Chisholm council ruffled by criticism over failed studio

The Iron Range city of Chisholm planned to sell its city hall to a prospective new movie studio. (City of Chisholm)

(City of Chisholm)

Looks like made the paper.

At the Aug. 11 Chisholm City Council meeting, Mayor Mike Jugovich and other city councilors criticized council candidate Brandan Fiedler for sharing on Facebook a blog post I wrote several weeks ago. Marie Tolonen of the Chisholm Tribune Press wrote a story about this exchange that also ran in the Hibbing Daily Tribune on Friday, Aug. 19.

Last week during a council meeting, candidate Brandan Fiedler addressed a post appearing on his campaign’s Facebook page at the council’s request.

The post was the “share” of an article by Aaron Brown from his website pertaining to the arrest of Ironbound Studios CEO Jerry Seppala, and it included the comment “the three city councilors will be held accountable” by Fiedler.

Seppala was one of three men arrested in June for fraud and charged with cheating investors.

Referencing that article, Fiedler said the article’s author Brown suggested the city had missed red flags about Seppala when the lease agreement with the studio was first approved.

Fiedler insisted his post wasn’t meant to be an “attack” on his political opponents, but rather to “point out the fact that there should have been a little more scrutiny into this.”

You really have to watch the video to see how this went down. I pulled the exchange in question from the Mesabi Community Television broadcast of the Aug. 11 Chisholm council meeting.

Fiedler did not ask to speak to the council. Rather, he was summoned by Councilor Todd Scaia to “take his five minutes” during the public comments part of the meeting. In those five minutes, Fiedler stated his argument for about 45 seconds, while the rest was taken up by various city officials lecturing him for criticizing them on Facebook.

At one point, Councilor Kevin Scaia said that because I had not called the Chisholm City Council when Seppala was arrested for fraud, I could not possibly have the facts.

Here are some facts.

Seppala will never finish the movie studio in Chisholm, though he did partially remodel a portion of city hall. He was, from the start, a flim-flam man. He collected millions for movies that were never made, something that an aggressive Google search would have revealed at the time of the deal.

True, the city didn’t fund the city hall movie studio operation. You’ll note, I never wrote that they did. The city had the foresight to use lease-for-purchase instead of a giveaway. But Chisholm did lend city resources, time and credibility to the matter. Other public funding was used based on the deal. The historic Chisholm City Hall could well have become a site of fraud, had the alleged fraudster in question not been arrested for earlier fraud.

The deal with Ironbound Studios was an embarrassing incident that should be considered another learning experience for an area that has struggled to avoid exploitation in economic development deals.

Instead, Jugovich and the Chisholm council seem to be trying to absolve themselves of responsibility for an obvious mistake. Rather than responding with maturity, they’re bullying a frequent council candidate.

And it is bullying. Look at the way the councilors talk to Fiedler in the video.

Wait? A candidate for public office had the audacity to question city officials who supported a partnership with a developer arrested for fraud? On FACEBOOK! How DARE he? Send him to the tribunal!

Calling Fiedler to the microphone to face a dressing down like this is ridiculous on its face, but dark at its core.

Only the council has the facts? Oh, boy. When I wrote the post, I happened to think that the fraud arrest itself was sufficient to say that the city had erred in this case.

Everything I said in the original post remains true. The Chisholm City Council has, apparently, learned nothing.

That didn’t stop the mayor from this patronizing dismissal of Fiedler, as recorded in Tolonen’s story:

Moving forward, Jugovich and councilors urged Fiedler to bring any concerns he may have to the council.

“Come and talk to us,” said Jugovich. “We’ll give you the facts.”

I’m sorry, Mr. Mayor. You might be confusing “facts” for “rationalizations.”

Pro tip: When you lease City Hall to a developer who goes down for fraud, don’t ping the local watchdog blogger because you want to win a Facebook slap fight. You will lose said slap fight.


  1. John Ramos says

    Wow. They call up a member of the public just to lecture him about a Facebook post? They’re kind of thin-skinned up there on da Range, aren’t they?

    All in all, a fine coup for

    • Lyndon Hepokoski says

      This council will not stand anyone critizing them and not following what they set down. This council has 4 councilors that thriving on bullying people at their meetings. They don’t care who, they go after their employees, vendors, citizens and now council candidates. It is just pitiful. Now the mayor wants to be voted into County Board. God help us all.

  2. What is this? Maoist China, where thought crimes are punished by public shaming or worse?
    The Chisholm City council are behaving like bullies.
    This exhibit A of why people talk disparagingly about the range mafia.
    Oh, wait, I shouldn’t crticize. Don Jugovich might want to have a “word” with me.

    • Also, does anyone else think it’s just a *little* weird that the Chisholm City Council has two Scaia brothers on it? I know our towns are shrinking, but are there really that few qualified people available to serve? It gives the appearance of nepotism.

      • Don Jugovich? Mafia? Hardly. This whole thing is completely ridiculous. The city of Chisholm ended up coming out of the deal with nothing lost and a ton gained. They didn’t loose one cent. Nothing illegal was done on their end. <—FACTS.

        • John Ramos says

          How anyone could think such treatment of a citizen by a public body is okay is beyond me. I know Chisholm is just a pissant little backwater that nobody cares about, but that’s the MAYOR publicly lecturing a citizen about a Facebook post. What a buffoon.

          • He willingly stepped up there and brought it upon himself. No hiding behind social media. Brandan Fiedler and anyone who agrees with him is a buffoon. Educate yourself with the facts. Just because some one is a public figure does not mean that they have to conform and let people walk all over them. Brandan said what he had to say and so did the mayor. The mayor however said it to his face. If Brandan didn’t want to have that done publicly he should have never stepped up to the podium. Obviously people like the mayor and his way of going about things considering how long he has been around. Brandan is getting sympathy when he shouldn’t for putting himself in that position. Even if the mayor would have sat there and waited until after the meeting was over to speak to him Brandan surely would have posted on social media afterwards. When people don’t know the facts an like to run their mouths they DESERVE to be put in there place.

          • John Ramos, while I wholeheartedly agree that the Chisholm City Council should be publically humiliated for publically bullying citizens to cover up their incompetence, it’s also true that calling Chisholm a pissant backwater makes you look like an entitled, snotty, arrogant jackass. The Chisholm City Council may be arrogant jerks, but there is no need to stoop to their level. There are good people in Chisholm, and they don’t deserve to be insulted by you. Humiliate the bullies – don’t act like one.

        • Lyndon Hepokoski says

          How do you know? Did you see fact sheets, invoices and the like? Brandan was wrong the council didn’t bother checking into anything, they just pushed it ahead and gave all their blessing and backing to Mr. Seppala. Please Google Gerald Seppala and start reading.

          • Lyndon Hepokoski says

            It should read Brandan was right the council didn’t check in anything. Please Google Gerald Seppala and then tell us if Brandan was wrong.

  3. All the campaigning, all the money spent…. undone by a perceived “thorn in your sides” facebook post??
    Petty at worst, stupidity at best.
    They speak of glass houses….. a mirror should’ve been gazed upon.

  4. John Ramos says

    Um…Ms. R, perhaps you aren’t aware of this, being from the hick town of Chisholm and all, but in the rest of the world public figures are expected to tolerate a certain amount of criticism. From what I can tell, Fiedler’s so-called “criticism” was extremely mild, considering that neither the mayor nor anyone on the city council had the brains to do a Google search before getting into bed with a con artist. Again, not surprising, since it’s Chisholm. But even if Fiedler’s criticism was severe and unwarranted, there is no excuse for calling him up to the lectern and giving him a lecture in a public meeting.

    I also don’t get why everyone says Fiedler was “hiding behind” social media. Clearly, he wasn’t hiding. His name was attached to everything he posted, and he showed up at the council meeting as well. That’s not hiding. The real cowards are the public officials who are so resistant to admitting a mistake was made that they lash out at their constituents. If I lived in Chisholm, I would eat them alive.

  5. John Ramos says

    And who’s that idiot Scaia? He says, “I can tell you for a fact that I vetted Mr. Seppala EXTREMELY thoroughly.” If the extreme thoroughness of Chisholm city government leads to agreements with convicted con artists, I’d hate to see what happens when they get sloppy.

  6. John Ramos says

    Out of curiosity, I typed “Gerald Seppala” into Google to see what came up. On Page 2 of the results, I found an article from Sept. 12, 2014, titled, “Film Angel says he was clipped for $11 million.” Here’s how it begins:

    LOS ANGELES (CN) – A movie investor who claimed in May that three men had defrauded him of more than $10.9 million has filed another lawsuit, against the defendants’ entertainment lawyer.
    Bill A. Busbice Jr. sued James David Williams, Steven Brown and Gerald Seppala in May, claiming they used the money he gave them to “go on an out-of-control personal spending spree .”

    The extremely thorough vetting done by Councilor Scaia, apparently, did not include clicking the NEXT button on a Google search.

  7. Almost without doubt the root of this is Jugovich’s candidacy for County Board. Publicly being conned by an out of town operator with an easily accessible record of previous malfeasance is not a feather in the cap of a candidate who is trying to run on the basis of being an experienced administrator and a steady hand on the wheel.

    This risks being seen as incompetent at a time when Jugovich wants to be portrayed as the opposite. Even if no money was lost, the associated publicity about the project is at best an embarrassment.

    The idea of calling a political opponent into the council to be publicly grilled is pretty embarrassing as well. More like North Korea than northern Minnesota.

  8. John Wangensteen says

    Mrs. R ? Care to list your full name or stay behind the cloak of anonymity?

    John Wangensteen

  9. John Ramos says

    Given their intense concern over what goes on in social media, I’m sure that Mayor Jugovich and the city council are following this discussion closely. I would like to take this opportunity to let them know that their smugness and idiocy have earned them a place in my widely-read City Beat column, which gets distributed all over the county. But don’t worry, Mike, Todd, Kevin and Tracy–I don’t use “rumor and innuendo” in my column. I only report the facts. So practice your smiles and maybe get haircuts–you’re going to be stars!

  10. Dan Gornick says

    Wow, it’s good to see Chisholm is on the right track. A public beat down for the people that question authority? Come on, because Brandan put something out on Facebook?
    Nice work.

  11. I Think We Need Really Need to Script a Movie About All of This! Welcome To The Range!

  12. Not your finest moment Chisholm city council. Chisholm resident November is election time, get out and vote.

  13. Lyndon Hepokoski says

    I have only one word RESIGN!!!!!

  14. Who should resign?

  15. Lyndon Hepokoski says

    The four bullying trouble makers, City of Chisholm deserves better.

  16. John Ramos says
  17. Lyndon Hepokoski says

    Mr. Ramos, your article really hit on the head. It really show what these 4 are really like. Brandan wasn’t the first. Boy does the City of Chisholm deserve better, let alone St. Louis County.

  18. What due diligence?! A simple Google search of Gerald Seppala would have turned up the Busbice fraud lawsuit in California. The Mayor could have also followed up on a phone call he received from a knowledgeable party telling him to Google Seppala and the case and contact the law firm representing Busbice. The dreams of movie stars and red carpets seems to have clouded their judgment.

Speak Your Mind


This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.