By Tom Steward | Watchdog.org
Cameras banned at public debates sponsored by a good government group?
An indie documentary banned by a festival supported by taxpayer funding?
A $2 million-plus wind turbine touted as a national model under the federal stimulus program though it didn’t work? OK, no surprise there.
This may be the most off-beat list of 14 stories from 2014 that you encounter as you look back on 2014. Frivolous, funny or even infuriating, these Watchdog stories of real life Minnesota sometimes slip under the radar of the mainstream media.
Not necessarily the biggest stories of the year or in any particular order, but big enough to motivate citizens to get involved or pass along a tip.
Here’s to those who did and do.
1: League of Women Voters calls on the cops: The League of Women Voters called police to stop video trackers from filming a candidates’ forum at Minnetonka City Hall.
2: Crash, boom, bam: Deputy wrecks 33 times in 17 years, but union fights for his job: As a law officer, former Todd County Deputy Sheriff Mark Grinstead didn’t miss much. Grinstead hit many things — deer, cows, trees, buildings and snow banks, for example. In 17 years, he had 33 wrecks.
3: Veterans Affairs wind turbine, built for $2.3 million, stands dormant: A $2.3 million federal stimulus project at the VA in St. Cloud is giving green energy initiatives a bad name.
4: Government tries to curb waste by eliminating (real) trash cans: One county government wants to eliminate waste, a noble — and necessary — goal. So, some 3,000 workers returned one morning to find their trash cans replaced with what amounts to glorified Big Gulp cups.
5: Fight over rental restrictions heads to MN Supreme Court: Think of it as a lottery with a 30 percent chance of winning. The prize? A city permit authorizing people to be among the lucky property owners on their block allowed to rent their house.
6: The Un-Expendables: Superintendents retire, get rehired with pension and pay: They could be called “The Un-Expendables,” superintendents who retire for a few days before they’re lured back for a sequel at their former jobs — with full salary, benefits, incentives and pension.
7: Taxpayers can’t get a ‘break’ with St. Paul’s artsy stop signs: St. Paul may be predictably progressive, but the powers at City Hall enthusiastically embrace the “1 percent.” The 1 percent, that is, of costs of local government construction projects, under a city ordinance mandating taxpayer-funded public art.
8: Grenade launchers to bandages: ‘It’s there for the asking’: Old tanks, jeeps, artillery and other military leftovers used to end up in city parks. Now, hardware from the Iraq and Afghan wars often winds up in the hands of police and other law enforcement agencies.
9: MN child care providers declare victory with Harris v. Quinn ruling:Minnesota licensed child-care providers declared victory after a landmark Supreme Court ruling, which comes after nine years spent fending off a union drive while operating their small businesses.
10: City fights citizen watchdog case amid mounting legal fees: You would be hard pressed to put a price on the impact of citizen watchdogs and their role in holding government accountable — except in Victoria.
11: St. Paul bills businesses thousands for light rail work: Just as St. Paul retailers began recovering from an average 30 percent loss in sales during the new $1 billion light rail line’s construction, businesses received a bill for street improvements tied to the construction of the 11-mile-long line.
12: ‘Free’ stimulus broadband project costs MN taxpayers millions: “Get connected, stay connected, live connected.” That marketing tagline sums up how Lake County officials manage to keep one of the most expensive federal stimulus broadband projects in the country alive.
13: Now not showing: Minnesota festival freezes out fracking film: The Frozen River Film Festival has iced out — critics say censored — a showing of the critically acclaimed, if controversial in some circles, feature documentary “FrackNation,” setting the stage for a less than artful narrative of what happened and a public relations backlash starring the banished filmmakers.
14: Bird-friendly glass won’t fly on billion dollar NFL stadium: Minnesota Vikings bird-loving fans are flustered the NFL franchise won’t ante up a million bucks for bird-safe glass at the stadium now under construction.