John Nephew

Maplewood City Council Policy & Politics


Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Loss of State Funds

Here's a message worth watching, from the Coalition of Greater Minnesota Cities:

Outstate cities, which rely on Local Government Aid (LGA) for a significant part of their budgets, are especially hard hit by Governor Pawlenty's cuts.

Maplewood lost its LGA years ago, and so the Governor has gone after our Market Value Homestead Credit (MVHC), a program designed to give homeowners property tax relief. We are expecting that Maplewood will lose more than $1/2 million this year from the Governor's unallotment of MVHC, and a similar amount again in 2010 -- the entire amounts we were supposed to receive from MVHC. It's worth keeping this in mind as we consider increasing our tax levy in 2010 (or, alternatively, cutting back on city services). Even if we go with the 5% maximum increase we passed on September 14th, that won't be enough to balance the money taken away from us by the Governor.

(h/t to the Minnesota Independent.)

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Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Longrie Hijacks Independence Party?

Mark Jenkins, a frequent attendee at council meetings who is active in the Independence Party and is himself campaigning for the Minnesota Senate, provides a fascinating account in his blog of a recent meeting of the IP's 4th Congressional District. He describes how Mayor Longrie and an entourage of her committed supporters flooded the meeting, successfully got 4-5 of her supporters seated as delegates on the spot (on the basis that, while not currently delegates, they had been Independence Party delegates at some time in the past, in another election cycle), and then used those votes to create and pass a "resolution of support" for her current reelection campaign by a vote of 7 to 5. (In other words, if it weren't for those Longrie supporters who were made into delegates at this very meeting, she would not have gotten it.)

I'm not sure what a Resolution of Support means for the Independence Party. It has a specific meaning from a party unit of the DFL, but it's not clear to me if this is something the IP has ever done before, whether it gives candidate Longrie access to the IP's voter file, or whether it was just created out of the blue by Diana's supporters so that they could say that "she got a Resolution of Support from a major political party, too!"


Thursday, September 24, 2009

Dave "911" Hafner in the Maplewood Review

City council candidate Dave Hafner -- who received 911 votes in the primary and will appear on the November general election ballot -- is the subject of an article entitled "Resident calls 911 on Maplewood candidate" in this week's Maplewood Review.

The article afforded Mr. Hafner a chance to respond to the complaint made by his neighbor at the September 14th city council meeting visitor presentations. His response is that his accuser is "a dishonest person and a thief," who (Hafner claims) committed a crime merely by telling his story about interacting with Hafner.

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Saturday, September 19, 2009

Diana Goes DFL

Many folks have told me they were surprised to hear that Mayor Diana Longrie sought a Resolution of Support and then the endorsement of the DFL Party in her campaign for reelection. This comment was often accompanied by curiosity about what she would say in an effort to woo party delegates.

To satisfy that curiousity, here are two video clips from Thursday's endorsing convention. Each candidate was given two minutes for a short speech, and then there were ten minutes of questions and answers.

First, here was Diana's two-minute pitch to the Democratic delegates:

Two of the randomly-drawn questions in the Q&A session aimed at the issue of the candidates' party involvement. The questions were, "When did you become a Democrat?" and "What involvement have you had with other political parties in the last ten years?" Here are Longrie's responses:

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Friday, September 18, 2009

DFL Endorsements

Last night an endorsing convention of the Senate District 55 DFL party gathered at the Ramsey County Library to consider endorsements for this year's Maplewood Mayor and City Council races. (Before the primary, a smaller group — the Senate District Central Committee — had met to decide on Resolutions of Support.) Fifty credentialed delegates, all of whom had been elected as Senate District delegates at the 2008 caucuses, attended.

Seeking the endorsements were council candidates Jim Llanas and Kathy Juenemann, and mayoral candidates Diana Longrie and Will Rossbach.

Due to timing, Llanas and Juenemann were not present to give speeches. State Senator Chuck Wiger nominated Llanas and spoke for him; Peter Fischer did the same for Juenemann. Llanas was out of town (he was able to call in at one point and speak to the delegates via cell phone held up to the microphone). The three seated members of the council, plus yours truly, were late due to our special council meeting and workshop.

When I arrived, the endorsing convention was well underway, although it appeared that it had been moving slowly. I was told this was due to one particular delegate's procedural questions/demands and her wanting to make various modifications to the convention rules (possibly just in an effort to stall until her candidate, Mayor Longrie, was able to arrive in person).

For the council endorsement, where there were two candidates and the option of endorsing both, a voice vote was called. (If the voice vote had failed to get the necessary 60%, then it would have been necessary to use the more time consuming paper ballots for each candidate.) The vote was overwhelmingly in favor of endorsing Llanas and Juenemann together. I heard only one nay vote — from delegate Frederica Musgrave, who of course is well known as one of Diana Longrie's most vocal and partisan supporters.

Since the mayoral candidates were at that point present, each was invited to give a two minute speech, followed by ten minutes of questions and answers. Paper ballots were issued to the delegates, who had the option of voting for Longrie, Rossbach, or "No Endorsement." The results were overwhelming -- Rossbach received 94% of the vote (47 of 50) on the first ballot, far more than the 60% needed.

I was not surprised to see Rossbach endorsed, but his margin was higher than I expected. I had thought that Longrie had recruited more of her supporters, like Musgrave, to become delegates. For whatever reason, they didn't turn out. It was also striking that there were zero votes for "no endorsement."

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Thursday, September 17, 2009

Dave Hafner's Neighbor

At the Monday, September 14, city council meeting, a resident spoke in visitor presentations to describe his recent encounters with city council candidate Dave Hafner (and a resulting 911 call) and express his concerns about candidate conduct and ethics.

Hafner received, coincidentally, 911 votes in the primary and will be one of four city council candidates appearing on November's general election ballot.

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Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Primary Media

So far, the articles I've seen about yesterday's primary have been in the Pioneer Press and the Minnesota Independent.

Update: An online article can be found on the Maplewood Review's website about the results. (H/t to StephanF in the comments.)

Another Update: I also see a report on the primary in a Star Tribune article.

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Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Election Night Results

Results are in from today's primary election.

For city council, the top four candidates — Juenemann, Llanas, Hafner, and Cave — advance to the general election in November. The total votes for all eleven candidates are:

JAMES LLANAS 1415 17.70%
DAVE HAFNER 911 11.40%
REBECCA CAVE 871 10.90%
DICK SEPPALA 650 8.13%
MARY Z MACKEY 351 4.39%
JULIE BINKO 159 1.99%

For the mayoral race, the November ballot will feature Rossbach and Longrie. Results for all seven candidates are as follows:

WILL ROSSBACH 1457 34.24%
DIANA LONGRIE 843 19.81%
KEN SMART 712 16.73%
MARVIN C KOPPEN 617 14.50%
BOB CARDINAL 547 12.86%
JOHN WYKOFF 54 1.27%
FRAN GRANT 25 0.59%

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Watching Results

As I write this, polls will be closing in just 40 minutes. A good place to see results come in, in real time, is the Ramsey County Elections web page for elections results.

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Now That's Innovation

The dynamic sign at Highway 36 and White Bear Avenue today:

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My 2009 Primary Ballot

In the primary election, my choices are Will Rossbach for Mayor, and for council, Kathleen Juenemann and Jim Llanas.

From working with Will Rossbach on the council for almost two years, and campaigning with him in 2007, I know I can trust him to tell me the factual truth and his honest opinions, not whatever he thinks I want to hear. Even when we disagree on policy matters, I always know that he is motivated by a deep sense of fairness and duty to the common good -- not just responding to whatever group of citizens showed up to shout the loudest at a given moment.

The other candidates for mayor this election are Bob Cardinal, Fran Grant, Marv Koppen, Diana Longrie, Ken Smart, and John Wykoff.

Will offers the leadership we need in a mayor, but we also need to follow up on 2007's wave of change in the composition of our city council. Kathy Juenemann has served eight years on the council, and we can continue to benefit from her experience as well as her fiercely independent thinking. Jim Llanas would be a worthy new addition to the city council. Jim impressed me when he was one of my primary opponents in 2007, and he has continued to demonstrate intelligence, charisma, communication skills, and hard work in his campaign.

The other city council candidates on the ballot are Julie Binko, Mark Bradley, Rebecca Cave, Dave Hafner, Mary Mackey, Robert Martin, DelRay Rokke, Dick Seppala, and Elizabeth Sletten.


Monday, September 14, 2009

Complete 9/11/09 Mayoral Forum

For those who do not have access to cable TV or have not had a chance to catch one of the rebroadcasts, I have (with permission from the Cable Commission) uploaded a recording of the entire mayoral candidates' forum from last Friday so that it can be viewed over the internet.

Here it is:

[Note: This was posted

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Saturday, September 12, 2009

Will Rossbach at the Candidate Forum

At yesterday's forum, each mayoral candidate was allowed two minutes for an opening statement. Here is Will Rossbach's.

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A Longrie Vignette

At our last city council meeting, there was a moment that I thought was a pretty revealing snapshot of Mayor Longrie's character.

Soon after I joined the council, we changed the discretionary spending limit for the city manager from $5,000 to $10,000. For expenditures over that amount, the city manager has to obtain prior approval from the city council. Two meetings ago, it came to light that we did this as a policy change in 2008, but the previous change (reducing it to $5,000 in 2006) had been done by means of an ordinance.

Given staff changes in relevant positions (city manager, finance director, city attorney) since the ordinance was passed, and the strangeness of doing it by ordinance in the first place, it's not too surprising that the current occupants of those positions were blindsided. Still, everyone but me on the council was there when it passed and voted on it, for or against, and they all seem to have forgotten too. Or did they?

How does one interpret this? Is Diana saying that she knew all along it was an ordinance, and was just hanging on to that knowledge as an "ace in the hole" to spring on the council at a politically opportune time (like this election season)? Or is it just pride, not wanting to admit an imperfect memory like everyone else?

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Friday, September 11, 2009

Mayoral Candidate Forum Broadcasts

This morning at 7:30 AM, a mayoral candidates' forum was hosted by the St Paul Area Chamber of Commerce in the St John's Hospital cafeteria. Six of seven candidates were in attendance, and their answers to diverse questions gave the audience some idea of the common ground among various candidates as well as their differences on policy questions.

Here's the replay schedule. If you have cable TV in your home, you will have numerous chances to see it between now and Tuesday's primary. It will be appearing on both Channel 19 (On Location TV) and also on the city's government access Channel 16.

Channel 19

September 12 @ 11:30 a.m.
September 13 @ 10:30 a.m. and again at 3:00 p.m.
September 14 @ 9:30 a.m. and again at 7:00 p.m.
September 15 @ 3:00 p.m.

Channel 16

September 11 @ 8pm
September 12 & 13 @ 12am, 4am, 8am, 12pm, 4pm and 8pm
September 14 @ 11am
September 15 @ 12am, 4am and 12pm

Thanks are due to the staff at Channel 19 for recording and broadcasting this event, and also to city staff for coordinating the appearances on Channel 16. Appreciation should also be extended to the Chamber, St John's, and moderator Ted Lillie.

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Wykoff at the Cable Commission

Mayoral candidate John Wykoff recently brought concerns to the city council about a cable access TV show called "The Citizens Reporter" that, he says, falsely claims to be non-partisan, not affiliated with any candidates, etc. He also brought his concerns to the cable commission at its September 10th meeting; correspondence and attachments from him were included in the commission meeting packet. (With Mr. Wykoff's permission, I've uploaded them here.)

Here are Wykoff's remarks to the commission:

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Thursday, September 10, 2009

Dave Hafner Praises 2007 Double-Digit Tax Increase

Can the team of Dave Hafner, DelRay Rokke, and Ken Smart be trusted to responsibly steward the city's finances, or even to discuss them honestly? Setting aside their apparent difficulties with their own campaign finance reports, let's consider Dave Hafner's past public statements.

Despite his recent claim to have been unhappy with Maplewood elected officials for the past 18 years, Hafner was full of praise for the team of Longrie, Cave and Hjelle in 2007. In fact, he came forward in visitor presentations on March 26, 2007, to compliment that council majority for, among other things, raising his taxes. (As you may recall, the 2007 city levy increase was one of the largest in recent history.)

The 2007 levy had a 10.2% increase, passed by Diana Longrie, Rebecca Cave, and Erik Hjelle. For Mr. Hafner personally, this meant an increase of 3.57% for his home's city taxes ($24.39 -- more than his $22 total increase), according to Ramsey County property tax records that are publicly available online. In comparison, the previous year -- under a budget passed by the "old regime" that Hafner reviled -- his city tax bill had increased just 1.41%.

Looking at his comments and the facts, it appears that Mr. Hafner's tax policy views are determined by whether or not he likes the people proposing a tax increase, not how big it is or whether it is necessary in the balance between taxes collected and services provided to our residents.

As a caveat, I should note that the above really can only be ascribed to Mr. Hafner, not to his running mates Rokke and Smart. It's possible that they did not vet him very well, or familiarize themselves with his past statements and positions, before signing on to run a joint campaign with him.

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Wednesday, September 09, 2009

$93k and Hit Lists

In our last audit, one issue that was of great concern to me and other council members was a discrepancy between the city's books and our bank balances to the tune of about $93,000. On Friday we heard from Assistant City Manager Chuck Ahl that the accounting errors had been tracked down by the Finance Department and the accounts are now balanced.

He explained in an e-mail to the City Council:
The memo report provides an explanation of the $93,000 issue that was raised as part of the 2008 audit. In summary, it reveals that an accounting error [or actually accounting errors] explain the discrepancy between the cash that the banks report is available for the City and the cash that our accounting system indicates that we should have.

In very rough terms, a major accounting error involved the receipt of funds from the Republican National Convention for the Police overtime services. In effect, it was double counted as cash received and an accounts receivable. That payment was for over $126K, but after the other adjustment calculations, it amounted to the $93,000+ issue.
I'm very pleased to know that this has been resolved. We had assumed that it amounted to a data-entry error like this, but it's still good to have it tracked down definitively.

In the bigger picture, this is an example of the ways the city is still recovering from the damage done in the disastrous period of Copeland's mismanagement, at the behest of Longrie, Cave and Hjelle. That triumvirate came into office with a hit list of people they wanted to see fired -- Erik Hjelle notoriously listed his personal targets in an April 8, 2006 Pioneer Press article. After the city's finance director (one of the people Erik was quoted as wanting to see driven out) resigned in late 2006, the assistant finance director did not stay for very many months longer before she took a job offer from another city. Ultimately I believe we lost something like 75% of the employees in Finance, and as this reconciliation demonstrates, this department is still in the process of recovering.

This is something to keep in mind when you hear about would-be mayors and councilmembers who, like Erik, seem to be assembling their own hit lists of employees they would like to get rid of, should they be elected. Besides the institutional damage, it's also of course worth remembering the costs of legal fees, settlements, judgements, and insurance increases that Erik's hit list brought upon the city.

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Tuesday, September 08, 2009

Free Signs for Ken Smart?

There's an interesting nugget in the pre-primary campaign finance reports on the City website.

If you look at the reports of the team of Ken Smart, DelRay Rokke and Dave Hafner, there's something funny: Only Rokke and Hafner appear to have paid for the "Smart" signs (which also have Rokke and Hafner in the small print) around town. Rokke's report lists a $430.50 expenditure for signs; Hafner's lists $847.55; and Smart's doesn't list any sign expense, even though his name appears most prominently. Since their campaigns are explicitly coordinating (joint signs and literature, etc.), this suggests that the $400+ that Smart owed for his share should be reported -- either as an in-kind contribution from Mr. Hafner (and an illegal one, over the $300 limit), or as an expenditure of the Smart campaign (if his campaign did actually pay for some or all of it).

For a trio that touts their financial expertise as CPAs and whatnot, this isn't a good sign, suggesting that they either can't be troubled to comply with campaign finance law or fill out their paperwork correctly. Remind you of anyone? What other contributions or expenditures might they be failing to report, either out of sloppiness or an intent to deceive?

Under Minnesota law, any resident has standing to file a complaint with the Office of Administrative Hearings to pursue violations of campaign finance laws like this. Maybe they'll file corrected reports before someone else files a complaint.

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Thursday, September 03, 2009

Review Roundup

This week's Maplewood Review covers a number of city topics, including the candidates for the primary election that is now just two weeks away. Our printed copy hasn't arrived in the mail yet, but I can see quite a few new articles on the Lillie newspaper's website.

Under the headline "Seven vie for Maplewood mayor," the newspaper's managing editor, Holly Wenzel, offers profiles of six candidates, drawn from questionnaires filled out by the candidates. One candidate, Fran Grant, did not submit a questionnaire.

All eleven city council candidates did fill out their questionnaires, and the result is another article, "11 file for 2 Maplewood council seats." Candidates Julie Binko and DelRay Rokke also make an appearance on the letters to the editor page. Rokke observes that "Maplewood’s elected leadership has been sorely lacking in the eyes of the entire metropolitan community for a number of years," a chord similar to the "not been proud of our government" comment from running mate Dave Hafner in the Review two weeks ago. Binko, whose small claims suit and its failure have gotten her attention in recent newspapers, expresses her outrage that our legislators introduced bills to fund acquisition of land for conservation in Fish Creek, and that Peter Fischer and I testified in favor of one such bill earlier this year. Another letter that touches on the election appears from resident Christeen Stone.

"Applewood trail construction reaching conclusion" discusses the sustainable trail at Applewood Park, which was the topic of an informational presentation from city staff at our August 24 council meeting. Other article topics include the city manager's spending authority and when or if issues involving councilmembers should be referred to outside agencies for investigation.

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Tuesday, September 01, 2009

Biographical Update


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