Judge rules in favor of city in municipal campus lawsuit

The vacant Northland Mall will be demolished this spring to pave the way for construction of a public safety and city hall facility. Meanwhile, related litigation may continue if a lawsuit outcome is appealed. (Photo by Kat Ladwig)

The vacant Northland Mall will be demolished this spring to pave the way for construction of a public safety and city hall facility. Meanwhile, related litigation may continue if a lawsuit outcome is appealed. (Photo by Kat Ladwig)

He also leaves door open for appeal, which plaintiffs vow

 

Clint Riese
News Editor

Twenty days after taking the case under advisement, 10th Judicial District Judge John C. Hoffman last Thursday granted judgement to the defendants in the lawsuit brought by three citizens and the Lakes Area Business Association regarding the issuance of bonds to fund the creation of a municipal campus at the site of Northland Mall.

The city of Forest Lake and its Economic Development Authority were accused of circumventing the law by using lease revenue bonds instead of general obligation bonds in an effort to avoid a referendum. However, Hoffman ruled that it was indeed within the city’s rights to use a lease-purchase agreement to finance the project.

“It appears to this court that the legislature has allowed elected public officials to make their best judgements to do the work of the public and not be second-guessed along the way,” Hoffman wrote in his 12-page memorandum of law accompanying his order of summary judgement. “Rarely is there unanimity in any of these types of determinations.”

Judge’s Findings

Hoffman chose to declare summary judgment – ending the case, pending possible appeal – even though the defense had not formally requested it. The two hearings regarded the defense’s motion for a surety bond. By acting as he did, Hoffman demonstrated he found no need for a trial through which to sort out disputed facts.

Hoffman devoted nearly two pages of his memorandum to explaining his authority to grant summary judgment at such a point in the case. Though the matter came to him based on the bond motion, Hoffman said the parties in their oral arguments and written filings established the central theme of the case: whether the city could build the public safety and city hall facility without first getting permission from residents. After reviewing statutes referenced in each parties’ memorandum, he found the defendants entitled to having their rights declared.

A crux of the disagreement between the parties boiled down to interpretation of state statutes regarding whether a public referendum is necessary when municipalities issue bonds for capital improvements.

Separate statutes state that counties (373.40) and cities (475.521) are not subject to election requirements under a different statute (475.58), which details when elections are necessary to authorize obligations.

The language in 475.58, though, muddies the water. It contains an exception for county capital improvement plans under 373.40, but does not list city capital improvement plans as exempt. Attorney Fritz Knaak argued that because no exception for cities exists, the purchase of land for, and erection of, a city hall is a capital improvement requiring an election.

Hoffman, however, found the similarity between statutes 373.40 and 475.521 as evidence that the correct interpretation of the law is that capital improvement projects for cities are not subject to elections.

“Both sections exempt capital improvement bonds from the election requirement in section 475.58,” Hoffman wrote. “This point is persuasive to the court.”

Further complicating the case, legislation was introduced Feb. 28 proposing the requirement of a reverse referendum before a municipality could enter into the type of lease that exists between the city of Forest Lake and its EDA. Both parties provided Hoffman with new assertions based on this state Capitol activity while he had the matter under advisement.

The defense claimed the need for such legislation proved that the statutes do not require an election.

The plaintiffs felt the legislation would expressly prohibit the type of conduct currently being engaged in by the defendants and offered to ask the author of House File 1049 to testify regarding the intent of the statutes currently in place.

“The court declines such an offer to open the record and notes that while such comments may be enlightening they are inadmissible for the purposes of construing a statute,” Hoffman wrote. “Suffice it to say that the arguments establish what the court has concluded: that there is no clear prohibition in the current statutes if the statutes must be changed legislatively.”

Though Hoffman ruled against the plaintiffs, he denied a motion by the defense to require the plaintiffs to post a surety bond.

“Basically the defendants have prevailed on the merits involving a pure legal issue which is now ripe for appellate review,” Hoffman wrote. “This court does not deem it prudent to potentially impair plaintiffs’ ability to seek appellate review of a purely legal determination by this court.”

The plaintiffs have 60 days from last Thursday to appeal.

Parties React

City Administrator Aaron Parrish and Mayor Chris Johnson at Monday night’s EDA and council meetings expressed pleasure with the ruling.

“When we only made the request for the bond, the court went a significant step farther and essentially threw the case out,” Johnson told the council. “I think that was reflective of the fact that, in my opinion, this really was a frivolous case.”

The mayor also said he regarded the case more as a public relations ploy than a good-faith lawsuit.

“I think the court saw that accordingly and handled it as decisively as I have ever seen,” Johnson said. “I think that’s really good news for the city and the EDA, and it’s really good to have the result.”

Meanwhile, plaintiff Cameron Piper found encouraging the judge’s decision not to require the posting of a surety bond.

“We’re really excited by what came out, actually,” he said on Tuesday. “Not requiring the surety bond was a huge win by the plaintiffs. What it means, in reality, is as this plays out, it allows us to appeal the case on its merits.”

Piper was not surprised by the ruling, which he refused to call a win for the defense.

“He essentially entered a default ruling,” Piper said. “He wasn’t going to stick his neck out and do anything out of the ordinary. He essentially punted, kicked it up to the next level.

“Ultimately, I think what he did was not put any thought into it and rule ‘What always has been done is what will continue.’”

Piper and the rest of the plaintiffs – Cassandra Piper, William Anderson and the Lakes Area Business Association – plan to appeal the case as soon as their fundraising efforts allow, he said.

“I have not talked to anybody who is not willing to appeal at this point,” Piper said.

  • Nate

    Nice to see a judge interpret the law as written and rule accordingly, well done.

    It will be nice to see some more new life on the south end of town.

    • http://www.EricLangness.com Eric Langness

      For the whole story take a look at: https://www.facebook.com/NorthlandMallFL

      • Nate

        Wasted my time there, and it’s so far from the whole story that it’s pointless to read that website any further. It is nothing more than ramblings from those against the suit.

      • Jim

        Eric, how can you say the whole story when in fact it’s a one sided post edited by Mr. Piper? Back at the inception of that page I tried to put posts on it only to be edited and not allowed. Until I told him to take me off it, then my words meant for him personally were posted. How childish is that? I haven’t looked at it ever since, why bother to just get one side of the issue. It is just a pissing post for the local C.A.V. E. people to voice them selfs to each other in my opinion. ( citizens against virtually everything ) There, now y’all have something else to attack. Have fun, I don’t care!

        • http://www.EricLangness.com Eric Langness

          It give the whole story, meaning the side not printed in the paper.

        • http://www.CamPiper.com Cameron Piper

          Jim,

          The Facebook page was intended to be and remains today a place for people to discuss the project and other related events in the City. Everyone is welcome and I have strived to show respect to every person who has posted there. As I explained at the time, your original post was moderated because of the open meeting law (it remains today the only post that has ever been moderated on the page). When you followed up to my post informing you that it had been moderated by calling all Forest Lake residents whiners, I left that comment for the voters to see what their elected officials thought of them.

          For those that would like to see the exact exchange, the comments remain on the page still today.

          Cameron

  • Matt

    Lawlessness. Government protects itself, I guess. Why would a city ever issue capital improvement bonds again? Bravo, Forest Lake, for getting around the requirements of the law with this EDA spearheaded scheme.

    Hey, school district – want to build a new school? Just have the EDA build it for you and pay them rent. Purely legal according to this judge. And you’ll avoid having those pesky voters have to approve it. Same thing goes for the county governments – just ask your local EDA and they will provide. Who knew that the EDA is the most powerful local unit of government?

    It’s open season on taxpayers, not just in Forest Lake but in every city in this state. “Build ‘em if ya got ‘em.”

    Looking forward to reading the highlights of the judgement this week. I’m hoping that the judge actually comments on the law itself rather than making fallacious all-or-nothing arguments and commenting officially on “appearances” rather than solid interpretations of law.

    Thanks for posting this online right away, FL Times.

  • Bob S.

    Judge Hoffman may have ruled properly when you consider the current statutes. This kind of maneuvering by our elected officials is clearly outside the intent of the law. Finding a loophole in the statutes to get this pushed through does not make it acceptable. Pending legislation will close this loophole shortly in order to prevent this from happening in the future. If this was good for Forest Lake, the voters would vote in favor of it. If the current ruling stands, we will never find out for sure. We can expect more of this behavior from Johnson and his tribe. It will only end when they run out of other people’s money to spend.

    • Nate

      What the City did was not outside the intent of law. The law was intended to not have people micromanage the elected leaders. There have been numerous cities who have built ice arenas, city halls and public safety buildings in the last 10 years this way. The majority of FL spoke in the last election. The naysayers will say, well no one knew about this project, wrong. Those that obviously didn’t know are those having an issue now. Those against this project will construe every law on the books to make it look like wrongdoing (which is what was done with this lawsuit) when in fact, no law was broken. This legislation you speak of solidifies the fact that no law was broken. Those people that decided to sue didn’t get there way and there method of whining about it didn’t work. Get over it, move on and put some effort into doing some good.

      • Matt

        Nate-

        What “law” are you speaking of? Please cite.

        Secondly, if what Forest Lake did to avoid requirements to hold a public hearing, and avoid the potential petition for a referendum – that is, having the EDA head up the project, pay them “rent” from one hand to the other, and thus generate “revenue” to justify the issuance of revenue bonds – if this scheme is legal and follows the intent of the law, why do most cities in this state, when seeking to build, purchase, or renovate a new city hall, do so by issuing general obligation capital improvement bonds? Why do they hold a public hearing, and allow the citizens to petition for a referendum, according to the requirements of state law? Wyoming just went through this when they tried to buy the bank building, for a project totaling just 10% of Forest Lake’s project. We’re they not following the intent of the law? Are most cities in this state then not following the intent of the law? And why is this the first time this type of scheme has been challenged in court? Isn’t that due to the fact that attempting to thwart the law through a scheme such as this one a recent phenomena?

        The judge punted. The real test comes at the appellate level.

        • Nate

          I think the revised article above answers your law question.

          I think there were 10+ cities named in the lawsuit that in the last 10 yrs have done this very thing. I don’t know if that list is complete or just a partial but nonetheless cities do it.

          Don’t know much about the Wyoming ordeal.

          If I recall, some folks tried to sue Roseville for doing this exact thing and Roseville won.

          Agreed, the real test comes at the appellate level and I would bet the judges will see it the same as Judge Hoffman. I would say the legislation put for in HF1049 shows no law was broken as stated in the article.

          • Matt

            Read the statutes for yourself. The article did a poor job of explaining the law – it was difficult to understand. 10+ cities getting away with the same scheme does not mean it is lawful, especially when hundreds of cities have done so according to the legal process regarding capital improvement projects. The legislation put forth is to prevent cities from thwarting the intent of the law – it is in direct reaction to Forest Lake’s scheme. If they were following the clear intent of the law, there would be no legislation forthcoming.

          • http://www.CamPiper.com Cameron Piper

            Nate,

            I have read the entire case for Roseville and there a number of differences to the two cases. Take the time to look into it and you will find the same.

            1. Roseville asked for an injunction we did not. The city of Forest Lake is free to proceed (and they are) as if the lawsuit didn’t exist.

            2. Roseville used their port authority, Forest Lake used their EDA.

            3. The city of Roseville requested and won on the surety bond issue at the district court. The merits of the case were never heard as they spent the rest of their case appealing the surety bond not the merits of the law.

            To say that this is legal because the city of Roseville prevailed in requiring a surety bond is disingenuous. All the Roseville case shows is that The League of MN Cities has perfected the art of squelching any legal challenges against city projects without actually hearing the cases by requiring a bond no citizen has the money to pay.

            In our case the bond was not required so we can now move ahead and try the case at the appellate level without having to argue over a bond. To my knowledge this will be the first time the merits of one of these cases will actually be heard.

            Cameron

      • http://www.CamPiper.com Cameron Piper

        Nate,

        This project good, bad or indifferent, was not an election issue. The council did not bring the development plan or the tax impact to the public until the night before the national election ensuring that the papers would not be able to carry the story until after the election. The majority of citizens, who rely on the news in the paper to keep them informed therefore did not find out about the project until after the election so how can you possibly assert that the majority has spoken and insinuate that they have therefore spoken on this project?

        Please stop this line of we have talked about it forever. We have also been talking about a community center forever, but if the council came to the public tomorrow and said we have a plan and a tax impact, my ears would perk up and pay attention. Failing that, it is just talk. When concrete plans are brought forward “the majority” starts to assess the impact and form their opinion based on how the project will affect them personally. Prior to that it really is just an idea. I would therefore challenge you to show me the article, or the meeting minutes that show that the city had informed the public prior to the 11/5 city council meeting the facts of this project. Bring it here for all of us to learn from.

        Additionally, I have had the privilege of working with representative Runbeck regarding the legislation that you speak of. It is the intent of the author to provide clarity in statute to a situation that the legislature perceives as an abuse of the statues that they have been previously structured. Your assertion that the lack of a prohibition on the activity that is taken place provides evidence that it is therefore acceptable runs counter to the exact spirit of what is taking place.

        Cameron Piper

        Cameron Piper

      • http://www.CamPiper.com Cameron Piper

        Nate,

        If someone steals a car and is never caught or prosecuted – does that make that act legal? Your logic that what the city of Forest Lake has done is legal as evidenced by other cities having done the same thing is equally absurd.

        The reality is Forest Lake was the first city with their hand caught in the cookie jar. Time and the courts will determine whether what they have done is appropriate. Even if the courts allow them to get away with it on a technicality, the people will be the ultimate judge of whether they feel squelching citizen input and voting is an ethical way to run government.

        In my humble opinion you can be right legally and still be ethically wrong. Remember that the law is the lowest ethical standard, afterall, you HAVE to follow the law.

        Cameron Piper

        • Nate

          This post by you seems to sum up why you decided to sue…you state that ” Even if the courts allow them to get away with it on a technicality, the people will be the ultimate judge of whether they feel squelching citizen input and voting is an ethical way to run government.” You have sued just because YOU and some others felt it is wrong even though the law was followed. Now, with the lawsuit you have to try to figure out how to twist the law to make a case in which case is why the judge ruled against you.

          • http://www.CamPiper.com Cameron Piper

            Nate,

            Nobody is twisting the law. We are presenting a case to the judiciary and asking them to rule on whether or not they believe we made a stronger case than the City did. Were the plaintiffs in Brown v. Board of education “twisting” the law when they made their case? Was The Supreme Court “twisting” the law to overrule segregation in that case?

            You also misunderstood my comments about the technicality. It is possible that a judge will not see it our way and in the end what the City has done may stand. In that event, the courts will have spoken and the technical rule of the law will have been interpreted. The people will then get to decide whether or not they like how the law or the politicians operated (in the next election or while working with the legislature to change the law).

            You need to remember that the law is the minimum ethical standard – after all everyone HAS to follow the law. In the event that the final judge(s) rule against the people, the people will need to decide whether they personally feel what took place is ethical. In your mind is it ethical or just that a group of unelected board members are capable of raising our taxes by 25% and to the tune of $30 Million and that there is no check on that power?

            Cameron Piper

  • Frank

    Let’s see the spin on this one from the LABA

    • Jim

      That will probably have to wait until the so called Brains of the outfit gets back from Florida!

  • Jim

    So glad to see common sense overcome nonsense! It’s time this city facilities get the much needed improvements for today and the future of its residents. There’s still so much more to do, this is a great start.

    • chet stevenson

      Agreed Jim!!

  • Sharon

    What we need on the south end of town is a grocery store.

    • http://www.CamPiper.com Cameron Piper

      Sharon,

      Agreed!! Too bad nobody was willing to buy the Northland Property and build one there. Oh wait, I vaguely recall the last owner buying that property so that he could put a grocery store in.

      Its unfortunate that the city blew all of their TIF funds on other pet projects and couldn’t help the developer achieve some real economic development. Then again they probably wouldn’t have helped that developer achieve his goal anyway because they had their eye on that site for their palace.

      Cameron Piper

      • Nate

        I think a few points have been left out. Marketplace foods decided to not build around the 08/09 time frame due to the economy. Before the economy starts to mend, Walmart turns into aWalmart Supercenter, Target converts to a partial grocery store. At this time Rainbow is still around. At that time we now have 4 grocery stores in FL. Did having a 5th make logical business sense just to service the south/southeast corner of town? I don’t know if putting a full scale grocery the size they wanted in that end of town would ever work or make sense with what we currently had to choose from. Also, if I recall from some council notes, that area was pitched to some large businesses and no takers. Why no takers, seemed the common them was location being to far from the highway.

        If the mall sat, do you really think a small business would of come in and knocked the thing down and put a store, very unlikely as they don’t usually have the kind of balance sheet to handle that.

        Cameron, you say you are in real estate, you couldn’t find any buyers for that property?

        • Matt

          Building a city hall on the site might be a great idea. It just needs to be done the right way, and according to the requirements of state law. A private business does its due diligence to make sure an investment isn’t a bust. A city must follow the requirements of state law because it is the taxpayers that are on the hook for decades – there can be no question that a majority of citizens in the city support the project, because the next election will be too late.

          General obligation capital improvement bonds are backed by the full faith and credit of the city and its taxpayers. Revenue bonds are not. Theoretically, a future city council could refuse to pay the EDA the rent and thus default on the bonds, and the taxpayers will not be on the hook. That is why the law is written the way it is, why the intent of the law is the way it is, and why Forest Lake has broken state law, no matter what this judge says.

          The judge punted. The real deal will happen at the appellate court. It’s like dealing with the checkout kid at Target over a problem – within a short amount of time he goes to get his manager.

        • http://www.CamPiper.com Cameron Piper

          Nate,

          Your ignorance of how a real estate business works and petty insult on my abilities as an agent are laughable. For the record, you and I have never met and you know nothing about my real estate business, who my clients are, or my skills or experience as a real estate agent.

          Cameron Piper
          Keller Williams Premier Realty

          • Nate

            Cameron,
            Please stop reading into things. It was more of a question/point. I would be hard pressed to think that you real estate folks don’t talk. So the question was ask, why weren’t there any buyers besides the city?

        • http://www.CamPiper.com Cameron Piper

          Nate,

          As someone who claims to be so well informed, and laments those of us that aren’t, I was shocked to hear that you think PACE decided to not build their facility around August of 2009. The Meeting minutes for the EDA meeting on 3/9/2011 show without a question that PACE was indeed still interested at that point.

          The reality is PACE tried to make this work for a long time and I have it on good authority from someone whom I trust implicitly that has spoken to PACE directly, that PACE gave up because the city made it too hard to develop the property. This may be second hand knowledge, but I trust the source and short of a direct conversation with PACE it is all any of us are going to have to go on. I cannot find any record in any of the local papers or in any of the official city meeting minutes stating when PACE decided to stop pursuing the project or the reasons for doing it.

          If you happen to have that document, please bring it hear for all of us to learn from.

          Cameron Piper

          • http://www.CamPiper.com Cameron Piper

            Nate,

            There is a weird flow on where I can and can’t respond to comments these days – my apologies. This is in reference to your question above.

            You asked a real estate question so I will give you the real estate answer. Everything in real estate is a function of market dynamics (supply and demand) and is always counterbalanced with price. There weren’t more buyers for the Northland Mall because there simply wasn’t enough demand for the property given its current price.

            Additionally, there was very little impetus for the PACE to lower their price since the city had already expressed an interest in the property. An example: If we had your house listed for $1 Million, and someone had told you they were interested in buying it at or near that price, but that they just needed to work a couple of things out. Would you be more inclined to accept a lower – let’s say $500K offer or would you roll the dice and see if the other buyer could work things out.

            In the end, the City’s expressed interest in the property in 2011 meant that there was very little motivation to reduce the price to true market value and seek out what additional buyers were available in the marketplace.

            Cameron Piper
            Keller Williams Premier Realty

  • http://www.EricLangness.com Eric Langness

    This is a terrible analysis of what the judgment actually says. At best the case was a ‘draw’ for both sides. He ruled in part for both sides.

    On page 2 of the order it reads: “Defendant The City of Forest Lake’s motion for the establishment of a bond pursuant Minn. Stat. 469.044 or 562.02 is DENIED.” Denied was in ALL CAPS and bold. Clearly this is a win for LABA and the citizens.

    He ends the 14 pages with “…is now ripe for appellate review. The parties can expeditiously seek any appellate remedies the choose…” This should have been expected as courts at this level generally don’t have the final say on matters of this magnitude. It would only be foolish by both parties to expect that this would be over after this isolated court ruling.

    Lastly, an order like this or future ones might clarify a legal cause but it does not justify that the city has done what is in the best interest of our citizens. Their best interest is to have a vote on any matter that is equivalent to 3 years of their annual budget!

    • Nate

      I would say it is much more of a win for the city than the Plaintiffs’. Both items were denied because he granted a summary judgement/declaratory judgement on the whole case because of the facts given. I believe the judge new all along that he was just a stepping stone in the court process. Nonetheless, he proved that the law wasn’t broken which is what this case is about. This case isn’t about feelings or what you believe is right/wrong, it is based on interpreting the law as written.

      Also on page 2 it reads: “Plaintiffs’ request relief for a legal determination as pled in the Complaint for declaratory judgement in Plaintiffs’ favor is DENIED.” Denied was in ALL CAPS and bold. According to you, this would clearly be a win for the city, right? The bold and in caps is for the reader to clearly see what the ruling was.

      It seems clear that this small (NOT the majority of citizens) is trying to twist/construe what the law reads and it isn’t working.

      I really would be surprised if the Minnesota Appellate Court would see it any different than how it was already ruled upon.

      • http://www.EricLangness.com Eric Langness

        Nate -

        I accurately reported in my statement “At best the case was a ‘draw’ for both sides. He ruled in part for both sides.” I would concur that you are correct that that a portion of the judgment was in favor of the city as well. The article is headlined “Judge rules in favor of city in municipal campus lawsuit” and that is not accurate reporting. Furthermore, many would argue the biggest win is the portion that the city lost.

        At the end of the day it could have been more accurately titled, “Judge kicks the can down the road, rules in favor of both city and citizens”

        The judge did not “prove” that the law was not broken and in fact said it “was ripe for appeal”. Facts help us all, try using them.

        • Nate

          He basically tossed the case out of the court, therefore, that would be a win for the city so the article was titled correctly. Now if you think tossing a case out of court is not winning or losing, I don’t really have much to help that thought.

          Actually, the judge did state that he didn’t find any law that was broken. It is even quoted in the above article and the quotes came directly from the ruling.

          Why does he state ripe for appeal. I would guess that based on the testimony, he knew that was where it was going one way or the other, why hold up the process. Did you really think his ruling was going to shut you guys up?

          Sorry I forgot to footnote my facts in the last post for you to clearly see.

          • http://www.EricLangness.com Eric Langness

            It is false to say he tossed the case out of court. He did not. If he had then it would have been a win for the city.

            He stated it was “ripe for appeal” because courts at this level generally aren’t the final say in this type of decision and he knows it. He set it up to be a model appeal case.

            If you spin long enough you’ll read into it differently than what is actually written but that doesn’t change the words or meaning of what is in the 15 pages that I actually read.

      • Matt

        A majority of cities across this state have also apparently “twisted” the same law and held a public hearing, issued general obligation capital improvement bonds to fund the project, and allowed citizens to petition to force a referendum. Not to mention the majority of legislators who wrote and approved the law in the first place, and every legislature from that point on who did not seek to change the law. It is only now, with the recent schemes by cities to avoid the law, that it is being heard in court, and revised in the state legislature to make sure that it will never happen again.

        Why not find out just what the majority thinks about the project? If you’re so confident the majority approves of the project, allow it to come to a vote. That is all the plaintiffs are looking for.

        • Nate

          They did, at the last election and the election before that, and the one before that. That is why we have elections, to vote the people in to make these decisions, not micromanage ever decision they make.

          • Matt

            Then the city should have nothing to worry about in following the law and allowing the citizens to petition to force a referendum, right? What will take more money and time, a vote, or the lawsuit?

      • http://www.CamPiper.com Cameron Piper

        Nate,

        You assert that the district court judge “proved” the law in this case and that the vocal “minority” are trying to “twist” the law to fit our needs. I do wonder whether you would feel that the judge had “proved” the law if he had found the facts for our side. Certainly you wouldn’t try to “twist” the law at that point to say that the judge was wrong?

        The landmark US Supreme Court case dealing with school segregation, Brown v Board of Education, was found for segregation at the district court level. Was the Supreme Court then “twisting” the law to find that schools should not be segregated when the overturned the district court?

        People need to understand that this case was not heard in its entirety and I am thankful for that – dragging this out isn’t good for anybody. The only court hearing we had on the matter was to consider the City’s motion for a surety bond. Knowing that this case would be appealed regardless, the judge short circuited the rest of the case at the District level and entered his judgment. In so doing, he set up the plaintiffs to appeal the case on its full legal merits to the appellate courts, without being hindered by a surety bond. I do not claim to know the inner thinking of Judge Hoffman, but it is hard to see what took place here and not believe that it was strategic.

        Cameron Piper

    • Mike

      Eric, you wrote;
      “Their best interest is to have a vote on any matter that is equivalent to 3 years of their annual budget!”
      That would be true if our cities operated under democratic rule. As I see it, Neither Forest Lake nor Wyoming operate that way but instead operate more like a Republic. In a Republic, we elect officials who are charged with the responsibility of making the decisions that they think to improve the city . They move forward on those decisions after a vote of the majority in that governing body. They are also charged with the responsibility of carrying out what is called for in the city’s comprehensive plan. Now I don’t know what is in the Forest Lake CP but here in Wyoming (where the plaintiffs in the Forest Lake case got the idea in the first place) a new city hall and department of safety is in the comprehensive plan. It’s our councils responsibility to make the “orders” in the CP happen. They did that and came up with a plan that would have cost about $6 million less than what they will have to spend when they do go ahead and accomplish what the comprehensive plan calls for. My niece who served as Grand Rapids EDA president for many years said it best when she said “the Comprehensive Plan is the bible, the guideline and it’s our duty to follow it and make it happen”. She also said “If the comprehensive plan is out of date then it must be revised”. End point, if we elect people to government positions in a republic type system then we have to accept their decisions otherwise why bother electing them at all.

      • Matt

        If a city does not follow the requirements of our state laws, then why bother having any laws at all?

        This is not about electing our city officials, or about comprehensive plans – it’s about the law. That is why there is a law-suit, and why it is currently in the courts.

        Wyoming followed the requirements of state law. If another buyer hadn’t stepped in, the project would’ve gone to a referendum because the petition was valid and legal. Forest lake side-stepped this whole process with their scheme. We’ll find out if they get away with it.

      • http://www.EricLangness.com Eric Langness

        I can’t come to take anyone serious that believes a comprehensive plan is of the caliber of the bible. A comprehensive plan is something that constantly changes over time, quite differently from the bible.

        Your understanding of what makes a government a democracy or republic is flawed as well. Frankly, it doesn’t matter in this case as the city regardless of how it is elected needs to follow state statute and the disagreement is in which laws are applicable to this process. The judge would have dismissed the entire case if LABA and the citizens did not have a legitimate concern.

  • Frank

    Annnnnnnnnnnnnnnnd there is the spin courtesy of our local watchdogs. They would make more headway without the usual self righteousness.

    • Matt

      Please cite what you consider “spin’” and what you consider “self-righteousness.” All I see coming from the pro-city side of the argument is name calling and personal attacks, including yours. Nate has been the first pro-city commenter to actually try to engage on the merits of the argument and debate, rather than calling people who disagree selfish, self-righteous, sore losers, etc.

      This is about the law, not the personalities involved.

  • Bob S.

    Nate,
    Regarding your comment “What the City did was not outside the intent of law.”
    Check out the bill ….as introduced – 88th Legislature (2013 – 2014) Posted on 02/28/2013 11:44am

    1.6 Section 1. [416.17] VOTER APPROVAL REQUIRED; LEASES OF PUBLIC
    1.7BUILDINGS.

  • Matt

    Thanks for the update, FL Times.

    According to how this article is written, it appears as though the plaintiffs aren’t making the correct argument.

    Check out state statute 475.521 and read it in its entirety: https://www.revisor.leg.state.mn.us/statutes/?id=475.521

    Notice the definition of capital improvement. It defines the city hall project exactly.

    The defense argued subd. 2, “election requirement” did not require an election, under part a. This is correct. In Wyoming, after holding the public hearing, the council voted to issue capital improvement bonds to fund the project. The city council has the authority to do so. Problem is, in Forest Lake’s, they did not hold a public hearing, because the EDA is heading up the project.

    The crux is subd. 2 part c, where the law states that if a legal petition to force a referendum is handed in to the city clerk within 30 days of the public hearing, the bonds cannot be issued until an election is held and a majority of voters support the project.

    The city did not issue capital improvement bonds, they issued revenue bonds, but yet the city is using subd. 2 part a of the statute concerning capital improvements and ignoring the rest of the requirements.

    Let’s look at 475.58: https://www.revisor.leg.state.mn.us/statutes/?id=475.58

    I imagine the city is using subd 1 part 4, which states that an election is not required if the bonds will be paid off wholly through incoming revenue – thus the revenue bonds, even though this revenue is rent coming from the council to the EDA. Part 8 states that elections are not required for capital improvements, and references 373.40.

    Let’s look at 373.40: https://www.revisor.leg.state.mn.us/statutes/?id=373.40

    It is all but identical to 475.521 but for counties instead of cities. Again, the requirements of subd 2 part b and c are completely ignored, that is, the city or county MUST hold a public hearing and allow the public to petition to force a referendum.

    If this article is correct, why did the plaintiffs not make it clear the issue is the requirements of parts b and c? That’s the whole case! How can the city use the law regarding capital improvement bonds when they issued revenue bonds to avoid the requirements of issuing capital improvement bonds?

    The city’s only argument is really 475.58 subd. 1 part 4 where it states that elections are not required for bonds that will paid off solely through incoming revenue. That is what they sold to pay for the project, revenue bonds. The plaintiffs should’ve argued that the city paying itself is not revenue – according to accounting rules it would be considered less than an arms length transaction and thus cannot be considered revenue. This, they could not lawfully use revenue bonds to pay for the project, must issue capital improvement bonds, and follow the law as set forth in 475.521.

    • http://www.CamPiper.com Cameron Piper

      Matt,

      All great points. The only problem is that we never got to argue the merits of the legal structuring. The City made a motion for surety bond, the court heard that motion, and then ruled on the entire case. In reality Judge Hoffman new the case was going to be appealed regardless so in order to not drag things out, he denied the surety bond and entered the safe judgement for the City knowing that the appellate court would now specifically look at the legal issues.

      Cameron

      • Matt

        My question is: what are we paying Judge Hoffman for? Not allowing either side to argue the merits of the case, ruling with no basis in law, and sending it on up the chain could’ve been accomplished by a legal secretary.

        Here’s the problem as I see it. The city is going to demolish the mall ASAP. A correct ruling by the judge would’ve placed a stay on construction. So, during the appeal process this spring, the city is going to be spending all this money it got through the sale of the revenue bonds, and demolishing the mall dramatically reduces the value of the property (turning back into a vacant lot, essentially). These costs would never be able to be recovered, and the city doesn’t care. In fact, as a contingency, they want to spend as much as they can as fast as they can.

        Here’s why. Let’s say they lose and the appeals court rules they avoided the requirements of the law. I imagine they would be ordered by the court to unwind the revenue bonds and replace with go capital improvement bonds. The judge may even order a referendum vote. So what choice has the city left its citizens? Vote no on the city hall project, and either the city loses a bunch of money for nothing, or they stiff the revenue bond holders and they sue the city for issuing revenue bonds that were unlawful. Or continue on their merry way and vote yes for the city hall project, because “it’s too late to turn back now.” The city will be holding the taxpayers over a barrel. And when the taxpayers vote “yes” because they essentially are forced to vote yes or lose a bunch of money, the city side of the argument will say “See! The people were behind us all along!”

        The city wins either way, all because of this judge’s ruling.

        This might be why the old saying “you can’t fight city hall” is sad but true.

        Once that mall is a worthless heap of rubble, it’s over.

  • Me

    I wish I could find half the time in my day as you all have…..

    • Matt

      Typical excuse for the uninformed. You should find the time. It’s important.

      Maybe the progressives are right. Maybe they do know better, and should just do whatever they want because most people just don’t care.

      • Joe Public

        Matt,
        Just because a person doesn’t have the time to post (usually the same old) comments all day does not mean they are uniformed.

        From your own comments, the plaintiffs must be uniformed as you say “it appears as though the plaintiffs aren’t making the correct argument”

        But yet you continue to basically argue they are the heros in this case

        • Matt

          Perhaps the plaintiffs were not able to make the argument as the judge made his decision before either side was able to fully make their case.

          I’ve never used the word heroes. I’ve argued that the city broke the law. Do you have anything to say about my post discussing the details of the laws in question? Everything is there if you bother to look for yourself. I’ve provided links to the statutes.

          I am not a lawyer, but I have two eyes and a brain. I also have no dog in this hunt other than the fact that other cities might try this convoluted scheme if Forest Lake gets away with it.

          This is your city. Are you not interested at all in whether the city broke the law? All to avoid you not having a lawful vote on the decision after a legal petition to force a referendum?

          People take the time to attack commenters personally, but not to discuss the merits of the case (except for Nate, but even then he makes blanket statements with no evidence or reasoning). Apparently, for those supporting the city’s scheme, the ends justify the means.

          If you’re okay with the fact that it appears as though the city broke the law, after reading the statutes for yourself, then there is nothing I or anyone else can do or say.

          • Nate

            It looks as those one can only reply 3 times to a post here so I can’t reply under other comments above.

            I don’t think the city did break the law or the other cities that did the same thing. It is all about the YOUR interpretation of the law with how it is written. Obviously you have interpreted it one way, and others have a different much different one.

            If you haven’t actually read the lawsuit, please do and I think it will answer some of your thoughts/questions.

            So with that it looks like we agree to disagree.
            It looks like this dialog has pretty much come to an end. We’ll have to see what the appeals thinks if it makes it that far.

          • Joe Public

            Sorry Matt but practice what you preach – saying people are uniformed is an attack on ME simply because they said they wished they had the time to post as you and others have for the better part of a couple of days

            You miss the point on my plaintiffs comment. Your early post indicated support for theirlarge ment as stated; your post linked to this string says they didn’t make the correct arguement. Therefore, one could say they were uniformed on their understanding of the statue

            Your prior post did not indicate they made the wrong arguement

            Matt said

            Why not find out just what the majority thinks about the project? If you’re so confident the majority approves of the project, allow it to come to a vote. That is all the plaintiffs are looking for.

            This is not about electing our city officials, or about comprehensive plans – it’s about the law. That is why there is a law-suit, and why it is currently in the courts

          • Matt

            Sigh. I don’t know why I bother, Mr. Public, but here goes.

            1.) “Practice what I preach” – I make one defensive comment out of multiple posts detailing the merits of the argument, with no substantive response, and I’m called out on it. This is a typical tactic of holding the other side to a higher standard than themselves, which is frustrating.
            2.) “Your plaintiffs point” – I already answered this – perhaps they didn’t make their whole case because the judge made his decision before either side were able to make it. My prior posts were based on my understanding of the law as I read it, and the lawful process that was used in Wyoming. I was not privy to the argument the plaintiffs made until I read the revised article, where in response I did a detailed investigation of the actual laws in question, with links. Not that it matters to people “who wish they had half as much time to post.” Surely they won’t take the time to read it themselves with such a busy schedule.
            3.) “Attack on ME” – unless Joe Public and Me are one in the same, no I did not attack you. I don’t believe in guilt by association, which is unfortunately a characteristic of the side of the argument you adhere to.

            I’ll check from time to time to see if anyone responds with a substantive analysis to the laws in question, as I have provided, but I’m not expecting any.

      • Joe Public

        Matt
        Just because you disagree does not mean people haven’t given a “substantive analysis”

        The reality is, you are giving your opinion of what you think the statue says as are the others who posted are.

        As far as your comment “a characteristic on that side of the argument you adhere too”

        I never gave an opinion either way about the lawsuit; I merely pointed out your hypocrisy in calling ME uninformed after you accused others of name calling

        My opinion on this is we elect people, if we don’t like what they do, we unelect them.

        I also think you are too loosely throwing around comments about our city leaders being lawbreakers and delibertly breaking the law. I will trust the judicial system to determine that.

        I also believe we live in a lawsuit crazy society, however I believe the checks and balances that are in our system (the judicial in this case) will sort everything out.

        Have a little faith in our system, it has served us well up to now

        • http://www.CamPiper.com Cameron Piper

          Joe,

          As someone who seems to appreciate the foundation of our country I would challenge your assertion that the only involvement a citizen is to have with their government is an election every 2-4 years. While this certainly isn’t prohibited and in fact, today is very common. I don’t find any evidence that our founders intended to create a system of government where the only form of accountability elected officials have is an election.

          The First Amendment to the United States Constitution states: The government shall make no law abridging the rights of the citizens to petition their government for a redress of grievances. (Paraphrase) There it is, right there next to the freedom of the press, speech and religion. The founders thought this idea was so important that they included it in the same amendment as some of our most sacredly held rights.

          If elections are all that we are supposed to have, why does the constitution start with the words “We the people” – why not “we the elected”? Why does the city of Forest Lake place the citizens on top of the organizational chart and not the council – certainly that isn’t merely symbolic? Why does the Declaration of Independence state that “governments are instituted among men, deriving their just power from CONSENT OF THE GOVERNED”. Why does it go on to then talk about when a government violates the aforementioned rights and ideas that “it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such government.”? Our founders believed that oppressive governments (those that feel they are more important than the citizens) were worth taking up arms over.

          Our founders did not believe in top down government like we are seeing in Forest Lake. They believed in a system were the government was subjected to the people. I would challenge you to find any evidence to the contrary and bring it here for discussion.

          Very Respectfully,

          Cameron Piper

          • Joe Public

            You past commentary where you wrap yourself in the Constitution and apple pie said it all. You equate something like this to knowing our Founding Fathers thoughts when it comes to building a city hall.

            You disregard what others say about elections and if people are unhappy with their elected leaders we elect someone else. I believe that is more the intent of our Founding Fathers than your spin on this.

            My goodness, you are acting like the mayor and council members have committed a crime because want to build a new city hall and other city facilities to serve the people of Forest Lake.

            From what I’ve seen and read they had a very open process and their intent was clear long ago.

            I find it sad when a few disgruntled people can muck things up just because they simply disagree. I personally wish you would stop wasting everyone’s time and (taxpayer’s) money.

            Comparing building a city hall to “oppresive governments” and “to take up arms for” is absolutely ridiculous.

            Who appointed you and your few disgruntled business associates as judge and jury of what’s best for the city?

          • Matt

            How’s this for “reaching across the aisle” Mr. Public: I actually agree with you that this has nothing to do with the Founding Fathers, Declaration of Independence, and U.S. Constitution. It has nothing to do with the right to vote, either.

            It has solely to do with the LAW. Which is why I keep reiterating this point. And why I expect it receives no response, because there really is none.

            Without the law, we have nothing, and you don’t have to go back to founding principles to see in the plain language of existing state statutes that something is really wrong here.

            Has the city committed a “crime” in their process of building a new city hall? No. The laws that apply are clearly not a part of the criminal code. But in a straight, common sense reading of the law, which I’ve referenced above in 475.521 and below in 469.103 they have not met the requirements of the law.

            The fact that legislators are currently attempting to fix the language in the law to prevent this kind of scheme from ever happening again, when the current law itself is enough in my opinion, illustrates just how far the mindset of “it depends on what the meaning of is is” has taken hold. When words don’t mean what they mean, anything goes.

            Who gives the plaintiffs the authority? The LAW. It’s unfortunate, in fact, that it takes ordinary citizens to act as a check and balance against the power and money of city hall to make sure they are following the law.

            We get the government we deserve, I guess. Some demand better. The bare minimum should be an expectation that our government follows its own laws.

          • http://www.CamPiper.com Cameron Piper

            Joe,

            In response to your statement directly below.

            You misunderstood what I said about elections. I think they are a very valid and integral part of our republic. I disagree with the people who assert that elections are the only intended form of citizen involvement in our society. And to support my supposition, I brought forward specific quotes from our founding documents. If you disagree – I plead with you – bring forward some facts, quotes, or writings, anything to support your position. From there we can have a dialogue.

            The declaration of independence lists 27 grievances with the King of England – the majority of which deal with his refusal to allow the colonists to self-govern or allow them to be a “free people”. You’ll notice however that out of 27 complaints, they don’t ever complain that they didn’t get to vote him into office.

            When I discuss oppressive government, I’m not talking about a city hall. I’m talking about government that would allow unelected board members to levy taxes and not allow for any check against that power. I’m talking about government who taxes money from the people and then use it to squelch any challenge to their authority. I’m talking about a city who refuses to assent to the people a right listed in both The Declaration of Independence and the First Amendment to the United States Constitution to petition them for a redress of grievances.

            As an aside – I get a kick out of the fact you think that my directly quoting the founding documents of our republic is spin. IT WAS A DIRECT QUOTE FROM THE CONSTITUTION. Spin? Really?

            Once Again, respectfully,

            Cameron Piper

        • Matt

          So now I’m a hypocrite. My characterization of the opposing argument stands.

          If this is all about one interpretation vs. another, what is your interpretation of 475.521 subd. 2 parts b and c? What do you think that says? Remember, the city used part a as justification for not requiring election (which they are correct), but what about the next two paragraphs? I won’t hold my breath for your answer, because that’s what I would consider “substantive analysis.”

          https://www.revisor.leg.state.mn.us/statutes/?id=475.521

          It is interesting you cite checks and balances as an important governing principle. Where Cameron argues the right to vote, the way I see it, what is actually at issue in principle are checks and balances. The law I reference above is the check and balance on large, expensive, decades long decisions that city councils make from time to time. The city council has a right to make these decisions, but the rights of the minority under the law is to check these decisions through the right to lawfully petition to force a referendum.

          I look forward to your substantive reply, rather then “that’s just your opinion and I disagree.” Why do you disagree, specifically with that part of the law?

          The judge is the arbiter, not the check. The check in this case are citizens petitioning their government to force a referendum.

          Again, 475.521 subd 2 parts b and c.

          • Joe Public

            Your opinion is just that an opinion; not some substantive analysis

            Checks and balances still applies with the judge

          • Nate

            Bonds were issued under 469.103. There is no call for an election when issuing these types of bonds. Nor does it have any mention of what happens if petitioned.

            Your reference of 475.521 is what the plaintiff’s THINK what happened.

            And that is the lawsuit. Now IF it gets to the appellate court we’ll see how they interpret what happened and what the law says.

          • Matt

            Mr. Public – I say you’re going to respond to my questions with “that’s just your opinion and I disagree” and that’s how you respond? Game, set, match.

  • susan

    I’m sorry that you have forgotten the great work that was done by Mr.Stev Stegner and the (then) City Council to keep the Northland Mall a going concern. Mr. Stegner and Mr.Doug Borglund secured almost a million dollars in DEED money from the state to give to PACE development to help with the mall development, The city granted waivers to PACE to enable them to build a new grocery store and other shops on that site. The city set aside road money to use to signalize the intersection for PACE, money that was deferred from use on other Municipal State Aid roads in the city. The city went to the state year after year to keep the DEED money in the developer’s “pot” until they were ready to build….and finally when the developer abandoned the project because his grocery couldn’t compete with Walmart, the state took the money back. When you rewrite history to say the city “interfered with” development on that site, you do good people an injustice.

    • http://www.CamPiper.com Cameron Piper

      Susan,

      You really need to go back and read meeting minutes.

      1. Fact: PACE development purchase the property with an intent to develop the entire site and anchor the redevelopment with a Market Place Foods grocery store.
      2. Fact: Doug Borglund informed the planning commission on 3/9/2011 that he had spoken to PACE recently and that he was still planning to continue with the project.
      http://www.ci.forest-lake.mn.us/vertical/sites/%7BAFEB969B-C92D-4FE4-A096-00560D784D07%7D/uploads/%7B3B309BAA-918F-4C12-A91A-B03C5F08E774%7D.DOC
      3. Fact: In a meeting of the EDA on 9/26/2011, Chris Johnson suggested that the site could be used for a new city hall space, and that he had been in contact with the developer.
      http://www.ci.forest-lake.mn.us/vertical/sites/%7BAFEB969B-C92D-4FE4-A096-00560D784D07%7D/uploads/9.26.11(1).pdf
      4. Commentary: Some time in that 6 month timeframe PACE must have decided to not move ahead, but I find it coincidental that the city immediately moved forward the idea of using the site for a city hall. People can decide on their own weather the timing is a coincidence or whether or not the city had been vying for the property for their own use while PACE was trying to develop it.
      5. FACT: Northland Mall resides in TIF District #21 in the City of Forest Lake and has since its inception in 1988.
      6. FACT: According to page #11 of the Adopted 2013 City of Forest Lake budget, the balance of TIF Fund #21 at the end of 2013 is projected to be $48K.
      http://www.ci.forest-lake.mn.us/vertical/sites/%7BAFEB969B-C92D-4FE4-A096-00560D784D07%7D/uploads/2013_Budget_Adopted_12.10.12.pdf
      7. FACT: According to that same page, the District brings in over $700K per year in increment.
      8. Commentary: After 20 years of tax increment it would appear that the City should have had enough money to pay for the entire redevelopment for PACE, if they truly wanted this to take place they could have built him a building with the funds they had let alone paid for a stoplight, etc.
      9. Commentary: Why did the city not do those things if, as they claim, they were as welcoming as possible? Wasn’t TIF intended (at least according to MN Statute) to assist in the costs to redevelop commercial property?

      Cameron Piper

      • Joe Public

        Fact; frivolous lawsuits are running rampant in this country

        Fact; a small group of people are delaying the city’s legislative process and actions because they disagree with our elected leaders decision

        Fact; the people who filed the lawsuit are wasting taxpayers dollars in the way of City legal fees as our duely elected City government defends itself in court

        • Matt

          FACT – Mr. Joe Public has yet to answer a substantive question regarding the law.

          FACT – The requirements as set forth in 475.521 were avoided by the city in issuing revenue bonds. This is the law in question, vs. whether the city can use another portion of the law (will get to that later, thanks Nate for referencing the law regarding revenue bonds)

          FACT – the city chose to act as it acted, where the only remedy is a lawsuit, and is continuing to choose to act. The wasting of tax dollars is all on the city, all in an attempt to avoid a public hearing and referendum.

          FACT – Nate is the only one making substantive arguments here, rather than creating straw men arguments and ad hominem attacks.

        • http://www.CamPiper.com Cameron Piper

          Joe,

          Definition: Frivolous – 1. Not having any serious purpose or value.

          Commentary: If the right to petition our government for a redress of grievances (1st amendment) is not a serious purpose or value to you, then we’ll have to agree to disagree.

          Fact: Nobody is delaying the city’s plans. The city (at their own risk – but with my tax dollars, and yours) has chosen to not slow the process at all. Since the suit was filed, they have hired an architect and a construction manager. They are in the process of reviewing bids for demolition and plan to start that work soon. I’m curious how the process has been “delayed”?

          Opinion: The CITY, not the plaintifs is wasting taxpayer dollars all in an attempt to make sure that we can’t vote.

          Fact: Not a single one of your “facts” were facts, they were all opinions. Which you are certainly entitled to but lets call thing what they are.

          Respectfully,

          Cameron Piper

          • Joe Public

            Facts are facts and opinions are opinions; you’re right, i’m giving more opinion than anything, just as you and most everyone else posting here is (also your Facebook page)

            If you think frivoulous lawsuits aren’t running wild, i have a lake to sell you in Forest Lake

            A Question for you:

            Have you ever had anything to do with the listing of the Northland Mall property?

            Respectfully,

            Joe

  • Matt

    Forest Lake Times – you’re doing a great job of late in getting the comments up ASAP to foster debate and discussion. Just wanted to say the improvement has been noticed and it is appreciated.

  • Nate

    Cameron,

    What do you expect the council to do when they want to do something, run a billboard to make sure you are aware. You need to become realistic. You want to be up to date go to meetigs and/or read the notes that are published it’s that simple.
    I did post articles in the past and obviously you didn’t read them and I refuse to waste anymore time to dig them up again.
    We will disagree on the bill what you think you are doing with the bill.

    • Nate

      Maybe the Times or wherever something is discussed over a period of time can keep the dialog posted instead of rehashing the same over and over like some long winded post above that appear to pretty much be copy/paste.

      • Matt

        I agree, Nate. I wish the Times would do an in-depth analysis of the law(s) in question. It would serve the public well to understand just what is going on here.

    • Cassi Piper

      Nate,

      Though I have left most of the public dialogue regarding Northland Mall to my husband, I feel it is time to throw my hat in the ring.

      Though my husband and I are both plaintifs on the lawsuit against the city and we both agree wholeheartedly that the city did not go about this in the best way for it’s citizens, we have different passions fueling the battles we are currently fighting at city hall.

      For both of us (and we believe our founding fathers would agree), the primary functions of government, whether local, state or federal are to protect the rights of its citizens and to keep the public safe. As you and others have seen through these vigorous dialogues my husband is passionate about how the city has not protected the rights of its citizens by going about the new municipal campus as it did. Though I most certainly agree with him on this point, I personally am more passionate that this project will not make our citizens or its public servants (firefighters, policemen, etc.) safer, or if it does, certainly not proportionately safer in comparison to the amount of money that is being spent.

      If the city had chosen to bond money to upgrade equipment such as fire trucks, masks, boots, training, etc, Cam and I would be the first to publicly show our support. I think you can agree Nate that the equipment our firefighters use, especially probationary ones, needs some serious upgrades. This is what those who willingly sacrifice their lives on a regular basis for the good of the citizens of Forest Lake really need. Spend a few bucks on some poll barns and spend the rest on making our fire and police forces the best trained and equipped that they can possibly be and count me in! I think $30 million (when you include interest over the life of the loan), most likely could make our fire and police departments the safest and most effective in the nation, if not beyond.

      The unfortunate thing is the people’s pocket books are strapped, in part due to the economic downturn that is still very much an everday reality for most families (including my own), and now even more so with this new municipal campus project. My fear is that future requests for the equipment that is really needed might go unheard because of this reality. The Northland Mall project shows me that our city officials and administrators have their priorities wrong. Pretty buildings, athough nice to look at, ultimately don’t keep us safe. Properly trained and equipped men and women do, and they should therefore be our first priority.

      My husband and I personally have a stake in the safety of our public servants as we have a close friend in one of the deparments. Sadly, though we do life with this person and their family on a regular basis, our connection must remain private as it has become clear to us that any public association they have with us could threaten their work environment as these forces are tightly knit communities and most are not in lock step with our views. This has been difficult as there have been several opportunities where we would have loved to have shown our support of not only our friend but others who sacrifice as they do but did not feel our presence would be accepted or appreciated.

      I do want to thank you Nate for your passion about your views. This is what makes America great, that we can have an open dialogue and not fear the threat of physical persecution or censorship. Though I do not agree with most of your conclusions, I deeply respect your right to fully participate in the government we share, even if it meant at some point my petitioning the city to uphold it’s citizens’ right to a referendum on a future project that I was strongly for and you were against.

      Most respectfully,
      Cassi Piper

      • Cassi Piper

        Citizens of Forest Lake,

        It has come to my attention that I was in error when I wrote in a previous post that some of the equipment that our fire fighters currently use is sub par. Had I been as judicious as my husband is in researching facts I would have found that the information that I received from a third party outside of the fire department was not correct. I have since been informed that any issues with fire equipment are dealt with swiftly and effectively and for this I am thankful to be wrong. For my mistake, I am very sorry.

        More so than my written mistake, I regret that any innocent party was not given the benefit of the doubt before I realized my error. I do kindly request in the future that anyone who has a complaint about something that I have written or said come directly to me with their concern.

        Most Sincerely,
        Cassi Piper

  • Matt

    Nate-

    Thanks for referencing the portion of the law dealing with revenue bonds. Here’s the link for anyone interested (obviously not Mr. Public, because he has yet to answer one substantive question): https://www.revisor.leg.state.mn.us/statutes/?id=469.103

    I find it interesting that the city did not reference this statute in its arguments. It kept referencing the statutes that support the plaintiffs suit. Maybe they did not have a chance to make their argument either.

    Regarding 469.103, what do you think subd. 6 “Not city debt” means? Doesn’t that entire paragraph of the statute the city claims gives it the authority to issue revenue bonds blow their case completely out of the water? The intent of that paragraph is to prevent the city from doing what it is doing – the debt cannot be city debt backed by the full faith and credit of the taxpayer.

    Even the previous subd. 5 says that the revenue pledge expenses must be consistent with “normal and reasonable under general accounting principles” – the city paying itself rent is not revenue if operating under normal and reasonable general accounting principles. If a business tried to get away with defrauding its shareholders by claiming money it paid itself was revenue, the architects of such a plan would be brought up on criminal charges and in a just world land in jail.

    What I would like you to answer, is first if the city is not abiding by the requirements of 475.521 if it applies to the project – I know you don’t believe it applies, but if it does, has the city not followed the law?

    Second, what about those sections of the law you claim the city is using, most importantly subd. 6? How do you reconcile that the revenue bonds debt cannot be city debt?

    In Star Wars lingo, “Help me Obi-Nate Kenobi, you’re my only hope…” For a substantive debate on the law, that is. Darth Public has gone nowhere.

    • Nate

      I recall reading something saying the a revenue bond isn’t backed by the full faith and credit of the taxpayer. And since the bond was issued by the EDA and not the city, it isn’t city debt, therefore, subd 6 doesn’t apply.

      • Matt

        Really? It’s not city debt? Then why are your taxes going up to pay it off? And why is it called a city hall? No wait, that’s right, it’s a municipal campus.

        Oh, and I forgot, your taxes are going up to pay the rent, not to pay off the bonds.

        Welcome to the world where words mean nothing, and thus can mean anything.

        So does that mean that at any point in the future, a city council could decide to stop paying the rent? To break the lease? And then default on the bonds? What happens then? Does the EDA have to evict the city and then attempt to sell the new city- er- municipal campus to pay off the bond holders? I wonder how many potential buyers an abandoned city- there I go again- municipal campus would have? I bet the city, if they had an abandoned municipal campus to bid on, could buy a building like that for pennies on the dollar.

        Of course, the bondholders would sue the EDA in the event of a default, but I’m sure the city would be covered. The EDA isn’t the city! It has nothing to do with the city!

        But the city is too clever for that anyway. In the event the city breaks its lease with its own EDA, I bet there is a clause that the city is forced to purchase the building from the EDA for full purchase price, and thus “the circle is complete.”

        “Impressive. Most impressive.”

        Does this sound like a good way to run a city to you? Isn’t this exactly why the law is written the way it is, to prevent crazy schemes that result in new city halls being built that are not owned by the city, but by a city authority, funded through revenue that is actually rent that is in reality taxpayer dollars?

        You’ve answered one question right in line with the city’s reasoning. But I think you’re making my point. And you still haven’t answered my two other questions, being how can one hand paying itself be called “revenue” according to normal and reasonable accounting principles, and is the city not following the law if it applies as detailed in 475.521?

  • Nate

    Matt,

    I’m not involved with anything with the city as far as the council, EDA, etc… so I have no idea how each statute was used. The only thing I have to go off of is what I’ve read and how I’ve interpreted each one. So, I really can’t answer a lot of your questions, only ones that really involve opinion.

    Like I stated above, I don’t know if I stated it 100% correct but it was as I recall. It may be city debt as far as your concerned, but not as the law was written. If I could remember where I read that I would post it. As far as I’m concerned, I think the council has done a great job. We can’t have people micromanage them. Yea, that comment will create the same rhetoric as is above so don’t bother posting is it goes in one ear an out the other as fast as it is read because it’s that same old tune.

    Nothing is normal when it comes to law, politics, fed gov’t, etc…. and accounting. It’s just how it was written and interpreted.

    Since it doesn’t appear that the city used statute 475.521, then it doesn’t apply to what you are saying, right? It would seem strange that a judge would rule against the plantiff’s if what you say is true, right?

    So, do you think the horse has been beat down yet, lol. It looks to be that way from my end.

    Hopefully the appeals portion if moved forward goes quickly so things can move along peacefully. Maybe at that time, this group of plantiff’s puts there effort into doing something positive for the city.

    • Matt

      Nate-

      I would just encourage you to know that lawyers, judges, politicians, legislators, news editors, talk show hosts, etc. are not better than you, me, or anyone else. When you take the time to think things through, do the intellectual heavy lifting, research and dedicate some time (which you’re clearly willing to do based on your posts), you are entitled to determine for yourself what something means – on any issue – and any “authority” that asserts an opinion is no better than yours. They may be in a position of power, but they can still clearly be wrong, as many missteps through history prove.

      This is why we need to ask the specific, direct questions to determine who is right and who is wrong. And there are factual answers, not just opinions. When no answers are forthcoming, I think that fact speaks for itself.

      Thanks for taking the time to engage.

  • http://www.CamPiper.com Cameron Piper

    Joe,

    Since I can’t seem to reply to your post further up I will have to start a new thread here at the bottom. I don’t know where this idea that I have been involved with the listing or sale of the real estate at Northland Mall has come from. Frankly, I don’t really see why it is relevant to this issue. However, since you asked, I will hope to set the record straight once and for all so that this question can stop coming up.

    I’ve never had a contractual or even informal business relationship with any of the owners of Northland Mall, past or present. Additionally, I have never assisted the City in the location, negotiation, acquisition or disposition of any real estate holdings. Finally, I do not have any buyers who are currently interested in the site, not have I ever assisted any buyers previously who have shown an interest in the sale or lease of any property at the Northland Mall. Hopefully that will set the record straight for everyone who has tried to somehow use my real estate license as a link to the Northland Mall Project.

    Cameron Piper
    Keller Williams Premier Realty

  • http://www.CamPiper.com Cameron Piper

    Joe,

    If you are concerned that the Facebook page is filled with too many opinions, I would welcome you to join the discussion and insert your own. I have never moderated comments (save for one example discussed in detail above), even when I disagreed with them. Additionally, I have always strived to provide as many facts in my writing as possible. When possible, going into painstaking detail to post links to articles and meeting minutes so that people could research the issues for themselves and not just take my word for it.

    Feel free to accuse me of having an opinion, we are all entitled to them in this country, and frankly that is one of the things that makes us great. Feel free to even disagree with my opinions and write as much as you like about why you disagree with them. The more vigorous this debate becomes the more educated the people who read through will be. In the end however, I would caution you against insinuating that someone else’s work (Facebook page, comments here, etc.) is invaluable because you disagree with it. That sort of dismissive attitude shows an arrogant or elitist mindset that has not place in an open discussion.

    Cameron Piper

  • Don K

    I’m also worried about the people who are appointed to the various boards (EDA, Park Board, etc.). Where is the accountability? I’ve heard rumors that the mayor asks people he knows to be on these groups. How is that okay? We should try to recruit all citizens, not the mayor’s minions who hang out with him on the weekend, goes on vacations with them, or people who grab dinner with him at Vanelli’s. The EDA is partially to blame for the mall. What qualifies them to call the shots?

up arrow