I know I speak for all of you when I say we’re pleased UnitedHealth is doing so well it will begin offering annual dividends of 50 cents per share. The Strib’s Chen May Yee reports that the Minnetonka health insurance colossus is, um, tolerating the recession quite well, all things considered. “Coming in the midst of a historic restructuring of the health care system, the move should pacify jittery shareholders wondering if the company will see profits squeezed by new regulations. ‘I’d call it reassurance,’ said David Heupel, a portfolio manager with Thrivent Asset Management in Minneapolis. ‘The idea of these guys being able to pay out this amount of cash year in, year out gives a fair amount of comfort to investors.’ ” I don’t doubt it does. Yee adds, “UnitedHealth, which is America’s biggest health insurer by revenue, already has a sizable cash cushion. At the end of the quarter ended March 31, it reported it had $11.1 billion in cash and other short-term investments.” And how’s your 401(k) doing?
A less-heralded story notes that UnitedHealth shareholders voted down a “say on pay” proposal similar to what companies like General Mills have instituted in recent years in response to gargantuan “compensation” to top executives. Katharine Grayson of the Business Journal files a cursory report: “The proposal would have given shareholders an advisory vote on compensation granted to executives at the Minnetonka-based health insurer. Nearly 46 percent of shareholders voted for the say on pay measure, which the company’s board of directors opposed.” Yeah, I’ll bet they opposed that one. Oh, also, says Grayson, “At UnitedHealth’s (NYSE: UNH) meeting, shareholders also voted down a proposal that would have required the company to disclose lobbying expenses. Only 7.3 percent of shareholders backed it.”
The Met Council voted to build the Southwest LRT into downtown Minneapolis from Eden Prairie. The Finance and Commerce story, by Bill Clements says: “The proposed path of the train would run through Minnetonka, Hopkins and St. Louis Park on its way between downtown Minneapolis and Eden Prairie. It would link up with the Central Corridor and the region’s first light rail route, Hiawatha, at the new Target Field Station. It would also connect there with the recently opened Northstar commuter rail line that goes northwest to Big Lake.” He notes: “The vote to create the estimated $1.25 billion Southwest Corridor LRT comes a day after the region got word that its second light rail route — the Central Corridor connecting downtown Minneapolis with St. Paul — could enter the ‘final design’ stage, essentially ensuring the federal government will pay half of that $957 million project.” Dang Big Gummint wasting money, again!
If it isn’t Robyne Robinson you gotta believe it’ll be a different female. That’s how we do things when we go looking for lieutenant governors in Minnesota. The past week’s frankly unproductive chatter about how serious DFL candidate Matt Entenza is about putting former Fox9 anchor Robyne Robinson on the ticket with him is supposed to end this morning … via a Twitter announcement. (So hip! So techy!) KARE’s John Croman reports, “Entenza did not go as far as saying he had invited Robinson to join the ticket. He said there’s an appetite in the voting public for a political outsider.”
The talker of the last few hours though is Strib TV critic Neal Justin’s unusually sharp blog post, titled “Why Robyne Robinson Shouldn’t Get to Say Goodbye.” Says Justin: “And while we’re on the subject of crossing the line: I’m concerned about the relationship between Robyne and her publicist Kate Iverson. Robyne has openly praised L’Etoile magazine, which just happens to be run by Iverson. A few months ago, there was a story in City Pages about Robyne designing jewelry for Beyonce written by, yep, Iverson. The story desperately needed fact checking (insiders say it was greatly exaggerated) and an acknowledgement of their personal relationship. Neither happened. These are issues that should concern local media involved these matters. I’m disappointed that it hasn’t appeared to be a priority.” If it was a priority, maybe the Strib should have published Justin’s piece in the “official” dead-tree edition, perhaps squeezing its vital coverage of “American Idol”.
Meanwhile the Entenza campaign, floating on a deep sea of UnitedHealth money (see lead story here), thanks to his wife, ex-UnitedHealth exec, Lois Quam, is burning through cash at a startling rate. Betsy Sundquist of Politics in Minnesota writes: “Entenza, one of three DFL gubernatorial candidates whose name will appear on the Aug. 10 primary ballot, has dropped nearly half a million dollars in the last month on TV commercials airing on the network affiliate stations in the Twin Cities metropolitan area — and so far he’s the only candidate for governor who has purchased TV airtime anywhere in the state. Yet so far, in spite of his willingness to spend huge bucks to beef up his name recognition statewide (and in spite of reports that he has said more than once that he’ll spend ‘whatever it takes’ to win the election), his campaign appears to be the one with the least traction in the race to succeed Gov. Tim Pawlenty.” She asks veteran ad man Bill Hillsman for an opinion and gets this: ” ‘I would be concerned if I was Entenza and I’d spent that amount of money and hadn’t gotten any traction … that amounts to spending a lot of money and not getting any return on your investment in polling numbers.’ ”
So much for that wonders-and-beauty-of-nature thing. The PiPress (via the Associated Press) has the story of four Iowa kids on a church camp-out meeting up with a raccoon. It didn’t end well for the animal. “[T]he teens were on a church youth group camping trip with the Third Reformed Church in Pella. Investigators said the teens made a crude snare to trap the raccoon and managed to catch it. The teens told authorities that they didn’t know how to free the animal, so they beat it to death. Another camper called authorities.” Bad day for Rocky, huh?
Emerald ash borers, meet the forest tent caterpillars. Stephanie Hemphill from MPR files a story on the latest critter scourge chowing down on Minnesota trees. “This year the caterpillars are stalking trees in the Twin Cities in much greater numbers than usual. Chris Boche, St. Paul’s arborist, said he hasn’t seen this kind of attack in his 35 years with the city. ‘I remember the canker worm wars we used to have, but the tent caterpillar is real sporadic, and we don’t have trees they like here,’ Boche said. ‘They love aspen, that’s why they have the outbreak up in Duluth. They’ll eat for two or three years, there’ll be a big population, and then they’ll just disappear.’ Nearly everything about this caterpillar is ishy. Adam Robbins points to some brown scum on the paving at Kellogg Park. ‘That’s actually the caterpillar excrement, called frass. It’ll fall on our park benches, it’ll fall on areas where people like to eat lunch.’ ” Yeah, I’d call that “ishy,” too.
So the cop who piled up his car at 4 in the morning walked away from it and later claimed he had been car-jacked is only the latest in a tough run for the Hastings PD. Nick Ferraro of the PiPress writes: “The charges against [Donald] Farrington are among a string of criminal cases the department has been dealing with over the past two years involving members of its ranks. In August, former Hastings officer Anthony Todd Miller was sentenced to five years in prison and 10 years of supervised release after driving around the city during work hours watching child pornography on his personal laptop computer. In February, Patrol Sgt. Valerie Scharfe was convicted of misdemeanor disorderly conduct after filing traffic tickets against people she’d never met. In a separate matter a month earlier, Scharfe, who had threatened to sue the police department for workplace harassment, received $105,000 in a legal settlement with the city. And in 2008, officer Rene Doffing was accused of ramming a fleeing suspect with his car. The man, who injured his knee, received $11,000 in a legal settlement stemming from the incident. But prosecutors dropped all criminal charges against Doffing.” Where are they getting these people, off the craigslist personals?
He may be a piker, compared with Tom Petters. But the lawyer, who allegedly embezzled $2 million from his clients and the firm with which he was a partner, was hit with a federal wire fraud charge Wednesday. Paul Walsh of the Strib explains: “Michael S. Margulies, 56, of Minneapolis, was charged in federal court Wednesday in Minneapolis with wire fraud, alleging he carried out years of embezzling about $2 million for [uh, I think that’s supposed to be from] his clients and the Lindquist & Vennum firm.” It seems a load of the cash was poured into renovations on his not exactly modest home. “Margulies primarily used the money for extensive renovations at 516 Summit Av., a historic brick mansion in St. Paul that he shared with his wife until they were divorced last year, according to a Ramsey County District Court lawsuit filed last month by a development firm that was among his clients. The home is now for sale for $1.75 million.”
Further still down the ladder of financial malfeasance is the tale of the mayor of Eden Prairie. Laurie Blake of the Strib reports that “Eden Prairie Mayor Phil Young filed expense claims totaling nearly $1,000 for 26 meetings that he did not attend, including six that did not take place, City Hall records show.” The story notes that, “Young, an attorney in private practice, is a tax-conscious Republican. He is running for reelection in the fall.”