice versa.


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