Hensel asks for reimbursement of park rental fees for peace fair

Says she is a nonprofit that hasn’t organized under the state

By Terry Lehrke, News Editor 

In June, Robin Hensel, a member of the Little Falls Partners for Peace, organized the Mid-Minnesota Peace and Diversity Fair, a free event open to the public.

She paid $75 plus tax ($80.16) to rent Le Bourget Park and another $75 plus tax to rent Maple Island Park for the event.

A request to camp overnight in the parks was denied by the city, as city code prohibits overnight camping in city parks. In fact, no one is allowed in a city park after 10 p.m.

Dan Vogt, interim city administrator, told the Little Falls City Council of Hensel’s request during its work session Monday.

Although Hensel and the Little Falls Partners for Peace do not have a 501(c)3 designation, Hensel said she is as much of a nonprofit as groups “such as the Kiwanis.”

“I am a nonprofit. I just don’t have the money to be an organized group under the state,” said Hensel.

She pointed to the Mayor’s Youth Task Force.

“The Youth Task Force is not an organized nonprofit and their fees were waived to rent the same park, just very shortly before the Peace and Diversity Fair,” said Hensel.

The Mayor’s Youth Task Force is a committee through the city, originally brought together to help bring about a skate park and splash pad.

Vogt told the Council the issue could be referred to the Park, Recreation and Tree Board to ensure consistency. Once this Board has heard the request it will make a recommendation to the Council.

“Go back to the Park, Recreation and Tree Board and let them deal with it,” said Mayor Cathy VanRisseghem.

“I found it interesting that Dan Vogt was in a nice way encouraging them to make a decision last night, so it wouldn’t defer to another group,” Hensel said Tuesday. “It’s going to have to come back to the Council to make a decision. That is another way to skirt the issue.”

City Finance Officer Lori Kasella said the Mayor’s Youth Task Force is a task force formed by the city, “So they were never charged a fee.”

Kasella said other groups that have had fees waived upon their request that she could recall, include the Morrison County United Way, the Morrison County Animal Humane Society and the Little Falls Convention and Visitors Bureau (LFCVB).

Hensel said she first began to investigate the possible waiver when she was initially denied an exhibitor booth space at the Dam Festival in Little Falls.

“The Convention and Visitors Bureau tried to tell me something that was not true,” said Hensel. “That they had by-laws that you had to be a nonprofit to be a part of the Dam Festival. I stated I was a nonprofit and that all of these groups that are nonprofit would be coming to this event. Peace groups are so small, we don’t have money.”

Eventually, Hensel said, the CVB did get back to her, and she was allowed to be an exhibitor at the Dam Festival.

Kristina VonBerge, new executive director for the LFCVB, said that while typically Dam Festival vendors were to be nonprofit, there was no documentation that required proof of being a nonprofit. That, she said, will change for the future as she works with the CVB Board to make that policy more clear.

The CVB is the financial liaison for the Dam Festival Committee.


Another request

Hensel made another request of the Council Monday. She asked to fly flags of other nations of her choice on city light poles, just as the Sons of the American Legion do with American flags, she said.

The American flags will be removed over the winter, said Hensel. She wants to fill those spaces with the flags from other nations, which she proposes fly until June 2013.

The City Council, during its work session, declined her request.

Council Member Loren Boyum said flying those flags would imply the Council supported “Peace Day,” which was held Sept. 21.

“I don’t think the city should get involved in this,” said Klinker. “We need to do city business.”

Hensel said, “There’s zero tolerance in this area for views other than what certain people want to say and think is acceptable,” she said.

Hensel, who is running for the Ward 1 Council seat, said the lawsuit she has brought against the city is moving forward.

The lawsuit is a result of what Hensel calls discrimination by the city.

The lawsuit was initiated following an incident where Hensel was asked to remove signs in her yard late in 2011, because they violated the city ordinance. However, Hensel said, others were not asked to remove their signs which were also in violation.

In enforcing its ordinance, Hensel said the city violated her right to free speech.

The city has since updated its sign ordinance, with months of work from the Planning Commission.

Hensel said the discrimination against her continues.