Nfld News: Mayor Lansing sues Roder, Cashman, Denison and Pokorney

Northfield News managing editor Jaci Smith posted this to the Northfield News website at 9:34 am today:

Lansing sues city councilors, administrator

Mayor Lee Lansing has filed suit against City Administrator Al Roder and councilors Noah Cashman, Jon Denison and James Pokorney for violations of the state open meetings and public records laws, according to sources with knowledge of the lawsuit.

The defendents in the suit were served late Tuesday. It is unclear whether the suit was filed by Lansing as mayor or as a private citizen. Councilors James Pokorney and Noah Cashman refused to comment on the suit. Lansing and Denison did not immediately return phone calls for comment.

We heard a little of Lansing’s irritation with liquor store meetings on the Oct. 5 Locally Grown podcast.

A tip-of-the-blogger hat to Alex Beeby for the heads-up.

Updated by Tracy at 4:20p:

Here’s the complete legal Summons and Complaint as a PDF file. It’s a public document which was filed in Rice County.


  1. Griff Wigley said:

    See the MN Open Meeting law statute website. I assume the alleged violations were about the relocation of the liquor store, so the revelant statute language appears to be here:

    (c) A public body may close a meeting:

    (1) to determine the asking price for real or personal property to be sold by the government entity;

    (2) to review confidential or nonpublic appraisal data under section 13.44, subdivision 3; and

    (3) to develop or consider offers or counteroffers for the purchase or sale of real or personal property.

    Before holding a closed meeting under this paragraph, the public body must identify on the record the particular real or personal property that is the subject of the closed meeting. The proceedings of a meeting closed under this paragraph must be tape recorded at the expense of the public body. The recording must be preserved for eight years after the date of the meeting and made available to the public after all real or personal property discussed at the meeting has been purchased or sold or the governing body has abandoned the purchase or sale. The real or personal property that is the subject of the closed meeting must be specifically identified on the tape. A list of members and all other persons present at the closed meeting must be made available to the public after the closed meeting. If an action is brought claiming that public business other than discussions allowed under this paragraph was transacted at a closed meeting held under this paragraph during the time when the tape is not available to the public, section 13D.03, subdivision 3, applies.

    October 17, 2007
  2. Griff Wigley said:

    We’re recording our Locally Grown podcast at 3 PM today. I wonder what we’ll have to talk about? No guests, just the Triumvirate.

    It’ll air as usual at 5:30 pm on KYMN 1080 AM.

    October 17, 2007
  3. Ross Currier said:

    Griff –

    Tracy and I have been advised by our attorneys not to comment on any matters related to…

    – Ross

    October 17, 2007
  4. Tracy Davis said:

    I’m not saying a word. But I posted the Summons and Complaint that was filed at the bottom of Griff’s original post so people can read it for themselves.

    October 17, 2007
  5. Marcea said:

    Just wondering why the Northfield News is not include in the suit, is it not their responsibility to make sure the information used is legal and/or right?

    October 17, 2007
  6. What a mess. I think I had better write a list.

    Leaving aside propriety for a moment, as I often do, was it illegal for the News to print the data in the packet? I’m assuming Lansing is claiming the private information was the tax data. I’m guessing it was legal (not making any taste judgments here, just strict legality) given that they are not named as a defendant.

    Is personal income tax data public? I have always been under the impression that it is – particularly as it relates to elected officials. (The President and U.S. Senators and Reps release their income tax data each year, correct?) What about business tax data?

    I’m curious. I honestly don’t know.

    I see Cashman and Pokorney’s name in the suit, but it doesn’t mention what Lansing alleges they did wrong. The suit mentions Cashman asked for private data. Did he know it was private? Should he have? Is that the complaint?

    I didn’t see Pokorney’s name in the complaint at all. Is Lansing saying that Pokorney called the closed meetings that didn’t pass muster as needing to be “closed meetings” according to state statute? Why is he named as a defendant, then not mentioned in the complaint? What is his alleged role?

    Is this Lansing’s counter-strike to the allegations of conflict of interest and undue influence in the liquor store issue?

    The sad thing is this suit also means that much more taken away from City resources. Again, I know Lansing has every right to pursue this, I’m not saying that. But the allegations and counter-allegations alone will throttle any real action on important issues of city governance.

    What a debacle. How did it come to this?

    October 17, 2007
  7. Christine Stanton said:

    I guess we now know where the “leaked” information came from.

    October 17, 2007
  8. Griff Wigley said:

    Brendon, I assume Pokorney and Cashman and Denison were all part of the closed meetings. But now that the Tires Plus/Lansing property is no longer being considered, the tape recordings should be made available.

    As for all your other questions, they’re good ones. Locally Grown has allocated $25-30,000 of our October budget to hire an investigator to answer them for you because we’re a full-service civic blog.

    October 17, 2007
  9. Tracy Davis said:

    If Lee is acting as Mayor in filing the suit, and the Mayor represents the City, doesn’t this make the City both defendant and plaintiff?

    If he wins and is awarded damages, is that a conflict of interest because the Mayor received a direct financial benefit due to his position?

    And I suppose this means that not only do the citizens have an additional $35,000 bill to investigate the allegations flying around City Hall, now we have to pay the legal bills incurred by the City Administrator and three councillors who are being sued while acting in their official capacities.


    October 18, 2007
  10. Griff Wigley said:

    In today’s Strib: Northfield mayor sues city, three council members over liquor store.

    In spite of her [city attorney Maren Swanson] warning, the complaint says, Council Member Jon Denison gave a copy to the local newspaper, which ran a lengthy story on its contents. Denison on Wednesday denied giving the packet to anyone but said the accusation was not a surprise. “I have been accused of that by citizens in town, and I did not do that,” he said.

    October 18, 2007
  11. Christine Stanton said:

    Then again, maybe the source of the “leaked” information is still a mystery. The sad thing is that it is not like the game of Clue where someone’s guess gets proven and they win the game. I think everyone is losing in this one.

    October 18, 2007
  12. David Henson said:

    This sounds like it has become an attack Lee field day with no downside for muckrakers. Lee’s generally positive nature has been pushed too far. He now sees the goings on are not about the “truth” but about “politics.” So he’s showing some teeth and creating a downside for his opponents. Hat’s off to him !

    October 18, 2007
  13. Anne Bretts said:

    Most of the documents that were leaked would have been released to the newspaper after a court request, and the paper is protected by the Constitution (thank goodness), which is why the News isn’t named in the suit. As I have said before, media attorney Mark Anfinson, who is very familiar with Northfield, and with open meeting law issues, would answer most questions, and probably would appear on a podcast. He is extremely helpful and has much experience in this kind of situation.

    The gist of this lawsuit seems to be that the mayor is trying to force the council to buy his land, not that he sees some high moral principle violated.
    After reading the News stories, it is clear that all the financial information came from public court documents. The fact that the mayor’s lengthy financial problems ended up in court is sad, but he ran for office knowing that he would be in the public spotlight. It’s clear the problems existed long before the liquor store action and so the council’s decision or lack of one didn’t cause him financial harm. And the city has no obligation to solve those problems. Clearly, it would be in the city’s best interest to wait and buy the assets out of bankruptcy court, if that site is best — which remains in question. That sounds cruel, but the city’s role isn’t to bail out the mayor, but to get the best deal for citizens.

    As for the memos showing the mayor acted behind the scenes to pressure staff on the liquor store issue, he was violating his promise to recuse himself by using his position to influence the staff and in turn, the council. He also was not acting in public, which is what he is accusing his opponents of doing. All of his comments should have come at public meetings, where he should have stepped down and spoken as a developer. The problem isn’t that someone leaked the memos, but that the mayor sent them in the first place.
    The mayor’s financial woes are truly sad, but this is exactly why there are conflict of interest laws and regulations. He has no objectivity in this issue and has turned the decision from one that is best for the city to one that serves him. Given all the problems in the city, it made sense for the council to back away from the liquor store issue completely. It would have been better to do it at a public meeting, but my guess is that they were trying not to embarrass the mayor publicly. Ironically, it seems the mayor’s pressure actually turned people away from his site as a choice.

    I am glad the memos were released, and I hope the tape of the council meetings is released. I do not dislike the mayor, but I see no personal benefit to Pokorney, Cashman and Denison for their actions, and significant personal benefit to the mayor for his.

    I think the mayor may find that he regrets filing this suit, since he leaves his actions open to court scrutiny as well. I do not think the mayor is a bad man, just a desperate one. And I feel the desperation has clouded the objective vision he needs to fulfill his public role.

    October 18, 2007
  14. Wow, shut the computer off for a couple days. I hope someone is taking careful notes and writing the book on all of this.

    Anne, if you think the press is safe, better check with “our” new Attorney General! He doesn’t want to shield press from having to reveal sources:

    October 18, 2007
  15. Shelley Kubitz said:

    Anne – Hear, hear! I’m also going to toss in my two cents that it would be beneficial to hear from Mark Anfinson. I’d be curious to hear what he as to say.

    October 18, 2007
  16. Anne Bretts said:

    I think the press is in great danger, as much from corporate owners as from the government!

    October 18, 2007
  17. Lisa Guidry said:

    I think the mayor’s decision to file this lawsuit is a very negative move on his part. Once again I have to ask what’s the real motive here. I think the mayor has to own up to having wrong motives in the issues with the land on Division. There is a conflict of interest, and as long as Lansing is the mayor there will still be a conflict of interest.

    There is no doubt in my mind that Lansing & Roder have alot of anger towards each other, but to bring the council members in this is just going to make matters worst.

    Is anyone wondering how this city is going to be managed by the mayor when he is fighting the city?

    October 18, 2007
  18. Anne Bretts said:

    So good to see your name again! Thanks for the support.
    Mark Anfinson always has been extremely helpful and has answered many tough questions over the years. He’s a great guy. I have suggested that the News do an interview with him, talking about all the issues here. Open meeting laws and conflict of interest regulations are fascinating issues. It’s just a shame that we’re getting a first-hand lesson in them.

    October 18, 2007
  19. Lisa Guidry said:

    Is the city responsible for paying the legal fees for Cashman, Pokorney,& Dennison?

    October 18, 2007
  20. Lisa Guidry said:

    I want everyone to know that their are alot of new companies wanting to come to Northfield, but until the city gets their —- together we will not get these new companies here.

    I have alot of interest on all my Armstrong Rd. listings, but they are conservative about making a decision for Northfield as their new home.

    October 18, 2007
  21. Lisa Guidry said:

    I am shocked that no one as any opinions about this law suit. I’m guessing that the cat got everyone’s tongue. We do have freedom of speech!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

    October 18, 2007
  22. Anne Bretts said:

    I’ve only lived here two years myself, so I’m hardly tied in to the local networks. My guess is that this is a small town and while it was OK to poke at people for the last few months, things have taken an awful, uncomfortable, really sad turn…No one is enjoying this any longer.
    There will be a resolution, but it is bound to get much worse before it gets better. And everyone involved has to face each other at church and in the grocery store and local events. Maybe the discomfort finally will be serious enough to make people solve the problems instead of avoiding them.
    As a commercial real estate writer, I can understand your concerns. The market is so soft in so many areas that it’s pretty competitive out there. I think Northfield can hold its own, but so far officials don’t seem to have their heads in the game. Northfield officials have been so sidetracked by bickering that they’re not focused on some really important issues, from a community facilities plan to business recruiting strategies to regional cooperation on roads and utilities. All those issues play a role in property taxes, so new businesses see a lot of uncertainty in their cost structures.
    Again, this is an opportunity for the business community and other organizations to show some leadership — and make your clients feel welcome. And city officials need to get their act together so your clients will want to stay.

    October 18, 2007
  23. Griff Wigley said:

    Nfld News: Mayor says he’s ‘clearing the air’

    The mayor said his lawsuit against the city, three councilors and its administrator is his effort to solve problems at city hall. In an interview with the Northfield News on Thursday, Mayor Lee Lansing said the suit, which alleges violations of state public records and open meetings laws, is his way of bringing issues previously concealed to the fore.

    October 19, 2007
  24. kiffi summa said:

    Need Dave L. To give an opinion here, on the process …
    Does the fact that this lawsuit was filed prevent the Special Investigator’s work from going forward, given that many of the same issues ( leaking of packet, etc. ) may be involved?

    October 19, 2007
  25. Remind me – why was the 600 block, both locations, rejected as sites for the new liquor store?

    October 19, 2007
  26. Jerry Bilek said:

    I’m not afraid to discuss it just too busy. So I will chime in and try to be brief.

    first a question:
    if an open meeting law was violated, why are not all council members named in the lawsuit? did they all not attend, or the ones in the lawsuit asked for the meeting?

    I think all of the actions have done some serious damage to the reputation of our town. The lawsuit better have some merit.

    when are the next elections?

    October 19, 2007
  27. David Ludescher said:

    In answer to Kiffi’s post (#24), the Special Investigator has to continue with his work unless the Council de-commissions him.

    Both Tom Neuville and I read the Complaint. We don’t see any way that Lee can continue as Mayor. Not only has he sued the City of Northfield (the exact basis is unclear). But, he has also sued Councilmembers with whom he is working. I think that he could sue them individually, and as Trustee, and not have a problem. But to sue them as Mayor, he even has a conflict with himself!

    October 19, 2007
  28. Felicity Enders said:

    Some rambling thoughts…

    1) The mayor’s term ends at the end of 2008.

    2) Is there any mechanism for a way to remove anyone from office before an election, if deemed necessary?

    3) How can the mayor specify that he is suing both as a private citizen and as mayor, and yet not indicate which parts of the suit correspond to the two roles? Is that something that will become clear during the suit?

    4) Where does a suit like this go to court??

    Thanks in advance for any legal-types who have some answers.

    October 19, 2007
  29. What we have here is a political Jonestown massacre brewing. Administrator Al Roder and Mayor Lee Lansing are fighting over who gets to stir the Kool Aid. The council members are lining up behind the more righteous Roder, cups in hand. The council members, blinded by faith, appear to be ready to drink whatever potion the itinerant administrator pours.

    We need Brendon Etter, our resident playwright, to create a musical comedy based upon the machinations of our city council and its minions. It behooves us to suggest some titles: The Rise and Fall of the Northfield Municipality

    Please submit your titles and plot lines. This could be the next NAG theater hit!

    October 19, 2007
  30. victor summa said:

    RE: Norman’s questions: ” why was the 600 block, both locations, rejected as sites for the new liquor store?”

    600 Division St… a combined site, includes Tires Plus and the little house west of the corner on Sixth St. … these two properties were offered into the mix of possibilities for resiting of the Liquor Store in more than one fashion. Consultants, staff and Council members… looking for a likely relocation site, identified this corner for further discussion –

    It was also acquired by the Lansing “group” with the intention (I’d speculate) of developing it… then making a deal with the city for the Liquor Store relocation.

    A business risk… and… all in the open.

    Norman’s question assumes the site has been rejected by council action in the “closed” meetings. The N News (can’t quote edition dates) did ( I think) announce this as fact in what I’d term a “casual reference” – when In reality there is a requirement of the City to report the RESULTS of closed meetings –

    The council has never officially expressed its position (or vote) on the 600 site.

    CP Vohs has said (“YES” privately to me, – publicly, IM NOT SURE but he may have publicly too) “We rejected the developer’s plan for the site (evidently that plan included leasing rather than ownership by the city) but… not the site itself.”

    One might speculate why the vagueness here – I was led to believe the uncertainty was spurred by “fear of being sued”.

    That’s a chip of that ice berg!

    618’s status (the Hardware store) is even more convoluted.

    Long before he was a candidate for Mayor the first time (2000)…. resulting from big box development in Southfield – seeing the writing on the wall for some DT business failure… Lee Lansing was working on a plan to change his Northfield based business. Those are his private “dreams and personal details” which I’m sure the N New would print if they had access.

    Suffice to say, I can assert with absolute certainty Lee’s plan included a concept for the relocation of the Muni to 618. His perspective was: The City continually talks about the need to make a move, providing better brick and mortar, parking – and to keep the store centrally located in the DT.

    Lee recognized 618 Division offered all these.

    Other aspects of the Lansing plan no doubt included a “next step” for the Lansing business development in Northfield.

    These “next steps” in the plan were above board and part of the entire redevelopment concept.

    Those efforts on 618 were thwarted by City Staff early in the Hoyt term o City Administrator- and in my view this was the first letting of bad blood between staff and Lansing. “Bad Blood” between staff and other citizens (individual – adHoc groups or formal entities such as designated boards and commissions and task forceses) has been exacerbated for many years now… and (my view) due to a need to be “cooperative” Council bends to near breaking to show support of the professionals… as staff is conveniently called… from time to time.

    Current noises from the deep woods might actually be the sound of breaking.

    The plans and the implication of the existence of Lansing’s offer was not discussed during the Mayoral campaign of 2004 by the media or the candidates.

    In fact in typical campaign rhetoric, nothing of substance was discussed.

    Clearly, the Mayor had an agenda for Northfield’s future. Would you want him no to have had one? Only recently was there much clarity on that when Ross Currier asked the direct questions of, “goals”. Ross wanted eight. Lansing came back with 20 or so… and perhaps with benefit of hindsight, some were “spot on” to quote the Brit at the cow.

    Did Lansing’s election result in Hoyt’s (former City Administrator) departure?

    Are there more “housekeeping chores” 2004 Mayor elect Lansing had when he ran the second time?

    Did Lansing support the new city Administrator in his initial to sort out staff?

    If so are these personal? Or, are they seated in the “greater good column”?

    Regardless does the community support these efforts to bring staff to better service of the community’s goals?

    Did other elected officials run on the same better service concept?

    Some of the more righteous point of view expressed on this limited opinion blog will no doubt, with reference to the Mayor, proclaim: Personal! Conflict of interest!

    Such reasoning is all speculation and likely never to be completely understood. Anne Bretts will never agree with me – nor I her – Like it or not Griff… neither will John George and Kiffi Wolcott – (finding it safer to use her former name)

    So, to Norman’s second question: Why was 618 dropped from the Council’s list of considerations?

    I believe the answer to that will also go directly to our questioning of council and staff performance and the link there to the current law suit(s) just filed by Lansing et al… but… is far more convoluted than that and probably also involves the dispute between the purchaser and the seller of 618 (Hardware store).

    At some point it is likely that the purchasing (exchange) of 618, and the bigger plan buyers and the sellers had for redevelopment of that site included the concept of acquiring the 600 site (Tire Plus) to fold this north end of the block into a bigger and better redevelopment of the south edge of DT.

    As alluded to in the N News’ articles and the “leaked” memos, this plan came up on hard times – and the disposition of the Hardware Store site transaction, is up in the air.

    We know the buyers started a redevelopment of the second floor apartments – this now seems to be stalled – underfunded and to some extent subject to liens by contractors engaged to effect the redevelopment.

    Leaked memos seem to indicate that the Buyer, attempting some salvage of that situation requested Occupancy Permits from the city (Building Official) to use the intended living units as office space. Lansing, as a private citizen, sensing the entire deal going down, moved to block the occupancy, perhaps fearing, “squatting”. Regardless of his private motives… he seems to have been within his legal rights and these have nothing to do with his elected position. They did have to do with fire safety – an essential concern of the BO (I digress!)

    Evidently it is his (Lee Lansing’s) actions as a lease holder (not as mayor) on the 618 property that gave him right to block – and caused the extrapolated ruckus between citizen Lansing and some city staff. See The News’ leaky reporting

    All of this Buyer/Seller dispute – and more s still in court.

    Meanwhile (early 2007) on a parallel time track… the council and the Staff are involved in the determination of the relocation site of the Muni.

    We are told the official view of 618 as a site was expressed by staff to council early last year – and in effect staff proclaimed: “because Lansing’s Hardware store held a lease on the property… the city could not consider that site as a possible new location. Reason? Conflict of Interest. Thus 618 was removed from the dialogue – this in spite of the Buyers of that site (operating without Lansing involvement) attempted to influence the council’s interest in their property.

    Meanwhile David Lansing and his partner(s) were moving forward with plans on 600’s development potential to present to the city.

    Here enters some consultant developer discussions that I believe the suit alleges some “wrong doing” on how the council received the developer’s information, in their closed meeting.

    As recent… or as distant as those discussions were, it is curious why the Council and the Consultants (sic) the staff, still proclaimed interest in the 600 site – as I believe City Code and statute, exclude that site from the city’s consideration… same as the 618 site… due to the family relationship of the Tires Plus site owners to the Mayor. No illegality here simply a rule of government.

    You might ask why then did the Council continue to discuss 600 Division in Public, in Private, or at all? Why did Staff actively solicit the council’s move to make such a decision as opposed to informing them of the caveat?

    And, as it has unfolded since last August… why didn’t the Council (individually or as a body) ever express concern about the Mayor’s activity (whether as a citizen or as a Mayor) if they found it to be questionable.

    And now we’re at the fabled 14… reduced to the unlikely 6… all convoluted by the Lansing suit… which I’d speculate was at the root of Norman’s question.

    As Lansing (the Mayor) recused himself from those discussions, and as the Council did pursue this site… both in open meeting and in closed meeting… you have to wonder why… who gave a nod of approval to discuss this location… and why it simply hasn’t been rejected publicly based on these prohibitive facts?

    Maybe I’m wrong.

    October 19, 2007
  31. Griff Wigley said:

    Suzy Rook has updated her story for today’s Northfield News: A council divided: Mayor sues city, 3 councilors, administrator

    The Lansings, in the lawsuit, claim the documents were requested by Cashman, but that the city administrator only distributed those that would negatively impact the Lansings. Both Cashman and Roder referred questions to the city attorney, Maren Swanson, who declined to comment. The plaintiffs claim the documents were leaked to the newspaper by Denison.

    The mayor refused to comment on the particulars of his lawsuit and what evidence he has to back up his claims. The identity of the councilor who requested the information included in the “packet” is not a matter of public record. Because the request was not made in writing, state law does not require it be made public.

    I’d like to ask Suzy and Sam (Northfield News reporter Suzy Rook and publisher Sam Gett):

    Who gave you the ‘packet’? If you have reasons for not revealing this info, could you explain what they are?

    October 20, 2007
  32. Griff Wigley said:

    It appears as if Lee Lansing and his attorney don’t see eye to eye: Nlfd News sidebar: Can the mayor sue the city?

    Mayor Lee Lansing can sue the city without authorization from the city council. Minnesota Newspaper Association attorney Mark Anfinson and a lawyer for Lansing agree that the mayor doesn’t need the council’s approval to file suit as mayor. In a suit served earlier this week, Lansing is listed as plaintiff personally, as mayor and as trustee for Lansing Family Trust. “There is nothing that prohibits that,” Anfinson said.

    On Thursday, Lansing said he didn’t know why the final draft of the suit listed him as mayor. The mayor’s attorney disputes his client’s claim. “I don’t think that’s accurate,” said Gregg Corwin of St. Louis Park. “He’s seen every draft of the complaint.”

    October 20, 2007
  33. Anne Bretts said:

    If the source gave the News the packet in confidence, then the source is the only one able to identify him/herself.
    The News would never reveal a confidential source — or it would be the last one the paper ever had. The whole point of being a confidential source is that your identity isn’t revealed under pressure.
    Recall Watergate, the Valerie Plame controversy, and numerous others. This is a cornerstone of journalism.

    October 20, 2007
  34. Anne Bretts said:

    David L. makes some interesting points in #27. Beyond that, I find it odd that that the suit names only three councilors. All the councilors at the meetings in question would share responsibility, and it’s clear that if the other councilors thought there was a problem they could have walked out, leaving no quorum and no power for the three to use.
    Theoretically, if the suit succeeds, the mayor will oust the entire council, which in addition to a mayoral recall, hinted at here and elsewhere, could provide a real clean slate.
    Also, the mayor says there are documents that would be favorable to him, so why not release them or force the city to release them? For a man who says he wants to clear the air, the mayor seems only to be muddying the waters.
    And assuming Victor is right in #30, it seems that the mayor could have avoided this entire mess if he had either remained a private developer or had cleared the air in his campaign by running on the platform “Elect me so I can sell my land to the city.”

    October 20, 2007
  35. victor summa said:

    Anne says:

    “And assuming Victor is right in #30, …. the mayor could have avoided this entire mess if he had either remained a private developer or … by running on the platform “Elect me so I can sell my land to the city.”

    You are right – that is to say you won’t get wet if you stay inside during the rain storm.

    “Staying inside” was not an option Lansing exercised. His first mistake (if he made one) was feeling he could “clean up “City Hall” and survive at the same time in Northfield’s economic maelstrom and political disarray.

    He ran… he won… but the cards continue to be dealt by the staff. It would be a complex piece of discovery… but illuminating… to see just what pushed the Liquor Store into the forefront of Council agenda.

    Not necessarily “community need”… and I’d bet, not necessarily the Mayor.

    Considering the City Administrator’s list of major needs (Brick and Mortar) we might limp through for sometime with the Muni as it is. At least until we could afford it.

    October 20, 2007
  36. Mary Hahn said:

    First, it is common to name only certain individual officials in an Open Meeting Law action. Rarely would an entire board or council be named. it is not simply presence at a meeting, necessarily, that can be the basis for liability under the Open Meeting Law.

    I suspect the reason the lawsuit names only three council members (and not all) is based upon certain allegations of “serial violations” of the Opem Meeting Law (see par. 19 of the complaint), as well as alleged violation of the Data Practices Act by Mr. Cashman. It is difficult to tell from just reading the complaint exactly why the the three individuals are named. However, this is not unusual, as the State of Minnesota’s rules of civil procedure permit simple “notice” pleading (you do not need great detail).

    In 2005 and 2006, David Hvistendahl and I tried and took to the court of appeals a case against Cannon Falls Township. The Court of Appeals issued in our case what is still the most illuminating opinion on the Minnesota Open Meeting Law. the Northfield News followed the case, ahnd commented on it at the time. There were many interesting aspects to the opinion of the Court of Appeals. (You can find it on line at Brown and Banks vs. Cannon Falls Township, et al, 723 N.W.2d 31 (Minn App. 2006)). What is important, for purposes of the pending lawsuit filed by Mr. Lansing, is that the Court of Appeals confirmed that an official cannot be removed from office without at least three separate court findings of a violation of the Open Meeting Law. This means, in essence, three separate lawsuits, filed serially, not at the same time. In the real world of litigation, given its expense, it is unrealistic to expect an individual to be able to have the resources (or patience) to file three separate lawsuits, not to mention it would take years to accomplish. (Our lawsuit took over three years). Nonetheless, the Court of Appeals determined that this was how the statute needed to be interpreted. Therefore, based on the 2006 Brown v. Cannon Falls Township et al case, Mr. Lansing will not be able to achieve “removal from office,” as he is requesting in the relief portion of his complaint.

    Finally, it is not uncommon for an individual to “label” himself in two or more capacities as a named party in a lawsuit. (In this case, Mr. Lansing sued this out as mayor and personally). However, it would seem prudent for Mr. Lansing to amend his complaint so as to clarify that he is suing it out in his capacity as an individual citizen, NOT as mayor. Amending a complaint is common, and the courts freely permit it. The fact that he sued it as as “mayor” is not going to affect much of anything. I do not agree that he will not be able to continue as Mayor, from a legal or procedural sense.

    I am pleased to see such great public discourse on such an important law as the Open Meeting Law. it is a law that more folks are taking notice of. Without taking sides, necessarily, I think it important for this sort of forum to continue.

    October 22, 2007
  37. Jessica Paxton said:

    Oooh, Mary, watch out! There’s no turning back, now that you’ve “taken the plunge” by joining this online conversation! =:>)

    My question is, if Lansing is including “the city” in his suit, does that mean that he’s suing each and every one of his constituents? And, in addition to paying for his legal fees — and ours — wouldn’t we also be liable for the settlement he’s seeking? (Assuming he wins). It’s so comforting to know my tax dollars are being put to such productive use!

    October 22, 2007
  38. David Ludescher said:

    I don’t see how Mr. Lansing can continue as Mayor unless he amends the lawsuit to exclude himself in his capacity as Mayor. Theoretically, he could continue as Mayor if he recused himself from any business involving the City of Northfield.

    Practically, I don’t see how he can continue as Mayor when he is suing 3 City Council members. It might be easy to draw a wall when there is only one issue – the liquor store. But, every issue is going to involve working with the Council. The claim is going to be made, fairly or unfairly, that he is acting to further the lawsuit and not acting in his capacity as Mayor.

    October 22, 2007
  39. Griff Wigley said:

    Welcome aboard, Mary. Good to have another attorney/citizen/wife/mom joining the discussion. The Cannon Falls background was helpful. I assume this is what the Nfld News will be covering on Wed (“Why a 2002 Cannon Falls case could have implications for the Lansings’ lawsuit against three Northfield city councilors.”)

    I bet Lee does amend his lawsuit, given the confusion, if accurate, cited in Saturday’s paper between him and his attorney.

    October 22, 2007
  40. Griff Wigley said:

    Jessica, as for who’s picking up the tab, we citizens are paying Al Roder’s attorney’s fees related to the investigation initiated by Chief Gary Smith.

    We’re paying the fees for Cliff Greene and William Everett, attorneys retained for the special investigations (list of 11, 14, 6, 8, 14 issues).

    The big question now will be whether the city will pick up the tab to defend Cashman, Denison, Pokorney, and Roder on the Lansing lawsuit. I assume so, as the rationale would be similar to the decision to pick up the fees for Roder’s attorney.

    October 22, 2007
  41. kiffi summa said:

    As to legal fees, and what it might be costing the city/us, Councilperson Pokorney spoke to that issue at the council budget work session last night. He suggested that the legal fees line item be enlarged to cover an estimation of the possible costs of current actions.There seemed to be a slight twinge of bitterness, but mostly he was serious.
    The 50K insurance coverage from the League of MN Cities isn’t going to go far, at this rate …
    When will this “madness” they’ve gotten all of us into, stop?

    October 23, 2007
  42. Anne Bretts said:

    After the next election, unless enough people get together and offer or demand a resolution of things. There are people who can do it, in an objective, caring way. If the Rotary and the chamber and the historical society and all the leaders of the service groups in town could spend as much time on this as they do on one race or dance or silent auction, this could be over.

    October 23, 2007
  43. Jessica Paxton said:

    Griff, I understand that our tax dollars are paying for Roder’s attorney fees as well as Greene and Everett’s fees. I also assume that tax dollars will be used in the cases of Pokorney, Cashman, and Denison (and Roder again).

    My question is, aside from “who” Lansing is suing, “what” is he suing? I understand if he’s suing the council members, Roder, City Hall — but what does it mean when the Northfield News says he’s suing “the City.” Don’t they mean City Hall or the City Administration? “The City” seems to imply the entire community, including the citizens. That’s my question. Perhaps I’m being overly particular, but to say he’s suing the city means he’s suing all of us — and using our tax dollars to do so.

    I’ve heard people in town say, “He’s suing all of us.” My initial response was, “No, he’s just suing the city administrator and some of the council members.” But when I was directed to the article in the Northfield News, it headline clearly states, “Mayor and son file suit against city administrator, three councilors and the city.”

    Just looking for some clarification.

    October 23, 2007
  44. Griff Wigley said:

    Jessica, I’m no attorney but I play one on the internet. IMHO, the ‘city’ in this case means the incorporated municipality, not us citizens.

    October 23, 2007
  45. kiffi summa said:

    Response to # 42: I think it’s obvious that the “service groups” that are mentioned here do not wish, at least at this time, to get involved in a “fight” with the city.
    And the primary for the next city election is the first week of July, 2008, eight months away. Will this all be resolved? I can’t imagine so. Who will want to run?
    Very few individuals, less than a dozen, have cared to speak in a purposeful public venue, about the issue; And some have been deeply criticized for doing so.
    At the 10.15 council meeting a citizen who had filled out a card to speak at an agenda item was taken to task by a councilperson for being bothersome; that resident then asked in response to the councilperson; “if not now , when? if not here, where?” That of course , was responded to, but NOT answered.
    I had entered a card to speak on the agenda item after that, the Building Code of Appeals, and believe me .. I was most uncomfortable (and said so), although the councilperson who had complained is someone I consider a friend.
    The question is valid: “If not now, when? If not here, where?”

    October 23, 2007
  46. Mary Hahn said:

    David Hvistendahl and I will be on KYMN Radio this Thursday, 1080 on am dial, at 7:40 a.m., to discuss the Minnesota Open Meeting Law and how it applies to Mr. Lansing’s lawsuit against the city, and the procedural and legal issues involved in an Open Meeting Law action, like the one filed by Mr. Lansing. We will discuss the current status of the Open Meeting Law, generally, and how the appellate courts have interpreted the statute, particularly in the 2006 Cannon Falls Township case which David and I took up to the Court of Appeals. There were four separate amici opinions filed in the Cannon Falls case, in addition to the parties. It garned much attention from the league of Minnesota cities, townships, and counties around the state of Minnesota. if Mr. Lansing’s case should ever reach the court of appeals, it probably would also.

    October 23, 2007
  47. victor summa said:

    Mr Anfinson (spg?) the open meeting guru; spoke at a meeting here a year or two back – on: Open Meeting law, Data Practices Act… and other municipal responsibilities.

    Interestingly enough, as I recall his comments, one revelation he put in orbit was the fact that Cities Councils (in Minnesota) are not required to have or publish an agenda in advance of their meetings.

    I wonder if Hahn and Hvistendahl can comment on that?

    Full disclosure: Kiffi Wolcott does not NOT recall the statement which I attribute to Anfinson – which may say something about this marriage!

    October 23, 2007
  48. Ross Currier said:

    The radio broadcast of Attorneys Hahn and Hvistendahl on KYMN AM 1080 Thursday at 7:40 am unfortunately conflicts with the EDA Meeting Thursday at 7:30 am in Council Chambers at City Hall.

    Will there be a rebroadcast of the show at another time?

    October 23, 2007
  49. Griff Wigley said:

    Ross, I’ll ask Jeff Johnson to record the show and I’ll post the audio here.

    October 23, 2007
  50. Griff Wigley said:

    Anne, thanks for your reply to me about journalistic confidentiality. Suzy Rook has a follow-up in a sidebar in today’s paper:

    State law protects journalists, in most instances, from revealing confidential sources… Journalists can’t successfully be subpoenaed in civil cases, said Minnesota Newspaper Association attorney Mark Anfinson. The Lansings’ suit is a civil case.

    October 24, 2007
  51. Griff Wigley said:

    Mayor Lansing has a guest column in today’s Nfld News: Mayor cites reasons for lawsuit

    It is expected that this complaint will address many public questions and concerns. This will be done in a professional, legal and open manner. This is a public document and it will be easy for anyone to follow the process and understand the issues. This action will ensure public disclosure. This disagreement will be decided openly and publicly.

    Hopefully, the action will bring clarity to the public. It is time that we clear the air. We have a lot of things to do as a community. We believe that by this action and the investigation of Mr. Everett, many community questions will finally be answered – professionally, completely and legally.

    October 24, 2007
  52. Griff Wigley said:

    Nfld News editorial today: Lawsuit will not solve city’s problems

    Relationships will be irreparably harmed by this suit. Mayor Lansing said in his interview with this paper that he didn’t think that would happen because everyone “is a professional.” A simple Google search of city employee versus city employee lawsuits shows that in most instances someone goes away at the end, either by firing or resignation, and it’s never pretty. There is little chance the administration or council will remain as it is now by the time this is over.

    Finally, there is a clause in the open records law that states that results of an investigation can be made public unless it jeopardizes pending civil legal action. By filing this suit, the Lansings can ask for the investigator’s report to be sealed until their lawsuit is resolved, since one could have bearing on the other. That would rob the citizenry of knowing for quite some time what is really going on in city hall.

    What the administration and council need is an all-out intervention by the public where all the dirty laundry is aired, cleaned and put away for good. What it doesn’t need is a contentious lawsuit. That’s a harbinger of ill will, not a “clearing of the air.”

    October 24, 2007
  53. kiffi summa said:

    I continue to be amazed by the people who feel they have all the information, when actually if they have only read the newspaper, they have very little information.
    The newspaper threw some big questionable headlines up, but neglected to delve into both sides of the (mostly speculative) problem. Very little objectivity; don’t get me wrong …there seems to be plenty of blame to go around.
    But since the packet of memos delivered to the paper by ? was all making a case against the mayor, I think we can be certain it was not he who “leaked” them. So if a member of the staff or council leaked the memo packet, why is that never questioned by the paper? Was that an OK thing to do? Did that action not fan the flames? I think all could agree it was certainly not in the nature of trying to work things out. To who’s benefit was it to give those specific memos to the newspaper? That question would be asked loud and clear,if there was a desire to be objective.
    There’s a big nasty personality struggle going on here, and why the council has been foolish enough to take sides, I can’t imagine. The mayor is one of the council, and the staff are their employees; both relationships have built in obligations. The only reason for the council to choose up sides is if they know a lot that the public doesn’t know .
    And if that is the case, then the council is very irresponsible to not have found some way to begin to clear things up. And one Cperson’s blog is not going to make the difference. There is always a way to make a statement that is both sincere and meaningful.
    Let’s not forget that it’s also not just “mayor and council woes”; we have a criminal complaint filed against the City Administrator, by a Police Chief on leave, that’s currently under investigation in Goodhue County. Why is the newspaper not hanging around that courthouse seeing whose being interviewed? That may be beyond the resources , or inclination of a small paper, but then let’s not assume objectivity for what looks like selectivity.
    It is not clear, and won’t be for a long time, if the current dynamics continue.

    October 25, 2007
  54. Lisa Guidry said:

    I am all for keeping business with the locals, but I have a huge problem with Al Roder’s former pastor getting several contracts with the city. He is not local, and his name is Dave Sohl. I have done alot of research about him, and Roder & no angel’s to be found with their deeds.

    October 26, 2007
  55. Lisa,

    Care to expound? What “contracts” was Mr. Sohl awarded? Do you have any details of their nature or the manner in which they were awarded? Are you alleging preferential treatment by Roder? Biased access to a bidding process? What exactly?

    October 26, 2007
  56. Lisa Guidry said:


    Dave Sohl was awarded the job of the new city televised system, etc., and he stayed at Roder’s home while he performed his job. I need to vomit now!!!!!!!!!!!!!

    October 26, 2007
  57. Anne Bretts said:

    Brendon, you beat me to this, so I’ll just agree. These are the kind of damaging pieces of incomplete information that just aren’t helpful.

    October 26, 2007
  58. Anne Bretts said:

    The contract, awarded by the full council in July, was for $94,000 and change, so it had to go through the public bidding process. (It’s on the agenda and in the packet for the meeting, so it was all done on the up and up. Google it if you want, it just takes a second.) A contract that large would have drawn complaints from other contractors if it were awarded improperly. So the council and all the competing contractors (in a very tough market right now, so all are scrambling for work) were in cahoots on rigging a bid for someone who used to be a pastor for the administrator? Given the it’s a felony to do so, that’s kind of a stretch, don’t you think? And I don’t even want to know why people are staking out Roder’s house to monitor his guests.

    October 26, 2007
  59. Lisa Guidry said:

    It’s all public info. people, just google it, and check the city documents. It’s damaging, because it is facts. Alot of citizens of Northfield don’t want facts they just want the drama.

    October 26, 2007
  60. Lisa,

    We want the facts. It seems right now that you are providing only drama. What are the facts you can cite that this contract was illegal or inappropriate?

    I’m no Roder apologist. Remember how I took him to task for his misdirected and obfuscating rebuttal of Judy Dirks “prayer group” concerns.

    Anne Bretts has provided some facts. What can you say to counter those? How was this illegal? Just because someone knows the contractor doesn’t mean the contract was awarded inappropriately. Obviously, it’s a red flag, but even a red flag has to have at least one leg to stand on.

    October 26, 2007
  61. Anne Bretts said:

    So what are these supposed facts? That a person won a public bid process to do a legal contract? I just don’t get your point…there is absolutely nothing illegal here.

    October 26, 2007
  62. Griff Wigley said:

    Lisa/Anne, it would be helpful to have A) the links/URLs of the documents/info and B) excerpts/quotes from them.

    What I remember from this contract is that city staff tried very hard to get other companies to bid on it, but only one did.

    The July 21 Nfld News article: Better audio and video on tap for council chambers

    October 26, 2007
  63. Christine Stanton said:

    Maybe another question might be, “Was a new audio/video system necessary?” Might that money have been better spent on training staff to use the city website?

    October 26, 2007
  64. kiffi summa said:

    Some bold assertions here; let’s look at the facts we know…
    Council has to bid on awarding this contract.
    City administrator does not have to disclose his personal relationship or knowledge of each and every contractor …
    BUT if the relationship is as close as asserted, then it was a massive error of judgment not to; rather like the prayer- ladies -in -the -office massive error in judgment (IMHO).
    If the contractor was known personally to Mr. Roder, and is a personal friend, and it is true that was the only bid, then Mr. Roder should have disclosed any personal relationship , and ask council if they wished to have bids sent out again.
    Question? Why was it the only bid? How many requests for bids were sent out, and to whom? If contractors are “scrambling for work” and I think they probably are, then why was there only one bid?
    These are the sorts of questions that the newspaper should be asking when the issue came up on the original 14. Another example (IMHO) of the paper not questioning both sides of a controversy.
    The councilors ALL need to be asking a lot more questions, in public, of each other. The laundry is dirty; wash it and hang it out …good drying days are few and far between.

    October 26, 2007
  65. These are the types of questions that should be asked. I agree with you on this, Kiffi. Again, this doesn’t equate with an actual infraction, but they are good questions that should always be asked as part of a bidding process.

    I am glad that you are not saying that these unanswered questions mean guilt is to be assigned as Ms. Guidry is claiming. Certainly, I would expect the City Council to be on the lookout for issues like this on any contract.

    I’m going to withhold my judgment until more facts are known, if there are real facts out there to be learned.

    October 26, 2007
  66. kiffi summa said:

    I heard an interesting story/fable in Denison, Iowa. It was about the Coyote, that wily trickster who figures in both Mexican and Native American folk tales. “When Coyote doesn’t want anyone to follow his tracks, he tucks a sagebrush in the back of his belt; it wipes away his path as he walks.”

    October 26, 2007
  67. Christine Stanton said:

    Even if Roder and Sohl’s relationship seems to cover the time they spent together in Denison, IA and Detroit Lakes, MN, that does not mean that Sohl should not get the contract. If the business stayed here in town, chances are there would be some relationship with council or staff. Northfield is a “small” town. However, I do agree that the relationship between Roder and Sohl should have been disclosed, if it was not.

    My question about whether or not a new audio/video set-up was needed stems from the question of how the job was presented to potential contractors. If the job was presented to them in such a way that only one firm had the capabilities or preferred components, then you could say the bidding process might have been “rigged.” In other words, other contractors might have had another solution, but they did not present it because of the way the job was presented to them. They did not bid it because they could not offer the same capabilities or components. Yet, there might have been another solution. (Does that make any sense?) Because I am not familiar with how the need presented itself, or how the need was presented to the contractors, these points may be totally unapplicable.

    October 26, 2007
  68. Christine,

    Very good point on which to speculate. I suspect it would be almost impossible to prove chicanery of that nature, however – the rigging you describe is more subtle than simply shutting out other bids as they arrive or not seeking bids from others in the first place.

    Your scenario implies prefitting a contract’s parameters to fit your friend’s business strengths and capabilities. That seems like it would be a tough case to prove, which, I guess, would make it a “good” way for someone to rig the process. Better than more obvious and more easily-detected schemes.

    October 26, 2007
  69. Anne Bretts said:

    It would seem that talking to the other contractors and the local access television folks would determine pretty quickly whether there were concerns about whether the contract was fair or the work needed. With $94,000 at stake, I can’t imagine people being willing to overlook even the most subtle rigging.
    I’m also sure, however, that no amount of interviewing or facts will keep people from seeing chicanery if that’s what they are determined to see.

    October 26, 2007
  70. Scott Davis said:

    Please, before you make assumptions, guesses, and presumptions, call/email and at least ask the question of someone who might know the answer or be able to direct you to the answer.

    The City’s new AV equipment in City Hall:

    Why get new equipment and why spend as much as was spent?

    – Charter Communications “gave” the city $100,000 for new AV Equipment for City Hall Council Chambers back in 2002 or 2003. Contractually, we cannot just move the $100k into the city’s General Fund and spend it on sidewalks, for example.

    Who decided who got the contract and was it “rigged” to only allow one solution?

    – Myself, Victor Summa, Scott Richardson, Paul Hager, and a member of the City Staff (Al Roder) met for over a year regarding new equipment for the City Council Chambers. Melissa Reeder, IT Director for the City joined our group after she came on board with the city.

    – We collectively worked on the RFP and its final outcome. We, as a group, selected Mr. Sohl’s company to do the work.

    Was the proposal written in such a way to only allow Mr. Sohl to get the contract?

    – No. If it was, then it got past Victor, Paul, Scott R., and myself.

    Did Mr. Roder let the group know that he knew Mr. Sohl?
    – Yes on several occasions Mr. Roder mentioned his previous encounters with Mr. Sohl.

    Observation – it would seem from the above discussions, that it would be better for the city to always engage in companies we (the city) or our experienced employees have never done business with and have no history with because unknown companies are always the safest, least controversial choice.

    October 27, 2007
  71. Griff Wigley said:

    Thanks, Scott. Much appreciated.

    October 27, 2007
  72. Anne Bretts said:

    Thanks so much, Scott. These kinds of rumors are so insidious and so harmful — and yet so common about government officials. I figured the answer was something like this, but it’s wonderful to have the official version here to put a stop to the gossip.

    October 27, 2007
  73. Thank you, Scott. It is nice to have someone in City Hall opening up to the community more. As I said above and in a related thread, I didn’t believe the story on its face, but now that you aired these points, the assertions made in this matter seem all the more baseless.

    I’m also glad that so much diligence is put into these bidding situations to avoid cronyism, corruption, etc… I would expect nothing less from our government.

    October 27, 2007
  74. Christine Stanton said:

    Scott: Thanks for giving us the background on the new equipment. I do not propose that we go with “unknown” contractors just to avoid possible conflict of interest. That could mean that the best person for the job might not get it, and that could be considered discriminatory. Obviously, some sort of personal recommendation due to past experience with a contractor should also be part of the considerations. I was just trying to figure out why Lisa G. seemed so “up-in-arms” about it. That did lead to unverified speculation on my part (though I did acknowledge that might be so), and I am somewhat embarrased I took the bait.

    As Victor was involved in the process, it would be interesting to see what he has to say.

    October 27, 2007
  75. Ross Currier said:

    Scott, I assume that you are being facetious when you suggest:

    “Observation – it would seem from the above discussions, that it would be better for the city to always engage in companies we (the city) or our experienced employees have never done business with and have no history with because unknown companies are always the safest, least controversial choice.”

    Note, I assumed “facetious” and not “sarcastic”. I wouldn’t want your knuckles rapped by Griff.


    October 27, 2007
  76. Scott Davis said:

    Let’s compromise – the thoughtful and creative mind of Mr. Etter might label my observation as “farcastic” or maybe even “sarcetious”. I’d pick one, but they both sound like some sort of a bodily function.

    October 27, 2007
  77. kiffi summa said:

    see post # 62: Griff himself remembers only one bid.
    More people, who were involved with the committee, remember only one bid.
    see post # 64: more questions on process for a 94K project with only one bid that is an acquaintance of staff.
    Some of you (IMHO) are too willing to “dump” on some people; while not willing to even shift a wee tad of error on to others.
    And that remark is neither sarcastic ( “ironic; a taunt”) nor facetious
    (“frivolously amusing”). It might be “farcastic” if the definition of that is “prophetically cynical”!

    In light of full disclosure: first definition provided by The Oxford American Dictionary; second by The American Heritage Dictionary; third by me. (must represent all POV’s when facts are not known).

    October 27, 2007
  78. David Ludescher said:

    Scott – Is there any reason that you and the Council cannot have the same kind of open discussion on the 14 issues? Why the secrecy and private investigator? I don’t get it, and I don’t think the rest of the town understands either.

    October 27, 2007
  79. Scott Davis said:

    David, good question, but, well, you are kinda working backwards… asking a question using current knowledge and current situations and applying them to the past.

    We really could not have a discussion about any of the 14, without some findings of fact. I see that each question would have two parts to it.

    1. Identify what was the specific issue that compelled one or more city council members make it a State Auditor investigatable issue.

    2. Hire or use our own staff to investigate the claims and report back to the council their findings, so we can have an educated discussion about the issue.

    This would really only apply to the 8 items we did not already enlist an investigation of already.

    Now, we did attempt to answer #14, but you’ll have to ask the Mayor why he did not say anything when the council was asked what the issue was regarding the payroll plan.

    Unfortunately, because of the Mayor’s lawsuit, we may be further precluded from discussing some of the eight items not sent to the private investigator.

    At this point, all I can say, is come to the meeting on Thursday at 7:00pm.

    October 27, 2007
  80. kiffi summa said:

    Yeah, the special meeting on Thursday … but what about the closed meeting at 6 before the Monday budget session at 7 ?
    That’s the one where it would/might be enlightening to have a citizen legal observer…
    And will a summary of that meeting be released , as I believe the statutes require?

    October 28, 2007
  81. Anne Bretts said:

    In response to #77, are you saying that Victor and the rest of the committee were in cahoots on rigging the contract or that they were all bamboozled?
    Scott’s explanation sounds pretty clear, and if the committee or the council were concerned about the single bid, after full disclosure, then they could have tossed the bid and started over. Once again, there seems to be an allegation without any evidence. Please share the proof that something wrong happened. The fact that some people don’t like the contractor doesn’t necessarily mean anything wrong happened.

    October 28, 2007
  82. kiffi summa said:

    In response to # 81 : Not all people who were at the committee meetings view things they heard, or things that were done, with the same conclusion.
    Isn’t that called the “Rashomon Syndrome”? People tend to use the contributing “facts” which support their own worldview, or in this case, townview.

    I see this whole dilemma of the city hall dynamics, as a massive turf/power struggle between the Mayor and the City Administrator. Most people have chosen up sides ; that is evident from their comments on the street, in their homes, and in the civic blogosphere.

    I think, from listening carefully, those who seem to be on the Mayor’s “side”, concede that there is enough blame to go around.

    I think those who seem to be on the City Administrator’s “side”, do not wish to acknowledge ANY of the responsibility for problems to lie within that court.

    I think there is a lot of blame to go around and that some of it certainly lies with the staff, who have exhibited (IMHO) a blatant willingness to follow personal paths, and virtually try to create, rather than follow policy.

    Therefor, I am not willing, at this time, to say that The City Administrator is simply a victim of adverse circumstance; there have been choices made, and again (IMHO) some choices have shown extremely poor judgment.

    October 28, 2007
  83. Ross Currier said:

    Scott –

    I can’t say it better than David Ludescher: “Is there any reason that you and the Council cannot have the same kind of open discussion on the 14 issues? Why the secrecy and private investigator? I don’t get it, and I don’t think the rest of the town understands either.”

    As for your response to David as to what steps you believe would be necessary to investigate the Leftover 8 in the same process at the Select 6 you say, “1. Identify what was the specific issue that compelled one or more city council members make it a State Auditor investigatable issue.” I will repeat my view: “I would agree with Scott that having someone take ownership, and explain the details, of an issue would make follow-up quicker and easier. However, I’m not sure that I agree that it’s necessary to have a name next to the issue of, let’s say, municipal contracting laws to make it valid or justify an independent investigation.”

    As for you response to David #2 “Hire or use our own staff to investigate the claims and report back to the council their findings, so we can have an educated discussion about the issue”, I have previously suggested that having a city staff’s appointee investigate charges against that city staff person does not meet at least my standard of an independent investigation.

    On this subject of having city staff investigate questions about city staff’s conduct or actions, there is also David Marone’s issue (raised at two Council Meetings which I attended) which seems to concern municipal contracting laws (item #6 on the original list of 14 items, which was relegated to the Leftover 8) apparently related, in this case, to the 5th Street reconstruction work. If David Marone is willing to have his name next to it, perhaps it could be added to the list as #15. Clearly he is not satisfied with staff’s investigation of his concerns.

    Finally, your suggestion that David Ludescher attend the Council meeting Thursday night may be a good one. However, Dixon Bond and Victor Summa verbally advocated for an independent investigation of all 14 items at a council meeting, a request supported by editorial opinions both in the Northfield New and on Locally Grown and now repeated by David Ludescher in comments related to this post. Council Members, including yourself, continue to resist this action for, what I and others believe to be independence and openness, through your votes and explanations. Why should we believe that your views and actions would change if only David Ludescher appeared at the open mic?

    My fading hopes lie in the octogenarian…

    – Ross

    October 28, 2007
  84. kiffi summa said:

    Come to think of it, what would be more of a statement of willingness, on the council’s part, to fully have the understanding of the community…than to decide that the closed meeting at 6, monday (dealing with the lawsuit) would in fact NOT be closed, but open ???

    Should the council not find it easier to deal with an open meeting on the lawsuit issue, than all this wild speculation? The text of the lawsuit is public; what will be said or revealed in that meeting that the council thinks the public does not deserve to hear?

    Response, please …

    October 28, 2007
  85. Scott Davis said:

    So I understand a few of you… when a council person has an issue, whether it be big or small, valid or invalid, the citizens would prefer that a council person go directly to the State Auditor, or the council should automatically hire a $150.00 an hour investigator to do a findings of fact without asking any questions. Who cares who brought up the issue or what the real issue is.

    How many times can I say it:


    We have already started the investigation of 6 or more of the items (we don’t know the specific items Mr. Everett is investigating and won’t until mid December).


    However, I am not going to just turn over the checkbook and staff time (staff will be the ones answering questions, completing paperwork, etc.) without knowing the specifics of what we are investigating first.

    For those of you that have already made up your mind on the issues, I cannot change that.

    October 28, 2007
  86. John George said:

    Sorry, Victor, wrong again. You said, “Such reasoning is all speculation and likely never to be completely understood,” and that I would never agree with you. I agree with you wholeheartedly on this statement.

    Scott- Thanks so much for some, what I consider, first-hand observations.

    October 28, 2007
  87. David Ludescher said:

    The idea that Council members can present their individual grievances in secrecy to be investigated by an independent investigator troubles me. It’s the Council’s job to solve their own problems.

    October 28, 2007
  88. Scott Davis said:

    David L. – I could not agree with you more!!!!!!!! Mr. Currier believes that WHO brought something to the table to investigate is NOT a big deal, or what their specific allegations are (if the person does not step up and take ownership of their issue, then be default, we will not get any details to work from) We can’t seem to win.

    Can someone explain the difference between an investigation by the State Auditor and an attorney we hire to investigate the issues?

    !. Will the State Auditor blog us each day with the status of what’s going on in the investigation.
    2. Can a citizen call up the State Auditor to get an update on all the details of the investigation while it is being conducted?
    3. Will the State Auditor release their findings and not redact private personnel information, or other information that is legally required to be not divulged?

    Let’s take the suggestion that the council should have an open discussion of the 14 issues. We’ll use the first one:

    “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?”

    How would that work? Here are several options:

    A-Would staff prepare anything for the meeting? If we did have staff prepare content, we would be crucified for using “insiders” to prepare biased information.

    B-Would we hire a person to investigate the issue and provide us with facts first. Crucified again… because that is what we are doing with 6 or more of the items.

    C-To heck with facts or details – lets just dive in and start discussing the situation… without any facts to work from, like LG.


    October 28, 2007
  89. Christine Stanton said:

    Scott, you said, “How many times can I say it:
    I do not believe that I have heard that before. Thank you for the clarification.

    October 28, 2007
  90. Ross Currier said:

    “Mr. Currier”??? Come on, Scott…

    …and “crucified”? Scott, I think the asking of a few questions and the raising of a few concerns hardly qualifies as crucifixion.

    Either the state auditor or a private attorney would be fine with me (and I think the others that have asked questions and raised concerns about this issue); I would have some confidence that they are independent. A council person or a staff person investigating their own actions does not meet my definition of an independent investigation.

    I think that your option “B” is what citizens and the media are requesting: explore the Leftover 8 in the same or similar, by my definition independent, process as the Select 6. At least I would be satisfied with that approach.

    If I can pick out a serious question from your comment #85, yes, personally, as an individual, private citizen, it is my opinion that it’s probably worth a few hundred bucks to get independent answers to questions such as: ““Were proper municipal contracting laws followed?”, “Has there been a misuse of public funds?”, “Have the City’s purchasing practices conformed to state and federal requirements?”, and “Has the City’s pay plan been implemented and followed and have any deviations from the plan been reported to the Council?”

    If the Council choices to initiate an independent investigation (that would be one that does not have council members or staff members investigating their own actions) for the Leftover 8 at Thursday’s meeting, it would do much to answer my questions and address my concerns.

    …and maybe you could go back to calling me “Ross” and stop making dramatic references to being crucified.

    You and I have probably spent too much time debating this topic the past few days. I yield the floor or post on this issue to others and will wait and see what comes out of the meeting Thursday night.

    I urge all interested citizens to attend and watch it live. The body language of the participants is not captured by the television broadcast.

    – Ross

    October 28, 2007
  91. David Ludescher said:

    The problem with option B. is that the “facts” are going to have to come back to the Council for a vote.

    There is an option D. Take the auditor’s advice and consider all 14 a political, not legal problem. Sit down in a room, and no one can leave until you come up with a political solution to each one of the questions.

    October 28, 2007
  92. kiffi summa said:

    The only problem with your solution in#91, David, is that they MIGHT decide there are no problems, like they did with the “pay plan”issue.

    October 29, 2007
  93. Anne Bretts said:

    Reading people’s body language? Is this what it all comes down to? Should city government be reduced to an episode of Dr. Phi?
    Many of us would like to see this resolved, but without all the rumors and innuendo and body language analysis.
    David L., you’re right, these aren’t really legal problems but political and personal ones. The council can’t remove the mayor; the mayor can’t remove the council. Even if there was an open meeting law violation, it doesn’t rise to the level of a criminal act. The contract for the television improvements in City Hall was legal, even if people don’t like the contractor. The separation of church and state is intact, with a room use policy in place. Without a policy in place and without proof of intent, Roder’s use of his office legally is no more than bad judgment.
    There’s a meeting this week on the drug problem, the result of agencies working together on the issue. Another win. The police department is over-worked but public safety continues to be protected while the police chief recovers. Any complaints against him need to be documented and dealt with at a (closed) personnel hearing when he returns.
    Most importantly, the liquor store issue is on hold, so the council can move ahead with other building priorities, such as the library and safety center. The issue should remain on hold until those projects are done. That will push it until after the next election, which will allow the public to decide — and the mayor to get a clean environment report for the land.
    Sounds like the council needs to review the items on the list, maybe taking an hour at each meeting to work through an issue at a time without stalling current business. This is not a crisis. The council should release all the memos from the liquor store issue and let the public see who intimidated whom. Since both sides say the memos support them, there should be no objection.
    And councilors need to know that no matter what they decide, a group of people will continue to complain. Those people have a right to be heard, but they should not be allowed to dictate the city’s agenda or disrupt government on a continual basis.

    October 29, 2007
  94. David Ludescher said:

    I read Councilor Davis’ response to state that even the councilors don’t know if there is a problem. On the 6, that went to the investigator, they want to know if there are any facts. On the other 8, I can only surmise that they don’t want to know the facts.

    Personally, I don’t understand why the Council sent the matters to the private investigator if, in Councilor Davis’ words – they don’t have any facts to work from. Whichever councilor made the “issue” must think that he has some facts.

    October 29, 2007
  95. kiffi summa said:

    I’m going to go out on a limb here with what may , or may not, be facts.
    Re: the “pay plan issue” …i heard both the consultant’s advice and the council’s discussion when the pay plan guidelines came up for review. If you go back to the council tapes, or the newspaper articles from that time, you would see there were either 4 or 5 employees that were affected by the “brackets” for pay range within a job description.
    All except one of the employees were long-timers, who had earned deserved merit pay raises over the years, which then put them over the top of their “bracket”.
    The one was a newer employee, Howard Merriam, who had been hired by Susan Hoyt, and whose job description (dir. of Open Lands & Resources) did not fit a standard job description. Everyone I know thought Mr. Merriam was doing an exceptionally fine job; he certainly seemed to enjoy the job, and the community.
    Mr. Merriam’s salary was cut, a cut he didn’t feel he could sustain and he left.
    None of the other employees left.
    The questions that the council needed to ask at the time … and I don’t recall this happening … are 1. why are we losing such a good employee? 2. Is there anyway to avoid a cut, possibly just freezing his salary ’til it “catches up”? 3. What cuts are we enforcing on the other employees? 4. Is there anyone else leaving because of this?
    If the answer to #4 is “no” … then the council needed to re-ask 2 and 3, to ensure that all employees are being treated equally.
    Wouldn’t you agree?

    October 29, 2007
  96. Griff Wigley said:

    Nfld News managing editor Jaci Smith has a follow-up post on her blog re: the city hall wiring contract, referenced here in various comments.

    The bottom line is that people will believe what they want to believe, and while perhaps a more skilled investigator may find some evidence of impropriety, based on the research we’ve done, we haven’t found any.

    November 26, 2007
  97. kiffi summa said:

    If you go back to my post #94, you’ll see that people who have been at council meetings , and have heard both the presentations there and the discussion may well believe there are problems where the council is saying there are none.

    The only way to know if there is or is not a problem with the pay plan is to ask this question: “Of the four long term employees whose salaries were above their “bracket”, and who have not left, what were their salaries before Jan. 1, 2007, and what were their salaries after that date?”

    If their salaries have been cut to fit within the pay plan schedule, then you have employees who accepted the cuts, for whatever reasons.

    If their salaries have NOT been cut, then you have a problem with the pay plan … regardless of what the council said at the work session where they were supposed to discuss it.

    And saying they don’t know what questions to ask is simply not a credible answer. And not resolving it is not an acceptable response, either.

    November 26, 2007
  98. Jon Denison said:

    I think that question that should be asked is if a council member has a concern about the pay plan AND has evidence to suggest there may be a problem with it, then why has that council member not brought that concern to the council to allow us to deal with it in a public forum?

    November 26, 2007
  99. kiffi summa said:

    Jon : I would appreciate it if you would come to your Saturday AM ward meeting with the following information: With regard to the four long term employees who were identified in 2006 as being above their pay range (because of deserved merit raises), I believe these were Lindroos, Lien , and Little, and one other whom I don’t recall; What were their salaries before Jan 1 2007 and what were their salaries after Jan1 2007. I believe that was the cutoff date for compliance.

    Additionally,Then if none of those employees received pay cuts, to bring them within range, how was that decision made, and justified? And by whom, and with or without council approval, especially if it is a violation of state rules for them to be above their pay brackets?

    How can it be within “regularity” for one employee to receive a cut, resulting in his leaving, if that is inconsistent with how the salaries of other employees were handled?

    This, of course, all goes to the list of 14 issues: I believe this was # 14.

    Thank you.

    November 28, 2007

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