consultants are sandburs

Saturday, July 29, 2006

DWI Is Serious -- Grams Blames 2000 Election Loss on Bush DWI

I have never been stopped or cited for DWI, but I imagine when it happens it can feel quite serious. I imagine sitting there, saying to yourself, "What a total absolute imbecile, to be here, now, this way."

Most of us would probably cooperate, and only the more experienced would first think to want a lawyer and know which specialist lawyer to call.

And, how serious is the other guy's DWI? How should we, outside of criminal law proceedings, regard a one-time or repeat DWI offender? Former Anoka County resident and former Minnesota Senator, Rod Grams, who is now playing the gnat in Jim Oberstar's kitchen by running against the solidly entrenched Iron Ranger in Minnesota's Eighth Congressional District this year, thinks the other guy's DWI can be quite critical to an election. We learn as news that:

Grams — nationally seen as vulnerable going into the [2000 Senate] election — was defeated by millionaire Mark Dayton.

“I thought we had momentum. I thought we had a chance to win,” said Grams, who said his campaign was badly outspent.

The revelation concerning Texas Governor George Bush’s old DWI arrest just before Election Day may have had a cooling effect, Grams opined.
It is awsome to think this might be true -- that it might be more than making excuses, or playing a blame game of might-have, could-have, on Sen. Grams part.

Consider what Grams was saying, loosing an election over: A DWI that was not the candidate's own; not a pattern of two or more offenses; and not within the past dozen years or so; but far more remote in time.

The Threat of Carnarge on the Roads Should Be Stopped

Whatever the correctness of Sen. Gram's speculation, driving while intoxicated is a serious thing - a crime - and it puts other peoples' families at risk of death, dismemberment, or property damage. Even those lucky to avoid injury face nuisance, trouble and travail in dealing with reluctant, delaying insurers.

All traffic statistics of any merit show the risks are greater of serious disabling injury and fatality, for auto accidents where one driver in a mishap was impaired.

Insurers raise rates in proportion to their taking on a greater risk, for a driver with a conviction or arrest record.

But how should the public judge an official's or community leader's actions? If the scout troop leader drives drunk, is the judgment that it does not affect the troop, or that it sets a quite bad example?

There is no simple answer.

In Feb. 2001, about the time the three Ramsey councilmembers now up for reelection began terms in office, MPR reported:

A new poll finds most Minnesotans support stiffer penalties for drunk drivers. The Minnesota Public Radio-St. Paul Pioneer Press poll finds more than half of respondents want to lower the legal blood alcohol level to .08. They also support raising the penalty for multiple DWIs to a felony.

[emphasis added] The MPR online item indicates there are no easy answers, and cost is always a factor, but attitudes are tightening:

Sen. Jane Ranum, DFL-Minneapolis, who chairs the Senate Crime Prevention Committee, says she's not surprised by the poll's results.

"It is no longer socially acceptable to drink and drive like it was 15, 20 years ago. I think now the question is, what are we doing about it. I think there's been a sea change," says Ranum.

But one defense attorney says the public's support is misplaced. Attorney Sam McCloud says he'll get richer if DWI laws get tougher, because he'll have more business. But from a taxpayer point of view, he says it's a mistake to spend more money to punish drunk drivers. He says the state needs to develop smarter ways of identifying drunk drivers who are likely to do it again.

"We've never solved an addiction by punishing somebody. The bottom line is, punishment is not the answer. We need to intervene in these people's lives and we need to get them real help, real significant, meaningful help. We need to do it early on before they get four or five DWIs," says McCloud.
[emphasis added] McCloud, a lawyer known for beating the system, says the repeat offender is the major focus of concern, the main problem to face and fix.

This partly fits a side-bar table MPR presented, asking the question:

Have you ever driven a motor vehicle after consuming enough alcoholic beverages to feel your judgment or physical reflexes were impaired?

The answer: Yes: Statewide, 46% had, 60% of questioned men had, 32% for women. Never: Statewide, 52% had not, 37% men had not, and 67% women had not. Remaining percentages were those not responding. One factor in the higher male incidence, is that couples out drinking together end up more frequently with the man driving home.

The key word in the question, however, is ever. For men, a distinct majority admit it, at least once [without knowing whether ever caught impaired].

Yet, most of us have never had a drunk driving police stop. Hence, there has to be a gulf between "ever" and being caught. It is frequency of being on the road drunk that correlates with having arrests and convictions. Yet this is a difficult correlation to quantify. In an authoritative, DOJ study, arrests are down since the mid-1980's, DWI arrests of white offenders are, percentage wise, higher than for other misdemeanor or higher crimes, and where statistics exist, usually drinking was for 3 - 4 hrs prior to police contact on the road. But no reliable number was found online for "drivers are on the road xyz times drunk for every single time one is stopped," and the nature of the number sought shows reasons why reliable statistics appear absent.

If caught more than once, we must assume the percentages of multiple times on the road drunk must have been quite high. An indicative factor is that law enforcement estimates are that an arrest results for only a quite small percentage of cases where impaired drivers take to the road.

Former Governor Ventura, in office when MPR published, is quoted this way:

"Everybody wants you to crack down on it, and then all of a sudden they realize this is going to cost - how much? Maybe they ought to look at it and say, what will it cost you if it's your son or daughter, your mother or father or friend, who's killed by a drunk driver? How do you put a dollar value on that?" says Ventura.

That is sensible way to view things, and when phrased that way it is hard to minimize or discredit societal concern.

Mothers Against Drunk Driving, "MADD," has been a leading voice for reason and responsibility, nationally and in Minnesota. Unfortunately, Minnesota-MADD is presently rebuilding their website, but keep the link and keep checking, for when they are fully back online.

MADD, national, has an up-and-running site, providing much information and guidance.

What You Can Do

Join MADD, and law enforcement professionals, and say, "Shame on you," and more, to convicted drunk drivers - even when they have managed to contrive to skate after a conviction, on a technicality on appeal.

It is the right thing to do. For the scout troop leader. For the otherwise solid family man. As well as for the wife beater or child abuser; it is not respectable or acceptable to be a drunk driver. Or it should not be.

No drunk driver should put my family members, yours, or himself at risk on the roads of Minnesota. It should never happen. No repeat offender in, say the dozen years since 1993, should be cut any real slack at all. He has acted criminally, and been a serious threat to others.

BOTTOM LINE: I am a Ramsey City Council Candidate, running in part to see our Police Chief and staff tighten the screws on drunk driving. I doubt my opponent would credibly say the same.

Stealth lobbying - Hardly any radar cross-section to be seen.

Since the beginning of this year, a Ms. Bonnie Balach has been paid more than $500 to lobby for Ramsey. Probably substantially more. But at least over $500.

Her contact person is not the mayor, a councilmember or the city attorney. It is James E. Norman. Whatever marching orders Ms. Balach gets or got from Ramsey, appear from her official filings to be per contact with this one individual, Ramsey's City Administrator, whose job is to report to and take direction from the city council.

Prior to mid-April, this year, I recieved an item of information stating:

St. Paul- Two bills important to the City of Ramsey's Town Center project have been included in the Senate Omnibus Tax bill this week on their way toward passage in the overall Senate. This follows movement of the project through the Senate Commerce Committee earlier this session. Sen. Jungbauer joined the Commerce Commitee earlier this year.

The bills, authored by State Senator Mike Jungbauer (R-East Bethel) will authorize a Tax Increment Financing (TIF) district in Ramsey, as well as create a higher debt ceiling for the City of Ramsey along the route of the Northstar Commuter Rail corridor. Rep. Jim Abeler is the Author of the Companion bills in the House.

The TIF district will allow Ramsey more freedom to raise funds for the development project, while the higher debt ceiling will allow the city to increase the amount the city is able to borrow. Together, they allow the city to finish the project through increased financial options without raising taxes.
[italics emphasis added] Did any reader know that any of this was going on?

Send a comment if you did (with details please). Or send your opinion.

Justice Brandeis, among other things, is known for his famous quote, "Sunshine is the best disinfectant." This was in his 1914 work, "Other People's Money," and he was talking about the need for open information, and open accountability, to avoid deception. Not keeping people in the dark.

Information on this Jungbauer - Abeler sponsorship of legislation affecting Ramsey came to light in an election year. The gutless thing to do in any election year is to hide from any tax hikes. The sneaky thing to do to dodge raising taxes in an election year is to fob current expenditure into the future via deficit financing [where a current deficit is incurred, and more is spent than taken in by taxes - via bonding, i.e., imposing a mortgage-like obligation on every Ramsey taxpayer's future]. The sneakiest thing to do is to hide the entire mischief from voters.

The Email Trail

What was going on and who was behind it? I hoped to find an answer.

Realizing Jim Abeler is a pretty fair legislator who answers questions forthrightly, in mid-April I emailed his office with the information I had, and inquired:

If you do not have time to respond personally, could you at least have a staff person confirm the accuracy of the item below the dotted line, which was sent to me by another Ramsey resident, in your district.

If you do have time to respond personally, could you explain the rationale behind this bill sponsorship?

What is the need and how did it arise?

The people of Ramsey have never had a referendum chance on the Town Center, and you can confirm with Diane Lund, CIty of Ramsey's chief financial officer, that the City of Ramsey has several millions of dollars squirreled away in various reserve accounts. They are sitting on that pile of cash and issuing bond debt that will take years to retire.

Please ask Ms. Lund for the bottom line number of how many millions of dollars they hold on account, in reserve, in total, if you do not believe me. It goes well beyond a prudent rainy day reserve situation.

Is this Town Center project the apparent failure it seems to be, and is good money simply being thrown after bad?

The Ramsey city council members up for reelection are afraid to impose a tax, because they are up for reelection. But this is far, far worse because it appears to be a sneaky way to try to fool voters, and little else.

Because the Legislature, is hectic during session, I sent an end-of-April follow-up:

The original item forwarded to me, said, "Both Representative Abeler and Senator Jungbauer encourage and appreciate citizen input." Then contact info for each office was provided.

I emailed the Abeler office Mon. Apr. 17, and a week and a half have passed. I am attempting via the public data law of Minnesota to get information from the City of Ramsey, but the process is taking time.

If each legislative office, via staff or directly from the legislator(s), would take the minute or two of time needed to confirm the measure IS being advanced in both houses; AND to identify the person(s) on behalf of Ramsey that made the request for this activity, and the lobbying done of each office on behalf of Ramsey; I would be deeply appreciative.

In an immediate email answer to me, a busy Rep. Jim Abeler graciously took time to indicate:

To your question, it is moving slowly if at all in the house. I introduced it as a courtesy to the city, which brought it to me. Bonnie Balach (sp?) has been the contact for me. Currently it is in the Tax Committee, and no hearing is scheduled at this time that I know of. How it is doing in the Senate, I have no idea.

This was an honorable reply, and Rep. Abeler even offered help in bill tracking via the legislature's website.

The Jungbauer office declined to respond as directly to a parallel inquiry sent there.

A Total Mystery - Perhaps A Stonewall

So, who gave Bonnie Balach her marching orders to slam the public debt "hole" voters face deeper, to soak up more Town Center spending?

This might be the biggest mystery since "Who shot J.R.," a few years ago. Or at least as big a mystery as where "The Port of Ramsey" is alleged to exist.

I am aware of no council-passed resolution or ordinance to have Balach lobby this way. That is the only way the council lawfully operates. Don't take my word on that, read the City Charter, Ch. 3, requiring a resolution or ordinance, upon due motion at a public meeting, duly passed. I did not write the Charter. I only believe it should be honored by elected and appointed City officials. Any comments for or against this idea are welcome. Any information any reader has about how Balach came to do such lobbying should, again, be added as a comment. Anyone believing I am wrong about how lawful business must be done, can double-check with our City Attorney, Bill Goodrich:

Anything less than a duly presented and passed ordinance or resolution authorizing Balach to go to St. Paul and lobby the legislature to load more debt possibilites upon the tax-payers and voters of Ramsey raises open meeting law problems of great magnitude.

My only guess is it was the one contact person, James E. Norman, giving Balach instructions to act as Rep. Abeler characterized. If it was James E. Norman, acting on his own or at the behest and under instructions from a rump group of the council after some kind of off-the-record rump group meeting; were voters being treated at all fairly?

Again, I am unaware of any on-the-record vote for raising Ramsey's taxpayers' top boundary public debt burdens. If I am wrong, correct me via a comment or email.

For all I know, the Balach activity might have been instigated by persons connected to the Met Council, and/or Town Center promotional effort.

I have no way of knowing.

A stonewall is a silent thing. Somebody, give me an explanation.

I do not think the city's Finance Committee deliberated hiking taxpayer bond-debt limits in any fashion, on or off the record. I could find no Finance Committee minutes on this. (Again, a correcting comment or email would be appreciated - from anyone with knowledge of events.)

The Right Way vs. The Ramsey Way

Recall how school boards always hold "bond issue" elections. They do that whenever they want to impose greater bond liability on their voters. It goes to a vote.

Ramsey sure looks to be acting differently. Voter pre-approvals are scorned - by those now working the levers of city power. It is an election year, I am a candiadate, and my feelings on referendum usage, and charter amendment votes, are generally known. I favor them greatly.

Voters should vote. It is the best way to operate.

BOTTOM LINE: Who, how, where, when and under what authority was this mischief instigated and fostered? My view is if nobody comes forward and 'fesses up, then there are three Ramsey city council seats up for reelection; so, voters --- vote the SILENT rascals out.


Repeated caveat: If any reader can clarify this situation for me, totally or in part, please post a comment, for my help and for the help of everyone reading this blog.

Friday, July 21, 2006

In case you never experienced this firsthand --

For those unfortunate few who never in their life have had the uplifting experience of being in the dead middle of a total traffic gridlock, the following pictures are offered. Some show gridlock in Asia, some in Europe, and drivers, wherever they are, always obey the law and stay on their proper side of the road.

Create gridlock from the comfort of your own home (for it is far less stressful that way).

[The traffic simulator is the online work of researchers at the Technische Universitaet Dresden, to whom we are grateful.]

Oh, and by the way, if you have never experienced gridlock, welcome to Ramsey.

Wednesday, July 19, 2006

Growth -- and The Myth of More Rooftops

Ramsey, Anoka County, Minnesota, is experiencing something we associate with crabgrass.


Ill-regulated disturbing weed-like growth. Some say we need more rooftops to have a bigger tax base but you start with those rooftops and there's a tax when you have put people under them, but once you do that you find those folks strangely unwilling to pay taxes without - get the audacity of this - without expecting something helping them for their money.

The mantra is we want more for ourselves so we kickstart things with more new rooftops, built where the green-acres low taxed raw land stood, for that magical promised nirvana, collecting magic taxes without having to provide any services in return.

And then the thing gets bollexed up by these uppidy new occupants who come along and dash the plan with the notion that for some previously unforeseen reason, they do not want to be shorn sheep.

"But the developers all promised and the city councilmembers all promised you would enjoy getting a bit more air in the hot summers and would not mind the shears at all." Not so, they reply, a bit of huff to the voice.

The developers have gotten their money, and are like a deer that's heard gunfire - and the city officials are saying, "The plan's only half done. You have to spend money to make money. The remainder of the rooftops are in the works."

Fine, if they would spend their own money, or someone's money who would be making money, but somehow the process always degenerates to general funds getting spent, bond debt being incurred, and land owners, speculators, builders, architects, and the Met Council making something from it.

General funds are tax income to a city, pooled into larger and larger pools annually, as sure as rain falling down and not up they grow larger. Yet, somehow the equation always works that you pay tax and you get promises and the money goes to crabgrass.

It is your money, if you pay taxes in Ramsey. And it will by your troublesome nest of crabgrass, on the lawn of your disappearing and soon to be gone calm Ramsey rural-like lifestyle.

If you do not fight a haphazard infiltration, the whole lawn will be crabgrass.

Maybe we'll see you again, Sam McCloud

Earlier this year, in February, actor Dennis Weaver died. He was best known for his role as Chester in the TV Gunsmoke series, and later as the cowboy detective, Sam McCloud (not the Minnesota lawyer by that name).

Weaver never got away from the cowboy role, or out of the saddle, even as detective McCloud.

Well, so long old cowboy, and maybe you again will be a blogger's recollection -- or if you do not return as cowboy Sam McCloud, another Sam McCloud may be mentioned or featured or play a role in some other crabgrass saga.

A Useful Link for Diverse Purposes.

Not everyone in Ramsey may be aware, but the Minnesota State lawlibrary website has a search feature. It will do a full-text search of all archived opinions. For instance, type your own name, "first last" with the quotation marks, and if there is an appellate case mentioning your name it would show up, or a list if there were several. I typed in "Eric Zaetsch" and got no returns, because there is no case there, published or unpublished, with my name in it. To double check I put my full name in, "Eric Herman Zaetsch," because if the case is in the full name, it may need that to show up retrieved. The lawyer I worked with in Seattle, John W. Demco, had the middle name "Wayne" and I might need to search with that name, or the middle initial, to get the right returns. Or just use a last name; such as "Zaetsch." Search functions require a bit of experimenting.

As an example, I typed in "Blom" and got several cases with a party named "Blom," the first being the unfortunate Donald Blom kidnap-murder case we probably all read of, another being about a conditional use zoning question, another dealing with worker compensation claims, and yet a fourth involving a dismissal of a legal malpractice claim.

You can type in names of friends or people you know, or people you know of, in Minnesota.

If you type in "Robert M.A. Johnson" you get several cases, because he is our county attorney.

The first one I found there was Robert M.A. Johnson v. 1999 Silver BMW Convertible. Of course our county attorney was not suing an automobile, he was suing to forfeit title to an automobile used in a felony police pursuit-escape attempt. Most people would not even know that if you run from the law and the law wins, at times that means you can forfeit ownership of the auto you were fleeing in. So obey the law.

A Trip in the WayWayBack Time Machine

In October '02, the WayWayBack Time Machine sees a Met Council quote of Natalie Haas Steffen, "I would call our task force the 'Dream Team.' [...] What this dream will ultimately become depends on us here in Ramsey and on the economy."

Have you ever had one of those nightmare dreams, where you wake up in a cold sweat, your liver hurting, the veins in your forehead throbbing, and think, "Where is my wallet, sombody took my wallet, my wallet's gone, I am left in a vast empty space with only townhomes, a market, a school in the distance in this desolate bleak open howling-wind landscape."

I don't think any on the Ramsey City Council have their nails done, but in the dream sequence, I or they could have. In that bleak open dream landscape, there was a nail place. And you could buy some insurance.

The hedge, the catch, the carefully placed caveat in Natalie's dream, "... ultimately ... depends ... on the economy." It is a Catch 22.

There's always a catch, and it's Catch 22.

Interest rates go down, interest rates go up, and borrowing costs move in sync. So it costs more to borrow as rates go up.

There are shortages, there are gluts, and that is yin-yang of "the economy," be it in a market for widgets, pork bellies, or ugly-looking town homes.

Call it a Contest - Call it a Survey

No prizes involved, but you can take credit under your name or anonymously. Comments are welcomed from anyone in Ramsey or anywhere else in the State of Minnesota, who can tell me:

Where is the Port of Ramsey?

This is no joke.


Dead seriously, where do the residents of Ramsey, Anoka County, Minnesota, have a port?

Any port, anywhere in the city.

A mere boat launch will not qualify, but a port - some public dock where some barge or other floating device or vessel longer than 22 feet could tie up and load or remove 50 pounds of cargo.

I will go that low, for a definition of a port. Something on the water, even that tiny.

So, where does the City of Ramsey have a port?

Is it the multimillion dollar bus-stop, Palace of Government, and Gamec Memorial Parking Ramp, or whatever they've named it , Steffen Fetchitt From-Stores-While-U-Park, I do not know the formal name given that parking ramp along the tracks; but, hey, it's not on the water, so it's not a port.

At best it's a glorified bus-stop. Not a port by anyone's normal, sensible definition of the term.


Certainly that taxpayer-funded mega-complex would qualify as a Pork Authority, it is deep, full-to-the-top pork-barrel, all the way and any way you slice it pork; but press the question sometime at the brief citizens' section of a council meeting, "Do we have a Port in Ramsey, to justify any thought of a Port Authority," and see what convoluted answer or obfuscation you get.

With the Palace-Parking-Ramp (and bus-stop appendix) in mind, some rhetorically twisted folks might reply from the council table, "Yo, fool, we are building a bus-stop, we need a Port Authority for the bus-stop, so the council will have the power going along with the bus-stop to bond our resident-taxpayers of this fair city deeper into public debt than otherwise; and we need that power, because - we have a bus-stop. Further, folks over on the hilltop at St. Paul, the Legislature, they should let us, absent any formal Ramsey resolution or ordinance on the record (in advance of the 2006 elections), send a stealth lobbyist in to push for legislation allowing Ramsey to kite up the amount of public debt we councilmembers can later hang onto our beloved citizenry."

Or something substantially saying that, less directly, less succinct.

Most folks in Ramsey probably do not even know our steath lobbyist exists, this formally declared and identified lobbyist for the City of Ramsey who in the dead winter of 2005, signed on to carry water up the hill for Ramsey, apparently without anyone not under the right civic rock knowing it was happening.

Two water towers, and a lobbyist.

Wow. Growth is great, isn't it?

Two water towers, a lobbyist, and hundreds, up to thousands of new single family and shared-wall housing units on the ground and in the works in Ramsey, and lots, and lots, and lots, and lots of Tinklenberg-and-talk about Highway 10 at some indefinite point in the future being scaled to finally fit the growth in traffic, and further talk about a "Dayton Bridge" -- again, indefinite as to timing but sounding real promising, as general inexact talk.

Traffic multiplies and talk keeps pace. Paving doesn't.

Try driving rush hour, on talk.

Talk is a very slow and crowded roadway, if it's talk alone and no new lanes or paving.

Traffic incrementally worsens with each new Ramsey town home or detached single family home on the ground, sold, and occupied.

And someone, or a cabal with stealth apparently, is afoot with no council resolution or ordinance of authorization I could find, seeking to raise Ramsey's debt limit via legislation from St. Paul.

And I read nothing about it in Ramsey Resident either.

A Port Authority? Huh? Who, how, when did that incredibly bad idea grow legs to the Legislature?

My bet - it is a developing story.

Sunday, July 16, 2006

Why insult crabgrass?

Well, so "Developers are Crabgrass." What's that mean to you? To me: Crabgrass will survive almost anything and prosper, unless you use chemical poisons and that could harm God's useful creatures. So far the analogy holds.

However, take a profit away, and that will not deter crabgrass one bit. But find a developer where there's no profit to be taken, and you've found a truly rare variant. Most likely an ex-developer.

A developer will take pride in finding raw land, getting a better view of the sky by removing every tree possible, and then harming that good view by putting up something using lumber differently than a tree does, and looking ugly. You doubt that? Go look at the Ramsey Town Celter housing, and come back and tell me without breaking a grin, it is not ugly.

It is ugly and it is brought to you by eager developers. Not one but a hierarchy of people with bad ideas and the will to reduce them all to unappealing housing. Developers subpurchasing from other developers, all ostensibly under the control of a city council, or vice versa. Go look at what's on the ground and tell me which way you see the control flowing. Either way, Tweedle Dee or Tweedle Dum in the driver's seat, good judgment is like a lost orphan after the circus has been to town. We know where it is absent, where it likely disappeared to, and likely motives for the disappearnace.

I could say city councilmembers are crabgrass. But why insult crabgrass? Starting that whole story could end up in a defamation lawsuit, sooner than you could say SLAPP you and your mama, and almost as fast as you could say "conflict of interest." Or "rampant conflict of interest." Or "mind-boggling bodacious conflict of interest."