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Letter brings questions in Wrenshall

A question was raised at the Wrenshall school board’s public forum Monday about where a bulk mailing came from. Was it through a board discussion or the opinion of merely the three people who were represented at the end of the letter?

One signee, board vice-chairwoman Cindy Bourn, interrupted the speaker and said the mailing was a “campaign letter.” When asked how a reader would know, Bourn said it was “implied.”

In response to an inquiry from the Pine Knot News, chairwoman Bergman said the letter was political and had nothing to do with the board as a whole body. “It was stated in the letter that was sent out that campaign season started early because of the Unite Wrenshall group,” she said Tuesday. “It was not a board letter nor discussed.”

Under state statute, campaign literature must explicitly include the name and address of the person disseminating the political material. The letter, titled, “A Response to Unite Wrenshall Accusation,” has no such information and did not indicate that it was a “campaign letter,” as Bourn said.

Statute says failing to properly label campaign material is a misdemeanor, and those involved could have their candidacy vacated if found guilty in district court.

The letter implied that the “we” speaking in it were Bourn, Jack Eudy and Deb Washenesky. All three are expected to be on the school board ballot in November; however, filings have yet to open for local school board positions.

The letter itself refers to “the Unite Wrenshall crowd” and “dark devisiveness” over comments made by speakers at the public forum at the June regular meeting, which included references to past statements from board members the speakers considered “racist and homophobic.”

The letter called the public comments vague and asked those who have talked about them to bring specifics to board chairwoman Misty Bergman.

The letter refers to a comment made on the Unite Wrenshall Facebook page echoing the same concerns about alleged board member statements. The letter stated the group was “parroting that talking point,” but did not mention who made the comment or when it was made on a platform that is open to anyone who joins online.

On Monday, the statements made by board members in the past 13 months were read by the union members representing district employees, Education Minnesota-Wrenshall. They also played recordings of some of the comments.

That recitation — a response to the mass mailing of letters from the three board members and a separate letter by resident Tony Sheda — left no doubt about the comments made by board members.

“Taken individually, you may think that some of these comments aren’t that bad or were taken out of context,” the Education Minnesota-Wrenshall statement that was read Monday said. “But we can’t take them individually when it keeps happening again and again. It is not just one board member making these comments. These comments came from four different board members on several different occasions. We can’t even imagine being a member of one of these marginalized groups and hearing a representative of our school dehumanize us in this way.

“We are not standing up because we are bitter about not getting what we wanted, as the letter insinuates. We are standing up because these statements, beliefs, and accusations hurt our students, school and community. We are standing up because it is the right thing to do. We are standing up because if we don’t, nothing will change.”

The full statement, including the board comments in question, can be found at http://www.pineknotnews.com.

Another portion of the board members’ letter that seemed to irk those who spoke about it Monday was near the end. It stated: “If I were a parent observing all the contentions over our school, I would think twice about enrolling my students. Unite Wrenshall should think hard about their campaign strategy. They are the ones hurting the school.”

Lisa Clarke, who began the Unite Wrenshall Facebook page in 2016 during a campaign for school referendum, said she took the page down recently because of how people were misconstruing its purpose. She said the only item posted in recent months about the school board was a call for people to run for any seats open this fall. It listed the eligibility requirements to run and provided links to the Minnesota School Boards Association website.


Here is the state statute regarding unmarked campaign materials:


Subdivision 1.Campaign material.

(a) A person who participates in the preparation or dissemination of campaign material that does not prominently include the name and address of the person or committee causing the material to be prepared or disseminated in a disclaimer substantially in the form provided in paragraph (b) or (c) is guilty of a misdemeanor.

(b) Except in cases covered by paragraph (c), the required form of disclaimer is: "Prepared and paid for by the XXX committee, address" for material prepared and paid for by a principal campaign committee, or "Prepared and paid for by the XXX committee, address" for material prepared and paid for by a person or committee other than a principal campaign committee. The address must be either the committee's mailing address or the committee's website, if the website includes the committee's mailing address. If the material is produced and disseminated without cost, the words "paid for" may be omitted from the disclaimer.

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