Xcel really gets around — it we knew how far those tentacles reached…


Candidate questions Kelly link to Xcel exec

Jackie Crosby, Star Tribune
August 30, 2005

St. Paul mayoral candidate Elizabeth Dickinson questioned Monday whether Mayor Randy Kelly could legally allow a top Xcel Energy executive to raise money for his campaign while at the same time the city is negotiating a new franchise agreement with the energy company. Kelly’s office and campaign strongly denied any wrongdoing.

Dickinson, the Green Party candidate, stopped short of accusing the mayor of breaking any laws, but said: “I think that a lot of people looking at this would say it may not pass the smell test.”

Dickinson, who has a combative history with Xcel Energy over its coal-producing High Bridge plant in St. Paul, held a news conference in front of City Hall to question whether Kelly violated the city’s “ex parte contacts” ordinance after Steve Schmidt, Xcel’s manager of local government relations, was among the hosts of a fundraiser for Kelly on Aug. 17. “Ex parte” is a legal term that refers to one-sided communication in a contested matter.

The franchise fee agreement with Xcel grants the company rights to provide natural gas and electricity using city streets and other rights of way. It is renegotiated every 10 years and will expire in mid-2006. The city is in the early stages of the process, with formal negotiations expected to begin in October.

St. Paul City Attorney Manuel Cervantes said “ex parte” laws apply to conversations, not social functions, fundraisers or relationships.

“As long as you’re not in communication about the issues that are on the franchise negotiation table, the prohibition is not in place,” he said.

Nancy Haas, Kelly’s chief of staff, said Dickinson’s claims were unfounded.

“The mayor understands the law and the sensitivities involved in contract negotiations,” Haas said. “He has never had a conversation with Steve Schmidt regarding a material issue in this case.”

A spokeswoman at Xcel Energy also said no “ex parte” conversations have occurred regarding the franchise renegotiation. Mary Sandok said in a statement that Xcel encourages employees to be politically active, “recognizing that such involvement is strictly voluntary and shall take place on the employee’s own time.”

Schmidt has been the liaison between the city and Xcel Energy during this pre-negotiation stage, said Matt Smith, St. Paul’s finance director and chair of the negotiating committee.

Schmidt is a civic booster who was crowned King Boreas of the St. Paul Winter Carnival in January. He was one of about 35 people putting on the fundraiser, Kelly’s campaign said.

“Steve Schmidt is an active citizen of St. Paul and has the same freedoms as every other American to be active in the political process,” said Vince Musik, a spokesman for Kelly’s campaign.

Dickinson has made renegotiating the franchise agreement a campaign issue. This year, fees from Xcel Energy will bring about $17 million to the city, the third-largest revenue source behind property taxes and the state’s local government aid.

Dickinson has proposed increasing the franchise fees paid by residents to raise $1 million to $2 million, which she would use to pay for public safety.

Dickinson said she is not planning to make a formal complaint against Kelly or his campaign at this time.

Jackie Crosby is at jcrosby@startribune.com


Thanks to St. Paul Mayoral Candidate Elizabeth Dickinson for shining the light on this connection.


Here’s her website. I know her from her work on the Clean Water Action Alliance Board, and appreciate her courage in testifying against the Mesaba project, when environmental groups supposedly concerned about coal and central station power were utterly absent, and she was one of us few who testified.


This example of the influence of Xcel is all too familiar. I remember when Todd Rapp, former House Speaker Phil Carruthers’ top guy, went over to the dark side… there was a rash of this back then, haven’t looked at that file in years, let’s see, there was Mary Krinkie, Jill Sletten, Tony Kliwas (?), who else… I’ll dig up the file and fill in the blanks soon.


TODD RAPP, FORMER aide to House Speaker Phil Carruthers (DFL-Brooklyn Park), this week starts work at Northern States Power managing state-government relations. Recently, Rapp stirred controversy at the Legislature when it was rumored that he would be taking the NSP position shortly after attending a legislative junket to California to study energy deregulation. At the time, Rapp said he was planning to take a month off before deciding where he would land. He stayed home after Sen. John Marty (DFL-Roseville) and Rep. Alice Hausman (DFL-St. Paul) pointed out the conflict posed by Rapp’s taking both the trip and the NSP job.

“It must have been a wonderfully lucky guess,” Marty quips of his prediction, adding that it’d be disappointing if Rapp took the job at NSP last month but didn’t announce it because it would look bad. “If the goal was to take a month’s break, then say I’m going to take a long break and then go work for NSP,” Marty says. “If this was an attempt to minimize criticism for the revolving door, they have consequently shown that it is a concern.”

Todd Rapp went to NSP not long after his boss, then Speaker Phil Carruthers, did a deal that left me wondering — Carruthers wanted NSP to have the option of putting nuclear waste in Florence Township, and he wanted it bad. At the time I represented Florence Township, and we were trying for a repeal of the “Alternate Site Mandate.” Carruthers did a deal with Steve Sviggum that showed up in Rep. Phyllis Kahn’s Gov Ops committee, and in this deal he would give up the DFL’s minimum wage increase to KEEP Florence Township stuck with nuclear waste under the “Alternate Site Mandate” (Can you think of a positive rationale for this?). Kahn and Rep. Tommy Rukavina were brilliant, they separated the two sections out, and first outed Carruthers on the minimum wage, and he gave it up and that amendment passed, and then had the committee vote on repealing the alternate site mandate, and that passed too, and Carrthers was furious! The repeal went forward (but ultimately failed). It was one of the most informative moments in politics I’ve ever experienced!

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