City of Little Falls settles lawsuit with Hensel

By Patrick SlackStaff Writer

With no admission of liability by any party, the city of Little Falls approved a settlement with Robin Hensel in the Hensel v. City of Little Falls lawsuit Monday.

The settlement resolved the claim that the city restricted Hensel’s free speech with its old bench ordinance.

The city declined Hensel’s request to place a bench for advertising near City Hall property. That bench ordinance has since been revised.

The original lawsuit also challenged the city’s sign ordinance, a claim that was later dismissed.

As part of the settlement, the city will pay $39,500 to the Paladin Law Trust account, the account of Hensel’s attorney Larry Frost, to cover attorney’s fees and any damages that could have been claimed.

“Importantly for the city, there is no admission of any liability,” said Jason Kuboushek, a lawyer representing the city on the case. “It covers all claims, including attorney’s fees and potential appeals. With respect to the amount being paid to the Paladin Law Trust account, this amount really is a cost-saving mechanism.”

One claim against the city’s old bench ordinance survived the motion for summary judgment and would have gone to trial without the settlement.

“From attorney’s fees and defense cost standpoint, the amount of the settlement is less than what it would have cost the city to go through the trial in defense of that claim,” Kuboushek said.

Also as part of the agreement, Hensel will receive the right to rent a bench on Little Falls City Hall property, with the city working with the bench contractor to ensure a bench is placed in an agreed upon location.

Hensel will enter into a contract for the bench advertising and will be able to renew the contract as often as she likes under the settlement, provided she fulfills her contractual and monetary duties.

Should Hensel stop advertising on the bench at any point, someone else could rent it. Hensel would then be treated like anyone else if she wished to resume advertising, being able to if it was available.

Hensel will also indemnify the city of Little Falls and the League of Minnesota Cities Insurance Trust against tax liability for the monetary settlement.

The terms of the settlement were discussed during an all-day conference with representatives from both sides, March 21.

The vote passed 6-1, with Council Member Frank Gosiak casting the lone no vote.

“I was aware, as was the rest of the Council, that financially it was probably better to just OK the plan that was before us. It saves the city money, I agree,” Gosiak said.

“But I do not believe she deserves a nickel on that one,” he said. “I had to vote with my conscience. I’m not going to say anything bad about the lady. I’m just saying I don’t think the city owed her anything and that’s my view.”

Mayor Cathy VanRisseghem abstained after having a medical procedure earlier in the day in which she received a mild sedative.

She personally chose to not sign anything for 12 hours to ensure her judgment hadn’t been impaired.

Despite the settlement, there was evidently little love lost between the Council and Hensel.

During her three minutes of public forum time, Hensel argued that the ensuing presentation at the council meeting by Camp Ripley was not a uniform application of public business.

“Since public forum comments are requested to be framed around items that fall within the authority of the City Council, tonight’s allowance of Camp Ripley’s presentation during council meeting is a mockery of your own rules and a vivid demonstration once again of a lawless council,” Hensel said.

Hensel also said that she wished to share information that she did not believe would be shared later on, saying that “The military is the most secretive, shielded and privileged of polluters because of the hallowed mantra, ‘national security trumps the public’s right to know.’”

“Robin, can I stop you one minute? This has nothing to do with the City Council, we can’t do nothing about Camp Ripley,” Council President Don Klinker said.

“Neither does Camp Ripley’s presentation tonight,” Hensel said.

“It’s an economic –” Klinker said.

“Let me continue,” Hensel said.

“– impact,” Klinker finished.

“Let me continue please,” Hensel said, as she proceeded with her presentation.

“She’s defying what you guys decided last week,” VanRisseghem said, conferring with other members of the Council in reference to a decision made by the Council in March to limit public forum time to items within the authority of the Council.

“No, we can request,” Council Member Jeremy Hanfler said, clarifying that the Council could ask, but not mandate, what people could talk about.
“We can request her not to,” Gosiak said.

“Excuse me, your own rules require you to not talk when someone holds the floor, and I’m holding the floor,” Hensel said.

“Where’s that?” Gosiak said.

“In your own rules, No. 69 and 2.42,” Hensel said.

Hensel resumed her presentation until her three minutes of public forum time were ruled up.

“Time’s up, your three minutes are up, I’m sorry,” Klinker said.

“I get an additional minute because you interrupted me,” Hensel said.

“No. You don’t get an additional minute, I’m sorry,” Klinker said.

“Excuse me, you’re violating your own rules,” Hensel said. “You interrupted me, rudely if I might add.”

Klinker said she had 15 more seconds. When that time expired, Klinker said, “Time’s up, we’ve got to move on,” as Hensel continued. “We’re going to move on. Anybody else want to speak?”

Hensel continued to speak until VanRisseghem called point of order.

VanRisseghem said that while she disagreed with the earlier decision to limit what people could talk about, she wants to make sure that what is discussed is something the Council can help with.

“We’re there for the people,” she said. “When a person comes and they have issues that relate to the community, that’s wonderful, that’s what we’re there for. We don’t want to limit anybody. It would just be nice that they bring us issues we can actually help them with.

“I’m supposed to be serving the people,” she said. “I hope that they honor that in the sense that I’m there for them and I want to help them.”

Little Falls City Council Briefs

 

In other business Monday, the Little Falls City Council:

• Approved John Ruby as Police Sergeant;

• Authorized purchase of playground equipment for the Taylor Chebet Playground and a 2015 GMC Sierra WT Pickup for Engineering Department;

• Accepted resignation of Stephen Miller as library services coordinator and received letter of retirement from Michael Klosowski as wastewater operator;

• Voted not to institute three-hour parking on First Street Southeast by Mid-Minnesota Federal Credit Union on a 4-4 vote, with Council Members Brian-Paul Crowder, Frank Gosiak, Don Klinker and Mayor Cathy VanRisseghem voting no. If it had been implemented, the police would come and mark tires when receiving a call, Chief Greg Schirmers said, then return in three hours;

• Approved a telephone system upgrade for the Police Department;

• Heard from Steve Fenlon from Midwest Health Capital and approved a project by St. Francis Health Services consenting to the issuance of obligations;

• Approved a stop sign request for the northeast corner of 18th Street and Mary Ann Avenue; and

• Discussed the possibility of a sales tax referendum being put on the ballot to fund the recreational complex, Pine Grove Zoo and the Trails through Little Falls. Final recommendation is expected later in the month.

The next Little Falls City Council meeting is scheduled for Monday, April 14, at 7:30 p.m.

 

  • robin hensel

    Clear indicator once again our mayor doesn’t even know their recently passed revisions to the public forum comment time. Little Falls deserves better leadership than this.

    • robin hensel

      Tmac…in order to have an item placed on the agenda of council or a resolution the council has stated it must be related to city related delivery of services. For camp ripley to garner an actual “presentation” slot on the councils roster is mindbogglingly absurd. Camp has absolutely nothing to do with city related delivery of service. As i said in my public forum….this is a lawless council running completely rogue.

      • Rick Witte

        Robin, it seems it would depend much on how one defines “related to city related delivery of services”. In an tangential sense there may well be an economic relationship between Camp Ripley and the delivery of services. There may well be a significant amount of payroll and contract dollars bestowed upon the City by the Camp! These dollars are partially used to pay taxes. Without these dollars the amount of services delivered may well be lessened as the economic vitality of the Community as a whole.

        I do not know it the resolution you cite has a definition for what the related to the delivery of services or not, but without a clear definition one could either view it narrowly or broadly. I guess you made your pick.

        As to whether or not the voters of the fair City will replace the incumbent City leader in the coming circus season or not will be left to tell. From your last attempt, and issues it seems clear the the voter decided to stick with what they have rather than leap upon your bandwagon. That might just well tell you something about how your presentations and antics are received by the same voters you attempt to sway.

  • central mn

    tmac she is just trying to set up the city for another lawsuit. She has nothing better to do with her (or any body else’s) time.

    • robin hensel

      Central mn….the city doesn’t need anybody’s help to “set them up” for another lawsuit. They are succeeding brilliantly on their own. As i have said before, my quaint little river town deserves better leadership.

    • Jody Scott Olson

      I don’t know any local entity that has been sued under civil rights laws that hasn’t been given a formal warning that they were violating law and given months and in some cases years to clean up their act.

      One week Hensel is remanded to keep her video cameras behind an imaginary line by council and the next week they’re sending the police chief to demand she move the equipment from that very spot deemed appropriate the week before. Had they arrested her for not jumping when Don Klinker snapped his fingers, what do you suppose would have happened? Who wouldn’t sue?

      I think that the position Klinker put Schirmer’s in was grossly inappropriate. Schirmer’s even tried to explain to Hensel, “I don’t write policy.” Hensel said, “what policy”. Schirmer’s said, “there isn’t one.” Yet Klinker put Schirmers in the position to square off with a member of the community over his own personal muscle flexing exercise? That’s a problem.

      How can anyone legally threaten arrest or removal from a public meeting when no policy has been violated. No law has been broken, no disruption has been cause and the attendee has adhered to the rules handed down?

      If I were one of the other council members or the police chief, I’d be furious at Klinker for rewriting the rules without conferring with the entire group. Just show up, rewrite stuff without any consent and enlist a police officer to enforce what you just pulled out of your hat. If Klinker causes a suit, the whole council gets a black eye, as does the city and its tax payers. This is mayhem that has to be brought into check.

      Law suits will stop coming when LEADERS hold themselves accountable for following state and federal laws AND their own rules and policies.

      When VanRissenghem told the council something to the effect, she’s defying the rules you set last week!. While Hensel had the floor. It was a very deliberate and childish act of pot-stirring and a violation of Roberts Rules of Order. Any mayor or council with a single ounce of professionalism or dignity would have asked Hensel to pause so they could discuss and decide, if there was some question. This council is following the lead of a mayor who doesn’t set and example and has no idea how to lead. Under her leadership and at the mayors pot stirring, two of these great leaders, shout over both Hensel and Fisk, argued among themselves and made such a ruckus that Hensel’s comment time was trashed. Then Klinker tried to shutdown Fisk who followed Hensel! If Klinker would have had his way and successfully shutdown Fisk’s use of his public comment…it would have been the park bench/sign ordanance lawsuit all over again.

      Where the hell is the learning curve? You cannot censor based on the viewpoint PERIOD. You can’t say Camp Ripley can present for 30 minutes and then tell the public that they are disallowed from commenting on that agenda item during a public forum. Its a contradiction to say its not council business but we’re dedicating a half hour of city time to it! If its not council business its not on the agenda.

      VanRissenghem has refused to educate her staff on civil rights, so this council keeps defiantly bumbling its way through as though they’re standing their ground on some back-ass-ward culture war, shaking fists and shouting power to the aristocracy!!! Worse yet, the council and the Mayor don’t even know what their own rules are!
      Yep, in this town we jus’ show up and shoot from the hip.

      Hensel was the one who cited the policy numbers off the top of her head to Gosiak amidst reading her 3 minute presentation all while council shouted over her. .

      What was even more shocking, the people who sat around me who regularly attend said this week was mild in comparison. Really? Because based on ALL news stories written in the Record, I wouldn’t have the first clue any of this circus was even taking place!

      This community should demand complete transparency in news reporting and responsible, respectful government leadership or else its time to call for resignations.

      • Rick Witte

        Unless I was viewing an outdated posting of the citations Robin quoted the quoted section (2.42) says nothing in regard to what Robin states. As for 69 I could find no such section. So where exactly is it stated that the Council cannot ask questions or otherwise engage?

  • Mitch Rapp

    You should say asshat more. It makes you sound intelligent…

    • robin hensel

      Mitch rapp….u should tell asshat mark fyten to use that word more. It is on loan from him. Remember him….the asshat who never weighs in on these discussions anymore. He dissappeared bout the same time tmac appeared.

      • Mitch Rapp

        I don’t know Mark Fyten. Asshat

    • Jody Scott Olson

      Okay, its been edited to elaborate on the harassing antics of the Little Falls city council but I also believe it includes one more asshat reference for Mitch.

    • tmac

      Thanks for the laugh out loud moment, Mitch.

  • josh

    Very true tmac. If Ms. Hensel wants to bring up Camp Ripley’s said environmental impacts in the city council Camp Ripley should be able to speak on the subject at the city council meeting. Otherwise Ms. Hensel should have brought it up in another venue that deals with outside city issues.

  • robin hensel

    Something troubling…josh you didnt catch the fact that city council is now wanting to consider A BIG GOVERNMENT SALES TAX on everyone by allowing the L.F.A.R.C.T.(little falls area recreational complex taskforce) to gather all the costs on funding the zoo debt and expansion…..the trails system in little falls plus the 6.7 million dollar rec complex on the donated MNDOT land north of town by the Living Hope Assembly of God church. A number of you folks on this disqus forum are anti tax…shrink the gov types so i am curious why nobody picked up on this and raised their opposition. Do any of you support this BIG GOVERNMENT regressive sales tax that will likely be on the ballot for consideration in the fall? I think it also costs money to put it on the ballot. Why on earth would our leaders encourage this kind of ludacrous project to be considered in such a poor area? This doesnt make fiscal sense. We have more seniors than any other demographic group and they are on fixed incomes. Sales taxes are the most REGRESSIVE taxes. I am really surprised there’s no flap about this.

    • Rick Witte

      Robin consideration is one thing, but it is ultimately up to the voters of the City to approve such a Local Option Sales Tax. If they approve they will vote yes, if not they will vote no. By State legislation it is not up to the Council to approve a sales tax, but it is the voter themselves who vote to tax themselves, for a limited amount of time, for the presented projects.

      Little Falls may well be an economically disadvantaged area, but yet even those of lesser economich means need, and deserve recreation.

    • josh

      Robin I wasn’t speaking of taxes? I don’t know why you changed the subject. I simply pointed out that you had a problem with Camp Ripley getting time at a council meeting while you brought up Camp Ripley at the council meeting. Are you dodging?

  • robin hensel

    Tmac….interesting you locked your disqus account. Are you worried you will be outed or what?

    • tmac

      Or what.

      And why does it matter to you what I post on other threads?

  • josh

    You still didn’t answer my question as to why you absolutely changed the subject?

  • Rick Witte

    Jody, I wasnt addressing the accuracy of the reporting, but rather commenting on the matter of what, or who, defines what could be considered ” related to the delivery of City Services.

    As to those offices that are up for election in the coming Circus Season only time will tell as to what will transpire. Much will depend on who choses to run and how the electorate as a whole feels about the current office holders.

  • Rick Witte

    Robin, never wrote that you were dodging anything, perhaps you are confusing my comments with those of another. You seem to be letting your animus for the Military cloud your thinking on the matter. Granted the Military has not had the most stellar reputation as far as environmental matters go, but I find no reason to think what happened at the ammunition plants in the Cities has to do with Camp Ripley. If you have issues with the environmental happenings in this area pointing out what happened elsewhere does nothing to inform me as to what IS happening in Camp Ripley and effecting Little Falls.

    If I remember correctly part of their environmental program is keeping local communities informed and it seems they use Council meeting to accomplish this. As members of the Community, and they are whether you wish to acknowledge this or not, the Council should work with them to facilitate the Camps fulfilling its responsibilities.

  • Jody Scott Olson

    The council schedules to allow community members to address issues prior to the start of a meeting. They’re allowed 3 minutes to speak and the council “recommends” that its most useful if the topics are restricted to city service. Since Camp Ripley’s 30 minute presentation was scheduled for that night Robin Hensel used her 3 minutes prior to the start of the meeting to address her concerns regarding its environmental impact/

    So she wasn’t interrupting or going “point/ counter point” when the meeting was called to order. Instead the council interrupted her 3 minutes of having the floor and debated whether or not she was allowed to talk about Camp Ripley during her the public comment time. By the time they decided that council could only “recommend” topics rather than mandate, Hensel’s three minutes was up and council had talked and shouted over almost her entire 3 minutes.

    Hensel never interrupted them they interrupted her. When the next speaker, Larry Fisk took the floor they did the same thing. It was also anti military in nature and about 8 seconds in Klinker shouted something like I don’t have to listen to this!

    When actually he did. Govt can’t screen based on viewpoint. Council interrupted community members who had the floor based on viewpoint. No community members talked during the council meeting that I recall expect during public comment segments on that nights agenda.

    Not sure that clarifies it.

    People should actually show up and watch. I did and I was shocked. No manners, respect or decorum just belligerent tantrums from a few council members. it was a “jeez, really” moment.

    • Rick Witte

      But Jody, I took the point counter point matter directly from Robins commentary and she clearly alluded to this. She clearly stated that she and another specifically requested time “to give a response” to what was presented by Camp Ripley.

      Robin spoke of equal treatment by being denied a place on the formal agenda to provide her counter point to what was presented by the Camp. I know of no Community Council which would allow such a thing unless of course it was in the form of a public hearing which that part of the meeting was not. Perhaps you could enlighten me as to what Communities that would make such allowances?

      Whether she has proof or not of her being denied a place on the formal agenda is of no relevance and in no way infringes on her rights. I no of nothing that gives her this right, not even the Constitution!

      Ultimately it will be the Community as a whole which will judge this matter, but I do not see that it will turn into a major election issue.

  • tmac

    Then why would you bother to even look at my account?

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