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EDITORIAL: The answers on the Albert Lea city credit card issue

This news story was published on January 6, 2012.
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Albert Lea Tribune, Minn.

We can provide answers to the questions posed by letter writer Kathy Diaz today. In fact, we spoke on the phone with her, thanked her for her feedback and said we would reply as an editorial. So here it is:

Months ago, the Tribune indeed asked questions of Albert Lea Police Chief Dwaine Winkels and Albert Lea City Attorney Lee Bjorndal about why Jim Norman was investigated and prosecuted for personal expenses on the city credit card but others, such as former Finance Director Rhonda Moen, were not for basically doing a similar thing, at least according to court testimony. And we still have our notes about those conversations with Winkels and Bjorndal.

Both men said before an investigation can begin into such matters someone with knowledge of the situation must file a complaint. For instance, in the Norman case, Moen filed the complaint.

Thus, Albert Lea now is in a situation where — even though some testimony in court shed light on personal expenses on the city credit card — if no one is willing to push the issue, then no investigation or charges will be brought.

Moreover, we would like to point out, who — it must be someone with proper knowledge — would file the complaint? Former City Manager Victoria Simonsen? Moen herself? Doubtful.

On top of that, the state Auditor’s Office reviewed the case last summer and determined no further action was necessary, which in itself would be enough of a reasonable doubt to make prosecution quite difficult.

The City Council and its staff determined during the effort to hire yet another city manager that they just wanted to put the ugly episode behind them and move forward. The past is in the past, along with the past administrations. The city passed a new, more stringent credit card policy, hired a new city manager, said farewell to the finance director and moved on.

The reason City Hall might seem unwilling to deal with the issue now is A. they want to move on, B. the people who work there now pretty much are not in a position to do anything about it, and C. if they wanted to, the auditor advised against it.

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