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John Nephew

Maplewood City Council Policy & Politics


What Could Have Been

What might have happened if Will Rossbach and I had not won in 2007 and changed the balance of power on the Maplewood City Council?

Take a look at the City of Greenfield for an object lesson. This past summer the League of Minnesota Cities Insurance Trust imposed special conditions on their insurance renewal, in response to a high level of losses and a perception that their mayor and city council were continuing on a path that was likely to bring more lawsuits.

Those conditions were comparable to the ones imposed on Maplewood in 2008, after the wave of costly lawsuits under Greg Copeland's management in 2006-2007. When the LMCIT imposed its conditions on our renewal, Maplewood had already taken steps in the right direction -- with the 2007 election results, the dismissal of Mr. Copeland, the start of a process for hiring a permanent, professional city manager, and so forth. As one would expect, those changes have since corresponded to a sharp drop in lawsuits and losses.

Greenfield has proven to be less cooperative. Without getting into all of the soap opera details, the result is that the LMCIT has chosen to cancel Greenfield's insurance coverage altogether, as reported by the Star Tribune and the South Crow River News, in order to protect the other member cities. If I understand it correctly, the LMCIT gave notice of across-the-board cancellation effective in 30 days. The board is then willing to offer a new coverage package limited to personal injury and property damage claims. Other types of lawsuits (e.g., employment, defamation, land use) that may occur will be at the full expense of Greenfield's taxpapers, both for the legal defense fees and the ultimate costs of any settlements or judgements.

For a city with a population under 3,000 and a tax levy under $1.3 million, such expenses could have a large and costly impact on taxpayers. The city might look to private insurers for coverage, but it is likely to be very expensive and in some cases (such as land use defense) my understanding is that no private insurers even sell such coverage.

I will be interested to see if the LMCIT's harsh decision results in any changes in the way Greenfield's elected officials govern, or if it will be left to the voters in their next elections.

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