On the Minnesota House floor Tuesday, Representative Jim Davnie (DFL-Minneapolis) asked Minnesota House Property Tax & Local Government Finance Division Committee Chair Steve Drazkowski (R-Mazeppa) to clarify whether or not the property tax listening sessions being scheduled around the state were official.
Drazkowski told the session that these were "informal," then Minority Leader Thissen asked for additional clarification.
Later, as Bluestem first reported in After House floor transparency tussle, Draz's tax listening sessions now official meetings, two meetings were described on the committee's webpage as "an official hearing where public testimony will be provided to the committee."
However, Bluestem Prairie has learned via the Rochester Tea Party Patriot's (RTTP) Facebook page and the RTTP's latest e-newsletter, that listening session in Stewartville was originally described as an event sponsored by Representatives Nels Pierson (R-Rochester) and Duane Quam (R-Byron) to which The Draz had been invited:
In response to expressed constituent concerns regarding rising property taxes, State
Representatives Nels Pierson (R-Rochester) and Duane Quam (R-Byron) will hold a property tax listening session in Stewartville on January 22 at the Civic Center, 120 City Center, Highway 30, from 7:00 to 8:00 pm.
Also attending will be Minnesota House Property Tax and Local Government Finance
Committee Chairman Steve Drazkowski. Representatives Pierson and Quam said they invited Chair Drazkowski and other House Property Tax Committee members to the listening session so they can hear firsthand how farmers, business owners, and homeowners are being overwhelmed by rising property tax rates. . . .
So whose listening session was this anyway? While Quam is vice-chair of the committee, Pierson does not serve on it. The Pierson press release echoes language in Bennett, committee to discuss property taxes, an Albert Lea Tribune article about a listening session in the Freeborn county city on Saturday:
Bennett, R-Albert Lea, said she invited House Property Tax Committee Chairman Steve Drazkowski and other committee members so they can hear firsthand how people are overwhelmed by rising property taxes in Albert Lea and the district. [emphasis added]
Like Pierson, Bennett does not serve on the committee. Can members convene a listening session for a committee on which they do not serve? What do the House rules say about this situation?
And when between Tuesday's House session (held between noon and one this afternoon) did these informal listening sessions become ""an official hearing where public testimony will be provided to the committee."
The Tea Party Patriots have been alerted about the Pierson and Quam-sponsored event. How many days advance notice do the House rules require that the general public be given for "an official hearing where public testimony will be provided to the committee"?
Is posting notice a little over 48 hours in advance long enough under Minnesota's open meeting laws? under House rules?
Here's the January 14, 2015 press release from Representative Pierson's office (it's worth noting that the committee itself met for the first time on January 14--but Pierson and Quam had already secured the facilties for their listening session by the same day):
The Rochester Post Bulletin used the press release as the basis for a January 15 news brief, GOP lawmakers host property tax meeting in Stewartville. There's a slightly different lede and closing paragraph:
Republican lawmakers are encouraging residents who are dismayed by property tax increases to turn out for a meeting next week in Stewartville.
Both Pierson and Quam are urging people who are upset with their property tax rates to attend the meeting and share their stories. Individuals who want to share their stories are encouraged to pre-register with property tax committee assistant Grant Erickson at 651-296-9710.
After reading this news article and press release--and discovering it via the Rochester Tea Party Patriots' Facebook page and email newsletter--we're all the more grateful to Minority Leader Thissen (DFL-Minneapolis) and Committee Minority Lead Davnie (DFL-Minneapolis) for asking exactly what the heck these listening sessions are.
Given the mixed messages sent out to the public in the Rochester area about was wagging the dog here, as well as information given to the committee members about how only eight members could attend so there wouldn't be a quorum, the DFL leaders were right to ask.
Moreover, the request that those upset about property tax increases attend the meeting suggests a bit deck stacking as well.
Photo: Nels Pierson announcing that he's running for office, photo by Heather Carlson via twitter, July 2013.
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