Last update: October 04, 2006 10:01 PM

Citizens League eschewing obfuscation

Two groups in Ramsey County have incorporated its name into theirs. The original group wants this stopped.

Mary Lynn Smith, Star Tribune

Imitation may be the sincerest form of flattery, but it also can prompt a call to the lawyers.

The Citizens League, a statewide, nonpartisan public policy group, recently asked two Ramsey County groups to scratch the Citizens League title from their names. The three groups have no formal ties to one another and the state organization doesn't want people to mistake the Roseville Citizens League and the Maplewood Citizens League for affiliates of the state group.

"We're not endorsing or condemning what these groups do," said Sean Kershaw, Citizens League executive director. "It's all about protecting the integrity of our processes."

Kershaw said the two local groups are using the Citizens League name without permission and are operating without any oversight to guarantee they adhere to the state organization's way of doing business.

The Citizens League got its start about 54 years ago as a "good government group" charged with examining charter reform in Minneapolis. Over the years the citizen group has worked to develop public policies and get them implemented.

"It's nonpartisan and fact-based," Kershaw said.

The Roseville group was established in 1989, when a number of citizens were angry at how some council members were conducting business, said Dick Lambert, current treasurer of the Roseville group. It evolved into an organization working on local public policy issues. Four years ago, the group and then-Mayor John Kysylyczyn became embroiled in a political tug-of-war.

"We wanted to get people to come to the City Council meetings or watch it on cable so they could make up their own minds," Lambert said. "We try not to shove people to one candidate or another."

Kysylyczyn has a different view of the group's aims and practices. "They target certain local elected officials and go after them," he said.

So Kysylyczyn called the state Citizens League, saying it wasn't right that the local groups were using the nonpartisan group's name.

Organizers of the fledgling Maplewood group agreed to adopt a new name."We don't want to do anything to cause problems," said Peter Fischer, one of the Maplewood organizers. "There are better ways to use our energy than fighting over a name."

But Lambert said the Roseville group won't change its name and disputes the idea that people are confusing his group with the state Citizens League. To ensure there is no confusion, Lambert said, the Roseville Citizens League added a disclaimer to its website, noting that it's "not affiliated with the Citizens League in St. Paul in any way."

Kershaw said the disclaimer doesn't resolve the problem. Although he has discussed the conflict with an attorney, he said, he hopes "we can work something out without getting lawyers involved."No matter what their intentions," Kershaw said, "you can't just claim someone's name. That's our brand."


Mary Lynn Smith 651-298-1550