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Wide White: December 2009

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Jeanine Brand: what were you thinking?!?

11-3-10 UPDATE: Jeanine Brand lost her bid for reelection to Richard Mollin by 24 points.

I came across a sad story recently that made me really, really angry. I've been stewing for a month or so on it since I didn't want my post to be over-reactive.

In November, the Star Tribune, WCCO and others reported on the story of Jennings and Clarice Sunderland of Bagley, MN. I'll let you read the story (The Strib has the well-written story and WCCO includes video, so take your pick of which media you prefer) of what the couple, married for 50 years, has been through.

To quickly summarize it, Clarice has Alzheimer's disease and was wandering away from home. Jennings started draping a chain around her and her recliner when they would sit and watch TV since he often dozed off, that way he would hear her if she got up to wander off. She could lift the chain off of herself without a problem, but at least the rattling would wake him up.

Jennings' nosy brother made a call for a welfare check on the family after learning of the chain. Two sheriff deputies and a social worker arrived and Jennings explained the purpose of the chain. They left and reported their findings to Clearwater County Attorney Jeanine Brand.

Thanks to Brand's advice, Jennings was thrown in jail for felony false imprisonment. Clarice was sent to a nursing home and the two of them endured an awful 3-month ordeal of separation and battles with the local government.

According to the Star Tribune:
[T]he social worker refused to accept names of relatives willing to care for [Clarice]; the county got emergency guardianship without notifying [the Sutherlands' daughters], and only by luck did they stumble on a court hearing about their mother and get temporary co-guardianship.
If that isn't damning enough, Brand still thinks the actions taken were appropriate.
Jennings Sunderland "did not try to hurt" his wife, Brand acknowledged in an interview before charges against him were dropped last month. But, she said, using the chain was "holding a vulnerable adult against her will. ... He could have asked the county for help." Charging him and not letting him see his wife for a time "ensured that he could not go to the nursing home and just take her home again."
So, you file felony false imprisonment charges against a 78-year-old man caring for his disease-stricken wife, then drop those charges and refuse to apologize for the 3-month ordeal you put them through? And do you really think it was "her will" to be put in a nursing home where her care was apparently far worse than what her husband was providing?

WCCO's report is just as damning:
[Sutherland's family is] asking for Brand to apologize, something she vows not to do.

"It's the county's responsibility to protect and investigate vulnerable adults. It was handled appropriately," added Brand.
How Brand could know any of the details of this ordeal and insist that this was handled appropriately is absolutely beyond me. How wrapped up in bureaucracy and politics do you have to be to ignore how blatantly wrong you and your department were?

Back in October the Grand Forks Herald ran an excellent story on the case (it's archived here and here) after the felony charges were dropped against Jennings and he was continuing his fight to get Clarice home.
Clearwater County Attorney Jeanine Brand said Friday the attention the case has received in the community did not influence her decision to drop the charge. It's a call she made, she said, "in the interest of justice."

All along, Brand said, her main concern was Clarice Sunderland and the need to protect her as a vulnerable adult.

"There's many things to help address Alzheimer's issues, and they're all very short of chaining someone up in a chair," she said.
First, draping a removable chain over someone as a sounding device is far different from locking someone to a wall. Second, there are many things that Brand could have done very short of locking up Jennings and packing Clarice up into a nursing home.

The Sunderlands' daughter, Connie Krivich, summed it up well.
Krivich, 38, of Brainerd, Minn., said her dad was not able to see his wife for 20 days, and after that, couldn't see her without a third party present.

"You take my mother from her home, you take her from her husband -- the one person she still recognizes -- and you throw her in a nursing home, and you think that's good?"
This story made me wonder if there were any other questionable instances involving Brand. I didn't go trekking up to Clearwater County or anything, but did run a few Google searches.

She's only been the county attorney for Clearwater County since April 10, 2007, so there's not a whole lot out there. Still, there are a few other cases that made me scratch my head based on the information available.

We have a letter from a May 2009 newsletter (PDF) that documents a case in which Brand pressed felony charges against a deputy. (A news story on this from the Bemidji Pioneer is archived here.) Since I have nothing to go on except what he wrote, I'll let his thoughts speak for themselves.
[W]hy would a county attorney press charges when two sheriff’s departments stated that there was not enough evidence to proceed. Maybe we should ask the prosecuting attorney Jeanine Brand what her motives were in this matter.
[S]ome time after the charging of [Bob] Karbowski with this crime, the county attorney finally started to interview unbiased witnesses. She found that she was dealing with an ethical law enforcement officer, who for almost 40 years enforced the laws on the Leech Lake Reservation/ Cass County in a fair and colorblind manner, something that has not always occurred in the past and even in the present.
After hearing these glowing reports, and realizing that she had no evidence, does County Attorney Brand make the decision to ask for a dismissal. NO, instead she demeans Karbowski by offering him plea bargains for something that he did not do. In each successive plea bargain offered, the offense punishment was diminished. Instead the prosecutor now becomes the persecutor, and somewhere in the over zealous pursuit of a conviction, the idea of justice was lost. As Karbowski rejects each successive plea deal because he knows that he has done nothing wrong, the County Attorney Brand finally offers dismissal if Karbowski will pay Pike Bay costs they accrued in this mess, which included the disputed $75.06 for overlapping pay that occurred due to a unintentional clerical error, and an apology letter to the Pike Bay people that he chose to write. This was something that Karbowski was willing to do immediately when the errors were found. What happened to justice, was it lost because an over zealous county district attorney wanted to get a conviction no matter what the costs to an innocent individual. Ms. Brand, since the case was dismissed, it absolutely showed that your case was weak from the start, or you would have proceeded, even though the Pike Bay Board voted to settle the case.
[W]hat are we as citizens to think of our justice system when over-zealous prosecution results in a miscarriage of justice, where charges are eventually dismissed because of lack of evidence, and where the person has grave financial loss, not only for attorney costs but for lost wages.
Then there was a case from October 2009 in which a man was charged with murder for the drug overdose of someone who bought drugs from him.

Not to defend a drug dealer, but this seems a little odd to me:
Asked why Crabtree was charged with murder when Boe was an adult who presumably knew the dangers of hard drugs, Brand said Crabtree’s crime was disregarding Boe’s welfare when he gave him the drugs.
Call me crazy, but a murder charge seems just a bit excessive.

These 2 additional stories are by no means overwhelming, damning evidence against Brand. Sure, I question her actions, particularly in the first story (assuming everything in that letter is true, and based on all of the plea agreements that were offered I have no reason to doubt that it is). But I would guess that for the most part, Brand does a great job.

But, as with most jobs, we aren't really graded on the 90% of issues that we handle on a day-to-day basis. We are judged on the 10% of issues that come across our desks that are really tough. They require a level of discernment and decision-making that is a step above the rest of the issues we deal with.

What happened to the Sunderlands is inexcusable. Brand's actions in response are inexcusable. But the fact that she stubbornly refuses to issue an apology for what she did is asinine. She has no business being in her position after this debacle.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

A serious over-reaction in Eagan

An event with helium balloons always results in balloons in the ceiling. A parent at Red Pine Elementary in Eagan offered to bring in a BB gun to shoot them down. The principal said he didn't think that was a good idea with kids around and a strict no-weapons (or anything that looks like weapons) policy in the school district, but agreed to allow the parent to come in after the event was over and the kids had left that evening.

Now, that principal is scrambling to explain the fact that he allowed the BB gun in the school.


Because reporters are pushing him on it. The Star Tribune seems to think it's something parents should be upset about.


Stuff like this makes me want to keep my kids as far away from a public school as possible.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Fundraising for police protection

Well, I suppose we should have expected it to come to this in Burnsville.
Burnsville PD Fundraising To Replace Retiring K-9s

BURNSVILLE, Minn. (WCCO) ― The struggling economy is taking a bite out of the Burnsville police department. They are trying to raise money to buy two more K-9s.
Burnsville has had canines on its force since 1982.
They've never had to resort to fundraising to fund the police dog program.

"We're currently looking to raise over the next year to year-and-a-half, between $18,000 and $20,000 because we're going to have to replace both of our canine units," continued Jackson.
Canines are cost-effective on the force. It would take four officers to search a building, but it only takes one dog.
They're also good at sniffing out drugs.
It gets old saying this, but how the heck do you justify spending $20 million on the Performing Arts Center when you can't squeeze out $20,000 for the police department?!?

Yes, the PAC is ultimately a boondoggle that serves as a lightning rod for bigger issues. But at $20 million, can you blame anyone for falling back on it?

It's difficult to agree with WCCO's assessment that the struggling economy is to blame for this when you have such a huge on-going expense on the city's hands.

Wednesday, December 09, 2009

One good thing about winter

Apparently it means my water will be drinkable again.
Burnsville spokesman Jim Skelly said residents should start tasting the difference in their water because of the [$174,000 granulated activated carbon] filtration system around the holidays.

Skelly said that nature is taking care of part of the problem with the water.

"Because it's cold outside, some of the algae issues are taking care of themselves," he said.
Am I the only person in Burnsville who would love to know how the algae issues will be dealt with once it's warm again?!?

Monday, December 07, 2009

A huge indictment on Burnsville's public water works

It doesn't get much more indicting than this.
City temporarily shuts down water interconnect from Burnsville

The city of Savage temporarily shut down its water interconnect with the city of Burnsville last week.

Savage Public Works Director John Powell said the decision to close the interconnect was made so that the city can measure the “before” and “after” quality of the city’s water supply. Residents in Savage have complained about odor and taste since the interconnect with Burnsville was opened in August and also about a film being deposited on dishes after they are run through the dishwasher. Powell said the city has received about 70 calls from residents.
If Savage doesn't want to drink our water, why would we?!?

I've noticed a distinct difference since the change. When I lived in Oakdale the water was as bad as a bathtub. We couldn't wash our dishes in the dishwasher because of the film that was left on them. If we filled the bathtub, gritty residue was left behind. Serious filtration was the only option for using our water.

I sure hope Burnsville isn't headed down that path. We loved the water here when we moved and haven't used our filter since moving. The price I pay for water has increased roughly 25% in the last 2 years here and the quality has decreased. Does that make sense to you?

Friday, December 04, 2009

Villainization of homeowner associations can stop now

I read two stories today critical of homeowner associations that really ticked me off.

The first complains that a 90-year-old decorated veteran is being prohibited from having a flagpole in the front yard of his Virginia townhouse.

The second whines about a Minnesota association that won't permit solar panels on the roofs of residents' homes.

Both cases take a decidedly anti-homeowner association stance, particularly the first.

This baffles me. When you move into an association-governed home, you assume the rules and restrictions that come with that association. Rules and regulations are what make an association an association. Without rules governing architectural changes, appearances, snow removal, lawn care, property presentation, etc., there would be no difference between an association property and any other property.

In the first case, the veteran asked to be permitted to put up a flagpole when he moved in. The board told him this wasn't acceptable, though mounting a flag on his home would be fine. The lawn was community property though and therefore a flagpole couldn't be installed. He installed it anyway. HE IS WRONG!! I don't care what kind of flag he's flying or what country it represents, the flag is not the issue! His status as a war hero is not the issue either, despite the fact that Fox News would like to make it an issue. His violation of a regulation that was clearly stated to him is the issue. Of course, the title of the article, "Decorated Veteran, 90, Fights to Raise Flag in His Yard", is enough to tell you the slant Fox News took on the story.

In the second case, again, the association is restricting solar panels because their residents have decided that they don't like the look and want to maintain uniformity among their homes. That's their decision as an association. It's not the job of the state to interfere with that.

In both cases, the rules and regulations could be changed through the association itself. Board members come up for election every few years. Residents can be mobilized. These are the appropriate channels for changing the rules.

Whining to the media or higher governments isn't the way to handle disagreements with association rules. Most Americans don't live in associations though and don't relate to these stories. And so the homeowner is portrayed as a defenseless victim to the big, scary association.

It's ridiculous.


Thursday, December 03, 2009

Burnsville shorts a few residents

So our city government fails to send a public hearing notice on a new assessment to some homeowners - a notice that is required by state law - and then decides that we're going to go ahead and assess those homeowners anyway without a new public hearing (this time accompanied by a notice).

How is that supposed to work?

Well, it's not. The city is now getting sued.
Claiming Burnsville city officials acted unfairly, and, in two instances unlawfully, in issuing a special assessment for road reconstruction, a group of residents has filed a lawsuit against the city.

Karen Marty, a Bloomington attorney specializing in land use, municipal law and real estate, filed the suit on Monday in Dakota County District Court on behalf of 10 landowners from rural southwest Burnsville who were charged special assessments to help pay for a $625,000 road reconstruction project along Judicial Road and 155th Street.

City staff members acknowledged at a City Council meeting in October that seven property owners did not receive notice of the public hearing regarding the assessment, which is in violation of the process required by state law. Attorney Soren Mattick, who sat in at the meeting for Burnsville's regular attorney Joel Jamnik, called the lack of notice "troubling."
And yes, the homeowners are willing to pay their fair share.
The suit asks that the special assessments be set aside and a new formula put into place to more fairly assess the land owners.
Yet while the city acknowledges the mistake, we're still moving forward with the assessments?!?

Let's see how many ways we can throw Burnsville residents' money down the drain...

Attorney's fees, check.



This seems to define the word.

I don't know what's better, his failure to move or the name Zebrie Sanders.