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Dark windows OK on trucks, not cars

Posted by: Updated: June 15, 2010 - 11:31 AM

Over the past year, hundreds of you have asked Whistleblower for help. While we can’t investigate each tip, we want to share more of what you tell us. In 2009, we started publishing a few tips each week to stimulate online discussion and create ways for our readers to help each other. Unlike our news stories, we have not verified this information. If you have a tip, send it to

A Waconia couple bought their new Lincoln sedan from a dealership in Texas about three years ago, but they never noticed the rear windows were a little darker than the front ones. In March, the husband got a ticket for having an illegal window tint. The couple didn’t want to fork over $50 for the fine, especially after they learned the law is less restrictive for vans and pickup trucks.

“I still don’t understand why we should have different regulations for different vehicles,” the wife said. “There ought to be more uniform regulations.”

Eventually, the couple got the ticket dismissed because they agreed to change the tint, which will cost them about $100.

Do you think window tint regulations should be the same for every vehicle?

Renewing tabs online? Prepare to pay more

Posted by: James Eli Shiffer Updated: June 1, 2010 - 3:23 PM

These days, many consumers have to pay a fee to keep getting paper statements, because merchants know it’s cheaper to do business online. So Mike Bohmbach of Hopkins asked why it cost him $1.75 more to renew his vehicle registration online.

The extra fee goes to U.S. Bank, which processes the transaction, said Kris Chapin, spokeswoman for the Department of Public Safety. 

“Some consumers are not aware that when they use their credit cards, the restaurant or retailer is charged a bank fee. They usually absorb it,” Chapin said. “The Minnesota Department of Public Safety cannot — thus the charge for the convenience of credit card use is passed on to the customer.”

Chapin acknowledged that users are warned about the fee only after starting the renewal.

Lest you feel it shows Driver and Vehicle Services is behind the times, the agency is upgrading its computer systems. To achieve that end, drivers pay a $1.75 technology surcharge on registration renewals. It's assessed no matter how you renew your tabs. It's set to expire in 2012, and unlike the bank fee, it's revealed up front.



Ex-con hopes to relocate soon, but only across town

Posted by: James Eli Shiffer Updated: May 27, 2010 - 10:23 AM


Guillermo Gonzalez and the Sir Francis Drake Hotel. (photo by Richard Tsong-Taatarii)

Guillermo Gonzalez and the Sir Francis Drake Hotel. (photo by Richard Tsong-Taatarii)


Federal ex-con and man-in-limbo Guillermo Gonzalez says Thursday  there's hope for him to leave the seedy Sir Francis Drake Hotel in downtown Minneapolis and move into veterans housing. That's far short of what he wants - to return to his wife and three children in the city of Santiago de los Cabelleros in the Dominican Republic. Photographer Richard Tsong-Taatarii and I told Gonzalez's story Sunday in words and video - Guillermo Rafael Cabrera Gonzalez, 67, is serving two years supervised release in a state where he knows no one.  Since the story was published, Gonzalez said a stranger offered to let him stay in his house. But he expects to find out today whether there's available housing near the Veterans Administration hospital, where he's a patient.

I can understand his eagerness to leave the Drake Hotel. Last week, a guy who said he was a security guard called the police on us when we were filming this video on a public sidewalk out front. He may have thought we were following up on a 2008 Star Tribune story that described how the aging hotel was being used as an overflow homeless shelter for Hennepin County. At least the meals are cheap - on one day I visited, a hand-written note on a piece of paper stuck to a wall announced the lunch special: cheeseburger and fries, $5.

Minnesota needs auditor . . . in Phoenix?

Posted by: Jane Friedmann Updated: May 19, 2010 - 10:17 AM

by Lora Pabst

When Whistleblower got an e-mail alerting us that the Minnesota Department of Revenue was trying to fill a job in Phoenix, we wanted to know more. “Why is the state posting a job that requires local travel with a position in Arizona?” the tipster asked.

Kit Borgman, a revenue department spokeswoman, said the job would not require travel to Minnesota, even though the job description included out-of-state travel. The state has auditors in at least 19 states “because MN taxpayers are located everywhere.”
Now we know that even out-of-state taxpayers could have a Minnesota auditor looking over their shoulder.
What do you think about state jobs that are actually out of state?

One year later, vacant house still standing

Posted by: James Eli Shiffer Updated: May 13, 2010 - 9:38 AM


Ted Poetsch's old Victorian house still stands on Penn Avenue North, imposing but vacant.

Ted Poetsch's old Victorian house still stands on Penn Avenue North, imposing but vacant.


After Fannie Mae foreclosed on Ted Poetsch’s home in north Minneapolis last year, the mortgage giant promised that it wouldn’t leave the house vacant for long.

The stately Victorian at 823 Penn Avenue N. had become a somewhat notorious part of Fannie Mae’s portfolio, after Poetsch was accidentally boarded up inside while being evicted in May 2009.

Yet one year later, the house is still a boarded-up eyesore. The house’s demolition by its current owner, the city of Minneapolis, has taken eight months to wind through the bureaucracy of historic and environmental reviews and contract discussions.

City engineering inspector Mike Williams said he expects the old Poetsch house to be knocked down next month, after he assembled a contract to demolish a half dozen houses. The city is paying South St. Paul contractor K.A. Kamish  $96,780 to take down the six homes. It's part of the federally-funded Neighborhood Stabilization Program, which includes stepped-up demolitions of homes left vacant by the foreclosure epidemic.


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