The Whistleblower blog was started in 2008. Look for posts by these contributors: James Eli Shiffer, Jane Friedmann, Brandon Stahl, Eric Roper and Alejandra Matos. | Check out the Whistleblower archive.

Find us on Facebook and Twitter. Find our watchdog and investigative work at The Investigators.

The Star Tribune's journalists need your help blowing the whistle in Minnesota. Contact us here.

Posts about Civil liberties

Library doesn't police what kids borrow

Posted by: James Eli Shiffer Updated: January 4, 2011 - 9:48 AM



Caryn Goldberg, a teacher who lives in Plymouth, wondered whether librarians do anything to prevent children from checking out R-rated videos.

Hennepin County Library spokeswoman Carla Biermaier said the answer is no, and issued the following statement:

Hennepin County Library serves a diverse community with many different interests. We select materials that we hope our customers will find helpful or enjoyable and that will appeal to varied tastes and interests. We recommend that customers carefully select materials, depending on their individual needs and values. Only individuals can determine what is most appropriate for their needs and can define what material or information is consistent with their personal or family values. We encourage parents and caregivers to work with children in the selection of materials. Library staff is available in all of our libraries to assist in their selection of materials.

Goldberg thinks libraries should limit children’s access to movies they couldn’t see on their own. "Sex and the City," "A Clockwork Orange" and "Last Tango in Paris" are just some of the titles she's seen available in the library. "I think there should be some kind of check system," she says. Do you agree?


Passport photo too racy for this office

Posted by: James Eli Shiffer Updated: August 31, 2010 - 9:52 AM


Photo rejected by the Dakota County passport office (courtesy of Kim Bruzek)

Photo rejected by the Dakota County passport office (courtesy of Kim Bruzek)


Kim Bruzek, a 27-year-old cosmetologist who lives in Montgomery, needed a passport for an upcoming trip to Mexico, so she got her photo taken at a Dakota County passport office. She didn’t think about what she was wearing — a blue tanktop — until a worker at the office told her that the photo showed too much skin and might cause problems for her in some countries.

Bruzek felt she had no choice but to put on a fleecy black sweater that a passport worker gave her for the photo retake. She said it made her look like the "Unabomber." Then when she did some research, here's what she found out about the State Department's guidelines for what you can wear in a passport photo:

Taken in normal street attire:

• Uniforms should not be worn in photographs except religious attire that is worn daily
• Do not wear a hat or headgear that obscures the hair or hairline
• If you normally wear prescription glasses, a hearing device, wig or similar articles, they should be worn for your picture
• Dark glasses or nonprescription glasses with tinted lenses are not acceptable unless you need them for medical reasons (a medical certificate may be required)

Whistleblower emailed a copy of Bruzek's photo to the State Department. Here's the response I got:

The passport photo guidelines provided to acceptance facilities indicate that the customer should appear in normal street attire. Although this requirement is subjective and dependent on the judgment of the agent reviewing the passport photo, the attached images do not appear to violate any guidelines set forth by the Department.

Dakota County has apologized to Bruzek for a “miscommunication” by workers merely trying to help her avoid trouble abroad. A tube top or a spaghetti strap top might violate the State Department's guidelines, but not what Bruzek was wearing, admitted Kathy Jensen, the county's director of service and license centers. The passport office may now display a list of countries in which they recommend American travelers avoid bare shoulders in their passport photos. 

"I think the main reason why I was so taken aback by it is that I read through what we were supposed to be dressed like," Bruzek wrote to Jensen. "I guess I feel as an AMERICAN and a MINNESOTAN I should be able to be comfortable according to the weather and not some other countries' beliefs."

The State Department plans to contact Dakota County to ensure its guidelines are being followed. What do you think of Bruzek's run-in with the passport office?


Aging ex-con is stuck in Minnesota

Posted by: Updated: August 17, 2010 - 12:13 PM

From my colleague James Eli Shiffer:

Guillermo Gonzalez had better make himself at home in Minnesota, because it looks like the 67-year-old convict on supervised release will be here until 2012.

In May, the Star Tribune described how Gonzalez would welcome being deported to his native Dominican Republic to serve the last part of his federal sentence for a 1986 prison escape, but the court says he must stay in Minnesota, where he knows no one.

He asked the U.S. probation office to send him to Georgia, where his brother lives, and where he lived in a halfway house until March. That request was denied last month, Gonzalez said. So he’s settling in for a long stay. He said he is close to getting an apartment and leaving the Drake Hotel in Minneapolis.

Click here to read the original story about Gonzalez.

Free of guardianship, but facing the loss of her home

Posted by: James Eli Shiffer Updated: August 12, 2010 - 1:33 PM


(Photo by Renee Jones Schneider)

(Photo by Renee Jone Schneider)

Much has changed in Isabelle Jessich's life since I first wrote about her one year ago. Back then, she was forced to live in a nursing home, even though her doctor said she was ready to move back home,  because of disagreements with her court-appointed guardian and conservator. The state investigated, faulted the nursing home for failing to release Jessich and in December, she was reunited with her 17-year-old daughter at their Edina home.


On Friday, I reported that Hennepin District Judge Jay Quam terminated the guardianship - meaning Jessich can now make decisions about her living arrangements, health care and travel. Management of her money remains the province of Joseph Vogel, her conservator, who has asked Quam to let him sell Jessich's house to pay his own bills and those of seven lawyers. Quam said he would rule by late August ,and Whistleblower will be there to tell you what's next.

Code dispute turns ugly in Maplewood

Posted by: James Eli Shiffer Updated: July 6, 2010 - 10:23 AM


Patricia Gearin and the smashed door (Photo by Elizabeth Flores)

Patricia Gearin and the smashed door (Photo by Elizabeth Flores)


My story Monday about Patricia Gearin's legal battle with the city of Maplewood was my introduction to the stormy politics of the first-ring St. Paul suburb. Three years ago, a city council member predicted Gearin's business would bring 300 jobs to Maplewood - now Gearin is on the verge of losing her building to her foreclosure, after a three year dispute with the city over fire code, building standard and zoning issues that escalated into a police raid in February 2008. Whistleblower first became aware of the dispute from a ruling by an administrative law judge in May that upheld the city's decision to stop Gearin's business, Wipers Recycling LLC,  from operating the $150,000 shoe grinder. The dispute is the only thing grinding on at this point, but Whistleblower will report on the resolution, whenever that happens.


Connect with twitterConnect with facebookConnect with Google+Connect with PinterestConnect with PinterestConnect with RssfeedConnect with email newsletters