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Virginia councilor apologizes for mocking city workers amidst negotiation

Virginia Police Department

After the Tuesday Council meeting, Councilor Julianne Paulsen presented a bucket of pacifiers and allegedly offered them to union members.

VIRGINIA — A Virginia city council member issued a public apology Wednesday, Feb. 28, after mocking city workers the evening before.

Council member Julianne Paulsen was photographed handing out pacifiers to members of the AFSCME #454 — which represents Virginia’s library, public works, parks and recreation, and city hall administrative employees — after the Tuesday Council meeting recessed at 6 p.m. for caucus night.

The bargaining unit issued a Notice of Intent to Strike to the city on Feb. 21 and met for the fourth mediation session with the city Tuesday.

Virginia City Council member Julieanne Paulsen is pictured holding a bucket of pacifiers that she allegedly offered to union workers after a City Council meeting on Feb. 27, 2024.
Mason Isaacson's Facebook page
Virginia City Council member Julieanne Paulsen is pictured holding a bucket of pacifiers that she allegedly offered to union workers after a City Council meeting on Feb. 27, 2024.

Paulsen’s apology was issued during the resumed council meeting Wednesday morning.

Paulsen said she was caught in the “heat of the moment” after she was harassed, her home was picketed and her was business damaged.

“It was not my intention to offend employees,” Paulsen said in her apology.

The Virginia City Council issued an emergency ordinance Tuesday, Feb. 27, creating a new section of city code prohibiting targeted residential picketing. According to Mayor Larry Cuffe Jr.’s reading of the ordinance, the practice constitutes harassment.

"The city council finds that targeted residential picketing in front of or about a residential dwelling causes emotional distress to the dwelling occupants, obstructs and interferes with the free use of public rights-of-way and has as its object the harassment of the dwelling occupants," reads the ordinance enacted Tuesday.

"The city council further finds that, without resorting to targeted residential picketing, ample opportunities exist for those otherwise engaged in targeted residential picketing to exercise constitutionally protected freedom of speech and expression."

The Mesabi Tribune reported that Cuffe said two other councilors’ homes were picketed, in addition to Paulsen’s. The Virginia Police Department was dispatched to a home on Sunday, Feb. 25., to address a picketing complaint. There have been no other reports to VPD regarding picketing.

VPD also took a report for damage to the door and mailbox of Rocks the Jewelers, a business owned by Paulsen, Tuesday morning, according to the Mesabi Tribune.

Local 454 said the city has proposed cutting benefits for “dedicated public service workers,” including overtime, insurance contributions and worker protections.

“We will not accept the City’s attempts to balance their budget on the backs of public service workers,” said Local 454 President Scott DaRonco in a letter to the Council.

The city said it “worked hard to create a budget that reduced expenses, maintained levels of service, with minimal impact to existing working staff,” citing public request to keep tax levies low. The Virginia City Council approved a levy increase of 4% for 2024.

A notice of intent to strike triggers a 10-day “cooling period” before a strike can begin. Local 454 can strike beginning March 5. A final offer from the city was discussed in the Tuesday mediation, but consensus on the proposal has not yet been reached. Members of the bargaining unit called the city’s offer a three-year pay cut and demanded that overtime and benefit language remain in the new contracts.

A request for comment from the AFSCME #454 unit was not returned.

Larissa Donovan has been in the Bemidji area's local news scene since 2016, joining the KAXE newsroom in 2023 after several years as the News Director for the stations of Paul Bunyan Broadcasting.
Megan Buffington joined the KAXE newsroom in 2024 after graduating from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. Originally from Pequot Lakes, she is passionate about educating and empowering communities through local reporting.