City of Minneapolis says Hastings volunteer tree trimmer was in unsafe areaAccording to the City of Minneapolis, Hastings tree trimmer Mike Haege was asked to leave the city’s tornado-damaged areas because he was performing work in unsafe areas
By: Chad Richardson, The Hastings Star-Gazette
According to the City of Minneapolis, Hastings tree trimmer Mike Haege was asked to leave the city’s tornado-damaged areas because he was performing work in unsafe areas.
“It was a very dangerous situation,” said Henry Reimer, the city’s assistant director of regulatory services. “Mr. Haege was found in unapproved zones on two occasions, and warned twice to go back to the area that had been cleared to resume his volunteer work there. He failed to heed those warnings twice.”
Reimer understands the city looks like the bad guys for kicking out a volunteer, but said that such steps are necessary to ensure everyone is safe.
“We very much appreciate the spirit of volunteerism and help, and that our community comes together in times of need,” he said. “Those are all very good things. That’s something we’ve seen time and again in Minneapolis, and that makes our area a better place to live. We did have downed, live, electrical wires. Tree cutting is a dangerous activity, and it’s fantastic that people want to help, but volunteers have to follow the directions.
“We don’t bend when it comes to safety. We don’t like looking like the bad guys. We want to be sure our community is brought back up to speed as soon as possible, but it all has to be done in a safe way and a systematic way.”
Reimer said Urban Homeworks had designated an area for Haege to work in, and he wasn’t within those boundaries when approached by the city inspector.
Ben Post, the associate director with Urban Homeworks, said Haege was working in a zone that hadn’t been cleared yet by the city and the police. Since the zone Haege was working in hadn’t been cleared by the city and by the police, Post said Urban Homeworks was not sending its volunteers there.
“The official word from our group was that we weren’t allowed in there until it was approved (by the police department),” Post said. “All I know is that, our group, we weren’t sending crews in there.”
All of this is news to Haege. He said he was out trying to help and went to the location drawn on the back of the map provided by Urban Homeworks. He hadn’t heard anything about potential safety concerns until Thursday of this week, when the story started to spread. He is working this week in another state and has limited access to his phone and the internet. He said he was stopped initially because he didn't have a permit, and that the inspector didn't believe that he was doing the work for free.
He also contends the zones that were off limits weren't marked well, so determining what was an approved zone and what wasn't was challenging.
He said the entire matter began when he was in an approved zone and while he was with a staff member from Urban Homeworks named Vinny.
After being asked to leave, he was driving to drop off Vinny, and that's when he was flagged down by residents who had a tree blocking their driveway. He got out to help, not knowing, he said, that he was now in a restricted zone. Police stopped him there, too.
His wife Kari spoke on his behalf today.
“I believe the city is trying to save face after the mayor's office was bombarded with emails regarding Mike's character and motives for helping,” Kari Haege said. “They had to find another excuse. Also if the areas that Mike was working in were so dangerous and off limits, why were the residents still in their houses? None of it makes sense. Mike has helped people out in many places and different cities, but this is the first he has been treated like this. People were also handing out food in parking lots to help. They did not have vendor licenses. Were they ticketed?”
Haege was fined $275 for engaging in tree removal without a license.
Reimer said Haege was one of 20 contractors cited by the city. He said each can appeal the fine and have their cases heard by a hearing officer.
Haege said he didn’t charge residents for his services, but that has no bearing on the ticket, Reimer said.
“The license requirements apply whether or not you are charging people,” he said. “That’s an irrelevant distinction. The safety consideration is there whether or not you are being paid.”