Mayor’s vote was conflict of interest

To the Editor:

Contrary to Toni Wetzel’s assertion at the Aug. 4 Council meeting, conflict of interest (COI) is a situation occurring when an individual or organization is involved in multiple interests, one of which could possibly corrupt what should be the primary motivation. In this case, the primary motivation in reviewing the city’s bank options was to get the highest interest rate and lowest fees from a reputable institution. When the city inexplicably bypassed the best offer, the only conclusion to draw was that a secondary interest existed.

VanRisseghem said she hasn’t done business with Pine Country for many, many years, yet mortgage records at Morrison County show that VanRisseghem’s home was refinanced in 2010 by Pine Country. Her son-in-law is also featured as a “testimonial” on the bank’s website, yet she also denies he ever obtained financing there.

Despite Dan Vogt’s feigned confusion over loans and COI, under the policy in place during his administration at the city of Brainerd, this very circumstance would have not only been deemed a conflict, but would have prevented VanRisseghem and her brother, Councilman Gosiak, from influencing the vote and from voting. — Jody Scott-Olson, Little Falls

  • robin hensel

    Seems like complete incompetence to not insist the mayor and council members sign a CONFLICT OF INTEREST STATEMENT…the minute Dan Vogt was hired. It is a fact that the city was involved in a FEDERAL LAWSUIT at the time. Also baffling to understand what we are paying our city attorney Toni Wetzel for? She actually had the gall to state the city officials knew nothing of illegal camping in LeBourget Park. Ya right!! Give me a break. Wake up community. Smell the coffee…after it’s roasting in downtown everyday. When will you GET IT?

  • tmac

    I don’t know why the city of Little Falls even bothers paying an attorney or a city administrator. It seems some members of this community seem to know( or think they know) the right way to run things even though they have no law degrees that I am aware of or have they had experience as a city administrator for 25 years or so.

    • What makes everyone in this community think that only this small clique of people have professional experience? So exasperating. I worked as an administrator and executive director for about 12 years…conflict of interest policy’s and how to properly discharge a conflict applied to all roles for over a decade.

      When I came here and worked it was apparent that folks liked their conflicts of interests! So, I brought in the Attorney General’s office to host an area training to educate community members and board members about conflict of interest laws and how organizations are supposed to handle them.

      The reason I checked Brainerd’s policy’s was because even with my years of experience there is no way anyone can act as a competent administrator without a working understanding of conflict of interest. financial disclosure, GAAP, American’s with Disabilities Act…Sarbanes Oxley…Discrimination laws…

      25 years as an administrator and Vogt doesn’t know if loans present a conflict of interest? Even though they did during his last administration?

      And Toni Wetzel, who previously claimed that answering the loan/conflict of interest question would require extensive research then comes back and delivers an opinion 4 days later that contradicts a long list of city’s including the city of Minneapolis, Brainerd and even Wikipedia?

      Once again Vogt of No Confidence.

      How many times does this administration have to be completely wrong before you stop taking them on their word? Where’s the learning curve tmac?

      • tmac

        Wikipedia? Seriously?
        Until proven otherwise I will have to go with the folks with the degrees and experience.
        With all the knowledge and experience you claim to have why is it that you are no longer working in any of those fields? It seems to me that you would be in your element doing so.

        • Actually, Wikipedia’s information was consistent with most municipalities that have conflict of interest policies. Toni Wetzel understood so little about conflict of interest with regard to loans that she said it would require “extensive research”, then 4 days later she pronounced an opinion that contradicted the policies enacted by experienced municipal attorney’s across the state?

          That contradiction, in itself, should call her opinion into question, since she’s in such stark disagreement with municipalities that were under no time constraints in drafting their policy. Plus their policies reference and cite numerous statutes and sources in the compilation of their drafts. If Wetzel were right, and I doubt she is, then it would seem that the other municipalities have overreached state law and therefore have illegal policies…which I very much doubt to be the case.

          Vogt already knew what Brainerd’s policy said but didn’t disclose his past experience because it didn’t say what the Mayor wanted to hear. So they roll out Wetzel, who you would think would reference the work of other cities but she doesn’t mention it, then offers some cryptic answer about it pertaining to a couple of banking job titles..which contradicts the League of Minnesota Cities who said it depended on specific circumstances…which was, in my opinion, exactly right. Toni Wetzel says what they want to hear, Vogt pretends he doesn’t know anything about loans and conflict of interest and crony capitalism remains in tact. The money moves to crony king Pine Country rather than Central Minnesota Credit Union. Who has 15 more branches than Pine County.

          The difference in interest rates during months when taxes are being held is up to 300 a month…this is thousands of dollars a year and VR and her brother offer no VALID reason for giving it up??? That’s a problem.

          Gosiak made the motion, which was lobbied by VR and then Klinker…and the VR “lemming leaders” did what they always do…follow Cathy over the cliff. Hanfler votes no and is astonished. Zylka votes no and so does Crowder. They inexplicably left a MINIMUM of a half percentage point on the table plus pay higher fees to Pine Country!

          Plus Vogt was supposed to review city policy but in two years he never discusses conflict of interest or an ethics policy. Why, because Frank and Cathy’s vote on Sister City was a conflict of interest. It effected the fundraising Cathy’s daughter and Frank’s niece would have to do if the city didn’t give the 3k a year to the group. The city refused to allow Theresa to speak about the lack of public benefit last year even though she’s on the agenda and instead bring in the president of sister city who I don’t believe was on the agenda at all and she peddles her propaganda about how their delegates????! Cathy not only influenced that vote and but they altered the agenda and speakers but she voted! Even if you ignore the policy of other cities, this was a clear conflict of interest. Zero public benefit…These kinds of things will continue to get the city sued.

          Demanding that leaders understand and follow the rules and laws is in everyone’s best interest.

          When I first moved up here I was working as a lobbyist and state communications director on an independent contract with Washington based Public Citizen. It was with their division of Critical Mass Energy and the Environment. At that time, I worked on state and federal food policy that effected the National School Lunch program. New York Times reporter Marian Burros stayed in close contact and did several stories, google: irradiation, Marian Burros. Later, I took over as executive director of Morrison County United Way. After that I left the non profit sector, up until recently.

          Kind of ironic that my credential allowed me to provide information to both the Washington Post and the New York Times, state legislature and the California Assembly. I even flew to Reno to gather data for Burros story and for a while I think we talked weekly. Yet my professional expertise in Little Falls isn’t’ sufficient to question Dan Vogt, Wetzel or Cathy VanRisseghem…kinda funny. I wonder if the Record would consider me qualified to write a viewpoint letter? Lol.

          I do think that once you leave a larger city, small town professionals automatically assume that your last employer was Dairy Queen because they don’t know you. Sad that they automatically marginalize people. I told them they couldn’t legally fund raise and I was right about that too. I told them they had to return restricted use funds and I was right about that too…

          .

          • tmac

            After reading your response I understand better the points you were making, and do agree many of them make good sense.
            I am not sure what it will take to straighten some of these past actions out,but thankfully an election is near and people will have the opportunity to be heard.

          • It would be easy to let the past be the past if there was an honest attempt to avoid the same mistakes moving forward. The first step to solving any problem, is admitting that one exists.

          • Rick Witte

            tmac it is quite interesting that Jody suddenly utilizes Wikipedia rather than her usual manner of referencing State Statutes. Quite puzzling unless of course you do actually look at the governing State Statutes.

            Take 10A.07 for instance which states: “10A.07 CONFLICTS OF INTEREST.

            Subdivision 1.Disclosure of potential conflicts.

            A public official or a local official elected
            to or appointed by a metropolitan governmental unit who in the discharge
            of official duties would be required to take an action or make a
            decision that would substantially affect the official’s financial
            interests or those of an associated business, unless the effect on the
            official is no greater than on other members of the official’s business
            classification, profession, or occupation, must take the following
            actions:”

            From the reading of this it seems that Jody ventures into the world of Wikipedia rather than Statute stems from the actual Statute not supporting her theory of a conflict of interest. Once one reads the Statute it seems that the City Attorney was right. Now that wouldnt fit with her narrative would it.

          • Rick Witte

            Jody why do you now cite Wikipedia rather than your usual custom of citing relevant State Statutes?

            It seems the relevant State Statute states: “10A.07 CONFLICTS OF INTEREST.

            Subdivision 1.Disclosure of potential conflicts.

            A public official or a local official elected
            to or appointed by a metropolitan governmental unit who in the discharge
            of official duties would be required to take an action or make a
            decision that would substantially affect the official’s financial
            interests or those of an associated business, unless the effect on the
            official is no greater than on other members of the official’s business
            classification, profession, or occupation, must take the following
            actions:”

            Perhaps you only like State Statutes when they support your theories otherwise you seem to look for an alternative.

        • robin hensel

          Tmac….how the heck would you know if Jody is or isn’t working in one of those fields right now? Presumptuous and frankly way too ballsy/intrusive. She makes clear/factual/straightforward points. That blows you out of the water so your response is to cling to the fantasy that Toni Wetzel and Dan Vogt are not COMPLETELY SOLD OUT. I am really concerned that with their level of collusion the city will continue to be riddled with cronyism and more lawsuits as a direct result. Aren’t you? If you aren’t concerned then you are either ok with the “go along to get along crowd and may be a part of them” or you are completely out of touch with reality.

          • tmac

            If you are elected mayor and you take offense at what someone says to you are you going to use the same vocabulary you use on many of your posts?
            I sure hope not as it would be totally unprofessional and quite frankly, tacky.

          • robin hensel

            tmac….what is REALLY TACKY is elected officials that do not follow their own rules, policies or the U.S. CONSTITUTION. TACKY is law SELECTIVE ENFORCEMENT OF LAWS, and HUMAN RIGHTS INJUSTICES that are RAMPANT in Little Falls and MORRISON COUNTY. The LAST THING YOU AND EVERYONE ELSE SHOULD BE CONCERNED ABOUT would be my vocabulary, relating to endless war that is bankrupting our nation, savage inhumane torture(U.S.government authorized under Dubya) and now illegal drone assassinations that are a violation of INTERNATIONAL LAW….just to name a few outrages. WAKE UP COMMUNITY. SMELL THE COFFEE. It’s brewing in downtown.

          • robin hensel

            oops typo…need to remove the “law” in front of SELECTIVE.

    • newpolitiq7

      Please see below. I don’t even know why the City of Little Falls even bothers to have actual City Council “folks” who refuse to honor the actual NUMBERS. Period. Lets go with the numbers, please. Thanks.! (tmac — you like going with the numbers, don’t you?)

    • newpolitiq7

      Good point — why do we pay her? Or him?

  • Rick Witte

    Being a reputable business person I am sure Jody is always upfront in her dealings. Here, however, there seems to be an attempt to make us believe that 2+2=5. The writer wants us to believe that there could only exist one other motivation for the selection. The writer seems to want us to overlook the reported motivation of the bank doing things for the community. This motivation was reported, but certainly does not fit the writers narrative. Thus 2+2=5!

    The writer wants us to believe that a quid pro quo exists between the Mayor and the Bank. What the writer fails to inform us of is whether in her review of records it was recorded that the Bank sold the mortgage on the secondary market as most financial institutions. It certainly does not appear that there exists any financial interest in the Bank to make her conflict of interest conspiracy theory work.

    What is even more convoluted is her ascertain that Councilman Gosiak’s nephew by marriage brings about such a conflict. Even a reading of the Brainard policy does not make this real. Apparently the writer is so engaged in her theories that reality escapes her.

    It is readily apparent that the writers only goal is to make an issue of everything in the slim hope that something will resonate with the public. Other than making her look foolish, and a shill, nothing really relevant comes from her.

    • HeeHee

      I couldn’t agree more with you Rick except for your first statement of Jody being a reputable business person. It appears, according to the state court records, that Jody is not a reputable business person at all and has been sued numerous times in conciliation court (http://pa.courts.state.mn.us). It amazes me that someone with so much experience as an administrator and executive director could have run afoul of so many people. It is hard to seriously listen to a letter like this when her own affairs aren’t in order.

      • newpolitiq7

        I didn’t find any substantiated charges when I clicked on this link. Are you able to be more specific, HeeHee? While I’ve never met Ms. Scott-Olson, I have been a very happy customer at two of the Central MN businesses she’s owned. I also respect the fact that, although Ms. Scott-Olson could fly beneath the radar with her commentaries as you and I choose to do (by not using our real names), she signs her full name and takes personal responsibility for her statements (good, bad, or otherwise).

        Her previous businesses aside, and circling back to the larger issue — and we are talking about the City Council decision to choose one banking establishment over another, here, and how they reached that decision — Ms. Scott-Olson has contributed some useful information about conflicts of interest. While some decisions made by the Council don’t have a fairly clear-cut body of data available as a resource (to guide them in their vote), this decision did have clear-cut data. I remain perplexed that the decision wasn’t driven by the numbers, only.

      • newpolitiq7

        I didn’t find any substantiated charges when I clicked on this link. Are you able to be more specific, HeeHee? While I’ve never met Ms. Scott-Olson, I have been a very happy customer at two of the Central MN businesses she’s owned. I also respect the fact that, although Ms. Scott-Olson could fly beneath the radar with her commentaries as you and I choose to do (by not using our real names), she signs her full name and takes personal responsibility for her statements (good, bad, or otherwise).

        Her previous businesses aside, and circling back to the larger issue — and we are talking about the City Council decision to choose one banking establishment over another, here, and how they reached that decision — Ms. Scott-Olson has contributed some useful information about conflicts of interest. While some decisions made by the Council don’t have a fairly clear-cut body of data available as a resource (to guide them in their vote), this decision did have clear-cut data. I remain perplexed that the decision wasn’t driven by the numbers, only.

    • newpolitiq7

      After reading Ms. Scott-Olson’s credentials, especially in the area of understanding COI’s in their numerous potential manifestations, I don’t agree that “nothing really relevant comes from her”. I was under the impression that the “reported motivation of the bank doing things for the community” was researched, and found NOT to be a pertinent differentiating factor (among the competing financial institutions) for the Council to have used in deciding on Pine Country. And quite frankly, when banks supposedly “do good things for the community”, or act as “responsible corporate citizens” does anyone really view that as anything other than enlightened self-interest? (Not to say that’s wrong — just how it is.)

      Since Council members clearly disagreed on which financial institution should be chosen, and since all measurable criteria still don’t really support the Council’s choice of Pine Country Bank, why not revisit this issue at a future Council meeting? The very unsatisfying conversation I had with one of my Council members makes this look unlikely, but a constituent can always hold out hope. (It was an unsatisfying conversation mainly because I felt I was essentially being talked down to and dismissed. If one only calls their Council member once every couple of years, one hopes for a more open-minded reception.)

      • Rick Witte

        newpolitiq7 much of what Ms. Scott-Olson presents is her opinion on the facts as she wishes to present them. Much of what she presents is also not relevant to the matter. How many branches an institution has is not really relevant. The only qualifying factor is the presence of an office in the City.

        Certainly there could be secondary considerations and that could well vary from Council member to member. Ms. Scott-Olson wishes us to believe that the only possible secondary motivation would be the matter of the mortgage and the ad a relative appeared in. On the matter of Community involvement she lists the dollar amount of one institution but no other. Might there also be other manners of involvement other than financial?

        Ms. Scott-Olson provides unfinished research as final and conclusive since what she presents fits her preordained conclusion.

        • newpolitiq7

          Mr Witte: I guess I’m still just irked and confused that the City Council decided to go with the financial institution that pays lower interest rate and has slightly higher fees. Ms Scott-Olson’s research and commentary on COI’s, while interesting, didn’t weigh heavily into my thinking on this issue. Obviously, when a Council makes a decision like this one that’s contrary to the best #’s, even a casually observant voter is compelled to ask “why”. I didn’t see proof that Pine Country was any “better for the community” than the runner-up bank (who had the better #’s). By the way, I have no ax to grind with the Mayor(who I’ve voted for in the past) or anyone on the Council (some of whom I’ve helped to elect). Like any other citizen, I want to presume they’re observing rules of order and following the law when it comes to conflicts of interest. If they’re not, they need to become educated and held accountable. If they’re wrongly accused of COI’s and mishandling of the public’s business, they deserve to be publicly vindicated, and their false-accusers called out. The jury is out on some of this right now.