If Mike Laven had followed a more traditional approach, the story would have ended up on the news pages of The Free Press a week ago with a lead paragraph that went something like this:

Mankato City Council President Mike Laven questioned the character of fellow councilman and mayoral candidate Jack Considine Friday, accusing him of behaving in an unbecoming manner at public events and attempting to use his position on the council to gain special treatment.

Considine said Laven’s allegations were baseless.

“‘That’s just crap,” Considine said after reviewing Laven’s comments. “Mike has an active imagination.”

But the story didn’t begin in a traditional way. Instead, on Jan. 14 at 10:41 a.m. six paragraphs popped onto The Free Press’ online readers forum under the topic “Mayor’s race.”

The author of the paragraphs was identified only as “flavorlav,” and he detailed his concerns about the character of a fellow councilman running for mayor. It didn’t contain Considine’s name, but it provided clues that allowed anyone to find out Considine was the candidate being fingered.

The comments dealt with two public events attended by Considine and finished with a suggestion to voters in the Jan. 31 special election.

“Yes this is ‘A’ character all right. You don’t have to look towards the federal level and find crap in politics,” flavorlav wrote. “Please don’t vote for a current member of the council that is running.”

A thin veil

So who’s flavorlav?

“That’s me,” Laven said Thursday.

Many of the regulars who use The Free Press forum already knew that. Laven hasn’t been particularly coy in comments on the forum about his position on the council.

But many people — particularly occasional viewers and those who only recently started checking out the online conversations about local events — would have had no idea who was making the allegation against Considine.

Considine, besides saying Laven’s version of what happened at those public events was mostly false, was incensed Laven wasn’t more up front in making public accusations.

“It’s chicken,” Considine said. “It’s a coward (writing this).”

He was also critical of The Free Press forum for allowing people to remain anonymous while criticizing others.

“I think it allows cowards to take shots at people they wouldn’t normally do,” Considine said. “This is a perfect example of this.”

Laven, who isn’t running for mayor, said he believes a majority of the people who look at the forum know flavorlav’s real identity. And he disputes he was willing to be more critical because his actual name wasn’t attached to the criticism.

“I have not typed something I wouldn’t be comfortable having my name under,” Laven said of his many submissions on various forum topics.

He also said he wouldn’t have written his criticism of Considine any differently if it was a signed letter to the editor of a newspaper. In fact, Laven said he has a letter written on his computer he’s considered submitting for publication.

When deciding whether to send it, he said he asked himself some questions such as: “Am I bringing value to the discussion? Am I impacting the community in a positive way? Am I alerting people to what I consider a grievous wrong?”

Satisfied with those answers, one more question remains, he said: “Am I ready to withstand the storm of criticism that I’m a negative person?”

Varying versions

As for the allegations themselves, Laven and Considine tell different stories.

Laven said Considine attended a black-tie gala event at Snell Motors using free tickets provided by the city. The event was part of the attempt to expand the scope of the Vikings summer training camp, something Considine opposed using city taxpayer dollars for.

Despite opposing the effort, Considine appeared at the event “with wife in arm and then demanded v.i.p. status and front row seating because, ‘The city council paid for this,’” Laven wrote under his flavorlav pen name.

He went on to write about the same candidate appearing at an open house for the redeveloped Landkamer’s building, which occurred with the help of the city’s Economic Development Authority. The candidate “accepted a gift from the project developer saying, ‘Thanks, I wasn’t even at the meeting but I will take the gift.’ He then left the event.”

In his forum post, Laven didn’t mention he wasn’t at the Vikings event and was relying on second-hand information. He said Thursday he considered the sources credible, although he wouldn’t name them.

Considine said he attended the Vikings party only after he suggested the city’s free tickets be given away through a lottery to the city’s residential water customers. He said he attended the event only when City Administrator Pat Hentges said there wasn’t time to give away the tickets to the party, but that the tickets to a later Vikings scrimmage could be distributed to city residents.

The minutes of the July 26, 2004, City Council meeting are consistent with Considine’s memory. Considine said he went to the party only after then-Mayor Jeff Kagermeier strongly encouraged council members to attend, something also reflected in the minutes.

Considine denied seeking special treatment at the party.

Considine admitted taking the free gift at the Landkamer’s building open house but said it was of nominal value and he believes it “ended up in the garbage.” He said he’s particularly surprised Laven is bringing it up because Laven was the person who pointed Considine toward the gifts.

“Mike showed us where it was and said ‘This is for us,’” Considine said.

Laven said his criticism of Considine’s behavior wasn’t about taking the gift, it was about his comments.

“I thought that was tacky,” Laven said.

Life after the election

Regardless of what happens Jan. 31 at the polls, Laven and Considine will be working together on the City Council for at least another 11 months. Even if Considine isn’t elected as mayor, he’ll continue as a council member through the end of the year.

Laven said he isn’t sure if there will be problems between the two.

“I’ll have to talk to him first,” Laven said.

Considine brushed off any suggestion of lasting problems.

“How much attention are going to pay to a Chihuahua nipping at your ankles?” Considine said.

Councilman John Brady, the only other mayoral candidate on the council, isn’t worried that forum writings are going to have an impact on the election. Flavorlav has discouraged people from voting for Brady because his election would prompt another special election to fill his council seat.

Brady said it “would be ideal in my opinion” if Laven stopped submitting comments on the forum but doesn’t expect voters to base their decision on anything written there.

“People who vote sincerely probably aren’t going to spend too much time listening to rumor,” he said.

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