Making Sense of the Attacks on Anne Norris and Julie Deshler
By Andrew Richter
I’ve been somewhat reluctant to blog about this Communities Against Police Brutality issue with two police officers being put on leave by the city of Crystal. I’ve tried not to prejudge what’s happening and let the process play out rather than hyperventilate. This group, however, doesn’t just seem interested in getting two cops back on the job (one already is) but it now seems as though it is getting more and more personal. The December 17 city council meeting was a circus, there’s no other way to describe it. Two community members Karen Lincoln and Michelle Gross (who are both tied to this group though I don’t know in what capacity) decided to single out city manager Anne Norris’s contract and councilperson Julie Deshler’s employment.
Now, let me be clear; I don’t know either Lincoln or Gross. I don’t really know what their motives are or why they are obsessed with attacking the city of Crystal. Clearly they feel officers Alan Watt and Rob Erkenbrack have been wronged (an opinion I’m not sure I agree with) but that still doesn’t explain their behavior.
I’d also like to say that I do know both Anne Norris and Julie Deshler. Though I’m not wild about the city manager position or what they get paid, I hold no personal grudge with Anne. She’s always been nice and helpful to me and doesn’t strike me as the type of person to push a personal agenda. Deshler happens to be my councilperson in Ward 4. I voted for her in both 2010 and in 2012. I think she’s been great as a councilperson. She listens, responds to residents quickly, and her door is always open. I consider her a friend of mine.
So if you think my friendship with Julie or my respect for Anne is affecting my judgement of these allegations, then so be it. Readers of this blog know that I call them as I see them. If I really thought something underhanded was going on, I would say so. I’ve never shied away from disagreeing or going after people in power.
The grudge with Anne (right now anyway) is allegedly her contract with the city. At open forum on December 17 both Lincoln and Gross attacked Anne’s contract.
Lincoln said she requested a feasibility study from Norris in October (to do what I have no idea). Norris responded via email that she was checking files and documents and that some files may have been deleted or some documents may have been shredded. I don’t know what the deal is with this nor do I know what the policy is for deleting things. I can’t imagine the city keeps everything forever. I’d like to know what this is regarding and why a study is being requested.
Then Lincoln said accused an unnamed council member of “questioning the intelligence of a police officer with racist tone in an email.”
Now, folks, calling someone a racist is a serious charge. Claiming something is “racist in tone” is also somewhat unfair since what one person may consider racist another person may not. Some look for racism until they find it. Until I see this quote and the context around it, this accusation is safe to ignore.
She also filed a complaint with the city about a city council member that allegedly has a conflict of interest. The complaint has not been responded to. The complaint is against Ward 4 council person Julie Deshler. I’ll get into the complaint in a minute.
Michelle Gross spoke next. She spoke about the fiduciary responsibility a city has and complained about Norris’s contract. She pointed the following;
Norris’s pay is 21% more than the mayor of Minneapolis
She gets a $6000 a year car allowance.
Her contract has no end date
If termination she gets 50% of her pay
The city can’t suspend her without her permission
Now I agree that Norris’s pay is high and I’m not defending her contract (I wouldn’t vote for it) but comparing it to the mayor of Minneapolis, while factual, is a little unfair. The city managers in New Hope, Robbinsdale, Plymouth, Golden Valley, Brooklyn Park, and Brooklyn Center among others all make more than the Minneapolis mayor so to say her salary is a outrageous is a little but of a stretch. Are Gross and Lincoln complaining to the New Hope city council? They just gave their city manager a 5% raise for the third straight year!
The charge that her contract has no end date is questionable. As far as I know Norris is up for review every year. In fact her contract was just renewed at the January 7 council meeting by a vote of 7-0, which may be a sign that this group doesn’t have much sway.
The idea that Norris can’t be suspended unless it is with her permission is somewhat cloudy. The terms say that she can be suspended if a majority of the council and Norris agree OR after a public hearing a majority of the council votes to suspend her. She had ten days to defend herself which seems reasonable. Everyone is entitled to a defense.
Norris does get a car allowance and she can get half a years salary if terminated.
Gross then went on to claim she had talked to attorneys about the contract and they ‘rolled their eyes at it.” Well if that’s true shouldn’t these attorneys be there to address the council. I don’t know who Gross talked to but don’t you think it would bolster their case if some an actual attorney came forward in open forum?
The attack on Julie Deshler revolves around her employment at Uniforms Unlimited. Thirteen citizens, including Lincoln but not including Gross, have signed a complaint claiming that she has a conflict of interest because the company she works for sells uniforms to the Crystal Police Department. In analyzing the complaint, I’ve found several errors and some outright falsehoods;
Between 1/1/2009 and 10/11/2013 Crystal has spent $116,542.33 with Uniforms Unlimited where Ms. Deshler is Operations Manager.
This figure seems to be both right and wrong. The dollar figure for the city is right but since Deshler wasn’t on the council in 2009 or 2010, she can’t be held responsible for that even if a conflict is discovered. The real figure is probably around $70,000.
City manager Anne Norris and Police Chief Stephanie Revering have the power to continue or end the account/contract with Uniforms Unlimited.
Do they? I’m not sure the city manager or even the police chief handle uniform orders? Maybe they do…..
Norris and Revering control a contract/account that directly impacts Ms. Deshler’s personal financial interests.
This is wrong. First off, there is no contract between Uniforms Unlimited and the city of Crystal. Second, Deshler is a manager, not a salesperson. She is on a salary, not a commission so her “personal financial interests” are unaffected. Finally, Crystal was ordering uniforms from Uniforms Unlimited long before Deshler got on the council. So, in other words, Deshler didn’t use her influence to get this account for the city, the city was already getting uniforms there.
If Deshler were to vote against a proposal that was heavily favored by Revering or Norris, she runs the risk of her employer losing a large account directly affecting her livelihood.
As already established, Deshler is on a salary, meaning her “livelihood” is unaffected by the Crystal account. And if anyone is thinks that Deshler is afraid to cast a dissenting vote, then you haven’t watched too many council meetings the past three years. She’s voted against regional trails, solar panels, over-assessing special assessments, resolutions, and commission recommendations. The idea she a patsy for Norris or Revering is a total joke with no basis in fact. Julie has been an independent voice from day one.
Officers have been told to deal with Deshler when they make their purchases as she is the manager of the Crystal account.
As far as I’m concerned this is hearsay. Who are these officers? Until I hear it from them, I’m ignoring this.
It is not enough for Deshler to abstain from votes that directly relate to matters associated with Uniforms Unlimited. She is conflicted with any proposals brought forward by Norris or Revering.
You have to be kidding! So if Anne Norris wants to declare that it’s a sunny day in Crystal, then Julie Deshler has to abstain from voting?
The complaint continues on to call for an investigation into Deshler’s role as a manager at Uniforms Unlimited. Of course that has already taken place. It happened back in 2011 when former Mayor ReNae Bowman made the same charge. It was reviewed by the city attorney and it Deshler was given a green light. Another investigation would simply be a waste.
So while I find Anne Norris contract to be too lucrative and something I don’t think I could vote for, I find the attack against Deshler baseless. The only thing I can conclude is that we have a group of citizens who have simply declared war on Crystal and are doing whatever they can to cause a stink or embarrass the council.
Deshler tried to read a statement defending herself and explaining the situation at the council meeting but she was attacked several times with shouts of “you lie” and “you’re looking at a lawsuit” and “that’s libel.” Obviously, anything and everything will be thrown at her.
Watch the council meeting HERE
I’m sure this group will attack me for this article but my job is to call them as I see them and that’s what I’ve done.