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Jim Gelbmann, left, makes a phoned request for donations for "bail money" at a June 18 MDA fundraiser staged at the Woodbury Fire Department. Tonya Holt, right, makes a similar plea. Staff photo by Hank Long

Fundraising keeps school board member from behind bars

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District 833 School Board Member Jim Gelbmann got himself out of fundraising jail Thursday, June 18. His fictional bail-bond money came from some unexpected sources.

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Gelbmann, also Minnesota Deputy Secretary of State, has been raising money for the past two months for the Muscular Dystrophy Association.

The Maplewood-Woodbury chapter asked him to participate in the jail scenario and set his "bail" at $1,600.

When he achieved the goal, his bail bondsman upped the ante and said he had to raise more money. When he achieved that goal, it went up again.

"They told me I'm a flight risk," he told potential donors. "Maybe that's because I've had so many jobs."

Gelbmann was also very busy during the senate race, recount and subsequent court actions to decide the winner between Al Franken and Norm Coleman.

During the effort to sort and ratify ballots he came in contact with judges and with attorneys for both sides.

While looking for MD donors, he got money from Matthew Haapoja, one of Coleman's attorneys, Judge Elizabeth Hayden from St. Cloud, who served on the three-judge panel, and Judge Edward Cleary, member of the state canvassing board.

"It's well known that I'm a Democrat," Gelbmann said while waiting to hear from enough donors to make $5,400 and get out of the make-believe jail at the Woodbury Fire Department.

He feels good about support from both Republicans and Democrats, which confirmed his opinion that he was truly non-partisan in performing his job in the secretary of state's office.

Gelbmann, who headed the Minnesota office for former Sen. Mark Dayton, got a donation from his former boss, and from people he worked with during that time.

Many state legislators also donated including State Rep. Denny McNamara, R-Hastings.

A friend from his college days also contacted him.

"I told him it must be a sign from on high that I should ask him to help with my bail," Gelbmann said. "He first wanted to know how much it would cost to keep me there."

Gelbmann said he had the highest bail of anyone in the Woodbury-Maplewood area and had fun doing it.

His involvement in the effort is mostly because muscular dystrophy strikes children, whose lives he hopes he's improving as a school board member.

"I see several who have muscular dystrophy at graduations," he said "My heart goes out to them."

Gelbmann also got numerous donations from District 833 teachers and administrators.

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Judy Spooner is the longest-serving staff writer at the South Washington County Bulletin. Spooner, who covers education and features in addition to writing a weekly column, has been with the newspaper for over 30 years.
(651) 459-7600
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