Stillwater considers contracts with bridge lobbyists

  • Article by: KEVIN GILES , Star Tribune
  • Updated: February 21, 2012 - 3:26 PM

The City Council is to vote Tuesday and decide how much to pay.

A proposal to hire lobbyists to push for a new St. Croix River bridge will come before the Stillwater City Council on Tuesday evening.

Although the $690 million, four-lane bridge would be built in neighboring Oak Park Heights, bridge advocates in Stillwater say they want to move traffic congestion from the Stillwater Lift Bridge out of their city.

The two contracts, if approved, would put the city in business with Wilhelmi Government Affairs of Stillwater and Riverwood Group of River Falls, Wis., to lobby for state and federal legislation necessary for construction of a bridge. The contract also seeks to "prevent" any legislation opposing the bridge.

If they opt to hire one or both firms, City Council members would then determine how much the city would pay under the "agreement for lobbyist services."

Mike Wilhelmi, president of the Wilhelmi firm, also is executive director of the pro-bridge Coalition for the St. Croix River Crossing. Riverwood's owner, Bill Berndt, is a federal lobbyist for the coalition. Mayor Ken Harycki is co-chairman of the coalition.

The city ran into trouble last fall when the state auditor concluded that an $80,000 donation to the coalition, approved on a 4-1 City Council vote in July, was illegal because the transaction lacked a contract to specify how the money would be spent. The auditor also concluded that taking the money from a city tax increment fund was improper.

The coalition then returned the money to the city, although by state law the city had to forfeit nearly half the money in penalties.

The contracts require Wilhelmi and Berndt "to assign specific individuals as principal project members." Larry Hansen, the city administrator, would act as "project manager" and would receive monthly status reports from both lobbyists.

Their contracts with the city would end July 1.

The City Council also will consider other contract actions Tuesday. Another involves cancellation of the city's five-year contract with organizers of Lumberjack Days, the city's popular but debt-prone summer festival. A third vote would consider a contract with a Belle Plaine vendor for the city's July 4 fireworks show.

The City Council meets at 7 p.m. at Stillwater City Hall, 216 4th St. N.

Kevin Giles • 651-925-5037 • Twitter: @stribgiles

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