TOWER— Someone has been reading Mayor Orlyn Kringstad’s official email without his permission and the city council here, on Monday, authorized him to investigate the matter in hopes of …
TOWER— Someone has been reading Mayor Orlyn Kringstad’s official email without his permission and the city council here, on Monday, authorized him to investigate the matter in hopes of determining who is responsible for the apparent invasion of privacy and possible criminal wrongdoing.
The council gave Kringstad the authority to contact the city’s website and Internet provider, known as Tech Bytes, to request access logs, which might be able to reveal who, or at least whose computer, has been opening his official city emails.
“We can get the IP addresses to see where they are being opened,” he said.
Every computer has a unique IP address which should have been recorded on the email server.
“I find it very troubling that this is occurring,” Kringstad said.
Kringstad told the council that since he started using the account in January, he noticed that messages coming into his inbox were quickly showing they had been opened even before he could do so. In some cases, he said, messages apparently disappeared, as if they had been deleted. Since then, he said, he has spent time with Apple Computer support making sure that his Outlook email program was set up correctly and the messages were not somehow indicating they had been opened without him touching the computer.
“The blue dot indicates that the email is unread,” he said. “I was watching my screen and the blue dot would go away.”
Kringstad said he is not having issues with his personal email— only his city account. He noted he does not open up his city email on his phone, so that could not explain what was happening.
Kringstad made clear he wasn’t accusing anyone at this point, although the city’s clerk-treasurer has traditionally administered the city’s email accounts and has often entered passwords on behalf of other city officials, including Kringstad.
Kringstad said once he recognized what was happening he began recording the opening of his email with both his phone and a screen capture program. He said the incoming messages often showed they were read quickly, with the messages sometimes changing from unread to read within just two minutes, while other times it could take up to 20 minutes. He said he also has logs of the times the email appeared in his inbox and when they appeared to have been opened.
Kringstad said that, according to information from the League of Minnesota Cities, city email is private, although in some cases, it can be requested to be made public, and that if someone is reading his email, it could be a prosecutable offense.
On Wednesday, Kringstad informed the Timberjay that the intrusions into his city email appear to have stopped since his announcement at Monday’s meeting.
The city’s new ambulance will not be ready for delivery until late summer or early fall, said Tower Ambulance Director Steve Altenburg, due to delays at the manufacturer, both with the chassis and four-wheel drive unit.
The new unit and associated equipment, with a price tag of $249,788, is set to place a significant dent in the city’s cash flow. Altenburg said the ambulance service currently has $153,000 set aside from past subsidy payments, and the rest will need to come out of the city’s ambulance fund. While the city’s ambulance fund looks healthy on paper, in reality the city has been using this fund to cover unfunded debt accumulated through past city operations and projects.
This issue came into focus as the city council debated a transfer of funds from the city’s general fund to pay off some of the city’s outstanding debt. This transfer is done every year as part of the city’s annual audit, but this year’s transfer was larger than in some recent years and appears to have been intended to partially replenish the city’s ambulance fund. While the ambulance fund has accumulated a surplus of close to $900,000 over the years, most of those funds have actually been spent for other city operations. “It’s a benefit to the city, but at some point it needs to get paid back,” said Altenburg. With the pending ambulance purchase, “it’s a little tight,” Altenburg acknowledged.
Clerk-Treasurer Linda Keith gave two proposals to the council, one transferred $100,000 and the second $125,000. The goal, she said, was to eliminate as much of the unfunded debt as possible, although the latest installment will still leave more than half a million in outstanding debt, most of it from the harbor project. The council opted to transfer $100,000, which allows the city to retire the remaining $63,390 in debt on the Main Street sewer project, with the remaining funds split between the North 2nd and 3rd Street water and sewer project and the harbor project. That would leave $106,371 in debt remaining on the water and sewer project and $450,878 on the harbor.
In response to a question by Councilor Rachel Beldo, Keith said that $250,000 of the harbor debt came when the city unexpectedly had to pay back funds in 2012-2013. Keith said the city may need to look at levying funds to pay back the harbor debt. Such an approach would likely lead to a double-digit increase in the city’s levy.
City deer hunt
The council approved a request from DNR assistant wildlife manager Jeremy Maslowski to continue the city deer hunt. The hunt is for archery and muzzleloader hunters, and begins the Saturday after Thanksgiving, after the close of the firearm deer season. The main goal of the hunt is to improve public safety, Maslowski said, as well as reducing garden and ornamental plant damage, deer-auto collisions, and reducing the risk for diseases such as chronic wasting disease.
“We want to modify deer behavior and keep them moving around,” he said, noting that the deer are moving across the ice on Lake Vermilion into Tower and Soudan, where they are finding wintertime food sources.
The city has already agreed to oversee the hunt by issuing permits, up to 20 for muzzleloader and 10 for archery hunters. The bag limit for each hunter is five, but most are killing fewer, if any. Last year there were 10 deer taken in the archery hunt, and 19 in the muzzleloader hunt. Ninety percent of the deer taken are female.
“Overall the number of deer in Tower has decreased,” Maslowski said, “which is our goal.”
Maslowski also talked briefly about the dangers associated with feeding deer.
“Some area cities have imposed feeding bans,” he told the council. Deer feeding concentrates deer in specific areas, which increases the risk of disease transmission. The DNR is particularly concerned about the spreading threat of chronic wasting disease.
SEH engineer Jason Chopp told the council that the plat for the Tower Harbor town home project is still being reviewed by St. Louis County.
“We have resubmitted the plat to St. Louis County,” he said. But Chopp also noted that the city needed to submit additional information to the county. Keith said the city was still waiting to hear back from the DNR and Frandsen Bank to get the information that is required.
“I am concerned about this,” said Kringstad. “It is a project that has been receiving a lot of visibility. We want to make sure we do our due diligence and make sure that no delay is coming from the city. We want to move it along as quickly as possible.”
The developers of the project have an April 1 deadline to give notice to the city that they will proceed with construction. But the developers still have work to do on their end, that requires the approved plat, before they can proceed with sales.
The council took no action on complaints lodged against the mayor by the ambulance director and Councilor Kevin Fitton. At the last meeting the council agreed to have Kringstad respond to the complaints outlined by Fitton, and then move to mediation if needed.
Kringstad said he had completed a written response and was prepared to read a redacted version of the response at the meeting but was unable to print it out at home due to issues with his printer. Kringstad said he had redacted certain information from the response because it dealt with issues raised in the closed meeting, so was therefore not public.
“We can table this, or I can read the redacted version,” he said.
In response to a question from the Timberjay after the meeting, as to why he simply hadn’t printed out the response at city hall prior to the meeting, Kringstad said that Keith had refused to print out the version with his redactions.
The council opted to table the issue and wait until they got the response in writing.
Kringstad also noted that the item on the agenda still noted “mayor misconduct investigation.” At the last meeting, resident Mary Shedd had noted that this was prejudicial and inflammatory wording.
In other business, the council:
Scratched the closed meeting regarding employee misconduct from the agenda. It will be rescheduled.
Heard from resident Richard Hanson who questioned why Fitton hadn’t just talked with Kringstad about the allegations he was making, suggesting most of the issues could be resolved without need for action at the council table. Hanson also wondered why Fitton was claiming that information from the closed meeting was being leaked, without sufficient proof to make the claim. He could have just sat down with the mayor and resolved the complaints.”
Set the city’s Local Board of Appeal on Tuesday, May 7 from 6-7 p.m. at Tower City Hall. The council had requested an evening time, instead of the afternoon time originally scheduled.
Received the draft of a new public input policy for council members to review.
Approved a new five-year lease for D’Erick’s, at the same lease rate of $500 per month.
Approved a realignment of Pine Street by the Tower Civic Center. The realignment will close the connection tothe parking lot that is closest to the Iron Ore Bar bridge, adding curb, gutter and sidewalk along that section of the road. This will close the “short cut” that cars often take to the civic center parking lot and will also create additional room for parking. It will preserve the parking area that is on the back side of the mini-park area. The project also includes repaving the section of Pine Street from in front of the fire hall doors to the bridge.
Set the wage for the city’s part-time maintenance worker at $11.50 per hour.