OPH council to address bridge coalition contribution request

OPH rock            The Oak Park Heights City Council could give a regional pro-St. Croix River Bridge group a contribution provided the group does not use the contribution for legal purposes in defense of the project because the group would not have legal standing to participate.

The council faces that decision regarding a $3,000 contribution request from the St. Croix River Crossing Coalition at its 7 p.m. meeting Tuesday at Oak Park City Hall.

The issue first arose in late January, when the council asked City Attorney Mark Vierling to determine if the city could legally donate city funds to the coalition.
In a memo to the council, City Adminstrator Eric Johnson writes that a contribution to the coalition “would seem to be a viable public expenditure if the City Council does deem it to be via a finding that such a conveyance meets a three-part test.”

That test, according to Johnson, includes finding:

  • “That the activity does benefit the community as a body.”
  • “That the activity is directly related to the functions of government.”
  • “That the activity does not have a primary objective to benefit a private interest.”

However, Johnson adds in his memo that in Vierling’s opinion, a city contribution “for some form of legal defense of the project would not be permissible.”

In a Jan. 25 letter to Mayor Mary McComber and the council, Vierling said a coalition representative indicated the group’s donation request was done in anticipation of preparing for any legal challenge relative to the pending St. Croix River Crossing bridge project.

“In our view, the Coalition would not have legal standing that would allow it to participate in any litigation should that every present itself, relative to the bridge, as it has no legal standing in the issue,” Vierling writes. “Consequently, the anticipation of capital building for litigation or a defense fund in my opinion would be an illegal gift.”

Vierling also notes in his letter that the coalition representative indicated the group’s desire to prepare for an open house or other celebration when the bridge is finished.

“As it relates to bridge grand openings and the like, I assume those would be MnDOT sponsored and funded and the Council may want to wait to participate in such events until they are actually planned by the Bridge owner,” Vierling writes.
And while Vierling suggests the council look into the coalition’s current financial status, he said the council could legally give the coalition city funds “if the council finds that its participation in the coalition services an identified worthy and beneficial public purpose.”

Other issues before the council include:

  •           Discussion of a $1,000 administrative penalty and five-day suspension of the Walmart Supercenter’s liquor license for an alcohol compliance violation. The council Jan. 8 continued the case without action for time to serve Walmart with notice of the sanctions and give store representatives an opportunity to be heard or waive the hearing and accept the sanctions. Walmart had not responded as of Friday, according to a memo to the council.

According to the memo, the incident leading to the sanctions occurred Nov. 23, when a clerk sold alcohol to a customer under age 21. When Oak Park Police officers located the suspect after the person bought alcohol at Walmart. A subsequent investigation showed the sales clerk allegedly made no attempt to verify the age of the underage customer.

That employee was later charged wtih a gross misdemeanor of alcohol sale to a person under 21 years old.

City Police Chief Brian DeRosier requested the sanctions against Walmart at the Jan. 8 council meeting, noting it was the store’s second alcohol-related violation in a 24-month period. The last violation was Dec. 21, 2010.

  • Condideration of a donation to the city of Stillwater’s 2013 Fourth of July fireworks celebration. Oak Park Heights donated $7,000 to Stillwater’s 2012 Fourth of July fireworks show, with the money coming out of the city’s contingency fund, Johnson said.

Johnson added that if the council wishes to donate to this year’s Stillwater fireworks show, it can allocate funds once the city’s 2012 audit is done. “Staff is anticipating a 2012 unallocated budget surplus,” Johnson writes in a memo to the council.

Contact Erik Sandin at erik.sandin@ecm-inc.com

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