Friday, August 26, 2016

The New Brighton Kangaroo Court Meets a Real Court -- Part One

You might remember the noxious behavior of the New Brighton city government in recent months, especially concerning they way it dealt with a disagreement among its members. Following is a quick recap:

  • New Brighton held municipal elections in November, 2015, as per usual. In that election, the sitting mayor, Dave Jacobsen, was defeated in a three-way contest by a newcomer, Val Johnson. Two city council members, Mary Burg and Paul Jacobsen (no relation to the outgoing mayor), were reelected to office. Two other city council members, Gina Bauman and Brian Strub, were not up for election.
  • Under the city laws in place at the time, Johnson earned a two-year term as mayor, while Burg and Paul Jacobsen earned four year terms. Bauman and Strub, who were elected in 2013, would continue in position until 2017.
  • Bauman, who had unsuccessfully run for mayor in 2015, has generally disagreed with her fellow council members over policy approaches. She has generally supported keeping taxes low and municipal spending to a minimum. The other members of the council like to spend money.
  • At the regularly scheduled city council meeting in November, council member Strub introduced a new ordinance that would change the election cycle from the odd-number year cycle it has been on to an even-numbered year cycle, to coincide with state and national elections. The effective import of the change was to shorten the four year terms of Bauman and Strub to three years, and to extend the term of incoming mayor Johnson's term to three years, meaning elections that would have taken place in 2017 would now take place in 2016. The ordinance, which had received no public notice before Strub introduced it, was passed 3-2, with Bauman and outgoing mayor Dave Jacobsen in opposition.
Fast forward to April. Bauman, who continued to oppose the change, asked the city attorney of New Brighton to research whether a petition could be brought forth to put the election change to a referendum. The other members of the council, working in concert with City Manager, Dean Lotter, voted to censure Bauman for her impertinence in questioning their wisdom. They then went even further, removing Bauman from the local government commissions she served on as part of her city council duties. They also forced the city attorney to resign for taking Bauman's call.

Bauman, undeterred, then subsequently submitted the petition to the council at their May meeting, which the rest of the council summarily rejected, claiming it did not conform to state statute. More importantly, they did not allow Bauman to correct the error they claimed the petition had, thus killing the petition. The municipal government then went on its merry way and began work on putting the election for Bauman and Strub's seats on the ballot for this year.

The issue went to court and a Ramsey County judge ruled on the matter this week. We'll discuss what happened in greater detail tomorrow, but let's just say this -- it didn't go well for the City Council.


R.A. Crankbait said...

There is similar craziness with Lake Elmo's City Council. The PiPress (I believe) even wrote about how "dysfunctional" the Council is, with 3 female members voting in lockstep against the two male members. The article seemed to want to take the position that the minority were the unreasonable ones, but all the quotes about staff and administrators leaving were pointed at the behavior of the 3. I'm glad I don't live there. I don't think it's strictly liberal/conservative or male/female; my guess the root is a dichotomy between long-term residents of LE and the newcomers, and different ideas of what they want the community to be.

Not germane to New Brighton, of course, but I bring it up as a sign that, if all politics is local, things are really heating up at the local level. Most folks are content to know very little about their local government. I couldn't name more than two members of my community's council, and I'd be hesitant to bet on the mayor's name. I'm wondering if these types of donnybrooks are becoming more common, and what this could mean for local elections.

Mr. D said...

It is germane to New Brighton in a way — it's too easy for personalities become a factor.

Gina Bauman is a friend of mine, so I'm doing my best to be objective about what's been happening, but it's tough to be objective given how petty the others on the council have been acting, along with the city manager, who is (imho) a particularly nasty piece of work. The censure move against Gina was particularly egregious and is now lying in ruins, based on the judge's decision I'll be writing about tomorrow.

Mr. D said...

Actually, I have completed the work today, so I will be posting part two of this series this evening.