A college student lost his seasonal job with the city of Robbinsdale over an online video he made that parodies his hometown in the manner of old-fashioned tourism ads.
“I’m a resident of Robbinsdale first and I’m a worker second,” said Tony Langfellow, a 20-year-old mass communications student at St. Cloud State University. “And I should be able to voice my opinion about the city, which is my First Amendment right.”
In the video, Langfellow and his college friends poke fun at what he says is Robbinsdale’s shrinking cultural charm. Much of it is centered on the controversial demolition of the Terrace Theatre, a 1950s-era movie house that was torn down in 2016 to make room for a Hy-Vee grocery store expected to open this fall.
Langfellow also includes black-and-white footage of construction work in the city and a mock interview with a friend pretending to be Robbinsdale Mayor Regan Murphy.
City officials caught wind of the video days after it was posted on YouTube in mid-December. Langfellow said that Parks and Recreation Director Tom Marshall called him just hours before he was set to begin working at a city warming house to inform him he was being let go.
Several calls to Murphy were not returned, and Marshall declined to comment on the video or Langfellow’s dismissal. In an e-mail response, he said that the city “does not discuss HR hiring decisions.”
But earlier this month, Marshall told the Sun Post, a community newspaper, that he had decided to let Langfellow go after consulting the city’s employee handbook.
“Can I defend to the public having a person on staff who bashes the city on one hand, including its businesses, and then collects a paycheck from it on the other?” he was quoted in the Sun Post.
Langfellow said he has worked for the city at a wading pool, with the public works department and at warming houses for the past four years. He interpreted the city’s response as reluctance to get negative feedback.
“The mayor and the city of Robbinsdale should be able to accept criticism,” he said. “If we can’t laugh at ourselves, we’re in deep trouble.”
On Jan. 2, the City Council adopted a new social media policy for all city employees.
“The city requires employees and agents to act in a prudent manner with regard to website and internet postings that reference the city of Robbinsdale,” the policy says. Violations, it continues, could lead to “disciplinary action” and loss of employment.
Langfellow’s video has been viewed about 3,700 times — or as his father, Wally Langfellow, put it, “gone locally viral.”
“Tour of Fabulous Robbinsdale! (Pt. 2),” a reference to another satirical video done a few years back by his older brother, begins with a disclaimer: “The following video may offend people from Robbinsdale or those who refer to themselves as ‘Birdtowners.’ So please take this video with a grain of salt and watch at your own risk.”
The Sun Post published a letter from his parents on Jan. 23 in support of their son’s work and scolding Marshall for his comments. Wally Langfellow said last week that the video raised some valid points.
“Tony ... really loves where he was brought up,” Wally Langfellow said of his son. “He was distressed about how things have changed, and not necessarily for the better. It isn’t just roses here. There’s some things being done that really aren’t in the best interest of our city.”
Tony Langfellow agreed, pointing to the loss of structures such as the Terrace and the upcoming replacement of the city’s 80-year-old water tower. “I thought Robbinsdale was better than that,” he said.
Now working in media production, he said he was less concerned about losing the warming house job — and he admitted that he knew it was possible the video would get him fired.
“I guess I gotta be more careful with what I say about the city where I’m living,” he said.