In showing up to City Hall, more than 35 people braved torrential rain and the possibility of locking horns with their neighbors over an issue of campaign finance violations that has dogged three of Minnetrista’s elected officials for the past seven months.

The July 15 regular session was the first such meeting by Minnetrista’s city council after the state’s Office of Adminstrative Hearings ruled on a case of alleged campaign finance law violations by the city’s current mayor, two sitting councilmembers and one former councilmember.

Those who came to Monday night’s meeting looking for a fight would have been disappointed. The full chamber was silent before the meeting and, barring one short-lived burst of applause, was self-contained while the council heard from 15 residents.

The Minnesota Office of Administrative Hearings ruled June 21 that Mayor Lisa Whalen, councilmembers John Tschumperlin and Pam Mortenson and former Councilmember Patricia Thoele had violated campaign finance laws during the 2014 and 2018 elections. The OAH also determined that although negligence was found in the actions of those involved, no criminal activity took place. 

A strong sense of weariness over the matter informed much of what residents said Monday night, and many people expressed a desire to move on from the issue now that the OAH has ruled on the case.

The continued furor over the topic was for Minnetrista resident Bill Bushnell a matter of continuing “to beat a 5-year-old dead horse.” Bushnell said he came to the meeting to bring perspective to what he sees as merely an administrative error.

A couple of people spoke about what they referred to as a “campaign” and a “concerted effort to mislead” Minnetrista residents by misrepresenting the OAH findings, alluding to rumors that a criminal probe is still open. The OAH, however, found no criminal activity on the part of anyone involved.

Three of the 15 who spoke before the council Monday demanded Whalen’s, Tschumperlin’s and Mortenson’s resignations. Others made known their disappointment with the actions of those involved but did not ask for anyone to step down, instead calling for a “sober and judicious response” to the OAH decision and saying the officials’ resignations would “do more harm than good.”

Sitting councilmember Shannon Bruce had filed the complaint against Whalen, Tschumperlin, Mortenson and Thoele last fall, alleging that the four were supported by the group Our Minnetrista and were each alleged to have received between $3,000 and $6,000 from the group during the 2014 and 2018 elections.

Under specific review was whether the candidates accepted by proxy donations in excess of the $600 election year cap on contributions to individual candidates and committees. Also under review was whether Our Minnetrista was, in accepting contributions on behalf of the candidates, acting as a political committee and thereby subject to laws requiring that it submit campaign finance reports.

The OAH did determine that Our Minnetrista acted as a political committee during the two elections and also ruled that the four did indeed violate campaign finance law in accepting the donations.

But the court stopped short of determining criminal activity, noting that although “[...] candidates’ violation of the contribution limits was negligent and difficult to correct or counter,” the evidence was not enough to prove any party engaged in the concealment intentionally.

Mayor Whalen had prefaced the open forum portion to Monday’s session with a promise that there would be no debate, but she did offer a few comments, some of it responding directly to those present while later on appearing to read from a prepared statement.

“We take ownership of this error,” Whalen said. Whalen further emphasized that ownership in reaffirming that she and the others involved would pay the fines levied on them by the OAH. Whalen then gave corrections to some of what was said about the OAH ruling in an attempt to put to rest certain rumors circulating in the community. Whalen ended her comments by outlining the work the council has done while she has been at the helm.

“I’m not going to undo the election by resigning,” Whalen said. Tschumperlin and Mortenson said they would not step down, either.

by Elizabeth hustadlaker.reporter@ecm-inc.com

In showing up to City Hall on Monday, more than 35 people braved torrential rain and the possibility of locking horns with their neighbors over an issue of campaign finance violations that has dogged three of Minnetrista’s elected officials for the past seven months.The July 15 regular session was the first such meeting by Minnetrista’s city council after the state’s Office of Adminstrative Hearings ruled on a case of alleged campaign finance law violations by the city’s current mayor, two sitting councilmembers and one former councilmember.Those who came to Monday night’s meeting looking for a fight would have been disappointed. The full chamber was silent before the meeting and, barring one short-lived burst of applause, was self-contained while the council heard from 15 residents.The Minnesota Office of Administrative Hearings ruled June 21 that Mayor Lisa Whalen, councilmembers John Tschumperlin and Pam Mortenson and former Councilmember Patricia Thoele had violated campaign finance laws during the 2014 and 2018 elections. The OAH also determined that although negligence was found in the actions of those involved, no criminal activity took place. A strong sense of weariness over the matter informed much of what residents said Monday night, and many people expressed a desire to move on from the issue now that the OAH has ruled on the case.The continued furor over the topic was for Minnetrista resident Bill Bushnell a matter of continuing “to beat a 5-year-old dead horse.” Bushnell said he came to the meeting to bring perspective to what he sees as merely an administrative error.A couple of people spoke about what they referred to as a “campaign” and a “concerted effort to mislead” Minnetrista residents by misrepresenting the OAH findings, alluding to rumors that a criminal probe is still open. The OAH, however, found no criminal activity on the part of anyone involved.Three of the 15 who spoke before the council Monday demanded Whalen’s, Tschumperlin’s and Mortenson’s resignations. Others made known their disappointment with the actions of those involved but did not ask for anyone to step down, instead calling for a “sober and judicious response” to the OAH decision and saying the officials’ resignations would “do more harm than good.”Sitting councilmember Shannon Bruce had filed the complaint against Whalen, Tschumperlin, Mortenson and Thoele last fall, alleging that the four were supported by the group Our Minnetrista and were each alleged to have received between $3,000 and $6,000 from the group during the 2014 and 2018 elections.Under specific review was whether the candidates accepted by proxy donations in excess of the $600 election year cap on contributions to individual candidates and committees. Also under review was whether Our Minnetrista was, in accepting contributions on behalf of the candidates, acting as a political committee and thereby subject to laws requiring that it submit campaign finance reports.The OAH did determine that Our Minnetrista acted as a political committee during the two elections and also ruled that the four did indeed violate campaign finance law in accepting the donations.But the court stopped short of determining criminal activity, noting that although “[...] candidates’ violation of the contribution limits was negligent and difficult to correct or counter,” the evidence was not enough to prove any party engaged in the concealment intentionally.Mayor Whalen had prefaced the open forum portion to Monday’s session with a promise that there would be no debate, but she did offer a few comments, some of it responding directly to those present while later on appearing to read from a prepared statement.“We take ownership of this error,” Whalen said. Whalen further emphasized that ownership in reaffirming that she and the others involved would pay the fines levied on them by the OAH. Whalen then gave corrections to some of what was said about the OAH ruling in an attempt to put to rest certain rumors circulating in the community. Whalen ended her comments by outlining the work the council has done while she has been at the helm.“I’m not going to undo the election by resigning,” Whalen said. Tschumperlin and Mortenson said they would not step down, either.

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