2012 Archive

January 3, 2012 The start of a new year, but the more things change, the more they stay the same.

The County Board Gets Testy!

Generally, when I go to a Scott County Board meeting, I expect everything to be pretty tightly orchestrated, with all the decisions made in advance, and the votes a mere formality to convince taxpayers that the Board is doing things in public. Today’s meeting (Jan. 3, 2012) was exceptional.

Commissioner Joe Wagner moved to fire County Administrator Gary Shelton. Commissioner Dave Menden seconded the motion.

Commissioners Barbara Marschall and Jon Ulrich said Menden and Wagner were going after Shelton for personal reasons.

The motion to fire Shelton failed 3 to 2 with Commissioners Tom Wolf, Ulrich and Marschall voting against firing the County Administrator.

A detailed story is available on the Jordan Independent web site.

A few things about the whole affair stand out in my mind.

Who You Gonna Call?
Commissioner Ulrich said he called “50 or 60” public officials around the county, and they were uniformly shocked that anyone would consider firing the County Administrator. I wonder who Mr. Ulrich called from Jordan. I know at least one public official from our town who has no use for the Administrator.

Trying to Be Polite?
I wonder why one of the Commissioners wasn’t more outspoken about his opinion regarding the Administrator. This Commissioner is very willing to express his opinions in private conversations, but not in public.

It’s not a sin for a Commissioner to publicly state his opinion about an employee’s performance, or possible conflict of interest. But in my opinion, it is a sin for a Commissioner to keep that kind of information from the public.

Commissioners who have issues with staff members are not doing the public a service by being unwilling to talk about those issues in public meetings.

“He Don’t Walk On Water, But He Wades Mighty High*”
Perhaps most important, the County Board’s policy of giving inflated performance reviews frequently comes back to haunt them. If you’ve consistently said that an employee walks on water, it’s going to be very hard to convince the employee – or the public – that he or she might actually have human failings.

Why Say It In Ten Words, When a Hundred Will Do?
One Commissioner asked another “What happened since September that caused you to change your mind?” But it took him over five minutes to actually get the question out.

*I honestly can’t remember where I read this quote. I think it was something Lyndon Johnson said. If any of you know the origin, please let me know, and I’ll give credit where it’s due.

The Quote:
“The river Trent is lovely, I know because I have walked on it for 18 years.”
           Brian Clough

 

January 10, 2012

The First Year in Review

It’s been an interesting year. The Jordan City Council accomplished some monumental (literally) things – such as getting the cannon wheels repaired. After years of dilly-dallying, the library is finally moving forward. The City and the School District got together to upgrade the ball fields at the School athletic complex – another project that should have been done long ago, but which got put off because both sides couldn’t see fit to cooperate. And hopefully, by May, the bathrooms at Lagoon Park won’t smell like – well, you know.

Of course, not everything was peaches and cream. The City found itself in a legal snaggle over a conditional use permit for a crematorium. That hasn’t been settled yet. The City also got into a snaggle over whether the Mayor is required to sign documents he considers illegal.   Someday, I suppose, I’ll look back and laugh about the recent brouhaha about the adult entertainment problem on Broadway.  But for now, I just think it serves as a fine example of everybody acting nuts.

And while I feel I helped accomplish a few things, there are other things I need to work on. For one thing, I need to improve my response to smart mouth comments from other Councilors. I really shouldn’t allow them to get under my skin. Another thing I hope to accomplish to avoid any increase in fees and taxes during 2012.

An Informal Conversation
There’s a lot more to talk about, so that’s why I’m participating in a public dialog

Saturday, January 14th, 9:00 AM to Noon. Carasim Coffee Shop

Come share your thoughts about the state of the City in 2011, and your hopes for 2012.

This event is sponsored by Jordan Dialog.   It is not an official function of the Jordan City Council. There’s no agenda, and I’m not going to try to control or limit what people have to say. I promised to be accessible, and I’m trying to fulfill that promise.

Refreshments will be served.

The Quote:
“We are time’s subjects, and time bids be gone.”
William Shakespeare

 

January 17, 2012

Coffee and Conversation

Last Saturday Jordan Dialog sponsored a community chat at Carasim Coffee Shop. I, and the Mayor took part, along with about 10 other people. Most of the conversation was what one would expect in that situation. “Why did you do thus and so?” Why didn’t you do this and the other?” “Keep up the good work.” “But do it different next time.” Still, some interesting thoughts surfaced.

The Beginning of the End?
One of the most provocative statements was that moving the Library from Downtown Jordan was the beginning of the end for Downtown. I’ve heard this sentiment expressed by a certain other vocal person in town, but it was interesting to hear it again from someone who normally wouldn’t agree with that other vocal person if he said the Earth was round.

Still, did Downtown Jordan start to die this Fall? Nope, don’t think so. The City, and the people of Jordan have known for at least six years that the library needs replacement. During that time, what significant step has anyone taken to assure that the library would remain Downtown? The opportunity was there, and no one grabbed it.

Was it the beginning of the end when the last Downtown drugstore or hardware store closed? When was that? Was the beginning of the end the day the Hamburger House closed? That wasn’t this Fall, or even this year. Was the beginning of the end for Downtown the day MacDonald’s opened? Where did all the banks go? And why?

In short, the beginning of the end is not so clearly defined as some people would like to think. And some people might not be willing to acknowledge their role in the decline of Downtown Jordan.

Window on Main Street
Another thread was, what exactly, constitutes Downtown? We have at least one Council Member who professes to believe “Downtown” is everything from the 169/282 intersection to Broadway. Interestingly, the best definition of Downtown involved rethinking it into “Main Street, Jordan”. I like that idea.

Reaching For The Bottom
By far, the most thought and discussion provoking statement was that maybe Jordan needs to hit some sort of rock-bottom before people will wake up, and start to do the things needed to save the town. Are we willing to put the money time, and energy into the things needed to revitalize Jordan? Right now, I’m not seeing that kind of dedication from most people in town. Some of the most vocal proponents of the library are reluctant, or outright unwilling to contribute money to make it the kind of place people want to visit. We have local business people who won’t accept the idea that making the town more inviting would be good for their businesses. Instead, they are only concerned with having their businesses seen by drivers who whiz by. Maybe if those by-passers slowed down a little bit, they’d become buyers. A smart businessperson measures not only the volume, but also the quality of traffic past his door.

So, should we hope that Jordan will arrive at some nadir; with the expectation the town will blossom again. In my opinion, that’s like waiting until the horse is dead, then kicking it in the hopes that it’ll run faster. In my experience, when a city loses something, it never gets it back.

I have no answers for you right now. In fact, I’m kind of hoping you’ll have some answers for me – and the courage to convey them.

The Quote
“At the bottom of not a little of the bravery that appears in the world, there lurks a miserable cowardice. Men will face powder and steel because they have not the courage to face public opinion.”
Edwin Hubbel Chapin

 

January 24, 2012 I’m told that one of the County Board members said that everything I wrote was totally untrue. I think what he meant was that everything he said to me was not in the presence of witnesses, so he wanted to deny saying it. Like everyone else, he was given the opportunity to respond. And he never responded.

Looks Like Horse Pucky . . .
Feels Like Horse Pucky . . .
Smells Like Horse Pucky . . .

. . . must be from Scott County.

I don’t know why I go to County Board meetings. It takes me a long time to get my shoes clean afterwards. Today’s meeting (Jan. 24, 2012) was no exception.

Agenda Item 5.9 from this week’s County Board meeting reads:
“Adopt Resolution No. 2012-017; Approving Acting as County Sponsor for the Valley View Drive Transportation Project in Sand Creek Township to be Submitted to the Minnesota Department of Transportation for Local Road Improvement Program Grant Funds. (no fiscal impact)”

I’m not going to say exactly who said what, but all of what I heard was a big load of horse pucky.

About a year ago, the financing for road improvements to Valley View Drive in Sand Creek Township involved funding from the developer, Scott County, Sand Creek Township, and the State of Minnesota. Now, suddenly, when Sand Creek Township has decided that it can’t afford to participate, the County finds all the funding from the State? The same State that’s running multi-billion dollar deficits? Horse pucky.

What Does County Staff Say?
One member of Scott County’s staff said “This is absolutely not because of the mine.” Yet when he was asked by the Chairman of the County Board how long they’d been working on securing LRIP grant funds, he said they started having conversations with the mine operator about three years ago. Uhuh. What’s that smell?

What Do Board Members Say?
Well, one of them said, “It’s difficult Thom. I understand your concerns but that road is in bad shape, and people in Sand Creek Township have been begging us for years to fix it.”

Really? They’ve been begging for years, and the County has ignored them? But now, all of a sudden, when a project developer adds his voice to the begging, it’s a go?

Here’s what I think. The County and MnDOT really want the gravel in Sand Creek Township, and they’re willing to use the prospect of an upgraded road as a bully stick to get the township to accept the risk of pollution, diminished land values, and increased traffic that the gravel mine entails. Nuts. Did I step in it again?

After the meeting, a Commissioner said he couldn’t understand why I opposed the gravel mine. When I asked him what was in it for Jordan, the best answer he could give was “What do you want?” Then he talked about how when he was little, gravel trucks drove by his home in Jordan every day, and he didn’t complain about it. Probably true. But I’ll bet his Mom was just thrilled about the noise, dust and danger.

Then he tried to convince me that gravel trucks are a sign of progress. Maybe so, but in my opinion, the price of that progress is more than Jordan can afford.

Then he all but told me the gravel mine will be opening, which is quite a switch from what he said a while back when he told me the mine was probably dead because the developer wouldn’t want to spend the money to do an Environmental Impact Statement. Of course, he’s part of the Board that allowed the EIS to be narrowed down to the extent that it became virtually meaningless. Oh, and he doesn’t live in Jordan anymore. Watch your step there.

The County’s Record
The satellite image at right was provided to me by Bolton & Menk. The image was not originally for anything relating to gravel mining, but it clearly shows the effects of the Knife River gravel mine on the wetland just south of the City Limits. Within the yellow oval, one can clearly see how sediment has washed into the wetland. This has happened with the knowledge and approval of Scott County. Folks from the County may squeal at what I just wrote, but the fact remains that the Knife River quarry is working under permits issued by Scott County. Meanwhile, the State is spending millions to clean up the Minnesota River. Guess where those millions come from.

The area around Jordan is pockmarked by abandoned pits, which the operators simply walked away from, with no attempt at reclamation. The sand pile at the Q-prime site north of Jordan is simply the most recent example of the County’s inability or unwillingness to enforce reclamation agreements.

I suppose the County could surprise me, and upgrade the road (as has been needed for decades), but not allow the gravel mine. Do you think that could happen? After all, Carver County disallowed a gravel mine expansion, didn’t they? Sa-a-a-y-y-y – you don’t suppose MnDOT thinks the people of Scott County are so gullible that we’ll just roll over and play dead because we’re afraid of them, do you?

Now, where did I put that shoe scraper?

The Quote
“Half a truth is often a great lie.”

           Benjamin Franklin

 

January 30, 2012 This post was longish, but I felt people deserved to know what I was doing at that taxpayer-funded conference. I was surprised to get a response from a constituent. He’s mistaken about me being reprimanded for OML violations. I know I’ve annoyed some of my colleagues, and they’ve said so. But that’s hardly a reprimand. The respondent has never been reprimanded either, though he has been scolded for pushing the envelope a little.

On a Junket to Exotic Brooklyn Center

I, and a couple of my colleagues from the Jordan, MN City Council had an opportunity to participate in the League of Minnesota Cities Leadership Conference for Experienced Officials in Brooklyn Center on January 27th and 28th. Conferences of this type have the potential to be as exciting as watching paint dry, but LMC does a good job of creating interest, and giving attendees a chance to meet with, and talk to each other. (They also give away cool stuff.)

I thought the time was well spent, and since your tax dollars paid for it, you deserve some kind of summary of what went on.

The Round Table
Well, all the tables were round, and each seated six to eight people. I shared a table with Councilors from Austin (2), Alexandria, Lewiston, and Barnum. The fellow from Lewiston won his seat as a write-in candidate. I was really pleased that during discussion periods there was virtually no cross talk. Everyone took turns, and everyone had something to say.

Carl Neu was the first presenter. His information was interesting, but because you’re my friend, I won’t try to load you up with all of what he said. Here are some highlights.
He cautioned us that citizens are more skeptical than ever, and that they have different attitudes toward authority than in the past.
He pointed out that people have less time to spare, in spite of all the “time saving” devices they have.
And he emphasized that people use the internet to get information more than face-to-face contact.

About 11 slides into his presentation, Mr. Neu made a statement that got my attention. He said that if a Councilor allows a special interest group to influence a decision, that’s no better than outright accepting a bribe. (One of my Jordan colleagues made a point of asking me if I picked up on that.) In a personal discussion with Mr. Neu after the conference, I asked him to go into that a little more thoroughly. He said that we all have special interests, and that people on all sides of an issue (there might well be more than two sides) will try to exert influence. A successful Councilor should arrive at decisions by what he called the “black box” technique. In that technique, the Councilor strips away all the personal information, which is just wrapping on the box. He said it’s irrelevant whether someone who’s trying to exert influence is a lifetime resident, or newcomer. It’s irrelevant whether the person trying to exert influence gives money to charity, or not.   It’s irrelevant for whom the person voted for in the last election, or whether he’s a nice guy who loves his Mother and his dog. All that matters is the most compelling factual case for why something is, or isn’t in the best interest of the City.

At this point in our conversation, Mr. Neu asked me what caused me to seek his advice.   I tried to briefly sketch out some of the details of our situation here in Jordan, but he quickly asked me how our businessperson had been able to get a Conditional Use Permit. When I said that the CUP had been ruled illegal, and the Council had changed the zoning code to allow the operation, he said, “Well then your City is hoisted on it’s own petard.”

Inclusiveness, and Deliberative Democracy
Matt Leighninger was next. He talked about strategies to get more people informed and involved in the decisiomaking processes of city governance. He really hammered at doing what’s needed to involve people. He even shamelessly exploited his three cute boys in video clips. (The middle son has a face of silly putty, and a real future in acting.)

Mr. Leighninger emphasized computers and social networks as a means of getting citizen input. He also talked about some of the advantages of face-to-face communication. He said that complexity is a problem with both internet and live access to government. People don’t want to have to deal with layers of bureaucracy in government regardless of whether they are coming to the City in person or via the internet.

The biggest advantage of digital democracy is that it gives people a very immediate access to, and input in government decision-making. The downside, it seems to me, is that digital democracy would require a huge amount of staff time to process everything, and governance would quickly become a zigzag from one trendy issue to another. But, the opportunity exists for cities to involve people more, and that’s a good thing.

Carl Neu came back to the mic, and we talked about what our biggest challenges are. Some of the things mentioned were:
• Unfunded mandates, especially state programs and legislation
• Dissatisfied citizens
• Small city survival
• Large city growth management
• Money – nobody felt comfortable about finances
• Streets and aging infrastructure
• Capital budgets
• Staff salaries (no, I didn’t raise this.)
• Changes in the makeup of councils and staff
• Supermajority issues
• Sales tax increases
• City center (downtown) deterioration (nope, I didn’t raise this one either.)
• Losing long time employees
• Aging population, and the changes needed in serving it.

The New Normal?
The Saturday session (Carl Neu presenting) went pretty quick. We discussed engaging people in government, and the growing concern that government can’t take care of what it has, let alone hope to build more. Mr. Neu stressed his feeling that local government is the most effective government, and that big Federal government is the reason the country’s in so much trouble. He also cautioned that by 2015 cities of all sizes, in Minnesota and elsewhere, would be going bankrupt. He added that the strain of those failures would affect all cities, and the state.

Mr. Neu also expressed his opinion that cities should move to “home rule” charters, as opposed to statutory charters as a means of reducing the influence of state government – and getting rid of unfunded mandates. That’s very interesting, considering that not all that long ago Jordan was a home rule city.

This & That
Little tidbits gleaned from various conversations.

  • Lewiston is providing laptop computers to all Council members. The City will no longer give Council members paper documents. Some details remain to be worked out, such as will the City fund internet access for Councilors homes? And how will the City assure that the laptop computers’ meeting files are all updated at the same time? (If some Councilor doesn’t have his computer turned on, and in a wireless hot zone, he might not get an info pack.)
  • When Alexandria was working on their 2030 Plan, they invited people from as far away as Glenwood (30 miles away), to come and participate in formulating the plan.
  • None of the people at my table were on the Council for money, but only one said he would do it for free. (Guess who)
  • Austin Council Members provide one news article per month for the local newspaper. • The Councilor who mentioned this said it was old school but effective.
  • The Alexandria Councilor said he disliked having items come before the Council, and be voted on without discussion. He felt it was a disservice to voters.
  • The Lewiston Councilor said their Council meetings were not participatory, and that Lewiston was excluding some people from the meetings.
  • A Councilor from Watkins told me he’s always surprised at how elected state officials change when they’re in their offices. No more chatting, just “here’s what we can do, and that’s all we can do.”
  • An Austin Councilor said that they sometimes merge meetings between commissions, and/or hold joint meetings with the Council.
  • A St. Michael Councilor said she thinks her experience as a bar tender serves her well, since she knows how to listen to people complain.
  • The Lewiston Councilor said that Lewiston eliminated the position of City Administrator, and outsourced the work to a management company He said they reduced their administration costs by 25%.

So there you have it. Quite a smoothie of mixed signals. On the one hand the presenters were saying we should be working harder to involve more people. On the other hand, they were saying it is up to us to lead, not simply do what the people want. And on the other hand, there’s no money left for much of anything. Interesting times.

The Quote:
In matters of style,
swim with the current; in matters of principle, stand like a rock.”
Thomas Jefferson

A Reader Responds
Thom it’s no secret that we don’t always agree.  But this is one of the most thoughtful and well organized reviews I’ve ever read.

I have mentioned to numerous council, commission and staff members that I believe councilors should be encouraged if not REQUIRED to submit bi-monthly summaries to our local paper to keep the public informed.  In fact toward that end, what would be wrong with a written column by a council member in each City newsletter?

I found it interesting that so much emphasis is being placed on computer communications at the LMC level but such scorn exists at the local level.  You and I are easily the most frequently reprimanded for open meetings, yet we are both easily the most transparent in our participation of government.

Publish if you like…(name withheld by me, tb)

 

February 7, 2012 Just for fun.

New Orleans, Ipanema, and . . .
Jordan?

Jeff Carver and Rajhta Ren delivered a jazz performance fit for the New Orleans French Quarter last Friday (Feb. 3) at Carasim Coffee.

Carver plays trumpet. Ren plays keyboard. Carasim provides ambience.

Carasim Coffee is a small venue – intimate, I guess you could say. Carver and Ren play it well. The music isn’t ear splitting, and it’s not so quiet that the audience can’t hear over the bustle of wait staff.

About that audience – they were amazingly respectful of the music. There was very little chatter. Even the little kids were pretty quiet. One couple danced to a slow, bluesy number, and it just seemed so right.

Jane Hilleren delivered a smooth version of “The Girl From Ipanema.” She did it with a deft touch – not too big for the venue, but not timid either. Sorry guys, but she was the highlight of the set. We’re hoping you can convince her to come back again.

There was all-you-can-eat pizza. The regular menu of salads, sandwiches, coffee, tea, pop, smoothies, and crazy rich desserts. Ice cream cones too.

With my ears, I’m no expert on jazz or music, but I know when I’m having fun. I’ve been to Al Hirt’s restaurant in New Orleans, The Artist’s Quarter in St. Paul, and the Dakota Jazz Club in Minneapolis. The Carver/Ren show was, for me at least, as much fun as the time I spent at any of those other places. The fact that there was no cover charge was easy to take, too. I’m not trying to sell you anything. This isn’t one of those paid infomercials. My point is, there are some fun things to do in Jordan, and the Carver/Ren performances at Carasim are a lot of fun. The next one’s on Friday, the 24th, from 7 to 9 PM,

The Quote:
“Jasz is rhythm and meaning.”
Henri Matisse

 

February 14, 2012

English

Sometimes when you think a little bit about what people are saying or writing, you realize that they’ve put their spin on it. Then, if you apply a little “english”, or backspin, you can figure out what message was actually conveyed.

What was said:
“When we had manual water meters, and everyone had to report their meter reading, there were people who didn’t do it.”

The implications:
The two, five, or ten people who would opt out are not to be trusted to report their own water usage.

What was said:
“Mr. Thom’s statement is false. Cities aren’t going to drop their Neptune meters completely just because of the NSF 61.”

The implications:
Mr. Thom never said cities would be required to replace all meters immediately because of the new standard. What he said was that beginning in 2014, any meters that wear out, or need repair will have to be replaced with NSF 61 compliant meters.

What was said:
“Figuring 10-15 minutes per meter, and 10 meters, it will take almost as much time to read those 10 meters as it does to read all the rest of the town. “

The implications:
For some reason, the person making the smart meter reading rounds will not be able to get out of his truck and read the opt out meters. He would have to make a special trip to each opt out meter.

Or, if he did get out of his truck during his regular smart meter reading rounds, it would take him 10-15 minutes to walk 50 feet, or so, touch the reader to the keypad, and return to the truck. Come on! Jordan employees are better than that.

What was said:
“Even if we required opt outs to bring us their meter readings, we’d still have to go and actually read the meters once or twice a year, to make sure everything was okay.”

The implications:
The City is implying: Our convenience is paramount. We don’t want to have to deal with unreliable homeowners – not even once or twice a year for perhaps ten opt out households.

What was said:
“These are the five alternatives for consideration.”

The implications:
There are only five alternatives? Not true. There are several other alternatives, at least one of which would cost the City virtually nothing. Disabling the smart meter transmitters in opt out households, and requiring the homeowners to submit their meter readings with their payments would cost the City nothing for equipment or special trips. The only cost to the City would be to manually enter the very small number of opt out household meter readings.

All the fuss, and time spent could have been avoided if the City had applied a little garage logic, and simply required opt out households to report their water usage every month. This stunningly simple solution would probably have resolved the whole issue to everyone’s satisfaction.

What was said:
“Why would we go back to the old way of doing things just to satisfy a couple of people?”

The implications:
To manually read a couple of meters, the City would have to scrap the entire system? Not true. Households that don’t opt out would not be affected in any way by manually entering the opt out household readings.

But, just for the sake of the discussion, what if 200 Jordan households opted out of smart metered water? Would that be enough to tell the City people were concerned, and wanted alternatives?

What was said:
“Option one produces unmetered water, which the DNR doesn’t like.” And, “Coon Rapids does this for four homes that refuse to let them in at three times their highest water usage.”

The implications:
Somehow, Coon Rapids either sidestepped the DNR’s objections, convinced them that the water usage wasn’t unmetered, or convinced them that four of 20,000 meters was insignificant. (Coon Rapids’ population was 61,476 by the 2010 census.)

Imagine that. Four households in Coon Rapids feel so strongly about smart meters that they willingly pay three times the going rate in order to have their smart meter transmitters disabled. Of course, Coon Rapids would rather gouge four households than find a reasonable accommodation, such as having the water users report their usage.

What was said:
To paraphrase, “cell phones and microwave ovens give off way more RF emissions than smart meters.”

The implications:
We can choose to use, or not use a cell phone or microwave oven. The City is telling us we must use a smart meter – no exceptions. We have to have water in homes in order for them to be considered fit for human habitation, by the City. That water can’t come from a well. So it has to come from the City, and we have to submit to smart meters. We get no choice in the matter.

What’s more, we get no choice in whether our neighbor’s meters transmit into our homes. How many homes (and water meters) are within a quarter mile of your home? If you live Downtown, it might be 25. If you live in Wexford Square, it would be over 50. Neptune claims their meters have an effective range of ¼ to ½ mile.

So why should we care? Well, at least one resident believes with good reason that RF emissions are making him sick. We can say, what the heck, throw him under the bus, which is certainly an option. But that disgusts me since there is a practical, cheap way to resolve the smart meter RF emissions problem for those who want to opt out. Sadly, the City, for some unfathomable reason, chooses the “throw ‘em under the bus” option, rather than the “trust ‘em to report their water usage option.”

What was said:
“Let’s put this issue to bed, and stop killing time and trees by bringing it up over and over again.”

The implications:
The City is implying that a health issue raised by one or two residents isn’t as important as staff time and resources. They’ve talked about it as much as they want to, and now the affected parties should just accept the City’s decision and suffer the consequences of it.

What was said:
“Cost at start:   E-Coder meter –                             $   165.00
Key Pad –                                                                     $     23.00
E-Coder R900i –                                                       $   400.00
½ cost of Pocket reader –                                        $   515.00
Total upfront paid to the City                                 $1,103.00

Extra reading/maint. Cost per month                     $30.00/month”

– And –
“Then each resident will need to hire a licensed electrician approved by the City to install the wiring from the meter to the key pad outside of the house.”

The implications:
It seems to me the City is saying if the opt out option is made insanely expensive, the City can discourage anyone else from opting out, and maybe those two will just go away. Or, if people really do care enough to spend an insane amount of money on their concerns, the City’s just discovered a new cash cow.

Never mind the insanity of asking the opt outs to pay double the going rate for a new smart meter, – just like the old smart meter – to have handy for when the opt out homeowner moves or dies. What’s wrong with putting a coat of cosmoline or thread sealer on the threads of the removed meter, and setting it aside for future re-use?

What was said:
To paraphrase, “The manufacturer assures us the Neptune meters are safe. They will not provide any information regarding shielding the transmitter. So the City will not provide any information on shielding either.”

The implications:
The manufacturer hasn’t studied shielding? They don’t know if shielding is effective or not? How did they figure out the thing would transmit through cement block, wood, earth, limestone – and presumably, people?

Trust, and teamwork . . .
. . . are a two-way street – or at least, they should be. But I’m not seeing it here. What I see is a City unwilling to trust its’ residents, and unwilling to offer reasonable accommodations to protect some of the people on the team.

The Quote:
“Before I can live with other folks I’ve got to live with myself. The one thing that doesn’t abide by majority rule is a person’s conscience. “
           Harper Lee

 

February 21, 2012

On Patience

My Grandpa was a stonecutter. If you know where to look, you can still see his work – cut well over a hundred years ago. One chip at a time, he’d turn a five hundred pound block of limestone into a lion’s head, angel, or transition stone. Patience was necessary. Not just because the work was time-consuming, but also because the heavy stone could be very unforgiving to an artisan who did something rash. He told me stories of working with his Papa in the Pyrenees Mountains near Pau, France. Papa left France, and by a roundabout route, ended up in northeastern Wisconsin. There he taught his sons, including my Grandpa, to be patient, skillful, and creative.

Grandpa sometimes sculpted things out of bits of leftover stone. A scrap might become a baby’s boot, sundial, bust of George Washington, or bas relief rendering of the portrait on the Indianhead Nickel. He made a small heart out of a mere chip of marble for Grandma. That little project, no bigger than a quarter, involved drilling a hole using a needle as a drill bit. The man had patience.

Not me.

I like to see results. Now. That’s why I enjoyed working in marketing. The feedback was almost instantaneous. Customers don’t like the color on the product? Fix it. Now. Ad campaign not generating sales? Figure out why, and fix it. Now.

Talking about how great things will be in 15 or 50 years doesn’t excite me. Plans in ring binders mean less to me than the sight of things being done. Talk all you want about the value of planning, but if trees aren’t planted now, they won’t be giving any shade in the future. If water isn’t kept clean now, what will we drink in the future? If farmland isn’t protected now, where will we get food in the future? If we don’t take care of Jordan now, what will we have in the future?

Do plans have value? Of course. But that value is meaningless without action. And wise planners will be the first to admit that they can’t foresee all the possible unintended consequences of even the best laid plans.

Got a great idea that would make Jordan a better place? Swell. Are you willing to work to make it happen? If so, I’ll help. If not, don’t waste my time.

Instant Gratification?
Well, I have to tell you I’m really pleased that I don’t need to wait for Girl Scout Cookies any more. But I’m smart enough to realize that some things take time. To me, that means doing what can be done now, to achieve a better tomorrow. I figure people who say things like “this isn’t the right time” or “all in due time” usually mean “let’s wait until this is a crisis everyone agrees needs fixing.” My thinking is, if something is going to take time to finish, let’s get started now.

Grandpa had patience, but he never let that be an excuse for not taking the first chips off the stone.

The Quote:
“The journey of a thousand miles begins with one step.”
Lao Tzu

 

February 28, 2012 Sage advice the Councilor should take to heart, since I’ve seen that Councilor rubbing elbows with a person who has threatened the lives of me and my family.

“I’m Just Saying, Be Careful. Be Very Careful.”

So said the Councilor after the hearing on Wednesday, February 22nd.

The Backstory
The scene was the hallway outside Courtroom 100, in the State Courthouse. The reading of the City’s appeal, and the JCAG’s cross-appeal regarding crematorium conditional use permits had just ended. I, and another Councilor attended the hearing, which is what Councilors are supposed to do if they have the means. I was having a discussion with the Editor of the local newspaper. We discussed many things, and at the moment were discussing blogs and bloggers. The other Councilor broke off from talking to the City Administrator, and joined us in conversation.

After a brief talk about bloggers, the Councilor turned to me and said “You shouldn’t go in there.” “There” being the conference room where JCAG members were meeting with their attorney to review the results of the reading. To which I replied, “I can’t go in there.” The Councilor repeated that I shouldn’t go in there, because I am a City Council Member. To which I more or less replied that I had no desire to go into that conference room, but if the Councilor wanted to, the Councilor could go ahead. Which is what led the Councilor to say “I’m just saying, be careful. Be very careful.”

The best riposte I could come up with was some silly thing about not having fallen off the turnip truck yesterday.

In The Open
You know where to find me. You may have attended one or another of the open discussions or meet-and-greet gatherings I’ve put together. You may have stopped by the Jordan Dialog booth at Celebrate Jordan. You may have spoken to me at a basketball game, or after mass. You may not like the fact that I speak to the Scott County Board, but if you’re honest, you’ll have to admit that I don’t hide my involvement.

Oh, and thank you for reading www.JordanUnderGround.com. How many other Councilors to you know who publish a weekly opinion column?

What To Do? What To Do?
When a constituent, and her husband want to build a new building in town, and come to me seeking advice on dealing with the City, should I turn them away? When a constituent asks me for help in dealing with a neighbor who plows snow onto the street, or parks trailers in front of his house, should I say I have to remain impartial, and can’t help? When a businessperson asks me for help with a lot split, what should I say? When a firefighter asks me to get information for him, should I refuse because that might look like a conflict of interest to some people? When several people say the City should do something about stinky bathrooms or an inadequate library, should I just hide behind impartiality? If people who want to renovate a baseball field ask me for support, is it a conflict of interest to lend that support? If someone is lobbying me to support building a trap shooting range that’s not even in the City limits, do I say, “I have to stay impartial”? Should I single out some constituents, and tell them I won’t listen to them because some other constituents will accuse me of not being impartial? Should I tell the people in Wexford Square that in order to maintain my impartiality, I can’t help them get a play lot?

If I went to a members only event, where I was expected to talk about City Council business, would that jeopardize my impartiality?

I agree. I need to be very careful. I don’t want to appear to be in the pocket of rich business people.

 

March 6, 2012 This one touched a nerve with a few people. Some said I was digging up things better left buried. Some said the pedophile should rot in jail, and anyone who knew what was going on should go with him. One person, who’d disagreed with me about something on JUG while back, went so far as to send me a response, with permission to post it, using his name.

Child Of Clay

Jimmie Rogers recorded this song in 1958*

CHILD OF CLAY

“Into the darkness he was sent by parents
Who were ignorant hm, hm
Tied down to his mother’s strings
Unable to be anything hm, hm
Puzzled by the things he hears
The father thinking work comes first
Ain’t got the time to quench a thirst

No, no, no, no, no, no, no, no,
No, no, no, no, no, no, no, no,

Once he was a child, a beautiful child
A child of clay shaped and molded
Into what he is today
But who is to blame for this child of clay

Going out into the street at night
The answers he may meet hm hm
With sick and twisted minds
He shares the searching questions
His heart bears hm hm
And from the dregs
The answers find their way into his supple mind
In time the planted seeds will grow
Into a twisted vine below

No, no, no, no, no, no, no,
No, no, no, no, no, no, no,

And now his aimless days begin
To drift into sordid sin hm, hm
And soon his dislike turns to hate
As the stamp of life seals his fate hm, hm
and so the night conceals his name
And the days sleep off his shame
Deprived of love and wrought by fear
A feeling that the end is near

No, no, no, no, no, no, no, no
No, no, no, no, no, no, no,

Once he was a child, a beautiful child, a child of clay.
Shaped and molded into what he is today.

And tell me, who is to blame, for this child of clay?”

*With thanks to Lyrics World.

Today Jordan is hit with breaking news of more sexual predation. Like you, I wish this disgusting mess would just go away. But it will not. So now we must face the music.

Who Is To Blame?
Fortunately for us, this time there seems to be but one clear cut perpetrator, who has served time for some of what he did. I’m told the man admitted he didn’t know how many victims he’d abused, but that it was over 100. I’m told the abuse was spread over 20 years. And now, the full effects are beginning to surface.

How could something like this go on for 20 years, involve over 100 victims, and not be noticed? Could it be because people were looking the other way?

To my mind, those who looked the other way are accomplices. As such, they share the blame for what the child of clay has become. Have we told sexual predators they need not fear being exposed and punished in Jordan?

Where’s the outrage?

Where are the anonymous bloggers, and concerned people who write letters to the editor? Is pedophilia not worthy of your attention because you can’t blame it on me or the Mayor?

Are you worried that “prominent people” may be implicated? Excuse me, but if they facilitated a sexual predator’s 20 years of predation, they are not prominent – they’re complicit.

Do the terms pedophilia, sexual deviancy, or sexual predator mean anything to you?

Now close your eyes for a moment, and imagine what this sexual predator did to his victims – to their bodies, and to their minds.   Are you starting to feel outraged? At him for what he did? Or at me. for making you confront what he did? Regardless, the uncomfortable truth – the reality – will not go away. Maybe you should be angry that those possibly more than 100 victims are Jordan’s legacy. You can open your eyes now.

Easy For Me To Say?
I wasn’t in Jordan when all this was going on. So you may want to point a finger at me, and ask what I would have done. To be honest, I don’t know. But I’d have done something. I surely wouldn’t have let sexual predation go unchallenged.

Deviant Behavior, and The Norm
When I studied psychology, Dr. Mueller – a behaviorist – emphasized two things. Most behaviors are learned. And, what a society tolerates determines what is the norm. In other words, ignoring or covering up sexual predation causes it to become an accepted norm in a society. Think about it. In parts of the Middle East, it’s accepted for men to be entertained by, and have sexual relationships with dancing boys. But that couldn’t happen here, could it?

You may shush me, and say it’s bad for Jordan to talk about such things, but I tell you, with every fiber of my being that it’s worse for Jordan, worse for the children of clay, to hide the unpleasant truth that sexual predation happened. If only 10% of the victims suffer long-term adverse effects, how many suicides, abusive parents, and sexual predators will be the unwanted outcome of that predation? I have waited for public discussion in the news media, and I see none. Are you hoping all the unpleasantness will go away if it’s ignored? It will not. Are you worried the School District will be sued by victims? Do you really think money is more important than the child of clay? If the sexual predator had been a Catholic priest, would you be asking for the bishop and archbishop to resign? Are you afraid you might learn that your child was a victim? Or that a close friend of your child may have confided in him about sexual abuse?

Do you think talking about this particular part of the past serves no useful purpose? Tell that to the more than 100 victims, who must surely think that no one in Jordan cares about them. How many of those victims will remain in Jordan to be customers at supermarkets, or banks, or barbershops? Maybe if you and I show publicly that we do care, we can help some – or even just one – of those victims begin to have faith in Jordan again.

Yesterday someone told me, “Thom, I can see you’re finally beginning to put all the pieces together.” Yes, I am, and I don’t like the picture that’s emerging.

Vulnerability
I’m told, by someone who has the experience to know, that sexual predators often seek out children from the fringes of school groups – kids who are not especially popular, or smart, or attractive. I’m also told that sexual predators sometimes develop friendships for years before they actually begin preying sexually on their victims.

If you knew, and did nothing, you are to blame for the child of clay. Now it’s time to atone. If you know or even suspect that someone has been, or is a victim of a sexual predator, quietly, privately, tell that person to contact:
National Sexual Assault Hotline | 1.800.656.HOPE | Free. Confidential. 24/7.

We can’t undo the past, but maybe we can protect the future.

A Response From a Reader
Thanks Thom for the update.

As you may have guessed, I do not subscribe, or purchase the Jordan Independent print edition.

This type of behavior is unacceptable to bring on to kids, especially for one in authority.  Having relatives that went through similar situations of being violated as young kids, I take this to heart.  Having a child of my own, I am unsure what actions I would take, if someone would ever do something like that to my child.

Not knowing the complete story in this particular case, it is difficult to come up with an opinion.  From what you have told me so far, I am outraged.  This person should never have been released from jail.  The state took 5 years from him, while his victims will suffer for the rest of their lives.

I did find an online article, after doing a search on his name with the Shakopee Valley News.  I also found this, which gives some good details about one particular victim.  Yep, I’m still outraged.

http://law.justia.com/cases/minnesota/court-of-appeals/2004/opa040471-1214.html

I guess the conservative side of me would rather see him incarcerated for the rest of his life, considering the number of incidents.  I believe in the death penalty, however, historically capital punishment is rarely, if ever, used in cases like this.  That would be acceptable, in my opinion, but would be caught up in appeals for years, again considering that it is used more for death to another.

Coincidentally, I was speaking with a friend last night, and we brought up the topic of lie detectors and people in authority.  Some years back, I was testing to be a police officer in a large metropolitan city.  One of the requirements was that I would have to undergo a lie detector examination.  I had no qualms about taking it, as I have nothing to hide about my past.  This testing was done at an agency outside of Minnesota.

Minnesota does not allow polygraph examinations for pre-employment.  Minnesota has people in authority (police officers, teachers, etc.) that have skeletons in the closet.  This can range from drug abuse, alcohol abuse, and yes, even pedophilia.  Those people should NOT be in that position of authority.  I fully agree with other states guidelines that use polygraph examinations for pre-employment.  With all the “tricks”, and ways to supposedly fool the examination on the internet, people would be quite surprised how accurate they can be, even when attempting those “tricks”.

Thanks again for the information, Thom.  I do not agree with some things you say, but I do think we can agree here.

(name withheld by the editor – tb)

The Quote:
“All that’s necessary for the forces of evil to win in the world is for enough good men to do nothing.”
           Edmund Burke

 

March 13, 2012 This one is both hilarious and idiotic. Some people don’t have the brains God gave a fencepost.

The Letter, Part A
Or
Alas, Stupidity Is Not Illegal

I recently learned of something amazing. Well, at least I think it’s amazing. After reading this week’s JUG, you may want to choose a different adjective for how you feel.

Someone sent a letter to a Jordan resident. The sender claimed to be the Mayor, and said the recipient was doing a disservice to the City by opposing the crematorium.

The recipient called the Mayor, and asked if he wanted to talk, since the letter seemed impersonal, and unlike the Mayor’s usual approach to dealing with constituents. When the recipient showed the Mayor the letter, the Mayor said he didn’t write it, had no idea where it came from, and that whoever sent it did a poor job of forging the signature.

By my estimation, we now have two crimes to contemplate. The first is mail fraud. The second is impersonating a public official. One appears to be a federal offense. The second – impersonating a public official – is a misdemeanor. Both are too petty to merit pursuit by law enforcement officials. Still, it took a while for all involved to get things sorted out.

When the recipient got the letter, he or she called the Police, and rightfully so. JPD looked at the case, and decided it was a job for the County Sheriff. The County forwarded the allegedly bogus letter and envelope to the Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension. The BCA asked if there were any Persons Of Interest, and if any of the POI’s handwriting samples were available. JPD provided the name of a POI, and handwriting samples collected from public documents. Then the BCA went to work.

The Results Are In
The BCA agreed the letter was a forgery. They said they could neither prove nor disprove the POI’s involvement. The POI was asked to provide an elimination handwriting sample, and refused to do so. The BCA suggested getting a search warrant for additional handwriting samples, but the recipient and JPD declined to do so.

All of this information is public record. The only thing that cannot be revealed is the POI’s name. Feel free to talk to JPD, if you doubt what I’ve written.

Who in this town is foolish enough to think he or she could actually send such a letter, expect that it would be taken seriously, and not expect the recipient to ask the Mayor to confirm it? Who in this town has such a skewed view of right and wrong that he or she would think impersonating the Mayor is acceptable? And, sheesh, by mail yet? Did someone actually think committing a couple of petty crimes was no big deal? Or that it was cute? Or that he or she could just say “. . . I was just kidding. I didn’t really mean it. There was no offense. . .”?

The Text
(Recipient name withheld, No salutation given by sender – tb)

I guess I don’t appreciate you using my name in a letter to the editor because you have this misfortune of having asthma.

I have to deal with a slight hearing loss but you don’t see me bring that issue into the public.

I guess what I’m trying to say is that you and your group having been using me and putting pressure on me to support your cause.

I wish you and your group would just back off. Because of you people my job as mayor has become very stressful. Not only that I now have a pending lawsuit to deal with.

You not only have hurt this town, you have hurt me personally as I’m getting attacked from all sides. Please stop!

MAYOR Pete Ewals

Let’s Dissect This a Little
Mayor Ewals is deaf in one ear. Only an idiot would characterize that as a slight hearing loss.

The job of Mayor is stressful? Imagine that! Only a Mayor who is afraid to face the unpleasant things that happen in town would not feel stress.

And what kind of a moron would provide a hand-written forgery? Doesn’t this idiot know about computers and printers? Alas, stupidity is not illegal.

This letter’s a little old. I only recently received official notice of it, and investigation. I gather the recipient and the Police wanted to play their cards close to the vest to avoid jeopardizing any potential case.

The person who perpetrated these crimes (and that’s what they are) will be angry with me for making this information public. But I trust the good people of Jordan to stand with me, and denounce such behavior. Surely no civic-minded resident of Jordan would condone criminal activity as a means of intimidation.

Oh, by the way, shortly after the JPD began its’ investigation, the recipient’s yard was vandalized. An odd coincidence, hmmm?

The Letter, Part B
Or
Truth Is The Best Satire

Meanwhile, some wiseacre sent the following to the City of Jordan in January, I guess. The City Administrator presented it to the EDA as an agenda item about the “Letter from So-Called Jordan Business Development Association”. Minutes of that EDA meeting state, “The content of the letter can only be characterized as sarcastic.” Not true. The content could easily be characterized as satirical, factual, humorous (it made me laugh), and maybe sharp – as in “astute”. Aside from the group name, I don’t see any factual inaccuracies. The real estate listings appear to be bona fide. The comments about our ordinances are accurate, though perhaps a little impolite, as satire usually is. But hey, judge for yourself.

The Text
Jordan Business Development Association
210 East First Street
Jordan, MN 55352

To Whom It May Concern,

In an effort to continue to grow Jordan and make it an attractive place for new business, we want to make you aware of Jordan’s new positive stance on having funeral homes and retorts within city limits. We recognize the growing need and popularity in cremation services and the financial opportunities for funeral homes to provide those services in-house.

We welcome any funeral home that would like to open a satellite funeral chapel with one retort, or a funeral home with one retort. One retort per funeral home; all cremations to be done for a particular funeral home’s business (regardless of the number of other locations the funeral home may have).

Our ordinances support this type of business in both Residential and Commercial zones. There are a number of sites open with great opportunity and we hope this will attract new business.

Please consider Jordan for your next business opportunity! Attached are a few of the properties to consider.

Best Regards,
Jordan Business Development Association

210 East First St.
Jordan, MN 55352

Jbda201@hotmail.com

MLS 4013442 Edina Realty Inc. – great price/zoned commercial!
MLS 4111045 RES Realty
MLS 4111047 RES Realty
MLS 4075591 Edina Realty Inc.

So there you have it. Two letters. One an idiotic, phony piece of heavy-handed stupidity clearly meant to intimidate the recipient. The other, truthful but satirical and a little snotty. probably meant to insult City government. Oddly, I think I know who’s behind the first letter, but I have no clue who sent the second. Too bad, because whomever sent the second deserves a shout out for his or her wit.

Correction and Clarification:
Since posting the original story about the letter impersonating the Mayor, I have learned that the County Attorney claimed there was no crime, and refused to do anything about it. JPD researched the issue, and found there was a crime. JPD asked the County Attorney to get a search warrant, and he refused.

JPD did it’s job well. The County? Not so much.

I suppose a conspiracy theorist could make a case that the County is trying to punish Jordan for opposing a gravel mine. But I like to think they’re bigger than that.

The Quote:
“Tact is for People Who Aren’t Witty Enough to be Sarcastic”
from a button I purchased at a local store

 

April 11, 2012

The New Standard of Success in Capitalism Is . . .

Bankrutpcy?

The Star/Tribune reported Monday, April 9, 2012, that the management team which led Buffets Holdings, Inc. into bankruptcy twice was awarded six-figure bonuses – twice.

I guess I don’t understand capitalism very well. I always thought it was about the willingness to take risks, work hard, and make a profit. Apparently, the new model for capitalism is for a management team to screw vendors, screw shareholders, screw employees, cook the books, sit back and wait for the company it’s leading to go broke, and declare bankruptcy. Then they set silly easy goals with a silly easy plan to meet them, declare themselves saviors of the company, and start the process all over again.

Whether you’re a Republican, Democrat or Aristocrat, if you Mooobelieve in capitalism, I think you should find this offensive.

It seems like some managers at least, think it’s good business to milk the cow dry, sell her for hamburger, and give themselves a pat on the back for hiring someone to pick up the manure. So what’s the cow think of that policy?

Remember the Good Old Days,
When Managers Got Golden Parachutes
to Leave?
The story leads with: “Michael Andrews, chief executive of Buffets Holdings Inc., helped guide the restaurant owner through bankruptcy twice in the past four years. Both times, he was rewarded with court-approved bonuses.

Andrews, Chief Financial Officer Keith Wall and the Eagan-based company’s concept officer are among 16 managers who may split about $2.3 million during Buffets’ current bankruptcy. The three men also shared in about $1 million in bonuses handed out in the company’s 2008 case, according to court records.”

The full Strib story is here: http://www.startribune.com/business/146470925.html

And courts approve this kind of performance? Managers who run companies bankrupt should lose their jobs, at the very least. The payments are made through a Key Employee Retention Plan. Dear Lord, who decided these people were key employees worth retaining? And what would constitute an employee not worth retaining?

I could understand if this management team successfully led Buffets out of bankruptcy, but their original plan was so flawed the company’s only recourse was to go bankrupt again. In China, I suspect that kind of management would be rewarded with a trial in a kangaroo court, and a few years of rehabilitation putting oil filler caps on lawn mower engines. In America, they get a six-figure bonus.

Is it any wonder that American capitalism is losing its’ clout?

The Quote:
“I play to win, whether during practice or a real game. And I will not let anything get in the way of me and my competitive enthusiasm to win.”
                  Michael Jordan

 

April 18, 2012

Antithesis

The town of Stone Bank, the Village of Nashota, and the Village of Hartland are located in Southeastern Wisconsin, roughly midway between Madison and Milwaukee. But in one respect, at least, they might as well be on another planet, compared to Jordan.

Plans A & B
A funeral home operator out that way decided to add a crematory to her operation. When she met strong resistance in Stone Bank, she tried Nashota. Strong resistance there caused her to try Hartland (population 8506), and this is where things get really interesting.

Plan C
On May 17, 2010, the Hartland Plan Commission began considering a Conditional Use Permit for the addition of a crematory in a garage, on the premises of a funeral home. The applicant didn’t provide all the necessary information, and the Plan Commission tabled the application. Apparently information about the specific retort, among other things, was missing.

The Hartland Plan Commission held its first public hearing regarding the CUP on August 16, 2010. After substantial public input, the application was tabled, and the Commission explained how to submit e-mailed or written comments.

At its September 20, 2010 meeting, after substantial discussion, the Commission moved “to table the item, and request more information from the manufacturer and the government if there are any agencies to provide it.” I’m quoting the minutes of the Plan Commission meeting.

The CUP application discussion was tabled again on October 18, 2010.

On November 15, 2010 the Commission again tabled the CUP, with discussion centering on whether there might be a more appropriate place in town, and whether language could be added to the ordinance regarding distance from residences.

On July 18, 2011 the Commission officially noted the receipt of a CUP to operabusinesste a crematory at a location in a cemetery – a change of location from what was originally proposed. Discussion was carried over to their next meeting, which seems to be required by ordinance in Hartland. No joke – Hartland requires a first and second hearing (or reading) by the Plan Commission before issuing a CUP.

On August 15, 2011, after another public hearing, the commission again tabled the item. There were questions about land ownership at the new location (within a cemetery), need for a crematory in the community, and resistance from neighbors of the new location.

As of today, the Village Board has not seen a recommendation on either of the CUPs for crematoria in the Village of Hartland.

Never heard of Hartland, Wisconsin? Here’s a link to the Village web site: http://www.villageofhartland.com/

If you follow the link, go to the Quality of Life video tour in the Video Tour of Hartland panel in the right side bar. It’s amazing how much Hartland and Jordan are physically alike.

Three towns in Wisconsin are taking thoughtful approaches to crematoria – the antithesis of Jordan’s run-and-gun approach.

Alert readers will also note that the Hartland Village Board is paying attention to its’ Plan Commission. Wow!

The Hits Keep Coming
Meanwhile, last night (Monday, April 16, 2012), when I suggested that the Jordan Planning Commission should hold a hearing regarding the sale of an alley easement, I was told that:
a. it’s not necessary since the Planning Commission will not come to a different conclusion than the Council, and
b. we can expedite the process by holding the hearing ourselves.

After the meeting, a Planning Commission member said he didn’t take it personally, but he wondered if the Commission had any relevance.

Please bear in mind; this is the Council’s handpicked Planning Commission. Do you remember when the Commission recommended two applicants for vacant seats, and the City Council said no? Now you know why.

What’s The First Word You Think Of?
After last night’s Council meeting, members of the EDA, Planning Commission, staff, and Council sat through a grinding workshop – two hours plus – put on by SCALE. It was called Legos 401, but it wasn’t near as much fun as it sounds. All the Council members in attendance nodded sagely at the advice provided in the presentation. One little bit of which was the need to keep all the players in the loop – developers, staff, Councilors, and Commissions.

It may not be the first word I think of, but hypocrisy is in the top five when I think of how the Council talks and acts.

The Quote:
“Hypocrisy can afford to be magnificent in its promises, for never intending to go beyond promise, it costs nothing.”
           Edmund Burke

 

April 25, 2012 This post is about childish behavior – in more ways than one.

Earth Day, Shmearth Day.

I had a hard time choosing a title for this post. Some of the options I considered:
You Can’t Clean Up In a Day, What Slobs Have Spent All Year Fouling.
What Are We Teaching Our Children?
Who’s Screwing With Jordan?
– or maybe –
Pick Up Your Own D**n Mess!

On Sunday (April 22, 2012) I spent some time in Log Cabin Park, with some friend who were celebrating (?) Earth Day. They were passing out kits with biodegradable trash bags and latex gloves, and encouraging people to help clean up the town.

So I grabbed a kit and headed for Lagoon Park. Alas, I never got past the back of the Mini-Met – the area by the scoreboard.

In less than 20 minutes, I filled one bag with the usual detritus of

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

modern American society. Pop cans, snuff tins, fancy “Life Water” bottles, gloves and whatnot.

I gave myself a pat on the back, and headed for Log Cabin to show my friends the treasure trove I’d picked up. Then something on the creek bank caught my eye. It took me only a moment to realize I’d hit the Mother Lode!

So, back to the group to pick up another bag, and see if anyone had a camera. Then back to the bank to clean up some idiot’s mess. I hope the idiot is reading this. Perhaps he or she will All-Natural-Chickenrecognize some of the crap he or she thought nothing of throwing into your common area.

This person was clearly tossing the aftermath of some sort of party. He or she may have catered it. Whoever it was, a lot of money was spent on meat at Cub. I found Styrofoam trays for ground turkey, chicken wings (all natural, no less), a whole chicken, pork loins, a beef roast bone, and more. I found an ice package, a short beer bottle (which I think pre-dated the rest of the mess) and more. Someone threw two bags of trash on your creek bank. I didn’t think to look for expiration dates. I did look for anything that might have had a name or address on it. No luck with that.

So some slob, who doesn’t give a spit about the rest of us, got away with making a mess for someone else to clean up.

Like I said, I hope the person who made the mess is reading this. He or she is a slob, and a blight on the rest of the town.

Other participants in this little event gathered up five bags of trash, a rear brake rotor off something substantial, a wheel cover (too big to fit in the bag the kids had already filled), one of Jordan’s banners, and various other sign and vehicle parts.

Fun, But . . .
It was a chilly day, but the rain held off for the most part. We sat in the park, laughed, talked, ate cookies, and generally enjoyed Earth Day. But I have to tell you, it was truly disheartening to see all the junk people picked up, and to know that there’s so much more waiting for someone else to gather. I wonder how many litter barrels the City needs to put out before the slobs can find one close enough to use.

Are you the person who drinks Mountain Dew, or Monster, but doesn’t have sufficient energy (or brains) to put the can in a trash barrel? Mice foul their nests. Are you no smarter than a mouse? Are you the idiot who threw the brake rotor on the street? Or the mirror?

There are a lot of pollution problems you and I can’t correct. But we can change our own behavior, and we can try to minimize pollution in Jordan. Ask yourself, what are you leaving for the children of Jordan?

And for those of you who spent time picking up trash, a big thank you!

Oddities Of The Day
One Jordan resident drove past Log Cabin Park eleven times. That might seem like a show of support were it not for the fact that he rolled down his window and yelled something like “You people are sick! Sick, sick, sick.” He only did that on the first two passes. The very identifiable car he drove for the next nine passes didn’t have power windows. I guess he doesn’t believe in Earth Day.

Another Jordan resident stood across the street and took pictures of the people in Log Cabin Park. Do you suppose she’s building up some kind of dossier on people who support Earth Day.

Jordan Police drove by five or six times. Regrettably, they didn’t stop for cookies or coffee.

Two County Sheriff’s deputies drove by as well.

Friends of the Earth are always glad to see their civil liberties so well protected.

The Quote:
“The ultimate test of man’s conscience is his willingness to sacrifice something today, for generations of tomorrow, whose words of thanks will not be heard.”
            Gaylord Nelson


May2, 2012

Huh?

We have about 650 people on Scott County’s payroll – over 120 Big-Questionmarkof them in supervisory positions. We have a highly paid, and (by most reports) highly regarded County Administrator, too. Yet, all that brain power can’t come up with even a ballpark figure, or a range for the fiscal impact of a resolution to approve a two year agreement between the county of Scott and the Law Enforcement Labor Services, Inc. (Local 332) – Sheriff Essential Licenses Sergeant Unit

In essence, the County Board gave a labor union a message that they could ask for whatever they think they can get.

This same massive brain trust presented County Board members with a write up for a resolution approving an Interim Use Permit (IUP) for a frack sand mining operation. By my count, there were at least a dozen changes made to the document AFTER the Board Members received their copies. Most of the changes were relatively minor, but two of them jumped out at me.

The original information about a letter of credit was changed. So the Board was given inaccurate financial information. Not a huge problem, but clearly, this is the type of t that should be crossed before the Board sees the so-called final application for the IUP.

Then, staff said that MnDOT hasn’t finished its review of how trucks will be able to access U.S. 169. This little detail may involve a new full access at the mining operation site, or at Bluff Drive. It will involve no more than 76 trucks per day (38 in, 38 out). This is not a minor detail. It affects City, Township and County comprehensive plans. It involves MnDOT, and potentially the other businesses in the area. And it just screams confusion. Can anyone tell me why MnDOT, having reduced the full intersection at 173rd Street, now is talking about creating a new full intersection a little ways north.

And what of the County Board?
Meanwhile, no one among the Commissioners had the brains or balls to point out these glaring oversights. We pay Commissioners about forty grand per year. They get private offices, health care benefits, and retirement benefits. Some of them collect substantial amounts of money in per diem payments. For what? To allow staff to run such a sloppy operation? To make decisions based on incomplete information? To accept lame excuses for less than thorough work?

The instances I’ve cited happened at two separate meetings. The issues being addressed were not trivial. When I see such sloppiness recurring on important matters, I can’t help but wonder what’s happening on the mundane stuff to which no one pays much attention.

And no, I am not planning to run for County Commissioner. It’s way too much fun sitting on the outside, tapping on the glass.

The Quote:
“God may be in the details, but the goddess is in the questions. Once we begin to ask them, there’s no turning back.“
   Gloria Steinem

May 9, 2012 This is one ugly story. In my opinion, it reeks of either incompetence or corruption (or maybe both) on the part of the County.

Facts, Rumors, and Mining.  You Connect the Dots.

This JUG is about a hole in the ground.  It’s going to be a mix Hole-In-The-Groundof what I believe to be factual information, what I suspect is rumor, and maybe a supposition or two on my part.  If you feel something I’ve written is inaccurate, send me an e-mail at Thom.Boncher@JordanUnderGround.com and I’ll be happy to add your input to JUG – assuming you’ll allow me to use your name on your post.

Facts?
In 1981 Richard Flood sold a piece of land in Louisville Township to Shiely Co., who mined silica sand from the site until 1985.  When the market for silica sand went bust, Shiely sold the property to an outfit called Unimin.  Unimin sold the property to Scott County in 1991, for $350.000.00.  In 1997 the County sold part of the property to Ogleby Norton, a mining company.

In 1997, Unimin sued Scott County and Ogleby Norton over mining rights.

Somewhere in this mess, we bump into Q Prime, a company planning to turn the property into an amphitheater.  They bought the property in 1999

In 2000 the Flood Brothers got a grading permit to remove waste silica sand.  When the Flood Brothers worked the property, as nearly as I can ascertain, they never got any permit to mine gravel from the site.  Their permit was only to return the site to the original surface.

In March of 2003 the County found out the Floods were extracting gravel, so their grading permit was revoked, and they were ordered to obtain a gravel-mining permit.  Didn’t happen, so the County terminated the lease agreement with the Floods.  In August of 2004 County staff observed that the Floods were still mining on Scott County Property without a lease or permit.  I’m not a lawyer, but that sounds like theft to me.

In September of 2004, the Flood brothers sued the County requesting renewal of their lease, and issuance of a mining permit.

In October of 2004 County staff, Attorney, and Deputy Administrator met on site with one of the Flood Brothers, and authorized the Floods to keep on mining while they prepared a permit application – despite the fact the Flood’s lease had been terminated.

An estimated half million cubic yards of gravel was removed from the site, at an estimated value of $5.00 per cubic yard – an estimated 2.5 million dollars.  It’s unclear whether the Flood Brothers ever paid any gravel tax on gravel removed from the property.

One of the Flood Brothers is now residing in Costa Rica.  Another is in Texas.

An administrative decision was made to value the property at $17,000.00.

Chutzpah, And That’s a Fact!
In 2008 the Flood Brothers sued the County over cancellation of the lease for the Floods’ failure to pay rent, for cancellation of its interim mining permit due to the Floods’ failure to follow conditions, and their failure to pay gravel tax plus interest and penalty.  In other words, the Floods were suing the County because the Floods didn’t pay their bills or follow the rules.  Amazingly enough, the County settled the suit by giving up interest and penalties on unpaid taxes.  Do you think the County would be so forgiving to you if you failed to pay taxes, and used your property in a manner not permitted by code?

The site leasehold was never offered to anyone for competitive bids.

Someone (I’m guessing Shiely Co.) paid a half million dollar reclamation security bond, which has never been used, despite the fact that the site has been idle for years.  I have a page from a County presentation in which the County states that the site was never properly reclaimed.

The property is at the core of four lawsuits against the County.

The County wrote off $200,000.00 in Planning staff and consultant costs as a result of the ill-fated amphitheater project.

The current County Administrator assumed the position in 2009.

Rumors
Now we step into the realm of rumor.  I have not been able to verify anything about some of what follows.  People tell me things prefaced with “everyone knows . . .”, but that’s hardly enough to say something is more than a rumor.

Rumor has it that an area trucking company paid gravel tax to the Flood Brothers for every load of gravel they hauled from the site.

I’ve heard rumors about who may have benefited from the Flood Brother’s continued mining after their lease had been terminated.

And one would surmise that the County never had any intention of reclaiming the land for any other use than mining.  In which case whomever posted the half-mil bond ought to be incensed.  Why else would the site remain not reclaimed for over 20 years?

Originally purchased by the County to be a solid waste composting facility (dump), the site has to be the most star-crossed 177 acres in Scott County.  It seems destined to be either a sterile “lake”, or a barren pit when its’ silica sand is exhausted.  And there’s no way to know when that will be.

Considering that 2.5 million dollars worth of gravel was extracted from the site, why was no one ever charged with theft?

When you start connecting the dots, the picture that emerges is not pretty..

 

May 15, 2012

Crest, Or Colgate?

If the cost of Crest jumped 12%, would you switch to Colgate?

A Downtown business owner told me his/her property tToothpasteaxes jumped from about $8,000.00 per year to about $9,000.00. The business owner’s building was assessed at about $265,000.00. That business owner is being hit up for roughly 12% more in City taxes.

And getting 12% more of what, in exchange?

I’ve heard this story repeatedly over the last couple of years.

The business owner is afraid to improve his/her building, because that will probably increase its’ assessed value, and raise taxes even more.

Here is the Downtowner’s Dilemma in a nutshell – should a business owner remodel, and risk even more tax increases, or move out of town? Most are choosing to move. Some are doing nothing. And some precious few are putting money into their buildings. I’ve noticed a couple of roofing projects, a window project, a residential remodeling project, and a refurbished barbershop. To be fair, I suppose I should mention the addition of a crematorium, but I’m not sure how much that enhances Downtown. I’ve also noticed a remodeling project that was started, and is now stopped because the building foundation is shot.

A Chill In The Air
What can we do about the tax spiral?

Freeze taxes. Freeze expenditures. Freeze salaries. Freeze fees, including water and sewer rates.

Do you think it would help Jordan’s growth if the City had a reputation as a low tax town?

And here’s one more thing to freeze – assessments for Downtown property owners who make improvements to their property. Maybe if we removed some of the uncertainty and nervousness surrounding rising assessments, owners would be willing to remodel more than just the facades of their buildings.

For sure, we have to do something to make it cheaper to stay Downtown than to go somewhere else. I’m hoping the EDA will come up with some ideas for incentive packages to spur urban renewal.

The Quote:
Our dilemma
is that we hate change and love it at the same time; what we really want is for things to remain the same but get better.
         Sydney J. Harris

 

May 22, 2012 Sometimes, in my opinion, my esteemed colleagues at City Hall talk like fish. I suppose, in fairness, I sometimes talk like a fish too. But at least I make an effort to talk to – and listen to people.

Permitted? Sanctioned? Sponsored?

I should ask for the Council’s permission before I talk to constituents? I don’t think so.

At the May 7, 2012 Jordan City Council meeting I tried to ask four questions conveyed to me by constituents at a Jordan Dialog gathering. The City Administrator said he didn’t think the questions should be answered, that I was making a big deal of something that had been covered before, and that I was grandstanding. He said Jordan Dialog meetings are not sanctioned by the Jordan City Council, and questions raised at Jordan Dialog gatherings should not be answered by staff.

Jordan Dialog gatherings are not sanctioned by the City? Well, yeah. That’s why they take place. Not everyone wants to come to a City Council meeting, and be on camera. Not everyone wants to come to a Town Hall Meeting, and get ripped by people who have opposing views, and no respect for civility.

What is this? High School? Do I need a hall pass to go out Hall-Passand talk to constituents?

Commercial Club meetings are not sanctioned by the Jordan City Council. Should questions raised there be brought to staff for definitive answers? Or should staff and Council Members just take it upon themselves to represent the City in that invitation-only environment, without consulting the Council? If someone asks me something at a service club meeting, should I just pop off an answer?

And where is the Council Member who made a big stink about wanting to be able to talk to anyone she pleased? I never objected to her talking to constituents in any venue she chose. When I participate in a Jordan Dialog gathering, I’m not violating any open meeting laws. I tell the public and the Council well in advance when and where the gathering will be. I post flyers. And I publicize the gathering here on JUG. If City staff or Council Members want to come and make contact with constituents, they’re perfectly welcome to do so. And by the way, I invited a representative of the water meter manufacturer to attend the Jordan Dialog gathering, but he did not respond. It’s hard to get answers from someone who’s not there.

Park Permits?
Meanwhile, misinformation about park usage was being posted on social media. Some of that misinformation was coming from a professed mayoral candidate. Some of it was coming from anonymous posters. Do you think those people would have accepted my say-so about park usage rules? As if.

So I wrote up an agenda item, sent it to the City Administrator, who said he didn’t think it should go on the agenda. Say what?

I do not expect to have to ask twice when it comes to placing agenda items. I take pains to make sure the items I submit are of concern to the general public. I do my best to avoid ambush agenda items. And I expect the City Administrator to respect, if not me personally, the position of City Council Member.

Ultimately, the Police Chief delivered an excellent summary of the rules regarding park usage. Judging from the absence of misinformation on social media since then, I’d say the effort was well worthwhile.

I’m trying hard to assure open communication to the people of Jordan. When I perceive confusion or misunderstanding from the public, I try to correct it in public – not in behind the scenes e-mails that do nothing to inform anyone other than the recipient.

Please bear in mind that we have heard repeatedly from constituents about the inability to get answers from City Hall. Our Values Statement says “POSITIVE RELATIONS WITH THE COMMUNITY.
We believe that positive relations with the community and public we serve leads to positive, involved, and active citizens.”

I think City Hall – staff and Council – needs to realize that communication, involvement, and active citizens won’t always happen on our terms. Trying to shut off the communication we don’t like has the effect of shutting off all communication.

Actually, my question to the rest of the Council is, why aren’t any of you conducting similar gatherings. Or is all the talk about enhanced communication just that – talk?

The Quote:
Anybody
who thinks that getting a communication from a voter in your district is spam – that guy is pork. Roast pork unless he changes his point of view.
         Dick Morris