House Minority Leader Paul Thissen, DFL-Minneapolis, on Friday criticized two Republican House members and disputed their explanation for why a political tracker was kicked out of a public legislative meeting on property taxes earlier this week.
Thissen said Rep. Steve Drazkowski, R-Mazeppa, improperly asked a tracker for a progressive group to leave their meeting Tuesday in Burnsville and that Rep. Roz Peterson, R-Lakeville "backed him up." The meeting, held in Peterson's district, is part of an ongoing series of listening sessions on property taxes organized by Drazkowski, chair of a committee on property taxes and local government.
Drazkowski said Wednesday and again Friday that space was tight at the small Burnsville coffee and wine bar where the meeting was held. "It was a very small room," he said. "As people filed in... it was clear to me we were going to reach or exceed capacity of the room."
Burnsville resident Jim Elwell, who attended the meeting and witnessed the exchange between Drazkowski and the tracker, disputed that account. In an interview with the Star Tribune, Elwell, a DFL activist, said he remembered the GOP lawmaker told the tracker to leave because the meeting was private. He also said the room was about two-thirds full.
"The assertion that I said that it wasn't a public meeting -- I don't recall saying that," Drazkowski said.
Drazkowski in an email also said Peterson "was not aware that I was going to ask him to leave, nor did she ask me to do it." Thissen's remarks about Peterson's involvement are "100% false," he wrote.
Elwell corroborated that and said Peterson was not involved in asking the tracker to leave the event.
In an emailed statement, Peterson did not address Thissen's comments but said: "I look forward to holding many more constituent meetings to gather feedback and hear concerns from families about property taxes, growing jobs, and other issues on the minds of residents of Burnsville and Lakeville."
Billed as informal listening sessions, the meetings attracted criticism on the House floor last week from Thissen, who said they raised questions about transparency. He asked Speaker Kurt Daudt, R-Crown, to clarify whether official business would be conducted. Daudt said the listening sessions were informal even though other committee members would attend and that no official business would be conducted.
He reiterated that criticism in a Friday news conference. "I don't know which is worse -- whether the fact that they to continue to want to hide these property tax hearings or not telling the truth," he said.
Drazkowski said future meetings would be held at larger venues and they would be public.
This post has been updated to include a statement from Peterson and emailed comments from Drazkowski.
Photo: House Minority Leader Paul Thissen, DFL-Minneapolis, addresses reporters at a Friday news conference. (Glen Stubbe/Star Tribune)