No resolution in lawsuit against city

Judge mulling defense’s motion


Clint Riese
News Editor

Is the group suing the city made up of astute watchdogs or a pack of sore losers?

The plaintiffs in the case were categorized as both during Friday’s motion hearing in Tenth Judicial District Court.

The lawsuit’s outcome remains uncertain while a judge mulls the matter of a $700,000 surety bond, but those who trekked to Stillwater for the hearing heard plenty of fiery rhetoric.

Judge John C. Hoffman centered his questions around each side’s specific interpretations of state statutes, but both attorneys pulled no punches in appealing to the emotion that has been linked to the lawsuit’s subject for months.

Three residents and Lakes Area Business Association are suing in an effort to make the City of Forest Lake and the Economic Development Authority hold a referendum prior to building a municipal campus at a total cost of up to $22.5 million.

In his rationale for asking the plaintiffs to post a bond to protect the city from potential lawsuit-related expenses, the city’s attorney on Friday said that those bringing the lawsuit picked a moral fight in a legal setting.

“The feeling I get from their brief is ‘This really stinks. You shouldn’t do it this way,’” said James Thompson. “That’s an honorable position to have, but that should be left to the legislature.”

“They might not like what’s been done, but the remedy is not here in court,” he said later in his 40-minute opening argument.

Thompson noted several statutes he felt showed the city and EDA did not need to hold a referendum in order to bond for the project.

He also presented what he felt were similar cases where defendants’ motion for surety bonds were carried.

In addition, Thompson argued that the mere existence of the lawsuit is serving as an injunction; an option the plaintiffs have not even asked for.

“They can’t proceed with demolition or construction unless they know for sure this lawsuit isn’t going to prevent that, and right now just the proceeding of this prevents that,” Thompson said.

“Even though I don’t think there is any merit to this lawsuit, it is still pending and we have to deal with that.”

Attorney Fritz Knaak, meanwhile, cast his clients as protagonists who blew the whistle on an attempted bypassing of the law.

“What I first saw when I saw this,” Knaak said of Thompson’s list of precedents, “was a list of people who had gotten away with something. This is the first time that the citizens have essentially caught their city and demanded what should be the proper procedure here.”

He said this case is unique and will be a litmus test for whether lease revenue bonds rather than general obligation bonds can be used for such facilities.

“A lot of people in here are happy it’s gone their way and the specific question hasn’t gotten asked,” Knaak said of the need for a referendum. “Too bad, it’s getting asked now.”

Knaak asked Judge Hoffman to consider that a surety bond requirement could prevent the crux of the plaintiffs’ case from being heard.

“This is obviously about an election and our concern is, with the imposition of a $700,000 bond, that question would go away,” Knaak said. “The most fundamental, central question could go ignored here.”

Judge Hoffman repeatedly sought clarification on each side’s interpretation of several statutes, then, after more than two hours of discussion, took the defense’s motion under advisement. He has 90 days from last Friday to provide a written finding, but there is a thought his response will come in a relatively quick manner given the time-sensitive nature of the case.

When reached this week, Knaak said he was pleased with the hearing.

“I thought we had a fair hearing,” he said. “I know the city tries to keep throwing more things into the bucket. Frankly, I think they’re getting worried.”

Thompson declined to comment while the matter was under advisement.

  • Other John

    Who is the Lakes Area Business Association you wonder? It might help you answer the question posed in the first sentence of this article.

    From the actual Forest LakeTimes archives:

    “The Lakes Area Business Association has elected Richard McNamara as president. During its recent election of officers, the association named Bob Linwood of Shoreline Express as vice-president, Karen Freed as secretary, and John Freed as treasurer. Clyde McCaskey of Forest Lake Desktop Publishing, and Brian Quehl of K and B Small Engine repair were elected as directors. John Freed of Forest Engineering, Richard McNamara of McNamara Insurance, and Dick Tschida of Forest Lake Arctic Cat continue in their terms.”

    • Cameron Piper

      Other John,

      I’m curious why you think this is material. While LABA is named as a plaintiff in the suit, there are also personally named plaintiffs as well. John Freed who pointed out the difference in “Johns” has never hidden behind the Association in his political ideas. He is a very outspoken advocate for smaller government and fiscal restraint, you can find him at most City Council meeting speaking for his ideals and engaging in letters to the editor as well as in this forum.

      Cameron Piper

  • Eric Langness

    Since when is gathering the opinions of the public for a project that will cost 3 times the annual budget of the city a bad thing? If the project is so great the public will gladly vote yes on it in the end. A referendum will create a better, more widely supported project in the end and it’s sad our mayor and his two council buddies refuse to allow it.

  • FL naysayers are tools

    Sounds like a pack of sore losers to me.

  • Matt

    Nice non-biased opening sentence there, Clint. Instead of questioning the motives and character of the plaintiffs, why not wonder whether the city “is following the letter of the law or are a bunch of power hungry, lawless criminals?” That’s the real question before the court, is it not? And as far as the rest of story, there isn’t any evidence that the defendants were attempting to portray the plaintiffs as a “pack of sore losers.”

    The story is exciting enough as it is – no need to get cute and heighten the drama with that slanted and stupid opening sentence.

    You should really be more curious about whether the city broke state law. Perhaps an article investigating the law and how it applies to capital improvement bonds versus revenue bonds would be in the best interest of your readers? Instead, you report about this case like it’s a WWE wrestling match.

  • Aw Shucks

    Clint – GREAT opening line, really draws in the readers. Commentor Matt is just another out of town person meddling in Forest Lake Politics. Your opening line was a simple either or question. You even put the one that those suing the city think of themselves – first. But, naturally, people only see what they want. Keep up the good work!

    Matt – if you want to talk sensationalism all you need to do is check out the posts of half truths on the anti project facebook page or have listened to the pseudo fox 1130 talk show for some sensationalism!

    Everyone in FL – interesting to see who the “Lakes Area Business Association” actually is, isn’t it? Thanks other John for pointing out who is really suing! Kind of screws up the we are just a couple of simple citizens of simple means story being portrayed.

    • Cameron Piper

      Aw Shucks,

      Since you seem to have the real story and the rest of us are blatantly misleading the poor unsuspecting public, I would encourage you to insert some facts into your next response. The Facebook Page is open and I would welcome your comments there as well, if you feel as though I or anyone else has posted anything that was factually inaccurate.

      Thank you for listening in to the Late Debate Interview, I only wish that you would have called in so that we could have had a discussion about this topic in the open. I don’t disagree that the discussion was a bit once sided, then again unless the pro-project crowd is willing to step into the discussion and make their views know, there really is only one side to be heard.


      Cameron Piper

    • Matt

      Mr. Shucks-

      This is supposed to be a non-biased newspaper. Talk radio is opinion, and Facebook is as close to anarchy as you can get. Just looking for a little balance and intellectual curiosity on the part of the Forest Lake Times, is all.

  • Citizen K

    Eric, you know it’s beyond “hey let’s have a referendum” as you acknowledged in your comments last week. So, quit with the nonsensical “mayor and two buddies” stuff. There has never been a motion to bring it to a referendum from your two buddies on the council either. I’ll just copy and paste mine from last week:

    I wish (fill in blank) wouldn’t insinuate that this can all of a sudden go to a referendum. It certainly could have last year but now it is too far down the road and it’s set up as an EDA project approved by last year’s council. The land has been purchased, the bonds sold, the proceeds of that sale in an account somewhere I imagine. So, the only thing to do at this point is to let the court process play out. There is nothing the current council could do even if they wanted to other than to renege on the lease from the EDA which would do far more damage to the city than people realize! So, let’s trust the judicial system here to sort it out but don’t place blame where blame shouldn’t be.

    • Cameron Piper

      Jeff Klein,

      It is time for you to step into the fray and take a side on this issue. You are as free as anyone else to make a motion at a council meeting. I would encourage you at the next meeting to be bold enough to take a stand for what you believe in. Are you on the side of the “progressive” government expansionist types, or do you believe in a limited government beholden to the people? I will watch with great interest to see if you have the courage to make bring this issue up for discussion.

      Very Respectfully,

      Cameron Piper

  • John

    Other John – It is interesting that the news article you quote is from a few years ago. We put out a press release every year after our elections. How about you attend an LABA meeting and learn more about the group and the people in it?

  • John F

    More Forest Lake politics at its finest – on both sides of this coin. Let’s face it, these people will never get along. And it certainly doesn’t help to have a newspaper editor who’s so totally biased and likes to stir up the pot with his biased comments.