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Daily Glean: Strib defaults on payment — and clear headlines

By David Brauer | Tuesday, July 1, 2008
In Tuesday’s local news roundup, the Strib breaks the news of its own loan default but opts for rosier language. Also, the archbishop gets ripped off. And: From an ACORN, a Mike Hatch controversy grows.

The Strib reports a prominent local business missed a debt payment to lenders. That’s a default, right? Not to Strib headline writers, who variously write the company “withholds some pay to lenders” and “declined to make” the payment. The company in question? Why, it’s the Strib! Kudos to the paper’s Neal St. Anthony for breaking the story, and getting the d-word into the text.

More Strib: The paper paid lenders who hold nearly $400 million, but reneged on $96 million in “second-tier” debt. Publisher Chris Harte says owners have the cash, but are hoarding it as they try to restructure their borrowing in the face of steep —but unenumerated — 2008 revenue declines. One analyst speculates senior debt holders signed off on the junior debt holders getting screwed. The screwees could wind up with equity in the struggling paper.

Archbishop John Nienstadt’s place was ripped off; burglars stole “gem- and precious-metal-laden rings and crosses” that are irreplacable, an archdiocesan spokesman tells the Strib’s Anthony Lonetree. Early Saturday morning, while Nienstadt was in Rome, burglars climbed up a first-floor roof and broke into a 3-to-4-inch-thick second-floor window. Police say the perps were familiar with the residence, and also took a small safe and rosaries. The spokesman says, “I don’t think 50 Cent would wear” the heavy crosses.

Minnesota’s last two attorneys general are under fire for shady-seeming settlements, everyone reports. Mike Hatch and his deputy-turned-successor Lori Swanson settled a credit-card suit in 2006 for $749,999; a buck more meant it all had to go the state treasury. Instead, $249,000 went to activst group ACORN, which endorsed Hatch’s gubernatorial bid three weeks later. The legislative auditor terms this “suspicious,” according to the Strib’s Pat Doyle, but not law-breaking. Swanson signed the settlement.

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More Hatch: Legislative Auditor Jim Nobles isn’t conducting a formal investigation — yet — but may seek more information. The Legislature created out the $750K standard in 2005, and might want to revisit it, Nobles says. Hatch said the credit-card company suggested the ACORN payment, and a judge signed off. MPR’s Tim Pugmire notes that Hatch accuses his chief legislative antagonist, DFL Rep. Steve Simon, of exacting payback for losing a job in the AG’s office; Simon says the questions he’s raising are genuine.

The state AG’s office won’t appeal a ruling overturning the state’s proposed $25 fine for underagers buying violent video games. Finance & Commerce’s Arundhati Parmar says the state saves $19,000 in plaintiff’s lawyers’ fees by not appealing to the U.S. Supreme Court. The state has coughed up $65,000 to opposing attorneys.

KSTP reports Inver Grove Heights police won’t charge a Channel 5 news crew, or Tarik ibn Zayad Academy leaders, for a camera-grabbing scuffle there last month. KSTP faced trespassing charges; Arabic-language charter school leaders, assault.

Democrats are banging on Norm Coleman’s $600-a-month D.C. rent deal. MPR’s Tom Scheck says DFLers may file a Senate ethics complaint over the “discount.” Coleman calls the space “cramped,” but the Strib’s Kevin Duchshere says a 2007 listing noted an “airy guest bedroom and bath,” media center and oak bar (but no kitchen). I stayed in a Capitol Hill row house just last week; the one-bedroom basement unit cost $1,300 a month. KARE’s Scott Goldberg adds some fun back-and-forth.

On the local real estate front, regulations means less affordable housing, writes the PiPress’s Bob Shaw as he wraps up a three-part series. Regs add “at least” 20 percent to costs by favoring large homes on large lots, Shaw notes. Other rules include “tornado-safe” rooms in town homes without basements, lined with Kevlar, the fabic in police bullet-proof vests. One ‘burb demanded a cul-de-sac able to handle fire trucks bigger than the community owned.

The Strib’s Nick Coleman says Metro Transit shouldn’t raise fares just as new riders are climbing on. There’s a 25-cent hike coming this fall and perhaps 50 cents next year, meaning $7 express round-trips. How would the $15 million shortfall be covered? A Metro Transit “rainy day” fund, a “small addition” to the brand-new quarter-cent transit sales tax and shifting funds from roads, Coleman argues.

Charter school students perform more poorly than traditional public ones, but the charters’ financial stability is improving even though more oversight is needed, the legislative auditor says. The PiPress’s Doug Belden calls performance differences “minor” when you control for student demographics, but the paper’s editorialists term the lingering gap “sobering.” The Strib’s Norman Draper writes that 13 percent of charters were in financial trouble last year, compared with 25 percent in 2002.

In the suddenly interesting world of grain prices, recent floods wiped out less of the corn crop than expected, the Strib’s Matt McKinney reports. Only 2 percent succumbed, and corn futures fell the maximum 30 cents per bushel to $7.24, the PiPress’s Tom Webb writes. Prices had been over $8 a bushel.

St. Paul’s first high-rise condo in 20 years was terminated yesterday. The Strib’s Susan Feyder and Jim Buchta write that only 80 of the 313 units were pre-sold in the 33-story Penfield tower. The PiPress’s Gita Sitaramiah says apartments are part of a new development plan to be announced within the month; one otherwise mum council member calls the repurposing “spectacular.” In Minneapolis, 715 units have been pulled from the market in the past year.

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Nearly 13,900 abortions were performed in Minnesota last year, down 1.57 percent from 2006. The Strib’s Paul Walsh says the 2007 number is a bit higher than 2005 or 2004. Abortions peaked at 19,028 in 1980.

WCCO’s Frank Vascellaro profiles Luverne, Minn., where city leaders will rebate “$2,000 per family member” for building on city-owned lots. The Chamber of Commerce in the 4,600-person town near Sioux Falls also forks over $10,000 in gifts and coupons. Five people have put money down, officials say.

The PiPress’s Frederick Melo profiles a local megachurch that’s a “haven for outsiders and skeptics.” Crossroads Church features blogs, video ads, podcasts with pulpit presenations like “Porn Sunday,” about struggling with Internet erotica. Another topic: why are women Biblical second-class citizens? The 1,700-member church is expanding to Eagan this summer. The church is affiliated with the Lutheran denomination responsible for Minnehaha Academy.

A Burnsville numismatist is selling a 22-pound gold coin for $1 million, the PiPress’s Nicole Garrison-Sprenger reports. The Chinese government made it for the Olympics.

Related, maybe: In the neverending list of survey stories, says Minneapolis is the nation’s fourth-best city to build wealth. The Business Journal reports Plano, Texas, ranked first among 69 locales. The survey looked at salaries, cost of living and unemployment rates.

Nort spews: the Twins bullpen coughs up a lead and Detroit wins 5-4. Welcome back to the American League.