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State auditor won't pursue action against Duluth mayor

The Minnesota state auditor's office revealed Wednesday it won't pursue action against Duluth Mayor Herb Bergson for allegedly soliciting hundreds of free event tickets from organizers with whom the city had contracts.

But instead of laying the ticket controversy to rest, deputy state auditor Celeste Grant's letter has raised further questions.

In her four-page missive, Grant refers to a 2006 review her office performed on allegations that Bergson received free perks at the Monaco Air Duluth Airshow in July of that year.

It's not known who made those allegations.

Furthermore, the 2006 letter that the state auditor's office reportedly sent with its findings was not received by its intended recipient, then-Council President Roger Reinert.

The 2006 letter is important because Grant cites it and a routine 2005 audit when she recommends the City Council make clarifying complimentary ticket policies "a priority."

Grant's letter, dated May 1, 2007, is a rebuff to the four city councilors who, in a March 27 letter, had asked State Auditor Rebecca Otto to investigate the 2007 ticket imbroglio, in which Bergson is accused of soliciting hundreds of tickets to several festivals and attractions.

At Large Councilor Jim Stauber wrote the request after being unable to get the matter examined at the city level. His request was signed by Councilors Russ Stewart, Garry Krause and Tim Little.

Grant didn't specifically address the validity of the 2007 charges in this week's letter.

She did note, however, that a regular 2005 audit of the city's books showed the city didn't have a formal policy governing the creation and handling of contracts. Such a policy ostensibly would address the issue of complimentary tickets from organizers under contract with the city.

"In response [to the 2005 audit], the city agreed to review its contracting procedures," Grant wrote. "By adopting contracting policies and procedures that cover city contracts for events, we believe many of the issues surrounding complimentary tickets would be resolved."

Grant also wrote that in 2006 her office reviewed allegations that Bergson accepted free tickets for himself, his family and city councilors to the Monaco Air Duluth Airshow, where his son received a free plane ride. The allegations also said Bergson solicited airshow tickets for "underprivileged children and students."

Her letter doesn't specify who made the allegations.

Stauber said he, Little, the state auditor's office and the legislative auditor's office all were sent an anonymous packet of documents intimating that Bergson received the airshow perks. Stauber and Little said Wednesday night they don't know why they got the documents.

Grant wrote that there's no evidence Bergson, members of his family or city councilors took free tickets to or the free plane ride at the airshow. Bergson said his son did take a plane ride, but he paid $60 for it.

Grant's letter indicates another deputy state auditor, Carla Heyl, sent Reinert a letter in 2006 detailing the office's findings regarding the airshow. Reinert would have been sent the letter because he was City Council president at the time.

Stauber said Wednesday that he's frustrated he wasn't made aware of the auditor's 2005 and 2006 findings and faults Bergson's administration and Reinert, respectively, for not making their results known.

"I know the [2006] letter was done. I know it was sent. It was probably properly distributed," Stauber said. "Things can get lost in the mail, but you have to admit it's pretty rare. Something this important, of this significance, and it just gets lost?"

Reinert, however, said he never got the 2006 letter from Heyl.

He also pointed out that Grant's letter, which was addressed to current City Council President Russ Stover, was copied to all other councilors, Bergson and two members of Bergson's administration.

"It kind of floors me that the state auditor's office wouldn't have copied that [2006] letter to all the council, to the mayor, to everyone," Reinert said. "I'm just sort of perplexed."

Reinert, who has served on the airshow's board of directors since 2000, also said there's something fishy about the anonymous documents. "I'm always skeptical about anonymous sources that put packets together for only some councilors and not for others," he said.

Bergson responded to the issue in an e-mail Wednesday night. He reiterated that he never used any tickets for personal gain and cast scorn on the whole affair. "I wish certain city councilors cared as much about the citizens of Duluth as they [did] about this type of nonsense," he wrote.