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Friday, October 19, 2007

Kalin doesn’t know Barrett answered him

The following letter to the editor from Kalin (D-17B) appeared in the October 18, 2007, issue of the Chisago County Press. It is reproduced here for the convenience of the reader since it is not online.

Let’s stick to the facts
To the editor:
I am writing to correct factual misstatements in Bob Barrett’s letter last week’s County Press. He disagrees with my effort for more accountability from MnDOT, and I respect him for expressing his views. However, I want to be sure that we are all working from the same basic facts.

First, stipends for the losing bidders of the I-35W design competition were originally set at $300,000 for each of the three losing design teams. Later, that amount was increased to $400,000 and then finally set at $500,000. Assistant Commissioner Bob McFarlin explained the increase due to adding a "light-rail ready" component to the bridge. However, on Public Radio’s Midday show on October 1, Linda Figg, the lead designer of the winning project, said the light-rail ready addition was "very easily incorporated into the design." McFarlin has yet to clarify the increased stipends in light of Ms. Figg’s statement.

Second, the letter writer accused me of making "false allegations" that a MnDOT employee spent as much as $26,000 of public money on personal travel. I only wish it were false. Sonia Morphew Pitt is being investigated by James Nobles, Legislative Auditor, for exactly this reason. Further, Mr. Nobles publicly stated that MnDOT likely violated the law by not alerting him of the possible violation when they learned of it. I have spoken personally with Mr. Nobles, and asked him to also verify that Ms. Pitt, the director of emergency management for MnDOT, is trained and certified in emergency management. An initial report is due in several weeks.

My hope is to have a bipartisan discussion about the best transportation policy options to make Minnesota’s roads, bridges and transit safe and well-maintained. To do so, we must all work from a common ground of verified facts.

Rep. Jeremy Kalin


Kalin is correct that facts are essential to a discussion about transportation. But Kalin can’t seem to get it straight what Bob Barrett wrote.

Point 1
Kalin claims Barrett "...disagrees with my effort for more accountability from MnDOT."

Barrett actually agrees with him for he previously wrote, Kalin "...rightfully complained that a MNDOT employee responsible for emergency management stayed at an east coast business conference and couldn’t be bothered to come home for 10 days after the bridge collapsed. This is a good and important question and deserves, at minimum, an honest answer."

Barrett is right. Kalin is wrong.

Point 2
Without any stated acknowledgment, by using the word "stipend" in the most recent letter, Kalin accepts Barrett’s corrective that "bonus" was the improper term for the stipends paid to the losing bridge bidders.

Barrett is right. Kalin now accepts the right term without acknowledging correction.

Point 3
While Barrett stated factually that "Stipends are common in very large design-build transportation projects and are paid out for legitimate public purposes," his main point was that Kalin used the term "excessive bonus" which makes it sound "...much more sinister..."

Barrett won this one as well, because Kalin stripped the prejudicial terminology from his discussion of the stipends in his letter above. (Kalin’s stipend paragraph above is written factually.) Kalin has a right to question the size of the stipends, but the size of stipends is dictated by state law. See here. As a Representative, he should know that.

Point 4
Kalin claimed Barrett "...accused me of making "false allegations" that a MnDOT employee spent as much as $26,000 of public money on personal travel" (italics added). Kalin misquoted Barrett who actually said Kalin made "...false accusations that this employee spent $26,000 of taxpayer paid travel on what Kalin referred to as "personal pleasure"." Kalin originally said, "...up to $26,000 of her taxpayer-paid travel was for personal pleasure" (italics added, see source).

Bear with me. Let’s sort this out to learn Kalin’s methodology of fudging on the facts.

Point 4a
Barrett is right again. Kalin now tones down "personal pleasure" to "personal travel." That doesn’t sound as bad.

Point 4b
The $26,000 comes from a Star Tribune article which states:
"Since July 2006, Pitt has scheduled 17 out-of-state business trips for herself, including an eight-day training session that was scheduled to start today in Emmitsburg, Md., for "crisis communication during emergency situations."

Including per diem payments, hotel, air fare, registration fees, ground travel and other expenses, all the trips combined cost at least $26,400, documents show."
Clearly not all $26,400 was for personal pleasure because at least one training session is identified. Kalin hedged his words by saying, "...up to $26,000 of her taxpayer-paid travel was for personal pleasure" (italics added, see our earlier comments).

Kalin hedged his words, but clearly intended to make this sound as bad as possible. Barrett identified it as a false accusation because he apparently looked at the intent of the statement.

Barrett is right because Kalin’s intention is obvious, while he tried to cover it up with "up to."

Kalin wants facts, but Kalin can’t even represent Barrett accurately. There is major spin in almost everything Kalin writes.

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