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Serving Northern St. Louis County, Minnesota

GUNDERSEN TRUST

Trust board differs over mission, membership

Marshall Helmberger
Posted 6/24/20

TOWER— On Monday, a trust board that oversees nearly a million dollars in funds here expressed considerable uncertainty about the makeup of its board and what, if any, funds it can disburse to …

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GUNDERSEN TRUST

Trust board differs over mission, membership

Posted

TOWER— On Monday, a trust board that oversees nearly a million dollars in funds here expressed considerable uncertainty about the makeup of its board and what, if any, funds it can disburse to benefit the community.
Members of the Gundersen Trust Board differed sharply over whether they can, or must, spend $224,139 in funds that are above and beyond a base funding amount that must be retained as the trust’s corpus.
The trust board has disbursed almost nothing from the trust over the past decade as most of its investments are yielding less than one-percent interest annually. The trust is required by a court order to reinvest an amount each year into the trust’s corpus that’s equal to the consumer price index, which has limited the amount the trust can distribute.
Board member Steve Wilson, a recent appointee to the board, noted that the trust’s legal documents state that the trust “shall” disburse funds that are not otherwise encumbered by the reinvestment requirement and it appears that over the years, the amount of unspent funds has increased, although no one on the trust board seemed clear about how the extra funds had been generated. Wilson’s argument to use the trust for community projects or the city budget has found little traction with some others on the board in the recent past, who have argued that the $224,139 is restricted. Wilson recently brought the issue to the city’s auditor. In response to Wilson’s questions, auditor Devin Ceglar confirmed that the funds in question are “restricted,” but only in that they would need to be spent for the purposes outlined in the trust’s founding documents. Under the trust’s original court-approved mission, 75 percent of the available funds are to be disbursed to the city of Tower, while ten percent is earmarked for community education and 15 percent for recreation.
Board member and trust treasurer Eric Norberg questioned why Wilson had talked to the city’s auditor without talking to him. Wilson said he thought his questions were policy-related, not a matter of finances.
Ceglar did encourage the trust board to consult with the city’s attorney on the question, and Wilson proposed a motion to bring three related questions to the city’s attorney. But that motion failed on a 3-2 vote, with Norberg, board chair Sheldon Majerle, and board member Victoria Ranua voting no. Ranua said she wanted to see a more comprehensive list of questions for the attorney to be approved at the trust board’s next meeting, set for July 9.
Norberg said that would be too soon for him to develop any questions.
Wilson said that he has tried before to get answers to his questions about uses of the trust’s resources as well as the trust’s investment strategy, which has been mostly limited to certificates of deposit paying less than one percent interest. “I hope that people follow through this time; the history of this commission has been to not follow through,” he said.
Norberg said he resented the comment.
Members of the board clearly differed on the purposes of the trust. Wilson said he’d like to see the trust utilize its available funds to support community projects and the city’s budget, as it did in the past. Majerle disagreed, noting how the assets of the trust have grown over the years. “I’ve been on the trust board since the beginning and I’m proud of the fact that we started out with [approximately $350,000] and now have over a million dollars,” he said. “I don’t want anything spent.”
Wilson said he’s trying to understand the trust’s legal obligations and options. “We don’t want to manage the trust based on our personal opinions,” he said.
Ranua noted that the recently-completed audit on the trust recommended that the trust board establish a budget and she suggested it might help to resolve some of the current disagreement. “Maybe we wouldn’t have so much uncertainty about what resources are available,” she said.
The uncertainty extended even to the membership of the trust board, which has been unclear for years. A document purportedly from the city’s 2020 reorganization shows both Wilson and his wife and city council member Mary Shedd on the trust board, but Shedd denied this week that she’s a member and was not present at Monday’s board meeting. Jesse Gornick questioned whether Mike Larson was a member of the board, but no one seemed to know for sure. The issue seemed to resolve itself when Gornick contacted Larson, who told him he didn’t want to serve on the board.
Based on the latest reorganization, Ranua appears to have been added to the board with an unknown term, but a couple board members suggested that her position was a non-voting seat. Ranua said she had reviewed the trust’s founding documents and found no authorization for non-voting members and no one objected later when she voted on motions made.
The posting of the meeting was also irregular. While a hand-written notice of the special meeting was posted on the doorway to city hall three days ahead of the meeting by Majerle, the notice did not list the location of the meeting nor the agenda, as is required by the state’s Open Meeting Law. In addition, documents distributed to some trust board members during the meeting were not made available to the media, as is also required by the Open Meeting Law.

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