Price of volunteering is steep in Minneapolis

Minneapolis has a way of teaching people not to try to help.

According to the Hastings Star-Gazette , Mike Haege, who operates Custom Cut, a tree trimming business, has been kicked out of north Minneapolis, where his sister lives. He showed up on Monday after the tornado, signed the forms to be a volunteer, and started cutting up trees. He didn’t charge anybody.

“I thought it would be the perfect chance to help,” he said. “I knew there would be people needing help.”

But Minneapolis requires tree trimmers to be licensed and although Haege is licensed in Hastings, he’s not licensed in Minneapolis, the paper says.


A city inspector arrived at the scene. She told Haege he had to leave. Immediately.

“You have to leave right now,” the inspector told Haege. “You’re not licensed to be here.”

“I said, ‘I’m just a volunteer,’ and she didn’t believe me.”

Haege went back to his truck and got his volunteer paperwork. Still, that did little to get the inspector off his back.

“I don’t want to see you up here,” she told him.

“She just didn’t believe me,” he said.

A volunteer from the Urban League, who had been with Haege since he signed up to volunteer that morning, did his best to convince the inspector that Haege wasn’t charging for his services.

Residents then came out of their doors in his defense, telling the inspector that he had just performed work at their house and hadn’t charged them a dime. Still, the defense fell on deaf ears.

The inspector told him to get out of the city, so Haege left with the volunteer. As they were on their way back to the volunteer area, residents waved down Haege, pleading for help. He pulled over and helped get a tree out of the way for them.

Haege says Minneapolis cops threatened to throw him in jail.

Yesterday, he got a citation from the city for $275. A tree permit in Minneapolis, which would have required proof of liability insurance, costs about $100.

I have a call in to Minneapolis business inspection and license officials for comment.

(h/t: Bring Me The News)

Should Minneapolis have kicked out the volunteer?Market Research

  • That really doesn’t surprise me at all. In a city where restaurant inspectors insist that canned goods can’t be kept on wooden shelves, it’s pretty easy to believe that the city’s inspectors are considerably more than a little full of themselves.

    I believe in regulation, and think it’s insane not to use government to ensure standards, but that doesn’t mean inspectors shouldn’t be subject to oversight and common sense supervision.

    But I would much rather see an occasional abuse of the process than no regulation at all as the Republicans now seem to believe is preferable.

  • Jim Shapiro

    Thanks for publicizing this, Bob. I hope Mr. Haege got the name/badge number of the inspector. Power hungry morons like this are payed by the taxpayers, and are not only a waste of resources, but counterproductive to the task at hand. This person, their supervisor, the ticket issuing cops, and Minneapolis city officials should all have to face the public relations consequences of their behaviors, or their mindless and heartless behaviors will continue.

  • Chris

    This story reminds me of the church soup kitchen that had to spend thousands of dollars bringing the facilities up to code.

    I assume the insurance issue is there to protect both the homeowner and the contractor (volunteer) in case something goes wrong?

  • Ruth

    A license is required to do business in MPLS but I didn’t think the rule applied to volunteers. It’s great that the city is looking out for the residents so they don’t get gouged or conned out of their money, but if there was no money exchanged and he was a registered volunteer, what was the problem? I want to know what the resolution is going to be to this. I hope it doesn’t end with the fine.

  • Bob Collins

    It would be nice if there were some way of merging license databases from city to city. If the concern is that there isn’t liability insurance, being able to access Hasting’s database would answer that question lickity split.

  • Mandi

    Thank you for acknowledging Mike & his efforts! I spoke with him this morning briefly (after some cyber stalking), and he really appreciates the support! Some of my friends thought it would be nice to pay his fine for him – if it does come to that. —> copied from my facebook: You can send money to help Mike pay his fine! His paypal address is

    [Bob notes: I’m editing this out b/c …well, you know what the obvious problem is. It’s not something I want to get into or use the MPR site for. It’s probably legit and I mean no offense; it’s just not something I’m entirely comfortable with. Here’s the Custom Cut Web site if people want to try to contact the gentleman directly. .]

    One kind soul has already contributed $75.00. I spoke with Mike earlier, and he definitely appreciates the support. At this point he intends to fight the citation, and if he doesn’t have to pay it, he will certainly do good deeds with this $$

  • Bonnie

    I would like to hear from the four people who ( so far anyway) voted “yes” to the poll…

  • KRJ

    Bob,

    Would it be possible for you to verify the information that Mandi provided regarding Mike’s PayPal address? I would be more than happy to contribute to pay help defray the cost of this stupid fine, but I would prefer if it is not just to a random person’s account. Thanks! (Mandi, thanks for the info, I just think it’s prudent to be skeptical about information on the internet)

  • Erik Gardner

    This is completely ridiculous. If everyone who helped someone on the Northside clear a tree owes the city $275, then I owe the city $275. And so do my neighbors on either side. And so do the volunteers who helped clean up my yard. And the hundreds of other people that got out their chainsaws and got people unstuck from their houses. If the city I call home has anything resembling a soul, this fine will go away with a public apology.

  • Jim!!!

    So if I work at a restaurant am I banned from handing out sandwiches?

  • Jamie

    I’m one of rthe people who voted “yes.” I work for a regulatory agency and I know that most license requirements are there for good reasons. It may be that Mpls. requires more than just liabiltiy insurance. Maybe there are training requirements, for example. Operating a chainsaw and cutting up/down trees can pose some dangers to both the operator and nearby people, pets, and property. You lose your arm to a chainsaw while you’re helping the operator, and you want more than just insurance money — you want it not to have happened at all, and proper training can prevent stuff like that.

    It does sound, however, like the inspector could have explained things better, or could have been more diplomatic. Bob’s idea of sharing databases is a good one. Doesn’t do much good for the current situation, though. Maybe the Mpls. City Council could vote on an emergency resolution allowing otherwise licensed people like this to volunteer.

  • Timothy

    There’s usually a valid reason behind every action. I’ve been trying to keep in mind that we’re only getting one side of this story, because I find what I’ve read here very upsetting. It’s still not clear to me why the fine and police escort are justifiable. It seems like bullying and abuse of power. But I have compassion for anyone who’s ever worked for a large organization like a city department or corporation. For some reason these bureaucracies often seem to create situations where the people who carry them on the street level vent their frustrations (and perhaps the shabby treatment they receive in their role) on to bystanders in illogical or inappropriate ways. I don’t want to rob anyone of their personal responsibility but this is also a system problem. Any ideas on how to make it better? Or is it just naive to think that’s possible?

  • Timothy

    There’s usually a valid reason behind every action. I’ve been trying to keep in mind that we’re only getting one side of this story, because I find what I’ve read here very upsetting. It’s still not clear to me why the fine and police escort are justifiable. It seems like bullying and abuse of power. But I have compassion for anyone who’s ever worked for a large organization like a city department or corporation. For some reason these bureaucracies often seem to create situations where the people who carry them on the street level vent their frustrations (and perhaps the shabby treatment they receive in their role) on to bystanders in illogical or inappropriate ways. I don’t want to rob anyone of their personal responsibility but this is also a system problem. Any ideas on how to make it better? Or is it just naive to think that’s possible?

  • Bob Collins

    Disappointed the head of the inspection office didn’t return call. I had assumed there was a reasonable explanation that the city would’ve been anxious to share. But perhaps the explanation they do have, they’re not that anxious to share.

  • Jim!!!

    Yeah, we don’t want people who know how to operate chainsaws safely operating chainsaws for nothing. That job belongs to the amateurs.

  • Kevin Moberg

    This exactly the kind of mindless crap I have come to expect from the City of Minneapolis Regulatory Offices. I live three blocks out of the path of the tornado (our deck furniture blew around, but thankfully no trees came down). Since I bought my house six years ago, my neighbors and I have had many experiences with city inspectors, and none of those experiences have been positive. My second year in the house I ended up getting cited because paint was peeling off my garage trim. By the time the dust settled I paid twice as much to the city as I paid to Menards for the paint to replace it. This, by the way, was the same summer when a man was shot dead around the corner from my house. I sort of assumed it was a north side thing (maybe Mpls trying to make up for LGA cuts by over-citing people who are powerless to fight back), but maybe it is system-wide. It makes me sad either way. Why the city would spend resources on inspecting licensure of good samaritans while people are losing homes and time is of the essence is beyond me. For shame.

  • Jamie

    And how shameful would it be if they allowed unlicensed chainsaw operators to volunteer and someone got seriously injured?

  • Bob Collins

    This gets back to my earlier comment. He HAD a license. He didn’t have one in Mpls. He didn’t become dangerous at using a chainsaw the minute he crossed into the Minneapolis city limits. And from what I can understand by looking at it, there’s nothing in the Mpls license application that evaluates one’s competence with a chainsaw.

  • Bob Collins

    If a person in a neighborhood has a chainsaw and starts helping neighbors down the street clear trees in their yards, should he be licensed?

    What if that person’s brother also shows up and similarly starts helping people? Should he be licensed, too?

  • David G

    I suspect his only problem was that he showed up in his business truck alerting the authorities that he was a professional (even if he was working in a volunteer capacity).

    If he had walked into the North Minneapolis with his chain saw and volunteer papers, the inspector probably wouldn’t have batted an eye, since I’m pretty sure I’ve read of other people heading over there with the chainsaw from their garage.

  • anna

    ugh, city inspectors. i have yet to meet a good one.

  • Jeff

    I really hope to city replies to Bob. I want to know their side.

  • Matt

    The eternal truth: Minneapolis regulation was written with the most sensible of intentions yet it is implemented with the least senseless outcomes possible.

  • julie

    As a home owner in Mpls, it’s ok for me to cut branches and trees with no experience or training, but a trained professional get kicked out even under dire circumstances?

    The officials that run the city of Mpls continues to have screwed up priorities and this is yet just another example. There was a tornado that came through and caused devastation to N Mpls, this is not an everyday occurance. The winds and tornado already did more damage than someone with a chain saw could do.

    I bet if the tornado had gone by in Rybak’s neighborhood near Lake Harriet and the same volunteer was trimming trees for free, it would have been allowed.

  • Elizabeth T

    The existence of a law does not mandate its enforcement. Watch the traffic on an interstate. I don’t see cops pulling over everyone doing 60 in a 55 zone. (although it might fix the state’s budget, if they did) The city’s inspector could just as easily have chosen to look the other way.

    I’ve dealt with regulatory agencies (EPA, OSHA, etc.) and in my experience they, too, use discretion in issuing citations.

    If it’s insurance, I can equally imagine the person’s business insurance refusing to cover his liability because he wasn’t “on the job”. Worker’s comp and other occupational-related things would be absent/void because he wasn’t ‘on the job’.

  • Marie P

    I know it’s months after the fact, but I want to put my two cents in here.

    I live in the tornado area, my house was smashed to the tune of $120k. It’s been a long, stressful process, and we’re still months away from being DONE.

    The city of Minneapolis has actively worked against the people in North Minneapolis, and against progress of tornado recovery. While the tornado, damage, repairs, and everything else were incredibly stressful, I can honestly say that dealing with the city has been the most stressful and frustrating thing about the tornado. I’ve never lived anywhere that I could EVER imagine a city acting in such greedy, incompetent, and profiteering ways, in the wake of a disaster like this.

    As far as this incident goes, here’s some extra information to frame it:

    Shortly after the tornado, the city announced a plan to “help” the people in the tornado zone with tree removal. They offered loans to have the trees removed.

    Here’s the thing: Not only were they interest bearing loans, there were administrative and inspections fees on top of it, and those who took advantage of this “help” were required to hire the city’s crews to do it. How many different ways could the city POSSIBLY profit from tree removal?

    It was insane, and *far* more expensive than just hiring someone off craigslist and paying cash. Unfortunately for most people in this area, that wasn’t an option. While that’s exactly what we did, and didn’t make use of this volunteer’s help… many other people had to. After months of dealing with the city’s greed over the tornado, I really have no doubt in my mind that getting rid of this licensed, insured, professionally experienced VOLUNTEER was more about protecting the future profits of the city crews.

    Who, by the way, took two days off from clearing work within a week of the tornado, because there was no “budget” for paying holiday overtime.

    Also, the city released a list of “approved” contractors a short while after the tornado, to try and crack down on the door to door sales. Well, guess what – many of THOSE “approved” contractors weren’t even licensed. Guess if they pay the fee to be “approved”, who cares if they’re legit?

    Way to go, Minneapolis.