VIRGINIA, Minn. -- A former Tower mayor and current city clerk on suspension were charged last week with criminal misconduct in State District Court in Virginia in connection with the removal of a local newspaper’s publisher from an economic development organization.
Former Mayor Josh Carlson and suspended city Clerk Linda Keith of this northeastern Minnesota community have been charged with a gross misdemeanor of misconduct by a public officer, which carries a sentence of up to one year in prison and a $3,000 fine. Keith was put on paid administrative in June.
The Tower Economic Development Authority is a board that acts as an agent for the city of Tower to stimulate business investment and economic growth within the city of Tower. Tower City Council organizational meeting minutes from January 2017 show Timberjay Publisher Marshall Helmberger was appointed to TEDA for a three-year term ending at the end of 2019.
The organizational meeting minutes for the following year no longer showed Helmberger as a member of TEDA. official meeting minutes during this time period were prepared by Keith.
According to court documents, on Feb. 7 the St. Louis County Sheriff’s Office began an investigation regarding the alleged misconduct. The investigation determined the city of Tower 2017 organizational chart had been altered after the 2018 meeting to show that Helmberger was only appointed to a one-year term, court documents said. This chart is maintained by Keith as well.
According to court documents, Helmberger provided the investigator from the sheriff’s office with a recording of the January 2018 Tower City Council reorganizational meeting. On the recording, then-mayor Carlson could be heard making a recommendation to remove Helmberger from TEDA.
Had Helmberger’s term truly expired the motion would have been moot. Minnesota state law states commissioners may be removed from boards with cause, but also requires removal after notice, opportunity to be heard and a formal hearing. No just actions were made, according to court documents.
Carlson confirmed to investigators that the city minutes from January 2017 were accurate but didn’t know why the TEDA board documents given to then-Mayor-elect Orlyn Kringstand by Keith showed an alteration of commissioner terms, court documents said.
According to court documents, an email sent in December 2017 from Keith to then-city councilor Kevin Fitton stated “the mayor says for Christmas this year he got me a present which is to take Marshall off of TEDA in January.”
According to court documents, Kringstand confirmed he had found a number of discrepancies between original Tower City County minutes and board appointments after having received notification from Helmberger, both of which are prepared by Keith.
Carlson told investigators he intended to remove Helmberger from TEDA but believed that he had the authority to do so with only a motion and nothing else, based on information he received from Keith, court documents said.
Carlson intended to remove Helmberger because he believed Helmberger acted without proper authority from the City Council in obtaining a grant from the Iron Range Resources and Rehabilitation Board, court documents said. Carlson also admitted he did not give Helmberger any notice of being removed nor did Helmberger ever receive the opportunity to be heard as required under Minnesota state law, court documents said.
Both Kringstand and Helmberger believe documents were altered to make it appear that Helmberger was removed for expiration of his term rather than for cause, court documents said.
Carlson and Fitton believed Helmberger was removed for cause, court documents said.
Carlson's and Keith's next court appearances are scheduled for 8 a.m. Aug. 30 in Virginia.
Tower is about 90 miles north of Duluth.