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Brainerd council clarifies senior center funding

With the broader language in the charter and 10-year contracts with Brainerd Community Action, the Northland Arboretum and The Center for the mill funds expiring in 2022, the council also decided to go through a request for proposal process to determine which entities the money will go to.

City council and staff members sit in council chambers.
Brainerd City Council and staff members discuss matters during their meeting Monday, Feb. 7, 2022.
Theresa Bourke / Brainerd Dispatch
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BRAINERD — A recent update to Brainerd’s charter changes the way certain nonprofits receive money from the city, but doesn’t necessarily mean any less money for the groups.

City Council members responded Monday, Feb. 7, to misinformation they said they have heard throughout the community, claiming the council voted to defund The Center, which is a senior center in north Brainerd.

Historically, the city’s charter guaranteed a portion of its funds to the Northland Arboretum, Brainerd Community Action and to the establishment and maintenance of a program for the benefit of senior citizens or to subsidize a nonprofit senior citizen organization. For consistency’s sake, the council amended the language last year to exclude the names of specific organizations but commit to supporting entities that provide community programs and events and arboretum or greenspace organizations.

The charter previously said one half mill of the mill levy would be allocated to those groups. Because that term, which relates to property taxes, is outdated, the council changed the language last year to instead say 1.5% of the previous year’s tax levy would be allocated to those causes, which, according to staff, is roughly the same amount of money. This year, that amounts to $240,183.

With the broader language in the charter and 10-year contracts with Brainerd Community Action, the Northland Arboretum and The Center for the mill funds expiring in 2022, the council also decided to go through a request for proposal process to determine which entities the money will go to.

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Gabe Johnson
Gabe Johnson

“What we’re trying to do is just operate in good faith with taxpayer dollars,” council member Gabe Johnson said Monday, after an impassioned speech during the city’s personnel and finance committee meeting earlier that evening, chastising those who have spread misinformation throughout the community.

“There are a lot of lies going around in the community, a lot of people misinforming others, saying that the Brainerd City Council already voted to defund The Center. Those are all bald-faced lies. It didn’t happen. … This RFP (request for proposal) process is not related to the removing of mill levy and adding 1.5%. This is about expiring contracts. Anybody listening at home, this is about the expiring contracts with those three organizations and the city negotiating with the entities that provide the services. If you’re spreading lies, if you’re acting in bad faith, it does not make me want to work with you for another five years,” Johnson said with a raised voice.

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DeAnn Barry
Steve Kohls / Brainerd Dispatch

DeAnn Barry, executive director of The Center, spoke to the issue during the public forum portion of Monday’s meeting, saying if there was any misinformation, it did not come from her. What she did take responsibility for was a blurb in the latest edition of The Center’s newsletter that said: “The Brainerd City Council has unanimously voted to discontinue the half mill levy that financially supported The Center. Moving forward, we will have to apply for funding through an RFP process that the Brainerd City Council is developing. Please consider calling or emailing Brainerd City Council representatives to share the importance of The Center to you and to the citizens of the City of Brainerd.”

Barry said she believes that assessment was fair and truthful.

“We owe our members to be transparent, and that’s what we were doing and we’ll continue to try and do,” she said.

Kelly Bevans
Kelly Bevans

The process of determining where the senior-oriented funds went 10 years ago is unclear. Council President Kelly Bevans, who was on the council at that time, said he isn’t sure if there was a request for proposal process but does not recall any other senior programs or organizations requesting the funds.

Mayor Dave Badeaux, who is also the executive director of Brainerd Community Action, said he wants those who have corresponded with him to know he has received their communications but has chosen not to respond while negotiations are ongoing because of his position with Community Action.

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Brainerd Mayor Dave Badeaux

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Requesting proposals

The council created a subcommittee earlier this year to begin the request for proposal process. Council members Kevin Stunek and Tad Erickson, who are the council liaisons to The Center and the Northland Arboretum, respectively, were appointed the subcommittee and recently met with City Administrator Jennifer Bergman and Barry to discuss the process and give staff members direction on how to proceed.

Kevin Stunek
Kevin Stunek

While a gathering of only two council members is not a quorum and did not warrant notice of a public meeting, Johnson said Monday he does not like how the meeting happened. It should have been advertised as a public meeting, he said, and if a staff member from one organization was present, staffers from others should have been invited as well.

Tad Erickson.jpg
Tad Erickson

“It just doesn’t pass the sniff test for me,” Johnson said. “… I don’t think that’s conducting the public’s business in public. I think that’s wrong. I don’t think that meeting should have happened. I think it should have happened publicly. I think if we’re inviting one employee from an organization, we should open it up to any organization that is interested in submitting this request for proposal.”

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Mike O'Day
Contributed

Stunek agreed the meeting should have been advertised to the public but assured Johnson nothing shady went on.

The council voted 5-2, with Johnson and Mike O’Day opposed, to publish the request for proposals.

Written proposals are due to Bergman by email at jbergman@ci.brainerd.mn.us or to the city administrator’s office by 4:30 p.m. March 10.

Proposals will be presented to the personnel and finance committee during its regular meeting March 21.

The current contract with the Northland Arboretum expires March 29, while The Center’s contract expires April 10, and Brainerd Community Action’s expires May 10.

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THERESA BOURKE may be reached at theresa.bourke@brainerddispatch.com or 218-855-5860. Follow her on Twitter at www.twitter.com/DispatchTheresa.

Theresa Bourke started working at the Dispatch in July 2018, covering Brainerd city government and area education, including Brainerd Public Schools and Central Lakes College.
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