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Continued: Records reveal troubled waters at Minnetrista City Hall

  • Article by: EMMA NELSON , Star Tribune
  • Last update: August 29, 2014 - 4:13 PM

Funk denied that the council asked staff, officially or otherwise, to pursue other firms.

‘Two down and two to go’

The current political climate can be traced back before the water treatment plant gained traction.

In the mid- to late 2000s, a public works upgrade and new police station faced heavy opposition from the resident group Save Minnetrista. Members included Jerry Wigen, his friend and fellow resident Tom Notch and most of the current council. They objected to the project’s cost and demanded a referendum, distributing pink lawn signs featuring a star-studded pig.

The project never went to a referendum and the upgrades went through, but Save Minnetrista lived on. Hunt and now-Council Member Arlene Donahue ran on a single ticket in 2010, with a platform similar to what Save Minnetrista was built on. Notch’s wife, Cindy, was their campaign manager.

After Hunt and Donahue were elected, Jerry Wigen, who was listed as a campaign supporter on Hunt and Donahue’s joint campaign website, sent an e-mail with the subject line “Save Minnetrista.” Recipients included Save Minnetrista members, outgoing council members and Fischer.

“2 down and 2 to go,” the e-mail said. “Save Minnetrista, a ‘small group of radicals,’ and a pink pig have created a new majority at City Hall.”

‘I am ready to strangle ...’

E-mails show that as Bolton & Menk entered the picture, there were frequent attempts by Jeff Wigen, Jerry Wigen and others to discredit WSB.

In a March 5 email to Jerry Wigen, council members and residents, Jeff Wigen acknowledged connecting the council with Bolton & Menk, saying WSB lacked drinking water experience and had gotten cost projections “completely wrong.”

Meanwhile, Fischer and city staff continued to be excluded from decisions about the plant, and also received increasingly aggressive e-mails. “It had an effect on morale throughout the entire organization,” Funk said.

After a Feb. 28 Bolton & Menk presentation, Hunt e-mailed Jeff Wigen that she hadn’t attended, but had listened to a recording Tom Notch had given her. She told Wigen she was “ready to strangle Funk.” In another e-mail to a Bolton & Menk employee, she said she was “ready to wring Mr. Funk’s neck.” She even e-mailed Funk himself, saying, “I am ready to strangle Mike Funk — what an idiot.”

Hunt said she was already upset with Funk, and hearing his “ignorant” questions on the recording was the last straw. “I’m not going to apologize for getting so frustrated that I said something like that to him,” she said.

In March, WSB pulled out of the project. Then, after a request for proposals sent to several firms including Bolton & Menk, the council chose Bolton & Menk to design the water treatment plant. The company’s bid, which credited the work Hunt had asked for, came in lowest.

On April 10, Fischer resigned after nearly 16 years as mayor.

Then, at a May 5 meeting, the council voted to fire Funk. E-mails show it was a plan long in the making.

Notch e-mailed Hunt Dec. 22 about council committee assignments: “Hopefully we can get two people on the personnel committee who are not afraid of giving Funk his well-deserved walking papers.”

Records show frequent contact between Hunt, council members, Notch and occasionally Cindy Notch.

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