Four men sat on pew-like benches in a small hearing room at St. Paul City Hall, waiting to argue their case against city inspectors.
State Rep. John Lesch was the only one wearing a three-piece suit.
The St. Paul DFLer rescheduled a legislative committee meeting to come to City Hall on Tuesday morning and give city staff a piece of his mind after the city cited him for parking on the grass next to his garage.
The city’s Department of Safety and Inspections (DSI) got a complaint Dec. 13 about a Jeep and a trailer parked on the grass behind Lesch’s back fence, and delivered a notice saying vehicles found to be in violation of city code on or after Dec. 20 would be impounded at a cost of approximately $1,000 apiece.
Like any resident appealing an order from DSI, Lesch waited for his address in the South Como neighborhood to be called and then took a seat behind a small table facing the dais at the front of the room, where Marcia Moermond, the city’s legislative hearing officer, sat alongside other staff members. After hearing a brief summary of the complaint and violation, Moermond referred to a few photos of the vehicles.
“It looked like a Jeep under a tarp and then sort of a half pickup truck bed-trailer kind of thing?” she asked.
“That was my ex-father-in-law’s,” Lesch said. “He was very proud of that.”
“That looks like something an ex-father-in-law would be proud of,” Moermond replied, before getting down to business. “Can you tell me what you’re looking for today?”
Lesch wanted to know what he’d done wrong, what he had to do to fix it and how much time he could have to do the work. But the former St. Paul city prosecutor also had some complaints to air.
Looking at the vehicle abatement order and the three chapters of city code that it referenced, Lesch said, it wasn’t clear what exactly he’d violated. (It was, it turned out, a subsection of Chapter 34, which prohibits parking “within any front yard or non-interior side yard.”)
“There’s a total of 58 pages of code, 61 sections of law and 20,441 words,” Lesch said. “I don’t think I should have to go through 20,000 words of text to find out what I violated.”
Lesch said he already moved the trailer but doesn’t have anywhere else to park the Jeep. Moermond agreed to give him until June 15 to have an approved parking surface installed, using a material such as concrete or asphalt. She also agreed with his complaints about the vehicle abatement order form, which she said hasn’t been updated in decades.
Lesch is currently locked in a separate dispute with the city, after City Attorney Lyndsey Olson sued him for defamation last year. In September, a judge denied a motion by Lesch’s attorney to have the case dismissed.
On Tuesday, though, Lesch found some common ground with City Hall.
“Thank you. I feel fully heard,” he said. “That’s what people want when they come up here, right?”
“I try,” Moermond said.