Sparring with Spaulding


Given what I know, I see no reason to believe the current City License, Inspection & Environmental Protection Department leadership, nor the elected leadership is doing anything but an admirable job. It's politically awkward for city leaders to stick out their necks out to complete an condemnation action. It's a pain, and not something they undertake at all lightly.

So from a political standpoint, I'd have to have really credible evidence that something's amiss here to be too critical, and frankly, I'm not finding much obvious credibility to go on from the side of property owners. I see several supporters from an industry group whose primary mission is to engender skepticism of the city's constitutional code enforcement powers.


SPAULDING (2/12/06)

I typically side with the underdog. What gets in the way for me is this group of pretty extreme seeming landlords and property rights advocates.

William McGaughey started this thread, and he's part of the property rights newspaper team at the Watchdog.
In one recent issue he wrote a letter entitled "Star Tribune Commie Bias?". Here's the front page headline of another recent issue: "Public Outraged Over Communist Racketeering in Saint Paul." And then there's this:
"Many will remember this summer's delightful lawn-mowing fee-for- all, when practically everyone was mowing the lawn daily to avoid the $225 lawn- mowing fee for overgrown lawns. Over 100 people had the immense pleasure of having the city mow their lawn for the nominal rate of $225 per hour plus expenses. This policy of sending out inspections personnel to measure people's lawn height all across the city and assessing excessive use fees within 24 hours of the original warning outraged the entire city, seriously harmed many lower-income families, CAUSED HEIGHTENED RACIAL TENSION AND HOMELESSNESS." [my emphasis...July/August 05 & current issue}

And I could go on. Just to ask, is this the mark of credible owners, or a group of people who want to skate by and enjoy playing the victim? Is Ms. Osterman a part of this group? It would seem the property rights group knows few bounds in making baseless claims, and Ms. Osterman's work with them suggests a pretty serious lapse of judgement on her part. Ms. Osterman's failure record a really significant property transaction was also a lapse in judgement.



It seems that Mr. Spaulding is painting me as a fairly disreputable character because, as he says, I belong to a "pretty extreme seeming landlords and property rights advocates" and submit articles to the Watchdog newspaper.

Well, the last point first. I did write an article critical of the Star Tribune that was published in the Watchdog. The headline "Star Tribune Commie Bias?" was not mine. I don't think there are too many communists, if any, at the Star Tribune - and I also don't think that Andy Dawkins has vampire-like fangs or is living the secret life of a pirate as a Watchdog cartoon suggested. Politically partisan newspapers do occasionally make exagerated suggestions to get their point across. But none of this was presented as fact. And people like Spaulding take the bait.

Spaulding seems to attribute to me an article in the Watchdog about lawn-mowing fees which includes the words "caused heightened racial tension and homelessness" as if, I suppose, to inject race into the issue is irresponsible. First of all, I did not write this article. Second, I did talk with a black woman in St. Paul who had been present at a police raid. She told me that a man who accompanied the police had told her that the current city administration was trying to rid the neighborhood of her type of person - presumably, low-income blacks. So this is an issue among some people. The Watchdog did not belabor the point but did mention it.

Spaulding, who knows nothing about me or about the landlord group with which I was once associated, goes on to state that Nancy Osterman's association with me and my friends "suggests a pretty serious lapse of judgment on her part." Again, without knowing anything about the situation, he writes that we are not "credible owners" but "a group of people who want to skate by and enjoy playing the victim." Also, we know "few bounds in making baseless claims".

I do have a confession to make at this point: I live in Minneapolis rather than in St. Paul. I was asked by some people in St. Paul to get involved in this mess because of our past success in cleaning up a similar situation that once existed in Minneapolis. We landlords were the ones primarily responsible for getting rid of Minneapolis City Council President Jackie Cherryhomes and electing a political unknown, Natalie Johnson-Lee, in 2001. We played a smaller role in the mayoral race. R.T. Rybak came to us early in his campaign seeking support.
I supported Rybak's reelection in 2005.

Instead, we heard about the terrible things going on in St. Paul with respect to housing. So, a few Minneapolis people joined a much larger group from St. Paul to picket the St. Paul City Hall, urging the voters to defeat Randy Kelly in 2005. We twice picketed in force and, I think, had an impact on the outcome of the election.
So, while it is true that city governments tend to victimize property owners, this group fights back. We are not content as some others are to let corruption flourish - in St. Paul or anywhere else.

Let me be specific: I have referred several times to Nancy Osterman's claim that St. Paul city inspector Steve Magner told her to sell her house to an associate for $40,000 or he would see to it that the house was demolished. This is corruption pure and simple.

Do you, Spaulding and others, think this is perfectly OK? Are you content to let Lee Helgen and his colleagues on the City Council make this problem go away by simply ignoring it? While you "skate by" pointing an ignorant finger at us and claiming to be for the underdog, you let city government do this to a woman with limited resources. Shame on you.

We'll be in front of 14 E. Jessamine on Tuesday, February 14, at 1 p.m., demanding some answers. We'd encourage Lee Helgen, Steve Magner, or another apologist for bad city government to show up to make the conversation more informative.


SPAULDING (2/12/06)


Before we get snookered into anything too deeply, let's step back and take a hard look at the people leveling these charges.I am for the little guy. My larger problem is that *individual rights* increasingly trumps *community interest*. And there are lots of other little guys and women in the North End community whose
interest is in strong and agressive code enforcement. They want to see the city clamping down on nuisance properties that diminish their property values, breed negligence, and threaten their quality of life.

The property rights group that publishes the Watchdog has made this a sort of test case for their work rolling back basic neighborhood nuisance protections. Ms. Osterman, at the very least, has been a willing accomplice in those efforts. These protections don't register as important for many of us, but are an absolutely vital tool for lower-income communities to use to protect their neighborhood from becoming unsafe and run-down.

Some of the Watchdog's articles on these issues are telling. Take for example, lawn mowing. Last summer, the City of St. Paul charged a grand total of about 100 homeowners a few hundred dollars for not cutting their lawns. Apparently some of the Watchdog's supporters were among the ticketed. This should call into question their status as "good property owners". They don't contest the charge, yet they don't just pay the fine and get on with life. Instead they spent the time writing an article to guilt the city into not enforcing it's community standards. In conclusion, they wrote that the event "outraged the entire city, seriously harmed many lower-income families, caused heightened racial tension and homelessness" (current issue).

This writing is one example among many. It does not smack of a responsible, credible group of homeowners. Rather, it seems to be an industry group that is chronically good at playing the victim in order to build public support for the loosening of housing codes.And worse, they level charges of racism, communism, racketeering in
order to do nothing more than further their own self-interest. These are hollow claims, and they trivialize real incidents of racketeering and racism. They claim to speak for the poor when it benefits their profit motives, but then rail against affordable housing that in any way with them.

As far back as 1999, I have watched Mr. McGaughey's friend Charles Disney and others rail against affordable housing programs basically because they provide competition to him. Well, yeah, we have many reputable affordable housing providers that provide below-market, decent housing to the most vulnerable in our society, using a bevy of legitimate financing programs in that effort. Good for them! These affordable housing providers, compared with many of your landlords, provide decent and affordable housing, and stabilize the
neighborhoods they are in.

This group of property owners has been helping Ms. Osterman, the alleged owner, by her request. Now maybe she is just a poor helpless alleged homeowner who doesn't understand what she's gotten herself into. That's for the Council to sort out, using evidence I may not have access to.I wouldn't doubt a decision by the City Council unless I was given a good reason to. A coordinated effort by this dubious group property- rights characters doesn't move me want to doubt a decision reached by the City Council.

The level of discussion online comes down to trust. ... As far as trust goes, I don't trust the landlord/owners
involved at all, even to report basic facts.


SPAULDING (2/13/06)


Mr. McGaughey wondered this morning why "Lee Helgen...refuses to respond" and why "Other Council members seem equally reluctant to respond." The answer is pretty obvious when you think about it. It is truly inadvisable for city staff or elected officials to say anything, given that the City is being sued. In fact, I'd submit the choice to launch anti-City PR at this stage could be a very conscious choice on behalf of the Watchdog folks - it gives them a huge tactical advantage.


Rumors are being spread, and it is impossible to even have the subjects of those rumors defend themselves. Frankly, the forum has been used for a huge character assassination of Inspector Steve Magner. This imbalance makes the rumors on the forum entirely inappropriate, and these rumors should not be given standing until
and unless the City is not muzzled.


I'd question the ethics of any news media that spends a long time at this point documenting these concerns. If they haven't covered it in the past, now is not the time to start in earnest. The lawsuit puts the City at a wild disadvantage.

2) THE CONTRACT FOR DEED IS VERY CURIOUS. According to the legal documentation I've found, a *contract for deed* would keep title with the owner until paid off. As the name would suggest. But the County has listed title to the buyer under the contract for deed. Under what circumstances did Ms. Osterman give up the title? She shouldn't have given it up. And if she did give it up to Mr. Jayasuriya, I question why she remains on friendly terms with him, as the emails seem to suggest. In this case, she was taken advantage of


A St. Paul housing inspector threatened to have Osterman’s house demolished if she did not sell it to his associate for a specified price - which was $40,000. Osterman refused to be shaken down.

What if you could interpret the same set of facts differently? The City wants to get a new, reputable owner for the property. The homeowner, whoever that is, still has a lot to do to bring the place up to code. Perhaps without code violations the property has a market value of over $200,000. But the cost of rebuilding the foundation and other work to bring the property up to code reduced the price down to $40,000.

Then, what if the housing inspector says (earnestly). "It looks like you essentially have two options. We can get you out of this situation by selling to a buyer we choose at the fair market value, given code violations. Fair market value is $40,000, given the cost of bringing the house up to code. Otherwise, neighborhood leaders are intent on letting the condemnation process play out, and they're not afraid to let it go through the possibleconclusion - up to an including demolition."One set of facts, two interpretations. A classic political and legal situation.

4) THE PROPERTY IS NOT REALLY MARKETABLE. Flash called the property marketable, in the sense that it is a prime property. Well, not really. It sounds like there are problems with the foundation and many other elements. It may be that huge sums of money would need to be sunk into the property in order to make it compliant with the code, or inhabitable.

5) WHY I HIGHLIGHTED THE WATCHDOG GROUP. I have no dog in this fight either. However, I have seen a couple public events with the Watchdog group, and seen their newspaper. I think it is important when allegations are made to have the full context. The past allegations made by this group have been clearly
trumped up in some cases at least. That should cause us lay observers to question the legitimacy of some of the claims. If Enron's Ken Lay were making the allegations, would you want to be reminded of his background? But indeed, there are facts there which none of us can judge from a distance, and it is on those facts alone that this case should be decided. That's why using this forum to settle the issue doesn't seem appropriate. Interesting concerns are raised, that's all. I think I've said enough on the issue for now.


I would like to be liked but recognize that, so far as Bob Spaulding is concerned, that may not be possible.
In the last several days, I have been on the receiving end of a number of statements or insinuations that I am a liar, or landlords are, or the Watchdog newspaper is. I'ēve been at a disadvantage here because Spaulding seems always to attack right after Iēve used up my two allowed daily postings.

First of all, I'm glad that Spaulding is addressing the Magner shakedown allegation. However, I do not consider his arguments credible.

Under point #1, he claims that city officials are being muzzled on this matter because the city is being sued. I am unaware of any suit against the city that includes the allegation of Magnerēs shakedown. I do know of several lawsuits against the city of St. Paul for other reasons. Magner himself is being sued by others. So, I might ask Spaulding: Which lawsuit is it that prevents city officials from defending themselves with respect to the Magner allegation? If there is such a lawsuit, why didn'ēt Lee Helgen respond by saying "I'ēm sorry I'm not at liberty to discuss this matter. We are being sued over it."? I would have accepted that explanation if it were given and were true.

Under point #3, Spaulding argues that, even if Magner did suggest that Osterman sell the property to his associate for $40,000, the remark may have been well-intentioned. Magner may simply have mentioned this as a scenario for helping Osterman out of her problems. However, the Osterman affidavit gives a different version of this incident. I quote: "I was told by a law-enforcement officer ... & by ... Steve Magner ... that they were determined not to let me complete rehabilitation of my house ... Mr. Magner sent someone to look at my house and I was instructed by Magner to sell my home to that person or I would be looking at a hole in the ground instead of my home." No, Spaulding, Steve Magner was not trying to be helpful. I'm dealing here in facts, not imagination.

With respect to Points #2 and #4, I don'ēt see what relevance issues related to Osterman'ēs contract for deed to Julian Jayasuriya has in this matter. In other words, so what? Point #4 speculates that the house may not be worth anything because the foundation is no good. How does Spaulding know this? What evidence does he supply? "It sounds like ..." won't cut it.

Then we get to Spaulding's vendetta against the Watchdog newspaper and against me personally. While Spaulding complains of discussions in which others spread rumor, the Watchdog actually posts photographs and legal documents on its web site. But instead our "allegations" are said by Spaulding to be "trumped up" or put in an improper context. We are compared with "Enron's Ken Lay".

When you go through Spaulding's numerous postings, you find words like these used to describe our evil landlord group: Osterman's "intent is not as malicious as it seems the landlords and owners group has been"à And this in a headline: "OWNERS GROUP ROUTINELY BENDS TRUTH, PLAYS VICTIM" The fact that the Watchdog ran an article about lawnmowing "should call into question their status as 'good property owners'". The landlord group 'does not smack of a responsible, credible group of homeowners. Rather, it seems to be an industry group that is chronically good at playing the victim ... And worse, they level charges of racism, communism, racketeering in order to do nothing more than further their own self-interest.".

Nancy Osterman "doesn't understand what she's gotten herself into" when she associates with wretches like us. "I don't trust the landlord/owners involved at all, even to report basic facts." "The property rights group knows few bounds in making baseless claims, and Ms. Osterman's work with them suggests a pretty serious lapse of judgement on her part."

Somehow, this discussion has Bob Spaulding squawking like a very angry mother hen. Do you expect that kind of talk is going to win Nancy Osterman over to you?

Yes, the property rights group does have an agenda. It is to oppose abusive city government with respect to small property owners - stuff like abusive eminent domain that benefits politically connnected developers, stuff like city inspectors trying to shake down small property owners. We show the politicans and inspectors that there will be political consequences when they try this sort of thing. It's "self-interested", to be sure, but also legitimate political activity.

I think I know the origin of his animosity against me. We've never met. We've never spoken to each other. But I did take Spaulding to the woodshed when he he posted his first message about 'Problem Property..."Commie Bias"? I addressed each of his points at some length and showed them to be mistaken. I don't think Spaulding liked that because, until he weighed in on the Magner controversy, he seldom raised alleged facts again. Instead, he has hurled derogatory labels at us hoping that some of this foul-odored stuff would stick.

The bottom line is that I caught Spaulding trying to get away with statements that he couldn't support; and he never got over it. So now, on the very day that we're holding the rally in front of the house at 14 E. Jessamine St. (at 1 p.m.) , I'm forced to spend one of my allowed postings to address all this misinformation and junk.

By the way, we expect a large turnout and much media coverage. Try to catch one of this year's watershed events.

SPAULDING (2/15/06)

This has been a spirited discussion to say the least, and I think some focus for our continued discussion are already taking shape. While we cannot know the facts for sure about the current situation, I think a pretty fruitful discussion about future possibilities is taking shape.


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