Open Forum for week of March 14

EDITOR’S NOTE: Letters will be accepted for the Open Forum for publication in the next available issue after receipt. Letters may be sent to Forest Lake Times, 880 SW 15th St., Forest Lake, or by e-mail to [email protected] Letters should not exceed 250 words and must be signed with the writer’s name, address and telephone number. Deadline is noon Monday. The newspaper reserves the right to edit letters and assure that rules of libel and good taste are not violated.


Figures Can Lie

There is an old saying which seems to apply to politics, especially when it comes to vote counting: Figures can lie and liars can figure.

This sums up the game that is displayed at many a press conference on both the national stage as well as here in Minnesota.

In the last national election, those people eligible to vote worked out to 76 of 100 people. These figures are based on a national average. As we know, there aren’t many average people in Minnesota, but let’s pretend. The other 24 people are children, aliens or in jail.

Now of those eligible, only 57.5 percent voted, or approximately 43.7 people. Let us round that number up to 44 and then figure a most generous 55 percent of the people voted for the winning candidate, which would be 24.2 persons. Now the winners tell us that the vote indicates the majority of the people are behind their platform! Of course, the people have spoken and the winner takes all, but let them be a little more modest.

The most terrible part of this process, as we are all aware, the winner only needs 25 percent of the population on his/her side when it comes to the next election. So now it is clear on how a small group can lead our politicians around by the nose. Unfortunately, one of the parties uses an animal symbol with a very elongated proboscis!

Tom Obst


Tax Change Needed

Minnesota has an opportunity to finally “fix” our failed tax system, a system based on state income taxes that bury us in deficits when our economy cycles down and leaves us reliant on property taxes to fill the gap.

The “value” of a lower and broadened state sales tax is it provides a stable source of revenue. The impact to the middle class can be reduced by increasing income taxes on the upper quartile whose earnings growth increased again last year, but who still pay in less.

But the real alarm is the demographic trends that are financially unsustainable. The impact of an upside-down, pear-shaped, aging bell curve: lots of seniors at the top paying less state income tax and fewer workers at the bottom.

So, I was disappointed to read Senator Karin Housley, who represents me as a resident, business property owner and state sales taxpayer, dismiss broadening and lowering the state sales tax because, of all things, complaints from lawyers. Really?

As a business owner paying state sales tax the past 26 years, I can assure those worried lawyers who make much more per hour than me that they can still pay sales tax and make money. And if they can’t, there are plenty of lawyers, including my best friend, who will!

So, dump the “property tax rebate” gimmick, Governor Dayton, there is no free lunch, and dump the business “woe is me” agenda, Senator Housley!

It’s time to “get real”.

Wade Vitalis


A Threat to Progress

Municipal facility lawsuit: protagonists (defendants) vs. antagonists (plaintiffs).

Some people work to create new horizons and remedy old problems (they generate and act upon ideas) while others simply obstruct the forward motion.

The contention of the antagonists sidesteps the mechanics of the real world.  These few activists would have the traditionally uninformed majority believe a referendum would have provided a more honest solution. In fact, it would only have dead-ended any hope for progress.

It takes exponentially more effort to create an idea and educate the community than it does to sway that same community away from the prospect with negative attacks.

The process of having elected leaders decide on best outcomes regarding a very complicated issue is as democratic as anyone could expect. These facility issues were vetted publicly over a significant period of time and the fact that so few took note until the 11th hour is, unfortunately, status quo.

Imagine what the outcome would be if this lawsuit were to derail the project: The city would still own the blighted property. We would not have the partnered investment for improvement by the original owner or the adjacent commercial. Water quality to Clear Lake would remain filtered through a steel trash pile. The beneficial financing and cost environment will be lost to time. Pressure would remain to create new outcomes for all the municipal components and that means starting all over.

I can’t imagine the antagonists producing any public benefit with their hollow legal demands, only additional burdens on the taxpayer.

Mark Finnemann
Forest Lake


Nice Thought, But…

Rep. Barrett has been making the local papers lately. First he was found to have committed a campaign violation. Now he has a bill to help poor school districts like those in our area.

Now the bill itself isn’t that bad, but he did not include a realistic, sustainable way to fund the $30 million price tag. Rep. Barrett proposes to take the money from integration aid. Integration aid is aid which is used to close the achievement gap between minority students and white students, so his plan is to steal funding from other schools and students in need of help.

His funding source is dead on arrival. While overall, Minnesota students continue to do well on test scores, minority students continue to lag behind, so there is no way the legislature will take funding from one area of need to fund another. Rep. Barrett has to realize his bill will go nowhere in the legislature unless he brings a funding stream with it. That means new revenue,  and Rep. Barrett won’t support that.

If he’s serious about helping school districts like ones in our area he should work to support Rep. Tim Faust’s bill on equalizing operating levies. Rep. Faust’s bill would lower the property tax impact of operating levies in low tax capacity districts by using state aids to pay for a percentage of the levy based on a school district’s tax capacity. This is a more realistic fix to helping our schools.

I’m asking Rep. Barrett to “do the right thing” and support the equalization bill.

Susan L. Anderson
North Branch


Not Even Relevant

Once again Mary Stolz claims to have brought forward legitimate studies and valid concerns about same-sex marriage and its negative impact on children and society. If you research the author of the study she offers as proof, you find he disavows the conclusions being drawn from this study.

She states, “No one has a realistic view about the impact of same-sex marriage,” but it is not even relevant to same-sex marriage legislation.

From a legislative perspective, marriage is nothing more than a contract designating property ownership between two people. As proof, I offer divorce. To undo a marriage you must determine who gets the property. Marriage laws are strictly about the creation and breaking of a contract. If you want to be upset about something, get uptight about prenuptial agreements. Technically a marriage with a prenuptial agreement is no different than legalized prostitution.

We can muddy the waters with what we do and don’t like about what people do in their homes, or we can seek liberty and justice for all. Same-sex marriage is all about the right of two same-sex people to enter into a legally binding contract, no more no less.

Mike Carter
Lino Lakes 


Hunger Heroes Needed

In 2012, people in Minnesota visited food shelves more than three million times. During the first part of 2012, one in eight Minnesotans indicated there were times in the past year when they did not have enough money to buy food and worried about where they would get their next meal.

For 31 years, Minnesota FoodShare has been partnering with local food shelves to help our neighbors in need. The March Campaign, Minnesota’s annual statewide effort, is the only one of its kind.  This campaign raises money and more than half the food distributed by almost 300 food shelves.

Every dollar donated to Minnesota FoodShare during the March Campaign goes directly to food shelves as a “percentage match” of what the food shelf raises. In addition to this, Feinstein Foundation of Rhode Island does percentage matches for food and money raised in March and April, so your food and money donations go even further!

This year’s March Theme is “Be the Hero, Fight Hunger.” Please consider being a hero with a donation to a food shelf.  The success of the 2013 campaign depends on each of us. Be a Hunger Hero! Help support your local food shelf.

Kathy Wills
Food Shelves Manager, Family Pathways

  • E. Baylor

    Well said Mark! I wanted to be the first to comment before the antagonists start howling. Mark, they don’t care about the city. Just being in the limelight and looking like they are fighting for the people when, in reality, they are spending far more money fighting progress than any tax increase would impose upon them. Makes you wonder the real motivation. Perhaps they do prefer water draining to Clear lake be filtered through a poison scrap heap adjacent to the mall property as you mentioned. Thanks Mark for the eloquent letter.

    • Cameron Piper

      E. Baylor,

      I appreciate your taking the time to post your comments here and while I disagree with the sentiments of your remarks, I think this dialogue is important so I applaud your willingness to make your thoughts known.

      Your assertion that I (as a plaintiff in this lawsuit) do not care about this city is baseless. You and I have never met, and the idea that you are able to know my motivations having never conversed with me is preposterous. The reality is that I care deeply about this city. So much so that I have taken hundreds of hours away from wife and kids to research, write, attend meetings, and endure the preparation of a trial, all so that the people of this city are given the opportunity to participate in their government. It is a cause that I am very passionate about, so please don’t speculate about my motivations for fighting this battle – I am fully capable of speaking for myself.

      If you are concerned about the cost of the litigation I would encourage you to contact your local elected representatives and ask them why they would rather spend OUR (the citizen’s) tax dollars in an effort to dissuade OUR participation in OUR local government rather than fostering it. One point that I do agree with you on is that the cost of this litigation exceeds the tax that any one person will endure for this project. That logic however is flawed, you see that the funding of this litigation has come from many citizens and business owners in this city and from other communities. They have all banded together, giving a little, to fight a much larger battle.

      Thank you again for commenting, and I look forward to continuing the conversation…

  • Happy Day

    Great writing Mr. Finneman! Much like the roundabout, this is much ado about nothing! Trying to clean up this city and find solutions to problems is generally frowned upon around here. The complainers are still p – o’d about annexation. They will hold a grudge to their graves. The new blood antagonists? Well, just towing the T.P. line.

  • Matt Engstrom


    The lawsuit is based on the fact that issuing revenue bonds through the EDA rather than capital improvement bonds through the Council, to avoid a public hearing and petition for a referendum, may be in violation of state law. Common sense reading of state law would conclude that the city is breaking the law. Who knows how lawyers will twist the meaning of the law, but if the city is found to have not broken the law, the law itself is meaningless. You should try researching the law before attacking those attempting to uphold it as “antagonists.” Is anyone but the “antagonists” concerned about the city breaking the law? If a city, with all its power, resources, and taxpayer money, can just break the law at will, what does that mean for the rest of us?

  • Mark Finnemann

    Attention: Mr. Piper and Mr. Engstrom

    I am intimate with the assessment of the existing facilities and the exploration of the site and building solutions relative to the municipal project. I also have a 40 year experience in how progressive development either succeeds or fails and the laws that hover above it all.
    I would suggest that we meet so that we could discuss how your focused legal effort misses the target.

    Mark Finnemann

    • Cameron Piper

      Mr. Finnemann,

      While I appreciate your offer to meet and would welcome a chance to sit down to a cup of coffee sometime, I fervently believe that an open discussion on this matter would benefit the entire community. Hiding this conversation away would only serve to further blind the “uniformed majority” about the truth of this issue.

      I propose that we have the discussion right here in the open where all can learn from two differing perspectives, weigh the facts, and make up their own minds having been fully informed.

      As an aside, I have devoted countless hours to reading case law, studying statutes, reviewing meeting minutes, and watching video of council meetings. Additionally, I can assure you that we have hired one of the brightest legal minds when it comes to Minnesota municipal law. I have no doubt that you disagree with my position on the legality in this situation, but my footing is not shaky and this is likely an issue where we will need to agree to disagree.

      Cameron Piper

    • Matt Engstrom

      I am not a part of the lawsuit. I am not even a resident of Forest Lake, but I am in the neighborhood. I just don’t like seeing government throw its weight around and get away with avoiding state laws. If it can happen in Forest Lake, it can happen where I live. If we cannot depend on a straight reading of the law, we cannot depend on anything. It also frustrates me that the Forest Lake Times has yet to do an article investigating the state statutes that apply, and wonder aloud as they did with Running Aces, “Did the city break state law?”

      Mr. Finnemann, could you do me and anyone else reading this comment thread the favor of explaining how the council paying the EDA “rent” can be considered “revenue” and thus allow the city to issue revenue bonds rather than capital improvement bonds? Could you also provide a case where a city would ever seek to issue capital improvement bonds to build a new city hall if this scheme is allowed to stand? If a city can make payments from one hand to the other and consider it revenue, and avoid the requirements of state law, why would they ever choose to build something with capital improvement bonds? I’d love to be able to pay myself for mowing my own lawn and shoveling my driveway and making improvements, and take a bunch of tax write offs for operating my “business” which would conveniently be in the red each and every year, but I have a hunch that the government wouldn’t allow me to do that. Why is it different for the government itself, and why must it take a lawsuit by ordinary citizens to make sure the government follows its own laws?

      This is not about whether the city hall project is a good idea or bad idea. It’s about whether the city avoided the requirements of state statutes. It’s about the law, and following the law.

  • E. Baylor

    Cameron – yes I’ve never spoken to you and I would like to say that you personally seem to believe in what you are doing. I disagree with it but not your right to do it. However, I do question the motives of the Lakes Area Business Association who is really driving this whole thing. Yes, I know you are often the spokesperson but a lot of that I believe is because the names of the members of the LABA have a negative image in town. I’m not going to name names as I don’t want to call anyone out. I also question certain business owners motives that are vehemently opposing it when they are located adjacent to the mall property.

    Matt – I didn’t realize your “watchdog” status extended all the way to Forest Lake. It’s not like you live in the area or anything.

    • Cameron PIper

      E. Baylor,

      Once again you are making assumptions about something that you know nothing about. I don’t mind you bringing it up, but you claim to know things based on some very gross assumptions.

      You weren’t there when a petition was discussed. You weren’t there when a lawsuit was proposed. You weren’t there when a lawyer was selected or hired. You weren’t there when affidavits were signed for court. And to the best of my knowledge you weren’t there at either of our court appearances (hard to know since you won’t tell us who you are). Now if you weren’t there for any of those conversations, how can you possibly know who is behind what is taking place?

      However, the most important question I would like you to answer is whether or not Mr. Freed, Tschida, or McNamara (all members of the LABA according to a previous post) are individual citizens with rights in this town. As tarnished as you may feel their reputations are, don’t they still have a right as individual taxpayers to engage their government, or do they somehow lose that right when they start a business?


      Cameron Piper

    • Matt

      If Forest Lake can break state law, any city can break state law. Why do you think the League of MN Cities has Forest Lake’s back? They have a vested interest in seeing to it that Forest Lake prevails. Every citizen in this state should be very concerned with the implications of Forest Lake’s scheme to thwart state law. This story should be statewide. It is that important.

  • Just saying

    Mr. Piper said to E Baylor

    “You and I have never met, and the idea that you are able to know my motivations having never conversed with me is preposterous”

    “If you are concerned about the cost of the litigation I would encourage you to contact your local elected representatives and ask them why they would rather spend OUR (the citizen’s) tax dollars in an effort to dissuade OUR participation in OUR local government rather than fostering it”

    Your comment to E Baylor make your motives perfectly clear; you disagree with a decision our elected leaders made so you are suing (them) the city.

    By the way, the citizens did participate in OUR local government by participating in OUR local elections. In addition, the citizens will have the opportunity to participate in OUR local government again in the next election and if they disagree with OUR elected official’s decision, they will vote them out.

    Elections are the backbone of our democracy, not lawsuits

    • Cameron PIper

      Just Saying,

      A couple of quick facts.

      1. We don’t live in a democracy. We live in a constitutional republic. We use a “democratic process” to elect our officials.
      2. This project wasn’t an election issue this year. The Mayor and Council did not bring it to the public until the night before the national election (meaning the general public wouldn’t read about it in the local paper until after the election was over). Just in case there was an issue, the new City Council took issue with the project, our mayor also made sure to close the deal before the new council was seated. Given this, do you honestly feel as though the citizens have had a change to hold our elected officials accountable on this issue?
      3. Elections are not the backbone or our republic, the constitution is.
      4. The courts are one check on the balance of power between the separate branches of government. By the way, we didn’t just run to court over this issue as your comments make it seem. We twice petitioned the council, had numerous meeting with leaders, and started a Facebook page to discuss the issue publically. Only after we had no other option do we pursue a remedy through the judicial branch.

      Having heard this same response numerous times from City Council Members, School Board Members and individual citizens, I just sort of chuckle at the assertion these days. To be clear, I am not laughing at you or your thoughts, but rather the idea that our government was intended to only operate once every two to four years.

      Why have open meetings if government rules over people in the United States? Why does The US Constitution start with the words “We the People” and not “We the Government”? Why Does the Declaration of Independence state that government “derives is just powers from the CONSENT of the governed”?


      Our founding fathers were so concerned that the government remain accountable to the people that they created a RIGHT for the citizens to engage with it and then prohibited the government from ever removing that RIGHT. In light of that, can you explain why in Forest Lake in 2013 you feel as though government should only be accountable to the people every two to four years?

    • Matt

      The backbone of our democracy is the law. Without the law, we have nothing. If a government breaks the law, a LAWsuit must be filed. How do you think Forest Lake came up with this scheme? Because another city tried it first, and succeeded because no one tried to stop it. Forest Lake though they’d get away with it too. We’ll just have to see if they do.

      Under your logic, just because 51% of the people vote for something, it makes it legal and a-ok. Think through the implications of this logic and its inevitable conclusion. Not pretty.

  • Eugene Huerstel

    How is it that the when this started, the building was only going to cost around 11 million. This was discuused over a number of times. Now its up to 22 million. There was alternatives which still could have been implemented. Did not we have land already owned by the City? It was more last minute on the Northland Mall.
    Could it be someone had a conflict of interest and felt it was a good idea to resign from the EDA? At least they were able to get something out of the project. (money) I’m sure they would have done a great job on the whole building but someone else got it. Could it be motives for money have something to do with supporting this project? Yes you could say the project would be a great thing. But sometimes you just have to go with needs not palaces! Does this put residents and businesses at risk? Does it come down to trusting the people or not trusting the people. If this goes through there will be a referendum on the Mayor I am sure.
    Sounds like an expensive drain catch for Clear Lake. I’m sure this could be corrected by putting a catch in by itself. The( City) engineers are paid by us with storm water sewer fee’s, to make sure the flow of water goes in a certain direction and is clean. Another one of the governments great idea’s that we can use to clean up this place. Eugene Huerstel

  • Matt

    Forest Lake Times – You’ve got to get rid of moderating comments before they are posted. It makes it utterly impossible to engage in debate when it takes days for comments to be posted. I have no idea why it takes so long to review and post comments when there are so few people commenting. Get your act together, or just remove the ability to comment.

  • Cameron Piper

    Although I applaud Mr. Mark Finnemann’s service to Forest Lake and appreciate the time, energy and effort he has put into trying to make our city a better place, I must take issue when Mr. Finnemann characterizes his motivations as the moral high ground while insinuating that the motivations of the residents asking for a vote are somehow extreme.

    There is nothing more patriotic than voting, yet Mr. Finnemann’s letter decried the efforts of those who have had to file a lawsuit simply to retain their right to something as benign as a vote. Specifically he stated that voting on this project, because it would not have passed, would “only have dead-ended any hope for progress.”

    He also accused the majority of citizens in this town of being ignorant (“traditionally uniformed majority”) and in so doing insinuated that we are incapable of knowing what is best for ourselves and our families. Of course Mr. Finnemann would benevolently dictate that to us, because as a “progressive”, he knows better.

    However, Mr. Finnemann’s true motivations for proposing and driving forward the Northland Mall project were revealed on 11/15/2012 when he tendered his resignation to the Forest Lake EDA. This resignation came one day after I met with the City Administrator, Aaron Parrish, regarding my concerns over an apparent conflict between the EDA’s By-Laws, which state that no member may financially benefit from an EDA project, and Mr. Finnemann’s recently awarded contract to conduct a space needs analysis for the municipal campus.

    While Mr. Finnemann would have you believe that he is simply concerned with the future or our city, when faced with deciding between financial gain and continuing to volunteer his “40 years of experience in progressive development”, Mr. Finnemann chose the money.

  • J. Wow

    Matt- this isn’t the Washington County Watchdog (thank goodness) give the Times a break. It’s a small town paper that let’s you comment. It’s not meant to be a chat room.

  • Matt

    This “small town newspaper” is a pretty huge operation if you bother to look it up. Founded by ex-governor Elmer Andersen. Plenty of small blogs, websites, YouTube channels and such are much better at facilitating debate, and they are much smaller operations compared to ECM, Inc. They’d probably get more web hits and thus more revenue if they’d clean up their moderating of comments, so it’s a win win criticism. Apparently I can’t have an opinion about anything in Forest Lake, according to people with fake names anyway. Sheesh.

  • Eugene Huerstel

    Well said Matt. They keep hiding under their desks. They have been told a line, by certain individuals and have not participated themselves to find out the truth. Eugene Huerstel

  • Mark Finnemann

    A few final thoughts from that ” Progressive” Finnemann:

    I refered to the “traditionally uninformed majority ” because there is a factual majority that is traditionally uninformed…both on the national and local level. There is no insult in that statement. They are prompted, all too often at the 11th hour, by the polarizing minorities that are typically intrenched in specific agendas.

    I offered those earlier comments without any prospect of financial gain so maybe my motivations could be considered sincere by those not wishing to damn my perspective.

    The genesis of the lawsuit was not the defense of democracy and the rule of law, it was the angst about a community facility that would challenge the pocketbook. I maintain that the facility needs were dramatic and that the solution chosen was the most logical; providing the greatest overall benefit to the community…..BUT, it is a complicated issue and I don’t expect the majority of the population to dig in sufficiently to understand it. I would have expected the volital challengers to be better informed.

    I offer my time in a face to face arena of conversation but I’m weary of this typing format and will bow out.