Is the City of Grand Rapids and elected officials acting outside the law in the promotion of a citywide sales tax?
Recently you may have witnessed what could be described as an ongoing “infomercial” on local public television channel ICTV. The program features Mayor Adams, Tom Pagel, and moderator Marion Barcus and it appears to receive far more airtime than other programs ICTV produces. Also the local paper has carried opinion letters signed by Grand Rapids Council members. This brings up the question: Is the law being violated by the City of Grand Rapids in promoting a city sales tax?
“Minnesota Statute 297A.99 Sub. (d) Local Sales Taxes” states: “A political subdivision may not advertise or expend funds for promotion of a referendum to support imposing a local option sales tax”. The City of Grand Rapids not only is promoting the tax on ICTV, but has contracted a public relations spokesperson that will undoubtedly has been used to script these letters and the promotion of the sales tax referendum. It appears the council may be in violation of the law.
The City of Grand Rapids collects franchise fees and PEG fees on your utility and cable TV bills. The PEG fee stands for Public Educational and Government Access programming and is meant to go there. However, the franchise fee is a fee charged to utilities for the right to operate within a city. This fee can go into the general fund and may be spent at the discretion of the municipality.
The question to be addressed arises concerning the franchise fee: If this tax money is collected by the city and given to ICTV, as it is, or given to any other media outlet with the intent to support a referendum, is this not a violation of the above mentioned Statute 297A.99?
After all, this is city discretionary money going to ICTV being used to promote one side of an issue.
An additional question involves Mayor Adams, Council Members Zabynski and Christy’s participation in promoting the sales tax in violation of MN Statute 204C.41 “An election official or other individual required by law to safely keep and produce ballots on election day or to perform any other act, who intentionally fails or refuses to perform the act required, or is required by law to abstain from any act, and intentionally does the act, or who in either of these cases is guilty of fraud, corruption, partiality, or misbehavior in conducting or aiding in the conduct of an election, or in counting or making returns of votes, or who wrongfully refuses to make or deliver a certificate of an election, or who falsely or corruptly performs any act, for which punishment has not been otherwise expressly provided for by the law, is guilty of a felony.”
The key word in Statute 204C.41 is “partiality”. Both the local mayor and city council have the official capacity and duty to certify the election as election officials. It would appear they are in violation of the law by promoting the city tax referendum, while at the same time being in charge of certifying the election results as “election officials.”
A simple search on your computer will provide you with any law we reference and we always ask you to form your own opinion. Our group, Grand Rapids Voice, is here not as an advisor but to merely promote educated dialogue.