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The St. Cloud City Council just passed an ordinance raising the minimum age to purchase cigarettes to the age of 21. Mayor Kleis made a great presentation, talking about how the United States Constitution was amended in 1972 in less than 3 months. Mayor Kleis noted that the 26th Amendment was passed unanimously in the Senate and with only a handful of dissenting votes in the House of Representatives. It took the states only 3 months to ratify the constitutional amendment. The text of the 26th Amendment statesSection 1. The right of citizens of the United States, who are eighteen years of age or older, to vote shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of age.
Section 2. The Congress shall have the power to enforce this article by appropriate legislation.”

After hearing compelling testimony from the community, City Council President Lewis, Councilman Laraway, Councilman Hontos and Councilman Masters still voted with the CentraCare lobbying unit. One testifier was Mark Fritz, the owner of E-Cig Emporium in St. Cloud. His testimony was blunt and to the point. He said “Your ordinance will not stop them. You need to recognize all you’re doing is hurting your local businesses.”

The good news is that Mayor Kleis has already announced that he’ll veto the ordinance, saying “I can’t support it and I won’t sign it.” Thanks to Kleis’s veto, St. Cloud stayed away from becoming a total supporter of nanny statism.

The truth is that the City Council is approaching this the wrong way. They’re trying to limit supply when they should be trying to limit demand. If you don’t reduce demand for cigarettes, limiting where young people can purchase cigarettes won’t have a significant impact. It’s the rule of the forbidden fruit. If you tell someone they can’t have something, that thing quickly becomes the thing they want most.

One of the testifiers noted that cigarette smoking has dropped each year for a long time. It isn’t the problem health organizations make it out to be. That isn’t saying we shouldn’t try reducing it more. It’s that we should try reducing smoking through educating people, then trusting them to make an informed decision. People who are old enough to sign a contract are certainly old enough to make an informed decision. Based on their votes, Lewis, Laraway, Hontos and Masters disagreed with that principle.

St. Cloud State students should remember that these councilmembers think these students aren’t able to make informed decisions the next time that quartet is up for re-election.

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This LTE, written by Maureen Warren, Lutheran Social Service of Minnesota, is pure CYA. In the LTE, Warren states “As part of our work, we are required to hold quarterly meetings with stakeholders that are involved in the process of helping to resettle refugees. These stakeholders include officials from local government, county personnel in human services, and representatives from public health, public safety, housing community, public education, social services, businesses and other service providers.”

There’s ample proof that county officials have gotten briefed on the programs. After all, they administer most of these programs. However, there’s no proof whatsoever that city officials have attended these meetings. Mayor Kleis has repeatedly said that the city doesn’t have anything to do with refugee resettlement. He’s also said “We don’t have any funding that goes to refugee resettlement.”

That’s pretty slippery wording. Notice that Mayor Kleis didn’t say that the city budget doesn’t spend money on refugees who’ve already settled here. Further, citizens who support Councilman Johnson’s moratorium haven’t talked about city budgets:

Since July 10, 22 people have spoken about refugee resettlement. Many of the speakers said they are concerned about the taxpayer cost of refugees.

Once the refugees have been here 90 days, federal funding disappears. At that point, the taxpayers get hit with the costs of supporting refugees. The same taxpayers that pay property taxes to the city get hit with property tax increases from the school district to pay for programs that help refugees learn the English language. That’s why St. Cloud’s education rating is awful. By comparison, Sartell, which doesn’t have to deal with refugees, earns a higher rating for education and for crime.

Our focus is to increase communication and seek solutions to meet the needs of refugee populations. This is a working group. Quarterly meetings were never intended to be an open public forum.

Thus far, it’s apparent that LSS’s focus is on keeping these proceedings secret.

We know there is community interest in learning more about refugee resettlement. To create greater understanding about this work, we are opening our December quarterly consultation meeting to interested public observers.

How quaint. LSS is opening up a meeting one time so LSS can say that they’ve been transparent.

Resettling refugees is humanitarian work. We’ve been involved in refugee resettlement for nearly 10 years in St. Cloud, and many decades in Minnesota. Our role is to help refugees get off to a good start and become productive members of the community as quickly as possible.

Actually, it’s a racket. Businesses that hire refugees who’ve been unemployed more than 6 months qualify for a tax credit of up to $9,600. Businesses hiring refugees aren’t hiring them for middle management positions. They’re hiring them for unskilled positions. In other words, businesses get cheap labor and a huge tax credit for hiring cheap labor.

Meanwhile, LSS gets paid $1,000 for each refugee it finds a home for. This year, LSS will get $225,000 to resettle refugees. That doesn’t sound like humanitarian work. That’s what a lucrative racket sounds like. This letter from Ron Branstner lays things out beautifully:

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This LTE made me laugh hysterically. The heart of the LTE says “There is a relatively new organization, the National Institute for Civil Discourse, that might welcome the debate/discussion that will take place on Nov. 6 at the St. Cloud City Council meeting, when Johnson plans to introduce his proposed ban. Rather than calling names, let us have the free speech discussion on an issue that divides many of us. “Civil discourse, wherein we actually listen and hear one another, is key to a democratic republic, which our Founding Fathers gave us!”

If you watch the video of that portion of the Oct. 23 City Council meeting, you’d see that those that voted for the Goerger resolution shut down debate the minute Councilman Johnson started speaking. Councilman Masters made the motion to stop discussion after only a few minutes of hearing from the opposition. While it’s wrong to call that censorship, it isn’t wrong to accuse the City Council 5 afraid of having a full-throated discussion of the issues.

Mayor Kleis has been flippant, too, frequently stating that a) it’s a federal matter and b) no money comes out of the city budget. Frankly, that’s insulting. I’ll stipulate that there isn’t a line item in St. Cloud’s operating budget titled ‘Law Enforcement- refugees’ or ‘City health inspections of Somali restaurants’, that doesn’t mean there isn’t a cost.

Further, St. Cloud taxpayers in Benton, Sherburne and Stearns counties live in ISD742. Everyone of those home owners pay property taxes that pay for the school levy that helps refugee students get up to speed on reading English. St. Cloud taxpayers pay taxes to the state, too, which funds many of the health insurance programs or other human services like housing assistance. Whether it’s technically part of St. Cloud’s operating budget or not, it’s still a tax paid by St. Cloud taxpayers.

Playing coy word games isn’t leadership. It’s insulting. Mayor Kleis, if you aren’t willing to be a leader, find a different job. St. Cloud has gone downhill the last 5+ years. Downtown businesses are doing poorly. The University that you provided political cover for is in a financial and enrollment tailspin. That’s hurting St. Cloud’s economy.

While it would be nice to see some civility and professionalism at next week’s City Council meeting, I don’t have high expectations for that.

Last Monday, the St. Cloud City Council went off the deep end. On Ox in the Afternoon’s Friday program, it was said that the City Council “flipped us the bird.” This was planned. Most disgustingly, it was a surprise ambush. Jeff Goerger put forward a resolution for the Council’s consideration. In putting forward the resolution, Goerger ignored the rules that the City Council revised this past August.

Apart from the tactics used, and infinitely more important, the City Council didn’t listen to the people. There have been a large group of people clamoring for an independent audit that tells St. Cloud residents how much of their taxes are being spent on subsidized housing, education, public safety, health and other things. That’s what was the driving force behind Councilman Johnson’s moratorium. City Council President Lewis, Councilman Laraway, Councilman Libert, Councilman Goerger and Councilman Masters voted against accountability and transparency.

They, along with Mayor Kleis, sang from the same discredited ‘hymnal’ that this is a federal issue that doesn’t intersect with the city’s budget. If they want to continue singing that discredited refrain, that’s their right. It’s also St. Cloud’s right to defeat each of these councilmembers the next time they’re up for re-election.

Goerger, Masters, Laraway, Lewis and Libert exposed themselves as unworthy of being called leaders. They did what Kleis wanted them to do. That makes them sheep, not leaders. Further, Goerger, Masters, Laraway, Lewis and Libert attempted to quiet the city with this resolution. They did the opposite. Rather than having a rational discussion with their constituents, the City Council essentially told the people to shut up, that they knew what’s best.

Goerger’s condescension was showing when he introduced his resolution, which was titled “in support of a just and welcoming community.” The implication wasn’t lost on St. Cloud. It’s apparent that Goerger thinks that those that disagree with him aren’t just. His introductory speech made that clear, saying “This one guy bringing forward a resolution is not the voice of the City Council”:

What is the City Council afraid of? It’s clear that they thought that they had to control the debate. It’s clear that the Council felt they had to repudiate Councilman Johnson. It’s clear that there’s a sizable and growing group of people who simply want to know that their taxes aren’t getting spent foolishly.

The other unmistakable message sent by the City Council was that they have no intention of being transparent with the people of St. Cloud. The unmistakable message sent by Councilman Goerger is that he’s a liberal who isn’t that bright. In his resolution, he stated that “the city of St. Cloud has the capacity to provide municipal services to the aforementioned prospective new residents without an impact on the city budget or quality of life.”

Anyone that thinks that refugees don’t have an impact on the city budget is delusional. I wrote in this post that this was a crystallizing event. Further, it’s clear from watching the video of the meeting that there were essentially as many citizens opposing Goerger’s resolution as supporting. Why, then, was the vote lopsided in favoring Goerger’s resolution?

Further, people are saying that the Goerger resolution passed. It didn’t. The only vote taken was on whether to call the question. No votes were taken on whether to approve Goerger’s resolution. This video clearly shows that:

That’s shown approximately 1:20:00 into the video. Within seconds of the vote to call the question, Council President Lewis adjourned the meeting.

Finally, it’s clear that the anti-transparency activists weren’t there to listen people with a different opinion. They were there to shout down people who disagreed with them. Think about that. The people supporting the resolution titled “in support of a just and welcoming community” shouted down the people who wanted a full, respectful discussion. These anti-transparency activists who demand St. Cloud be a welcoming community were openly hostile to Councilman Johnson.

That’s both ironic and pathetic.

St. Cloud Mayor Dave Kleis isn’t the brightest bulb in the Constitution’s chandelier. Appearing on KNSI Tuesday morning, Kleis told host Bob Hughes that “refugee resettlement is not within the city’s power to regulate and it would be a violation of the constitution.” Specifically, Mayor Kleis said “Only congress has the authority when it comes to immigration and then you have the aspect of the 14th amendment, the equal protection clause.”

The equal protection clause states “All persons born or naturalized in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States and of the State wherein they reside. No State shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States; nor shall any State deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.”

First, Mayor Kleis is right that the Constitution gives the federal government the authority to set immigration policy. Nobody’s disputing that. What Mayor Kleis didn’t explain was what laws Councilman Johnson’s resolution would violate. For that matter, Mayor Kleis didn’t say how a moratorium (a pause) would violate the Constitution.

Next, there’s the issue of the Refugee Act of 1980. Mayor Kleis sent this letter to the US Department of Health and Human Services. The letter reads a bit like a push poll at the end. Specifically, I’m referring to the part where Mayor Kleis wrote “The specific concern expressed by some groups is that these quarterly consultations are not occurring, at least not locally. Since this is a federal issue, and not a local matter, I am bringing this to your attention.”

Mayor Kleis, why can’t you put 2 and 2 together and get 4? The Refugee Act of 1980 requires consultations with “local governments.” If those consultations aren’t happening locally, which you admit isn’t happening, where would these consultations happen? In Washington, DC?

This sounds like shuck-and-jive Kleis, not Honest Abe Kleis. We have a right to expect better than this from our mayor.

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Now that it’s official that the St. Cloud City Council is packed with nanny state busybodies, the special interests are coming out of the woodwork. We’re now being told the virtues of government overreach. This time, Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Minnesota weighed in with this editorial.

The editorial says “Ninety-five percent of addicted adult smokers started by age 21, which is why they heavily target 18-to-21-year-olds. With tactics like menthol and candy flavoring, magazine advertisements and event sponsorships, the tobacco industry aggressively markets to youth and young adults to recruit replacement smokers and guarantee profits.” Later, it says “Why should we care? Because smoking costs everyone. A recent report by Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Minnesota showed smoking annually costs our state $3.2 billion to treat people with smoking-related diseases. Per capita, smoking costs $593 for every adult and child in Minnesota. It also claims 6,312 lives due to premature death. Every year.”

Let me answer the question first. Governments shouldn’t care. These are personal decisions. Anyone old enough to vote in elections and fight in wars is perfectly capable of making solid decisions. Further, this argument isn’t fitting for the situation. It’s one thing if a state law was passed raising the minimum age to 21. That law wouldn’t have much of a chance of succeeding but it would have a better chance of succeeding than this proposed city ordinance.

Passing this proposed ordinance might make people feel better momentarily but it doesn’t fix any problems. First off, I’d argue that this is a solution in search of a problem. Next, I’d highlight the fact that none of the other neighboring cities are thinking about raising the age. That means they’ll get the business that St. Cloud is chasing away.

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It’s pretty clear that St. Cloud Mayor Dave Kleis will say or do anything to avoid having an honest discussion about the costs that Somali refugees cause that St. Cloud taxpayers pay for.

According to the Times article, Kleis “calls the proposed moratorium unconstitutional and said that the city’s budget doesn’t fund refugee resettlement.” What Kleis omits in his statement is that refugees cost the city money in terms of law enforcement costs, city health inspections and other services.

Kleis has also argued that money spent on education isn’t part of the city budget so it shouldn’t count towards the city budget. While it’s technically true to say that the School Board budget is separate, it’s equally true to say that the taxpayers don’t notice that distinction because it’s part of their property tax bill. It’s a distinction without a difference to taxpayers.

Kleis is also quoted as saying that “cities clearly don’t have a role in immigration. This is a federal issue.” That’s another slippery answer. I’m not disputing the fact that the federal government sets immigration policy. What I’m disputing, however, is the fact that cities have specific responsibilities.

For instance, the Refugee Act of 1980 “states in 8 U.S.C. 1522(2)(A): ‘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.'” That’s a specific responsibility given by the federal government to “local governments.” They didn’t suggest that the federal government work with local governments. They instructed the federal government to work with local governments.

If Mayor Kleis isn’t willing to do the things that he’s required to do by statute, then it’s time for him to retire. St. Cloud requires a full-time mayor, not a career politician who picks and chooses which important responsibilities he’ll do and which responsibilities he’ll ignore.

Apparently, Dave Kleis doesn’t understand the Constitution. According to this article, Mayor Kleis said “Cities clearly do not have a role in immigration. This is a federal issue. We should be focusing on city issues.” Later, Kleis said “I believe a moratorium violates the U.S. Constitution, particularly the equal protection clause. We strive very hard to be a welcoming community. We work very hard to encourage people to come to the community. We should be focusing our efforts on making sure everyone succeeds.”

Simply put, Kleis is wrong about whether cities have a role in refugee resettlement. While it’s indisputable that the federal government sets immigration policy, it’s equally true that local communities have a role in other aspects of refugee resettlement. For instance, “the Refugee Act of 1980 states in 8 U.S.C. 1522(2)(A): ‘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.'”

The last I looked, nobody has challenged the constitutionality of the Refugee Act of 1980. The Supreme Court certainly hasn’t declared it unconstitutional. My question for Mayor Kleis is simple. What’s the foundation for your belief that the Refugee Act of 1980 is unconstitutional?

It’s indisputable that the Refugee Act of 1980 requires consultation with local governments. Since that law hasn’t been declared unconstitutional, there’s no chance the law violates the Fourteenth Amendment. The definition of moratorium is “a suspension of activity.” How is a temporary suspension of refugee resettlement a violation of the Fourteenth Amendment?

What’s most aggravating is Mayor Kleis’s statement that St. Cloud is “a welcoming community.”

Sounds familiar, doesn’t it?

This paragraph brings new questions:

Johnson’s resolution would only temporarily halt “primary refugees” — those who come directly from overseas and settle in Minnesota. It could not ban secondary migration; refugees are free to move around the country like anyone else, and they often do to join family and relatives, or to find employment.

What does this, or any other part of Johnson’s proposed moratorium, have to do with the Fourteenth Amendment? That’s the polite way of asking whether Kleis knows what he’s talking about. This statement is insulting:

Our budget is transparent. That budget, in detail, is on our city’s website. We don’t have any funding that goes to refugee resettlement.

Mayor Kleis, how much money is spent on law enforcement policing the primary locations where refugees live? It isn’t a separate line-item in the budget so how would we know how much resettled refugees cost city taxpayers? How much money from the city budget goes towards inspecting restaurants run by refugees? I’ve heard multiple reports that city health inspectors have a list of Somali restaurants where they won’t inspect because they’re that unsanitary.

Mayor Kleis, it’s insultingly dishonest to insist that the city doesn’t spend money providing services to refugees. You used to be a decent mayor. That’s changed, thanks to your unwillingness to confront St. Cloud’s challenges. While you bury your head in the sand, the citizens of St. Cloud suffer.

It’s time for you to retire so a responsive mayor can get elected.

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Living on St. Cloud’s East Side my entire life, I’ve grown skeptical of city plans to redevelop St. Cloud’s East Side. When Mayor Kleis starts talking about redeveloping the East Side, I get extra skeptical. In this article, Mayor Kleis outdid himself. The article says that “The biggest redevelopment boon would be a Northstar line extension”, adding that that “would be the single greatest catalyst for East Side development.” The station where Northstar would stop at is less than a half-mile from my house. Anyone that thinks that that’s a catalyst to redeveloping St. Cloud is either lying or stupid.

When Kleis said that this “is doable, and the Legislature can do that,” my first reaction was to ask what type of drugs he was using. The East Side of St. Cloud will forever be a blue collar part of town. Within a quarter mile of that train stop are Red’s Electric, Val’s, Handyman’s, a couple junk yards, one of which was abandoned 5 years ago, an old brick building that looks like it’s been abandoned for 50 years and a day-old bread store. The frightening thought is that that’s the upscale part of the area.

To do anything retail- or office-related there would require tens of millions of dollars to just make a dent. Then the question becomes what would go into this real estate. Here’s the reply:

The plan recommended the city encourages artisan workshops and artist residences to move into the district by establishing incentives for redeveloping “make/live” space for artists and organizations.

Seriously? This is proof that this city desperately needs new leadership. To show how unserious this plan is, consider this information:

But East Side redevelopment captured only about one page of the document, which is upward of 160 pages. The plan’s catalyst sites were mostly near downtown on the west side of the river.

Then there’s this quote from Mayor Kleis:

The river flows through our city. It doesn’t divide the east and the west.

Actually, Dave, the Mississippi does divide the city. It has since I was born 61 years ago. This is the view looking east down East St. Germain Street:

In less than a mile, there are 2 major sets of railroad tracks as you look east. There are 2 other railroad crossings if you look north from St. Germain. As you pass Lincoln Ave. heading east, there’s a mix of a gas station, some homes and Highway 10.

If you think that I’m being a bit pessimistic, consider the fact that that’s before we talk about fixing the properties on Lincoln Ave. north of East St. Germain St. If you don’t fix that, you’ve just spent a ton of money without fixing the East Side’s problems.

What’s needed is to admit that the East Side is best suited for industrial redevelopment. Putting in cute apartments and retail shops might look nice for a couple of years but it won’t fix the underlying problem. Getting a fistful of federal grant money to put in a few cute amenities won’t change that fact.

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After writing this post about a proposal to increase affordable housing in the Greater St. Cloud area, I got a call from a loyal reader of LFR. This person highlighted the fact that St. Cloud’s economy used to be built around manufacturers like Franklin and big corporations like Fingerhut. This reader then mentioned the fact that St. Cloud’s economy today is focused on the hospitality and retail industries.

In the past, St. Cloud has made terrible choices for its economy. The Chamber of Commerce shouldn’t get off lightly, either, since they’ve frequently advocated for tourism industry bonding projects. In the end, those things changed St. Cloud from being a blue collar manufacturing town into a tourism mecca. That’s foolish because there are thousands of different tourism meccas in Minnesota.

In Jenny Berg’s article, she wrote that “Hontos said he wants a joint resolution to show interest from other cities.” He might get that resolution passed by the St. Cloud City Council but it’ll die the minute it gets to the Sartell and Sauk Rapids city councils.

Since this affordable housing project started getting publicity, talk has started about voting on a moratorium that would postpone the building of bike trails and city parks until St. Cloud attracts 5 new manufacturing companies to St. Cloud.

The liberal policies that’ve caused St. Cloud’s neighborhoods to deteriorate have led to rising crime rates, too. Mind you, many of these crimes haven’t gotten recorded but they’ve still happened. They’ve been reported. They just haven’t been recorded. We’re left with a city whose economy is like icing on a cake but without a main meal. Economies built around retailers and restaurants are like meals consisting of cake and ice cream but no meat, potatoes or gravy.

Other citizens have told me that getting things approved for construction has gotten more difficult. The City has the right official policies. They just aren’t enforced. The reason I mention this is simple. Why would a major company move to St. Cloud when crime is rising, there’s a shortage of the type of laborers that companies will need and the local economy is built around the hospitality and retail industries?

Dave Kleis has been one of the biggest cheerleaders for these policies. He’s also the chief cheerleader for the airport. He could’ve killed 2 birds with 1 stone by proposing an industrial park built right by a new regional airport. That would have a chance of gaining traction and changing the trajectory of St. Cloud’s economy. That proposal hasn’t been rejected. It’s been ignored instead.

Frankly, it’s time for new leadership in St. Cloud. St. Cloud needs someone who a) isn’t a de facto cheerleader for the Chamber of Commerce, b) doesn’t believe in crony capitalism and c) has a vision to restore St. Cloud’s identity as a blue collar All American city. I’d clean out most of the members of the City Council. I’d pretty much fire the School Board. Finally, I’d fire the SCSU president, too. It’s clear he doesn’t have a plan to turn SCSU around.

Mayor Kleis talks about reviving St. Cloud’s core neighborhoods. Those don’t get built or maintained by restaurant owners.

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