Mayor's Forum February 3, 2007, 10 AM to a little past noon

Informal Notes by JN

This was my second time attending a Mayor's Forum (last time I didn't take any detailed notes), and it seemed to me the turnout was larger. As I was walking in I spoke with one woman who told me that she had been attending forums for years, and many times in years past it was just the mayor and as few as three citizens. As the meeting began, there was already discussion going on about the hot-button issue of whether the meeting could be recorded or not by Mary Flister. Mayor Longrie said that the meeting is informal and requested that citizens who ask not to be recorded, not be recorded.

Ann Fosburgh said that Mary needed to turn off her recorder, and if she didn't then the police would be called and she would be arrested or removed or something. Fosburgh asked that people who didn't want to be recorded raise their hands. It looked to me like a majority of the citizens in attendance were against recording, but I didn't get a chance to count. (Most of those who raised their hands later said individually that they did not object to being recorded, however.)

The mayor then went around the room, asking everyone to introduce themselves, starting at her left and going clockwise. Each person individually stated if they were willing to be recorded or not, and what issues they wished to talk about.

The mayor took notes about peoples' concerns, in an effort to consolidate discussion of related matters.

First to speak about his concerns was John from south Maplewood. He began by proposing that these forums be held off site, and that Mary Flister be barred from attending. He was concerned that she is negative, based on critical letters to the editor written by her that have been published in local newspapers.

Moving on to the topic of trees, the same John observed that Maplewood is named after trees. (Fosburgh leapt in to observe that “some people are trashing it.” To clarify, I believe she meant people are trashing Maplewood's name, not the city; this was a continuation of the complaints about people who criticize the current mayor and city council.) He talked about a program offering low-cost maple trees to citizens, with the city helping pay part of the expense. Mayor Longrie was receptive to the idea, and the citizen suggested he could send her a list of different types of maple and their appropriateness for our climate and so forth.

Richard Curry observed, on the topic of trees, that there are Arbor Day events coming up on April 28th at the Maplewood Nature Center.

Mayor Longrie then wanted to take a minute for a Gladstone update, since multiple citizens had requested an update and had specific questions about the redevelopment of that neighborhood.

On the business grant question from Ms. Miner: Maplewood filled out some paperwork and applied to be part of a group of cities that are part of a consortium to pony up money into a fund, which is then available to small businesses in their community to apply for low interest business loans. So it is not just something for Gladstone, but anywhere in Maplewood. The mayor wanted to specifically alert Gladstone businesses, because of the redevelopment process currently going on there (she suggested this is a good chance to borrow money for Americans With Disabilities Act compliance, a facelift to storefronts, etc.).

One resident (name withheld by request) asked if letters have gone out to businesses or if there is a cut-off date for applications. Mr. Copeland confirmed the mayor's belief that there is no specific deadline, but rather it's an ongoing program. Mayor Longrie said they do plan to send a letter to business owners, to let Maplewood businesses know about the loan program. The same citizen followed up by asking, can the businesses opt to keep their properties looking messy, can they choose not to take out these loans to improve unsightly properties?

This led into some discussion of code enforcement in more general terms. The mayor said that the new code compliance officer (approved as part of the budget passed in December) will help educate people about the city codes, and ultimate do more to enforce them. She also talked about the possibility of more neighborhood initiatives to help with code compliance (with block captains and such). She suggested a focus first on education, though, since many people may not know that they are not in compliance with city codes. The feeling in the room seemed supportive of this approach, to positively encourage people to comply with city codes (which they may be ignorant of), rather than just slapping them with citations and fines out of the blue.

Back to the loan program, the mayor reported that we've been a participant in the program for 2-3 years now, but we've never advertised it and there's not yet been a loan issued under it in Maplewood.

With regard to tax incentives for developers, at this point no part of Gladstone has been designated as a TIF (Tax Increment Financing) zone, the mayor says. All the reasons you'd give out TIF don't really apply to the situation in Gladstone, given its geographical location, features, lack of toxic waste dumps, etc. I asked for clarification on the council vote that left open the door for TIF on the St Paul Cabins, which I remembered from a past council meeting; and the mayor said yes, but while that left the door open for now, it is still far from actually approving TIF. Copeland added that the developer has submitted an application, and a study of some kind will be done at the developer's expense, which will then be brought before the council for the “but-for” test (i.e., no one would want to develop the land unless they get help from the government to do so). The mayor seemed to think it unlikely that there would be approval of TIF for this development.

The mayor reported that a number of business owners in the Gladstone area that she has spoken with recently are excited about the prospects for the neighborhood. Ann Fosburgh said there's a March 8th meeting about the school? Community center? At an administration building? I'm afraid I lost the thread of the conversation here and didn't get the details down.

Erik Hjelle objected to the beeping sound made by Mary Flister's recorder, which I think was happening when she turned it off or on, according to the wishes of the citizen who was speaking.

There were then discussions about a roundabout, and questions about funding from outside sources (apparently some of it at least is paid for by the Met Council).

Copeland said on this coming Monday night, Feb. 5th, starting at 5:00 PM, there will be two hours of talking about Gladstone in a council/manager workshop. It will be open to visitors at city hall, and will also be broadcast on television.

The next topic on the mayor's list was the media. Dave Hafner went first. He began by thanking people for coming, especially on a such a cold day, and thanking the mayor for hosting the meeting.

Mr. Hafner lives in southern Maplewood. (He paused to make sure he was being recorded.) He said he really came because of Mary Flister inviting people to attend the forum, in a note on Hafner said that approval of minutes is first thing on the agenda at city council meetings, and then comes visitor presentations. He suggested that Ms. Flister could go to council meetings. He claimed there is no limit on the length of speech in the visitor presentations; the city attorney, Mr. Kantrud, pointed out that there is a 5-minute limit, in fact. Hafner said, five minutes is plenty, and anyone can have something put on the agenda if they need more time. He also claimed that city hall staff is inept because a data practices request could not be filled last summer because the City Clerk was on vacation, so he doesn't want to go down to city hall to file a data practices request.

Hafner went on to warn people about the Save Maplewood website (the previous name of Maplewood Voices, the site where I am submitting these notes for public access). He then seemed to expand his warning, to advise distrust of anyone who uses a computer or digital recorder. He asserted that Ms. Flister must be part of the website, because her husband is the “chief architect” of this “organization.” Judith Johannson claims to be a “researcher,” he said, and Stephan Flister claims to be an “editor.” What comes out of that site is “not research.” What we're seeing on the website, he says, “is nothing but false, unfounded, twisted propaganda,” similar to what Goebbels did in the 1930's and 1940's. Michelle Nephew asked if he was comparing city critics to Nazis. He said yes, and Ann Fosburgh stepped in to agree with Mr. Hafner.

“Real organizations have board members, chairs, officers,” etc. Most importantly, he says, real organizations tell the truth and have accountability. This website, he asserted, is shrouded in secrecy. You can't find out who the members are, how many are there, etc. Hafner thinks most people can recognize the potential for abuse. Their members seem to be consistently anonymous, and he asserted that the website is dying a slow death. And they are making some very basic strategic errors, he claimed, the nature of which he declined to specify. Hafner is confident that the good, decent citizens of Maplewood will start their own organization, and they will tell the truth. They'll tell you who joins, who is in it, and it will be 10 times bigger than “www.savemaplewood.” He's here today to warn people, to ask them to warn their relatives, to warn their friends, neighbors, in-laws, etc., about this very bad website.

Also, Mr. Hafner continued, to know the truth, do not read the Pioneer Press or the Lillie News, especially articles by Katy Zillmer. Instead, he suggests going to council meetings, or telephoning the council members, to get the facts.

He wanted to leave with one final question, along with thanks to council members for their efforts and positive changes: “www.savemaplewood -- From what?”

Dave Schilling thanked Mr. Hafner, and said the newspapers love gloom and doom. Mr. Hafner agreed and said “we have to get the word out to other people” about the good things. Also, as another final thought, he thinks the young people of today don't have time and it will be the older generation that will turn things around for Maplewood. The arrogance and naïveté of the youth is what allowed Adolf Hitler and Nazi Germany to thrive, in his opinion. He then spoke about the numbers left dead, wounded, and scarred by the horrors of World War II, which he had spent some time researching, presumably in an effort to better understand the grave threat posed to Maplewood by this website.

Dave Schilling wanted to talk more about the media. He said that finally there were two positive letters this week (research note: one was by John Wahl of St. Paul in the Feb. 1 Pioneer Press, another by blogger Alan W. Anderson of Vadnais Heights on Jan. 31), to congratulate the mayor about the Gladstone area. Also, he says, now we have meetings where the mayor asks questions, while “other members roll their eyes.” The mayor asks questions “on and on,” and that's good, and that's why he likes the mayor.

The mayor then invited me to ask my media-related question. I began with an aside, objecting to Mr. Hafner comparing me to a Nazi because of my contributions to Maplewood Voices. I noted the irony that Mr. Hafner's charges of propaganda and falsehood, and his confidence that he knows the truth regardless of the lies in the media, began with him asserting something that was false — his claim that any citizen can speak for as long as they want during visitor presentations at council meetings (an issue that has come up at recent council meetings I've attended, during which the 5-minute speaking limit has been discussed and enforced).

I then asked the mayor about a Pioneer Press story, wondering if a paraphrase in that article was misrepresenting the Mayor's comments. This article (January 27, North Metro edition, page 6B) stated, “Longrie attributes the e-mails [alleged to violate the Open Meeting Law] to wrong advice from Maplewood's former city attorney and says council managers immediately complied with the law once it was clarified to them.” I said this surprised me because it seemed to be an admission of violations, and I thought she had always categorically denied that violations had occurred. I asked if she could resolve this contradiction.

Mayor Longrie replied that the newspaper reporter conflated two separate issues discussed in the interview, and the result was a misrepresentation of the facts. The first was that the e-mails had to do with discussions that occurred prior to taking office, between Mayor Longrie, former councilmember Dave Bartol (who was appointed to fill a vacancy until the special election), and councilmember Hjelle. She said this is the same e-mail that Dr. Schultz spoke about in his report as a consultant to the council and in subsequent media reports. This e-mail preceded their being sworn into office, and thus could not be a violation of the open meeting law, regardless of its content.

She said that the second issue was with respect to legal advice on a separate occasion. She suggested going to the minutes of a meeting in March, where the then-city attorney gave an incorrect legal opinion regarding the advance notice requirements for calling a special meeting and whether or not it complied with the open meeting law.

The mayor then questioned me about an editorial decision made by Mr. Flister about a document she had wanted to see on this website. I said it was not my decision, but I did my best to explain the site editor's reasoning, as best I understood it.

Subsequently there was a lot of back and forth, complaints about technology, suspicion about my interest in asking questions, and a complaint from Mr. Miner that by asking my single question and responding to these attacks from around the room I was monopolizing the meeting and preventing Maplewood citizens from expressing their views.

When the furor settled down, the meeting moved on to Mr. Bennett's questions about the closing of Highway 36 (what will be done about redirecting traffic?) and the Concordia Arms voting site question. The mayor and Hjelle talked about the highway closure, with Hjelle in particular talking about the likely impact of the change to traffic flow -- “It's gonna be an autobahn,” as traffic diverted by the construction will hit the neighboring streets.

On the topic of the voting site for Maplewood's 8th precinct: The state told Mr. Bennett that the city picks the sites. Mr. Copeland says that the city clerk is considering changes to achieve shorter lines and perhaps more voting locations (it sounds like perhaps there could be two voting locations in some precincts, for example). Ultimately any change will have to be approved by the city council. Bennett suggested the Salvation Army across the street as a possible location to investigate.

Then an update on the events of the Maplewood 50th anniversary was provided by Mr. Curry. (A handout of the planned anniversary events was provided; hopefully it will be on the city website soon. Also, some cool pins with the anniversary logo were there for the taking – watch for these at coming city events so you can get your own.) It kicks off with Shiverfest at Hazelwood Park on February 10th, 2-4 PM, where there will be apple cider and hot chocolate. (So stop on by!) One of the citizens present reminisced about how Hazelwood Park was part of the farm he grew up on.

Mr. Curry also spoke about the Bruentrup Farm, and how on the second Wednesday of every month, at 7:00, volunteers meet at the farm to help on maintenance. (I took this as an invitation for more volunteers to join them.)

It was getting near noon, and time was running low. Mayor Longrie asked Mr. Copeland for an update on the issue of code compliance and the budgeting of a code enforcement officer. Where are we with respect to hiring for that position?

Mr. Copeland reported that one of the first phone calls he got was a code enforcement issue, but he had trouble figuring out who to hand it off to among the city staff. This year the council decided to hire a full-time code enforcement employee, specifically to get out and make sure codes are enforced. He stated that 67 applications for the position have been received, which he thinks bodes well for the future and speaks to the attractiveness of employment in Maplewood city government.

As Mayor Longrie began to wrap up the meeting, at about noon, Dave Hafner insisted that he be allowed to speak again, to attack the Maplewood Voices website and contributors with some additional final thoughts, and the Mayor invited him to go ahead. He also demanded that he not be interrupted during his remarks. He stated he did not call anyone a Nazi, and then appeared again to call the people involved in this website Nazis. He was upset that I (like City Attorney Kantrud) had stated that there was a five-minute limit during visitor presentations, and he insisted that he knew I was wrong, because he had gone to meetings in the past and was sure that there was no such limit.