The St. Paul City Council meeting on August 21, 2019 highlighted a serious problem with St. Paul city government. Why can’t it learn from its mistakes?
The council has had to pay out hundreds of thousands of dollars for mistakes of city staffers (E.g., $800,000 for Black Bear Crossing; $2 million St. Paul Police Department) and mistakes of the council (E.g., $4 million in organized trash dumpsters and up to $5 million in damages) as well as mixed council/staff members’ mistakes (E.g. over $450,000 for Street ROW Assessment refunds). This really hurts, especially at a time of serious budget distress and diminishing public services.
Last Wednesday’s public hearings (8/21/19) featured a call for fairness and uniformity of assessment treatment by folks living along arterial streets that serve the entire city.
There was also a call for the council members to be more certain of their legal positions in the face of a series of legal setbacks over the last 8 years.
The latter suggestion was made by Jack Hoeschler, the volunteer attorney who has single-handedly obtained a series of refunds and rulings against the city’s assessment practices.
Hoeschler cited a recent district court ruling by Judge Robyn Millenacker to the effect that the city’s rebranded 2018 Street Maintenance Service charges are merely a new name for an old revenue raising gimmick that the Supreme Court outlawed in 2016 (based on a 2011 case brought by Hoeschler).
He challenged the council members to read Judge Millenacker’s decision to see that further enactment of SMSP assessments would be clearly illegal. The only defense for the council would be that they had a supporting written opinion by either a professional appraiser or an attorney (E.g., the City Attorney or the Attorney General). Without that, he said, they were politically and legally naked.
Once again, someone has pointed out that our king has no clothes. The real question is why is the council the last to realize it? When will they learn from their mistakes?
St. Paul has developed a bad habit of doing whatever it likes because we have a single party government. The city administrator relies on the fact that taxpayers cannot afford to take up its challenge: “Sue us if you don’t like it.”
That is not the way to run either a railroad or a government. The rule of law should mean something. Elected officials should know and obey the law, just like the rest of us. Let’s hope that this council finally learns from its mistakes.