John Nephew

Maplewood City Council Policy & Politics


Monday, October 31, 2011

Candidate Forum on Thursday

This Thursday I will be participating in a candidate forum/debate at the Maplewood Library, from 6:30 to 8:30 PM.  The forum is being hosted by the local unit of the Republican Party, and the latest I've heard is that candidates Cardinal and Cave are planning to participate as well.  The event is open to the public, and I'd encourage anyone interested in learning more about the candidates to attend and ask questions.

The invitation from Erik Ekstrand explains the format for the debate.

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Thursday, October 27, 2011

Probable Cause in the Review

This week's Maplewood Review includes an article about the probable cause decision in the campaign complaint against Bob Cardinal and Highland Sanitation.

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Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Progressive Majority Endorsement

I am pleased to announce that I have been endorsed by Progressive Majority, a national organization focused on recruiting and training progressive candidates for state and local office.  Their training and advice in 2007 made a tremendous difference in my campaign, and I'm honored to have their continued support.

You can read the official letter of endorsement in my document archive.

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Tuesday, October 25, 2011

The Path to Fish Creek

This afternoon an event at the community center will celebrate the closing on the purchase of the former CoPar property at Fish Creek.  The Conservation Fund has purchased the land, to hold while the city finalizes the last of the funding in order to make it publicly owned.

When I was first running for council four years ago, Fish Creek was a contentious issue, with the city embroiled at the time in litigation with a developer whose proposal had been turned down.  Studying the issues, and ultimately voting in favor of a settlement agreement to end the lawsuit, provided me with a real crash course in the land use issues that are a major part of city council responsibility.

I successfully pushed for a "public ownership option" to be included as part of the settlement agreement.  The developer went out of business before building, and the city did not exercise its right to purchase land for conservation under that settlement agreement -- but the discussion did focus attention on the idea of conservation, and brought county, local, state and even federal officials into the conversation.  It led to the Fish Creek Greenway ad hoc committee and its work, and council endorsement of that committee's work gave staff the backing to pursue various leads and ideas, bringing us ultimately to where we are today -- with an actual plan moving ahead to conserve the land, bringing together public and private resources (including the generous help of Ramsey County, the Ramsey-Washington Metro Watershed District and 3M), and a relatively small funding gap left to fill.

There are a bunch of people who have worked much, much longer -- on the order of decades -- to protect this land at Fish Creek (I'm thinking of Char and Carolyn, in particular).  But I'm very proud that my legacy as a councilmember will include helping that long-sought vision become reality.

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Monday, October 24, 2011

Letter of Support

Last week's Maplewood Review included a very nice letter of support for me from Maplewood resident Christeen Stone.  Thanks, Christeen!

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Building Trades Endorsement

I am very pleased and honored to share the news that I have been endorsed by the Saint Paul Building & Construction Trades Council.

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Saturday, October 22, 2011

Probable Cause Order

The Administrative Law Judge issued her probable cause ruling yesterday.  She found that there is probable cause to believe that Highland Sanitation made an illegal corporate contribution to Bob Cardinal's election campaign.  She also found that there was probable cause for all the allegations in my complaint against Mr. Cardinal himself, in accepting their illegal corporate contribution.

The matter will be referred to a panel of three judges for an evidentiary hearing.

Read the entire ruling here.

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Friday, October 21, 2011

Why Not Run on His Record?

While Bob Cardinal seems to focus his entire campaign on the trash issue (which will be decided one way or another before any new councilmember takes office), it's conspicuous how little he talks about any specific accomplishments in his six years as mayor.  Perhaps there's not much to crow about?

Here's one fun fact: In just a single year when Bob was mayor, the Maplewood property tax levy was increased by a larger percentage (15.8%) than all four of my years combined (average 3.55% per year).

Yeah, I can see how reminiscing about the Cardinal Years might not be a winning strategy for him. He might not want to remind voters why they ranked Diana Longrie above him...twice.

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Pioneer Press on Campaign Complaint

Yesterday's Pioneer Press included an article about the campaign complaint against Bob Cardinal and Highland Sanitation.

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Thursday, October 20, 2011

Endorsed by the Chamber of Commerce

The Saint Paul Area Chamber of Commerce PAC has just sent out a press release announcing their endorsements for the Maplewood City Council race: Marv Koppen and yours truly.

The release says,

"John and Marvin are candidates we believe understand the need to continue to make Maplewood and the East Metro a place that supports businesses and the jobs they create," said Mike Zipko, chair of the PAC Board of Directors. "We are proud to be able to support them both and encourage others in Maplewood who are concerned about the city's economy to do the same."

You can read the entire press release here.

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LWV Forum Tonight

Tonight, in City Council Chambers at Maplewood City Hall, the local chapter of the League of Women Voters is hosting a candidate forum for this year's city council race.  It's going to be the usual LWV format, with opening and closing statements from candidates, and questions from the audience in between.

I understand that it will be broadcast live on Channel 16, the city's government access cable channel.  It may also be streamed live, but I'm not sure; nor do I know if it will be archived if it is streamed.  But if you're far away and interested in watching, you could check out the city's live streaming page during its scheduled time from 7 to 9 PM (Central).

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Maplewood Review Covers Complaint, Hearing

Reporter Luke Reiter listened in on the phone conference probable cause hearing on Monday for my campaign complaint against Bob Cardinal and Highland Sanitation.  You can read his report in this week's Maplewood Review.

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Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Personal Endorsements Sought

We're working on a piece of literature that will list Maplewood folks who have personally endorsed me for re-election.  If you're willing to join in (here's a list of the folks who have formally done so), please just send me a quick e-mail at your earliest convenience, saying "please list my name as a supporter"!

(We need this in writing because of Minnesota Statute 211B.02, which states, "A person or candidate may not state in written campaign material that the candidate or ballot question has the support or endorsement of an individual without first getting written permission from the individual to do so.")


(I need to hear from you by the end of the day Wednesday, 10/19, to be included in this literature, but even if you come across this later I'd still love to add you to my online list.)


Prima Facie Order

Yesterday was the probable cause hearing for my campaign complaint against Bob Cardinal, Highland Sanitation, et al.  It was held by telephone conference, and I went for over three hours.  The administrative law judge will probably make her probable cause determination within the next week.

In the meantime, since I know there's some interest in this (based, if nothing else, on the calls from the media that I've received on the topic), I thought I'd upload the judge's order from last week that determined my complaint had set forth prima facie violations of the campaign laws and ordered a probable cause hearing, so folks don't have to wait for the periodic update of the ALJ opinions archive.

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Friday, October 14, 2011

Nephew v. Highland Sanitation et al.

Last week I filed a campaign practices complaint against Bob Cardinal, Highland Sanitation, and Highland's owners, alleging false campaign material and illegal corporate campaign contributions (in Highland's case, making the contributions; in Cardinal's case, knowingly accepting the contributions and aiding/abetting Highland in making them).

You can download and read my original complaint (6.3 MB PDF).

This week, the Administrative Law Judge assigned to review the complaint found that it did set forth prima facie violations of Minnesota Statutes § 211B.06 (for two false statements I identified in the letter from Highland), 211B.13, and 211B.15.  The next step, a probable cause hearing, has been scheduled for Monday afternoon.

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Tuesday, October 11, 2011

The Trash Should Go IN the Can...

...not be taped on the outside!

While Bob Cardinal inserts his campaign literature with a trash hauler's bills, the campaign of Rebecca Cave is taking another approach: attaching flyers (attacking me, promoting her) to peoples' trash cans when the bins are out on the curb for pick-up day.  Starting last week I've been hearing from residents angered by this campaign tactic.  People on both sides of the organized trash debate are telling me that they don't like these political attacks stuck on their bins.

Here's an example of one resident's reaction:
By now I'm sure that you've seen the Rebecca Cave flyer that has been taped to Tennis Sanitation trash bins. I called Tennis today and talked to the lady who answers the phone. I asked her why they were putting political campaign literature on their trash bins. She said it wasn't them.

I asked if they were doing anything about it -- had they asked the people doing it to stop?

"We don't know who's doing it," she replied.

I told her that the flyers had Rebecca Cave's name on them.

"Well, you'd better call her, then," she said.

I asked if anyone from Tennis had told the Cave campaign to stop attaching the flyers and she said no. I told her that I didn't believe that they had no knowledge of it, and I didn't believe they were helpless to prevent it from happening again.

I also said I'd switch to another hauler if I got another campaign flyer taped to my bin. She said she'd pass my comments on to her boss.
I have no reason to believe the haulers have anything to do with this campaign tactic (and from what I can tell, it's happening to all trash bins, not any specific company or companies), but it can certainly create a public relations headache for them, as this message shows.

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Monday, October 10, 2011

Llanas Endorsement LTE

Councilmember Jim Llanas wrote a very nice letter to the editor endorsing me, in last week's Maplewood Review.  Thanks, Jim!

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Thursday, October 06, 2011

Dirty Money

Something stunning was brought to my attention this afternoon.

Apparently, after learning that they didn't submit the lowest-priced response to our RFP, a hauler decided to do an anti-organization mailing ... starting to sound familiar? This time it was Highland Sanitation, with a twist.  They used their company's bills to Maplewood customers as a way to distribute Bob Cardinal's campaign literature, along with a letter from the hauler attacking the city council in general and me in particular. A resident told me he was surprised to open his Highland bill and find this letter and a flier “prepared and paid for” by the Cardinal campaign.

For now, I'm going to set aside the numerous false statements in the letter, which they know to be false because they participated in the process, and even if they don't know what's in the other proposals they certainly should have kept a copy of their own for reference. Beyond the lies, this company-candidate collaboration for a mailing puts them in an "interesting" area of campaign finance law having to do with corporations buying candidates or elections to further their own profits, ahead of the public's health, safety, welfare, and financial interests.

You may have heard about that Citizens United case, which laid out the right of corporations to make independent expenditures for or against particular candidates. Even after Citizens United, there remains a bright line prohibiting direct contributions and coordinated expenditures – that's why you hear that blurb about “not approved by any candidate or candidate's committee” on attack ads put out by the faceless entities created to hide which corporations are funding them. They need to make clear that they're not making strategic decisions with the candidate they support to maximize the impact of their spending, and that they're not making their candidate directly aware of how much money they're spending to help get him/her elected.

It's still very, very illegal for a corporation in Minnesota to contribute directly to a candidate's campaign. “Contribute” includes “in-kind” donations – say, paying to mail the candidate's literature directly to your own customer list.

Here we have a candidate whose platform is opposition to organized hauling. A hauler, seeing they're unlikely to land a city-wide contract, decides they'd rather make sure no one gets it if it's not theirs. They notice a candidate who appears to put hauler profits or at least ideology ahead of resident pocketbooks. The hauler and candidate get in touch with each other, and work out a plan where the hauler will save the candidate a lot of money on postage by delivering his campaign literature in the hauler's bills. (Postage is a much bigger expense than printing when it comes to campaign literature.) Doesn't that smell just a little bit like the bottom a well-used trash bin?

How serious is this? Prohibited corporate contributions are taken very seriously, because of the enormous potential for corruption. Most campaign law infractions are misdemeanors or occasionally gross misdemeanors. This is one that goes into felony territory. (See Minn. Stat. 211B.15 Subd. 6-7.) A company convicted of illegal corporate campaign contributions could be fined up to $40,000 and even forcibly dissolved; individuals at the company involved could face $20,000 fines each and/or up to five years' imprisonment.

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Wednesday, October 05, 2011

Volunteer Opportunities

My campaign is planning a door-knock for Saturday, October 15th.  If you're free that morning and willing to walk door-to-door delivering literature and sometimes talking with folks, I'd love to have your asssistance!

The following Saturday, the 22nd, the local DFL party is organizing a door-knock for the two DFL-endorsed City Council candidates (Marv Koppen and me).  Marv and I have many other endorsements in common, so this will be a chance for folks who support both of us to help both campaigns without literally walking over the same ground twice.

If you are able to help on either or both days, please drop me a line so I can get you all the details.  If you'd like to help but can't do it on those weekends, I can also arrange to get you literature and target lists to do on your own schedule.


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Sunday, October 02, 2011

About this Website

Thank you for visiting my website!

I launched as my campaign website when I first ran for Maplewood City Council in 2007, as a place to introduce myself to voters and explain my positions on the issues of city government.

After winning election, the focus of this blog shifted to the day-to-day business of the City Council and the policy issues we face, and my own research, and the reasoning that informs my council votes.

Now in 2011 I'm running for re-election, and the website is again a repository for campaign information.  You can find my answers to the League of Women Voters questionnaire, for example, or see the endorsements I've received this year, or even make an online contribution to my campaign fund.

We've adjusted the navigation buttons on the right-hand column, to have a separate section for 2011 campaign topics.  You can also browse the "Posts by Topic" for some of the general subject areas I've discussed over the years, or click on one of the "Labels" at the bottom of an entry to find other entries on the same topic.

If you have any questions or comments, you can submit comments in response to individual entries.  Comments are moderated, so it may take some time for your comment to appear.  You're also welcome to e-mail me.  If it's city business, you should use my city e-mail address (; if your message is personal or about my campaign, contact me at

Thanks again for visiting!

Saturday, October 01, 2011

Property Tax Levies

In the campaign piece mailed on his behalf by Highland Sanitation, Bob Cardinal claims to be a "fiscal conservative." I thought it would be interesting to compare that claim to what happened to the city tax levy when he was mayor.

Since Cardinal took office in late 1999 and he was replaced at the start of 2006, that means he was Mayor when the levy was set for the years of 2000 through 2006 (since of course the 2006 levy was finalized in December 2005). For 2012, I'm using the maximum levy that we approved in September; the final levy we set in December could be lower.

Here's what the levies were, and the percentage change each year over the previous year:

Year Levy Increase
1999 $8,986,925 -0.01%
2000 $9,167,607 2.01%
2001 $9,842,953 7.37%
2002 $10,238,175 4.02%
2003 $11,855,546 15.80%
2004 $12,679,422 6.95%
2005 $13,434,640 5.96%
2006 $14,106,370 5.00%
2007 $15,546,450 10.21%
2008 $15,546,450 0.00%
2009 $15,876,235 2.12%
2010 $16,670,046 5.00%
2011 $17,503,454 5.00%
2012 $17,853,523 2.00%

I've highlighted the years when Cardinal was mayor in red, and the years that I've been on the council in blue. (In between were the two budgets that Rebecca Cave voted for.) A person could reasonably debate whether we should attach 2000 to Cardinal's record, since the budget should have been nearly set at the time he took office. Depending on if you include 2000, the average tax levy increase during Cardinal's leadership was either 6.7% or 7.5% per year – about twice as large as the 3.5% average increase during my time in office.

Here's a graph to visualize the percentage increases each year (again, with red for Cardinal's tenure and blue for mine):

Whether or not Cardinal voted for one levy or another, he was Mayor across that period of massive increases. Perhaps he didn't like one or more of them, but then where was his leadership on the City Council? Would he have the political skill to influence the direction of the council in the future, or would he just serve as an ineffectual “contrasting view” to reflexively vote against everything?

I've worked hard to play a leading part in each levy and budget, though I haven't gotten everything I wanted. I haven't merely voted aye or nay, but actively shaped what was in each levy and budget passed in my term – and I think that's what citizens should expect of any elected representative. With that in mind, I think it's fair to compare my record of fiscal responsibility with what was done, with or without his participation, when Cardinal had a voice and a vote on the council.

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