consultants are sandburs

Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Matt Look reportedly gets himself crosswise with his Met Council Rep, while Ramsey seeks its Armstrong interchange and the County wants Highway 10 money. Presumably Met Council may have a say in such funding pursuits. Burning bridges is sometimes done, but rarely wise. My big question, four commissioners killed prevailing wage on County projects, one took a hike, and two say notice was inadequate. So, was the open meeting law violated? Was there some prior group meeting or seriatim communication among the four anti-union votes?

Paul Levy of Strib reports. This link. This opening excerpt:

Representatives from more than a dozen Twin Cities unions, saying they were deprived a public hearing, gathered in the County Board room to challenge the board’s 4-2 vote on Feb. 12.

The two board members who voted against rescinding the provision said they weren’t aware that it was to be discussed until the morning of the vote. Board Chairwoman Rhonda Sivarajah, however, said all commissioners were notified of the amended agenda; another county official said the notice was sent the afternoon before the meeting.

Prevailing-wage policy requires that employees on construction projects be paid at rates comparable to those that have been paid for ­similar work in the area. By repealing its policy, the county can award county-funded projects to the lowest bidder. There are state and federal prevailing-wage laws that apply to federally- and state-funded projects, including county projects that involve such funds.

“We’re concerned that there was no public notice, no chance to give our side of the story,” said Dan McConnell, business manager of the Minneapolis Building and Construction Trades Council.

McConnell wrote to Anoka County Attorney Tony Palumbo, asking whether the board violated the law by not giving public notice. Palumbo said a member of his staff is investigating the matter.

Lawyer McConnell might also consider prodding the County Attorney into vigorously inquiring into whether the open meeting law was violated via the gang of four possibly putting theit heads together some way or another in advance of the vote, possibly even in a closed "solidarity" session, possibly involving Schulte, or possibly in a string or series of emails or text messaging. Or by phone.

That kind of thing does happen. I recall a situation where Ramsey council members John Dehen and David Jeffrey were critical of the very first Landform contract meeting, claiming inadequate notice at the time Look was a council member with them who advocated the Landform dealings because "Senator Jungbauer" was a Landform insider who might procure grants if the city hired the firm. It's in the minutes, if you look in the right places.

Surely coincidence might explain the parallelism, just as conscious parallelism in conduct might be afoot. Those of us outside of the communication channels between Look, Sivarajah, West and Brasstad can only make guesses, and does newly elected Scott Schulte usually miss meetings? Or might he have ducked showing up knowing a four vote consensus was likely - possibly knowing more precisely where others stood, pre-meeting?

As to Look getting crosswise with his Met Council rep, Levy reported:

Sivarajah said she was miffed by the way local Teamsters leader Ed Reynoso encouraged union members to voice displeasure over the vote. Reynoso, who also is a member of the Metropolitan Council, said union members were urged through text messages to phone the four commissioners who voted to repeal prevailing wage. Those commissioners are Sivarajah, Matt Look, Robyn West and Julie Braastad.

“I learned long ago that you get further with honey than vinegar,” Sivarajah said. “In this county, bullying and intimidation are not acceptable.”

Reynoso said union officials are irked by characterizations of union workers allegedly made by Look, the County Board vice chairman. Look denies making disparaging comments to union members.

“It’s not even believable,” Look said. “Their claims are baseless.”

“I’m for market wage and prevailing experience,” Look said. “I respect their right to disagreement. I certainly don’t belittle them on the phone.”

At Tuesday’s meeting, Look referred to the county’s “fragile” relationship with the Met Council. Look recently sent Reynoso a text message saying that Look had called the governor’s office “concerning the hostile environment” that Reynoso was creating “concerning our most recent prevailing-wage vote.”

He further wrote that Reynoso should “reconsider the inappropriate crossover of your day job and relations that you may have potentially strained.”

What in all this astounds me most, is that Harold Hamilton, Chairman of the Taxpayer League, appears as if in communication with Board Commissioner Look, (I regard it as a mentoring thing), and yet Hamilton wrote nothing in his Watchdog musings except, under the headline "THUGGERY" to trash some Facebook postings, not saying jack about Look's aggressively texting Reynoso, nor about Look phoning "the governor's office" to tattle.

Levy's reporting of the tone of Look texting Reynoso suggests almost a thuggish tone, by Look, rather than "THUGGERY" of any real or substantial kind against him.

And, leaving Wonderland for the real world, do you think for one minute that Harold Hamilton routinely keeps abreast of Teamster postings on Facebook? That running Micro Control Company and chairing Taxpayer League gives him additional leisure time for such things? Or did somebody put Hamilton up to the Facebook ferreting? While serendipity is possible, my guess is Harold was put up to that ferreting-and-posting by somebody, Look being my guess, unless somebody with time on his/her hands ghostwrites all that Watchdog stuff with a lesser persona and gravitas than Hamilton and hence fronting Hamilton, a possibility with the question of who it might be if it might be at all being worth speculation.

(Not that you grow to expect a balanced account in Watchdog barking, but some of that tiring tirade stuff gets far too adversarial to consider the Watchdog as merely a neutral and nonpartisan critic of waste in any form or instance, without an agenda, and without a clear political motive beyond chasing waste.)

Look overreacts. He reacted sharply to a recent Crabgrass post critical of him on the prevailing wage issue, saying he thought I was inciting mayhem against him and would take his worries about me to the police, (In this county, bullying and intimidation are not acceptable), and that my general suggestion that union members might consider his anti-union actions next time his seat's up was equivalent "to shouting fire in a crowded theater."

Now this aggression with Reynoso. Truman had an adage about if you cannot take heat stay out of the kitchen, but Look seems to overreact, and with Reynoso in a way counterproductive to building a consensus on a Highway 10 upgrade effort, including Look's advocacy of the Armstrong interchange improvement in Ramsey, (which I think a wise and merited road project and for which I give him due credit, having so posted on Crabgrass).

In response to his email to me, beyond what got published but solely between Matt and me, I gave him a terse synopsis of my reaction to what I regarded to be his overreaction.

Bottom line for me, somebody, the County Attorney being the proper person, needs to smoke out whether four or five heads were put together in advance and in violation of the open meeting law, as well as whether there was impermissible intentional or unintentional deviation from normal notice practices and procedures. There's a suggestion of possible impropriety to things which needs to be confirmed or refuted.

Lawyer Palumbo, the ball indeed is in your court. Ferret out the truth in things, if at all possible. Surely wagons can be circled, and denials are easily given, but at least put the questions to a test.

The clearest statement I know of warning against seriatim quorum shenanigans outside of the open meeting law, something Look and others doubtlessly know of, is in League of Minnesota Cities Handbook, Chap. 7, at p.12 of 45 pages, under heading "E" - online here (see Handbook index, here).

The Handbook page cites Moberg, that court clearly stating:

We therefore hold that "meetings" subject to the requirements of the Open Meeting Law are those gatherings of a quorum or more members of the governing body, or a quorum of a committee, subcommittee, board, department, or commission thereof, at which members discuss, decide, or receive information as a group on issues relating to the official business of that governing body. Although "chance or social gatherings" are exempt from the requirements of the statute, [citation omitted], a quorum may not, as a group, discuss or receive information on official business in any setting under the guise of a private social gathering. The statute does not apply to letters or telephone conversations between fewer than a quorum.

Appellants correctly point out that this rule may be circumvented by serial face-to-face or telephone conversations between board members to marshal their votes on an issue before it is initially raised at a public hearing. It does not follow that two- or three-person conversations should be prohibited, however, because officials who are determined to act furtively will hold such discussions anyway, or might simply use an outsider as an intermediary. There is a way to illegally circumvent any rule the court might fashion, and therefore it is important that the rule not be so restrictive as to lose the public benefit of personal discussion between public officials while gaining little assurance of openness. Of course, serial meetings in groups of less than a quorum for the purposes of avoiding public hearings or fashioning agreement on an issue may also be found to be a violation of the statute depending upon the facts of the individual case.

Moberg v. Independent Sch. Dist. No. 281, 336 NW 2d 510, 518(Minn. 1983).

Look was reported as mentioning to reporter Sakry years ago when the initial Landform contract situation was decided that he was cognizant of Open Meeting Law in limiting those he spoke to in advance of the initial Landform contract approval meeting.

Last updated, 10:22 am, Wednesday, Feb. 27, 2013.

____________FURTHER UPDATE___________
Strib photo, this link.
One thing that specifically honks me off on this union bashing, is Sivarajah.

In an earlier general biographical sketch in Strib, still online here, she was coincidentally noted as, "The wife of a now-retired police officer."

Cops are not only unionized, but they have effective unions, and bargain aggressively for top collective pay and benefits. Sivarajah over years benefited from this union effectiveness, taking a pecuniary benefit from the share of union attained good will and good terms, and then co-instigates or at least advances on short notice and in absence of public notice of agenda modification, union bashing reversing decades of precedent.

It seems to be biting a hand that had fed her, and spouse.
It galls me, but readers should form and hold independent opinions.

I would like to see the item revisited anew, on a subsequent and adequately publicized agenda where a second Schulte absence would speak volumes, and then voted on again after a public hearing where union voices could be heard and weighed before any vote is taken. Arguably Humpty-Dumpty's been already broken and such a revisiting will not start with an intact egg, but it is a thought experiment if nothing else.

Perhaps Mr. Sivarajah might show up to discuss his experiences under police unionization. It would be an educational thing if he did.

[update added - 11:15 AM Wednesday, February 27, 2013 ]

____________FURTHER UPDATE___________
Labor speaks:

“For a county that prides itself on transparency — that won an award for transparency — there’s an awful lack of transparency here,” said Dan McConnell, business manager of the Minneapolis Building and Construction Trades Council. “I would ask our members who live in Anoka County to contact their county commissioners and ask them to reinstate prevailing wage.”

Prevailing wage policies require that employees working on government-funded construction projects receive wage rates comparable to wages paid for similar work in the area where the project is located.

“[Prevailing wage] prevents local contractors from being undercut by bidders from low-wage areas,” McConnell said, and, in the case of the Anoka County policy, “keeps the money in Anoka County.”

Prevailing wage policies long have become a target for opponents of organized labor, who charge that the policies favor union contractors.

Prevailing wage supporters maintain that the policies level the playing field between union and non-union bidders — by requiring all bidders pay the same wage rates.

Over the past two election cycles, organized labor lost a pro-labor majority on the Anoka County board and a move by the new majority to repeal prevailing wage was feared.

“I’ve seen it coming,” said Commissioner Jim Kordiak, one of the two “no” votes. But the timing of the vote February 12 came as a surprise.

“It was introduced at a very clever time in my view,” Kordiak told the Labor Review. “The county board was meeting at a remote location.” The board meeting February 12 was scheduled for East Bethel’s City Hall, not at the Anoka County Government Center.

Kordiak said an e-mail sent the day before the meeting announced to commissioners that prevailing wage would be on the agenda. But both he and Commissioner Carol LeDoux, who also voted “no” on the repeal, said they didn’t see the e-mail ahead of time and didn’t know prevailing wage was on the agenda until it came up at the meeting.

“The attitude of those who put it before us was they wanted to get it over quickly,” Kordiak said. “That was done on purpose.”

The repeal first passed the board’s management committee by a vote of 3-1, with Kordiak as the lone “no” vote. A few minutes later, the full board — minus the absent Schulte — passed the repeal on a voice vote after a brief discussion.

In the video of the board meeting, board chair Rhonda Sivarajah said that the $10,000 threshold for the county’s prevailing wage policy was outdated.

Sivarajah also said she had heard from local businesses who complained that the paperwork to comply with the prevailing wage policy was so burdensome that they were not bidding on county projects.

The repeal, Sivarajah said, “really helps to streamline things.”

Rhonda, the Northstar trains already run on time in terms of streamlining things. Paying workers below minimum wage and not keeping any records would add streamlining too.

Closing all meetings to the public? More streamlining.

That's dragging a red herring across the path of inquiry, "Streamlining."

Anyway, that excerpt is from the beginning of the Minneapolis Labor Review, February 22, 2013, report. All readers are urged to read the entire item.

Now, a thought experiment. City of Ramsey expanded its municipal owned parking ramp in order to give free parking to Flaherty, and in doing so used grant money requiring prevailing wage be paid, as was the case with the Northstar stop in Ramsey.

Now, beneficiary of that free parking largesse, Flaherty, is he using below prevailing wage labor or is he paying prevailing wage because part of his benefit came from public cash? Or is he cutting corners? As with the Emily McGlone employment by Flaherty, an Iron Curtain is being maintained on that question, as far as I know, with Flaherty's Indiana construction arm serving as general contractor on the big looming thing.

Where are those workers from and what are they paid, in terms of the puffery from the gang of four county commissioners, that this move of theirs will not really undermine local contractors?



While Flaherty has no duty to disclose, the question surely is relevant to the excuse making by the Commission majority that fly-by-night outsiders will not actually elbow out both local labor and local contractors. Perhaps the County Board majority on the issue might persuade the Flaherty people to shed light on their practices, or that effort would be expected were Flaherty to be acting in ways bolstering their contentions.

[update added - 11:49 AM Wednesday, February 27, 2013]

Bringing up Flaherty as a possible counterexample reaches a part of Levy's Strib reporting not previously quoted:

Sivarajah said there was ample time for commissioners to consider the proposal.

She also said that concern that the change will take away work from local companies in favor of cheap out-of-state labor is baseless.

“Is a company from North Dakota going to come here for a $75,000 project?” she asked. “I don’t think so.”

Rephrasing Board Chair Sivarajah's question, "Are Flaherty's people, besides top project management from Indiana, coming from North Dakota, or Faribault, or wherever?"

Is Flaherty on his project in Ramsey the most immediate and largest counterexample disproving the Board Chair's low-to-no-impact argument?

The County Board, County Attorney, they should ask Flaherty. Particularly so, if the matter is reopened, but with adequate notice given, respectful of the public's right to be informed and heard.

Perhaps there'd not be a stonewall, with those officials asking.

[12:08 PM Wednesday, February 27, 2013 -- post now closed, reader comments are welcome]


eric zaetsch said...

After closing the post, I did a bit of date checking on reports of events, and post results via a comment. Meeting and vote, 2/12/13, Anoka County Watchdog initial reporting, 2/15/13 [where I took notice]. Next, Bodley of ABC Newspapers rports, 2/20/13. Then, Crabgrass, 2/21/13 posts, quoting Bodley. 2/22/13, Minneapolis Labor Review reports. STRIB's report by Levy, Feb. 26, 2013. It appears the story grew legs after Watchdog barking, while the Watchdog admits he was fed insider information to be able to frontrun the organized press, "Sources tell us that it was a 4-2 vote, with Scott Schulte absent."

eric zaetsch said...

I emailed Harold Hamilton asking whether the "insider information" likelihood applied or not, he responded in relevant part:

"To demonstrate just how ridiculous your postings have become, you have speculated that I used "inside information" to report the 4-2 vote on prevailing wage.

"The reality is that a person who attended the county board meeting, always open to the public, called me afterwards and reported the vote.

"I see no reason to indulge your foolishess any longer.

"Henceforth, all communications from you, regardless of medium, will be discarded unopened and unread."

Prince Harold feels as he does, but read it again and again, and he does not deny insider information. He weasels around the question. Those at the front casting votes attended the meeting, it was open, so, I stand by my best guess in the absence of anything resembling a responsive response.

eric zaetsch said...

In Prince Harold's email, the only information content in any way responsive to the question is he did not learn of the vote from Scott Schulte, who failed to attend.