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Friday, December 21, 2007

New Brighton NWQ Eminent Domain - A Lucrative Legal Lottery

At the last New Brighton City Council meeting the notorious Gang of Three (Mayor Steve Larson and Council Members Mary Burg and Annie Hoffman) forced through one last eminent domain taking on a 3-2 vote. The ol' gang showed New Brighton property owners that it still, as a contributor to this blog once put it, "has what it takes to take what you've got".

The opening sentence of the New Brighton Bulletin coverage summarizes things well:
They've said it before, but this time they really mean it. The New Brighton City Council approved its final use of eminent domain in the Northwest Quadrant.
Actually the only reason this latest taking can be deemed the "final" use of eminent domain in the NWQ is that there is no longer any property in the NWQ for the city to take! And "final" is never final given the shameful history of New Brighton and eminent domain. Thirty to fifty years from now the city may well be involved in trying to redevelop the "blighted" [former] APi and Transoma properties by promising them to some developer without regard to the trivial detail of who owns the property.

Thankfully for New Brighton property owners this meeting was the final one where the GO3 had the votes to approve an acquisition of private property through the abuse of eminent domain. The 2008 City Council will have property rights advocate David Phillips joining Council Members Sharon Doffing and Gina Bauman who have valiantly looked out for property owners in the past only to be thwarted by the GO3 voting bloc. Phillips will replace GO3 stalwart Annie Hoffman who is moving out of state.

Although the acquisition of property though the abuse of eminent domain (or the threat thereof) has been commonplace in New Brighton for several years, this grand finale taking of property stands out because of the circumstances leading up to it. This time around the city's long time practice of promising property it did not own to private developers ran into snag when they cut a deal with the builder of the new Transoma building for the option of building on the neighboring property within the next five years. The only problem was that the city had years before entered into a long term lease with AT&T to operate a cell tower on the site and it was determined by city staff that the presence of the tower would be a deal breaker for the Transoma project.

The city decided that the best way out of this predicament would be to once again employ the often used "last resort" tool of eminent domain to force AT&T to accept a move of the tower without regard to the lease agreement. Previous eminent domain takings had sometimes taken a while to implement, but with five years to get the deed done, it should be no problem, right?

But here's where the plot sickens. The city's legal advisors recommended to start quick take eminent domain proceedings immediately because of the state eminent domain reforms that will go into effect on February 1. The reforms (which, incidentally, Mayor Steve Larson vigorously lobbied against at state legislature) would make it much harder and potentially much more expensive for the city to invoke eminent domain. As stated in the Bulletin coverage:
According to city officials, this is the last property in the Northwest Quadrant "not already acquired or under agreement to be acquired." But because of the new eminent domain law put in place in 2006 - making it harder for cities to acquire land through eminent domain without paying hefty fees - New Brighton city officials must act fast. Since New Brighton created the tax increment financing district in the Northwest Quadrant before the 2006 legislation went through, officials can operate under the older, more lenient eminent domain laws until Feb. 1.
And, since by all appearances the city council would not have the votes to invoke ED after January 1, the GO3 used their 3-2 majority to take care of things before Council Member Hoffman rode off into the sunset.

In the debate leading up to the vote the GO3 had the nerve, not to mention the lack of any semblance of shame, to portray the situation as one of the GO3 looking out for the taxpayers of New Brighton. As Mayor Larson later noted "This action covers our assets". Yes, he did say it with the "t" in the last word, though if it had been omitted the statement would probably be more accurate.

Council Members Doffing and Bauman pointed out that the "problem" with the cell tower lease was largely one of the city staff's own making. The tower and associated long term lease has been in place for several years and, as Bauman noted, the city staff should have known that the arrangement would have to be dealt with regardless of who ended up developing the site. The fact that the city did not start negotiating an amicable win-win solution with AT&T several years ago and dragged their feet until the situation became a "potential deal breaker" with the Transoma project ended up putting the City Council in a no-win situation: either invoke old fashioned hardball eminent domain against a paying lease-holder with the city now or end up having to pay a lot more later if negotiations broke down. The city also stands to lose the lease revenue if AT&T decides to relocate the tower in a neighboring community courtesy of the New Brighton taxpayers as a result of shoddy treatment by the city.

Council Member Doffing placed a large portion of the blame on the city's legal counsel, noting that the only clear winner in the messy situation are the lawyers who will have plenty of legal work generated by the eminent domain action. In chastising the lawyers and some of the staff who had bungled the situation she had the courage to tell it without sugar coating it. As reported by the Bulletin:
"Our responsibility to the community would have been to stop this foolish eminent domain process by a resolution a year or two years ago," Doffing said. "Then staff would have been advised to solve this at all costs instead of enabling the parasitic relationship that this city has with the eminent domain experts."
This latest abuse of eminent domain is just one more instance in New Brighton's sorry history of disregard for private property rights. Is it any wonder that the business climate in New Brighton is chilly at best? Why would anyone looking to start or relocate a business choose New Brighton when city government, led by the Gang of Three and some sycophants on city staff, demonstrated that the city won't even honor a long term lease agreement, let alone have any qualms about taking business property at the drop of a hat.

But there is one type of business that thrives in New Brighton: litigation and legal consulting. For far too many years city policies and the "parasitic relationship" between the city and legal providers have created a litigation lottery financed by the taxpayers that legal providers have hit the jackpot on. Between all of the eminent domain filings and related negotiations, the Rottlund lawsuit, attempts to secure sources of funding from other units of government, and other city projects a lot of money has flowed, and will continue to flow, from the city taxpayers to the legal providers and consultants.

And what do the taxpayers of New Brighton have to show for all of their money the city has squandered in the NWQ? A lot of dirt and weeds on land that at this time shows no realistic chance of generating the revenue the city is counting on to pay the looming bond obligations that will come due all to soon.

The 2008 City Council has a lot of work ahead of it to undo the damage of the past. New legal counsel and a thorough staff house cleaning would be a good start.

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13 Comments:

Anonymous Dopplertech said...

My hat's off to councel member Doffing for "fighting" for the taxpayers. However, It seams apparent that the City has sold the same rights twice (once to AT&T and once to RYAN). This type of bad faith negotiation would place a private property owner in jail. Who will pay the legal fees to defend the unlawful actions of the city of New Brighton? The taxpayers. Shame on you Mayor Larson!!!

12/22/2007 1:20 PM  
Blogger Daria said...

'Bad faith' is putting it mildly.

Unfortunately the blame for the mess in New Brighton goes beyond just Mayor Larson although he is certainly due his fair share. For a long time now New Brighton city government machine has had a culture characterized by arrogance, poor judgment, political cronyism and a decided lack of ethics. There has also been no shortage of aggressive CYA and blame shifting when things spin out of control.

I shudder to think of where the city would be if Doffing and Bauman were not on the council to at least slow down or pare back some of the unbelievable stupidity proposed by our elected officials and the city staff.

- D

12/22/2007 2:23 PM  
Blogger Right Hook said...

I too salute Doffing and Bauman for their integrity and efforts on behalf of the people of New Brighton. At least we have a couple of elected officials with common sense and ethics who have not lost sight on why they were elected.

Hopefully with the GO3 majority reduced to a GO2 minority things will start improving next year.

12/23/2007 10:45 AM  
Anonymous Small L Libertarian said...

Adding to Dopplertech's comment that a private property owner would be tossed in jail for what the NB city council did:

The NWQ mess is a text book example of what happens when the people allow government to overstep it's legitamit purpose or authority. It has become standard operating procedure for governments to create one set of rules and standards for the people and conveinently exempt themselves from both the rules and the consequences for breaking them.

Governments at all levels routinely do things that would be subject to criminal prosecution if done by an individual or private sector business. For example how could the majority of the tax code and the redistribution of wealth it finances be classified as nothing short extortion and theft? Could a private sector investment firm or insurance company get away with running a retirement on the Social Security financial model? As far as that goes where does the goverment even get the authority to operate a retirement plan? The NB NWQ actions are a small potatoes example of the same problem of government overstepping it's bounds.

I think some politicians are not all that smart but most are not intentionally unethtical. I do believe that they often get a big head after a while and think that the good they feel they are doing justifies what ever it takes to accomplish it. The fact that those responsible for out of control government keep getting reelected largely through apathy and ignorance of what is going on is really discouraging and allows the problem to continue.

12/23/2007 11:54 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Sometimes "THE PEOPLE" are too stupid to know what is best for them and the government is forced to step in. Having the nice new Transoma building and the jobs that will be created there and the nice business campus is worth the sacrifice of an ugly cell tower that could probably be moved to just about anywhere. The taxes paid by Transoma will more than offset the meeger lease payments from the tower even if the city looses it. Mayor Larson and the so called Gang of Three had the wisdom and courage to know that for the good of the city the NWQ needed to have some useful purpose instead of ugly wearhouses, crappy resteraunts, smelly industrial sites and outdated bowling alleys.

For the information of you rightwingers who write on this website it IS the purpose of government to look out for the common good (it's right in the same Constitution you often site). Unfortunately the interests of some individuals will need to be sacrificed from time to time. While I feel sorry for some of the businesses that had to relocate I think if they are reasonable they will understand that the common good has to come before their individual wants. And it isn't that the government is "TAKING" there property: THEY ARE GETTING COMPENSATED FOR IT, SOMETIMES VERY GENROUSLY. WHY IS THIS SO HARD FOR YOU RIGHTWINGERS TO UNDERSTAND?

Sometimes people loose their businesses because of a flood or tornado and they manage to get back on there feet again. Often with the help of the same government that you rightwingers so dispise! What's the difference if they loose there property because of emenent domain if they are taken care of with a fair payment or help in relocating? Unlike when the loss is because of a disaster the so-called loss in this case is actually a net gain for society because of the public good that comes from it.

Bauman and Doffing are so set in their right wing ways that they haven't figured out that YOU CAN'T MAKE AN OMALET WITHOUT BREAKING A FEW EGGS. I for one would rather have the nice omalet instead of the rotten egg of the NWQ before the redevelopment!

12/23/2007 1:15 PM  
Anonymous daisy said...

Anonymous,

Let's test your knowlege about property aquistions in the NWQ.
What properties do you recall that have been taken? I really don't think you know much of anything of what has been occuring in New Brighton. Do you even live in the city?

12/23/2007 3:22 PM  
Blogger Right Hook said...

I don't have the time or patience to debunk the sheer volume of wrong thinking in Anonymous's comment right now, but I welcome anyone with the time and patience to have at it.

For the sake of our collective IQ I certainly hope that "Anonymous" doesn't live in New Brighton. Unfortunately I think there's a good chance he or she does based on some of the arguments one hears in support of the Mayor and his minions. I really hope he or she isn't a teacher or someone with any influence in educating our children.

Anonymous has obviously been drinking the Larson/Benke/LMC Kool Aid for a long time. I've heard it goes good with "omalets".

I let the comment through because, as messed up as the author's thought process is (not to mention their interpretation of the Constitution) it was not obscene or abusive. In fact, it is very instructive for conservatives to see what kind of thinking we are up against when liberals get into power. For this I thank Anonymous for reading our blog and participating in the discussion.

We conservatives have a lot of educating to do! Would you want someone who thinks like this to educate our children, or to make policy that can impact your property, freedom, and finances?

12/23/2007 4:10 PM  
Blogger Mark said...

The people are too stupid, says anonymous. Yep, they are need of being led by Mayor Steve and his pals. We are all too benighted to know what's happening. And considering the glittering success of the NWQ project to date, how could any of us be smart enough to doubt the wisdom of things.

And I'm assuming the line about the the government looking out from the common good that anonymous is referring to is the business about "promoting the general welfare." A worthy goal, indeed. But the goals is is to "promote," not "decide by fiat."

Perhaps if anonymous's home or property was part of a Larsonian "omalet," then perhaps anonymous might understand.

As always, good job Boots On crew!

Best,

Mr. D

12/25/2007 3:47 PM  
Anonymous Centerfield said...

I suspect this is the kind of supporter you collect when you are a 'leader' whose resume includes weiner salesman and part-time golf course lackey. May we all have an improved New Year!

12/26/2007 1:43 PM  
Blogger G-Man said...

Mr. Anonymous,

Exactly where does the Constitution say that government's role is to look out for the "common good" of the public? As I recall, the Colonies were formed by settlers who fled lands ruled by kings that claimed to look out for the common good of the people. So who decides what is the "common good".

If garnering more tax revenue for the city constituted more "common good", then Anonymous better watch his/her own land. There is always an opportunity for another entity to come along that might garner more tax dollars for the city if only the city took the land necessary for re-development.

Which gets us to the next question. What is the function of our city council? Is it to govern the city for the benefit of its current residents or to convert the city into a tax profit center without regard for the citizens or business owners who loose their land in the process?

Should Mr. Anonymous choose to study American history, he/she might discover that our Founding Fathers formed the Constitution in part to protect us from over-zealous king-makers in government. Our Constitution was formed to prevent rulers like the GO3 from choosing the winners and losers in New Brighton. More to the point, the Constitution exists to LIMIT the power of government from those who would abuse its power over some while claiming to others that it is for the common good.

I wonder. Is Mr. Anonymous of the mindset that the GO3 and their cohorts in elected office will take land and property (such as income) from the more productive in our society for the direct benefit of Mr. Anonymous and like-minded supporters? Would Mr. Anonymous think the same when his/her land stands in the way of the vision of the GO3?

Just a reminder. As a taxpayer in New Brighton, the development of the NWQ has clearly NOT been for the common good for it has lost tax revenue. Its previous (and rightful) land owners delivered more tax revenue to the city than current dwellers. This is what happens when those with lots of power and little at risk gamble with another's land and another's income. Not only did land owners in the NWQ loose their land, but the rest of us are now paying the price for this failed gamble.

12/26/2007 7:44 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

You guys can see past your own noses. You only see the short term picture with any issue with the city and are quick to criticize it. With the lack of research on this sites part, the desire to smear the city and its staff at any chance it gets. So go on and boast about this site all you want, the only thing I see here is a new form of graffiti that is in a electronic form and not on a building.

12/27/2007 8:43 AM  
Blogger Daria said...

Mr/Ms Anonymous #2, perhaps you would like to elaborate on the long term picture as you see it. If you effectively make your case maybe you can change some minds.

Unlike some in city government we actually encourage the expression of contrary opinions on this blog. If you think you can counter the points made in my post or the subsequent comments, or within any post on this site for that matter, feel free to have at it.

Some things you may want to address: How long has planning for the NWQ been going on? How long was cell tower where it currently is before the city figured out that there would be a usage conflict? Does the long term picture as presented in the pretty pastel water colors and impressive architectural drawings incorporate a cell tower? Apparently we aren't the only ones that only see short term picture.

The desire of this blog is far from wanting to smear the city. We merely point out how we feel the people of New Brighton are being let down by those entrusted to run it. Most of us who contribute are long term residents that are troubled at the direction in which the city is being led. We use different writing styles and perspectives to make our points, but the end goal is to make people aware of just what is going on and hopefully get enough of them energized to make the changes needed to put the city, or in some cases the state or country, back on track. It's called the First Amendment and, as was noted a few posts ago, it has not yet been nullified by those who resent the expression of ideas contrary to theirs.

The contributers to this blog as well as many of the commenters generally do a pretty thorough job of presenting their case. Granted, it largely consists of opinion but at least the posters make a thoughtful case in support of their assertions. It seems like those who support the contrary view in many cases can't or won't support their position very effectively. Maybe they're just lazy or incapable of presenting a reasonable argument (case in point: Anonymous #1). Or could it be that the facts are just not on the side of their position?

The research and thoughtful presentation here is much more thorough than, say, the city PR presentation that passed for a Town Hall Meeting. You know, the one that was deferred until after the election? Does anyone really believe that Mr. Lotter needed an additional month to prepare to emcee the superficial at best dog and pony show that was presented? Was it not to the advantage of the incumbents not to have the embarrassing questions regarding the NWQ financials posed by the public until after 'Landslide' Larson was safely re-elected with 45% of the vote?

As far as characterizing the posts here as graffiti, the responses of those on your side are often about as deep as the spray painted scrawls on some buildings. In New Brighton, at least in the past, if a building ever did get covered with graffiti there was a good chance the unsightly message would just disappear with the destruction of the building via eminent domain. Unless, of course, the city chose to keep it around for a while to bolster their case for blight.

- D

12/27/2007 10:39 AM  
Anonymous daisy said...

Anonymous 1 & 2

Still, you provide no answer as to what businesses and or homes have been involved in the the takings for bigger business in the NWQ.

Do you take your friends the former Mayor Benke and current Mayor Larson's propaganda at face value? The facts are worth your trouble investigating.

12/28/2007 6:50 PM  

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