Have gun, will gavel.
That seems to be the motto around the small city of Greenfield after revelations that at least one and possibly more of the city's top elected officials have carried loaded weapons to City Council meetings.
Those claims have been circulating for weeks in the west Hennepin County town since newly elected Council Member Howard Veldhuizen brought two handguns to a meeting last month.
The revelation sparked an unsuccessful attempt to ban firearms from the sessions.
Veldhuizen, who has a permit to carry a handgun, admits to bringing his weapons to the council chambers. And he said he will do so again.
"I haven't done so the last couple of meetings," he said. "But I plan to start doing so again, especially when we start the Charter Commission hearings [this month]. There are a couple of people there I have concerns about."
Veldhuizen -- who was recently selected to be acting mayor when Mayor Jill Krout is not at council meetings -- said some of his political opponents also have permits to carry handguns, including former Mayor Larry Plack, who's a member of the Charter Commission.
Krout's political opponents also have suspected that she has brought a gun to meetings in her handbag.
"That is my understanding," said former Council Member Sylvia Walsh, who left the council last month. "That bag used to be on the floor right next to my feet. If I had known that she had a gun, I wouldn't have run for public office."
Krout would neither confirm nor deny that she has a carry permit or has brought a weapon to meetings. "I have no comment," she said.
Plack acknowledged that he had a permit, but said that he never attended City Council meetings while armed. "I never took a gun in council chambers," he said. "I never saw any reason to."
Show and tell
The handgun issue arose after word spread that Veldhuizen was showing off a .22-caliber pistol and a derringer at City Hall after a meeting in early December.
Among those who saw the weapons were Krout, City Administrator Brad Johnson and Mike Erickson, also a newly elected City Council member, Veldhuizen said. "The mayor saw [the guns]. She thought it was pretty cool," said Veldhuizen, who said that he and Krout often go shooting together.
Erickson told a political opponent of Veldhuizen about the weapons, who told someone else, setting off a chain reaction that had the town abuzz about the propriety of having weapons at city meetings.
"There are people who are concerned," Plack said. "If it were me, I'd go by what they were concerned about and not bring them."
He said several Charter Commission members expressed concerns about their safety after hearing about Veldhuizen, who is also a commission member.
The concerns prompted the commission to move next month's meeting from City Hall, where it is legal to carry weapons with a permit, to a local school building, where guns can be prohibited, Plack said.
In an indication of the political divisions in Greenfield -- a city of more than 20 square miles and fewer than 3,000 people west of Minneapolis -- vastly different stories soon sprang up about the night when Veldhuizen showed off his weapons.
False reports all around
Among the erroneous rumors, people on both sides of the debate say, is that the weapon was discovered when it fell from Veldhuizen's coat pocket during the meeting. Another false rumor was that the weapon was a sawed-off shotgun, which led the Hennepin County Sheriff's Department to launch an investigation. No charges were filed.
"This whole thing has been blown way out of proportion," Erickson said. "Am I surprised that [Veldhuizen] is carrying? No. But I'm also not dismayed by it, either."
Although there was a sense of outrage and a move to ban weapons at City Hall by Council Members Leonard Jankowski and Walsh, Greenfield officials quashed those attempts.
It is not illegal under state law for anyone who has a proper permit to carry a weapon on public property. And because Walsh and Jankowski left the council Dec. 31, the majority of members on the new City Council are staunch Second Amendment supporters, Krout said.
"It's not a big deal," she said.
That has not quelled fears among some residents and political opponents who claim the presence of weapons might stifle debate at what have traditionally been contentious meetings in Greenfield.
How contentious? During a meeting last fall, Krout called the sheriff's office to have Jankowski arrested. She thought he was being belligerent in his objections to the way she was running the meeting. Jankowski said a deputy talked with him, but he was not arrested.
Safety or politics?
Krout and Veldhuizen believe that the actions of Jankowski and Walsh are politically motivated, meant to embarrass them. "It was their last little jab as they walked out the door," Veldhuizen said.
But the two former council members say they are just concerned about their safety and the safety of fellow residents.
"Why do you bring a gun to a public meeting? To intimidate," Jankowski said.
Said Walsh: "I've stopped going to council meetings. I don't want to get shot."
But gun advocates on the council believe that the safety concerns are overblown.
"There are times when I do disagree with these people and we do get exercised," Erickson said.
"But I would never think that they would hurt me. These are good people."
Heron Marquez Estrada • 612-673-4280