Leaked, redacted, photocopied: the ongoing saga of a City Council packet

Back on July 25, I commented that I’d made a data request of the Council packet that was the focus of the July 23 special City Council meeting. My request went from City Clerk Deb Little at Northfield City Hall to the City Attorney Maren Swanson who then asked the Special Counsel Cliff Greene to do whatever redaction might be needed before releasing it. One day later, on July 25, I commented about reporter Suzanne Rook’s story on the Northfield News website, Memos from mayor push son’s site for liquor store, and then the following day, I wondered how she got the info since it had not been released by City Hall.

Yesterday I got a call from Deb Little, wondering if I wanted all 700 pages, as there was a $75 charge for photocopying. Yikes. Imagine how much it cost us taxpayers to have the attorney in the Cities go through all 700 pages for redaction. And a 55 gal. drum of whiteout can’t be cheap, either. I passed, knowing that our colleagues at KYMN, Dusty Budd and Jeff Johnson, had made a similar request and the packet would be at their studio by the time we met for our show at 5:30. It was.

IMG_3756.JPG IMG_3757.JPG
Here’s Jeff with his bedtime reading material for the next 6-12 months. I took a photo (click to enlarge) of one of the items that had a redaction: a letter from Mayor Lee Lansing to City Administrator Al Roder, dated a long time ago, March of 2006. Item #6 says: “600 Division speaks for itself” and the rest of it is whited out.

I don’t have time to go through the pile, but it’s probably not necessary, since Northfield News reporter Suzanne Rook already has. And she had access to the original packet which she used for her follow-up story on Mayor Lansing’s finances published last week (linked from this comment).

Is finding the source of the leak important? I’m not sure, but it’ll be interesting to see how the council deals with all this at next Monday’s meeting. It could exacerbate the already heightened tensions that seem to pervade City Hall this summer, the 40th anniversary of the Summer of Love.

58 Comments

  1. Ross Currier said:

    So has there been any progress in identifying the leaker of the package to the News?

    August 9, 2007
  2. victor summa said:

    That’s less likely to come out in the perps lifetime than Deep Throat’s identity.

    If it was confidential material, leaking it is a crime, right?. Not too many these days pick principle over prison.

    vs

    August 9, 2007
  3. kiffi summa said:

    re: the “leaker” ……. Criminal or Whistleblower?
    Isn’t that kind of like the Patriot or Anarchist argument.
    I can’t imagine the situation would not have been better, even if there was a lot of frustration, if that “leak” had not occurred. Because then the paper’s spin is added on top of everything else……. As frustrating as it is for the community to watch one after another “issue ” pile on to the quickly accumulating snarl, there need to be clear facts to the public, ASAP.
    I hope the council will see that as their responsibility,as OUR elected representatives. If they don’t ,the grumbling and uncertainty will only increase.

    August 9, 2007
  4. kiffi summa said:

    Here’s a question??????
    Was the packet that was leaked to the NFNews the entire 700 Pages? Was it a redacted version? Was it exactly the same as the council got before the special city council meeting?
    Somewhere I got the impression that the packet the council got, and the packet the News got was only 1 1/2 inches thick, so obviously not 700 pages. Was the council’s only selected information, or was the leaked copy only selected information? What time period, front to end, did the packet, or the 700 page version cover.
    Did the council know any of the supposed behind the scenes pressures when on Feb. 12th they identified the 600 Division site for the licquor store? And if they had reservations then about that site, why was it identified as one of the two preferred sites?

    August 9, 2007
  5. john george said:

    Hmmmmm! 86 entries to the praying ladies debate and 4 to the leak. I certainly hope there are more than three ladies praying for this town!
    I only say this jokingly, Griff, but it appears the three ladies have more access to the city administrator than you do! Don’t be jealous.
    This is a good source of debate, though. Does obtaining newsworthy and accurate information necessitate illegal activity on anyones’ part? For instance, the Valery Plame debecal! Ever since the Watergate mess, investigative reporting has taken on the guise of moral arbiting. I’m not sure this is a good thing. I see the government taking on a more and more secretive stance. In the long run, it seems to have made getting simple information harder and harder.

    August 10, 2007
  6. Griff Wigley said:

    Kiffi, those are good questions. I bet Deb Little could answer them, but the Nfld News did NOT get the redacted version. As for the time period of the redacted 700, some documents went back to early 2006, maybe even earlier. There is a copy available for viewing at the library, I believe. Or probably City Hall, too. And KYMN!

    August 10, 2007
  7. Anne Bretts said:

    So let me get this straight…three ladies sitting quietly in Al Roder’s office is a bad secret (though everyone appears aware of it) that deserves huge public outcry, but documents proving inappropriate activity by an elected official involving a major city financial decision are a good secret that shouldn’t be ‘leaked’?
    Mark Anfinson is the best media rights attorney in the state and he can answer all the questions about whether the city has the right to release a redacted version of the files, and whether the News got anything it shouldn’t. He is the attorney for the Minnesota Newspaper Association, but he answers questions on this kind of thing all the time.
    If the material was in a council packet and the packet wasn’t for a legally closed meeting, my guess is that the entire packet should have been available and should be available now without being redacted. You can call and find out.
    And I have not followed this issue closely, but if the mayor recused himself from the liquor store issue, the very first time he sent a memo or spoke to anyone, elected or staff, that violation should have been reported, the property should have been dropped from consideration and the matter should have been reported as a conflict of interest. Simple, clean, impersonal. The rule is the rule.
    The mayor’s reputation, his good deeds, his overall contributions do not matter, any more than they would if he got a speeding ticket.
    And his financial problems are public matters, given his public position. If he didn’t want the scrutiny, he should have protected his privacy by withdrawing from politics before the last election and remaining a private citizen until this was resolved.

    August 10, 2007
  8. Bravo, Anne!

    Pretty much exactly what I have been thinking about all these people attacking the News for their Lansing / Liquor Store coverage. I like Lee; he’s always been great to me, and I don’t like to see these struggles, but he is a public figure.

    Hats off to Suzanne Rook for doing some good investigative reporting. Good, open, honest public reportage is yet another bulwark of our democracy – like separation of church and state.

    (Out of principle, I don’t use emoticons, but if I did there would be a little winking guy after that last little jab…)

    August 10, 2007
  9. Anne Bretts said:

    Thanks, Brendon, and I didn’t mean to diminish the importance of the prayer issue. I think your comments were quite wonderful.
    I just think the thread that connects all this is that people here seem to let questions and conflicts fester for weeks or months or years, creating hard feelings and emotional damage, when they just need to deal with them cleanly from the beginning, get a decision and move on.
    The heroin discusison wasn’t about how to get right numbers but who ‘leaked’ bad ones and why. The prayer issue wasn’t about how to look at the policy and find a dignified solution but about secrets and hidden agendas and getting apologies.
    Same with the liquor store issue; this isn’t about helping Lee Lansing’s family or not but about the most cost-effective way of getting enough people liquored up to balance the city budget (little joke to break the lecture). And where did the library crisis of a year ago disappear, but in a deadlock over building downtown. It seems people would rather have no new library than consider a compromise or change.
    So after all this drama, we have no common drug use reporting system, no liquor store, no library plan and no policy on City Hall use.
    It seems factions here would rather win over an opponent than find a compromise that gives dignity to all. And people can’t pull together and move forward if they’re always looking over their shoulders — either to aim at someone or avoid being stabbed in the back.

    August 10, 2007
  10. john george said:

    Anne- Very good observations on your part. Maybe some time we as people can learn how to separate our emotions form our actions and actually accomplish something without leaving a trail of bodies in our wake.

    August 10, 2007
  11. David Ludescher said:

    I heartily disagree. When Lee Lansing as the Mayor recused himself, from any official actions, he no longer became a public official on this issue. On this issue, he is a private citizen, free to advocate as he desires. What he may not do is use his position as Mayor in the advocacy of his private position.

    Exposing his personal financial situation was sensationalism, unrelated to whether Lansing crossed the boundary of using his Mayor’s position to promote his private interest. Doing so also has the unfortunate consequence of deterring other potential candidates from running, on the belief that his or her personal affairs will be exposed under the guise of “public official”.

    August 11, 2007
  12. Ross Currier said:

    David:

    Well, this IS a surprise, me agreeing with you.

    I too think that the Northfield News crossed a line when they threw a big, high-lighted list of Lee’s debts up in an article.

    I think it’s one thing to question his behavior in the Liquor Store project (however, taking a few sentences or paragraphs out of 700 pages of material…material that the rest of the public cannot obtain…seems to lend itself to at least one-sided reporting and possibly out-right distortion) but to attack his business’ finances seems uncalled-for to me.

    Furthermore, in a repeat of the News’ “take a little bit and blow it up big” approach to covering this issue, they only listed his business liabilities, not his assets or his resulting equity. It’s at best a partial picture of his overall financial situation.

    Finally, and perhaps most disturbingly to me, the News claims that it pursued this “investigative reporting” to show that Lee had motive in advocating for his son’s property in the Liquor Store discussion. So, I guess it is the News’ belief that when a business person gets into a tough financial situation, he or she will invariably react with ethically questionable behavior.

    It strikes me as a strange belief or message to communicate to Northfield’s business community.

    Thanks for your comments,

    Ross

    August 11, 2007
  13. Curt Benson said:

    David, can you explain the idea of the mayor being able to recuse himself from official action, while being free to advocate his positions as a private citizen? It seems like this could be a pretty tricky thing to do in this circumstance.

    Also, I was glad to see the News’ first article documenting Lansing’s communications with Roder, but I agree with David and Ross that the second article documenting Lansing’s financial difficulties went too far.

    Although I disagree that Lansing’s personal financial problems were fair game, I thought the two articles seemed to be really well documented. The depth of reporting was much greater than we usually get from the News. Now how about if the News applies the same resources and does some in depth reporting on more important issues: ie the troubles at the police department and the “real numbers” in regards to the drug problem here.

    August 11, 2007
  14. Anne Bretts said:

    I would agree that a fishing expedition into the mayor’s checkbook would be out of line. But having a public official responsible for enforcing the law rack up more than a quarter of a million dollars in unpaid taxes is more serious than a few unpaid parking tickets. And debts that result in lawsuits and court judgments are more than just personal issues.
    I think the News showed that the mayor’s financial problems relate directly to the very public liquor store issue and his role in that. The financial pressures he is under make it almost impossible to believe he could remain neutral on the situation, and even the perception of a conflict is something that should be avoided…as we saw in the prayer controversy.

    Of course, being the stickler for facts over feelings, I’ll do a little checking on the conflict of interest boundaries on Monday.

    August 11, 2007
  15. kiffi summa said:

    Thank you, David, for your post, #11.
    The clear, two sentence explanation of the framework around this issue is very good to have here.
    Unfortunately, the nature of these discussions gets a lot of opinion and very little succint knowledge. And there should have been some way to either give out more clear information or make an effort, (by city hall and the NFNews) to state some general fixed parameters (as you have done in post #11) to frame the discussion.
    I believe strongly in the worth of a community discussing its common problems; I do not believe the mayor’s personal finances were relevant to the extant implied.
    I also think its important to follow up on your second point…….service to the community as an elected official. There’s a leap to a punitive response, from many factions, that does not seem to be yet warranted, given the amount of “hard” information out there.

    August 11, 2007
  16. Ray Cox said:

    I agree with David’s statements. Lee Lansing should be able to recuse himself and act as a citizen. But the lines are often blury on small town actions for elected officials.
    Kerri Miller had a good interview with Randy Cohen on MPR Thursday about ethics in general, and ethics in politics in particular. Their discussion centered on the fact that some news reporters have been discovered to be donating to various poltiical candidates and political groups—-while covering politics for a paper or radio. Randy Cohen himself got caught up in this at the New York Times. (See my further comments at http://www.raycox.net)

    August 11, 2007
  17. David Ludescher said:

    To answer Curt’s question: Judy Dirks provided the example. She clearly stated that she was not acting in her official capacity, but rather in her individual capacity.

    By recusing himself from official action, Lansing declared his intent to act in his individual capacity. He is therefore free to advocate, as Judy did, as a private citizen. However, he should not use the Mayor’s chair, nor the Mayor’s office, nor anything else connected with that position to advocate for his personal interest.

    It is a tricky business to avoid spillover from the political to the personal, or vice versa (as witnessed by the prayer ladies’ incident). One way Lansing could have avoided this is to have someone else advocate for him. Nevertheless, it is difficult to believe that anyone did not know where Lansing’s loyalties would lie. Hence, there was little danger that Lansing was going to affect the outcome of the decision-making process.

    P.S. Your comments about the Police Chief’s actions are well-taken. The “official” statement of Northfield is that of the (former?) Police Chief that Northfield is full of heroin users. Given the lack of empirical evidence, the press conference has the appearance of being an official act designed to promote the Chief’s professional career (at the expense of Northfield’s reputation). I would like to see the “official” version either confirmed, or dismissed so that, as a community, we can take the appropriate action. Curt, maybe you should ask Sam Gett if he is up to the task. After all, the Chief started the ball rolling.

    August 11, 2007
  18. Anne Bretts said:

    Very interesting perspectives here, really they ara. Interesting idea that politicians should be allowed to act as private citizens with a simple statement of intent.
    Reporters today are facing some of the same issues, a situation that’s evolved over the years. Some papers do not allow reporters to drive cars with political bumper stickers, have lawn signs or attend political events, even if they never covered politics or government. Some reporters don’t even vote in primaries where they are required to identify their party preference.
    I know reporters who were reprimanded for attending a rock concert — by a popular group they liked — because it was for a political cause. They didn’t support the cause, but there was a concern that it would give a wrong impression. Speaking at public meetings, even when they didn’t cover that public body, wasn’t allowed, so that it didn’t give the impression of a conflict.
    Today many media types make fortunes speaking at corporate events and blurring the lines between reporting and commentary. And some news operations are arms of political parties. Bloggers openly declare their agendas and positions. Fortunately today, people have enough information to decide for themselves who’s fair and balanced and who isn’t.
    It would seem reporters should have the same freedom as politicians to have private lives. Perhaps we all should wear baseball caps while on duty, so people can tell clearly what role we are playing at any given time.
    It’s a complicated world, indeed.
    In the case of the mayor, if he is a private developer lobbying the city to have the liquor store site developed, my guess is that there would be similar scrutiny of his business and his role in the project. If one of the advantages of the site is that it is part of a larger development that will draw traffic, it matters if the larger development may never happen. The liquor store site is a lot less attractive — and valuable — without adjoining businesses.
    Finally, business news is news. There were stories in all the news and business publications in the Cities when Sydney’s restaurants failed as a result of tax debts and other legal troubles. When a prominent business is in trouble, it is news, even though it is uncomfortable for everyone involved, just as it would be if the paper reports my speeding ticket or Griff posts the photo of a stop work order on a fledgling downtown restaurant trying to build a good reputation.
    Yes, it’s a complicated world.

    August 11, 2007
  19. Anne Bretts said:

    Just wondering:
    Imagine Suzanne Rook and another reporter come to a council meeting. Ms. Rook puts down her pen and walks to the podium to make the case as a private citizen for rezoning a building she owns to create a lucrative business. The council votes against her, despite a planning commission recommendation in her favor. She loses the business deal, and she has told friends that will force her family into bankruptcy.
    Ms. Rook goes back to the press table and the other reporter leaves. The next issue of the paper includes a story by the other reporter on the rezoning, and a couple of stories by Ms. Rook on the rest of the meeting. Over the next few weeks, she files bankruptcy proceedings in court.
    I’m wondering whether people would accept her stories of that meeting, and any other stories about City Hall, as neutral. People already accuse the paper of “spinning” stories, even when the reporters have no stake in the outcome. And would her bankruptcy court filing need to be reported, or would that be seen as irrelevant to her job covering the council?
    Just wondering.

    August 12, 2007
  20. Griff Wigley said:

    The leaked packet continues to have impact. In today’s Nfld News: Council reveals issues for investigation; State auditor asked to respond within 90 days

    A list the city council is asking the state auditor to investigate includes questions about conflict of interest, misuse of funds and whether city officials violated laws regarding the separation of church and state. The list is expected to be approved at Monday’s city council meeting. The issues were raised by the mayor and council members in separate meetings with city attorney Maren Swanson and special counsel Cliff Greene. A number of questions were drawn from a packet of information given to the council last month. It contained dozens of memos from Mayor Lee Lansing to the city administrator.

    That’s quite a list.

    August 18, 2007
  21. Anne Bretts said:

    Wow, that is quite a list. Perhaps if anyone is left at City Hall after this is over it might be wise to have the Minnesota League of Cities do a workshop on basic government operations. Some items don’t seem to fall under the auditor’s role, but I’m sure the office can refer them to the right authority.
    Among the most worrisome thing are the memos from the mayor to the administrator about the liquor store. It is one thing to argue that the mayor recused himself and lobbied the council as a private citizen. It’s a whole different thing for someone in authority to be e-mailing staff about any part of the issue. No developer plays a role in the hiring, firing or reviews of staff. No developer has access to or influence in internal staff reports and recommendations. I am not judging, since I haven’t seen the memos, but it seems sad.
    Also worrisome are TIF District oversight, problems with wiring contracts and misues of computer files…I guess we’ve got a lot of worrying to do.
    I am waiting for word on the legality of redacting files and whether the 700-page packet is public. Unless they’re personnel files, it would seem they should be public documents. Perhaps our expert government watchdog Carol Overland can clarify for the people’s right to know on this one.

    August 18, 2007
  22. Curt Benson said:

    The state auditor has a nice website which has all the audits/reports they’ve done in the past available.

    I appears to me that auditing issues like those listed by the council is rarely done. There’s been one report in 2007, not counting the financial audits. I don’t see any reports done on cities with multiple issues.

    http://www.osa.state.mn.us/

    A list of recent reports:

    http://www.osa.state.mn.us/default.aspx?type=rpt&div=lsi

    (If I’m missing stuff on this website applicable to the Northfield situation, please chime in.)

    August 18, 2007
  23. kiffi summa said:

    I’m really curious about who ‘leaked’ the “packet” to the NF News……….I didn’t reread the earlier parts of this thread, but it seems the question was raised, if it is, or is not, illegal to leak that sort of material. If it was the “Packet” that the council had at the special mtg. of 7.23 then
    it would not be; that was not a closed meeting…..although, come to think of it, I don’t think there were public copies of the packet at that meeting. Somewhere, I seem to remember it was said that when the News got the leaked packet, their data practices request had not yet been filled. So did the News get the inch and a half version or the 700 page version?
    David L: in your opinion , would it be illegal to leak the packet the council got? or the redacted 700 page version, before a data request was filled?

    August 18, 2007
  24. David Ludescher said:

    Kiffi – Good question; I don’t know the answer. If it was illegal to leak, maybe it is illegal to have.

    August 18, 2007
  25. Anne Bretts said:

    Newspapers have lawyers for exactly this reason. The News’ lawyers clearly believe they have the right to use the papers. The real question is why in heaven’s name (oops, wrong thread) any of the papers are being withheld or redacted.
    In general, other than documents involved in closed meeting negotiations or personnel files, there’s no reason why the public doesn’t have access to all of this. These are important questions, from possible conflict of interest to possible financial misdeeds. We should be able to read the facts and make up our own minds about what was going on.
    If there are no misdeeds, there would seem to be no reason for secrecy, as writers have noted on this site in other threads. I wonder why the issue is framed as a leak, instead of the government secrecy.
    Griff, I am still waiting for an expert opinion about your right to the entire packet. I’ll let you know when I get it.
    Not accusing at all, just wondering…

    August 18, 2007
  26. kiffi summa said:

    Didn’t mean to ask a “billable “question, but you have offered your legal opinion previously. A major problem with all the “issues that have recently arisen” (the council’s terminology) is that the public(we) discuss what we think is the right and wrong, but have few facts.

    As in other”recent issues”, I feel that the dysfunctional atmosphere caused by all the adversity in the council chambers is detrimental to all the work that needs to be done. The council meetings are so lengthy, but so many times the analysis of the issue at hand is not discussed.

    If one site in the 600 block of Division could not even be considered, then it is likely the other could not, even with a supposed arm’s length ownership. In realty, the Tires Plus site is so intertwined with the whole block’s development, and that is so mired in lawsuits, that it is not a practical site NOW, probably won’t be cleared up in the courts for a long time………..and now it is being said that something must be done by next summer when the 5th and Water St. redesign will be under construction.

    Factor into all the other “mess” the fact that the State Auditor will likely not even begin the NF investigation ’til mid September (according to the attorneys) and then will take 3 months or more,
    things will remain in a mess until next Spring, at the earliest; when an opinion is rendered, then steps will have to be taken to clear up, whatever?

    Maybe we should have a “Bake Sale”……isn’t that always the last resort?

    August 18, 2007
  27. Anne Bretts said:

    Maybe this would be the perfect time for the Chamber, NDDC, arts groups, and other stakeholders to get together and agree on some priorities that can and need to be addressed over the next few months and bring the priorities to the council to help create some positive focus. If the leadership isn’t coming from inside City Hall, there’s no reason it can’t come from outside.

    August 18, 2007
  28. Griff Wigley said:

    Anyone attend the council meeting last night? Did the list of 11 get pared down or approved as-is?

    August 21, 2007
  29. kiffi summa said:

    Last night, at the council meeting, the council voted on which issues, from their list of concerns, they wished to send to the state auditor. ( The list had expanded from the original 11, as provided in the packet, to 14 ).

    Only items 1-4, 10 and 11, survived the cut. One of the items removed, #7, says”Has there been a violation of the MN gov’t. data practices act or a breach of computer security by or among City officials or employees?”

    I would assume this has a relationship to the “leaked”packet, as well as other issues. I would also assume that this may be more a matter for the Attorney General’s office, rather than the Auditor. But I would really liked to have heard why this item was removed by a 5-2 vote: Scott Davis and Mayor Lansing being the two who voted to leave it on the list.

    Was it considered to be mis-directed by going to the auditor? Was it to hide an embarassment? Was it to protect the leaker? Was it to nullify the actions of a “whistleblower?

    What do YOU think?

    August 21, 2007
  30. Griff Wigley said:

    Kiffi, thanks much! FYI, here’s the revised list of 14 items that was presented (pdf here).
    http://www.ci.northfield.mn.us/assets/l/list-of-issues-for-auditor.revised3-081607.pdf

    1. Has there been any improper influence exerted or any improper action taken by any City official, employee, consultant or private party with regard to the site selection process for a new municipal liquor store within the City, including the potential site located at 600 Division Street South?

    2. Have City officials and employees observed proper boundaries between actions taken as individuals and actions taken on behalf of the City (e.g., requests for professional services by City officials or employees, directions given to City staff or elected officials, use of public office or position of employment or use of public property for private purposes or private gain)?

    3. Has there been any improper influence exerted or any improper action taken by City officials or employees with regard to the issuance or termination of a temporary certificate of occupancy by the City for office space on the second floor of the property located at 618 Division Street South?

    4. Has there been any improper influence exerted or any improper action taken by any City official or employee with regard to personnel decisions, including threats or retaliation, failure to properly document personnel matters in personnel files, and failure to properly address complaints or questions regarding personnel matters?

    5. Is there a proper understanding and observance of the different roles and responsibilities of City officials and City employees, and are interactions between officials and employees properly respectful?

    6. Were proper municipal contracting laws followed with regard to contracts including a contract for the rewiring of City Hall and other City facilities for telephone and computer access, a contract for engineering services, and a consultant’s contract for services related to the relocation of the municipal liquor store? Were there any improprieties on the part of City officials or employees outside of but related to that contract those contracts?

    7. Has there been a violation of the Minnesota government data practices act or a breach of computer security by or among City officials or employees? Have data requests been properly honored and managed? Are employee privacy expectations properly addressed by the City’s personnel policy and have employee privacy expectations been honored?

    8. Has there been a violation by City officials or employees of the proper separation of church and state?

    9. Has there been proper oversight and management of TIF projects in which the City is involved, including the project known as The Crossing? Has the City followed proper procedures and practices with regard to TIF projects, tax abatement, and other financial incentives to private development offered by the City?

    10. Has there been misuse of public funds related to any of the foregoing issues (to include an examination of cash received and disbursed and transactions related thereto, as provided by Minn. Stat. Sec. 6.55)?

    11. Are there any issues otherwise brought to the attention of the Auditor and determined by the Auditor to merit examination?

    12. Have there been violations of the open meeting law?

    13. Is there a purchasing policy in place in the City and has it been followed? Have the City’s purchasing practices conformed to state and federal requirements?

    14. Has the City’s pay plan been implemented and followed and have any deviations from the plan been reported to the Council?

    August 21, 2007
  31. David Ludescher said:

    Kiffi said that only 1-4 and 10 and 11 actually went to the State Auditor. Do we have official confirmation?

    August 21, 2007
  32. Griff Wigley said:

    Nfld News: Council will pose six questions to auditor

    The council has agreed that investigations not taken up by the auditor may be put before another third party. Councilmen Scott Davis and Jim Pokorney also asked that each matter also come before the city council for discussion. Pokorney noted that the council had not even talked about most of the issues on the list. “I think this process is getting out of hand a bit,” he said. Pokorney and councilman Jon Denison both worried that sending the issues to the auditor could set a precedent of “running to somebody else for help” rather than settling problems internally.

    August 22, 2007
  33. Ross Currier said:

    It would appear that the answer to my question that started this thread “So has there been any progress in identifying the leaker of the package to the News?” is “no” and maybe “never”.

    August 22, 2007
  34. David Ludescher said:

    Porkorney and Denison are dead on right. As I understand it, the State Auditor has no authority to solve any of the issues presented.

    August 22, 2007
  35. victor summa said:

    IN #34 David L looks at the following:

    Excerpted from the N Fld News: “Pokorney noted that the council had not even talked about most of the issues on the list. “I think this process is getting out of hand a bit,” he said. Pokorney and councilman Jon Denison both worried that sending the issues to the auditor could set a precedent of “running to somebody else for help” rather than settling problems internally.”

    Of that, David L said: “Pokorney and Denison are dead on right. As I understand it, the State Auditor has no authority to solve any of the issues presented.”

    It has NEVER been the case that the State Auditor (SA) was being engaged to SOLVE anything….
    My understanding of the remarks attributed to Pokorney and Denision in the News’ report is that
    after hammering the mayor a few weeks back about his proposal to take issues to the State Auditor – virtually the entire Council took adamant positions on silencing the Mayor, while advancing their own interests when seeking help form the SA office in shedding light on any possible improprieties from staff or elected officials. Publicly, they have NEVER discussed any of the issues to be questioned. One might wonder just when they would find time and a level field to discuss such entanglements! So, when stuck in the mud – call a tow truck! In this case, SA Towing

    At the time of the Special Meeting, they seemed to have a taste for the hunt. Now, a few weeks into the affair and with a list of interests gathered from each Councilmen and the City Administrator – as requested by the special attorney and the city attorney – their feet seemed to be wetted a bit -evidenced with remarks like: (paraphrased here} “We don’t want to hide things but we don’t see a need to declare open season on Council conduct.”

    Hence, the undertone at the last meeting was to limit the list to items offered up by more than just one person, so… the end result of the itemized vote was, they hide issues from the light of investigation… again silencing the someone. No need for the “fifth” if you’re gagged by the process!

    At no point, contrary to David L’s remark, was the State Auditor’s work to “solve any of the issues presented.” merely investigate – so I don’t believe David L’s conclusion that “Pokorney and Denision are dead on right is” at all accurate. Biased? Maybe? – accurate… Not too!

    In fact when queried as to the “next step” should the SA’s investigation find problems – neither Specialist Green or City Attorney Swanson seemed to have a clear sense of what would happen next… at least as to any final judgment or penalties or process… begging the question, what are we doing here?

    The unfortunate out comes to this point are 1) the alining of allegiances as a opposed to individual perspective coming together by chance and after open discussion. 2) Understanding the forces driving those allegiances.

    In simple terms – As evidnced last monday night, except by “hiding” some issues from the public – the Council seems to not want a level playing field.

    One might assume, on specific issues, specific members have already reached conclusions [sic. the alliances] and thought to wrench the action from the mayor and turn it back on him… all the while wanting to ask the SA to look at something.

    Returning to Ross’ question in #33 – the question initiating the Thread, “has there been any progress in identifying the leaker of the package to the News?” is “no” and maybe “never”.

    Not to my knowledge –

    And in fact, I think the more curious questions there, are
    1) Was the leaking illegal?
    2) Was receiving the material illegal?
    3) Was the material leaked the original 700 pages of redacted material or was it at the point in time leaked, not yet redacted?
    4) Or, was it the smaller “CONFIDENTIAL” [presumedly not redacted] packet circulated by the City Administrator to the Council.
    5) As the Special Meeting idea came up by Lansing on a Friday preceding the meeting on the next Monday – when was all this gathering, redacting and otherwise butt covering going on?

    A quick read of the material leads you to believe Lansing… when acting as Mayor recused himself from sensitive Council discussions… sought direction from the City Attorney as to his conduct as a citizen in pursuit of any business with the City and in memos, some drafted as the Mayor and many drafted as a private citizen, frequently writes: “I seek no special favors” (paraphrased)

    No less an authority than David L. has written here that when he [ the Mayor] announced recusal, he was free of any taint. (paraphrased)

    Free of any taint is quite pristine considering there’s so much to go around.

    August 22, 2007
  36. David Ludescher said:

    Let me try to be more clear. The City Council should solve their own problems internally. Further, the State Auditor isn’t going to be any help if it has no authority. I don’t understand the purpose of the State Auditor.

    August 22, 2007
  37. kiffi summa said:

    One thing that I thought was very interesting on the council’s votes on which items to keep on the list to go to the State Auditor (SA), was the possible interpretation of the individual votes. I kept a record of the vote on each issue, and they don’t always seem to be just on an evaluation of whether or not the subject of the issue was appropriate to the SA office. Some items could be seen as more possibly illegal, some procedural, and I think the general assumption is that the SA’s office is best looking into financial issues. Anyone with better knowledge on that, please correct that assumption.

    There has been concern at the council , some discussion, about the project, “The Crossing”. Mr.Mathern came to the council and reported on where that development was in terms of schedule, development contract and bonding processes. There still seemed to be some level of concern at the council about this very complicated financial undertaking. Given that background, why did the majority of the council vote to remove #9 : “Has there been proper oversight and management of TIF projects in which the City is involved?”

    I asked a similar question , in #29, re: item #7, which would seem to relate to the leaked packet.

    What does anyone think about this?

    August 22, 2007
  38. kiffi summa said:

    Sorry about the two successive comments, but I just saw David’s #36.

    David, what should happen if the council does not seem to be acting with equal consideration for each other; and also if there are issues to be considered that involve staff?

    Isn’t it better to ask for outside, (mediating?) help rather than just continue in what seems to have become a rather adversarial mode?

    Isn’t the parallel the family who hides an “embarassing” problem , rather than seeking professional help?

    August 22, 2007
  39. Curt Benson said:

    From the state auditor’s website, a description of the office’s purpose:

    http://www.osa.state.mn.us/default.aspx?page=description

    Here’s a list of reports done by the state auditor:

    http://www.osa.state.mn.us/searchresults.aspx?type=rpt&div=lsi

    I read a few of these reports. It appears that when the auditor finds a problem she/he sends the findings to the county attorney for possible further action.

    Also, note how few of these reports have been done. It appears that going to the state auditor is hardly a common way for cities to work out their problems.

    August 22, 2007
  40. David Ludescher said:

    I would suggest that the Council kick it over to a skilled mediator, like John Lundblad. Mediation doesn’t require that anyone abide by the decision. But, it might get to the bottom of some of the personal disagreements.

    August 22, 2007
  41. victor summa said:

    Just to clarify Kiffi’s remark in #37 (with Anne off this thread I guess I’ll have to look for other nits to pick [on], HA! )

    KWS said: “There has been concern at the council, about “The Crossing”. Mr.Mathern came to the council and reported on where that development was in terms of schedule, development contract and bonding processes. There still seemed to be some level of concern at the council about this…….”

    Very complicated.. and I think it’s important to add here that at least some of the concern is wrapped around the manner in which staff has responded to queries from Council regarding the situation. John Mathern’s financial stress is understandable – while not necessarily acceptable in some quarters here in Northfield. I’m suggesting there is some tension around the staff’s timely and adequate delivery of information regarding this. My read is based on the lack of clear information when questions are posed to the staff… putting Council in an awkward position of seeming to push staff too hard… publicly. These lighter than need-be pushes I think, lead us into the morass of 18 month’s mishandling of issues such as the new Rental Code – which may still have an albatross fluttering around the bow of this ship of state

    David L’s #40 suggests kicking it over to a skilled mediator. EXCELLENT IDEA – Wonder why Attny Swanson didn’t think of the that – perhaps she did? No discussion on it though. My only caveat is a local mediator. That’s dicy – even though I’m a personal fan of John Lunblad. Here’s a question for David L – in such a situation, who would do the investigation… gather the background information, read the un-redacted files and dig in the dark for answers?

    August 22, 2007
  42. David Ludescher said:

    In a mediation, no one would investigate. They would just try to solve the problem(s). John is not only an excellent mediator, he was the former chair of the Charter Commission. Being local has the advantage of being someone everyone knows and trusts.

    P.S. If Summa and Ludescher agree can there be any debate left?

    August 22, 2007
  43. victor summa said:

    here in happy valley there’s always a combatant willing to pick up a rock and hurl it off toward something.

    I think John’s too nice – I’d prefer a junk yard mediator – and how can this not involve investigation? at the very least reading 700 pages -and that’s only accusations against the mayor. what about staff malingering? What about my testimony? Man… I want my day in court! I got hearsay that would unbalance your scales of justice – rip off the old girl’s blindfold and light up the whole end of the tunnel!

    Lundblad eh? do you know anything about his religious persuasion. I know he drinks beer. That’s good, but he is Scandinavian… I’m almost certain.

    August 22, 2007
  44. Anne Bretts said:

    David, just for clarification, could you tell me which issues you think would be handled by a mediator? I’m not contesting, just asking a question.
    I believe that almost everything the city does has a public review process through the state or federal government.
    For example, I’m not sure what there is to mediate on a TIF District, once it is in place. Now, if the council wants to change the structure of a TIF District, that’s a whole different matter. But the changes should be based on information in the annual report and the process should be public. The developer might not like the changes, in which case a mediator might be needed to resolved the dispute.
    The State Auditor’s office indicates on its website that it answers questions about reporting and managing TIF Districts, and offers training for communities, so that might be a good place to start, not with an investigation but a simple request for information. And there should be standard annual reports, which are submitted to the state. I don’t understand why the council should have to make requests for information from the staff. Given the uncertainty over the Crossing, however, the council might have been wise to order staff to produce quarterly or monthly reports, all of which should be public record.
    Also, the League of Minnesota Cities has a lot of resources available for communities. It would seem that the city administrator, attorney or council could request some clarification on the appropriate processes for handling the different issues. I would guess there would be experts available to conduct training in procedures as well.

    August 22, 2007
  45. David Ludescher said:

    They should mediate all 14 questions.

    August 22, 2007
  46. kiffi summa said:

    On the power of MEDIATION:
    Just came from a raging discussion of the “prayer at Open Mic” issue, with a herd of “cows” who were anything but contented!
    More and more people kept arriving at the stanchion and soon there were no more loose hay bales for seating in the area.

    The good pubmaster was moved to smoke a pack of cigarettes in an hour, while sputtering and being moved to Shakespearian comment.
    The denizen of Water St. actually watched the entire 5 hour marathon on NTV; he gets the award for perseverance.
    The mooings and stompings and aggravated tail switchings went on for over an hour until THE MEDIATOR arrived with a full stoneware tankard, and quickly commanded all the herd’s attention just by his presence.
    As he settled himself comfortably, and quenched his thirst, the herd gathered around…….Tell us, oh MEDIATOR, what do you think? You’re the professional; what would you have done, we’re anxious to know where your bell leads us.
    He set his mug down, shook his grayed, Scandinavian head, flashed his blue Scandi eyes around the anxious herd …….. the mooings, the stompings, and tail switching all stopped …….. and he leaned toward the herd, put his elbows on the table with his hoofs pointing to all those anxious Holstein faces , and said THIS is what I, THE MEDIATOR, would have done…………..

    AND THE HERD HEARD THE WORD , AND IT WAS GOOD!

    August 22, 2007
  47. john george said:

    Victor- I think you hit on something profound. You said in post #43, “I got hearsay…” Hmmmmmm. Is that what this is all about?

    August 22, 2007
  48. David Ludescher said:

    I’m still for the Lundblad mediator idea. Doesn’t hurt to try a little bit different tactic.

    August 29, 2007
  49. Griff Wigley said:

    David, say more about the mediator idea. Who would the parties be?

    August 30, 2007
  50. David Ludescher said:

    Griff: See posts #40-46. My thought would be that the City Council, Mayor, and City Administrator get together in a controlled, mediated environment so that they can try to hammer out some issues with the 6 points that are being sent to the State Auditor, and the 8 points that they can’t figure out what to do.

    It would appear that at least the 6 points are going to end up back on the Council table anyway. So, why not all of them get together and see if they can reach a mediated agreement.

    I broached the idea with Lundblad. He didn’t say no. It would be good for the whole town if they can reach an agreement. (The soundness of the idea is that verfied by Victor’s agreement in post #41.)

    August 30, 2007
  51. kiffi summa said:

    ……….And also by how Happy the Herd was/were after they Heard the WORD!

    We’re all mooing for you, oh great Mediator!

    At least bring the “Lost Eight”out of the darkness and into the bloody daylight!

    August 30, 2007
  52. Griff Wigley said:

    I’m confused. Nfld News managing editor Jaci Smith has revived the packet saga with 4 points in her Saturday column.

    In this column she mentions nothing of the redacted copy of the packet that KYMN got when it made the request (I made a request too, but declined to get a copy when told I’d have to pay the photocopy expenses). In her related blog post, she says that whatever was redacted could also be gotten from public documents. The implication is that any citizen could get the unredacted copy. I’m not sure that’s accurate.

    But she does reveal that the paper initiated the request on their own and that councillor Noah Cashman was the one who initiated the request resulting in its distribution to the entire council.

    November 12, 2007
  53. kiffi summa said:

    IMHHO, the Jaci Smith retelling of the packet issue, as well as the rest of the “myth-busting” was very simplistic, and could not begin to illuminate any of the issues, which are so complexly interwoven. It may even be an actual disservice , or act of mis-information ,to deal with these important issues, which are all tangled with the personality/power struggles of Mayor, Council and the City Administrator, in such an almost dismissive way …as if none had any substantive bearing on the general situation.

    I’ll just say this once again, since the packet that miraculously flew on the wings of serendipity, all on its own, to the NFNews was all negative to the Mayor, we can assume he is the only one cleared of its delivery.

    November 13, 2007
  54. Griff Wigley said:

    Evidently Nfld News managing editor Jaci Smith doesn’t have it quite right. I wrote to City Clerk Deb Little about this issue (see #55 above) asking:

    But in her [Jaci Smith’s] related blog post, she says that whatever was redacted could also be gotten from public documents. The implication is that any citizen could get the unredacted copy. Is this accurate?

    Deb Little replied via email:

    Citizens do not have access to the unredacted documents.

    November 19, 2007
  55. Griff Wigley said:

    At the bottom of this blog post, Nfld News managing editor Jaci Smith responds to my comment above that her statement about the availability of the unredacted packet doesn’t square with city clerk Deb Little’s statement.

    Keep in mind the difference between the “redacted material” (private, withheld) and what we’ve been referring to as the “redacted packet” (publicly available). Jaci wrote:

    What I meant was, that while the redacted material was in fact private, there wasn’t any information in there that we couldn’t have also found in public documents. In other words, the materials themselves were not public, but the information (the facts, not the hyperbole) contained therein was verifiable from other, public sources.

    Thanks, Jaci. Since the paper is the only non-public entity in possession of the unredacted packet, it seems like it would help if they published some of it, for example:

    * Here’s unredacted memo A
    * Here’s the redacted memo A
    * Here is another source of that redacted information

    Could that be done?

    November 26, 2007