Xcel flying high on your dime, Hecker in contempt

Those dang nosy private citizens and their Internets. There’ll be plenty of chatter about the story Jennifer Bjorhus and Suzanne Ziegler put together for the Strib this morning. It fits into a sadly familiar theme: Corporate executives living the luxe life and, one way or another, foisting the tab off on the rubes. In this case the rubes would be you and me, customers of Xcel Energy. The story chronicles the details of a couple of private jets Xcel keeps in almost constant rotation between here and Denver, plus a few sweet perks on the side.

Almost all of Xcel’s $5.8 million annual corporate aviation budget for operating and maintaining the two planes is charged back to ratepayers in the eight states where it does business,” says the story, which appears to have been sparked by the curiosity of a Lakeville dad and his kid tracking jet traffic on the web.

Almost peripheral to that is this: “Minnesota electric ratepayers picked up $663 of the $1,699 Xcel’s chief financial officer spent for one night at the Mandarin Oriental Hotel in London and paid $36,149 of the $113,753 Xcel spent for a retreat for the board of directors at the luxury Ritz Carlton Bachelor’s Gulch in Beaver Creek, Colo.” I mean a board can’t really “retreat” unless they’re at a Ritz-Carlton.

The Strib story also quotes the inevitable Xcel flack explaining, “the planes fit the company’s green focus because they improve productivity, enabling it to tackle environmental goals.” Right. Like driving a Hummer out to check on the solar panels. Anyway, a good story. Considering their assertions the other day at that “Future of News” event, when was the last time MPR did a piece embarrassing a major corporate, um, “partner”?

Contempt of court? Denny Hecker?
There must be some misunderstanding, your honor. If there is, Hecker has until Monday to clear it up. The bankruptcy judge presiding over his labyrinthine mess has had enough of the, uh, delays, in explaining where the money has gone (and where it came from). The judge wants to see, ” … bank records, wire transfers, tax records, documentation of cash and gifts to girlfriend Christi Rowan, lodging, travel and other expense documents, utility bills for two of Hecker’s mansions, and accounting ledgers for Hecker’s Northstate Financial Corp., New Dimension Advisors and Inver Grove Investments.” Hecker’s attorney explains, like, you know, it ain’t easy, judge, and “he was doing his best, considering that he and Hecker are dealing with a complicated bankruptcy case, Hecker’s divorce and 12 other lawsuits.” Here’s Dee DePass’s story in the Strib.

The PiPress story, filed by MaryJo Webster, captures a bit of the judge’s exasperation with Hecker’s bookkeeping. Looking at a stack of papers presented by Hecker’s attorney he says, “You think you’ve complied. But I’m going to take a wild guess here that the trustee is going to disagree with that, just knowing how this case is going.” Ha!

Meanwhile, Tom Petters says he couldn’t be more innocent. David Phelps’ Strib story has Petters telling jurors, “ ‘I’m not good at numbers. I’m not good at financial statements. I’m not good at a lot of things. You probably realize that by now.’ ” Those darn underlings apparently just ran amok, especially after his son was killed in Italy. In John Welbes’ piece in the PiPress Petters compares trusting those underlings to believing in Santa Claus. “The whole thing is now preposterous to even imagine,” Petters is quoted saying, referring, you know, to the actions of … others.

Chicago Business reports a lawsuit filed yesterday by a hedge fund called Ritchie Capital Management LLC. Ritchie floated Petters $100 million to swing the Polaroid deal. Says the story, “CEO Thane Ritchie pressed his claims to Polaroid’s assets in the Petters bankruptcy case only to be turned down twice. Judge Ann Montgomery, who put the Petters companies into receivership after Mr. Petters’ indictment, told the hedge fund in April to stand in line with other creditors.” And good luck there, Mr. Ritchie.

Ten years after the Shubert Theater was wheeled a couple of blocks over to Hennepin Avenue, work will begin tomorrow on its restoration. MPR’s Chris Robert files a piece which explains that the Shubert will be connected to the Hennepin Center for the Arts by a new structure and that seating space — the Academy movie theater in its’ last incarnation before moving — will be reduced by half. “The theater will be re-configured as a custom designed dance venue with a seating capacity that’s been cut in half from the originally planned 1,000 seats … what will set the theater apart will be its unmatched acoustics and sightlines. Two original balconies will be replaced by a bank of seats that reaches back no further than 65-feet away from the stage.”

A survey of likely consumer spending that included work by staff from St. Thomas predicts shoppers will again spend less on Christmas this year. A story by Gita Sitamariah in the PiPress puts numbers modestly down from ’08, in the 1-3 percent range, but disappointing to retailers hoping — hoping — consumption would rebound from last year’s sales. Low spending, of course, means freewheeling entrepreneurs dealing in excess merchandise will have plenty of product to move in early ’10.

The unallotment ax has fallen on HCMC
. MPR’s story explains, “The hospital is the largest provider of health care to the state’s poor and uninsured and has been hard hit by Gov. Tim Pawlenty’s elimination of the $381 million General Assistance Medical Care program for poor adults in May to help balance the state budget. HCMC assumes it will lose $43 million due to the elimination of that program in 2010 and $50 million in 2011, by far the largest losses of any single institution in the state. At the same time, it assumes its cost for treating uninsured and underinsured patients will rise.” Do you think?

After years of creating ever larger stores, Target is seriously thinking of a compact version. Bloomberg’s Laurie Coleman-Lochner reports that The Bull’s-eye is looking at action at a Brooklyn store that might be a model for future urban locations. Also, she writes, from a conference call with CEO Greg Steinhafel, that, “Target [which plans to open another 100 stores next year] isn’t limited to building or renovating retail space. The retailer may consider former industrial sites, auto dealerships or demolished shopping mall grounds,” he said. “The company converted the site of a former Twinkie factory for one store.” They really need to talk to Denny Hecker.

Remember Allen Quist?
Well, he’s baaack. He announced yesterday that he will run against First District Rep. Tim Walz. His announcement was widely covered. Here it is on the Minnesota Democrats Exposed site. The 65-year-old Quist, as you might expect, is opposed to everything the Obama administration is doing … and Walz is voting for. He says without attribution, “The Cap and Trade bill will add $6,800 per year of higher energy costs for every family of four and the Health Care bill, which is supposed to reduce medical costs, will actually increase total costs by over $100 billion each year.

With Sarah Palin all over the news
, we had to check in with conservative bloggers like Fraters Libertas, for their reaction to her publicity tour. This is good. “There’s nothing wrong with defending a politician whom you generally agree with when they’re under assault, especially when that assault is being mounted by forces that you adamantly oppose. But that defense should not extend to a blanket of support of all the actions that a politician undertakes or policies they espouse. Again, I think that on too many occasions conservatives fell into that trap with President Bush. And I think that some degree of the conservative backing that Palin enjoys is similarly founded. If the Democrats, feminists, media elites, and Beltway insiders despise her so, then she must deserve our full-fledged support. While that sentiment is understandable, it’s one that conservatives should resist this time around. Let Sarah Palin earn our support. And let her earn it for all the right reasons.”

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