The MnDOT Motto

You want bridges that don't fall down? MnDOT can't even figure out how to mail a letter

Mike Fratto worked for the state of Minnesota for more than 30 years. He did a lot, but he never built a bridge.

Which is why he was confused when a letter from the Minnesota Department of Transportation landed in his mailbox in the Payne Phalen neighborhood of St. Paul. The letter came from the Office of Data Practices Compliance and it started by shouting, in bold, capital letters: "NOTICE OF DUTY TO PRESERVE ALL DOCUMENTS OR DATA RELATING TO THE I-35W BRIDGE OR ANY OTHER MINNESOTA BRIDGE."

The notice covered any "evidence...that might be or become relevant to any litigation that may arise out of the collapse of the I-35W Bridge." The letter was dated September 21, 2007—one month after MnDOT had been told to preserve all Minnesota bridge documents and almost two months after the bridge collapsed into the Mississippi river.

Fratto's address was on the letter, but not his name. The intended recipient was Sampson Bros. Well Co., aÊbusiness Fratto was sure had never kept an office in his house or its immediate vicinity.

"I've been in this neighborhood for 50 years," says Fratto. "The woman who sold me this house had been widowed and both of them worked for the railroad. I grew up a half mile from here."

Fratto has followed post-collapse developments closely. "These things were supposed to be ordered within days of the bridge collapse," he says. "I used to be a data practices coordinator of a state department and I guarantee if something like this had gone down, we would have had those notices out as soon as possible."

Sampson Bros. Well Co. could not be reached for comment.—Jeff Severns Guntzel

Worst. Logo. Ever.

Last week, Republican National Convention officials unveiled the official 2008 RNC logo. The emblem features the words "Republican National Convention, Minneapolis-Saint Paul" encircling the silhouette of a sex-crazed elephant mounting the year 2008.

"Choosing our logo is another important milestone in planning the 2008 Republican National Convention," said Maria Cino, convention president and chief executive officer, in a press release. "This design highlights the spirit of the Republican Party and it will adorn everything from the Xcel Energy Center to T-shirts and other souvenirs."

As of press time, RNC officials refused to explain the sexual overtones of the logo, though some have suggested the elephantine carnality is a metaphor for seven years of GOP chutzpah. Those with a less cynical interpretation disagree, and maintain that the image symbolizes the lovin' the party has in store for the nation come 2008.

Whatever the case, the RNC is keeping mum. When asked about the reasoning behind the salacious depiction, GOP pressman Matt Burns replied flatly, "If you have any serious questions, you can call me."

Ironically, this elephant in the room debuted two days before local newspapers trumpeted stories of Sen. Larry Craig (R-Bathroom Stall) vowing to remain in the Senate. Fitting, for the elephant in the logo also seems to prefer a "wide stance." —Matt Snyders

Stealing from the autistic

Last month, Shianne VerNess pleaded guilty to embezzling $42,665 from a Rochester autism foundation.

The 28-year-old had been stealing from the R.T. Autism Awareness Foundation almost from the day she started as its volunteer treasurer in March 2004.

If you're going to steal from the autistic, you'd better have a pretty damn good reason, such as a serious heroin habit or an unhealthy gambling debt.

So what's VerNess's excuse?

Unhelpfully, VerNess didn't return calls for comment. But her MySpace page, set to private mode, provides a few clues: Her photo is of a woman's foot in expensive-looking high heels, and her mood is listed as "mischievous." —Jonathan Kaminsky

Say it ain't pho

The house of pho may soon be no more. Saigon Restaurant & Bakery, the semi-legendary, ramshackle St. Paul pho joint housed in a former Long John Silver's restaurant, is not part of redevelopment plans slated for the northeast corner of Dale Street and University Avenue.

The plan being assembled by four area nonprofit groups is expected to include a coffee shop, drug store, restaurant, and 46 units of senior housing. Saigon was approached about signing on with the project, but declined.

Co-owner Lysa Bui says it would have required closing the restaurant for at least three months during construction, a prospect that wasn't economically feasible. The restaurant's owners hope to remain in the Frogtown neighborhood, however, and have looked at more than 10 possible locations. "None of them went through for us," says Bui. "Nothing's decided at this moment."

In its nine years of existence, Saigon has developed a near-fanatical following for its Vietnamese noodle soups and ridiculously cheap banh mi sandwiches. City Pages food critic Dara Moskowitz Grumdahl once took culinary mischief-maker Anthony Bourdain there for the sandwiches; he declared them better than the ones he'dÊeaten in Vietnam. —Paul Demko

Sell no boxed wine before its time

The new Target Wine Cube "offers delicious, high-quality wine without the high prices, broken corks...and fragile glass packaging typical of bottled wine," according to its press release. "Target collaborated with Trinchero Family Estates of Napa to select just the right wines" to put in a box.

Unfortunately, Target can't legally sell its wine boxes at stores in its home state of Minnesota, and a recent promotion offering the item through Surdyk's sold out weeks ago. The Target in Hudson, Wisconsin, meanwhile—that traditional destination of Sunday liquor-store runs—doesn't carry them. So in order to get your Wine Cube, you'd have to drive or take the Greyhound to the SuperTarget in Eau Claire, Wisconsin. —Peter S. Scholtes

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