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The Twin Cities' Most Dysfunctional Suburb

It just so happened that many of the people who had voted to join the new union were also the employees whose jobs would be eliminated. The cover sheet of the budget document boldly stated that the changes were being implemented because of the unionization drive. This document was subsequently changed after it was pointed out that such retaliation was a potential violation of labor laws.

Among those whose positions were eliminated were Parks and Recreation Director Bruce Anderson, Deputy Fire Chief Rusty Svendsen, and Deputy Police Chief John Banick.

"These are not randomly selected people, or people selected based on any budgetary need," argues attorney Fowler. "This is a retaliation against each and every one of them."

Banick, a 23-year veteran of the police department, appealed his firing through the Maplewood Police Civil Service Commission (PCSC), which is charged with overseeing all police personnel decisions. On February 5, the three-person panel unanimously voted to reinstate Banick.

"The remedy here is necessary to protect Mr. Banick and the 50-plus Maplewood police officers who rely on the PCSC to protect them from 'reorganization,'" the panel wrote.

But the city ignored the decision, and Banick remains out of work.

Banick is now suing the city in Ramsey County District Court. He's joined in the case by the city employees' union, along with another municipal union, the Metro Supervisory Association. The plaintiffs charge that the city violated numerous labor laws in implementing the reorganization.

But Longrie insists that this "global reorganization" was long overdue and that there was no retaliation involved.

"The council had workshops where we looked at every specific department," she says. "We are the only council that I know of in Maplewood that has ever done this, where we have totally analyzed every single department."

Hjelle insists that the extraordinary turnover during the last year is actually a positive development. "The vast majority of people who left were not serving the city," he says. "Finally, we're getting people off their asses to do their jobs around here."

 

ON A RECENT SATURDAY morning, every chair is filled in a conference room at Maplewood City Hall. Most of the 30 people in attendance for this monthly "mayor's forum" are old enough to remember when farms outnumbered strip malls in Maplewood.

These informal get-togethers were once sleepy affairs. Former Mayor Gary Bastion used to occasionally hold them in his backyard. Longrie's predecessor, Bob Cardinal, recalls that there were generally five to ten people at his monthly gatherings.

Like everything else in Maplewood, however, the mayor's forums have become a sideshow. It began when Mary Flister, a local gadfly, began tape-recording the meetings and posting written notes of the gatherings on a website, Maplewood Voices.

Some longtime attendees of the forum took umbrage, accusing Flister of somehow doctoring the digital recordings.

"The internet is evil," declares one gray-haired lady at today's meeting. "I do not want to be on it."

Mayor Longrie believes she has hit upon a potential compromise. Those citizens who don't want to be taped can meet with her privately, while everyone else can speak publicly.

"This is my office hours and my forum, and I'm going to run it the way I want," she informs the crowd.

But the details are never fleshed out, and eventually the taping issue dies down.

The discussion turns to neighborhood concerns. One woman details an upcoming gathering she's hosting to discuss the history of American Indians in Maplewood. Another is concerned about a recent shooting outside a Hmong funeral home.

Then the meeting is adjourned. Afterward, Longrie is in a hurry to get to another appointment. But she's ebullient about the large turnout.

"This is exactly what all elected officials talk about," she says. "They bemoan how there's so much citizen apathy. People aren't involved. I am so pleased by the fact that we have, I believe, gotten so many more people involved."

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