The former mayor and city clerk of Tower, Minn., were each charged last week in St. Louis County District Court with criminal misconduct related to their efforts to boot newspaper publisher Marshall Helmberger from the Tower Economic Development Authority (TEDA).
The St. Louis County Sheriff’s Office began investigating the dispute in February after receiving a complaint that Tower City Clerk-Treasurer Linda Keith had altered official public records to misstate when Helmberger, owner and publisher of the Timberjay, was appointed to the authority so that it would appear his term had expired when it had not.
The charges are gross misdemeanors punishable by up to a year in jail and $3,000 in fines.
According to the criminal complaint, former Mayor Joshua Carlson admitted that he wanted to remove Helmberger, who was president of the Tower Economic Development Authority (TEDA), and another individual from the development authority last year because he believed that Helmberger had obtained a $125,000 grant from the Iron Range Resources and Rehabilitation Board without the City Council’s approval.
In an article published Monday, Helmberger wrote that city officials had become increasingly angry over critical reporting he had done.
Carlson admitted that he did not notify Helmberger in advance, and that he did not give him an opportunity to be heard as required under state law.
Public records show that Helmberger had been appointed to a three-year term on the development authority, which expires at the end of this year. However, in January 2018, the City Council reorganized TEDA in a way that none of the terms of its seven commissioners complied with state law.
“All terms had been altered from the original appointment in 2017. Helmberger was no longer listed as a member of the authority,” the complaint says, and another person was appointed for a one-year term to replace him. A 2017 city of Tower reorganization chart shows incorrectly that Helmberger had been appointed to just a one-year term, which had expired in 2017. That directly contradicts City Council minutes from the meeting in which he was appointed.
“Notably, none of the TEDA commission appointments were accurately reflected when compared between the official Tower city minutes of what was voted and approved on by the Council,” the complaint says.
Keith maintains city records and tracks reorganizations, the complaint notes, so she would have known about the false documents.
On Dec. 7, 2018, Keith sent an e-mail to then-City Council Member Kevin Fitton stating that “the mayor says for Christmas this year he got me a present which is to take Marshall off TEDA in January,” the complaint says. On Jan. 22, 2018, then-Mayor Carlson made a recommendation to remove Helmberger from TEDA.
If Marshall’s commission had in fact expired, as was reflected in the city records, the motion would have been moot, the complaint says.
Fitton resigned as acting mayor in April and was replaced by Orlyn Kringstad.
WDIO-TV reported in June that the Tower City Council voted unanimously to suspend Keith with pay while it undertakes a “laundry list of allegations” against her.
“It is clear that the official records of the TEDA commission were altered in official forms kept and maintained as well as created by Defendant in her capacity as city clerk for the City of Tower,” the complaint says.
Neither Carlson nor Keith could be reached Tuesday for comment. Court records do not list an attorney for either one of them. Their initial appearance is scheduled for Aug. 30 at the courthouse in Virginia, Minn.