Friday, August 26, 2016

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

Part one of this series is here.

We pick up the story of the New Brighton City Council's move to change the municipal election cycle, and the tactics they used to change the law. Council member Gina Bauman, who opposed the measure and who had a petition rejected by the others on the council, filed a lawsuit in the Ramsey County District Court, after advising the rest of the council that she and co-petitioner Susan Erickson, a resident of New Brighton, had planned to do so. So what happened in the Ramsey County District Court? The easiest way to see what happened is to look at the order that was entered. It's five pages long and is written in such a way that you do not need any specific legal training to understand the findings of the court. Since the order is a matter of public record, I have taken the liberty of reproducing it below.

You will rarely see an order that is such a slam dunk. While the order speaks for itself, some commentary is in order.

  • I find it astonishing that the New Brighton City Council members who hatched this plan in the first place did not understand the statutes involved. Either they were too lazy to undertake even the most rudimentary search for the relevant statute, or they were too corrupt to care. The statute is clear -- you cannot entertain an election change for 2016 unless you start the process before June 1, 2015. The now-stricken ordinance was passed on November 10, 2015. The ordinance they passed was doomed from the outset.
  • As the findings of fact in the order demonstrate, state statutes are equally clear on the matter of how to handle a petition. By rejecting the petition out of hand and not allowing an opportunity for the petitioners to correct the presumed defects, the council members involved were reckless at best. And one can safely surmise that if the city got legal advice from the new city attorney, they got very bad advice, indeed.
  • Given the recklessness of the city council members who voted for the ordinance, it's outrageous that this same group would censure the one member of the council who raised an objection to an ordinance that was, as a matter of law, dead on arrival. As a practical matter, Bauman is a whistleblower and she was retaliated against for blowing the whistle. The three members of the New Brighton City Council who voted to censure Bauman, along with the current mayor, are the ones who merit censure or some other form of condemnation for their misconduct in office.
  • I am not close enough to the matter to know for sure, but based on what I have heard, it would also be useful to determine what role the city manager played in this particular episode. While the mayor and city council set policy for the city, the manager is responsible for implementation of the policies and has a significant say in how such matters are approached. As a resident of New Brighton, I would have expected the senior member of the city's administrative staff to have considered and addressed the issues at hand, including the potential statutory requirements involved, in such a momentous change. Perhaps he did, but it doesn't seem likely.
Most of all, the whole episode demonstrates our local government officials are not serving us well in New Brighton. Wise leadership is always what we want, but at a minimum we should have competent leadership. I don't believe we have wise or competent leadership in New Brighton.

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