Ramsey does not renew contract of longtime city attorney

After almost 43 years, Bill Goodrich will no longer be Ramsey’s city attorney.

Bill Goodrich was Ramsey's city attorney for nearly 43 years. Photo by Eric Hagen
Bill Goodrich was Ramsey’s city attorney for nearly 43 years. Photo by Eric Hagen

The Randall, Goodrich & Haag firm of Anoka will continue to prosecute misdemeanor and gross misdemeanor cases that the Anoka County Attorney’s Office does not handle.

However, the Ramsey City Council decided to not renew the local attorney’s expiring contract and chose June 25 to hire the downtown Minneapolis-based firm Ratwik, Roszak & Maloney, P.A.

“I do not want to be bitter about anything. I don’t want that to come across at all because I was there 43 years and I definitely have no complaints and am happy to have had the opportunity to be there that long,” Goodrich said.

Goodrich remembers that the Rum River was not always the border between Andover and Ramsey. This did not happen until the two townships became cities in 1974. The city of Andover was previously Grow Township.

He was there when the city began implementing plans for Ramsey Town Center, which was eventually re-branded as the COR. He was around when the landfill was still being used and when the adult bookstore led to a lot of public outcry when it opened along Highway 10.

Councilmember Jason Tossey said Randall, Goodrich & Haag firm has been a steadfast partner for the city.

Councilmember John LeTourneau said Goodrich has provided excellent service to the city of Ramsey and for him the decision had nothing to do with performance.

“It’s not a reflection on Randall and Goodrich (law firm), it’s more our changes,” Tossey said. “It’s like when you break up with someone and you say, ‘It’s not you. It’s me.’”

Joseph Langel
Joseph Langel

Joseph Langel of the Ratwik, Roszak & Maloney, P.A. will be the most visible face to Ramsey residents as the city attorney, but what impressed the council was the resources this firm offers behind the scenes.

The Minneapolis-based firm has 11 attorneys on staff. The Anoka firm has three attorneys. Gerald Randall was an integral partner in this firm, but he died Dec. 29, 2012.

Councilmember Randy Backous said having more attorneys in one firm means they can more easily cover for each other when someone is on vacation or sick.

According to Ramsey City Administrator Kurt Ulrich, the $48,000 annual retainer fee will remain the same, but the non-retainer hourly rates are higher. Goodrich’s firm charged $110 an hour, while Langel’s office charges $145 an hour for most issues except for economic development matters. That hourly rate is $185.

There are certain services such as civil forfeiture or abatement proceedings that were covered under the old city attorney contract that fall under non-retainer fees under the new contract.

However, Ulrich said that the city has often used outside legal counsel for personnel matters. Ratwik, Roszak & Maloney has a better capacity to handle these issues, so this may offset any increase in non-retainer costs.

Tom Bray of Briggs and Morgan in Minneapolis will continue to be the city’s Housing and Redevelopment Authority attorney.

LeTourneau said Ramsey is a growing and changing city that has some complicated issues to deal with including development around the city, which ultimately can lead to zoning and comprehensive plan questions.

Hiring a firm whose only direct exposure to Anoka County politics at this point is in the city of Lino Lakes also appealed to the council.

LeTourneau said he wanted a more regional perspective.

Tossey said there have been a lot of alleged conflict of interest issues in Ramsey, so he wants that perception to go away and feels having a firm with no long-standing local ties will help.

A long history with Ramsey

When Goodrich became the community’s appointed attorney in October 1970, Ramsey was a township with no city sewer and water. People wanted to get away from the urban areas of the Twin Cities and were building on many one-acre and 2.5-acre residential lots.

Residents in opposition to city sewer and water were the ones who petitioned for Ramsey to become a charter city.

“As a counter to (sewer and water), they petitioned and were able to get a charter commission established, which gives protections to residents from the city assessing them for sewer and water, in some instances, not all,” Goodrich said.

Another hot button issue Goodrich recalled was whether the city should have its own police department or contract with the Anoka County Sheriff’s Office as some of its neighboring cities have done.

After an election, a new councilmember pushed for the police department to be part of the city charter, so that voters and not a handful of elected officials would decide the police department’s fate should the debate rise again, he said.

“I’m not sure if that’s unique in Minnesota, but that was interesting. That was a big deal,” Goodrich said.

As the community began to develop, the council began pushing for things like a new city hall and a bridge over the Rum River, Goodrich said.

Goodrich remembers when the Northfork housing subdivision and golf course were being developed.

“They needed to have a pond there, so they dug out a lot of earth and dirt and they were hauling it in these big dumpsters across the Mississippi River bridge and it was creating some issues,” Goodrich said.

The city approved a train crossing by the golf course so the trucks could use Highway 10 and not city streets to get to the site, he said.

Goodrich helped the city draft new ordinances that dealt with zoning issues such as building setbacks and sizes for the Ramsey Town Center project, which ultimately became a more difficult project than the city anticipated because the loan went into default and three Community National Bank executives were sentenced for misappropriating $35 million in project-related loans. The original developer Bruce Nedegaard of Columbia Heights and his wife also died of cancer about the same time.

The Ramsey Town Center started at 322 acres and the most notable early developments were Ramsey City Hall and the adjacent parking ramp, and a commercial area that includes the Coborn’s grocery store. The city in March 2009 purchased the remaining undeveloped 150 acres from Minnwest Bank Central for $6.75 million as part of a litigation settlement agreement.

“That’s why the city is in the development business right now, right or wrong,” Goodrich said.

Goodrich remembers citizens packing into Ramsey Elementary School after the adult bookstore opened in April 1990.

“It was a pizza place and literally overnight it became an adult bookstore and it caused lots of consternation for people,” Goodrich said. “I think it was the largest public hearing we ever had.”

The state attorney general had also ruled in 1989 that cities could not completely forbid these establishments, he said.

“People wanted the city to do someone about it, but the First Amendment really put restrictions on what we could do about it,” Goodrich said.

After 23 years, the city purchased the bookstore June 27 and will soon demolish the building and market the site for redevelopment.

Goodrich has also been involved in acquiring easements for projects. One issue he is still wrapping up work on is land for the proposed Highway 10 and Armstrong Boulevard interchange, Goodrich said.

The city was heavily involved in the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency closing the landfill in the mid-1990s, Goodrich said. Waste Management purchased the landfill from the city of Anoka in the mid-1980s and owned it for a decade.

“People were very much up in arms, at least in that area, when the landfill was being licensed,” Goodrich said.

Goodrich’s job was to make sure this business followed state laws for protecting the environment, he said.

As part of a landfill settlement agreement, Waste Management conveyed about 90 acres of land to the city that it used to construct Alpine Drive between Ramsey and Sunfish Lake boulevards and sell land north of Alpine Drive to a housing developer and used proceeds from this sale to construct Alpine Park.

None of this property was part of the former landfill, but Waste Management owned a lot of property near the landfill, according to Goodrich.

Waste Management had also been the initial contributor to a landfill trust fund that still exists today and has funded numerous projects, Goodrich said.

According to Finance Director Diana Lund, some recent examples are $250,000 for the design of Ramsey’s Northstar Commuter Rail station, an internal loan of $300,000 to construct four park lots in the North Commons area of the COR and $1.7 million to fund the Ramsey Star Express from the time a prior grant expired to the time the rail station was completed.

Eric Hagen is at [email protected]