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Last night, St. Cloud City Councilmember George Hontos made a motion “for a study session on refugee resettlement.” When St. Cloud City Council President Carol Lewis voted against the motion, she said that the subject was “a federal issue, it may have some state implications, but we really have nothing we can say.”

A loyal reader of LFR contacted me to correct Ms. Lewis’ information. According to this loyal reader of LFR, the federal statute that deals with the Refugee Act of 1980, which “created The Federal Refugee Resettlement Program”, is quite specific. 8 U.S.C. § 1522(a)(2)(A) states that “The Director and the Federal agency administering subsection (b)(1), shall consult regularly (not less often than quarterly) with State and local governments and private nonprofit voluntary agencies concerning the sponsorship process and the intended distribution of refugees among the States and localities before their placement in those States and localities.”

Further, the statute states that “The Director shall develop and implement, in consultation with representatives of voluntary agencies and State and local governments, policies and strategies for the placement and resettlement of refugees within the United States.”

In summation, the State Department is required to regularly consult with local governments prior to the resettlement of refugees. Based on what the federal government and county and city governments have shared with the public, those consultations haven’t happened.

Let’s be clear, though. It’s entirely possible that the State Department has consulted with the various NPOs about the program. That’s possible because the various levels of government have been as transparent as a brick wall.

Later in the statute, it says “Such policies and strategies, to the extent practicable and except under such unusual circumstances as the Director may recognize, shall- provide for a mechanism whereby representatives of local affiliates of voluntary agencies regularly (not less often than quarterly) meet with representatives of State and local governments to plan and coordinate in advance of their arrival the appropriate placement of refugees among the various States and localities, and
(iii) take into account-
(I) the proportion of refugees and comparable entrants in the population in the area,
(II) the availability of employment opportunities, affordable housing, and public and private resources (including educational, health care, and mental health services) for refugees in the area,”

In other words, municipal and county governments and school boards must meet with the federal government and put together a plan that doesn’t overtax “educational, health care, and mental health services.” Additionally, this plan must be in place prior to the first refugee is resettled in a city.

The city of St. Cloud hasn’t shared any information on these required plans. That’s possibly because there isn’t a plan. That’s possibly because they’re just being exceptionally secretive. At this point, we don’t have proof that a plan was ever put in place. This video (from Tennessee) seems to indicate that the federal government isn’t taking their obligations seriously:

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People will insist that I’m being overly dramatic about refugee resettlement. That’s fine. Some members of St. Cloud’s City Council have already suggested that people who’ve asked for information on the economic impact of the State Department’s refugee resettlement program are racists. The St. Cloud Times has accused people who have simply asked for information of being bigots or Islamophobes. While visiting St. Cloud in October, 2015, Gov. Dayton told lifelong residents that they should leave Minnesota if they didn’t accept Somali refugees. Our congressman, Tom Emmer, is disinterested in the subject.

According to this KNSI article, “St. Cloud residents voiced their concerns about refugee resettlement at Monday’s city council meeting. A group of five people addressed the council asking for refugee population statistics and economic data, saying they haven’t been able to get any answers on the issue.” After they spoke, Councilman George Hontos made a “motion for a study session on refugee resettlement.” Hontos’ motion failed on a 4-3 vote.

The cowardly councilmembers who voted against even talking about the issue were Steve Laraway, Carol Lewis, John Libert and Jeff Goerger. City Council President Lewis attempted to defend her vote by saying that it’s “a federal issue, it may have some state implications, but we really have nothing we can say.”

Lewis is right in the sense that the refugee resettlement program is a federal program run through the U.S. State Department. It’s also a cowardly answer in the sense that refugees use local resources like schools, hospitals and other resources. Those things are definitely within the City Council’s purview.

It’s important to note that this motion wasn’t on a resolution condemning the program. It was a motion to spend a study session studying the impact the program has on St. Cloud’s transportation system, schools and hospitals. Goerger, Laraway, Lewis and Libert were too cowardly to even agree to that.

When those councilmembers are up for re-election, I hope St. Cloud residents remember that these councilmembers voted against transparency and accountability. In my opinion, those politicians are a disgrace. Here’s the video of Gov. Dayton telling lifelong Minnesota residents they should leave:

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It’s still shameful that MNsure is still rewarding failure. According to this article, “In early January, enrollment was over 103,000 people, with the enrollment window still open at the time. This is still a far cry from where the program was expected to be however. In 2013, a consultant estimated that more than 400,000 people would be buying private coverage through MNsure by the end of 2016.”

In other words, the DFL overpromised and underachieved. Then they rewarded one of their cronies. According to the article, “MNsure CEO Allison O’Toole will receive a slight pay raise of $835. Her new salary will be $150,816 annually, whereas her previous salary sat at $149,981.” Then the article said that O’Toole “From 2011 to 2012, she served as the state director for Sen. Amy Klobuchar’s office.”

What’s worst is that “O’Toole received the pay raise, and positive reviews, from the MNsure board of directors as part of a 40-minute long closed door meeting.” Nowhere in the article does it say that Paul Thissen and other DFL legislators criticized the closed-door meeting. Last year, Thissen and a handful of other Democrats criticized Republicans for holding closed-door budget negotiations, complaining about a lack of transparency and the people not getting their input.

Let’s return, though, to the part about overpromising and underperforming. Dayton’s administration predicted more than 400,000 “people would be buying private coverage through MNsure by the end of 2016.” At the end of 2016, though, only 103,000 had bought private insurance through MNsure. Gov. Dayton’s administration was off by only the population of Bloomington, Duluth and Rochester. Another way of putting it is that Gov. Dayton’s administration was off by the population of St. Paul.

It’s time for the corruption at the ISD742 School Board to end. Recently, Board member Al Dahlgren called into Dan Ochsner’s Ox in the Afternoon program and told Ox’s listening audience that the School Board had already purchased the land where the proposed new Tech HS would sit. That’s interesting since that purchase isn’t mentioned in any of the School Board minutes. Considering the fact that the purchase of the land was a large expenditure, why wouldn’t that be noted as its own line item?

For instance, the minutes for the June 23 Board meeting mentions “The Administration recommends approval of the payment of bills and other financial transactions in the amount of $4,903,906.24 (Check Numbers 224405-224995 and ACH Numbers 151602548-151602828).” I don’t need to know that they approved the payment of that month’s electric bill but I certainly expect them to highlight special purchases, especially if they’re 6- or 7-figure purchases.

Why is the board hiding this purchase?

Similarly, the minutes for the May 19, 2016 School Board meeting says “The Administration recommends approval of the payment of bills and other financial transactions in the amount of $1,158,169.22 (Check Numbers 224117-224404 and ACH Numbers 151602359-151602547).” Again, there’s nothing to indicate a major purchase.

Thanks to the minutes, we know that “The Administration recommends approval of the Monthly Treasurer’s Report for April, 2016.” Unfortunately, the itemized “Monthly Treasurer’s Report for April, 2016” is nowhere to be found. This is public information. We have a right to know. If it’s posted on a different webpage, the link should be highlighted in the minutes.

The fact that the School Board didn’t tell us that they’d purchased the land highlights the fact that they aren’t into transparency. The fact that they routinely don’t include the details of their Monthly Treasurer’s Report re-emphasize the fact that they’re a secretive bunch. What other things aren’t they telling us about the Tech-Apollo proposed projects?

At this point, I’m not willing to vote to write the District a 9-figure blank check. That’s foolishness.

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There’s no question that people are resistant to change. They appreciate the familiar, which is why it’s difficult, if not impossible, to change things that are broken. Sometimes, though, a dramatic shake-up is exactly what’s needed. The colonists knew that in the 1770s. There are lots of angry activists in the 21st Century who wonder if it isn’t time for another revolution.

This op-ed, which I linked to in this post, highlights the fact that the “council has broad authority, including the ability to levy taxes” but that the governor is their primary constituent. In the colonists’ times, they started a revolution. One of their chief rallying cries was “No taxation without representation.”

According to Dictionary.com, the definition for No taxation without representation “became an anti-British slogan before the American Revolution; in full, “Taxation without representation is tyranny.” I can’t disagree with that last sentence. Taxation without representation is tyranny.

This paragraph especially stands out:

The mayors in their commentary suggested that elected city and county officials could not handle the workload or think “regionally” while representing both their municipality and a Met Council district.

There’s a simple explanation for these mayors’ preference. They want their initiatives to get rubberstamped and put into place ASAP. What politician enjoys the mess that’s created when making sausage? The Met Council is a mayor’s dream. They get their wish list enacted without having to cut deals with uppity peasants.

This nation’s Founding Fathers understood the appeal of mob rule. That’s why they designed a system filled with checks and balances. They wanted to thwart entities like the Met Council. They wanted the system to be messy because efficient governments are usually out-of-control governments that don’t pay attention to the citizenry, aka the uppity peasants.

Here’s the lengthy list of elected officials that signed onto this op-ed:

Scott Schulte is an Anoka County commissioner. Chris Gerlach is a Dakota County commissioner. Jeff Lunde is mayor of Brooklyn Park. This commentary was also submitted on behalf of the following local government officials. County commissioners: Rhonda Sivarajah, Matt Look, Julie Braastad and Robyn West, Anoka County; Tom Workman and Randy Maluchnik, Carver County; Liz Workman and Nancy Shouweiler, Dakota County; Jon Ulrich, Scott County, and Jeff Johnson, Hennepin County. Mayors: Mark Korin, Oak Grove; Kelli Slavik, Plymouth; Jim Adams, Crystal; Jeff Reinert, Lino Lakes, and Dave Povolny, Columbus. City Council members: Jim Goodrich, Andover; John Jordan, Brooklyn Park; Jeff Kolb, Olga Parsons and Elizabeth Dahl, Crystal; Dave Clark and Jason King, Blaine; Brian Kirkham, Bethel, and Bill Krebs, Columbus.

The time for a dramatic reform of the Met Council is at least a decade overdue. Further, there’s never a good time to give government the authority to raise taxes without giving people the authority to boot the bums out of office.

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This morning, the Stearns County commissioners unanimously approved a resolution supporting “a bill requiring a state audit of public spending related to refugee resettlement.” Predictably, the special interest organizations that support writing a blank check to pay for refugee resettlement programs were upset.

For instance, #UniteCloud spoke “against the bills, calling them anti-refugee and potentially costly.” #UniteCloud’s about us page indicates that they’re a misinformation organization. That’s revealed by them saying “Often we allow misinformation and dehumanizing stereotypes to make untrue assumptions of our neighbors.” That, friends, is projection. Remember that the commissioners voted on a resolution that supported legislation that promotes transparency.

You’ve got to be either paranoid or dishonest to accuse citizens demanding transparency of being bigots. I’m leaning more towards dishonest than paranoid.

According to Commissioner DeWayne Mareck, “the bill is “‘all about transparency’ and any use of taxpayer money should require an audit.” That’s pretty noncontroversial. So is the text of the legislation:

Section 1. DIRECTION TO LEGISLATIVE AUDITOR; REFUGEE RESETTLEMENT COSTS.
(a) The legislative auditor shall conduct or contract with vendors to conduct independent third-party financial audits of federal, state, local, and nonprofit spending related to refugee resettlement costs and other services provided to refugees in Minnesota.

What’s controversial about knowing how much taxpayer funding is being spent on resettlement programs? I haven’t heard anyone complain about the legislative auditor auditing a government agency or NPO. Why is #UniteCloud complaining?

Jeff Johnson, a St. Cloud City Council member, said he’s been concerned about the lack of transparency with the refugee resettlement program. “The taxpayers have a right to have a good and fair audit,” Johnson said.

#UniteCloud has the right to complain because the First Amendment protects that right. Similarly, I have the right to ignore #UniteCloud’s fanciful accusations.

The purpose of this op-ed, written by MnDOT Commissioner Charles Zelle and Met Council Chairman Adam Duininck, is to criticize Jim Knoblach. In the interest of full disclosure, Jim represents me in the legislature. He’s also one of the smartest policy makers in Minnesota. But I digress.

While attacking Chairman Knoblach, Commissioner Zelle and Chairman Duininck made a major mistake by essentially admitting that extending Northstar will be expensive, not just in terms of building it, but also in operating it. Commissioner Zelle and Chairman Duininck admitted it when they wrote “Building out the line involves some up-front costs, including upgrading the St. Cloud Amtrak station to make it ADA compliant; upgrading railroad crossings in St. Cloud; and adding a third track at the Big Lake station to allow trains to stop there. These capital costs along are estimated at up to $43 million, and this doesn’t include the additional funding to operate the line day-in and day-out.”

Why should we extend Northstar at such an expensive price when there’s already shuttle service from St. Cloud to Big Lake? I suspect that the operating costs of the shuttle are less than the operating costs for Northstar. I’m certain, however, that maintaining the shuttle service won’t require $43,000,000 in “capital costs.”

Question for Commissioner Zelle and Chairman Duininck: how many years could the shuttle be operated with those $43,000,000 in capital costs?

Stop that train. Stop that train. It isn’t that the $43,000,000 is the only major financial outlay:

Our $43 million cost estimate also does not include the cost of acquiring right-of-way from BNSF Railway.

Here’s another question for Commissioner Zelle and Chairman Duininck: How much will acquiring that right-of-way from BNSF cost?

Here’s a question for citizens: shouldn’t Commissioner Zelle and Chairman Duininck lay out those costs in an op-ed in a major newspaper?

We want to work with area legislators to find a way to bring Northstar to St. Cloud residents. But that work has to first start by acknowledging the realities and the costs. Minnesotans deserve a real proposal.

The question residents should ask Knoblach is: Does he still support the extension when faced with the reality of the cost?

Actually, the question citizens should ask is whether extending Northstar is worth it at that price. As a lifelong resident of St. Cloud, there isn’t a great uprising of support for extending Northstar. It’s true that a handful of public officials are pushing it but that’s pretty much it.

We don’t need to spend $50,000,000 or more just to give Gov. Dayton another ribbon-cutting ceremony to attend. I don’t speak for Chairman Knoblach but I’ll speak for myself. Spending 10s of millions of dollars on this project is a waste of money.

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Eric Williams’ LTE advocating for passage of the school board bonding referendum isn’t worth the paper it’s printed on. For instance, Williams’ first argument to vote for the referendum is “A robust school system adds value our community. Young entrepreneurs who want to start innovative businesses need quality workers. What attracts these entrepreneurs and quality workers is a quality school system.”

I won’t dispute that a well-trained work force is an economic benefit to any community. I have multiple dispute. with the referendum. First, the school board is trying to shove a massive property tax increase down our throats without telling us a) any details about the size of the new Tech HS or b) what enrollment model they’re using to determine the size of the building.

Without knowing that, it’s impossible to say whether a $113,800,000 project is needed. That’s before considering why the school board threw in a bonding request for improved technology. That’s been paid for with the operating levy. Taxpayers shouldn’t have to pay for that with interest tacked on. Here’s Williams’ second bullet point:

Quality schools raise the value of our homes. I would argue that it is the most important reason young families choose to live where they do. Realtors often leverage the quality of a community’s school system when they market a home to a family new to the area.

Again, it’s another generalized argument. For the sake of discussion, let’s stipulate that it’s true. Does Mr. Williams think that taxpayers want to be treated like ATMs? Wouldn’t they be more impressed with a great new facility that the district didn’t overpay for? I’m betting that taxpayers would appreciate it if the district had modern facilities and that weren’t overbuilt. Here’s Williams’ final bullet point:

I think we all agree that a quality school system is a huge attractor for young families. Selfishly, I would love to see my children and the children of my friends and neighbors who have graduated from Tech and Apollo choose to raise their families in St. Cloud. (We won’t have far to go to see our grandchildren!)

This LTE didn’t address anything of substance. It’s filled with platitudes and emotional appeals. That isn’t a justification for passing the biggest bonding referendum in St. Cloud history. It definitely isn’t a justification for passing the biggest bonding referendum in St. Cloud history without a series of townhall meetings.

Vote no on November 3.

This morning, the St. Cloud Times’ Our View editorial couldn’t get it more wrong:

Seriously, short of breaking the two-party stranglehold on state government, this session stands as Minnesota’s poster child for reforming a budget-building process that’s come to rely on procrastination as a feeble excuse for letting a handful of 202 elected officials (201 legislators and one governor) make closed-door budget deals as time expires. Or, this year, afterward.

More transparency is the best solution.

This isn’t an argument against transparency. It’s an argument that ideology, not transparency, drove the special session. Time after time, Gov. Dayton pushed items from the DFL’s special interest wish list. While neither party is immune to pushing things too far, it’s indisputable that the DFL pushed it too hard this session. In fact, I’d argue that the DFL got used to pushing things too far in 2013-14, then didn’t adjust to divided government this year.

Gov. Dayton insisted on a trifecta of bad ideas. First, Gov. Dayton insisted on a major gas tax increase that Minnesotans vehemently opposed. Next, Gov. Dayton insisted on universal pre-k. Even after experts said that wasn’t sustainable, Gov. Dayton didn’t relent until a week later. Finally, Gov. Dayton insisted that the legislature repeal the partial privatization of the Auditor’s office a week after Gov. Dayton signed the bill.

The gas tax increase was a disaster waiting to happen. Three-fourths of Minnesotans opposed the tax increase. That didn’t stop Gov. Dayton from harshly criticizing people opposed to his gas tax increase. When he dug in his heels, Gov. Dayton poisoned the well.

Later, Gov. Dayton insisted on universal pre-K. Even after Art Rolnick showed how expensive it was and how many hidden property tax increases and unfunded mandates were hidden in the bill, Gov. Dayton still pushed the bill in his attempt to pay off his allies at Education Minnesota.

Third, Gov. Dayton pushed that the legislature repeal the statute that gave counties the option of hiring a private CPA to audit their county. That was an especially tricky position to defend since 28 counties already have that option.

Ideology, not a lack of transparency, pushed events in the Legislature.

I’ve written two posts on Brian McDaniel’s statements on the transportation bill. (This is the link to my post about McDaniel’s appearance on Almanac. This is the link for my post about McDaniel’s appearance on At Issue.) In those posts, I expressed my bewilderment with McDaniel’s statements pushing for a compromise on the DFL’s gas tax proposal.

This information from Minnesota’s Campaign Finance Disclosure Board dropped the pieces of this transportation puzzle into place:

According to this report, Margaret Donahoe is the “executive director” of the Minnesota Transportation Alliance. That report didn’t reveal this information:

McDaniel didn’t state that he’s a paid lobbyist for the organization pushing the DFL’s gas tax. He didn’t disclose this conflict of interest when he appeared on Almanac. McDaniel didn’t disclose this important information when he appeared on At Issue.

It’s disgusting that McDaniel didn’t disclose this information. It’s one thing to speak in favor of legislation as a private citizen. It’s another to speak in favor of legislation like you’re a private citizen when you’re actually a paid lobbyist.

It’s standard procedure to disclose that you’re a paid lobbyist for an organization that’s pushing a policy that you’re discussing. To do otherwise is dishonest and corrupt. When others have been caught in that situation before, they’ve started their first sentence by saying “In the interest of full disclosure.” Then the viewers understand that the lobbyist has a dog in that particular hunt.

At this point, Republicans should tell Mr. McDaniel that they won’t listen to his pitch anymore because he isn’t transparent in his dealings with legislators. More importantly, Republicans should reject all calls for a gas tax increase because it’s a failed policy. The DFL tried that approach in 2008. It failed miserably. Because it failed miserably in 2008, the DFL is back asking for a bigger gas tax increase this year.

Move MN, the Minnesota Transportation Alliance, the DFL and Gov. Dayton must be desperate if they’re pushing the gas tax without telling us that they’re sending out paid lobbyists to act like regular citizens speaking out on this issue.

Finally, Republicans should stand firmly against the gas tax increase. They’re on the winning side of this issue.

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