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Strib Boss Grove Couldn’t Stop Showing Walz His Homework

Plus a council member pressures Ann Kim, a program wasn't perfect, and prisoners make the news in today's Flyover news roundup.

Facebook: MN DEED|

Grove, seen here being watched closely by his former bosses while on the job at DEED.

Welcome back to The Flyover, your daily digest of important, overlooked, and/or interesting Minnesota news stories.

Grove + Walz 4eva

The Star Tribune has not always been forthright about covering itself, so it’s nice to see the paper’s Rochelle Olson reporting on her boss, Strib CEO/publisher Steve Grove. Olson followed up on a Minnesota Reformer story that had acquired texts from Grove, the former commissioner of the state Department of Employment and Economic Development, to Chris Schmitter, Gov. Tim Walz’s chief of staff. All journalists should be allowed (encouraged!) to report on their bosses—though of course Grove refused to talk, instead referring Olson to company PR man Chris Iles, a very Strib corporate move. 

The content of the texts is pretty unspectacular. "Love those budget targets for economic development," for instance. After accepting the Strib job last year, Grove texted Schmitter asking how the search for his replacement was going and offering to help if he could, which isn’t too ridiculous. On another occasion, Grove asked Schmitter to forward an apology for a political cartoon from doomed Strib editorial cartoonist Mike Thompson. That does seem a little out of line, as do the compliments on Walz’s State of the State address that Grove sent. 

Still, these communications, which continued for at least six month into Grove's Strib gig, hardly feel damning in the overall scheme of things—Star Tribune owner and former Republican state senator Glen Taylor has surely had some less innocuous conversations with high-level politicians. And I get it! My first semester of college I just couldn’t stop writing letters to my high school friends. But a newspaper publisher staying in touch with his old political colleagues does seem ill-advised, to phrase it nicely, especially since some conspiratorial right-wing Minnesotans have become convinced Grove receives marching orders from the DFL. If some other media boss had done this, the Strib would surely have published a tongue-clucking editorial about the importance of appearing impartial. Just in case they don’t get around to it this time, well… cluck, cluck, cluck.

Constituent Receives Call From Council Member

On to another not-especially-important news story! Congratulations to PR flack Blois Olson, who was quoted in Axios this morning implying that a call from 7th Ward Council Member Katie Cashman to Olson’s client, restaurateur (how can that be the correct spelling?) Ann Kim, was somehow improper. The employees at Kim’s Uptown restaurant are unionizing; Cashman called and encouraged Kim to voluntarily recognize the union and left a voicemail, which was supplied to Axios by an anonymous source. (So… Kim or Olson?) 

Elected officials make this sort of call all the time. And of course, the workers in Cashman’s district deserve her attention as much as the businesses do. As Cashman public-statemently but reasonably told Axios, "I offered my support and sought an opportunity to be in dialogue with an important progressive business owner in the Uptown neighborhood."

So why should it be “concerning” (as Olson put it) in this case? In the story, Kyle Stokes of Axios points out that “Cashman is co-author of a proposal to create a labor standards board” for the city, and that Kim has strongly questioned aspects of that proposal. And? It’s good that local media is keeping a close eye on city government. Maybe next time they’ll catch someone doing something they shouldn’t. 

Report: Emergency Government Program Imperfect

Remember the Frontline Worker Pay Program? In 2022 the state Legislature set aside $500 million to be awarded to public-facing workers like nurses and prison guards in the form of little bonuses in recognition of the risks they took during the early days of the pandemic. And we do mean little: The final payments amounted to $487.45 apiece. But it was a nice gesture and surely helped the recipients. 

Today the Office of the Legislative Auditor released a report stating that it could only verify the eligibility of 60% of those recipients. That doesn’t mean that 40% were ineligible (the OLA says that 9% definitely weren’t), simply that safeguards were not in place to prove that all recipients were eligible. In some cases, for instance, perhaps the ineligible recipients were frontline workers who merely earned slightly in excess of the maximum adjusted gross income the program allowed.

And… I mean, who really cares? Sure, you can’t fault the Office of the Legislative Auditor for doing its job here, and any opportunity to tighten up processes is good, provided the cost of oversight doesn’t itself become unduly excessive or onerous to the applicants. But to treat this like a wasteful government scandal, as some news outlets have and state Sen. Karen Housley (R-Forest Lake) would like to, seems over the top.

We shouldn’t be so concerned that someone “undeserving” nabs an extra dollar that we make the application process too difficult for the people a program is designed to help. As Paul Marquart, commissioner of the Department of Revenue, put it, his team “chose this route to minimize delays.” “The Legislature should consider the amount of risk the state is willing to accept when establishing programs quickly and with eligibility conditions that rely on self-attestation,” the report concludes. Certainly. But sometimes maybe the state should still take that risk. 

Q: What’s Black and White and Read All Over?

A: The Prison Mirror, which has been published at the Minnesota Correctional Facility–Stillwater since 1887, making it one of the oldest prison newspapers in the country. (Note: For that headline to work best you have to imagine the incarcerated wearing old-timey stripes.) Meg Anderson and Kerem Yücel at MPR News take a look at the workings of that publication today and the experience that many inmate receives. Some will go on to become productive members of society, though others may instead become journalists.

To compare dates, the Minnesota Pioneer, from which the Pioneer Press descends, was founded in 1849. The Minnesota Tribune, which would later join with the Daily Star to become the Star-Tribune, launched in 1867. And, of course, the oldest publication in Minnesota is Racket, which will celebrated its 200th anniversary this summer. [citation needed]

Oh, before I go, may I vent quickly? I do NOT like the redesign of the MPR News site. OK, I feel better now.  

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