Tom Steward covers government waste, spending and policy issues in his home state of Minnesota. Also a documentary filmmaker and in-depth broadcast journalist, Tom's work has appeared on NPR, Animal Planet, WCCO-TV, WGBH-TV, PBS, Australian Broadcasting Corporation, KSTP-TV, CBC, among other outlets. Highlights include the fall of the Berlin Wall, a Peabody Award, the first footage in the wild of the endangered Sumatran tiger and rhino and countless individuals who shared their stories, big and small. Steward served as a communications strategist in the U.S. Senate before returning to reporting on issues and people often overlooked by other media.

Non-union workers written out of $85-million city project

By   /  August 22, 2014  /  Local Government, Minnesota, News, State Government, unions  /  No Comments

City of Rochester photo.

Jim Gander’s local and state taxes will help pay for an $85 million expansion of the Mayo Civic Center. So will the heating and plumbing contractor get a shot at some of the 700 jobs spread over three years of the publicly funded project?

Not a chance, Gander says, blaming a project labor agreement, which city officials signed with organized labor.

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Some city halls working for the (long) weekend

By   /  August 20, 2014  /  Accountability, community, Local Government, Minnesota, News, Transparency  /  No Comments

Weekend

Nine western Twin Cities suburbs might as well post a ‘gone fishing’ sign on City Hall doors each Friday afternoon during summer. Closed for business. Come back Monday. Took dog to vet.

“The justification for summer hours was to make our city hall hours comparable with surrounding lake communities and due to the fact that Fridays have always historically been quieter days in terms of residents calling or stopping by city hall,” Dana Young, city administrator, clerk and treasurer for Deephaven, said in an email.

“Obviously, our administrative staff has also come to love summer hours, so that it has also evolved into somewhat of an employee benefit.”

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MN candidate with big pockets takes another big loss

By   /  August 15, 2014  /  Campaign Finance, Elections, Minnesota, News, Politics & Elections, State Politics  /  No Comments

MN's $6 MILLION MAN: Matt Entenza has failed to win 20 percent of the vote despite pouring millions of his own money into primary campaigns for statewide office in the last two election cycles. Photo:  Entenza for Auditor.

Matt Entenza got smoked again in a third quest for statewide office, even with all the zeroes on his personal contribution checks.

Yet if antipathy could be monetized, the former Minnesota House minority leader got more than his money’s worth in challenging incumbent Minnesota State Auditor Rebecca Otto, a fellow member of the Democratic-Farmer-Labor party.

“This really felt like an ambush, like a drive-by political assassination that he tried to pull off that backfired big time,” said Larry Jacobs, a University of Minnesota political science professor. “I frankly didn’t hear of any real support for him.”

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Green energy upgrades slow going at Minnesota VA

By   /  August 13, 2014  /  Energy and Environment, Federal Government, Health Care, Minnesota, News  /  No Comments

YEARS IN THE MAKING: Renewable energy upgrades including 90 miles of underground geothermal pipes are running more than a year behind schedule at the St. Cloud VA Medical Center. Photo: VA.

The St. Cloud VA Medical Center also faces an issue with waiting, but much different from the delays that led to a national scandal over treatment at other Veterans Affairs hospitals.

The wait at this central Minnesota facility involves wrapping up some $17 million in renewable energy projects undertaken since 2010 in pursuit of the VA’s alternative energy and efficiency goals.

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End of some fair-share fees drains millions from union coffers

By   /  August 8, 2014  /  Abuse of power, California, Connecticut, Health Care, Illinois, Maryland, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, News, Oregon, State Government, Supreme Court, unions, Washington  /  No Comments

THE FAIR THING TO DO: Unions in several states are notifying home and child care providers they will no longer charge fair-share fees for non-members.

A weeks-old Supreme Court decision freeing home-based care providers from paying union fair-share fees could cost two major unions tens of millions of dollars annually.

Notices going out in several affected states paint a grim picture for the coffers of Service Employees International Union and American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees.

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Fatal attraction: Stadium a ‘death trap’ for birds?

By   /  August 6, 2014  /  Energy and Environment, Local Government, Minnesota, News  /  No Comments

KILLER STADIUM? The MN Vikings and National Football League are on defense before the new  season even begins due to the bird-threatening glass in $1 billion new stadium under construction. Photo MN Sports Facilities Authority.

It’s one thing to take down Eagles, Seahawks and Falcons on the playing field, but the Minnesota Vikings and National Football League face a blitz of criticism for a nearly $1 billion stadium in the works that nature lovers call a “death trap” for real birds.

Critics warn the stadium’s enormous glassy exterior will reflect the sky, turning it into a fatal attraction for thousands of birds a year.

“We think it’s a travesty to use birds to advance your brand and then kill them over what amounts to pocket change for your organization,” said Dr. Christine Sheppard, bird collisions campaign manager for the American Bird Conservancy, in a statement.

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