Lawsuit a stand for freedom

Cameron Piper
Guest Writer

When in the course of human events it becomes necessary for a citizen to challenge the authority of a government instituted over them, great care and consideration must be taken to determine the true motives behind such an action. My wife and I have spent the past months talking, reflecting, and preparing for just such a day and after much deliberation we have decided to move ahead in filing suit against the City of Forest Lake.

Before the critics of this lawsuit are able to accuse us of stalling the inevitable or maligning the good reputation of our elected officials, I would like to ask my fellow citizens to consider the magnitude of what took place in our city over the past few months. I want you to ask yourself whether this is the government that our framers fought for. Whether this is the government that you envision regulating the interactions of your children and grandchildren.

We are a country that was founded on the revolutionary idea of freedom and the rights of the individual. Our founding fathers committed treasonous acts and took up arms against the most powerful government on the planet to ensure that this experiment would be given the opportunity to thrive.

We citizens of Forest Lake stand here today at a crossroads. We have a path to choose moving ahead, but we must not be deceived when making this choice as the alternatives are distinctly divergent ideas.  In one direction we can begin to take back our government and fight against the erosion of our freedoms and rights, or in the opposite direction we can sit back and let the status quo yield an impotent electorate under the rule of a quasi-totalitarian leadership.

The Northland Mall project was specifically designed by our representatives to usurp the power of the sovereign people. Attempting to exploit a loophole in statute, our mayor, administrator, the majority of city council and EDA members endeavored to bypass the will of the people and to move forward a project that they knew would not be popular.  Therefore the aim of this lawsuit is to put the power back into the people’s hands by forcing the City of Forest Lake to affirm the lawful petition that its citizens brought forth, ultimately bringing this project to a referendum vote.

–The writer lives in Forest Lake.

  • Bipartisan

    I didn’t realize our Founding Fathers intended that our elected representatives be merely figure heads. I also never realized even though they are elected by “We the People”, that mayors and city council members are not elected to make actual decisions.
     
    There is one big difference in what Mr. Cameron is writing about regarding our Founding Father’s situation versus this situation. Our Founding Fathers were reacting to the decisions of a King; an unelected dictator – remember “Taxation without Representation”.
     
    This decision was made by a representative government elected by “We the People” of Forest Lake. Isn’t this the very system our Founding Fathers envisioned?
     
    To compare the situation our Founding Fathers faced when writing the principles on which our government is based to an elected city government’s decision to build a new city hall is disingenuous and misleading.
     
    Mr. Cameron has every right to oppose the process used to determine to build on the Northland Mall site, but his idea for a referendum vote isn’t the solution. Where does it end, do we vote on every expense the city has? We elect people to make decisions, if we don’t like what they do, we vote someone else in; that is what our Founding Fathers intended.
     
    I have to believe our Founding Fathers didn’t envision the lawsuit (sue) crazy society we’ve become.
     

  • John

    Bipartisan, the distinction that you miss is the size and tax impact of this decision compared to the day to day business of the city. This is why the referendum should occur. Keep in mind that normally, the city would have to have held the referendum for bonds for the construction of a new municipal building. See MN statutes 475.521. They deliberately bypassed this requirement by having the EDA do it and lease it to the city. Hardly an arms-length transaction.

  • get over it

    All this is is special interest groups that are looking out for themselves…dont be fooled, this lawsuit has not been filed on the behalf of residents of Forest Lake, it has been filed on behalf of only a handful of frugile business owners (some of which dont even live in forest lake). Move on! Northland mall has been a blite of the community for years; I support the council and mayor’s decision for this facility and it’s about time a mayor and council is in charge looking to move the community FORWARD and not keep it in the 1950′s!

    • Fed up!

      I totally disagree with the comment that this has anything to do with “frugal business owners”. While there are some business owners that disagree, there are also plenty that feel something needs to be done with the Northland Mall site. However, with that said, spending 25 plus million dollars of tax payers money without approval should not be allowed to happen. Individuals and business owners will be forced to pay for this and it will have a negative effect on the long term prosperity of the city.

      If for example, I am a business owner and my property taxes increase by $2,500 per year, I will be forced to raise my prices. There are plenty of businesses outside of Forest Lake that people can chose to do business with who are not being forced to raise their prices. That then gives me a competitive disadvantage in the market place and will possibly force me out of business. It will also drive future business from the city and thus could reduce future taxes for other areas of improvement.

      Hopefully someone like ‘Get Over It’ can look at this in a reasonable way and understand that this needs to have approval of the majority. I for one feel this is not a wise way to spend money and appreciate the work the opposition has put into having this done the RIGHT way.

  • Cameron Piper

    Bipartisan,

    I first want to thank you for entering the discussion for it is my fervent believe that active and ardent debate will in the end yield the best ideas. My only regret is that I am not able to address you by name but rather a fictitious pseudonym. I have allowed every reader the courtesy of being able to weigh my opinion in context with my station, and if they so choose, the ability to research who I am as a person and my thoughts and feelings on other matters. My hope in the future is that we will be able to have an honest and open discussion person to person rather than person to pseudonym.

    In the onset, I want to immediately dispense with this idea that the democratic process in which our republic elects it officials ensures that once elected our officials ideas are not to be challenged. Our founders laid the foundation of a constitutional republic (not a democracy) where the sovereign people are endowed their rights by God, not granted rights from their government. They instituted a constitution that limited the power of the government, reserving all remaining powers and rights not specifically given it, for the people. The Tenth Amendment to the United States Constitution says it best: “The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people.” If our founders had believed in a government where once elected, officials were free to do whatever they liked, the rights of the people would be granted by the government and where not specifically given the people, the rights would be retained by the government.

    In fact, our founding fathers believed so strongly in the right to petition that they enshrined it in the First Amendment to the United States Constitution. “CONGRESS SHALL MAKE NO LAW…ABRIDGING…THE RIGHT OF THE PEOPLE…TO PETITION THE GOVERNMENT FOR A REDRESS OF GRIEVANCES.” Throughout this entire debate I have heard numerous times, even from our esteemed council members, that allowing a vote on this issue will grind the wheels of government to a halt. If nothing else, this idea is disingenuous, but likely simply dishonest. We are not seeking a referendum or vote on every issue, but rather, we are seeking to have a say on a project that spends the city’s annual budget three times over in one fell swoop. One vote on one issue – that’s it.

    Now I can already hear the voices of some perplexed project supporters arguing “if we allow a vote here, where will the insanity end.” It is an illogical statement to say that allowing a vote on a project of this size will automatically mean that citizens will have the right to vote on every issue before the council. However, in an attempt to quell those fears, I want to encourage people that I do not personally believe in, and am not advocating for a direct democracy. Some litmus test must remain, and in this case the citizens that circulated and ultimately those that signed the petition met the test outlined for challenging general obligation bonds by MN statute. As I recall, we received nearly twice as many signatures as was required.

    I do want to thank you Bipartisan for bringing up the idea of taxation without representation as it is a key component to what is taking place with this project and one of my personal reasons for choosing to move forward with a lawsuit. Not many Forest Lake residents are aware that they were just recently subjected to taxation without representation when the EDA and City Council colluded to push this project through. That’s right – the EDA is an appointed board of citizen volunteers and they just raised our taxes in this city to fund a project that will cost the people and businesses close to $30 million. Make no mistake here people, the city is not issuing the bonds and taxing the people to repay them (similar example in Wyoming, MN last year), the EDA is issuing the bonds and taxing the people to repay them.

    As our city administrator pointed out to me when I brought this to his attention in November, we can always choose to vote out those that put the EDA in place. I would however ask the citizens if they are okay with this structure. The EDA members serve 6 year terms, City Council members serve 4 year terms, and the mayor serves a 2 year term. That means if I disagree with an EDA action, I can vote out three mayors and one a half city councils during one EDA term. When considered in this light, I hope that my fellow citizens will consider what took place in our city late this last year. Are you okay with someone you didn’t vote for and cannot remove from power having the ability to raise our taxes without limit – I’m not.

    Lastly I would like to touch on the concept of our increasing litigious society that Bipartisan brought forward. I as well share his/her concern that we as a society too often turn to the courts to solve problems that can or should not be litigated. My concern however lies in the lack of personal responsibility found in most of these suits. As a society we turn to the courts to point blame outward rather than taking and introspective approach, maybe we should expect McDonalds’ coffee to be hot rather than blaming them for it.

    Where I will take departure with Bipartisan on this concept is his insinuation that our founders would have disagreed with this suit particularly. Our founders envisioned the judiciary as a check on the power of the other two branches. This suit is not an attempt to get rich by the plaintiffs. We aren’t litigating this matter to defame any one person or for any political gain. We are simply and humbly asking the courts as a last resort to arbitrate a dispute on what we perceive to be an overreaching executive/legislative branch here in the city of Forest Lake.

  • Cameron Piper

    Get Over It,

    Thank you as well for joining the conversation. I would encourage you to not paint with such a broad brush however. To say that this suit was not filed on behalf of the citizens of Forest Lake is not true. I will not deny that there are business owners involved in the suit, but my wife and I are personally named as plaintiffs in this suit, and in so doing took a personal stand on this issue. To simply lump us in with the “frugal business” crowd is an ignorant dismisal.

    Even though I disagree with your stance on this issue, I will still boldly fight to have your voice heard in the future. This lawsuit isn’t about a project or a building, it is about whether or not the people of this city still have a voice in government or whether we should simply bow down to the will of anyone who happens to be elected in our city.

  • Eugene Huerstel

    Cameron Great response and right on. We have your back. Appreciate what you have done. You are a great Patriot. Thanks Eugene Huerstel

  • Bipartisan

    Twisting the Constitution to justify a position is nothing new

    I’m always cautious with my identity, too many nuts and frivolous lawsuits out there

    In your view what is the monetary cut off for city spending to require a referendum?

    A mayor and city council are elected to make decisions about city spending and one would think city halls. This lawsuit will end up being a waste of taxpayers money spent on attorney fees; win or lose. This will probably go the route of the FL roundabout; a lot of wasted time, energy and money and in the end it will work out just fine and not be the disaster it’s opponents make it out to be.

    I’m all for accountability for our elected officials but am tired of conspiracy theories and the attitude that all government is corrupt. I also believe if you don’t like something you work to change it, not attack the duely elected leaders of the city.

    Does anyone know who had the original real estate listing for the Northland Mall?

    • Cameron Piper

      Bi-Partisan,

      I find it ironic that directly quoting two amendments to the United State Constitution is in your mind twisting the document. The reality is that our founding fathers have passed and are gone. Sadly we can’t ask them what we should do in Forest Lake in 2013. The only way for any of us to know what they intended for this great country is to read what they wrote and draw our own conclusions. Rather than leveling baseless accusations about my attempts to malign the words of our founders, why don’t you refute them with quotes that support your side of the argument? If you honestly feel as though we live in a democracy where the people retain no power and that once elected, political officials are to operate unchecked, please find examples of that being the original intent (as I argued it wasn’t) and bring them to the discussion.

      Our founders brilliantly set up a representative form of government where officials were elected to represent the will of the people. Yet they also understood that men inherently have a depraved nature, and that once elected it was possible that a person could be blinded by that nature and disregard the will of the people. In order to curb those risks, our founders established a system of checks and balances. Granting specifics powers to different branches of government and also certain powers to the people. No greater example can be found than the First Amendment that I referenced in my previous post, but we also see periphery items like, the freedom of the press or the ability to recall politicians (MN State Constitution).

      In my opinion the referendum should not be tied to any monetary amount, it should be tied to a certain percentage of the voting public. We see this idea enshrined in both MN statute (see referendum on general obligation bonds – SS 457) and in the MN constitution (see recall provisions – Section 6 Article 8). If we use a monetary test there is nothing to stop a city from breaking the project into smaller incremental parts to avoid the will of the people. Similarly using a percentage test prevents a small minority of people from hijacking the function of government, yet allows the people to speak if enough will come together. In my opinion this is exactly what has happened here. In this project, the monetary value is merely a symptom, but not the test that puts it on the ballot.

      Your frustration with what you call “the wasting of taxpayer money” is misplaced. Twice petitions were circulated surrounding this issue and twice the city chose to ignore the people. They purposefully structured the project in such a way as to avoid the legitimate concerns of the sovereign people in an attempt to force their unpopular ideas upon the citizens at large. If you are worried about the expense of the suit you need to consider that the previous council had numerous opportunities to adjust course and the current council still has the ability to avoid the suit by allowing the people to vote on this issue. You need to be asking those in charge why they would rather spend your money to silence the peoples’ voices than do the right thing and allow the public to speak through a vote.

      Lastly I would like to take issue with your insinuation that this suit is somehow an attack on our elected representatives. At no point have I nor any of the other plaintiffs made unfounded attacks on the character or personality of our officials. We have however, and will continue to challenge these officials when their actions and decisions show a direct distain for our rights to participate in our government.

      At its core the debate that seems to be raging here is whether or not our government officials are beholden to the people of whether the people are beholden the government. To be intellectually honest with yourself I think you need to consider whether you would fight for the right to have your voice heard if the we were to change sides. How would you feel if I were for a project and you were vehemently against it. Would you still believe that the public doesn’t have a voice?

  • http://www.ccmanor.com Lee Bakewell

    I agree with Cameron. A project involving this much money should be first approved by the electorate.

    I would add that the Northland Mall is not really “blighted.”

    By definition, “blighted area” includes “any area with buildings or improvements which, by reason of dilapidation, obsolescence, overcrowding, faulty arrangement or design, lack of ventilation, light, and sanitary facilitates, excessive land coverage, deleterious land use, or obsolete layout, or any combination of these or other factors, are detrimental to the safety, health, morals, or welfare of the community. Minn.Stat. § 469.002, subd. 11 (2004).

    Obviously, it would be quite a stretch to claim that the Mall is “blighted,” at least according to Minnesota’s legal definition. The fact is, it is suffering from our poor economy. Is the Westlake Plaza blighted too? (This is the former location of our Rainbow store.) No. Just because a lot of space becomes vacant due to economic factors, you cannot deem it to be “blighted.” Read the definition again.

    A better way to put it might be to say an owner who is unable to attract tenants willing to pay the asking rent now, apparently, needs to now be bailed out by the supposed deep pockets of the City.

    So it will not surprise you where my vote will be when (hopefully) this issue comes to a vote.

    • Fed up!

      Well said Lee.

      Jason

  • Fed up!

    Bipartisan,

    Are you saying that once an individual is elected to public office they have the right to make decisions that will have a substantial impact on the people? If that is what you are implying, I would disagree totally with you. While they have the ability and duty to handle the ‘day to day’ operational costs of the city, this is a completely different situation. Something that will increase the taxes of individuals to this extent should be put out for a vote. Anything other than a vote is criminal.

    I do not think anyone is opposed to the city doing something. However, the funds that will be spent are beyond excessive and should require approval of the residents of the city.

  • Bipartisan

    Fed Up

    When the city puts in curbs, gutters, sidewalks, repave streets, replace sewer and water lines they are spending millions of dollars. These decisions have a substantial impact on people as you say.

    (the items below are just for conversation sake, unfortunately I believe there are times that government has to do exactly what they did below; while I realize the money amount isn’t nearly the amount the city hall proposal will cost, you can expect more of these types of deals as the industrial park and the city grow)

    How about when the city votes to give tax incentives and free ($1) land to a company to stay and expand in FL as they recently did (new manufacturing plant going up near the airport). These decisions are impacting the city’s ability to generate tax revenue on that property for decades to come in addition to the actual cost of the land and other public infrastructure improvements that are necessary.

    City officials are basically gambling taxpayers money and future money that this company will be successful; keep in mind, the company could go broke and (in reality) there is very little the city could do to recoup the taxpayer’s money.

    Do these types of decision go to a referendum vote or do these types of city programs/policies go to a vote?

    From May 2012 Forest Lake Times regarding incentives the city ended up giving to a company to stay and expand in FL

    “According to the proposed development agreement, the 7.49-acre parcel will be sold for $1. The agreement will be among several documents up for consideration at the June 25 council meeting. State law also requires cities in this type of arrangement to adopt a business subsidy policy.

    Also on the docket will be the development of a Tax Increment Financing (TIF) district, which is how the city plans to recover the $150,000 of site improvements it would provide. The TIF district would run through 2024 and provide an additional $176,130 on top of the $150,000 repayment.

    The parcel has a current market value of $660,400.”

    • Fed up!

      Bipartisan,

      Understanding the duties and responsibilities of the city; yes, curbs, streets, sewer/water, sidewalks and other projects of the sort benefit the majority of residents. Those, along with an active police department and fire department are created for the welfare and safety of the citizens. All of these benefit the majority of residents and are necessary for a civil society. I would ask, who is going to benefit from spending 25 plus million dollars of money that the city doesn’t have? I think that is the main point which you seem to be missing or misunderstanding. Based on the population of the city, they are wanting to spend roughly $1,400 for each man, woman and child for this project. If you don’t find that to be excessive, we may as well end this conversation.

      You reference the city giving tax incentives to businesses for them to relocate or stay in Forest Lake. While I do not believe the two of these issues are related in any way, I must say, I am totally FOR the city offering these incentives to businesses. If, for example, I have outgrown my current location, I need to make a decision. Do I expand my current facility or do I relocate? By offering this type of incentive for businesses to relocate, you actually see an increase in revenue which in turn benefits the majority. How you may ask? If I bring my company to Forest Lake, first off, employees may decide to relocate to the area which in turn increases home values because of supply and demand. Secondly, my employees are going to be buying gas at the local gas stations, eating at the local restaurants, shopping at the local establishments, etc.. All of this brings jobs to the market and will generate tax revenue. While there is a certain amount of risk on the part of the city, the pro’s outweigh the cons. Such programs are created for the long term benefit and stability of the society.

      Again, so we are clear, I do not believe this has anything to do with the city spending an excessive amount of money that it does not have.

      I have to admit, I used the alias, ‘Fed Up’ because that is how I feel. I am fed up with government, whether it’s local, State or Federal spending money that it does not have. These decisions will have a negative impact on our society as a whole for generations to come and it is the hard working individuals like myself who will pay the price. My wife and I recently relocated to Forest Lake with the hopes that we can raise our family here. The increase in property tax from this project will have a dramatic impact on whether we decide to stay here or not. Normally I do not share my opinion on this type of format because I am a private person. In this case I felt I had to because I am truly, Fed Up!

      I applaud Cameron for his time in writing this article and I appreciate the opportunity to share my opinion.

  • Jeff Carpenter

    Bipartisan, If you are so sure the citizens and the local businesses of Forest Lake wanted THEIR elected officials to spend THEIR tax dollars why are you not in favor of a referrendum?
    It is truly a sad day when 3 people (the mayor and 2 council members) can be dictators of 15,000. I don’t need to hide behind a factitious name, why do you? Jeff Carpenter

  • Eugene Huerstel

    Bipartisan your supposed to be neutral and listen to the people and try to determine what is best for the City. As far as nuts out there be careful of what you have written making false statments with hear say. So far your record is 100% partisan. Eugene Huerstel

  • Bipartisian

    Wow; the only points are

    elected officials are elected to make decisions; unelect them if you don’t like them

    Where is the line drawn (amount of money spent) on what trigggers a referendum

    By the way i generally support the tax incentives to keep or bring business here; but they are spending taxpayers money

  • Bipartisan

    Wow Eugene,
    I didn’t realize asking questions, putting out other examples of city spending and pointing out that people complaining about Max Anderson’s abusive language are doing the exact same thing as what they are complaining about, makes one partisan.

    What false statements? Some examples please. Your comments exemplify why I don’t care to use my name here

    Fed Up

    I appreciate your comments

    As far as referendums, my main question is what is the dollar amount that is spent that would trigger a referendum? Any number can be disagreed with if a group of individuals are opposed to the project, including roads, curb and gutter etc. I respect the idea of a referendum but I don’t necessarily agree with it. No one has said a dollar amount that should trigger a referendum; $5 million, $10 million…..? I kind of think that with the idea that there seems to be no middle anymore, this will be the start of something that will end up costing us more in the long haul in referendum cost and more gridlock.

    Our city had recently twiddled their thumbs as we lost the library, Washington County Government Center and transit hub. Instead our city government spent money to redo our main streets and a roundabout that service an area that is a good part vacant and buildings that are in disrepair. They also twiddled their thumbs as County Market closed rather than the city working with County Market to develope the Nothland Mall property as County Market wanted to do. If our past mayor and council had any leadership and vision, the Northland Mall property wouldn’t even be available for a city hall; their would be a new grocery store there and the library and Washington Cty Government Center would be downtown.

    I throw out the tax breaks to keep and attract business as another example of government spending. To be clear, I generally support the concept. However, people can argue that it benefits the business owner and employees more than the taxpayers or city. It certainly is not a transparent process and I do not believe most people realize the amount of money cities spend to do this. Does Wal Mart really need tax breaks to be successful in Forest Lake. Why aren’t these expenditures by the city referendum worthy?

    I still am waiting to see if anyone knows since the Northland Mall had been for sale, what real estate agents had been involved in listing it.

  • Eugene Huerstel

    Think back to first election you ran and lost what you wrote. You know. Just think it through. Still think you can be ok. If you need a little help let me know. Eugene Huerstel

  • john harrington

    now have they hear enough why not stop the money going to lawyers and have a vote something like we the p

  • Matt

    As I’ve commented before on this forum, the issue is whether the city avoided following the mandates of MN state law in administrating the project through the EDA, having the city pay the EDA “rent,” considering this one and to the other transaction revenue, and thus issuing revenue bonds instead of capital improvement bonds which avoids having to hold a public hearing and thwarts the public’s right to petition for a referendum. Either justice will prevail and the courts will force the city to follow the law, or the law as written means nothing and will have to be amended and fixed by our state legislature.

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