John Nephew

Maplewood City Council Policy & Politics


Thursday, October 29, 2009

Blowing Smoke

Have you heard that nonsense about Maplewood wanting to ban wood fires?

If so, you've encountered the disinformation campaign spearheaded by the supporters of Mayor Diana Longrie and others opposed to Will Rossbach. As has been the case in so many past elections, these people can get into office only by spreading lies and distortions, and by tearing down their opponents. This year it's wood smoke; two years ago it was the bogus claim, promoted by the team of DelRay Rokke and Rebecca Cave, that there were plans to sell city parks and open space to developers. Four years ago there were baseless claims about closing fire stations. No doubt we'll see last minute efforts to exploit every one of these lies again. Even if their tactics don't win new supporters, their fundamental strategy is to turn people off and suppress voting. If turnout is low enough, the thinking goes, their devoted core of supporters will be a majority on election day.

Sometimes they spread their messages through anonymous flyers (like the scare tactic pieces the mayor's husband was caught distributing earlier this year, or the bigoted ones that have more recently appeared). Sometimes they use websites (such as the one that often features Erik Hjelle's bile, and has a domain name registered to council candidate Dave Hafner), cable access TV shows, and photocopied "newspapers" that loudly proclaim independence and non-partisanship while blatantly promoting their candidates.

It's instructive to actually watch the meetings of the wood smoke task force. From the outset, Rossbach made it clear that a ban was not an option. The point was to find ways to improve the ordinance, in ways that both pro- and anti-burning residents could support.

It quickly became clear that a number of people on the task force (among them two people who would be candidates in the primary, Delray Rokke and John Wykoff) were not motivated to find consensus or improve the city code. Their agenda was to make the whole affair into a distorted political issue that could be used against Rossbach in the upcoming campaign. Obstruction and misinformation were the order of the day. Members of this faction would spend a large percentage of the meeting arguing loudly over whether or not to approve the agenda, or disputing the minutes of the previous meeting. Every meeting, with a new audience of angry residents turned out by a new batch of misleading anonymous flyers, they would declare that the true, secret purpose of the task force was to ban wood fires, and would attempt to argue with this straw man in an effort to keep anything from actually being done.

At one meeting, while Dave Hafner yelled at task force members from the audience, John Wykoff even began shouting, "Don't vote for Will Rossbach!"

Is it any wonder that some members of the task force stopped showing up? You can understand the frustration of the people who were there in good faith, on both sides of the issue, while this group hijacked each meeting with their malicious political agenda. The same strategy these people use in city elections — drive away enough reasonable people so that your partisans constitute a majority of those who remain — ultimately enabled them to vote against any changes whatsoever, even to update the city code to match the current state fire code (which supercedes city code anyhow).

For certain people, and the candidates they support (whether it's Rebecca Cave falsely taking credit for moving visitor presentations to the start of council meetings, Dave Hafner declaring at the LWV Forum that there should be no time limits on abusive visitor presentations, or Diana Longrie taking pride in how she mismanages our meetings), this is what they mean by "citizen participation." It means turning city meetings into a cesspool of personal attacks, defamation, and invective. It means driving away reasonable, normal people, and leaving most of the "citizen" voices in the room to be those of the malicious, the obsessed, the dishonest, and the delusional, the failed candidates and the out-of-town agitators who just come for the face time on camera — and then declaring that their voices must be heeded, because "they are the citizens!" and "the citizens are the city!"

A few candidates — such as Jim Llanas, Kathleen Juenemann, and Will Rossbach — think that being a leader means also representing the people who are not in the room. Speaking for the people who elected you because they trust your judgement, and, having jobs and families and lives to live, they have better things to do than be there themselves all the time. Representing the needs of the whole community, not just the loud and obsessive few.

When you vote next week, ask yourself which candidates will be representing you next year, whether or not you're there in the room when they make decisions.

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Wednesday, October 28, 2009

More Metro Media on Maplewood Elections

For those tracking coverage of Maplewood in the metro media, there were a couple of new examples yesterday.

In the new media realm, the Minnesota Independent followed up on their story from last week with a new article featuring more comment from the candidates. Mr. Llanas, target of the hate literature, says that he "wants to keep the campaign positive" and believes "residents ... are fed up with this type of political nonsense." On the other hand, write-in opponent DelRay Rokke speculates that Llanas "figures if he can get the vast majority of members of those groups [gays and Hispanics] ... he has a good chance to win." As for the flyer itself, Rokke doesn't understand what's the big deal, calling it "quite a stretch to say that it is racist and homophobic."

Dave Hafner told the Minnesota Independent that his campaign committee did not distribute the flyers -- but added that he does not actually have a campaign committee. That seems to leave open the possibility that he answered the literal question asked while evading its substance. Compounding his earlier praise of anonymous pamphleteers ("Cowards? These people obviously are quite the opposite" he wrote in comments on the previous story), Hafner commented, "I wouldn’t identify myself either if I didn’t have to."

The story concludes by reviewing the altercation between Hafner and a neighbor that resulted in a 911 call. It may be worth mentioning that Hafner later called the police on his neighbor in turn, for allegedly "staring at me from his steps" and making "a comment which was inaudible, however I think it was directed at me."

Local radio station KSTP-AM also picked up on the Maplewood story. While praising Llanas for keeping positive and focused on the issues in spite of the deplorable personal attacks, hosts Prebil and Murphy lamented the vicious mudslinging that so often characterizes local elections and discourages potential candidates from serving their communities. You can find the audio on the KSTP website, in the archived podcast MP3 of hour 4 of their October 27th episode; the conversation was between 12:38 and 12:44 PM. (Hat tip to K.R.)

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Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Roseville School Board Elections

While the Maplewood city races for Council and Mayor get most of the attention, those of us in the western three precincts of the city will have another race on our ballots next week as well: ISD 623, the Roseville Area School District board.

There was no primary for this race, just the general election. According to ISD 623's website, there are three candidates on the ballot for three positions. (The board has six members with four year terms, half ending in each odd year.) Incumbents Kitty Gogins and Bill Majerus are running to keep their seats. The third candidate is Mona Langston.

I haven't heard about any school board campaigning or seen any literature, but then it seems that this race has a foregone conclusion.


Monday, October 26, 2009

Flyers in Gladstone

This past weekend, the Hafner campaign was putting flyers in the Gladstone neighborhood. While the weekend before the flyers in Parkside appeared on mailboxes with anonymous attacks on Jim Llanas (attached with pieces of identical blue tape), in Gladstone a new leaflet accompanied the Hafner material. This one claims to be from Dave Hafner -- it is written in the first person and ends with "Thanks, Dave," and has the almost the same text as the first comment attributed to Dave Hafner on the Minnesota Independent story.

I obtained a copy of the flyer and scanned it. As you can see, Mr. Hafner goes to some length to deny being "racist, sexist, or homophobic." He explains that he has lived in "three of the top four hotbeds for the gay lifestyle in the United States," and has Asian-American neighbors who are the "quietest, most respectful people I know." He writes that besides being respectful (something Dave seems to really appreciate in minorities), Hispanics "are predominantly Christian and I like that too."

One notable difference between the printed flyer and the comment in MnIndy: The last line, "You want honesty, that is all you will get from the entire SMART team," is not in his website comment. Maybe he realized it would sound hollow alongside the revelation from the site's moderators that he had been attempting to post multiple times under different assumed names.

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Your Tax Dollar

To better visualize our budget and property tax decisions, this is a graph I've been interested in seeing:

Rather than focusing on the total budget expenditures of each city department, what this graph illustrates is how much of your property taxes go as funding to each, using 2009 budget data.

For example, despite the large size of the Community Center in the city budget, it only takes about a penny from each dollar of your city property taxes. The rest of its funding comes from member fees, room rentals, advertising revenue, and the like. The Fire Department slice of the tax pie is considerably smaller than its budgeted expenditures, because so much of its operations are the ambulance service, paid for by charges to its users.

In contrast, the Police Department has only a small percentage of alternative revenues sources -- such as fines, forfeitures, grants. Police are a big part of the city's spending budget, but an even bigger part of the property tax pie because of this.

In most budget areas, cut on the expenditure side also bring cuts to revenue, and only a fraction of the apparent savings could actually translate into property tax reduction. Take the Community Center again. If you eliminated entire operation, cutting all of its payroll and other expenses out of the city budget, the net effect would only be about a 1% reduction in property taxes. Our staff continues to work to reduce the subsidy to the Community Center, but it's wishful thinking to suppose that just eliminating it would mean big tax savings.


Sunday, October 25, 2009

Hafner Comments on Flyers

After writing comments anonymously under multiple names -- a violation of the Minnesota Independent's comment policy -- Dave Hafner posted two comments under the article about the anonymous flyers attacking Jim Llanas.

After denying that he is racist or homophobic, Hafner went on to say that he sees "no racist or homophobic intent" in the flyer, and "I do see a number of facts, many of which come from Llanas’ website and the website of the Victory Fund (which is the fourth link down on Google). There are a few opinions that appear to be reasonable conclusions to me." He also endorses the use of anonymous attack flyers, saying of the people who distribute them, "Cowards? These people obviously are quite the opposite."

I can see how he would worry that the Pioneer Press would "misquote" him.

Given his demonstrated propensity to leave comments on news articles while pretending to be multiple people agreeing with one another, one wonders how many of the anonymous commenters in the Pioneer Press article discussion are actually Dave Hafner's sock puppets as well.

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Saturday, October 24, 2009

Anonymous Flyers in the News

Last weekend, I wrote about the anonymous flyers that appeared all over my neighborhood, along with brochures promoting Dave Hafner and the write-in candidacies of Ken Smart and Delray Rokke. Since then, the story has been covered by both the Minnesota Independent and the Pioneer Press.

Like any city, Maplewood includes bigots among its residents. I was reminded of this fact at the League of Women Voters forum on Thursday. The candidates were talking about inclusiveness and specifically about Hmong families that are enthusiastic users of our parks, and one woman in the audience (who is, as it happens, a vocal supporter of Hafner, Cave and Longrie) declared loudly, “They don't speak English!” Setting aside the obvious falsehood of this generalization, so what? I can only suppose this person lives in fear of change and loathing diversity, and is the kind of voter who would be persuaded by the flyer's not-so-subtle message and other similar scaremongering.

Even on the city council, we saw Councilmember Erik Hjelle declare earlier this year that basketball courts are magnets for “gang members” and should be removed.

But as I told the Pioneer Press, I don't believe these people represent our community. They are the bad apples that often spoil public discourse with their hate, whether open or veiled – but we find them so noxious in part because they are the exception, and they offend our idea of our community and the values of human rights and human decency that most of us share.

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Friday, October 23, 2009

Fall Clean-Up Day 2009

Tomorrow is Maplewood's Fall Clean-Up Day, taking place at Gethsemane Lutheran Church, 2410 Stillwater Road. Besides accepting many other types of waste, the city will be collecting bicycles in any condition for recycling by Re-Cycle. Donations for the Second Harvest Food Bank will also be accepted.

For more information, see the flyer on the city website. (Printed copies of the flyer have been available in City Hall, too.)

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Thursday, October 22, 2009

Even Year Elections?

Erik Hjelle did bring up an interesting idea in his farewell editorial in the October city newsletter: Should Maplewood switch to even-year municipal elections? From my perspective, costs savings is the biggest likely benefit, especially now that the North St. Paul-Maplewood-Oakdale school district no longer has odd-year elections.

I've placed an item on the agenda for Monday, under Council Presentations, to sound out the rest of our city council and see if there's interest in gathering more information and discussing the idea, and wrote a one-page memo for inclusion in the meeting packet.


Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Lillie News Voters' Guide 2009

The Maplewood Review's sister publication, the Woodbury-South Maplewood Review, appears earlier in the week. Thus it already has posted this year's voters' guides, one for city council candidates and the other for mayoral candidates, with candidate answers to questions posed by the editors of the newspapers.

I have to admit, I find Dave Hafner's answers particularly entertaining, as he proposes to "rid the city of the acrimony," touts his "people-skills," proclaims himself "good, decent, honest" and proposes "charging zero taxes" (I guess that's one way to one-up Longrie's proposal to cut the tax levy on top of losing our MVHC), which he thinks would be "the kind of imaginative thinking that we need in Maplewood." "Imaginative" as in "fantasy," I guess, much like his pal Erik Hjelle's belief in a free lunch. Maybe, persuaded by Hafner's legendary people skills, volunteers would run all city services for free, donate blacktop for roads, etc.?

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Tuesday, October 20, 2009

911 Hafner Audio

On September 14, Maplewood resident Pat Downs described an encounter with city council candidate Dave Hafner that resulted in him calling 911. In response to Mr. Hafner's statements attacking Mr. Downs at the October 12th council meeting, Mr. Downs stated that he had obtained a copy of the 911 call audio recording and intended to put it on the internet so that people could hear for themselves.

Mr. Downs provided a copy of the audio to me. I'm told his family has also posted it on Facebook, but you need a Facebook account to access it.

Note: I made two edits to this audio, as will be obvious if you listen to it -- I inserted a tone over the parts where Mr. Downs states his home and cell telephone numbers to the dispatcher.

(Use this direct link to the MP3, if the embedded player doesn't work for you.)

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Sunday, October 18, 2009

Who Would You Guess is Angling for the Racist Homophobe Vote?

All over my neighborhood this morning, anonymous flyers attacking council candidate Jim Llanas -- "a non-native of Maplewood" who "apparently spends much of his time in Minneapolis supporting gay politicians" -- showed up on mailboxes, appearing at the same time and attached with the same distinctive blue masking tape as flyers from one of the campaigns.

Would it surprise you to learn that the non-anonymous flyer is for Dave "911" Hafner and his write-in running mates, Ken Smart and DelRay Rokke? It would appear that Hafner's campaign wanted to make sure, if you are the kind of person who is frightened by an anonymous flyer talking about gays and "non-natives," that you know that he and his lily-white not-at-all-gay "dream team" are ready and eager to receive your vote.

(For whatever it's worth, I don't think those three were born in Maplewood either, but you know that's not really what the flyer is getting at with the term "non-native"...)

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Friday, October 16, 2009

Hjelle Calls for Free Lunch

This week's Maplewood Review includes an article with the headline "Council member calls for maintaining police and firefighter levels."

On September 14th, the city council debated the maximum property tax levy for 2010. One option was a zero levy increase. Each department laid out the implications of that budget scenario, given the loss of more than half a million dollars in Market Value Homestead Credit from the state. For the police department, which uses a very large percentage of our property taxes and spends most of their budget on payroll, the impact included not hiring two new officers to fill vacancies created by recent retirements.

Even knowing the impact that a zero levy increase would have, Erik Hjelle and Diana Longrie proposed going even further in the revenue cuts, by offering a motion to cut more than $1/2 million more from the property tax levy. Had their motion passed, the city would need to consider a lot more than just leaving two officer positions vacant in order to balance the budget.

Two weeks after voting with Mayor Longrie against the funding needed to maintain Maplewood police and fire (and other property-tax-funded city services -- if you like having your streets plowed in the winter, for example), Erik brought forward his motion "that the city council support not cutting any police officer or fire staffing levels in the 2010 budget."

This was my response to his original motion:

In the end, we agreed on language to say that it is a priority of the council not to make cuts to police and fire, something that all five of us agreed on. It remains to be seen whether the whole council will step forward and take responsibility for paying for it as well when the final levy decision comes before us. In the meantime, Councilmember Hjelle and Mayor Longrie seem determined to have their cake and eat it too, taking symbolic votes in support of public safety while voting against the taxes that pay for them.

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Thursday, October 15, 2009

You Talkin' to Me?

At Monday's council meeting, city council candidate Dave Hafner declared, "I called the police on him twice," in reference to Mr. Downs, the neighbor who had previously brought issues to the council about Hafner's behavior.

After the meeting, Mr. Downs provided me with a copy of the police report from one of those calls. On 9/19/09, Hafner called the police to report what he regarded as harassment. As recorded by the responding police officer, the "harassment" consisted of Hafner's neighbor "staring at me from his steps" and making "a comment which was inaudible, however I think it was directed at me."

I've uploaded two pages of the report (redacting some information in the interests of privacy) so you can read the whole narrative for yourself.

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Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Dave Hafner Assures Us That He Is Not Ranting

In what was undoubtedly the dramatic highlight of the evening, City Council candidate Dave "911" Hafner came forward at visitor presentations this past Monday to defend his self-image, to rebuke one of his neighbors (along with sitting councilmembers), and to ask voters to write in his teammates who didn't make it through the primary -- Ken Smart and DelRay Rokke -- on the November election ballot.

Here's the video, including a rebuttal from the neighbor, and Mr. Hafner's effort to come forward again to rebut the rebuttal.

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Saturday, October 10, 2009

Wetlands and Pandemics

This week's Maplewood Review contains a couple articles about recent city council discussions.

"Maplewood working with metro cities on H1N1 plan" reports on the presentation from Fire Chief Steve Lukin about city contingency plans for pandemic flu, and how the city and the metro would deal with things like a large percentage of city personnel being away from work due to illness.

"Maplewood proceeding with wetland ordinance update" reports on the discussion at our September 28th meeting about the latest drafts of the wetlands ordinance, and the effort to come up with a final draft that will address numerous resident concerns.

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Thursday, October 08, 2009

Trash Hauling

In the Star Tribune earlier this week, there's an article about trash hauling. It reports that, according to a recent study by the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency, residents of cities with consumers choosing their own hauler pay on average 50% more than those with organized collection.

Our city council hasn't talked much about trash hauling, but it's a subject that the Environmental and Natural Resources Commission has investigated and discussed recently. In addition, the City of St. Paul is currently evaluating their open trash collection system. Proponents of organized collection cite the noise of multiple trucks, the extra fuel consumption, and the increased wear on city streets (meaning they have to be repaired and replaced sooner, at taxpayer expense). Opponents have usually argued that competition means lower prices, an assumption that the MPCA now calls into question. The fall-back argument of organized hauling opponents, according to the Star Tribune article, is that "They say the most valuable service isn't always the least expensive, and that competition fosters innovation and more environmentally sound practices."

City Manager Antonen brought this article to the attention of the City Council today, in his weekly "FYI." One council member was offended even to have the subject brought up: Erik Hjelle dashed off an immediate reply to the FYI, and copied the rest of the council, by telling Mr. Antonen, " really are a collectivist/socialist..." I guess that tells us how he would vote if organized collection came before the Council.

What might be more useful to know -- given Hjelle's lame-duck status -- is where the candidates for council and mayor stand on the issue of trash hauling. Perhaps someone will ask the question at the upcoming LWV candidate forum?

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Tuesday, October 06, 2009

LWV Candidate Forum on Oct. 22

The local League of Women Voters is sponsoring a candidate forum for the Mayoral and City Council races. The forum will be on Thursday, October 22, at 7:00 PM, in the city council chambers at Maplewood City Hall, 1830 County Road B East. The forum will be recorded and rebroadcast on cable TV. I would guess it that it will also be broadcast live, given that it's easy to do that in council chambers.

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Saturday, October 03, 2009

Budget Discussion Article

If you haven't seen it already, this past week's Maplewood Review includes a lengthy article about the City Council discussion about the budget and setting the maximum tax levy at our September 14th meeting.

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