Welcome to Maplewood

The Twin Cities' Most Dysfunctional Suburb

After the results were tabulated, it was clear major changes were on the horizon. With the mayor also serving on the City Council, the allies now had a 3-2 voting block. Old scores were about to be settled.

 

THE GRUDGE HAD BEGUN six years earlier, on December 28, 1999, at a party to honor three departing City Council members. Among the people who showed up were Inside Insight hosts Bob Zick and Kevin Berglund. "We wanted to go there and film this for the show," recalls Zick.

The duo was initially rebuffed because they refused to pay the $15 entrance fee, but they talked their way in. Zick and Berglund immediately became a nuisance, shoving their video camera into people's faces, several partygoers say.

"It was really interrupting the party," says Sherrie Le, then the city's human resources director. "People were visibly upset."

Eventually, several police officers tried to remove the film crew from the premises, but Berglund refused to comply. "They tried to escort him out and then he kicked the wall," Le recalls.

Berglund was arrested and charged with trespassing, fifth-degree assault, and disorderly conduct. The cops also confiscated the pair's videotape.

The confrontation continued to percolate through Maplewood politics for years. Berglund was eventually acquitted of all criminal charges. He and Zick filed a lawsuit against the city alleging that their constitutional rights had been violated, but in 2001 the case was dismissed by U.S. District Court Judge David Doty. "The judge would not let us get in front of a jury," laments Zick.

Two years later, Maplewood officials took the extraordinary step of seeking a restraining order against Berglund to bar him from having any contact with city officials. According to court records, this measure was necessary because Berglund repeatedly made harassing phone calls to employees, called them disparaging names, and threatened them. Female employees, in particular, were fearful of his aggressive behavior.

Ramsey County District Court issued a temporary restraining order in September 2003, but subsequently modified it to only prohibit contact with four city employees. Ultimately, Ramsey County District Court Judge Michael Fetsch refused to grant a permanent restraining order. He ruled in July 2004 that Berglund's conduct "has never been intimidating, threatening, or assaultive."

Maplewood city clerk Karen Guilfoile, one of the employees who was the target of Berglund's ire, subsequently wrote to the judge expressing her displeasure with the ruling.

"I have had dealings with Mr. Berglund for approximately eight years," she wrote. "What the testimony failed to convey, or the Court failed to realize, is that Mr. Berglund's behavior had escalated to a point of brazen confrontation wherein I feared for my safety."

Since his wife was elected mayor, however, Berglund has pretty much disappeared from the Maplewood political scene.

Longrie is not the only current elected official in Maplewood with an ax to grind. In 2004, city officials became concerned that paramedics were shouldering too much work. The city hired an outside consulting firm, which determined that those duties should be shifted off of the police and onto the fire department. Maplewood had previously not employed any full-time firefighters, but this change would require hiring permanent workers.

This decision infuriated some pay-per-call firefighters, particularly Hjelle and George Cave (husband of Rebecca). They feared that this was simply a first step toward establishing a full-time fire department. At one particularly heated meeting on the subject, Fursman was repeatedly interrupted and accused of fudging his statistics on paramedic calls.

Human resources director Sherrie Le was brought in to investigate the behavior of the two firefighters.

"They were the most difficult people I have ever investigated," recalls Le. "Refused to come in, refused to answer anything, and would yell at me. They were very angry about it. They were angry that they were being investigated, they were angry that the findings were that they did something wrong, and they were angry about the discipline that they got."

Ultimately, Cave was suspended for 30 days without pay, while Hjelle was simply given a verbal reprimand.

 

ON JANUARY 11, 2006, JUST days into her tenure as mayor, Longrie sent a testy email to city manager Richard Fursman outlining several requests.

For starters, she wanted a photograph of the previous City Council and any references to her as the "mayor-elect" removed from the city's website. Longrie also asked why her photo had not yet been installed in the lobby of City Hall.

"Frankly, it is not my responsibility to be managing these routine matters but they have to be attended to," she chastised the city manager.

Fursman was bewildered by the complaints. After more than five years as city manager of Maplewood, he'd garnered a reputation as one of the most effective municipal administrators in the Twin Cities. "He was just a complete professional—competent and on top of things," attests former Mayor Bob Cardinal. "A very bright, competent manager."

But now Fursman was being chastised for his failure to promptly hang the mayor's visage in City Hall. "It'd been all of eight hours of work time since she'd been sworn in and she was wondering where her picture was," he recalls. "I was getting a pretty weird vibe."

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