Little Falls Sister City Committee may disband

By Terry Lehrke, News Editor

The Sister City Committee in Little Falls is looking for answers from the Little Falls City Council.

A letter sent to all department heads and committees in the city in April, made it clear city committees or department heads were not permitted to raise funds or solicit donations.

The letter indicated that in October and November 2013, the League of Minnesota Cities and city attorney met and found that no provision in state statute allows fundraising by local units of government, including the city itself or city committees.

Individuals or businesses can make donations to the city, however, employees or city committee members may not actively solicit donations or hold fundraising events.

The letter sent in April also indicated committees or groups of individuals could form on their own if they chose and could hold fundraising events and solicit donations. They could not, however, infer the city was involved in the event in any way.

A letter to the City Council from Michael Schnider, the Sister City Committee chair, pointed out that the opinion was in stark contrast to the language in the city code, Section 2.30, outlining the duties of the Sister City Committee. Those duties, as stated in the code, are to organize community efforts to raise funds for Sister City activities and that the committee is responsible for the coordination of such activities with the approval of the City Council.

In May 2013, the Little Falls City Council approved the Sister City bylaws, which indicate the committee works to raise funds for cash resources used to fund activities for visitors from its Sister City, Le Bourget, France, during excursions to Little Falls, Schnider’s letter pointed out.

He said that the Committee was trying to abide by the city’s position and actions had been taken to address the situation with non-committee members.

In February, the group held a meeting and invited non-committee members in an attempt to address the fundraising dilemma, Schnider said. The group hoped the non-committee members could form a “Friends of Sister City” group, who could raise funds and direct that they be used for Sister City Committee projects.

“Since then, no progress has occurred regarding any formation of such a group and it appears there is no interest from the community at large to do so,” Schnider’s letter said.

Another meeting was set for those interested in a “Friends” group May 5, but no one attended and there has been no follow-up.

Schnider noted the ability to raise funds was crucial to the existence of the Sister City Committee, since the costs associated with hosting 20-30 French visitors for 10 days were significant, with costs for the French paid for out of the funds raised by the Committee.

Another issue, said Schnider, was participation on the Committee.

“Since the issue with fundraising has arisen, our Committee has failed to reach a basic quorum, three out of the past six meetings,” Schnider wrote.

Since November 2013, the Committee has lost three members and one will resign in the very near future.

“When that occurs, we will be down to seven members,” Schnider’s letter said. Of the seven, one has yet to attend a meeting, another has attended one meeting only and neither was at the meeting in May.

The treasurer resigned and the secretary doesn’t wish to remain in that post.

“At this point, the committee has five active members and its bylaws indicate it is to have nine members,” the letter said.

“It does not appear there is sufficient interest to maintain the viability of our committee. … we are unable to conduct much more business at this time,” Schnider wrote, asking that he be contacted on how best to proceed.

Mayor Cathy VanRisseghem said the Committee was faltering because it had no purpose or function. “It’s been taken away from them,” she said.

“They can’t do fundraising, what are they supposed to do? … We need to give them purpose or function to continue or say no, and it’s done,” she said.

Council Member at Large Brian-Paul Crowder asked about a friends group being formed, but he was reminded the letter said no one showed up at the organizational meeting.

Council Member Greg Zylka suggested the group get together as a non-city group.

VanRisseghem asked what would happen to the portion of fees collected by the city from the Arts and Crafts Fair that were given to the Sister City Committee.

Finance Officer Lori Kasella said a portion of the fees the city charges for each vendor at the Arts and Crafts Fair goes to the city’s parking lot fund and a part ($3,000) to the Sister City Committee. The fee would still be collected, said Kasella, but the Council would need to decide what to do with it.

Council President Don Klinker asked for suggestions.

Resident Robin Hensel stood and asked if she could speak, but was not acknowledged as the discussion continued.

Council Member Frank Gosiak said he didn’t see how the committee could continue without fundraising and felt the committee should be abolished and the money from the Arts and Crafts Fair be used for something else.

As Hensel asked again to speak, the mayor asked if the issue should be put on the next Council agenda.

Council Member Loren Boyum suggested the committee not be abolished, but separated from the city. “Let the program itself continue,” he said.

Hensel spoke up, noting that during a meeting in May 2013, it was said anyone could speak during a work session.

“We’re in the middle of a discussion here, will you sit down,” the mayor said to Hensel.

“I will sit down when I have the chance to speak,” Hensel said.

VanRisseghem suggested putting the issue on the next agenda to vote the committee up or down.

Crowder asked that the chair be informed as to how a friends group could be formed, noting a quorum wasn’t necessary to start the paperwork for a 501(c)3.

“There might be other people if it’s in the paper,” said Crowder.

“They sent out over 200 letters and advertised it in the paper and no one showed up,” said VanRisseghem.

City Administrator Dan Vogt said out of courtesy, he would contact the group about the 501(c)3.

The issue will be on the Council’s next agenda.

Hensel asked a third time to speak on the topic being discussed.

“We already said what we’re going to do,” said Klinker.

Hensel said she was being treated differently than another person who spoke in May 2013.

Council Jeremy Hanfler said the Council had changed things since that time.

As Hensel said she was speaking to the council president, Hanfler said, “You’ve been to umpteen meetings, you know we’ve changed things.”

When Hensel asked if she were being denied the privilege to speak on the issue, Klinker said, “This is our meeting, it’s not yours.”

“Duly noted,” Hensel said.

The Little Falls Sister City Committee, an official committee for the city of Little Falls, was formed in 1987 to promote a mutual friendship between citizens of Little Falls and Le Bourget, France, united through the accomplishments of Charles A. Lindbergh.

The Le Bourget Park in west Little Falls is named after Little Falls’ Sister City.

Since that time, every two years, visits take place between the two cities. Just last year, a Little Falls group traveled to France. In 2015, a group from France is expected to come to Little Falls.

That may not happen if the Sister City Committee is forced to disband and no group with the ability to raise funds is formed.


  • robin hensel

    It should be clear to EVERYONE now just how your council operates and why they keep costing everyone $$! This is America and there are laws to prevent discrimination. Shame on the opportunity hoarders who are unwilling to put in as much time as the French do to host Little Falls when they visit France. They have no interest in forming a 501c3….that would mean they would really have to WORK. REMEMBER who appointed EVERY SINGLE PERSON ON THIS AND ALL OTHER CITY COMMITTEES? It is your MAYOR. Family and close friends have been Sister City committee members for many years. Sure seems like she has picked the WRONG individuals. Folks your CITY CHARTER allows her to pick anyone she wants and that explains how she has stacked EVERY COMMITTEE with her relatives and close friends. Cronyism at it’$ worst. The MAYOR is also the SUPERVISOR OF THE CHIEF OF POLICE. Your home rule charter allows all of this. Little Falls should become a STATUTORY A City. The French get NO GOVERNMENT assistance to host Little Falls. They earn it all by hosting a huge flea market. The opportunity hoarders who traveled to LeBourget last year should host the French on their own nickel. How is it that the State Auditors law was not obeyed for SO many years in direct violation of the language that states city revenues must be used for a PUBLIC PURPOSE? Because nobody in this city cares enough to attend the council meetings and hold them accountable. That is why they operate as a LAWLESS COUNCIL and they NEED SUPERVISION by the electorate!! CITY COUNCIL REGIME CHANGE NOW!! Taxpayer lawsuits may well be on the horizon.

    • tmac

      Why would you want the legislature making local decisions?
      And from what I remember, the council and or mayor is the police chiefs supervisor in a statutory city as well.
      This current council may be doing things the wrong way but there is no need to throw the baby out with the bath water.

      • “The current council may be doing things wrong”, that’s the understatement of the year. But more importantly, when you realize you’re doing things wrong you correct it, you review policy you try to do better moving forward…if you don’t correct it the only responsible thing to do with willful disregard of wrongdoing is to throw the baby out with the bath water.

      • robin hensel

        Eagan is a statutory plan A city and its FULL TIME ADMINISTRATOR is head of police and fire..parks dept and MORE. Look it up.

        • Rick Witte

          Robin Eagan also has a population of a little over 63,000. Might that make it a bit different than Little Falls. How about comparing to similar sized Communities. So what exactly is your point.

    • Rick Witte

      Discrimination Robin, where do you get that from. Perhaps you could cite the law which makes a Cities selections discriminatory. Seems you throw out terms for effect with nothing of substance as a foundation. Seems that is much of your methods of operation. Does the Mayour and Council exclude women, minorities, or any other protected class that may apply for a position on a City Committee?

      So in your estimation that without forming a 501 (c) (3) non profit there is, or was no work involved in past activities of the Sister Committee? Seems either way there is work involved. Certainly your past animus towards the whole notion shows through. From your own past dialogue you might have remembered that those on the Official City Committee may not be involved in any formed 501 (c) (3) organization. Is that not what you have informed us of in the past?

      Who do you think should appoint members of City Committees? Whether it is a Charter or Statutory City the Mayour and Council make such appointments. Selections are normally made from those that have an interest and apply.

      As to the Police Chief it is the Council which directs the Department. Have you not heard the Chief many times seeking direction from the Council as to how they should handle things.

      Robin, the State Auditor does not make laws as you imply in your statement. Please be factual. Of course you seem to gloss over the fact that the Committee no longer fund-raises which was one of your desires.

      Seems apparent that seeking change in City operations is not really your goal. Seems pretty evident that even if the change you seem comes about that is not good enough for you. Seems pretty clear that you will never be satisfied until that dark day comes when you are in charge of things.

      • When tax dollars are diverted, with no public benefit, for Dr’s, Dr.’s wives and the mayors daughter, to subsidize their trips to France, I’ll be satisfied WHEN EVERY LAST CENT IS PAID BACK TO THE TAX PAYERS OF LITTLE FALLS.
        When the French host and visit they have never, ever been subsidised by city of Le Bourget, France.

        • LovingLF

          Jody, please get your facts straight. The people who have traveled to France have NEVER received one dime from the City of Little Falls for their Sister City visit to France. Everyone pays their OWN way.
          Also, here is another FACT, the French fundraise to host the visit by the Little Falls Sister City participants.

          • robin hensel

            LOVINGLF……the Little Falls visitors to France don’t pay for their own housing, gifts, booze, food, travel guide service, entertainment and more…..all that VACATION SUBSIDY IS A DIRECT KICK BACK DUE TO THE Little Falls public funding of hosting the French visitors when they come here. This entire program is NOTHING MORE THAN A LAVISH VACATION SUBSIDY FOR THE rich in both countries… of the big differences is that the French do not expect their government to fund it. And even if they did…..the Mn. State Auditor’s office has said that public funds must be used solely for PUBLIC BENEFIT…..not just a chosen few.

          • LovingLF

            Robin – I believe you were signed up to go to France as a representative of Little Falls Sister City ….correct?

          • LF Taxpayer

            I would like to see an answer to this. Wasn’t it a France trip that started her Jihad against the city?

          • Concerned citizen

            I doubt it! She’s just tired like the rest of us from the “Chosen Few” always getting the best of everything!! Seriously! How about (a few years ago) putting as much effort into saving Crestliner from leaving? Here’s a novel idea!! How about some effort into creating and luring jobs/companies into Little Falls? Come on council……. Lets get this community growing again for everyone, not just for the “chosen few”.

          • Rick Witte

            Jeff it would be interesting to hear what you would propose that the City do in the way of Economic Development. There are always the tax incentives which are used, but some in the Community oppose such corporate welfare. I myself liken it to legalized extortion, but I digress. Robin and Jody themselves have written against its use, but what other avenues do the have to attract new businesses?

            Crestliner was leaving no matter what the City did or offered. In recessionary times things like boats are not seen by the buying public as necessities, and therefor the company consolidated its operation closer to where most of its sales are located. The company needed to cut costs to stay in operation and that meant closing the local plant. Same with Stearns in Grey Eagle. They consolidated and moved out. The paper mill had good jobs, but consolidation in the paper industry caused that to close as well. Same with the mill in Sartell, but the fire seemed to hasten that along. They had just cut hundreds of jobs and more were on the block.

            The matter of attracting new businesses which pay a higher wage is a admiral goal, and has been an issue for many a year. It was an issue when I first left there in the early 70’s, and remains one. If Little Falls is going to be successful in attracting higher paying business, and retail aint that, they need to give a reason or incentive for that business to move here. What would you give? Perhaps you should become part of the economic development group for the community and share your ideas.

          • robin hensel

            I have ALL KINDS OF NEW CREATIVE IDEAS about my quaint little river community pulling together to succeed in a much more inclusive manner and corporate business welfare is not one of them. Soon i will be answering questions and putting forth my ideas next to my fellow contenders for elected office. I look forward to it.

          • Rick Witte

            While I would somewhat agree on the matter of business subsidies as I often equate them to legalized extortion in some cases, Businesses pitting one Community against another in the quest for incentives, but I digress.

            Unilateral disarmament, however, is not the answer. While happy faces and good intentions are great to put the Community in the spotlight other communities in Minnesota are also looking to attract new businesses. Eliminating these tax and loan subsidies to businesses is something that should be addressed at the State and National level in order to level the playing field. Otherwise you would be placing Little Falls at a serious disadvantage in the quest to keep, attract, and expand businesses.

            Inclusiveness, what ever you mean by that, in of itself, is not going to do the trick. You will have to do much better than that if you expect to be other than an also ran, third place contender.

          • robin hensel

            For starters rick witte…i would recruit and WELCOME IN DIVERSITY !!! Communities that do this THRIVE….ECONOMICALLY AND CULTURALLY. Of course that would REQUIRE little falls to become a TOLERANT community!! Second thing would be to EDUCATE adults on tolerance…same as our kids are taught in school. Old dogs CAN LEARN NEW TRICKS !!

          • Rick Witte

            Thats all well and good, Robin, and an admirable goal. However to recruit to reach your diversity goal you must provide an incentive for people to move to the Community. One such incentive is a larger job market. It is one thing to recruit people, but what about the people already living in the Community and seeking employment or better employment?

            It doesnt really matter if the Community is tolerant or not if there are no good paying jobs with which to attract people. Its the old chicken and the egg story. Will jobs attract diversity or will greater diversity, in of itself, attract new businesses.

          • robin hensel

            Jeff…Greg Zylka mayoral candidate is PRESIDENT OF THE ECONOMIC DEVELOPMENT ASSOCIATION AND DON KLINKER IS also on that board. Bob Reinitz is as well. Maybe it’$ long overdue for REGIME CHANGE on this mayoral appointed BIG GOVERNMENT CORPORATE BUSINESS WELFARE COMMITTEE too? I think we should insist that WOMEN AND MINORITIES are only qualified to receive these…just like the Angel Grants program. For far too long white males have had WAY TOO MANY ADVANTAGES/HAND OUTS….ENOUGH IS ENOUGH.

          • Quid pro quo…vacation subsidy kick back…call it whatever the h&ll you want. They host you for free and spend, what was it about 10 to 12K on you? Then when they come here the folks who were indulged by the French sit back and let the taxpayers foot the bill for the reciprocating entertainment to the tune of 10 to 12k?
            Decades of illegal fundraising.
            No public benefit…for how many decades?
            What even more offensive is that regardless of how blatantly wrong you are, you obviously still think that you’re ENTITLED and that the hardworking people, most of whom live under the poverty line should shell out for you little reciprocating vacation agreement…while they’re making ends meet on part time Wal-mart wages. Personally I hope the group gets sued down to its underwear lint.

            Party’s over.

          • Rick Witte

            Being the 2nd in the Lawsuit Queen group it might interest you that since this is a City Committee you and Robin would be suing the City and not the group. The City provided the funding, while the group raised a part. The City directed how the funds would be spent, not the group.

            Perhaps Robin would answer the question as to whether or not she indeed did sign up to take the trip to France. Perhaps the decision that she would not be the best representative for the City is what started her on her zeal for lawsuits.

            Is this whole thing just about Robin?????????????????

          • I believe I’m correct in stating that Robin and Theresa tried to convince the group to make changes so the Sister City would be in compliance and actually serve a “public purpose”.

            I think I’m also correct in stating that part of the reason Robin was denied a spot was due to the accommodations her disability required…

          • robin hensel

            Tmac AND rick witte….this should SINK BOTH YOUR SHIPS…councilors CAN BE SUED personally/individually for MISUSE OF PUBLIC FUNDS, say nothing of taxpayer lawsuits against the CITY itself. Check it out for yourself HOTSHOTS!!! League of Minnesota informational memo…or make a data request for the letter that dan vogt gave to all councilors explaining this. Wont you both be just a LITTLE BIT EMBARRASSED if you have defended criminal activity?

          • robin hensel

            Rick witte…you are 100% dead wrong again….the city NEVER told the Sister City Committee HOW TO SPEND THE 3K per year….city council only authorized payment to committee and committee chose HOW TO SPEND IT…..where are you getting your inaccurate information??

          • Rick Witte

            From reading the minutes it appears pretty clear that the Council knew full well how the Committee was going to spend the money when they approved it.

            Are you going to come up with something else to garner support in the coming election or are you merely a one trick pony?

          • robin hensel

            I have so many ideas for better programs and governance it will make your head swim cowboy. This pony at least follows the law and believes in UNIFORM ENFORCEMENT OF THOSE LAWS.

          • robin hensel

            Here’$ something else that’$ TACKY/WACKY…the current president of the SISTER CITY COMMITTEE is Mike Schnider(a Todd County prosecutor)!! Now you would think an ATTORNEY WOULD KNOW THE STATE AUDITORS RULES ON PUBLIC REVENUES MUST BE SPENT FOR PUBLIC PURPOSES ONLY, wouldn’t you? It is BIZARRE. Of course Mike and his wife traveled to France last year and EXPERIENCED this LUXURIOUS VACATION SUBSIDY THIS IS and so HE wouldn’t want it to END or be DEFUNDED!! That would require the committee to EARN their own way by doing ALL OF THEIR OWN FUNDRAISING just as the FRENCH MUST DO.

          • robin hensel

            The ONLY LEGITIMATE PUBLIC PURPOSE for the 3k be spent is to provide rides for the downtown apartment dwellers that cant park near their residences for the entire weekend, burdening and inconveniencing them. This would make sense. Rides to and from their apartments for themselves and their guests should be provided at no expense to them.

          • robin hensel

            The Little Falls Sister City opportunity hoarding group and committee were urged by Theresa and I to offer low income scholarships and create free public events to create a “public purpose” but they refused to act on our good suggestions because that’$ not what they care about. I suggested prior to the Little Falls group travel to LeBourget in june 2013, having a “free fly-in with french food”at the Little Falls airport. This current group was clearly not interested in contributing back. All they cared about was making sure they got to France and had their nice subsidized visit which included everything they needed except the airline ticket on the backs of the LeBourget group. Not one true public benefit has EVER come out of this program. What a cryin shame and embarrassment for my quaint little river town with the GREAT BIG PROBLEMS !!

          • Rick Witte

            Robin, how would you suggest that the City fund these free public events. Being Free does not mean it is really FREE.

          • robin hensel

            With the 3k per year of city funds of course.

          • robin hensel

            my guess is Loving LF is that you are one of the “opportunity hoarders” who has visited France with the Sister City brigade.

          • Rick Witte

            Why not just answer the question Robin? Have you ever signed up to be a representative on the trip to France. Interesting that you do not address that question. Are you afraid the answer might make you look foolish. From your writings you appear to be bitter perhaps about not being chose as one of your deemed “opportunity hoarders”!!!!!!!!!!!

          • robin hensel

            Yes i did ask to be allowed to travel to lebourget because i wanted to help plow the way for another who might have disability issues also. I told the group that i would only go if they began developing true public benefit and if they would help me figure out how to get around on long walks with a bike or scooter of some type as i struggle with pain if i walk too far. I got way too little help and way too late from both the local group and the French representatives. I also asked in spring 2012 for lower income scholarships to fulfill the public purpose requirement for expenditure of public funds. They ignored all of my ideas.

          • Well I guess she knocked the wind out of you billowing sails…

          • tmac

            “knocked the wind out of you billowing sails…”
            Really? Just by answering a question?
            And by Robin’s answer I tend to agree with him.

          • Rick Witte

            You’re really full of yourself; aren’t you!

          • Rick Witte

            You are expecting much in thinking facts are their friends.

          • And the city kicks in 3 grand a year for 4 year. So when you arrive in France you get the grand tour for free in exchange for the city paying for the French grand tour. same damn thing. FACT- No city funds should pay for something that doesn’t benefit the public. Its a shame, it may even be illegal because there’s ZERO public benefit. This topic will be closed when every last nickel is paid back. We’ll see if they put my response through this time…

      • robin hensel

        The City Council should choose committee members for official City committees. At least that would prevent just the Mayor for choosing her relatives and close friends. This would make selections somewhat more fair. I know full well what discrimination looks and feels like, and that’s what has been occurring for some time now at City Hall. I am not the only one who has experienced this, but certainly one of the Council and staff’s main targets. Alderman Crowder experiences this on a regular basis too. I know. I have witnessed it many, many times, and recorded much when nobody knew I was recording.

        • Rick Witte

          Robin does not the Council vote to accept or reject the appointments advanced by the Mayor?

          In addition is not recording conversations without the knowledge of the participants illegal in Minnesota?

          • robin hensel

            Rick witte…you are wrong about recording conversations in minnesota? Dont you have a law degree? Shame on you for even saying that. Cite your source hot shot!!

          • tmac

            “and recorded much when nobody knew I was recording.”

            “Under Minn. Stat. § 626A.02: It is legal for a person to record a oral or electronic communication if that person is a party to the communication, or if one of the parties has consented to the recording – so long as no criminal or tortious intent accompanies the recording.”

            If I read this correctly and read correctly that NOBODY knew you were recording their conversation, you were breaking the law

          • Rick Witte


          • tmac

            I don’t see a reply coming to our comments any time soon. Do you?

          • Rick Witte

            Perhaps in time, but I wouldnt hold my breath. No response to the Conflict of Interest State Statute either.

        • robin hensel

          In an open meeting it is VERY LEGAL TO RECORD. Council is well aware I record. If my recording device picks up a conversation taking place behind me and or in the same area I am recording my conversation closeby…I am within my legal rights. For my own safety as well as others around me I have been instructed to record for protection. There have been threats made to me for 3 years now.

      • robin hensel

        The Council president and Mayor and other council members regularly ask Chief Schirmers to enforce a policy, when they don’t have a policy at all. This puts Schirmers in a very awkward position of being at the whim of the members, and at risk for illegally arresting someone who the council just wants removed without cause.

  • Concerned citizen

    Let it fail already!! Sister city nonsense benefits no one except a chosen few…. Waste of time and money!!

    • When tax dollars are diverted, with no public benefit, for Dr’s, Dr.’s
      wives and the mayors daughter, to subsidize their trips to France, I’ll
      When the French host and visit they have never, ever been subsidized by city of Le Bourget, France.

      • Rick Witte

        Jody it seems you are not a friend of facts as they seem to not be involved with your commentary. Even in the post were you present a article from the Record it does not aline with your statement. No where is it evidenced that the funds from the Craft Fair are used by those traveling to France, but on the contrary are used to accommodate the French visitors.

        In addition, and in the truest sense these are not tax dollars. Although they may legally be considered such they are not paid, directly, by the taxpayers of the City. In an indirect manner they are paid by those purchasing items at the Craft Fair.

        • My point stands. The city voted to “fund” the program. If money belongs to the city it belongs to the taxpayers and it has to be of public benefit. This has offered zero benefit to this community…for how many years? Local participants should have operated on the same terms as the French. You can’t argue there was no benefit or subsidy to the LF participants when they toured and dined all expenses paid…quid pro quo so once again, we disagree.

          Its always the same people who, when I directed the United Way, worried about “doing too much for the poor”, while thinking nothing of hoarding opportunities for their kids and letting the everyday folks subsidize them as “the good people of this community”.

          The good people aren’t good.

  • LovingLF

    Jody, a few FACTS. The Little Falls citizens who go to France do NOT receive one dime from the City of LF to subsidize their trip. They pay their own way!

  • For those who think the Sister City isn’t subsidized by your tax dollars