In the thirty years that we’ve reported the news in northern St. Louis County, we can’t recall a more intentional and dishonest effort to defame a public official as has been directed …
In the thirty years that we’ve reported the news in northern St. Louis County, we can’t recall a more intentional and dishonest effort to defame a public official as has been directed against the new mayor of Tower, Orlyn Kringstad.
As we have reported over the past several months, the effort to defame Mr. Kringstad began from the moment the votes were counted in the mayor’s race last November, leaving Kringstad with a sizable victory over two other candidates. For the small group of individuals who had been operating the city of Tower with virtually no oversight, accountability, or concern for the law, the election result was a serious threat.
From the beginning, clerk-treasurer Linda Keith and her primary political ally, ambulance director Steve Altenburg, began a sustained effort to undermine the new mayor. Keith falsified a city roster of commission and committee terms in an effort to keep her political allies in key positions longer, thereby limiting the new mayor’s ability to shape his new administration. Altenburg accused Kringstad of impropriety in the handling of an Iron Range Resources and Rehabilitation grant to the Tower Economic Development Authority that was converted to a loan to the town home project that Kringstad started, but from which he later divested himself after winning election as mayor.
Altenburg’s claims were baseless. The loan was processed at city hall by Keith and signed off on and wrapped up by the IRRR in August of 2017, just like dozens of similar transactions every year at the agency. It was a non-issue, until Altenburg decided to use it for defamation, with Keith’s assistance. Altenburg and Keith even began surreptitiously video-recording council meetings in which they publicly attacked both Kringstad and Timberjay Publisher Marshall Helmberger, which they then posted to the city’s website.
When their actions appeared to gain little traction, they repackaged the same old tripe into a submission to the state auditor in May, claiming an invoice for architectural services was actually a buy-out of a partner in the project. Architect Dewey Thorbeck pointed out Keith’s error in two separate letters to her, but by that time she was more interested in undermining Kringstad than getting at the facts of the matter. In the end, if there was any impropriety, it was due to Keith’s slipshod management of the grant and loan, since it was Keith who approved the invoice for payment in the first place.
The latest go-round of false charges appeared earlier this month in an anonymous flyer that’s been distributed around the community, most notably at the city’s Fourth of July parade. They are even more ridiculous, suggesting that Kringstad secretly used the TEDA loan funds to buy real estate and a newer pickup truck.
The charges aren’t just false, the people putting them out know that they’re false, or have made no effort to verify the facts, since real estate records are readily available online. Those involved in the dissemination of this anonymous flyer are simply liars, who are intentionally engaged in illegal and actionable defamation of character. Anyone with knowledge of the individuals involved should alert Mayor Kringstad so they can face consequences for their actions.
While running for public office invariably puts one under a spotlight, the kind of abuse that Mr. Kringstad has been subjected to is beyond the pale. Holding a public official accountable for their official acts is appropriate, but inventing false stories from whole cloth and distributing those claims anonymously through the community is the definition of dishonesty and cowardice.
Most people, and we believe that includes Mr. Kringstad, go into public service to help their community. We know from talking to Mr. Kringstad that he wanted to focus on sustainable economic development and restoring a functioning government to city hall— both of which have been lacking for far too long. Instead, he’s been understandably frustrated to see his hopes for a productive administration hampered at the outset by a tiny handful of critics who, it seems, will do anything, including lie, to undermine him. It tells us all we need to know about who these critics really are.