First, Don Heinonen lost his bid for City Council by 40 votes on Nov. 6. Then, just 10 days later, a panel of three administrative law judges added injury to the insult.

The judges slapped Heinonen with a $500 fine for accepting a $2,400 campaign contribution from a committee formed to push a slate of three candidates called “Bemidji First.”

The slate was made up of Heinonen, failed mayoral candidate Joe Vene, and the only successful candidate of the three, Mike Beard, who walked away with 60 percent of the vote in his race for City Council.

Bemidji resident Dean Thompson acknowledged in a sworn statement that he was behind Bemidji First. The candidates met with him at Pinnacle Marketing Group and discussed a social media campaign and website. Thompson and three others put up $600 each for Heinonen’s share of Pinnacle’s fees. Heinonen reported it as an in-kind contribution from Pinnacle, then corrected it two weeks later but failed to list employers or occupations.

Heinonen filed an amended report Nov. 6 showing that the money was contributed by Thompson, of Ken K. Thompson Jewelry, his wife, Mary Ann, a homemaker, and Steven and Jill Hill, of Hill’s Plumbing and Heating. The judges found that under state law, they constituted a committee formed to influence an election. Candidates in districts with fewer than 100,000 residents may not accept more than $600 in contributions from an individual or a committee.

The judges found that the complainant, Bemidji resident Robert Saxton, had established that Heinonen violated state law in accepting the $2,400 contribution. He persuaded the panel that it was unintentional, however, and “likely had minimal impact on voters.”

Dan Browning


Domino’s pays $5K to fix city’s potholes

Pizza is helping fill some potholes in Duluth.

Domino’s recently gave $5,000 to the city to use to fill potholes before July 1, part of the company’s “Paving for Pizza” campaign. The company said it’s doing one project in each state so Duluth is the only city in Minnesota to benefit from it.

The city has been grappling with repairing crumbling roads, but the corporate donation will only go so far. The city’s budget this year for street maintenance is about $7.5 million, which includes about $2.7 million for street repairs alone. In 2017, Duluth voters approved a half-cent addition to the local sales tax for improving streets, which could potentially add $7 million a year to street repairs — but the Legislature also has to sign off on it. City leaders will return to the State Capitol this session to seek that approval.

Kelly Smith