The work of a Stillwater consultant hired for $1,500 a month to advise city leaders on legislative matters is under increasing scrutiny as debate intensifies over a new four-lane St. Croix River bridge.
The city's contract with Mike Campbell said he will "obtain Legislative support" for four major projects -- the bridge, the Browns Creek State Trail, a new National Guard Armory for Stillwater and a city flood wall along the river.
Three months after hiring Campbell, the city also appropriated $80,000 in tax-increment financing money to the bridge effort. Micky Cook was the only council member to vote against the expenditure.
Cook said Tuesday she hasn't seen a specific accounting and questioned how Campbell's work on the bridge differs from that of the Coalition for the St. Croix River Crossing, which received the larger appropriation.
"This is public government; open the door," she said. "There needs to be some accountability for spending public dollars."
Questions are also being raised on blogs and other forums about why Campbell hasn't registered as a state lobbyist, which he admits and the Minnesota Campaign Finance and Public Disclosure Board confirms, and what he is doing to earn the money.
Blogger Karl Bremer, who writes "Ripple in Stillwater," said he has filed a complaint with the board over the matter. "It just doesn't smell right," said Bremer, who said what Campbell's doing with the money should be clear to the public. "You have to file a complaint to get action."
Bremer also questioned whether the city's $80,000 appropriation was legal, despite the city attorney's opinion that it was. Bremer said he's asked the state auditor for a review.
Both Campbell and Mayor Ken Harycki say they're abiding by the law with Campbell working only in an advisory capacity with the city. The mayor said Campbell was instrumental in helping secure trail funding and has kept city officials alerted to legislative developments. Campbell earlier helped the city land $1.3 million in state bonding money for a cleanup of Browns Creek.
"I don't call legislators. I don't contact them at all," said Campbell, who was a registered lobbyist when he worked for former Mayor Norm Coleman in St. Paul. His registration expired, he said, and he hasn't renewed it because he's not lobbying.
Cook said she knows Campbell, who lives in her ward, and that he advised her when she campaigned for City Council. "It wasn't about Mike Campbell, it was about our process," she said of her opposition to the contract. "... What are we getting for our money?"
Campbell's contract calls for a quarterly review of his work. Cook said she's seen no explanation of what he's been doing and said no review has taken place before the City Council.
Meanwhile, Harycki said Campbell is doing nothing that would constitute lobbying of state officials.
Minnesota requires registration of lobbyists to ensure the public knows who's paying money to influence legislation, said Gary Goldsmith, the Disclosure Board's executive director.
"Without proper registration it's hidden from the public," he said.
Goldsmith said anyone who earns more than $3,000 a year for communicating with public officials, to influence public actions, is required by law to register.
Campbell said he contacted Goldsmith and offered to register but said Goldsmith "encouraged" him not to do so if he wasn't lobbying.
Harycki said the bridge coalition has three lobbyists of its own. Campbell said he doesn't duplicate the work of the coalition, doesn't attend coalition meetings and works on bridge matters at the mayor's request.
Campbell said he helped Harycki write comments the mayor will deliver at a congressional hearing Thursday on behalf of a bill by U.S. Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn., to allow construction of the $690 million four-lane bridge.
Cook said she's troubled by the extent of public spending on behalf of the bridge project without open public debate over less costly alternatives.
"The whole thing is so out of control," she said.
Kevin Giles • 651-735-3342 Twitter: @stribgiles