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Mayor, publisher issue retraction demand over Tower News libel

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TOWER— Tower Mayor Orlyn Kringstad and Timberjay Publisher Marshall Helmberger have issued retraction demands to Tower Ambulance Supervisor Steve Altenburg and Tower News Publisher Gary Albertson in response to a false and defamatory “news story” published in the Tower News under Mr. Altenburg’s byline.

The story repeated false claims that Mr. Altenburg has made previously at Tower City Council meetings and at other venues about the history of a 2017 IRRRB grant to the Tower Economic Development Authority. TEDA served as a pass-through for $125,000 in IRRRB gap funding for start-up costs related to the proposed town home development at the city’s harbor. That project has been on hold for years as the city has been unable to deliver a completed plat, which is required before the developers can move forward with their plan.

In his story, which the Tower News published on its front page on Sept. 13, Mr. Altenburg accused the mayor and publisher of fraud surrounding the loan, although he provided no evidence for his claim. His story contained numerous factual errors, several of which were libelous.

Kringstad and Helmberger have submitted retraction demands to both Altenburg and Albertson, which is required before parties can pursue legal action for defamation. Kringstad said he normally prefers to ignore “demeaning remarks, criticism, and even slander,” that appears in the media. “There comes a point however at which “no comment” simply doesn’t cut it and skewed, erroneous and slanderous statements need to be called out and stopped,” he stated. “ I think we’ve reached that point now.  The individuals in question publicly stated in the early days after I was elected that their plan was to ‘take me down’, ‘run me out of town’, and make sure that ‘2019 would be a miserable year for me’ [and the new council].  In recent weeks malicious ‘banter’ and dangerous statements, in and outside of public meetings, have been made that cannot be tolerated.” 

The retraction demand requires that Altenburg and Albertson provide evidence of Mr. Altenburg’s claims or retract them in the Tower News, along with an apology. The retraction demands will be available on the Timberjay’s website at timberjay.com.

Helmberger has also published a detailed rebuttal to the Altenburg/Albertson defamation, which appears above on this page. Kringstad said he is eager to keep his focus on the needs of the city. “The vast majority of citizens, both in Tower and in the surrounding townships, expect progressive, decisive leadership in Tower,” he said. “Open, honest and transparent city government, progressive economic development, and respect and dignity for public officials can no longer be deterred by a few individuals who have negative biases, agendas and poor judgement which harm the majority.”

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