2011 Archive

January 4, 2011 This post started little exchange on the local newspaper’s web site. One blogger wondered if I or the Mayor were Calvin, and who was Hobbes. I don’t think the blogger ever understood that it was the Council changing the rules willy-nilly. Not the Mayor, and certainly not me, since I had only been in the chair for one meeting.

Calvin and Hobbes . . .

Years ago, when Bill Watterson was still producing the comic strip Calvin and Hobbes, one of the on-going themes was how the title characters would start a game, and change the rules as they went along. Every time one was unhappy with something the other did, a whole spate of new rules, counter-rules, and exceptions popped up.

Something similar is happening here in Jordan.

The City Council seems quite willing to re-write the rules as they go along. Whether it’s an inconvenient zoning code, or unhappiness with the way the Mayor approaches his job, the solution is “let’s change the rules.”

The latest round of Calvin and Hobbes-ing comes as a result of the Mayor’s decision to nominate only one person for appointment to the Planning Commission. This so upset the Council that they decided to change the rules so that the entire Council would vote appointments to committees, without Mayoral nomination.

Somehow, the proposal brought before the Council yesterday, not only sought to remove the Mayor’s power of appointment, but also made considerable changes in the selection process, including changes regarding who may or may not serve on commissions. This was not at all what was discussed at the December 20th Council meeting. One wonders how the Council’s original proposal blossomed into such a far-reaching proposal. From what the City Attorney said last night, it would seem that previous admininistrations didn’t do a very good job of delineating the process of filling commissions, and though the Council didn’t specifically ask for it, she has endeavored to correct the problem.

There is a reason why the Mayor appoints, and the Council confirms candidates for commissions. It’s called “checks and balances’ – an American political innovation that prevents any one branch – or individual – from having too much power within an elected government.

Huh?
Last night a Council Member accused me of hypocrisy, for something which, as near as I can recall, I never said. Although we were discussing a procedural change – which I oppose – he asked if it was hypocritical of me to oppose seating an individual because he or she had been voted out of office. His point seemed to be that it was wrong for me to oppose seating an individual for such a reason, given that I joined the Parks and Recreation Commission after not being elected to the Council in 2008.

Once again, at the time, we were discussing a procedural change. We were not discussing any individual appointments. And since that Council Member and I have not had any conversations about individual appointments, I can’t for the life of me figure out why he went off on that tangent. Maybe meetings would run more quickly if Council Members would stick to the topic at hand.

It’s Official
I took an oath, got a lapel pin, certificate of election, and had my picture taken. Now the hard work begins, and for that, I’ll need your help and support, starting with . . .

Town Hall Meeting
Saturday, January 8th, 9:00 AM at Ridges Of Sand Creek Golf Course. “Official” representatives of the City Council will be Mayor Ewals, and Council Members Thill and Boncher. Other Council Members may attend if they wish.

Incidentally
JordanUnderGround.com originates from a computer in my basement. Much of the source material originates from the basement of City Hall. Hence the name. Catchy, huh?

 

January 12, 2011 This was a response to some of the poop that was being deposited on the local newspaper’s web site.

The Truth, or Something Like It

It never ceases to amaze me how willing people are to accept things without question. Sometimes the thing being accepted is ridiculous. Sometimes there’s a grain of truth, with a wrapping of misinformation. Sometimes the misinformation is a simple mistake. Sometimes it’s an outright attempt to avoid the truth.

Here is a truth.
I am not engaged in any lawsuit against the City.

Another truth.
In my experience, the Jordan Area Visioning Alliance (JAVA) has never attempted to prevent any business from coming to Jordan. In fact, JAVA has always, in my experience, sought ways to make the Jordan Area grow in ways that benefit the people, and preserve the character of the area.

And Another
Pick any issue you want, affecting the City, and you will not find 4990 people lined up on one side of the issue, against 10 people on the other side. I don’t know what the split might be – that would depend on the issue – but it would be much less one-sided. Of that, I’m certain.

And Another
Lawyers don’t take cases they think they can’t win. If the City Council makes good decisions, lawyers will not engage in actions against the City.

Yet Another
No one has a right to assume moral “high ground”. Those who question the morality of someone’s actions should expect that their morality too, will be questioned.

And One Final Truth
Bloggers who perpetuate untruths do everyone a disservice. Saying things like “10 vocal people are ruining things for the rest of the town” is not true.

 

January 25, 2011 All the animals in Animal Farm were created equal, but pigs were more equal than the rest of the animals.

Do We Let the Nuts Drive the Bus?
Do We Even Know Who the Nuts Are?

I’ve been hearing a lot lately about civility. I’m a big fan of civility. Civility makes it easier for all of us to just get along.

But civility shouldn’t be an expression of fear or distrust for our neighbors.

An Historical Perspective
Here’s a little bit of history. Teddy Roosevelt became President when William McKinley was assassinated in 1901. One would think that Roosevelt should have a good understanding of the effects of a crazy shooter. I’m sure he had a healthy awareness of the potential danger he was placing himself in. That awareness would be confirmed in 1912, by an assassination attempt, which left him with a bullet in his chest for the rest of his life.

Everything I’ve seen indicates that Roosevelt was an intelligent man – an author, police commissioner, Secretary of the Navy, and President. He was often called “Bull Moose”. And “Trust Buster Teddy”. He didn’t get his mug carved into Mount Rushmore by being afraid to stand up for what he believed in.

Of course, people should be civil to one another. It’s the right thing to do.

Of course we are just one crazy person away from a disaster. That’s true for everyone, everywhere. And has been since Cain and Abel.

But does that mean we should put our beliefs in our back pockets lest we offend someone? I personally think that living in fear of some unknown, and unknowable crazy person diminishes our humanity. There are no surefire predictors for who might become violent. Even diagnosed schizophrenia is not necessarily an indicator of violent tendencies.

I haven’t heard any screaming and yelling here in Jordan. Well, maybe at basketball games, and such. But protests here are pretty tame. I walked through one a week ago – walked through it three times, in fact. I never saw or heard any shouting or disruptive behavior. Waiting for a bus in Minneapolis is risky. Leaving the Metrodome after a Vikings game is risky. Twenty (or so) people chatting and laughing outside Jordan City Hall? Not so much. Our local newspaper didn’t think the “protest” rated a single interview. A small photo, and 30 words was about all it got. Maybe if the people in front of City Hall last Tuesday had been louder, and more contentious, they’d have gotten more ink. Personally, I think they did it exactly right.

A Socio-Political Perspective
The First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution says:

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances. (accent is mine)

People who are exercising their constitutional rights, should be free to do so without fear of persecution from either their neighbors, or their government. Each of us must choose to either cower in fear, or exercise our freedom, and accept the risk that entails. Personally, I’d rather be free than fearful.

The Quote
“Nobody cares how much you know, until they know how much you care.”
Theodore Roosevelt

 

February 2, 2011

Mini-Camp In Mankato, For Rookie Council Members

The League of Minnesota Cities conducts seminars every year, for mayor and council members. This year, because of the elections, they tailored their presentations to newly elected city officials. Usually, I’m not a big fan of seminars, but this one was very useful.

What I Learned – Lesson 1
Carl Neu, is a government leadership consultant – a “big picture” sort of guy. The most important thing he said, in my opinion, was “Don’t let short term whims decide your long term legacy.” I suppose that could be interpreted to mean a lot of things. My take on his words is that a councilor should look at each decision, and ask, will my children and grandchildren be proud of what I’m doing? Will they be safe as a result of what I’m doing?

Lesson 2
At the moment of impact, a councilor has no competency to deal with an issue. In other words, when something first lands on a councilor’s lap, he or she is almost certainly at the bottom of a leaning curve, and needs to acquire a lot of information in order to make a good decision.

Lesson 3
Mr. Neu said that in order for councilors to make deliberate decisions, they must deliberate. They must ask themselves three things:
What do I know?
What do I need to know to make a good decision?
Where do I go to acquire the information I need in order to make a good decision”

There are a lot of options open to us – city staff, organizations like the League of Minnesota Cities, volunteers, concerned citizens, and other levels of government, to name a few. It’s our responsibility to use those resources to make good decisions.

Lesson 4
In times of change, it’s impossible to over-communicate. Mr. Neu talked about communication among councilors, with staff, and with the public. He talked about the various media a councilor must use – meetings, workshops, informal chats, newspapers, and just about any other way of acquiring information. My take on what he said is that a councilor shouldn’t be talking to people, but rather, communicating with them. And that means spending a lot of time listening.

Lesson 5
There are very specific laws about when meetings must be open. This information came out in a section conducted by an attorney – Tim Kuntz. I was surprised (and a little shocked) about who is subject to open meeting law. Of course, the City Council is. But so is any “committee, subcommittee, board, department, or commission meetings of the public body.” (from Mr. Kuntz’ presentation material) That’s a pretty inclusive list.

And what’s a meeting? Open Meeting Law statutes don’t say. But Minnesota courts have ruled that OML applies to “gatherings of official where at least a quorum is present, and issues relating to official business are discussed, or information relating to official business is received, or action (such as a vote) is taken.” (from Mr. Kuntz’ presentation material – emphasis is mine) In other words, four Council Members gathered at a church breakfast, talking about the Pastor’s sermon is not an OML violation. But if someone else sits down at the table, and starts talking about his taxes – ding! OML violation.

There was a lot more about OML, especially regarding electronic and serial meetings. If you want to ask me about it, I’ll be happy to answer. But for now I’m going to move one.

The seminar got into legal and finance basics. Again, if you have questions, I’ll try to answer. But this little summary can’t begin to cover all the material presented.

Mr. Neu closed his remarks with a comment to the effect that he thought government in America would be experiencing unprecedented changes at all levels. He wished us luck as we face the challenges ahead. Scary. The drive home was pensive.

 

February 9, 2011 Lots of things have happened since my second month on the Council. Not all of them have been pleasant. I’d be lying if I said I haven’t had any second thoughts or doubts. But I still believe I’m were I need to be, doing what I need to do.

Who, Me?

Had a wonderful chat recently, with a couple from town, who were concerned about an issue affecting them. What was planned as a half hour chat, turned into about three hours of stimulating conversation, ranging from the bathrooms at Lagoon Park, to events in Egypt.

This wonderful couple, married for quite some time, finishes each other’s sentences. One says “this . . “, the other says “ . . . and that.” Then they both nod. How cool is that?

Anyway, in the course of conversation, one of them said “We both voted for you . . . , and the other piped in “. . . .because you have a big mouth.”

Needless to say, that got a hearty laugh all around.

Then one said “Really, you say things that need to be said . . ..” And the other finished with “. . . and, we hope you won’t be stymied.” Again with the nod, this time with comments in unison, “Yup” from one, and “Don’t be stymied” from the other.

Then came the question. The one that almost everybody asks, in one form or another. “Are you having second thoughts?” The answer is no.

I’m doing exactly what I feel I need to do, for myself, and for the City. Things are challenging right now. Jordan, like most other towns, faces a lot of issues. Some of those issues are common to many towns. Others are peculiar to Jordan. I could focus on the issues that divide the town, and the Council – the crematorium, or the dispute over mayoral powers. But I’d rather focus on something I consider to be an achievement for the entire Council. On Monday, the Council adopted – by unanimous vote – a resolution insisting that that the County prepare an Environmental Impact Statement for the Jordan Aggregates mining operation.

Last summer, the herd of cats that we call a City Council couldn’t formulate any kind of cohesive response to the issue. Now we’re unanimous in the belief that it’s not beneficial to the City. What happened? What changed? A group of citizens were persistent, vocal, and sometimes loud. They presented their case repeatedly to the City Council, and they voted. The Council got the message, and moved to represent the people. The process worked. Slowly, perhaps, but it worked. I’m proud to be a part of that Council action.

There are still tough issues to be dealt with. Some of those issues may not be resolved neatly, or cheaply. But they WILL be resolved. And I, big mouth and all, will do my utmost to make sure that the resolution is something Jordan can be proud of. I wouldn’t be anyplace other than where I am now.

Jordan’s my home, and I will not be stymied.

The Quote:
If not me, who? And if not now, when?
           Mikhail Gorbachev

 

February 16, 2011 County Road 66 (Old Highway 169) was in rotten shape, and had been for years. When Knife River Aggregates went to the County to renew their permit, they (Knife River and the County) met some determined resistance from Mayor Ewals, a few neighbors, and me. One of the stupidest things the County said was that CR66 was not fit for truck traffic west to 169. So when we argued that maybe they should fix the road, they told us it was not in the plan – that the road had been resurfaced about 15 years ago (as I recall) – and that the County expected to rework roads every 44 years or so. Someone seems to have challenged the County Board to drive the road, and then tell us it was fit for traffic anywhere. Low and behold, bolt out of the blue, the County suddenly decided to do a major repaving of CR66. The squeaky wheel got greased, as it were.

Get Your Kicks On Route 66

When I first heard about the County’s plan to do an overlay CR66-Signrepaving of CR66 in the general vicinity of Bridle Creek, I was skeptical, to say the least. My first thought was, they put an overlay on it once before, and it’s a disaster now. Didn’t the County learn anything from that?

So, being the dedicated public servant that I am, I asked for more info. Some of my colleagues on the Council seemed to have their doubts too, and when our City Engineer said he didn’t really know much about what he referred to as two inch unbonded overlays, I decided to ask the City Administrator to ask the County Engineer (chain of command, and all that) for more info. Here’s the response we got from the County. My questions are in blue.

First question is, what’s the typical life expectancy of the two inch unbonded concrete? Five years? 15? 30?

  1. The overlay isn’t 2″ its 6″. The pervious bituminous overlay that goes over the milled surface is 1″. Its purpose is to prevent the new concrete from bonding to the old concrete below. This assures that the new 6″ concrete overlay will move as a rigid unit, independent of the old slab below it. It’s design life is 35 years. In addition to the extended life this option requires much less maintenance over its life than does the traditional asphalt overlay. The design life of a typical bituminous overlay is 15 years. We normally would not choose

The concrete overlay option. When compared to a typical mill and overlay it’s usually not cost effective. Even with concrete’s added service life, lower cost of maintenance and better overall pavement quality over its service life, bituminous is usually the lower cost option. In this case, with the existing concrete slab and lack of aggregate base, a simple bituminous mill and overlay cannot be accomplished without the total removal of the existing concrete slab, subgrade excavation and the addition of Class 5 aggregate base. This makes the bituminous option cost prohibitive. Here is the sequence we’ll follow.

Mill off old bituminous pavement and raised concrete lips on outside
edges of existing slab.

Clean out all loose material from every joint.

Fill every old joint with pervious bituminous mix

Place 1″ pervious bituminous mat over existing slab (could use a fabric
membrane for this step)

Cut shoulders to a depth equal to 9″ below proposed finished grade

Place drain tile along edge of existing slab below bottom of proposed new concrete

Place new concrete pavement 6″ deep over existing slab, 9″ deep where
extends beyond existing slab to a total width of 13′ each lane

Place dowel bars in new concrete above outside edge of old slab

Place millings on shoulder outside of pavement, width varies depending on
in place road section

The turn lanes in the City limits will be constructed full depth 9″ concrete

And finally, is something added to the two inch unbonded concrete to reinforce it? A two inch layer seems too thin for traditional rebar, but I’ve heard of adding chopped plastic or fiberglass fibers to concrete to make it stronger. I’ve also heard of using chemical hardeners (resins, I think they’re called) in concrete.

  1. Since we are paving wider than the original slab the concrete thickness outside of the current mat will be 9″ thick. At the location where we extend beyond the in-place mat we will place dowel bars to reinforce that area from cracking.

Second question is, where can I view (and drive) an example of the use of two inch unbonded concrete? I’d like to see an application, where the unbonded concrete was applied at least five years ago.

  1. There are no other locations in Scott County where this has been done. If you’re willing to travel, here are a couple of locations in other counties where it has been done. I will send you the locations when I get them from MnDOT

Please note that the County Engineer answered the questions in a little different order than I asked them. No big deal.

Seeing the County Engineer’s response, I feel much better about the project. There are still issues about trails to be resolved, but the road itself should be much better, and the durability question is answered. Hopefully, by the end of next summer, people will be able to drive on CR66 without losing their glasses or fillings. However, please keep in mind that next winter your car will not be self-cleaning if you drive on Old 169. You’ll have to remember to kick the chunkers out of the wheel wells, ‘cause the road won’t do it for you.

 

March 2, 2011

Is it too soon to be thinking about building a legacy?

I’ve been on the Jordan City Council a couple of months now, and hopefully, I’ve had some kind of an impact. But my legacy is inextricably tied to the rest of the Council. So I wonder, four years from now, how will people judge the seven of us?

Will we be the Council that got a library built? Will we be the Council that spent so much effort debating public comment, that the public decided we were irrelevant? Will people look at us and say, “They got so taken up in doing what was expedient, that they lost sight the people who elected them.”

I suspect that the answer is too complex to predict. Even so, I think we seven, individually, should be constantly asking ourselves “Four years from now, will I be proud of what I accomplished?”

Part of building a legacy is how serious the crises are that we’re forced to deal with. If we’re lucky, the seven of us will never have to face any crises. And frankly, I’ll be perfectly happy if I, as a Council Member, never have to deal with anything more serious than what I’ve seen so far.

A legacy of modest, positive changes would be a fine thing, don’t you think?

 

March 8, 2011 Sometimes it seems governments hope their constituents won’t get lucky, and find out what the governments are doing.

Information, Please?

The Scott County Board met today (Tuesday, March 8th). On the agenda was an item about the Jordan Aggregates Environmental Assessment Worksheet (EAW). It seems the developer wants a 30-day extension to address questions and comments raised by the public during the review period. The public comment period was strictly limited to 30 days. The County Board granted the extension, somewhat grudgingly, it seemed to me.

I could tell you about the puzzling comment from County staff that they were just beginning to review the comments – which they’ve had since the first week of February. Or I could tell you about the variety, and depth of the public comments that were submitted. Or, I could tell you what I think is the most troubling thing of all about the agenda item – how I found out about it

My name, with many others, is on file with Scott County for notification of any actions regarding the Jordan Aggregates EAW. No notice of the item was ever sent to me.

The City of Jordan has expressed its’ desire to be notified of any actions regarding the EAW. Since I’m a Council Member, it would seem logical that I’d be told of any notifications the City received. Again, no notice was sent to me.

I pay my buck every week, to buy the local newspaper. No notice, or news story there either. There was a blog post on the JI website. It was posted at 10:41 pm yesterday, about an hour after I mentioned in a Council meeting that I intended to go to the County Board meeting.

So how did I find out? My wife was cruising the Scott County web site, and came across the agenda for the County Board meeting. You know how that works. “Honey, come look at this . . . “

Apparently, telling the County you want to be notified of things isn’t enough. Being part of a City Council that wants to be notified of things isn’t enough. Even checking the paper isn’t enough. Nope, not enough. You have to be ever-vigilant.

Having a really sharp wife helps too.

 

March 15, 2011 Council Members and the City Administrator still add things to the agenda on the day of the meeting. How in the world are we supposed to make an informed decision on something we have never seen before/

Achieving Unanimity . . .

Lately I’ve been reading comments (generally posted by anonymous bloggers) about how much smoother City Council meetings were under the previous Mayor. One wonders why that might have been?

The “Big Cigars” Theory

Could it be that controversial issues were resolved before they ever got to open meetings? In other words, was open meeting law and intent subverted? And was the interest of the entire town subject to back door policy-making? Or was City policy being decided by “Big Cigars” in smoky back rooms?

The Pre-Screening Theory
Could it be that agenda items were somehow vetted before Council Meetings? Currently, the first time I see what’s on the agenda for a meeting is late Thursday afternoon. Until that time, unless I have a specific item I want included, I have very little idea what will be coming up at a meeting. Perhaps the Council should decide what will be on the agenda. As of now, it seems to me the City Administrator sets the agenda. The Council then has the option to add or remove things at the meeting – which effectively eliminates the right of the public to be informed in advance about what the Council will be discussing.

The Go Along to Get Along Theory
Might Councilors who differed from the majority view in the past have been pressured to fall in line? Sort of a “you scratch my back – I’ll scratch yours” pressure? Or maybe a subtle nudge about whether the Councilor really wanted to be all alone on an issue? The problem here is that it requires a Councilor to put aside his or her scruples in order to be “part of the team.”

The “Angel” Theory
The most intriguing thought of all is, did the former Mayor assign items to specific Council Members? I imagine the idea behind this would be for one Council Member to do all the homework on a specific issue, and provide information to the rest of the Council. In this scenario, Councilors would be voting not on their own individual findings, but on the findings (possibly biased or incomplete) of just one Councilor.

This might actually explain why a Councilor would say something about not having time to study every issue that crossed his or her desk. In this scenario, a single Councilor would act as an “angel” for something – doing research, making recommendations, and answering questions. Hopefully, the “angel” would be the person most competent to deal with the item at hand. But, by nature, a City Council is made up of ordinary people who don’t have extraordinary skills or knowledge in most areas.

The use of “angels” to guide projects is very common in private business. They’re called “project managers”, or “brand managers”, or “co-ordinators”. It works well in that setting because the “angels” are responding to strategic imperatives established by a board of directors, or a business owner.

It doesn’t work in government because it releases all but one Councilor from making informed decisions. The rest simply go along. If City Government is going to be run like that, we might as well elect a dictator.

Alert readers will note that JUG’s policy regarding responses has been altered a bit. That’s because a Romanian arms dealer tried to use the site to sell Kalashnikov fully automatic rifles. Honest. (JUG has has a few readers in Denmark, and one in the U.K. too.)

While I was at it, I decided to prohibit threats and personal attacks. I try to avoid ‘em. Seems like a good policy for the site, huh?

 

March 22, 2011 It never ceases to amaze me how many “educated” people can’t put together a sentence, or choose the correct word for the idea they mean to express. I am reminded of the local blogger who fancies himself a writer, but didn’t know the difference between penal and penile.

“Post-Literate America”*

I’m like, maybe if we lernd to write it, we’d no how 2 speak it.

No, I’m not talking about teens, illegal aliens, or Sven and Ole.

I’m talking about you and me.

When I was in college, all those many years ago, I was told to get a copy of The Elements of Style, read it, understand it, and not submit anything that violates the rules it set down. As I recall, the teacher was Mr. Kempthorne, who was built like an inside lineman (which he had been on a Wisconsin Badgers Rose Bowl team). He talked like he meant what he said, and he used words like he had to pay for them.

I read it, understood it (more or less), and chafed at following it. So I asked why I had to follow those rules when e.e. cummings didn’t? Mr. K said, more or less, “you’re not e.e. cummings. When you can write as well as he does, then you can make your own rules.”

Reading The Elements of Style, understanding, accepting, and applying its’ guidance won’t make you or me the next e.e. cummings. But maybe – just maybe – it will make you and me more effective communicators.

So, you’re figuring, The Elements of Style is two inches thick, weighs eight pounds, and reads like the Bronx telephone book, right? Wrong! Mine is a mere 85 pages in paperback. It cites examples of good writing to clarify what it presents. And it positively harps on the idea of making every word tell. (think “telling blow”) The book is billed as “the brief for brevity”.

And yes, I realize that the English Language is a living, changing thing. But if it’s changing in such a way that the standards for writing, spelling, and usage change daily, it’ll soon be useless as a method of communication. (think “Tower of Babel”)

The Elements of Style (published 07/23/1999)
by: William Strunk, E. B. White, Charles Osgood (Afterword)

Paperback, used or new, $1.99 to $9.95 at Barnes & Noble online

The Elements of Style (published 07/26/2010)
by: William Strunk

Paperback, used or new, $3.82 to $6.92 at Barnes & Noble online

Mine cost me five bucks in 1969.

So What Brought THIS On?

I was surfing the net a bit the other day, and came across this site via The Drudge Report:

http://townhall.com/columnists/suzannefields/2011/02/04/good_writing_needs_a_tiger_mom

Ms. Fields’ premise seems to be that if we spent as much time coaching our kids in good communication – especially reading and writing – maybe they would do better relative to the second and third world countries that are rapidly taking away American paychecks.

Somewhere between the Japanese/Chinese model (rigid conformity while copying other people’s ideas) and the flower power/let it be/slacker mentality that seems so embedded in America, lies a middle ground where we can prosper.   For those of you who are into sports analogies, most coaches teach their players that they play like they practice.  In other words, if a player has sloppy practice habits, he or she will have sloppy game habits.  Someone who practices sloppy writing on FaceBook is not building skills that will serve in the world of business.  And no matter how keen your ideas are, they’re useless if you can’t communicate them effectively.

Ms. Fields writes far better than I do, and she makes the case better than I can. Read what she has to say, then go dig out your copy of TES. Or buy one, if you must. And write right.

*“We’re moving swiftly into post-literate America, and more’s the pity.”
Suzanne Fields

 

April 5, 2011 How I spent my vacation.

Are There Cops In San Diego?

I spent last week in San Diego, which is why there was no update to Jordan Underground. Sorry folks, but I needed the warm weather.

A Few Observations . . .

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I saw exactly one squad car in San Diego over a period

of five days. It looked like this.

I don’t think I saw a single uniformed police officer, in all that time. I dunno, maybe they don’t need them because of all the military police associated with the Marine

To be fair, Balboa Park, and the San Diego Zoo were magnificent.

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Apparently, Southern California doesn’t have any government agency that gives a fig about how bridges look.

On the East Coast, they have a Statue of Liberty. In San Diego they have statues dedicated to the cost of defending liberty.

Your uncle owns some big boats. A little chunky looking, maybe, but BIG.

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I was impressed – amazed, actually – at how close we could get to Navy and Marine Corps operations. Our tour boat came within a few hundred yards of four nuclear submarines. And boats were passing within feet of cruisers and destroyers under construction. All that white plastic in the photo below is covering radar and communications equipment your uncle probably doesn’t want you to know about.

We saw birds

And we were mooned by a panda.

All in all, a fun trip.

 

April 13, 2011 When I posted this, the Council was having public discussions about a library. I made sure the discussions were public. And I posted this item on JUG. The EDA and Planning Commission didn’t comment until after the decision was made to build a library on Seville Street in cooperation with Scott County. Why do people in this town think they have to wait for an engraved invitation before getting involved in things?

National Library Week . . .

Jordan’s current library is too small, smells bad, and has a roof that leaks. As libraries go, it’s no great shakes. Most people in town agree it needs to be replaced. But how?

As I see it we have a variety of options, and every one of them needs to be explored thoroughly so that we can make an informed decision. I’m going to list some of the options I see, and some of the questions to be answered. Perhaps some of you will have answers. That’d be nice. Perhaps some of you will have questions. That’d be nice too. Either way, at this stage the City should be considering all the possibilities.

The Options
A stand-alone library Downtown

A library built into Jordan Middle School

A library built into an adult living facility on Seville Street, in the Highway Commercial District

A library built into an adult living facility on Aberdeen Avenue, across from Jordan Elementary School.

A library and City Hall in an existing building on Seville

Each of these options has positive and negative aspects. The negatives are not overwhelming. A little creative thinking can resolve most.   My quick take on them is:
A stand-alone library Downtown is popular, would help to keep Downtown Jordan alive. Parking would be needed.

A library built into Jordan Middle School would offer parking, and would obviously be close to kids. Who owns what would be a question mark. Security issues would need to be addressed.

A library built into an adult living facility on Seville Street, in the Highway Commercial District, or on Aberdeen, would offer a lot of space, parking, and easy access for some adults. Availability of access roads, pedestrian access, and security are among the possible negatives.

A library and City Hall in an existing building on Seville would offer space an parking. If the price is right, this might be an intriguing possibility. Pedestrian access is nil, and moving these two operations might well spell the collapse of Downtown.

Regardless of the final choice, there has been a strange silence about the Virginia Habeger estate. Accurate details are hard to come by. The rumor mill is working overtime, as always. Rumors I’ve heard are:
Ms. Habeger willed a substantial estate to the City to build a museum – or a libraray – or a library/museum – or for use for the public good.

Hopefully, the executor of the Habeger Estate will provide some information and clarity soon, so that the City Council can factor the estate into its’ consideration. (I hope I spelled Ms. Habeger’s name right. The rumor mill is not big on spelling.)

Now, this post isn’t all inclusive, by any means. The options, pros, and cons listed here are just the starting point for your thinking. I hope you’ll share your input with a Council Member.

Below is a link to a video done by 1000 Friends of Minnesota. In it, Mayor Ewals talks about what makes Jordan great. At a bit over five minutes in length, it’s a bit longer than the videos usually posted on this site.

 

April 25, 2011 I have to admit, I was feeling kind of snotty when I posted this one. People were sniping at me about how I harped on OML, and I put this out there to get it off my chest – and maybe annoy a few people in the process. (I wanted to use a more colloquial phrase that involved a word for urinating, but my editor intervened.)

OMG, OML Again

There seems to be a lot of confusion around town about Open Meeting Law. For those of you who care about open and honest government, I’ll try to clear up what I can. And for you knuckleheads out there, I’ll write in short paragraphs, and not use big words.

OML Does Not Apply to One, Two or Three Council Members.
Sorry. I’m only guilty if four or more Council Members are guilty. Which presents a prickly choice for those who want to paint me as a criminal. To do so, they would also have to accuse at least three other Council Members of an OML violation.

OML Applies to All Council Activities
Doesn’t matter if we’re talking about bridges, library surveys, or whether to serve refreshments at town hall meetings. OML is about how the Council treats the people it was elected to serve. If a governing body is fudging in small things, it’s probably fudging in big ones too.

OML Applies Only to Elected or Appointed Officials
This one is for Council Members, and Committee Members appointed by the Council. You will be held personally responsible for OML violations. Not City Staff. Not constituents.

OML is Not Optional
Those of us who’ve chosen to play the game are required to play by the rules. All the rules, all the time. We may not like the rules, but we have to follow them.

And, when the Council stops bending OML, there will be no reason for me to raise the issue. I’d like nothing better than to never see an OML issue again.

OML Doesn’t Just Apply to Votes or Decision Making
It also applies to attempts to influence other Council Members.

If You Want Legal Advice, Ask A Lawyer
What you’re getting here is just my opinion of OML, as I apply it to myself. Most of what I’ve said is based on my understanding of OML as explained in the League of Minnesota Cities Leadership Conference for Newly Elected Officials.

A Poser
You are the Council Member, you make the call. All Council Members get an e-mail from a staff member who wants the Council to let him/her ask the whole town a question on the Council’s behalf. The question is totally silly. Do you tell the staff member no, or do you not reply – which gives the staff member permission to ask a silly question of everyone in town – and to ask in the name of the Council?

What did you choose?

The smart ones among you will see that no matter what choice you make, you’re part of an OML violation. How’s it feel to be given two bad choices?

The rest of you will say it’s no big deal. And maybe it’s not. But you’ve just taught that staff person that you can be manipulated. Sorry, I didn’t mean to use such a big word, but it’s the only one I can think of that fits.

So my quote for this week is from Wikipedia:

“ma·nip·u·late

verb /məˈnipyəˌlāt/ 
manipulated, past participle; manipulated, past tense; manipulates, 3rd person singular present; manipulating, present participle

Handle or control (a tool, mechanism, etc.), typically in a skillful manner – he manipulated the dials of the set

Alter, edit, or move (text or data) on a computer

Examine or treat (a part of the body) by feeling or moving it with the hand – a system of healing based on manipulating the ligaments of the spine

Control or influence (a person or situation) cleverly, unfairly, or unscrupulously – the masses were deceived and manipulated by a tiny group

Alter (data) or present (statistics) so as to mislead”

May 3, 2011

Downtown, Where All The Lights Are Bright

Among the more disturbing things I’ve heard lately, this one from a local business person and civic leader stands out. “Downtown Jordan isn’t dying. It’s dead! It’s time to recognize that fact and move on.”

Then there’s the anonymous blog post from the Jordan Independent blogs that says what will “. . . discourage new businesses from coming to town, its (sic) the resistence (sic) to change from locals who want to keep Jordan the sweet little town of old.”

And this, from a JI blog back in November. “So as you debase the successful candidates taking council seats, compare their future actions to that of a council, commissions and chamber that have managed to decimate the core structure of any city, its own downtown. I personally don’t believe that Boncher or Thill have enough leverage to change the fate of this Titanic, and it pains us to have to abandon it. But after receiving our 2011 tax assessment increase (+1,500.00), as most others have for these outstanding services, it’s time to head for the lifeboats.

So, when did Jordan’s Downtown die? And who killed it?

What do you think will happen to your taxes as more and more businesses leave town because their taxes are skyrocketing? Water bills too high for you? Gee, don’t you suppose high taxes and expensive water might discourage new businesses from coming to town?

Actually, it’s happening now.
On April 26, 2011, the Star/Tribune carried an article about home value declines in Scott and Dakota Counties. I’m really surprised no one else (including the Jordan Independent) has mentioned this article, especially in light of the commentary provided by two notables from Jordan. The full article can be seen here:

http://www.startribune.com/local/south/120526479.html

A highlight of the article is the following bit of information.

“LOSSES BY CITY

Percentage change in assessed property values* between 2010 and 2011:

SCOTT COUNTY                           DAKOTA COUNTY
Jordan
-8.2%                                     Mendota Heights -5.58%
Belle Plaine -3.4%                             Rosemount -5.58%
New Prague -3.1%                             Farmington -4.47%
Prior Lake -2.7%                               West St. Paul -3.21%
Savage -2.4%                                     Apple Valley -3.19%
Shakopee -1.8%                                 South St. Paul -3.10%
Elko New Market -1.3%                   Inver Grove Heights -3.17%
                                                             Burnsville -2.60%
Lakeville -2.40%
Eagan -1.97%

*For Scott, percentage change is total residential value including unimproved lots; for Dakota, it is percentage change in the value of the average homestead.”

Quoted from The Star/Tribune, April 26, 2011

One wonders if the two quoted Jordan City officials had anything else to say, that didn’t get into the article. One hopes so, too, given the shallowness of their responses.

Who was running the show then?
Do you really think that I, or a handful of yard signs are killing Jordan? Are all the empty buildings and homes something that happened in the last six months? Or even the last two years? Who sent Scott Equipment Company packin’ to New Prague? And why did the cabinet company in Timberline business park fold? That big pile of cement block in Timberline business park has been sitting there for at least the eight years I’ve lived in this town. The sidewalks and trails Bridle Creek residents were promised in the ‘90s didn’t happen? Was that because the developers were too cheap to put them in? Or because the City Council back then lacked the fortitude to insist that developers make good on their sales pitches? Or both?

What does Jordan mean to you?
Is it a place to park your car at night? A place with nice commutes? A town with cheap real estate?

Here’s What Jordan Means to Me
A pleasant, safe community, with good schools, good neighborhoods, and natural assets few towns can match.

Jordan has needs, but they are all things that can be dealt with. We can have a library. We can have a pedestrian/cyclist town. We can have business retention and expansion. The question is, what are you willing to work for, and pay for? Do you want a vital town? Or is Jordan just a place to park?

And please, don’t start telling me about how the City has been bucking your project for ten years. I don’t care about then. I care about now. Field Two is a prime example of what can happen when people care enough to do something, rather than wish for it. Do you think it’s a coincidence that the current City Council voted significant support for Field Two?

What Jordan needs most of all is more activists, and fewer wishtivists.

The Quote:
“If you don’t follow your dream, who will?”
  Emeril Lagasse

May 10, 2011 This one took a little shot at the local fishwrap, which still looks incredibly beholden to its’ advertisers. The paper has gotten better about being even handed in its’ reporting. The paper’s web site? Well, the term superfluous comes to mind – mostly because only two people routinely use their own names. At least the worst crazy has decided to stay away (mostly). It’ll be interesting to see what happens during the election.

On Blogging

Did you come here from another blog, hoping to find some outrageous statements? Sorry.

What You Need For Blogging
Internet access.
An opinion.

That’s it. That’s all you need.

What You DON’T Need For Blogging
Truth.
A name.
Respect for others.
Facts.
Not even the tiniest shred of impartiality,
and
Respect for the terms of use agreement you accepted when you signed on.

Want to threaten someone? Ridicule someone’s home, wife, clothes, or height? There’s a place for that, but I won’t allow it here. If you want to spew anonymous garbage, go back to the site you came from. Maybe that site will accept, or even promote such behavior. This site will not.

Do you want to post things on-line, that you wouldn’t dare say face-to-face to your neighbor at a pancake breakfast, or service club meeting? Go find another blog. Do you like to lie about others? If you get caught at it on this site, your lie, and your name will be made public.

Do you know the difference between an administrative, and a court decision? Do you understand that asking for a few more paragraph returns in a document is not asking for a a format change? Do you correct your mistakes at the same level you make them? Or do you make big mistakes, and little, obscure corrections? Do you understand the difference between community service, and working off a debt to society?

This site is not for profit. I’m not beholden to advertisers. The links on this site are free to those who’ve asked for them. I’m willing to post your opinion – even an unsupported opinion – here, if you’re willing to use your name in the post.

Over the years, I’ve published material from every sitting Council Member, a former Council Member, and an assortment of other people. Sometimes I agree with them. Sometimes I don’t. But I never let them be slimed on this site. I don’t treat my guests that way. How many other sites can say that?

 

May 18, 2011 I was still irked at the inability of the local paper to get information out about our Council meetings in a timely fashion. If you read the local paper for City Council news, you’re pretty much making a mistake. What shows up there is almost always history – weeks, and sometimes months old.

Lights, Wind, Hoops, and Water Bills – Your Council At Work

It was good to see so many people at the City Council meeting last night (5/16/11). A big thank you to everyone who took the time to come. Oddly, there were no comments during the first public comment period. No need to be bashful, folks – just step right up and have your say.

Recognition Well Deserved
The first order of business was the recognition of the week of May 15-21 as EMS Week. Scott County’s All Hazards Advisory Council recognized Jordan’s Fire and Police Departments for their commitment to excellence as first responders.

Sounds Like . . . ?
We received a report from the Police Chief about noise levels associated with the crematorium. This was informational only, and I suspect there will be more research to do on the noise issue. One question that probably needs to be addressed is whether the noise standards are the same of residential and commercial districts.

Filing Complaints, and What Happens Next
The answers to these questions are pretty lengthy for inclusion here, so I’ll try to summarize:

If you have a complaint against a resident, direct it to either City Hall or the Police Department. Either will direct you to the appropriate channel.
What happens next depends on what is the appropriate channel. JPD logs all complaints, and notifies the complainant of changes in the status of the complaint. Other departments will be initiating a complaint processing procedure within a few weeks. In the meantime, if you have made a complaint, and feel it hasn’t been resolved, go back to staff for an update.
Complaints can be filed by phone, mail, e-mail or in person. Anonymous complaints are accepted, but will probably not get as quick or thorough a response as those filed by a named complainant. (My personal, and unofficial suggestion would be that if you’re filing a complaint with staff, either do so via e-mail, and ask for immediate acknowledgement, or file a written complaint, and ask whoever accepts it to give you a dated, initialed acknowledgement copy.)

Water/Utility Bills
City staff would like everybody to pay their water bills via Automated Clearing House ACH. Staff put together some suggestions for promotions to encourage people to sign up for ACH. The Council seemed to think the suggested incentives didn’t go far enough.

I wonder how many people in town trust the City’s water billing system enough to allow the City to automatically withdraw money from personal accounts? Remember, this amount is not constant. It can go up or down dramatically for a variety of reasons. The decision to use the ACH program to pay water bills is a personal choice.

Then there’s the issue of overdue water bills. If you’re reading this, and your water bill is overdue, I suggest you pay it now. No one on the Council seemed to be in a very forgiving mood about the fact that we are all carrying $160.000 in unpaid water bills. The Council is leaning toward assessing water bills every 6 months, rather than yearly. That would reduce losses through bankruptcies. It also seems to me that the Council is not inclined to give much grace for water bills more than 6 months overdue. One Councilor tried to turn discussion to monthly billing, as opposed to bi-monthly, but that wasn’t really under consideration, so we stuck to the topic at hand.

If you have an opinion about overdue water bills, I suggest you make it known to a Councilor.

Whassup?
The City is testing an e-mail notification system. Folks who sign up can receive e-mail notification that suits them. Sign up on the City of Jordan web site at http://www.jordan.govoffice.com

The Water’s Not as Troubled as the Bridge Over It
The Minnesota State Historical Society/State Historical Preservation Office (SHPO) sent the City a letter saying they agree the Rice Street Bridge should be replaced, rather than repaired. That’s good, I guess. However, they want to see some changes in the design, including re-use of the old decorative railings in some way. That’s not so good, I guess. More money for design work, I guess.

Plus, SHPO wants to expand the scope of the Area of Potential Effect (APE) to include the ballpark, and the Herder Cigar Factory. More money for studies, I guess.

Sunset Strip
The Council awarded a contract to repave Sunset. Most of the money comes from state aid. The City budgeted some funds for rehabbing some of the water valves and manholes (the new ones will probably be gender-nonspecific “person holes”). Target completion date is July 15th.

Why Ask?
The City of Jordan prepared a carefully crafted letter to Scott County, requesting background information about how the County decided to narrow down the Environmental Impact Statement being required for the gravel mining operation on Valley View Road. The response we got said, in essence, we talked about it, but we didn’t write anything down, so we don’t have to tell you anything beyond what we already told you. Visit our web site. Buh-bye.

This Council Member wasn’t very satisfied with the response. Nor was the Mayor. Nor, it seemed, was the rest of the Council. The Mayor said he thought he should do some more digging with the County. Nobody had a better idea, and nobody objected, so I guess the Mayor will be in further contact with the County. Maybe he’ll be able to get more answers about why so many Jordan issues were dropped from consideration in the EIS.

Yes, I Meant It
I initiated a discussion about wind powered electric generation, in hopes that I’d get a sense of whether my colleagues were interested in considering such a thing. It seemed like it took an awful long time for the Council to decide whether to talk about it, or not.

Once the discussion opened up a little, some thoughts started to emerge. Councilors asked if we could get a presentation from anyone who might be willing to provide information. A Councilor suggested that maybe we should put anemometers on our water towers to gather some baseline information about local wind speeds.

Wind powered electric generation has been suggested to me by several constituents, and I think it deserves consideration. (Those of you who are going to suggest putting wind turbines in the Council Chambers should be aware that hot air is less dense than wind, and therefore has less power generating capability.)

Lights
MVEC approached the City about putting lights on the west side of Aberdeen from Old 169 to Sunset Drive. Staff wanted the Council to approve the proposal (they said so 3 times in the agenda item write up). The Council said no – 5:2.

Objections ran the gamut from the fact that the lights would be in a cornfield, to the cost when considering other needs, to the likely ineffectiveness of the lights given their location. The Public Works Manager pointed out that when Aberdeen is urbanized, it’ll have to be completely reworked anyway, with curbs added – which typically also includes the addition of conduit and lighting.

Amazingly, one of the other Councilors questioned taking money from the Unallocated account before I could say anything.

Hoops
Groundbreaking for the new Bridle Creek Basketball Court is Monday, May 23rd, 10:00 AM. Rain or shine. Everyone is invited. It’ll be a good chance to thank those who put so much time and effort into the project.

Do We Have to Take Turns?
A Councilor asked if maybe we could have more open format discussions, instead of always taking turns?

Huh?

We tried that, and Councilors couldn’t keep from interrupting each other, cross-talking, and blaming the Mayor for not keeping order.

I don’t know what the Mayor’s response to that proposal will be, but I can tell you mine.

Nah.

I’ve been interrupted too many times, by too many Councilors to be willing to break from taking turns. I’ll wait my turn. Others can do the same. Councilors who think the meetings are too long have a simple means already available for shortening them. Talk less.

Smile . . .
In about a week, there’ll be a security camera operating in the skate park. If I can, in a future JUG, I’ll try to show you what the camera sees.

Vox Populi, More or Less
The second comment period actually drew some comments.  Questions were raised about the Virginia Habeger estate, City History books, and the proposed e-mail notification system.

One person also commented on the League of Minnesota Cities’ published position regarding complete streets, the Safety Committee’s citation of LMC, and whether the Safety Committee should be governed by the same kind of bylaws as other committees. (This is an addition to the “Late Edition” of JUG. The person who made the comments at the meeting asked me to mention them here. Hence the addition.)

That’s my take on what happened.  It’s not complete, and I doubt that everyone will agree with my interpretation.  Check your local paper, or the official meeting minutes (two weeks from now) for their take. If you want to send me a signed comment, I’ll post it if OML allows.

 

May 25, 2011 Late May, and I’m talking about lilacs. This year (2012) the lilacs are trying to bloom in late April.

Spring Fever

Just a short one this week, folks. I’m feeling kind of lazy.

Have you noticed all the dandelions this year? Seems like they’re more prolific than any time in recent memory. Ticks, too. And the large Elm trees in my back yard, which don’t usually look like much in the spring, are leafing like crazy.

Best of all, the scent of Lilacs seems stronger this year, than what I remember from past years.

It seems like everything is trying to make up for lost time.

I’ve put my flannel shirts in the back of the closet. My sandals are showing signs of being walked in. And my boonie cap has already been washed once. As I watch the news from other parts of the Country, I realize how blessed Jordan is.

Hopefully, our blessings will continue, and we will be wise enough to appreciate them.

Remember to stop and smell the Lilacs.

 

May 31, 2011

Fair is Fair

How much does it take to run Jordan? Who should pay it? And if you don’t like the your taxes, what are you willing to give up to get them lowered?

The ballpark cost to run this town is $7,000,000.00. Seven million dollars. Right now, a significant portion of that money is coming into the City in the form of water bills. If we lower the water bills, and raise taxes, will you accept that? Remember, you get what you pay for.

Assuming the Burden
Bridle Creek residents wanted a basketball court in their playground. They even found a grant to fund part of the cost. The Parks and Recreation Commission offered to match the grant, which would have been enough money to build an asphalt half court. The residents wanted something nicer, so they found the money in the form of individual pledges, business donations, and donations of personal time.

They still came up short, but the PRC recognized that the residents were sincere and willing to put their money where mouth was, so to speak. So the PRC made up the difference.

Should the City do the same for other neighborhoods?

Priorities?
Do we spend money on streetlights in as yet undeveloped areas, or do we spend it on the bathrooms at Lagoon Park? Do we cut back on everything until people start to scream about the lack of services? Do we build a new library, or not? Do we cut salaries? Again, remember that you get what you pay for.

I’m asking an open-ended question here, and I really want to hear what you have to say. The Council needs to hear it too.

What I Won’t Give Up
Public safety is too important to me to see any significant cuts. The Police and Fire Departments have to spend their money wisely. No question about that. And they may not get the budget increases they hope for. But they are my first priorities as a Councilor.

Everything Else Is On The Table.

What do You think?

The Quote:
“. . . Nothin’ ain’t worth nothin’, but it’s free . . .”
Kris Kristofferson and Fred Foster – from the song Me and Bobby McGee

 

June 10, 2011 Rereading this, I’m getting twitches about what the Jordan City Council allows – even encourages its City Administrator to do.

The Legality Of It All

Today’s vocabulary word is conundrum. Google it, and you’ll find Merriam/Webster says “ . . . a confusing or difficult problem . . .”

Dig a little deeper, and you’ll find references to problems with no good answers. I’m going to toss our some conundrums for you, and tell you how I would handle them. Think about each, and figure out what your response would be.

Conundrum A (the easiest one):
The Council is asked to delegate non-specific authority to an employee who has no legal responsibility for the consequences of his or her actions. The City Attorney advises making the delegated authority more specific.

(my response:)
I refuse to delegate any authority to anyone who is not legally responsible for the effects of his or her actions. Even if the Council delegates authority (questionably legal, in itself), the seven members of the Council remain responsible for any action (including any illegal action) the delegate takes. I’m perfectly willing to accept responsibility for my actions as a Council Member. I’m willing to share responsibility with the rest of the Council for our mutual actions. But I’m not willing to share responsibility with anyone who doesn’t have any skin in the game.

The rest of your City Council doesn’t seem to share this feeling. Yesterday, they voted five to two to override the advice of the City Attorney, and adopt a motion that allows the City Administrator significant latitude in signing grant applications.

Extract from Minnesota State Law (emphasis is mine):

Statutory Cities: MS. 412.201 Execution of instruments

every contract, conveyance, license or other written instrument shall be executed on behalf of the city by the mayor and clerk, with corporate seal affixed, and only pursuant to authority from the council.

https://www.revisor.mn.gov/statutes/?id=412.201

Conundrum B (tougher):
A previous Council allows an employee to bind the City to an agreement – a power legally only given to the Council.

(my response)
Not my problem. But don’t cite the previous Council’s actions as justification for doing the same thing again. And just because a Council got away with it once, doesn’t justify doing it again.

Extracts from the League of Minnesota Cities web site (emphasis is mine)

  1. Powers and duties

“Duties delegated to the administrator should be only ministerial. The council cannot delegate any administrative power that calls for judgment and discretion, such as the authority to enter into a contract, or hiring and firing employees.”

City Administration: Clerk, Administrator and Manager Published Dec 2, 2009
Similarities and differences between city clerk, administrator and manager positions. Outlines duties and responsibilities of each position as well as the different forms of government under which these positions exist. (Revised 12/2009)

  1. Form of government

“Sometimes the administrator position exists in addition to a separate city clerk position, but often the the duties are merged into a combined clerk-administrator position.”

Conundrum C (a real stinker):
As a result of the actions in Conundrum B, the current Council is faced with the decision to either perpetuate an illegal or ill-advised action, or drop a project on which considerable money has been spent.

(my response):
The previous Council screwed up? And now the current Council has to make a silk purse out of a sow’s ear? We’re hosed. No way we can undo the previous Council’s actions without losing a lot of money and time. Still, my gut tells me that it’s impossible to build good decisions on the basis of bad decisions. Sometimes you have to swallow hard, say “aw heck”, and start over.

Conundrum D (this one’s the worst):
The Council passes a resolution to take an illegal action. The Mayor is required by law to sign the document, which makes him party to an illegal action – or, if he refuses to sign, he commits an illegal action.

(my response):
Thank God, this isn’t my problem. But woe to the Mayor who wants to do the right thing – because there is no right thing.

The best advice I can offer the Mayor is that he vote against the resolution. Then sign it because he must. If anyone ever contests the resolution, at least he won’t be alone. All the “ayes” will have to stand in front of the fan too. His vote against the resolution will entitle him to stand farthest from the fan. If he doesn’t sign it, the only person who will be punished is he.

Yes, I’ve talked about this before.
You can safely expect me to talk about it again. It boggles my mind to sit in a meeting, and hear my colleagues vote for something the City Attorney advises should at least be modified. Why does this happen? It’s only a matter of time before ill-conceived Council action results in another lawsuit.

If we don’t start dotting our i’s and crossing our t’s pretty soon, we’re going to more trouble than the League of Minnesota Cities can dig us out of. The best way to cut our legal bills is to assure the legality of everything we do.

The Quote:
“God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, courage to change the things I can, And wisdom to know the difference.”
Reinhold Niebuhr

A Response From a Reader
Thank you for your interest in doing the “right thing”. When you are on a slippery slope and going backwards it is important to first, stop the slide, and then began to move forward.   Covering up one mistake with another is NOT the answer in my opinion. As a Council Member you took an oath to “support the Constitution of the United States, the Constitution of Minnesota, and that” you “will faithfully and impartially discharge duties” of your office.

Thom again I thank you for identifying issues, large and small, and taking action to stop the “slide”.  In Jordan, Council Members are elected “at large” and have a responsibility to look at issues through the eyes and impacts of each citizen not just  neighbors, friends. or individuals of influence.

Respectfully, (name withheld by the editor – tb)

June 21, 2011 Remember what it said on the cover about zombies? If you need more evidence, here it is.

The Question Is . . .

. . . If $106,418 Falls In The Woods, and No One Asks Why, Does It Make Any Noise?
The Jordan Annual Financial Report (AKA “the audit”) contains a material – meaning “big” – audit adjustment to correct a mistake made in 2009. According to our Finance Manager, Abdo, Eyck & Meyers goofed, and misstated $106,418 worth of accrued interest payable, and related interest expense. Oddly, no other member of the Council questioned this. You’d think that a vendor who makes a mistake that big would at least say, “oops, sorry ‘bout that.” (As near as I can tell, it has never been explained to the Council exactly what A, E & M did to cause the mistake, but that’s a topic for another day.)

Plus, another material (“big”) adjustment was needed to book additional accounts receivable in the general fund, totaling $51,054.

If the Council actually bases its’ decisions on the information in the audit, it’s reasonable to suppose that the faulty information will lead to faulty decisions.

Thank God this didn’t happen on my watch.

. . . Why Is The Economic Development Authority Sitting On $355,429?
Well apparently, because they want to set aside some money for grants to property owners who are upgrading buildings Downtown. (That’s $25,000 per year, which still leaves over 330 grand in the coffers.)

Plus, the EDA needs to have funds available to help developers who want to build in town.

How about putting some of that money – maybe a quarter mil – into a library? Or doesn’t revitalizing the library qualify as part of revitalizing Downtown?

. . . Why Do Debt Per Capita, and Taxes Per Capita Keep Growing In Spite of Population Growth?
How often have we heard the mantra that as the town grows, the tax burden will be spread out, and reduced?

What rot! The developers who built three major areas of this town (Bridle Creek, Cedar Ridge, and Wexford Square) never followed through on “promises” they made to buyers in those developments. Now those residents are asking the City to assume the burden to make up for the failings of the past. Maybe if we could draw some major businesses . . . but alas, Jordan’s business park is a bust – probably because Jordan is ill-situated, and ill-suited to major business development.

Which covers only part of my concerns with this year’s audit. Hopefully, by asking those questions now, some of the concerns can be addressed in the next budget.

Oddly . . .
Other than me, only the Mayor had any questions about the audit. Our most finance-savvy member was so satisfied with the audit, that he didn’t show up for the meeting. Another Council Member had the temerity to ask me if I had more questions, and couldn’t I ask them outside of the meeting? To which, I now respond, heck yes, I have more questions! And I’m going to ask them in public meetings, where the people of this town can judge the quality of the answers – as they have a right to do. The days of operating off the radar are over. Get used to it.

I have frostbite burns from the icy stares some of my colleagues gave me. Why is that? If we have nothing to hide, why are we so reluctant to ask questions in public? If the meetings are too long for our tastes, we always have the option to resign our seats.

Most of the Board of Directors of the corporation that is Jordan, MN had no questions for staff regarding the 2010 audit.

Over $16,000,000 in bonds payable? No questions.

$2,788,692 in total revenues? No questions,

$2,566,472 in total expenditures? No questions.

Enterprise funds? No questions.

At least none that my colleagues were willing to ask in public.

In my opinion, collecting and spending tax dollars wisely is the most important thing the City Council does. It seems to me that we should spend at least as much time considering the City’s financials as we do talking about tattoo parlors.

Is that asking too much?

Oh, By The Way,
During the budget timeline work session, the City Administrator told the Council that he was preparing for negotiations with the unions, and that he hoped to give employees a raise.  He said it would be up to the Council to decide how much – whether 3% or whatever.  After which, the Finance Manager mentioned that money for those raises was usually drawn from the Unallocated Account.  So, the City’s hand has pretty much been tipped.

But never fear.  The Council’s Personnel Committee will be involved in the decision-making process.  They’re sure to ask hard questions, and drive a hard bargain.

 

June 28, 2011 This one was just for fun.

Not Exactly The Batmobile

Listening to people talk about City stuff is usually enlightening, sometimes a chore, and occasionally a hoot. During the Baseball Day/Pork in the Park event I was fortunate enough to have one of those hoot moments, which still makes me chuckle.

Sandy and I were selling tickets for the Brewers/St. Ben game. An older fella, who’s lived in Jordan a long, long time, walked from the concessions stand to the ticket booth. I was surprised to see him, since his car is distinctive (more on that later), and I hadn’t seen it pull in. I’ll call him M.

He smiled, and said “I came in for the kids’ games. You gonna make me buy a ticket? I said “no – on Baseball Day, once you’re in, you’re in. Besides, I know you have a season pass.” To which he replied, “You mean I walked all the way over here for nuthin’!?”

So began a conversation that lasted (in fits and starts) for probably over an hour. We talked about bridges, meter readers, long-ago police chiefs and mayors, helping people when they’re down, and lots of other things. As the Brewers game wound down, we involved Mayor Ewals in our conversation. When I introduced them, I said,”M drives the really cherry Dynasty that you see cruising around town.”

Ewals said, “Oh, yeah, that’s a nice car.”

To which M replied, “It’s got 77 thousand miles on it. It’s in perfect shape. And it’s not for sale.”

M also said he drives the car all over town.

He used to be a Jordan cop, so when he said that, I said the Dynasty was his prowl car now. Ewals said maybe we should paint the Dynasty’s doors white, so that while M was cruising by, it’d look like a squad car was in the neighborhood. To which I added that we could put a “gumball machine” on top.

M said no, no gumball. “That’d spoil the looks of my car. I want one of those red, white and blue lightbars. They probably don’t affect the handling as much as a gumball, either. Who pays for the gas?”

“50/50 split?” asked Ewals. “You’re out cruising anyway.”

“No, I don’t think so. What’s the reimbursement if I just log my miles?”

Fifty cents a mile, I replied.

“Well, that might work”, said M. “What about insurance? Would I be insured if I’m chasing somebody?”

Ewals said no. “We’re talking about crime prevention here. We want you to scare ‘em away, not catch ‘em.”

“Well, there. You just took all the fun out of it. Does that mean you’re gonna pay me?” M stood up as he said this. Then he added, “Well, it’s been fun talking and pulling each other’s legs, but I think it’s time for me to take another turn around town before it gets dark/”

It seemed almost a shame for that pleasant evening of joshing to end.

Last I saw, M was headed towards Downtown at his usual, sedate pace. Miscreants, beware.

 

July 11, 2011

Micromanaging?  Really?

It would seem asking questions in public is something a Council Member is not supposed to do.  I didn’t get the memo, so I can’t say for sure, but a couple of my colleagues have told me so.

Also, if one asks about a program that costs the City fifty grand or so a year, that’s micromanaging.

Expressing concern for the health effects of things the City is doing is also a no-no.  All the tests are inconclusive?  No worries, it’s heavily regulated.  Yeah, right.  I grew up watching the Nixon administration, the Exxon Valdez, and all manner of government regulators who couldn’t find their ears with two hands and a road map.  Sorry, I’m not in a trusting mood.  And for those who believe the Council should quit looking back, and keep moving forward, I offer two bits worth of philosophy: George Santayana said “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it”.

What Is It We’re Supposed to Do?
Well darn, what exactly is the Council there for?  To rubber stamp staff recommendations?

Folks, I’ve worked for a variety of publicly and privately owned companies, and I swear, I’ve never seen business practices the like of what I see in Jordan.

No purchase specs?  No request for quotes?  No authorization from the Council?  Oh, well, it’s okay – the Council authorized the budget, and this particular purchase is in the budget, so we’re good to go.  Did the Council have a clue what it was authorizing in the budget?  Based on the level of curiosity exhibited by my colleagues lately, I’m inclined to think not.  (And by the way, hopefully someone will actually show me the State statute that allows staff to spend up to 75 grand without Council approval.)

At my last employer, three levels of management approval were required to okay any purchase over $5,000.  Didn’t matter if the purchase was specifically listed in the budget, or not.

What business would purchase tens of thousands of dollars worth of equipment without first preparing a detailed request for quotes?

And what board of directors would tolerate that kind of performance?

Apparently, Councilors should ask questions outside of public meetings.  Nice, except that if they do, the public will probably never hear the answers.

Frankly, I’m appalled at the cavalier attitude your City Council applies your tax dollars.

I don’t give a darn about sixty dollar air conditioning brackets, or 800 dollars worth of janitorial services.  That, to my way of thinking, is micromanaging.  But $3,800 for water meters, and the check register doesn’t even tell me how many we got?  In my opinion, that is not acceptable.

I’m not on the Council to help staff feel good about themselves.  Nor am I there to gore anyone’s ox.  If the rest of the Council doesn’t want to ask questions, they don’t have to.  If they’re willing to accept fluff answers, they certainly can.  Personally, I prefer public questions, public discussion, and public accountability for tax dollars.

Oh, by the way . . .
. . . most of the votes tonight were unanimous again.  Isn’t that odd, considering how much micromanaging is going on?

I welcome public comment on this topic.  Anyone willing to give his or her name, and willing to limit his or her response to about 150 words is welcome to respond here. Thom.Boncher@JordanUnderGround.com   No anonymous responses will be posted.  No obscene language will be permitted.  Threats, personal attacks, and spam will not be posted.  My house, my rules.  But if you have something to say, and if you are willing to put your name on it, I won’t refuse to let you be heard.

 

July 13, 2011 Now, less that a year after I posted this, our State Senator and State Representative have decided to not run for re-election. They are both Republicans, who finally have a majority in both the House and Senate. Meanwhile, their party is being threatened with eviction for not paying the rent. Does anyone really believe our state government knows how to manage money?

The State of Stupid?

Normally, I try to stick to issues specific to Jordan, but this time I’m going to venture into the quagmire that is state politics.

In my opinion, if you asked average taxpayers what they want the state to do, 75% would say “don’t raise my taxes.”  And right there is the basis for building a consensus on the budget.

It’s Cold At The Poles.  That’s What So Few People Live There.
Do you think the average taxpayer gives a fig about whether the taxes of the top 2% of taxpayers go up?  I don’t either.

Do you think the average taxpayer gives a fig about cutting spending to balance the budget?  Me neither.

Those are the poles.  The core issue for most taxpayers in this state is “don’t raise my taxes” it seems to me.

This is not rocket science.  All the polemics going on now is just plain foolish.

The tax structure we have now was in place when jobs started going to South Dakota.  It was still in place when jobs started going to Mexico.  And it’s still in place today as jobs go to the Pacific Rim.  The argument that raising taxes on the wealthiest 2% of taxpayers will stifle economic development is false.  Global economic conditions are a much bigger factor in job growth or job loss.

Raising taxes isn’t the sole answer either.  The state must look at what’s coming in, and use that to decide what goes out.  If cuts must be made, so be it.  (A good place to start would be cutting salaries and per diem of our bloated state representatives, senators, governor, and their staffs.)

State Senators and Representatives, and yes, Governor too, quit making foolish, dig-your-heals-in promises.  Do you really think the majority of Minnesotans care about such extremism?

One Last Thing?
And why in heaven’s name does our stupid state always wait until the last minute to deal with the budget?  The budget is job 1.  Everything else is secondary.  Every two years we go through the same nonsense.  Is there some virus in the Capitol that causes memory loss?  Quit with the excuses, already!  You’re all screwing up your most important job.

 

July 20, 2011 There’s no polite way for me to say this – in my opinion, the majority of my colleagues on the Council are hypocrites. Are you listening, Mike? They want respect, but won’t give the same respect – either to the people in the orange chairs, or to colleagues they disagree with. And don’t get me started on “protocols”.

Respect? What Was I Thinking?

Apparently, my repeated messages about not naming individuals, and addressing comments only to the Chairman at Council meetings are falling on some deaf ears.

At Monday’s City Council meeting, a member of the public stepped to the microphone (as he had every right to do), and began to address me directly, which is not allowed by City Ordinance (more on that later). The meeting Chairman, who has complained mightily when his named was used by members of the public at Council meetings, chose to let this one slide by.

One might argue that there was no way of knowing what the person at the microphone would say. The problem with this bit of sophistry is that the speaker made the same comments during the Town Hall meeting last Saturday. In my opinion, everybody who was at said Town Hall meeting (including Monday’s Chairman) knew pretty much what the speaker was going to say. And he didn’t disappoint.

One might argue that the Chairman was inexperienced in how to conduct a meeting. Again, sophistry. (look it up in your Funk & Wagnall’s) The Chairman, in his own words, has been on the Council for over twenty years, and has served with five different Mayors.

Not sure what’s going on there.

About That Town Hall Meeting . . .

When a speaker (yes, the same one as at the Council meeting) questioned if I had a conflict of interest, and said I should step down, he drew a round of applause. If I’m not mistaken, there were about three other comments made, that also drew applause. The applause came from quite a few people.

A bit later, one person applauded a comment about whether people should be questioning anyone’s partiality. That person was told such behavior is disrespectful, and wouldn’t be tolerated.

Sheesh.

One might argue that the Town Hall meeting is not governed by the same rigid rules as Council meetings. That I agree with. But whatever rules are applied, must be applied equally.

Thicker Skin

I’m going to shrug this all off (as well as I can). But I’m not going to forget it. The next time someone starts bellyaching about distracting behavior, I’ll have a few things to say about applying standards evenly – and maybe a video clip or two.

Bylaws? We Don’t Need No Stinkin’ Bylaws! We’ve got Robert’s Rules!

Robert’s Rules of Order has been adopted by ordinance in Jordan as the procedure for conducting Council meetings.

One might argue that violating Robert’s Rules is illegal, but I guess that’s too arcane for this kind of a discussion.

Before yesterday’s Council meeting, Councilors were provided with information from the Minnesota Mayors Handbook. I’m going to cite some parts of that information:

A, Role of presiding officer . . .
. . . . the presiding officer at a meeting is the person vested with the authority to:

l Call members to order if they disregard rules of procedure or decorum for the meeting”

And

“A fair and impartial presiding officer protects the rights of all members to participate in the meeting.”

Minnesota Mayors Handbook (highlights added)

If my colleagues on the Council want to get into rewriting Robert’s Rules, I suppose we can. Personally, I think it would be an incredible waste of time. Think, if you will, how much time our City Attorney will have to spend making sure we’ve codified everything properly. I’ll give you two guesses who’s going to foot the bill for that.

Robert’s Rules has served Jordan (and many other cities) well for many years – through all manner of crises. We have far more important things to do than fiddle with the rules we have. They work fine when they’re evenly applied.

And for sure, we have far better ways to spend out money than to throw it down another legal hole because someone feels dissed.

The Quote:
“I don’t get no respect.”
  Rodney Dangerfield

 

July 26, 2011

She’s a KeeperRing

Friday the 29th marks our 33rd wedding anniversary. I’m looking forward to whatever future God grants us.

We didn’t make it through 33 years, 2 sons, and 2 grandchildren on luck alone (though luck did play a part).

Love is involved, of course. And so is hard work.

But here’s the real secret to our successful marriage. We married each other. Does that sound too blunt for you? Think about it.

We didn’t marry someone we thought we could change. We each married someone we felt we could respect. Someone who would give respect in return. We didn’t marry some ideal. We accept each other as we are. We don’t always agree, but we’ve learned to respect each other. We accept each other’s individuality.

I wouldn’t be what I am without my wife. I like to think that I’ve had the same kind of effect on her life.

It doesn’t hurt that she makes a crazy good blueberry cheesecake.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to go raid the fridge.

She’s a keeper.

The Quote:
The sum which two married people owe to one another defies calculation.  It is an infinite debt, which can only be discharged through eternity.”
Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

 

July 29, 2011 The conversation described here was perhaps the most flattering, but also the most disturbing thing that has happened to me as a Councilor. I was flattered that someone would seek me out in hopes that I would lend an ear. But it disturbed me that a constituent felt the rest of the Council was unapproachable, or so beholden to business people that they’ve lost touch with constituents.

Who’s That Knockin’ At My Door?

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

A constituent/taxpayer/voter came to my home today to talk to me.

This person was obviously upset – so upset as to be willing to come visit me. We talked for about a half hour.

Zingers
I got several jolts from the conversation.

The first was “Thom, I won’t name names, but it seems to me that some on the Council are more interested in pleasing the powerful than in representing the people.”

The second jolt was “Businesses are running this town, just as they have been for years. They keep out businesses they don’t want, and they push the City to do favors for businesses they do want.”

Which led to a discussion of the Council’s recent action to not enforce violations by one business. (And for those of you who are unclear on the concept, the decision has been made. It’s not pending, so yes, I can talk about it.)

This person said, “You’re kidding!” When I said I wasn’t kidding, and the details were in the local paper, it was like someone had pushed this person’s fast forward button. “You’re kidding! They can’t do that . . . . .can they?! See? Businesses getting favoritism over the rest of us. You’re kidding me. That’s just wrong!”

Now, to the best of my knowledge, this constituent/taxpayer/voter isn’t a member of any organization in town, other than a church. This person is not someone whom I would describe as outspoken, and I was surprised to hear the comments made. This person was offended that fellow townspeople were labeled as “terrorists”.

The last thing this person said to me was “I’m getting really worked up now, so I better not say any more. Thank you for listening.”

I had a few conversations at the County Fair too, but they were nothing compared to this.

Do you suppose the Council is starting to offend some people here in Jordan?

 

August 3, 2011 I’ve done my best to delete individual names and contact information from this post.

From MY Mailbag

This JUG is going to be a long one.

I, like most of my fellow Councilors, get lots of e-mails. Generally, I don’t make them public. I do, however, try to respond to every e-mail. Some of the e-mails, and the letter quoted below, were sent to all Councilors. A little farther down, you’ll find a few that were sent to me only. Other than removing personal data, I have not altered the e-mails or letter in any way. Even the highlighted portions of e-mails are as sent.

Oh, and by the way, maybe if we were doing a better job, we wouldn’t have to worry about upsetting our “Senior Citizens”.

E-Mails Received by ALL Council Members

Subject: In my opinion
Date: Tuesday, August 2, 2011 4:38 PM
From: *********@aol.com
To: <thomboncher@gmail.com>, (other Councilor’s e-mail addresses deleted – tb)

Dear Jordan City Council Members,

For over 30 years, my family has been coming to Jordan and recently my husband and I were seriously considering relocating our business and our lives to the quaint town we have come to love. Last night I attended your City Council meeting. I have never been more shocked by what happened as I was last night.

I was appalled by the first person who spoke and how he was allowed to condemn your mayor, but what followed was even worse. Your obvious bias for one businessman and lack of respect for your constituents is so unprofessional. I was amused that you are so obsessed with “protocol” and “being nice to everyone” and then you, Tanya and Mike stoop to personal attacks on your mayor and “the party of 10”. Mike was running the meeting and Thom was speaking when Tanya interrupted him. Mike said Thom paused so Tanya had the floor. You better find out what kind of protocol you want, not just what pertains to you.

How dare you publically (sic) condemn and hold a Kangaroo Court and find the mayor guilty when he has not gone to trial yet! Your city attorney seemed unwilling or unable to advise you on the legality of your actions and seems woefully ignorant of the codes and ordinances you pay her to advise your council. Your immoral and possibly illegal actions are abhorrent

The entire situation with the crematory began when the City Council approved the project in violation of its own ordinances. The Council’s lack of awareness or willful disregard for your town’s laws and codes is astounding. Recently a judge ruled that your zoning for the crematory was a violation of state code. And what do you do? You decide that you have to amend the zoning to suit your agenda. All 5 proposals suggested last night are illegal. (I guess you will all look good in prison orange jumpsuits?) You are all personally responsible for your reckless disregard for upholding the law.

I come from one of the most corrupt states in the country and Jordan politics (or lack thereof) makes Illinois look like amateurs. If this is what life in a small town is like, I will take corrupt Illinois over your blatant corruption any day.

Sincerely,

**** ****

***-***-****

Editor’s Note: This is the communication which the Chairman read IN PART at the August 1, 2011 City Council Meeting. It is provided here, in its’ entirety.

Subject: Crematory & Human Behaviors

Date: Monday, August 1, 2011 8:49 AM

From: *** *. <*******@gmail.com>

To: <thom.boncher@gmail.com> (other Councilor’s e-mail addresses deleted – tb)

Conversation: Crematory & Human Behaviors

All, I am a 6-year resident of Jordan. I am very disturbed at the flyer I received. I am very disturbed by the behaviors of all involved in this debate – one with now an alleged twist of violence or near-violence. This situation fits nicely into the rather distasteful mosaic of poor behaviors on the part of elected officials at all levels of government. What happened to the good old days of compromise and move on? More and more I feel that being an adult does not necessarily include maturity. I look at the no2crematory website/blog and am equally disturbed by their behaviors. Does someone have their email addresses? Please forward this onto them if you please. I would prefer to not comment on their website and instead, use email. Has an independent party reviewed the data they posted? Are those numbers inflated so as to increase the credibility of the scare tactic?

Are there alternatives that could lead to a successful compromise and removal of the growing hatreds? Are there stack modifications that can be made to the chimney? Have engineering students been involved from the U of M to look into this and do studies and provide risk mitigation technologies? Are we getting more toxins from the meth labs in this county?

Crematorium employees afraid to be alone? That is just sick that they would have to feel that way. McDonald’s and Burger King employees have no fear for contributing to America’s obesity. Should they?  Of course not. Should the bars and liquor store employees be fearful as well? Look at the drunks they turn out the doors and the inherent risks of drunks on the loose.

I have been told that if I speak up in this town there will be backlash for me. Is that true? Should I now live in fear because of this email?

To me there are bigger fish to fry in Jordan… a town seemingly polarized by big $$ interests and compromise of common sense and strong American values lost in history. Each day when 1,000 or more of the greatest American generation pass on, a big chunk is stolen from America’s heart.

I look around Jordan and see little growth. I see Belle Plaine and New Prague grow. I see that I must go to Chaska or Shakopee to shop. I return to Jordan and see many eyesores on the main drag. Shall I file a lawsuit for the harm done to me due to the depression related to all in the this paragraph and prior three?

Do you need a mediator (me)?

Subject: Council
Date: Thursday, July 28, 2011 11:22 PM
From: ****** ******** **************@live.com
To: (other Councilor’s e-mail addresses deleted – tb) “thom.boncher@gmail.com” thom.boncher@gmail.com
Conversation: Council

I just read the Jordan Paper, and cannot believe the council would change the ordinance after reading that Mr. ******* would go so far as to ruin the reputation of Jordan’s Mayor. That tells us what kind of a business man Mr. ******* really is. I would also like to ask if the voting on motions are pre-arranged as the votes are nearly always 5 and 2 . No 5 people think that much alike. Maybe it’s time to start working with the Mayor. This could mean that you will have to change the ordinance for others as well.

****** ********.     *** **** ******. Jordan, Mn.

(names deleted by the editor – tb)

 

Letter to all Council Members, postmarked 25 July, 2011

Jordan City Council – and Mayor

People elected you to represent all of us, and to know about what can be built and where.

We feel we got short changed . . .

Mr. ******* has property in Prior Lake and Shakopee (funeral homes) and he wouldn’t of had a chance to put a Crematorium where there (sic) located. Slip it through in Jordan they won’t care! Hurrah for the Jordan Community Action Group.

We feel if that’s the best job you can do for the City of Jordan, please step down. Please consider doing just that.

A Jordan Senior Citizen Group

The Following Were Sent to Me Only

Subject: <no subject>
Date: Monday, August 1, 2011 9:52 AM
From: ******* * **********@msn.com
To: <thom.boncher@gmail.com>

Thom, I printed out the list of city council members from the Jordan website. Everyone is highlited (sic) but you to be voted out. I don’t want to forget who these people are in the future. I am happy to see that you are the one who is staying strong and doing the right thing. You are doing a great job.

******* ******

Subject: <no subject>
Date: Friday, July 29, 2011 3:21 PM
From: ****** ***** *********@hotmail.com
To: <thom.boncher@gmail.com>

Dear Thom,

I am writing as a concerned resident of Jordan. I am a stay at home mom with 2 young boys. I am asking you to please vote against rezoning the Ballard Funeral Home in order for the crematory to legally exist. I will be at the next city council meeting on Monday night in hopes to find a way to finalize Judge Diane Hanson’s ruling.

****** *****

www.****************.com/**** http://www.****************.com/****

 

So there you have it, in a very big nut shell. I responded to all the e-mails, and would have responded to the hand-written letter if there had been a return address. It saddens me that the letter writer (or writers) feels compelled to write, but is afraid to use his or her name and address. I’ve heard several variations on this theme here in Jordan. “I don’t want to get in trouble.” “My neighbors would get mad.” “My neighbors are great people, and I don’t want to upset them.”

The Quote:
“There is more stupidity than hydrogen in the universe, and it has a longer shelf life.”
Frank Zappa

 

August 11, 2011 An almost mystical event, and my most spiritual post.

Miracles

I had a dream not too long ago.  I was in a park, in the dark of a wintry night, standing next to a round plaque.  The plaque was on a pedestal, at about a 45 degree angle to the ground.  It was covered with snow, but I could see that there small flags or banners around the perimeter.  Because of the snow, I couldn’t tell what the plaque said, or what exactly the tiny banners represented.

For a brief moment, an extremely bright light focused on the plaque from directly overhead.  At the same time, a female voice (which I interpreted to be Mary, the mother of Christ) said to me “Is this miracle enough for you?”  The bright light melted the snow, but instead of dripping off the plaque, the water instantly froze into a perfect ice cast.  When I tried to pick up the cast, it broke in two, and quickly melted, so I didn’t get a chance to see what was cast in the ice.

I woke up before I could read the plaque.

Not all dreams have messages,
But I think this dream has two – for me, at least.

First, miracles are fleeting.  They come and go so quickly that without someone telling us they’re happening, we might miss them altogether.

Second, miracles are incomprehensible.  Hey, they’re miracles, not Buicks or Phillips Head Screws.  They happen.  Fast.  We can’t understand them, and we have no way to figure out how to embrace them. 

“Is This Miracle Enough For You?”
Which miracle?  That I can dream?  That I can hear in my dreams?  That I can study my dreams, and speculate about what they mean?

I don’t need loaves and fishes, or Lazarus coming back from the dead.  I’ve seen fireflies.  And uncountable numbers of stars.  Aurora Borealis.  And the tiny fingernails on a baby’s hands.  That’s miracle enough for me.  Is it miracle enough for you?

The Quote:
“I believe in pink. I believe that laughing is the best calorie burner. I believe in kissing, kissing a lot. I believe in being strong when everything seems to be going wrong. I believe that happy girls are the prettiest girls. I believe that tomorrow is another day and I believe in miracles.”
           Audrey Hepburn

 

August 17, 2011 I’m not a lawyer – I never even played one on TV – but by golly, what I saw here sure looked fishy to me.

Stacked Deck

I think multiple actions taken by the Jordan City Council at its’ July 18th  and August 1st meetings violated Open Meeting Law.

First, the Chairman didn’t announce to the public the purpose of the closed session.  No biggie, so we’ll give this one a free pass.  You can find this error at time point 1 L1 EP 02:11.00 to 02:12.36 of the recording of the meeting.

Then, in my opinion, actions taken by the Council following the closed session may be interpreted by a reasonable person to indicate that the Council crafted resolutions, and built a consensus during the closed session.  I believe this is a violation of Open Meeting Law.  To whit, on returning from the closed session, Council Members read motions from prepared statements, did not discuss the motions in public, and voted en bloc.  I call your attention to the July 18th meeting recording, time point 2 L1 EP 00:00:10 to 00:03.47.

Then, regarding the agenda of the August 1st meeting, I call your attention to the fact that no advance notice was given that there would be a closed session as part of the meeting.  I question the legality of conducting a closed session without prior public notice.  The official agenda is usually posted at City Hall on the Thursday before each Council meeting.  The agenda posted didn’t list the closed session, which was added after the regular meeting began.

And finally, in my opinion, actions taken by the Council following a closed session at the August 1st meeting may be interpreted by a reasonable person to indicate that the Council again crafted a resolution, and built a consensus during the closed session.  As I said earlier, I believe this is a violation of OML.  To whit, upon returning from the closed session, a Council member read a motion from a prepared statement.  There was insignificant public discussion, and Council Members voted en bloc.  I call your attention to the August 1st recording, time point 2 L1 EP 00:00:07 to 00:02.50.I’m basing all this on my understanding of OML as presented in the League of Minnesota Cities publication Handbook for Minnesota Cities,Chapter 7, Section B,Item 1, paragraph two, which states that OML:
“Prohibits actions from being taken at a secret meeting, where the interested public cannot be fully informed of the decisions of public bodies or detect improper influences.”
(Emphasis is mine – TVB)

I also refer to the League of Minnesota Cities publication Handbook for Minnesota Cities.Chapter 7, Section B, Item 4, Paragraph e, which states:
“A meeting may be closed if permitted by the attorney-client privilege.  Meetings between a governmental body and its attorney to discuss active or threatened litigation may only be closed under the attorney-client privilege, when a balancing of the purposes served by the attorney-client privilege against those served y the open meeting law dictates the need for absolute confidentiality.  The need for absolute confidentiality should relate to litigation strategy, and will usually arise only after a substantive decision on the underlying matter has already been made.  This privilege may not be abused to suppress public observations of the decision-making process, and does not include situations where the council will be receiving general legal opinions and advice on the strengths and weaknesses of a proposed underlying action that may give rise to future litigation.” (Emphasis is mine – TVB)

While the issue at the core of these actions is a contentious one in Jordan, I don’t believe it’s relevant to this discussion.  My concern is that, regardlss of the issue, the Jordan City Council violated OML.  And since the core issue is significant, the potential violations become significant.

I sought the advice of the State Attorney General’s Office on whether a violation, or violations occurred.  The AG’s office told me they have no authority to enforce OML, and referred me to the Minnesota Office of Administration.  MnOA can do no more than issue a non-binding decision.

As a member of the Council, I took part in the closed sessions, so I’m obliged to maintain client/attorney confidentiality.  Yet as an elected official, I’m obliged to uphold the laws of the State of Minnesota.  Since reporting the alleged violations to the state wouldn’t result in anything more than a firm “tut-tut”, I’ll just post ’em here, and call it a day.

I suppose the whole business is an exercise in futility.

But it really annoys me that the system is so stacked against us small fry.

 

August 23, 2011 There are some damning numbers about legal expenses in this post, and they don’t damn me or the Mayor. Of course, my colleagues choose to ignore anything that doesn’t fit their preconceived notions or biases. The waste in the legal budget still goes on.

“Goodbye, Ruby Tuesday . . .”*

$1,787.42 per month for . . . a lawyer to attend staff meetings?

Yes, that is correct, and it’s based on invoices provided by Severson, Sheldon, Dougherty & Molenda, P.A. for the first six months of 2011.  No, I’m not making this up.  No, I’m not padding any numbers.

Our City Attorney attends a staff meeting every Tuesday.  The smallest bill for attending that staff meeting was $327.50 for the April 26, 2011 meeting.  The largest bill was $589.50 to attend the April 19, 2011 meeting.  (In fairness, it should be noted that this charge also included a meeting with the Police Chief)

When you factor in the cost of “mileage and parking”, we will probably spend over $21,000.00 in 2011 to have a lawyer present at staff meetings – not Council meetings.

Who approved this?  I don’t know.  When did it start?  I don’t know that either.  But I know the Council (and City staff) would be really PO’d if I talked to the City Attorney every week without first getting the Council’s permission.

Also irksome is the fact that staff called the attorney 38 times during that same period.  Sometimes the calls were on the same day as the staff meetings.  Those calls cost the City another $2,554.50 during the first six months of 2011.  ($5,109.00 for a year, if staff follows form for the full year)

Tick Tock
And no, to the best of my knowledge, the attorney is not paid a retainer.  Everything is on the clock.

Now, if you read the local paper, you might conclude the reason for the increase in legal expenses is because of controversies in town.  I beg to differ.

I suspect that at least part of the reason for perpetually increasing legal budgets is staff’s inability to focus on legal issues.  We’re paying the City Attorney to sit in a staff meeting, and listen to discussion about what?  Vacation schedules?  Equipment issues?  Budget discussions? 

People, Listen Up!
We’re talking about almost a quarter of our legal budget here!  Heck, when you factor in the phone calls, it’s more than a quarter of the budget.

And it might be worse than I realize.  During the August 1, 2011 Council meeting, the Finance Manager provided the Council with information showing that $22,594.39 had been spent on “Misc & Meetings” from February to July of 2011.  No information was provided for January.  His numbers actually look a little worse than mine.  Of course, all legal expenses are billed to a single account.  So it can be pretty hard to tell how much time our attorney spends working on a legal issue, as opposed to sitting in a meeting.

Take Two Writs, and Call Me Back In a Couple of Weeks
One of my colleagues questioned whether it’s worthwhile to have the City Attorney present at Council meetings.  Hmmmmm. When else is he (or the other Councilors) going to have an opportunity to seek legal advice?  God knows the Council doesn’t want any of its’ members going off and talking to the City Attorney on their own.  But I suppose I run the risk of being accused of micro-managing if I point out that staff does exactly that a couple of times each week.  And of course, it would also be micro-managing if Councilors were to sit in on staff meetings.

Billed City Council meetings accounted for $4,047.92 in legal expenses.  There were ten billed Council meetings in the first six months of 2011.  Which projects to $8,095.84 per year – less than half of what it costs to have an attorney present at staff meetings.

Once – just once – when I start digging into stuff like this, I’d like to be rewarded by a discovery that my worries were unfounded.  It hasn’t happened yet, but I keep hoping.

*From the song, Ruby Tuesday, by The Rolling Stones.

 

August 31, 2011 The smartmeter issue is a form of Chinese water torture, it seems to me. Just a steady drip-drip-drip.

Ohmigosh!  My Water Meter Can Do That?

Got another one of those emails today.  You know the kind. Neptune E-Coder Someone sends all City Council Members a longish (for email) note about a pet issue (SmartMeters, in this case).  The kind of email, I imagine, that some Councilors would prefer to have screened out by City staff.  The kind that cites some “expert” no one’s ever heard of.

And then goes on to make some seemingly unverifiable statement about a product or company, which would seem almost meaningless.

So, not wanting to be a victim of a hoax, I looked up the expert.  Turns out De-Kun Li, is a reproductive and perinatal epidemiologist in Kaiser Permanente’s research division.  He’s been cited by USA Today several times as a source.  So his credentials appear to be sound.  (Naturally, not everyone agrees with all of his conclusions, but he seems to have quite a few supporters, and at least one detractor made arguments that struck me as silly.)

Seems The “Expert” Is The Real Deal
When De-Kun Li explains the difference between “guidelines” (loose and optional) vs. “standards” (tighter, and required), I think we can safely assume he knows of what he speaks.

And when he says the guidelines are based on thermal damage risk (burns), but not any other risks, maybe we should pay attention.  When he cites a member of the EPA, who “. . . specifically emphasized that the EPA recommended guidelines that FCC is currently using do not apply to non-thermal effects or mechanisms (e.g. cancer, birth defects, miscarriage, autoimmune diseases, etc) which are the focus of the public’s concern. . .” maybe we should pay more attention.  (Emphasis is mine)

Most of all, when he cites this same EPA source as stating “Therefore, the generalization by many that the guidelines protect human beings from harm by any or all mechanisms is not justified.” do you think we should be worried? (Emphasis is mine)

I do.

Especially since every household in town is being forced to accept smartmeter systems, with no opt out, or mitigation options provided.  More especially since research has shown that communication between cells depends on very tiny electromagnetic fields, which can easily be disrupted – jammed, if you will – by other EMFs, pretty much regardless of their frequencies.

Remember the difference between “recommended guidelines”, and “standards”.  It would seem my cat meets the FCC standards for EMFs from smartmeters, since there aren’t any.

What of the product?
Does it compare with other smartmeters for cost, functionality, and durability?

Apparently, staff thinks so, but they seem to have based their decision to go with the Neptune meter more on gut feeling than on anything quantifiable.  Gut feeling is okay if you’re trying to decide on Subway or Domino’s for lunch.  But I think we should have something a little less abstract when we’re dealing with 1700 meters and $270.00 a piece.  That’s $459,000.00 of City money.  I can’t recall even hearing anything about how long the Neptune meters are expected to last.

Whodunit?
And for the Council to force E-Coder) 900i meters on everyone in town, when options exist that would mitigate some of the EMF risk, while not inconveniencing the meter readers in any way, is unconscionable.

Yes, only a small number of residents would choose the opt-out version.  But those who would opt out, have very compelling reasons – far more compelling than anything I’ve seen for not allowing opt-outs.

The Quote:
Well, Art is Art, isn’t it? Still, on the other hand, water is water. And east is east and west is west and if you take cranberries and stew them like applesauce they taste much more like prunes than rhubarb does. Now you tell me what you know.”
          Groucho Marx

 

September 7, 2011 Another case of ongoing Council hypocricy. To this day, if I place an agenda item on the night of the meeting, my colleagues chide me for doing so. But they are the idjits who refused to establish a protocol about submitting agenda items in advance. Gahhh!

Protocol, Schmotocol, and Other Loosely Related Topics

At tonight’s (Tuesday, Sept. 6th) City Council meeting, I proposed an agenda item to add a protocol to the Council Meeting Protocols adopted a while back. The 11th protocol would have been that items to be placed on the agenda be submitted by the Wednesday before the meeting. My thought was that this would give Council Members and the concerned public a chance to consider thoughtfully, and thoroughly, all agenda items.

That didn’t seem to fly too well with the rest of the Council. I guess they value being able to submit ambush agenda items more than they value making informed decisions. And, why would the Council care whether a concerned public is informed or not? I mean, those people in the orange chairs are just a distraction anyway, right?

But What If Something Comes Up On Monday?
Something such as what? If a train pulling cars loaded with ammonia jumps the track at 2nd and Rice, does anyone really think the Council would fail to address the situation for two weeks because the derailment didn’t conveniently happen on Tuesday before the meeting? Give me a break.

I suppose it’s possible the rest of the Council really thinks I’m not smart enough to grasp that an issue demands immediate attention. But so far, of all the agenda items that have been added at the meetings during my term, none have had compelling reasons to be dealt with the same day.

We’re dealing with protocols here. Not something given to Moses on Mount Sinai. Protocols are not laws. They’re guides used to smooth out relationships. I was (still am, actually) surprised that my colleagues were so reluctant to add a simple 11th protocol that would make for more informed decisions. Hopefully though, they will act on their own to avoid last minute additions to the agenda.

One Nasty Insult
A Jordan resident told me about an incident that occurred after this evening’s meeting. It would seem that another Jordan resident, while leaving City Hall, was insulted by someone who started humming the tune of “Short People”. Apparently some people in this town think it’s funny to make fun of people because of their stature. I don’t. In fact, given that the song contains the following lyrics*, I think it could be considered a veiled threat.

“. . . Short People Got No Reason
To Live”

Or:
“. . . Well I don’t want no short people . . .
Don’t want no short people
‘round here”

You might even describe that veiled threat as “becoming terrorism.”

And One Compliment
I had an interesting, if short discussion with the City Attorney after the meeting. She actually thanked me for asking questions, and paying attention to details in legal issues. She said that I was the only one who did.

Interesting.

*From the song “Short People”, by Randy Newman

The Quote:
“Maybe this world is another planet’s Hell.”
         Aldous Huxley

 

September 14, 2011

Reading The Signs

Tonight (Tuesday, Sept. 13) the Jordan Planning Commission considered among other things, a text amendment to a code covering signage. The amendment would allow LED Signage in the Highway Commercial District. A bank in that area wants to install a new “dynamic” sign – dynamic being a very broad term to describe signs that incorporate flashing lights, moving displays, animation, or video presentations. The bank was hoping for a prompt response from the Planning Commission, and presumably, from the City Council. I suspect that part of the sense of urgency comes from the fact that the bank approached the City about the signage in May. Members of the Planning Commission first found out about the request to change the code on Friday, September 9th. The Planning Commission wisely decided to table the issue for a later meeting, by which time the members will have been able to think about, and research the issue more carefully.

It’s not like there wasn’t any drama, though. One member of the audience stood at the microphone and said “ . . . it pisses me off. “ that staff sits on things until they become a crisis. She had more choice words for me about staff outside of the meeting, but I think I’ll hold off on those words for now.

The Planning Commission, to their credit, did their best to make a silk purse out of this particular sow’s ear. They reviewed information, listened to testimony, and finally came to the agreement that the issue was bigger than one business’ signage. So they tabled the issue for future consideration.

Yes, But . . .
The bank representative did an admirable job of presenting the bank’s position. I reckon his proposal will eventually result in a sign that meets the bank’s needs.

But – and pay attention now – the City shouldn’t change codes to benefit one business. In fact, any change in the code will affect all parts of Jordan zoned commercial. As near as I can tell, that would include most commercial districts outside of the Downtown Business District. That’s both ends of Broadway, all of CR9, the Highway Commercial District, parts of Valley View Drive, and the Timberline business park, if I’m not mistaken. So you see, we are not talking about just one sign, in just one part of town. A code change necessarily affects all the parts of town regulated by that code.

And what if the code is written in such a way to affect only the Highway Commercial District? Well, let’s see – who in that area has deep pockets, and can afford to put up a dynamic sign? McDonald’s? Burger King? Holiday? Radermacher’s? Wolf Motors? Will the other banks in the area feel the pressure to compete, and put up signs of their own? Hopefully, by now you are beginning to see “the other Jordan”, flashing lights and all. If your imagination needs a poke, go look at Emma Krumbee’s in Belle Plaine.

I’m not here to make a judgment about one sign on one bank. I want Jordan businesses to succeed – to prosper. I’m willing to do what I can to help make that happen. Sometimes that puts me at cross-purposes with the Planning Commission. But in this instance, I think the Planning Commission made the right decision. The signage proposal needs to be weighed carefully before anything happens. For all I know, maybe the City of Jordan should put a dynamic sign out there, to call attention to our town, and what’s happening. But nothing should be done without careful consideration. We’ve made enough snap decisions that lead to problems. This one can, and should be considered fully, before any action is taken.

Who knows, maybe if we think about signage in advance, we’ll learn something about doing other things in a thought out fashion, rather than just slapping stuff together late, and on the fly. Maybe then, nobody will have to stand at the microphone and say they’re p***ed off at us for not being able to think ahead.

The Quote:
“As advertising blather becomes the nation’s normal idiom, language becomes printed noise.”
           George Will

 

September 20, 2011 What a confused, conflicted and confusing group the Jordan City Council is. The inconsistency is amazing.

What The H***?

At the City Council meeting last night (Sept. 19th), the Council saw fit to make a motion to accept the first reading of a zoning code amendment.

There was a gosh-awful lot of discussion about individual points of the amendment. I tried to stay out of that chatter.

The moment I was sure we were actually voting to accept the first reading of the proposed amendment, I asked for, and was given the floor. I had a prepared statement that I timed out at home. It ran about 9 minutes. Part way into my statement, a Council Member interrupted me. He tried to say that the discussion was not about the entire first reading, but rather related only to one part of the amendment. Now, I will say again, I made very certain that we were discussing, and voting on accepting the amended zoning change. We were not talking about any one bullet point.

Of course, after one Councilor interrupted me, and was gaveled, another jumped in. He was also gaveled. It got so bad that the Mayor – the chairman of the meeting – threatened to have Councilors removed from the meeting if they didn’t follow the rules of the meeting. The Police Chief actually got up, and scolded us for misbehaving. And by the way, according to Robert’s Rules (remember them?) only a speaker who has the floor can ask to “call the question.”

I’m still trying to figure out what I did wrong that merited being interrupted in the first place.

I’m Angry . . .
We have two Councilors in town who feel that Robert’s Rules, and the dictates of just general politeness don’t apply to them. The others understand more or less, that being rude doesn’t look good, is a breech of protocol, and insults not only the person who’s interrupted, but also the public.

It’s awfully hard for me to respect someone who shows so little respect for me.

Councilors who would take a vote of no confidence in the Mayor, and and then act like petulant children to disrupt a Council meeting really need to think about the message they are sending to the people of Jordan.

. . . And Confused
The confusion accounts for part of the anger.

At our meeting on September 6th, my colleagues were adamant, even to the point of overriding the recommendation of staff, that the interview process for Planning Commission seats had to happen at the September 13th Planning Commission meeting.

So the ever-obliging Planning Commission conducted the interviews – in public, as they must. Then they made a recommendation, which my colleagues promptly dismissed.

Fresh From IHOP?
This is just an incredible act of waffling. Either it was important to fill the Planning Commission vacancies in a hurry, or it wasn’t. The Planning Commission had a quorum at the last meeting, even though one member was absent, and one resigned.

As I wrote earlier, the Planning Commission, acting at the urging of the Council, and assuming that the Council was sincere in their sense of urgency, nominated a candidate for a vacant seat.

And the Council turned around and slapped them yet again, by denying their nomination.

So, the selection process is too intimidating, according to some Councilors, but when someone does apply, and is nominated by the Planning Commission, the Council says, in effect, “No, we don’t want that guy.”

If any members of the Planning Commission are reading this, I want you to know that I personally think that you did everything right. And I apologize to you for the behavior of my colleagues who, in my opinion, are trying to politicize the Planning Commission, and who are willing to look foolish in the process of doing so. Can anyone wonder why members of the Planning Commission resign?

Not too long ago, a constituent told me he thought the Council had all the brains of a bag of hammers. I wonder . . .

The Quote:
I get no respect. The way my luck is running, if I was a politician I would be honest.”
Rodney Dangerfield

 

October 5, 2011 I was angry then, and I’m angry still. Councilors continue to blame everyone but themselves for out of control meetings.

Herding Cats

Last night (Monday, Oct. 3, 2011) several memberWarKitty-Avatars of the Jordan City Council again asked the Mayor to show leadership in conducting meetings. The Mayor has only three tools for asserting leadership – the power to gavel, the power to have any disruptive person removed, and the power to adjourn a meeting that he deems out of control. The Mayor, by law, is required to follow Robert’s Rules of Order. Actually, when you think about it, Councilors too are required by law to follow Robert’s Rules. What would Councilors have the Chairman of the meeting do?

Councilors also asked him to show leadership in conducting the meeting. So, does that mean they’re willing to show a little followership? *insert snort here*

As if.

Councilors wanted the Mayor to run a tighter meeting. Then, when he tightened things up, they said, “no, we want to talk whenever we please”. Then they complained that it was the audience that was disrupting meetings. And then they gave the Mayor a meaningless vote of no confidence. So you see, it’s all about somebody else – not the Councilors (some of whom behave like petulant children when they don’t get what they want).

And what’s wrong with the Council showing a little respect for the Chairman of the meeting, the Mayor who was voted in by a significant majority?

Elections have consequences.

Of course, one could ask, what’s wrong with Councilors showing a little leadership, and acting like the leaders they’re supposed to be?

Grade School Basketball
Many years ago, when my youngest was in grade school, the basketball coach asked me to serve as acting coach for one practice. I didn’t do things exactly like the regular coach, and I tried very hard to not play favorites. Before practice was half over, the star player was off in a corner, pouting because I wasn’t doing things his way.

When it came time to choose sides for scrimmage, I asked who were the starting five. Those kids argued for ten minutes about who started the last game, and who started the most games. When I told them to line up, and count off, they argued with me because some of them only wanted to play with certain others on the “team.”

Does that sound familiar?

Be Careful What You Ask For
You might just get it.

News Flash! It’s not the Mayor disrupting meetings. It’s not the audience disrupting meetings. It’s disruptive Councilors disrupting meetings. And if they crave leadership, I for one, will gladly lead them to the door.

Protocols for the Audience
Some of my colleagues think that members of the audience are being disrespectful toward the Council. Imagine that. I could say that maybe it’s time for Councilors to begin showing respect for each other, and for basic rules of participation in meetings, which would end the gaveling. In so doing, we would also lead by example. But I guess that’s too obvious.

It’s odd that Councilors didn’t notice two people in the audience standing with their backs to us, talking to a member of staff who was seated in the back of the audience. A few meetings back we had a speaker get up, address me by name, make inaccurate statements, and ask me to step down. I didn’t like it much. But he didn’t make any threats, and whether I like it or not, he has a right to address the Council. Should I be whining about being criticized or not being shown respect? Councilors are not anointed, or appointed. We’re elected. And it’s our duty to the electorate to listen to them, like it or not.

Anyway, in the interest of maintaining the decorum of the proceedings, I’m going to suggest an additional protocol. Here it is . . .
11. Members of the audience are to maintain a respectful demeanor towards the Council at all times during City Council meetings. To maintain that respectful demeanor, certain actions by the audience are prohibited. Those prohibitions are:
No criticism of the Council allowed
No sarcasm allowed
No facial expressions allowed
No fidgeting allowed
No noisy paper shuffling allowed
No snorting, coughing, sniffing, sneezing, giggling, stomach rumbling,
note passing, laughing, burping or farting allowed.
In other words, come to the podium, offer your praise, and then sit down and be quiet.

Peace out, citizens.

The Quote:
In Republics
, the great danger is, that the majority may not sufficiently respect the rights of the minority.
James Madison

 

October 11, 2011 The local newspaper didn’t do much in the way of explaining “Continued for Dismissal”, so I put my take out there. The local businessman (a substantial advertiser in the local newspaper) continues to abuse the legal system, and first amendment rights continue to get trampled in Jordan.

What Does Continued For Dismissal Mean?

For starters, it means the County realized its case was so thin that it couldn’t even plea-bargain the charge. Fifth degree disorderly conduct is about as close to nothing as the court system can get. The prosecution was satisfied to clear the case. No plea. No plea bargain for a lesser charge. No guilt of any kind attached to the decision. Just pay the court fees, stay off the other guy’s property for a year, and the whole thing disappears.

Some people will never be satisfied, but I think the County’s willingness to accept a continuance for dismissal says something about the weakness of their case.

I’m pleased that Mayor Ewals chose to go with the continuation for dismissal. A trial probably would have been more satisfying for him. It would have given him a chance to pull out all the dirty laundry associated with the charge. But from Jordan’s perspective, a trial would have resulted only in more discord.

In my opinion, a local businessperson performed a service he wasn’t legally authorized to do. He hoped that by doing it late at night, no one would notice. When he was caught, he decided to attack the Mayor in order to deflect attention from his misconduct. Fortunately, the court system worked as it should, the attorneys arrived at continuation for dismissal as the logical (if not necessarily satisfying) step, and the whole thing got put to rest.

Maybe now we can put the brouhaha is behind us, and get back to work. Hopefully, there will be no more frivolous abuses of the courts. But I, for one, recognize that there was a handshake settlement on this whole business once before. One party reneged on his handshake. It wasn’t the Mayor.

Now I think I’ll go back and reread the text of the vote of no confidence my colleagues approved. Do you suppose they’ll realize the continuance for dismissal pretty much undercuts the basis of that vote?

Nah, probably not.

 

October 18, 2011 The Jordan Shocker, and Shocker II were published anonymously. Some people attribute them to a former Jordan barber, who apparently had an opinion on everything, and a willingness to rant, but was reluctant to have anyone know he was the one doing the ranting. Sound familiar?

A Stroll Down Memory Lane?

The Jordan Shocker, and Jordan Shocker II, near as I can tell, came out in 1988. As fate would have it, I decided this week was the week I’d write about them. Only after a little digging did I realize that they were written to influence a vote taking place on Tuesday, October 18th – 1988. Twenty-three years ago, since I’m writing this on Tuesday, October 18th, 2011.

These two little pamphlets billed themselves as “AN UNDERGROUND NEWSPAPER THAT TELLS IT LIKE IT IS . . . SOMETHING THE JORDAN INDEPENDENT WILL NEVER DO.”

Wow.

Can We Spell Angry?
The author of these two publications was one angry dude.

He vilified the Police Chief . . .
“ONE GOOD THING ABOUT THESE SITUATIONS. IF YOU CAN’T SEE A JORDANITE IN THE DARK AT LEAST YOU WILL SMELL HIM. CHIEF ALVIN, SAYS IT’LL CUT DOWN THE NIGHT TIME ACCIDENTS AND HIS COPS WON’T HAVE TO GIVE UP THEIR LONG COFFEE BREAKS. EAT YOUR HEART OUT EX ASS-CHIEF MAGIC JOHNSON. YOU LEFT TO EARLY WITH THE SACK OF MONEY YOU SUCKERED THE CITY OUT OF.” (punctuation, spelling, and capitalization are all as they appeared in the original Jordan Shocker)

He wasn’t very nice to the City Engineers . . .
“LOOK AT THE SEWAGE POND OR SMELL IT.

WITH THE GUIDANCE OF THE CITY ENGINEERS THE MOST EXPENSIVE SOLUTION TO THE PROBLEM WAS FOUND IN ONLY 4 YEARS ! TO BAD IT DOES’NT WORK IN THE SPRING AND IN THE FALL BUT WHO CARES. WE’LL DO IT OVER SOME DAY.” (punctuation, spelling, and capitalization etc. etc. etc.)

He had some vinegar to sprinkle on the legal system . . .
“THE COPS DON’T NEED RAISES IN JORDAN. THEY JUST SUE THE CITY . . . HOW MUCH DID MEYERS GET FOR THE CITYS SCREW UP ?) .” (punctuation, spelling, and capitalization etc. etc. etc.)

And he smashed a two-handed backhand to the Mayor and City Council of the day, covering not only their ability to think critically, but also water quality . . .
“RADIUM IN THE CITY DRINKING WATER HAS NO EFFECT ON THE MAYOR AND CITY COUNCIL. IT’S STILL UNDER STUDY. HAVE NO FEAR. NO MATTER WHAT IT COSTS THE CITY COUNCIL WILL FIND THE MOST EXPENSIVE SOLUTION TO THIS AS ALWAYS.” .” (punctuation, spelling, and capitalization etc. etc. etc.)

I actually don’t want to get into what he had to say about the school district – a topic that filled all of The Jordan Shocker II.

Wow.

I mean, this guy makes me sound like Mary Poppins. And that’s only one page of the first issue.

Folks who’ve lived in Jordan for a while may remember some of the things this anonymous author wrote about. I have no idea who the author was, but I’m not especially worried about quoting him, since he also wrote: “SINCE WE DON’T HAVE OUR HAND IN THE TAXPAYER’S POCKETS LIKE SOME WE WRITE ABOUT TO PAY FOR THIS PAPER, PLEASE PASS THIS COPY ON AND XEROX IT.” .” (punctuation, spelling, and capitalization yada, yada, yada.)

I’ll leave you with one last thought from The Jordan Shocker:
“REMEMBER THIS . . . YOU GET WHAT YOU VOTE FOR AND YOU DESERVE WHAT YOU GET . . . “

The Quote:
“If you want something badly enough, you’ll find a way to get it. If you don’t want something badly enough, someone will find a way to take it from you.”
    unknown

 

October 25, 2011

What Is Wrong With This Picture?

I read the StarTibune just about every day. It’s never hard to find something irksome, informative, funny or thought provoking in the paper – and that’s just in the comics section.

Today (Tuesday, October 25, 2011) I found a couple of articles, more or less side-by-side, that positively torqued me. The articles ran in the twin cities&region (Metro) section.

In a story by Paul Levy, I learned that three members of the Dokken family, of Appleton, MN were charged with felony animal cruelty resulting in the death of one horse, and near starvation of three others.

The Dokkens face up to two years in jail, and $5,000.00 fines if convicted. In my opinion they deserve the maximum penalty.

Elsewhere in the STRIB, in a story by Paul Walsh, I learned that Allissa Lynn Anderson, of Eagan pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor count of duty to drive with due care, speed greater than reasonable. Ms. Anderson, driving on Grand Avenue, in St. Paul, was finishing up a cell phone call. She looked down to end the call, and place the phone in her lap. While so distracted, she struck and killed a 24 year old Bloomington woman. The Bloomington woman was crossing the street, but not in a crosswalk.

Sentencing is scheduled for December 30.

This is not an “accident”. Ms. Anderson made a conscious decision to use a cell phone, after dark, on a busy city street, while driving. Had she been paying attention, the fatality probably would have been avoided. But no, she had to talk to her friend on the phone.

You can guess how I feel about a justice system that values a horse over a human.

If You Don’t Like Internet Rants, Stop Reading Now.
Naturally, I’m appalled and disgusted the people would starve and mistreat horses. And, it makes me mad that people who have known about the behavior for years did nothing to stop it.

But I’m way more upset with the “me first” attitude of distracted drivers who think a few minutes of their petty lives are worth the risk of killing someone else. If a motion ever comes before the Jordan City Council to ban cell phone use while driving within the City Limits, I will support it fully.

Know this. If you think you can drive and talk on the phone at the same time, you are mistaken. When you are on the phone, you’re as impaired as all but the very worst drunken drivers.

Know this too. If you are one of those people who think they are so important that they can put the rest of the population at risk for their own petty convenience, I will not support you. Whoever you are.

Hang up and drive!

The Quote:
“I find
it so easy to get distracted – I try not to do more than one thing
at any one time.“

Elliott Gould

 

November 1, 2011 With the Jordan City Council, if City Staff doesn’t start something, it doesn’t get started. But staff says they only do what the Council says. As of this writing, Jordan has still not responded in any way to the County. Sand Creek Township caved in, and has decided to allow the mine in exchange for a paved road. At least they will get some gravel tax.

While We Slept, Blissful In Our Beds

Two weeks ago your Jordan City Council decided to take a wait and see approach to dealing with Scott County regarding mitigating water pollution problems arising from an aggregate mining operation.

Today (Tuesday, Nov. 1, 2011) the Scott County Board moved to accept a Scoping Decision Document for the Environmental Impact Statement for that same mining operation. At least they had the decency to not bury the action as a consent agenda item, as County staff originally proposed. The vote was 4:0 with one member absent

Sand Creek Township appears to be moving decisively to distance itself from the mining operation. But Jordan is taking a “let’s think about this some more” approach. Apparently, Councilors want to wait until the public comment period opens before making any comments. Never mind that the Council is a government unit, responsible for the health and safety of the people of Jordan. And never mind that by the time the public comment period opens, most details are ironed out, with the public having little chance to create an impact on the proposal. (The County will tell you different, but that’s a crock of horse pucky, and most of us know it.)

Allow me to share with you this little tidbit from the County’s Scoping Decision Document.
“Additional mitigation alternatives may also be evaluated at the discretion of the Proposer.” (emphasis is mine – tb)

In other words, the Proposer can evaluate other means of mitigating ground water pollution, and submit them for consideration. And the Proposer has already identified Jordan’s water system as one of those mitigation alternatives. How much would you care to bet that our water system will be proposed as the preferred (by the Proposer) mitigation method? Do you think the Proposer is going to want to drill wells for all the homeowners from the Sioux Vista area to the Valley View Adult Care facility? That’s roughly the area affected by the at risk water table.

And if Jordan’s water system does end up getting sucked into this fiasco, the City will be accepting a share of the responsibility for mitigating water problems caused by that hole in the ground for ever.
The Mayor presented a resolution to the Council, which would have sent another powerful message to the County that Jordan can’t afford to become some sort of mitigating agency for problems outside town. The Council refused to act on the proposed resolution. In my opinion, some Councilors are so intent on disagreeing with the Mayor, that they will do so even at the expense of Jordan taxpayers. Why else would they refuse to act on a resolution telling Scott County that the City will not allow its’ water system to be used to mitigate ground water pollution problems outside the City Limits? The resolution would cost us nothing beyond postage. Had it been acted upon when it was submitted to the Council, the County Board would have had the resolution on its’ plate today, as they considered accepting the Scoping Document.

So much for being proactive.

It’s time for the Jordan City Council to put up, or . . .

We’re going to hit them once, with everything we got?
Right. And what exactly are we building to hit them with? Has anyone on the Council suggested doing our own research about the potential for ground water pollution, or dust pollution, or traffic pollution? Nope. Too expensive. Has anyone else on the Council come up with anything at all regarding the aggregate mining operation? Nope.

What’s wrong with “Tell them what you’re going to tell them, Then tell them what you’re telling them. Then tell them what you told them.” Which is more or less Dale Carnegie’s formula for influencing an audience.

We want to give staff a chance to look at this.
And do what? Water it down? Staff had the resolution with just as much time to review it as is typically given to the Council.

When was the last time you or I saw staff buck Scott County? Heck, that’s not their job. It’s the Council’s job – which the Council seems unwilling to do. Why?

What changed?
A while back, the Jordan City Council acted unanimously to pass a resolution telling the County Board about our concerns with the proposed mining operation. Now, faced with an opportunity to follow up on that resolution, your City Council has pulled back its’ horns (such as they are), and decided to take a wait and see approach. Why? Could it be the Council is so intent on sticking it to the Mayor that they’ve overlooked their responsibility to the people of Jordan?

I have my opinion on the matter, but I’ll let you come to your own conclusions.

Gargle with Scope.
During today’s scoping discussion, the County Environmental Health Director made one of the most inane remarks I’ve ever heard from a public official. He was asked by a Board Member to elaborate on the impact of ground water pollution from the mine, on the Minnesota River and adjacent protected wetlands – both of which are downgrade from the mine site.

His response was that he didn’t know if the ground water actually flowed as far as the river. (Where the heck does he think it goes?)

Then he said that ground water pollution from flooding the pit was a separate issue from pollution caused by the mining operation. Then he said pollution from flooding wasn’t part of the scope of the EIS.

News Flash! If the mine doesn’t exist, the path for pollution to ground water doesn’t exist.

To say that pollution caused by a flooded mine is a separate issue from pollution caused by mining is absurd. The issue is ground water pollution, from whatever source.

Sand Creek is going to flood every year. Sometimes twice a year. When the water table is exposed by a gravel pit, pollutants will have a nice straight path to ground water. And eventually to the wetlands and Minnesota River – which your State government is spending millions to clean up.

Oh, and there was a statement about noise, dust, odor and traffic pollution issues being addressed as part of an Interim Use Permit application. Campers, if the whole business gets as far as an IUP, you can safely assume it’s a done deal, and there is little or nothing we can do to protect Jordan from those other forms of pollution.

Will it pass?
I had a chance to talk to three Board Members today, before and after the meeting. Two of them expressed misgivings about the scope of the EIS, and the mining operation in general. Then they voted to accept the Scoping Decision Document – narrow as it is – unchanged.

The third Board Member asked me if I thought the Proposer would follow through with the proposal. This from a person who said months ago that he figured the whole thing was a dead issue because the Proposer wouldn’t want to spend the money for an EIS. Now he’s saying he thinks we should assume the Proposer intends to go ahead. In other words, the Board Member is warning us to be prepared.

And our response is . . . ?

The Quote:
The ideas
I stand for are not mine. I borrowed them from Socrates. I swiped them from Chesterfield. I stole them from Jesus. And I put them in a book. If you don’t like their rules, whose would you use?
Dale Carnegie

 

November 8, 2011

Garbage

About a year ago, a Jordan resident complained about being billed for a service he never received, and about being billed for garbage receptacles he’d never had. That poor, misguided soul was upset because of the fees that were being rolled over to the County for inclusion on his tax assessment. And when he spoke out about it at Council meetings, he got a pretty good round of scorn from a variety of bloggers. Can you imagine anyone having the gall to take the City to task for participating in prying money out of unsuspecting homeowners?

Who would expect the City to help in a situation like that?   I mean, really . . . the guy was just some retired working stiff who was disgruntled about having to pay bills he never incurred, for services he never asked for. Remember that?

Me too.

Last night (Nov. 7, 2011) two Jordan residents came before the City Council and complained about being billed for a service they didn’t ask for. They were also annoyed that the fees were being passed to the County for collection as part of an assessment on their tax bills.

So the Council sent them off with a polite “sorry, but that’s the way it goes”, right?

Naw. See, these two residents are local business owners too. For them, members of the Council start asking for accommodations and renegotiated contracts. In my opinion, they’re nice fellows, and good businessmen. One of them said he thought everyone should be treated equally. I agree.

Contract, Schmontract
So, you’ve negotiated a contract with the City. Both parties seem satisfied. Everybody signs on the line. The Council approves the contract. What’s it worth? What’s the City’s word on a contract worth?

Nothing, it would appear. For starters, the City is perfectly willing to enter into contracts that violate City Code. Code states quite explicitly that contracts should be effective for one to three years. And yet the City gave the local refuse hauler a five-year contract.

Furthermore, some members of the Council seem perfectly willing to try to renegotiate a contract if they feel it will benefit the right (powerful?) constituents.

Personally, while I agree with much of what the two residents said, I think the City should honor its’ commitment to contracts it’s signed. If I were a business person, considering sites for my company, I’d be wary of any town that’s willing to kiss off its’ contractual obligations so easily. I’d also be looking at what kind of a Council enters into contracts that conflict with City codes. Somebody didn’t do sufficient homework on that one.

What a dilemma. I agree wholeheartedly with the residents’ concerns about fair and equal billing. I agree philosophically with the idea that people shouldn’t have to pay for things they don’t want. I agree that the previous City Council took Jordan into a contract of questionable merit. But does that give the City the right to seek renegotiation? What ever happened to “good faith”?

Occupy Jordan?
For the most part, I don’t have much truck with the “occupy” movement. What I see is a lot of finger pointing, whining, and confusion, with very little constructive problem solving. Tearing down is easy. Building something better is much harder. But every once in a while, something happens that makes me think government is out of touch with what it’s supposed to be doing, and needs a slap upside the head. Last night was one of those onces in a while.

A Councilor said, and repeated words to the effect that it was the job of the Council “to help businesses succeed.”

Since when?

In my opinion, the job of the Jordan City Council, and any other city council, is to do the will of the people. Remember that little blurb at the beginning of the U.S. Constitution? The part that goes “We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defence, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.” Do you see anything in there about businesses, or corporations?

Councils do the will of the people by upholding the law, first and foremost. Then they’re responsible for the health and safety of the people of Jordan. Then, somewhere down the list, comes helping businesses succeed. And helping businesses succeed only applies if those businesses “promote the general Welfare.”

The Cost
A Councilor asked last night if it’s possible for the City to recover the costs of suing the Mayor. Now, this question was asked and answered at the meeting three weeks ago. But I suppose it never hurts to try, huh?

The City Attorney answered that the only way to recover costs would be to sue for damages, in which case the City would have to pay both the defense and the prosecution. Meaning, I guess, that if the City won, the City would collect damages from the City.

Seems to me an equally appropriate question would have been, if the City doesn’t win, can the Mayor collect damages? The Mayor’s legal eagles seem to think they can. Oddly, nobody on the Council (including me) asked that question. And near as I recall, the City Attorney never addressed the issue.

So, if our counsel is correct, and the City wins, we get to pay our legal bills, and the Mayor signs a document.

But what happens if the Mayor’s counsel is correct? Looks to me like the City will pay its’ own expenses, the Mayor’s expenses, and then get sued by the funeral home for . . . something.

By the way, today a judge ruled that the City must file a brief regarding the legality of the zoning amendment which the Mayor refused to sign.  The City must file by the 14th.  Then the Mayor’s legal team has until the 21st to review the City’s brief, and file a rebuttal, or whatever it’s called.  Got that?  The City has to prove the legality of what it’s trying to do.  I’m thinking that might be kind of hard to do, given the lack of success in proving the original CUP was legal.

Who brought what on whom?
I’ve been told that the Mayor “brought this on himself”, and I suppose that’s true. It would have been much simpler and cheaper for him to have just signed a document he felt was illegal. Would’ve been cheaper for the City too. But do you really want a Mayor who’s willing to do things he thinks are illegal, just to save himself grief?

I don’t.

The Quote:
The lowest form of popular culture – lack of information, misinformation, disinformation, and a contempt for the truth or the reality of most people’s lives – has overrun real journalism. Today, ordinary Americans are being stuffed with garbage.”
Carl Bernstein

 

November 15, 2011

One Dollar

There was an EDA meeting this evening (Nov. 15, 2011). As fate would have it, I attended, and picked up an interesting tidbit of Jordan history.

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A local business person mentioned that when he was County Attorney, Scott County was liquidating various properties in various towns. Jordan was one of those towns. The properties were offered to the towns for one dollar. Jordan was the only town to refuse to buy a piece of property for a buck.

The property is on the east side of Broadway – a building full of junk, with a lot full of junk behind it. A building the City is considering buying for $300,000.00. A building the City would level, and turn into a parking lot.

Nitwits
Those who decry the current City Council as anti-business need to keep in mind that the Council that turned down the County’s offer were (in my opinion) near-sighted nitwits. Those who decry the current Council as acting to destroy Downtown need to remember that a previous Council, acting like nitwits, blew an opportunity to have a nice piece of property in Downtown. A property that could have been used as a seed in the rejuvenation of a stagnating Downtown – and believe me, it was stagnating back then.

You Can Cure Ignorance. . .
. . . but stupidity is forever. Jordan will be paying the price for that piece of stupidity for years to come. Who in his or her right mind, would turn down a piece of real estate in the middle of a downtown district, on a state highway, when the asking price is one dollar?

One would hope that the people of Jordan, upon hearing of this particular bit of stupidity, threw the butts of the Council Members who did it out on the street with a resounding thud.

What could those morons have been thinking? They sure weren’t thinking of the future.

The Quote:
Nothing that costs only a dollar is not worth having.
Elizabeth Arden

 

November 22, 2011 At a Council meeting the night before this post, I suggested eliminating the Planning Commission. Our City Administrator said we were required by law to have one. I think he was wrong. The source I cited below has (ahem) better legal credentials than the City Administrator.

Schmoozin’

Apparently, the requirements for being a member of the Jordan Planning Commission consist of being a resident for more than 25 years, and being a teacher or a businessperson.  If you schmooze up the right people, you can get a seat on the PC, even if someone else gets the Commission’s recommendation.

Three people originally applied for two seats on the Jordan Planning Commission.  One was nominated by the Planning Commission.  The Council refused to accept the nomination, instead instructing the Planning Commission to re-open the nomination process to any applicants who chose to re-apply.  Four did so.

The Planning Commission went through the interview process again, nominated (re-nominated, in one case) two applicants, and was told by the Council, “Thanks, but no thanks.  We’ll take the other two applicants instead.”  At that point, two current members of the Planning Commission walked out of the Council meeting.  It would seem that they refused to participate in the Council/PC workshop scheduled for after the meeting.  I suspect that one, possibly both, will withdraw from the Planning Commission.

As I said at the meeting last night (Nov. 21, 2011), in my opinion, this is heaping insult on insult.  The Council slapped one nominee twice, slapped the Planning Commission twice, and then Councilors had the gall to say that they understood they were asking the PC to make difficult decisions, and they appreciated the PC’s input.

Like fun.

Those of us who’ve been paying attention to the whole process for months knew which way a significant chunk of the Council was leaning.  Backward.

If You’re Not Part of the Problem, You Don’t Get to be Part of the Solution.
So much for fresh voices, and new ideas.  The Council wants to stick with the status quo – sometimes called “The Old Boy Network.”  The status quo is why it took nine years of discussion and fiddling around to get our outdated library replaced.  The status quo is why so many buildings sit empty Downtown.  The status quo doesn’t care if park buildings stink.  The status quo can always find reasons for maintaining the status quo.

Old Boy Network?  In Jordan?
Darn tootin’!  Most cities have one.  No cities like to admit it though.

Like old boy networks everywhere, Jordan’s OBN is not a formal group, with membership rolls, dues, or publicized meetings.  Like old boy networks everywhere, some of what Jordan’s OBN does is good for the people of Jordan.  Like old boy networks everywhere, ALL of what the Jordan OBN does is good for the Jordan OBN.  Oddly, many members of the Jordan OBN don’t live in town, and can’t vote in City elections.

When someone who’s not part of the OBN has an issue with the City, there will be no hue and cry for help – even if that person owns a business or wants to bring a business to town.  (We saw that with a lot split issue last night.)

Needless to say, old boy networks are not limited to men only.

What we are going to see now, is a town openly run for the benefit of select businesses, regardless of the impact on the people of Jordan.

Can We Actually DO That?
I know that the Council is required to submit certain types of questions to the Planning Commission for hearings and recommendations – if a planning commission exists.

I know the Council can choose to not accept the Planning Commission’s recommendation.

But I’m not so sure we can actually take some other action regarding a Planning Commission recommendation.  I think if the Planning Commission’s recommendation is not accepted, the PC has to submit another recommendation.

Last night I was informed that Minnesota statutes require that cities have planning commissions.  Not so sure about that . . .

The Handbook for Cities, published by the League of Minnesota Cities says “Cities may* provide for a planning commission by adopting an ordinance establishing the commission, its features, powers and duties.” (Handbook for Minnesota Cities, Chapter 14, page 14-7, article 5, Planning commissions) *accent is mine – tb

In city government legalese, “may” means “can”, not “must.”

Can o’ Worms Anyone?
Then, of course, there’s the issue of who nominates, and who selects.  Months ago, the Council decided they didn’t want the Mayor nominating candidates for commission seats.  So they said, let the commissions nominate, and we’ll vote.  Now they’re saying in effect, “Aw, what the heck, we’ll just pick who we want.”  And they’re trying to convince John Q. Public that they want to take politics out of the selection process.

As if.

Oh well, this is Jordan.  Rules only apply if the Council wants them to apply.  And they only apply to the people or businesses the Council wants them to apply to.

By the way, I got gaveled last night, for cutting off one of my colleagues.  Imagine that.

 

November 29, 2011 We’re getting closer to “today”. The posts are fresher in my mind. I’ll have to be careful to not blurt out something I shouldn’t say.

Half Full? 

I guess that depends on which half of the glass your straw is in, huh?

Lately I’ve been panned on the Jordan Independent web site by a couple of anonymous cowards, and one person who has the courage to attach his name to posts.  The subject of the pans was my JUG from last week, and a JI blog thread about the Planning Commission appointments.  I offered those people the chance to respond, and have their response published here, but none have chosen to do so.

Still, some of what they said was legitimate fodder for discussion, so here goes.

Focus
The biggest criticism is that I’m unable to see all the good things in Jordan, instead focusing on negatives.

Well yeah.

When you go to the Doctor, do you want him to tell you only the good news?  “Well Mr. X, your blood pressure is within normal limits (but it’s way higher than it was six months ago).  Your weight is only up a couple of pounds (but you’re 80 pounds over your ideal weight).  And those suspicious spots on your chest x-ray were not cancer (but you have advanced emphysema).  You’re in fine shape. (But smoking, overeating, and lack of exercise are killing you.)

You might take a different view of things, but I’d rather hear everything, so I can fix what’s fixable, and not just drift where the wind and other people’s follies take me.

Truth or Dare
On the JI thread, I told one person that he had an obvious bias against the Mayor.  He replied that my comment was dumb and a lie.

Dumb, maybe.  Lie?  Nope.  His comments about the Mayor clearly show the bias.

His response also shows that he, like most people, believes that he’s not biased, but anyone who disagrees with him is biased.

His advice to me was to take a breath and remember why I moved here. Then he said he’s lived here all his life, and not much has changed aside from unavoidable growth.  Then he suggested simple communications and setting aside what he supposes is my personal agenda along with working for the good of the community.

But when I challenge him to set aside his personal agenda, and try to present an objective picture of other side of an issue, he won’t.  This is a common problem.  One I’ve encountered many times in marketing.  And it’s one of the most critical mistakes a person can make in negotiation (which, come to think of it, is what marketing is all about).

Non Sequitur, Part 1
Regarding the little mental side trip above about “not much has changed” – that’s exactly what I said last week about the status quo.

Non Sequitur, Part 2
Yours truly went to a special meeting of the Planning Commission this evening.  Two new members were seated.  Two other members were not there, pretty much confirming that they’ve quit.  It would seem I’m not the only one disappointed with the way the Council acted in regard to the Planning Commissions nominations.  This should be good news to those who are trying to pack the Commission.

We now return to our regularly scheduled programming.

Why Here?
Jordan is a wonderful place to live.  I’m sure many people feel the same about Moose Jaw, Saskatchewan, and Beaver Dam, Wisconsin.  Here’s a truth, which some people seem reluctant to recognize.  Jordan is pretty much the same as most cities.  It has pluses, and it has problems.  If I thought the problems were irreparable, I’d quit trying, and leave.  What I see here is that we’re sucking hard on the half-full part.  Maybe we should be trying to replenish the half-empty part instead.

 

December 7, 2011 The only illustration I’ve used twice. Of course, some people look through their rose colored glasses every day. The glasses appeared online only once, with this post.

What Color Are Your Glasses?

Lately I’ve been hearing and reading that if so-and-so would

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just do such-and-such, everything would be fine.  And, the town’s great just the way it is – let’s not change a thing.  And besides, if we make changes we’ll also be making extra work.

Git ‘r Done, “Just sign it!” & Such
That kind of thinking is the reason some residents have issues with the refuse hauling contract.  It’s the reason why a judge ruled against the City regarding a crematorium.  It’s the reason why trails and parks, which should have been developed when subdivisions were established, remain undone.

“The Name of The Place is I Like It Like That. 
C’mon, Let Me Show You Where It’s At . . .” *

Bump-outs on Broadway?  We don’t need ‘em.  We don’t have ‘em now.  And they’d just make snow plowing harder.

There are about 40 snow plowing days per year.  That leaves about 325 days when pedestrians struggle to cross the street.  And 325 days when businesses suffer because their customers are reluctant to cross a busy state highway.

Then there’s the issue of ADA compliance.  Not one intersection on Broadway (including the new 282/21 intersection) has ADA compliant pedestrian crossings.

More trees on 282 in the Highway Commercial District?  NO!  The area’s fine the way it is.  Business’ sight lines will be impaired.  There’s a safety issue.  And so on.

Really, what kind of a business would resist efforts to make its’ neighborhood more attractive?  The area is barren and unfriendly – a place people just drive through as quickly as they can.  One would suppose that calming traffic a little would give drivers a chance to slow down and look at the businesses in the area.  Only someone wearing rose-colored glasses would suppose that anyone zipping along 282 is going to stop at a bank on the spur of the moment, to check out mortgage rates.

Seriously, enhancing the area would enhance the image of the businesses in the area.  Not to mention that it would enhance the image of Jordan as a whole.  (Or maybe we want to convey the image that Jordan’s a hole to be bumped through as quickly as possible.)

Rose Tinted Audience Members
Last night (Monday, Dec. 5, 2011) the Council blathered on, often about trivialities, – and spent the last half hour or so of the meeting giggling and exchanging pleasantries.  (If you watch the replays, the dour face is mine, the Councilor pretending she’s asleep may be off screen.)

By 11:00 PM, the audience had thinned down to about four hardy souls – one of whom was making obscene gestures at the Council.  It strikes me as odd that Councilors who are so sensitive to facial gestures couldn’t see this person making rude sexual hand signs.  Of course, it’s possible that the rose colored filter coating on their glasses blocks out such behavior if it’s being exhibited by their friends.

We Need To Be Prepared For . . .
. . . the Creek Lane connection under 169, the connection between Riverside Lane and Rice Street, and the 169/282 interchange.

We need to be prepared for tsunamis, too.

Here are three looks at the future, without the rose tinted glasses.

There will never be a Creek Lane street connection under or over 169.

Why?  For one thing, the west side of Creek Lane doesn’t exist.  For another, there’s already a 169 crossing at 282 (more on that, later).  And finally, for those of you who haven’t been paying attention, the State is going broke.

The connection between Riverside Lane and Rice Street won’t happen until the rail line through Downtown is abandoned.

Why?  Riverside dead-ends across the tracks from Rice Street.  Further, Riverside is too narrow for through traffic.

The 169/282 interchange we have now will eventually be replaced by an underpass with no access to 169.

Why?  Well, for one thing, Jordan seems unwilling to do much to make the area inviting.  For another, the County is planning to make CR8 (by the golf course) a feeder to 35W, in which case, the logical thing to do would be to extend 8 all the way to 169.  An interchange where OK Corral is now would be much cheaper to build than one at 282.  There would be no sensitive fens to consider, and few businesses to deal with when purchasing rights of way.  And once again, the State is going broke.  MnDOT will be looking for ways to accomplish their goal of a 169 freeway as cheaply as possible, and routing traffic to quaint little towns – especially quaint little towns that won’t do simple things to improve themselves – just isn’t part of their business model.

When you remove the rose colored glasses, you realize why CVS, WalMart, and Holiday Inn aren’t in Jordan.  Do you suppose those big chains know something we don’t?  Could it be they’re waiting to see what happens with the 282/169 interchange?  And if it never comes, why would they?  If we’re not willing to do simple things like bump outs and tree planting, why should we expect MnDOT or the County to do us any favors?   Fifteen years from now there may well be a highway interchange and commercial development about where OK Corral is now.  Jordan’s access to that development will be via CR66 (Old 169) to the extended CR8.

Unless, of course, the State goes bankrupt.

I LIKE IT LIKE THAT 
The Dave Clark Five
(Chris Kenner / Allen Toussaint)

 

December 13, 2011 The person who chose not to re-submit an application told me he was never approached by anyone other than me about trying again. Then, in reference to the Council, he said, “Why would I want to deal with those icky people?”

Oooooooo, That Was Slick!

Last week the Jordan City Council voted to seat Oilcananother member on the Planning Commission.

What an incredibly slick political move.

  • Refuse to seat the unanimously recommended applicants (let’s call them applicants A and B)
  • Instead, seat two who were not recommended (applicants C and D?)
  • Cause two current members of the Planning Commission to leave in disgust
  • Move to seat applicant A, whom they’ve refused twice
  • Force the Mayor to vote against seating applicant A, since proper procedures are not being followed – procedures the Council put in place.
  • Smugly say that the other applicant (D) who was previously recommended and refused, now has withdrawn (I wonder why). Never mind that published reports imply that D was never contacted by the Councilor who did take it upon himself to contact applicant A.

And
• Characterize the Planning Commissioners who resigned as quitters who are giving up on serving the community.

Are you following all this? Does it make your neck hurt, too. Mine is sore from trying to follow all the twists and turns my colleagues take.

What They Really, Really Want
I’ve heard that two Council Members have expressed their desire to run for Mayor in the next election. Toward that end, in my opinion, they’re doing everything they can to make the Council look like buffoons, while blaming the Mayor for the buffoonery. This is exactly the kind of back room shenanigan I campaigned against a little over a year ago. Do people in this town not see what’s happening? Do they approve of it? Or do they simply not care. Uninformed, unprincipled, or uninvolved? Which are you?

If You Tell Someone Often Enough That You Don’t Respect His Input . . .
. . . He’ll stop giving it. (Unless he’s as hard-headed as me, of course.)

Over that past few months, the Council has repeatedly refused the Planning Commission’s counsel. Be it zoning codes, applicant nominations, variances, or whatever. We keep telling them we respect them, but other than lip-service, we do nothing to show that respect. In fact, I believe we have overruled every single recommendation they’ve made.

Who among us, in such perverse circumstances, wouldn’t throw up his or her hands in disgust, and say “Why did you ask, in the first place?” Or, “If that’s what you want to do, go for it. But don’t bother to ask me again. I want no part of it.”

Now, it would seem, the Planning Commission is saying to the Council, tell us what you want us to do, and we’ll do it.

There is absolutely no point in having a planning commission if they want the Council to tell them what to do.

This Is Teamwork?
As I write these columns, I tend to use the “royal we”. “We” did this, or “we” did that. I have to tell you, it’s a struggle. Sometimes I’m embarrassed by some of the things “we” do. It’s hard to have my name associated with heaped on insults, issued for no better reason than “we” don’t know someone. What the hey!? That’s why the Planning Commission interviewed all the applicants.

“We” didn’t interview any of them, instead choosing to select among four qualified applicants based on nothing more concrete that, “well, I know this one”.

Playing Rookies
In football, if you don’t know the difference between a slant route and a down and out, you don’t get to play receiver. Being friends with the coach won’t matter much if the coach wants to win.

A Planning Commission member who doesn’t know the difference between a conditional use permit, and a permitted use probably needs a little seasoning before being allowed to vote.

Incidentally, there are seven members on the City Council, so votes never are six to two.

Did One Of The Recommended Planning Commission Applicants Withdraw His Application?
I guess the public will never know, since the Councilor who brought the issue back before the Council apparently chose to contact only one of the two rejected applicants. And the application process was not reopened.

And then we have Councilors who make cute/funny statements like “Can I make a motion that we follow the law?

Friends Is Not a TV Series
It’s going to be very interesting to see who will apply for the one remaining seat on the Planning Commission. Will someone who’s interested and competent step forward? Will someone connected via friendships surface? Will the Council use some criteria beyond simple friendship to make a choice? Aw heck, why change now? The system is slick.

The Quote:
“Always vote for principle, though you may vote alone, and you may cherish the sweetest reflection that your vote is never lost.”
          John Quincy Adams

 

December 20, 2011

The Best Christmas Ever!Star

I remember it really well.

I was five or six, Mom and Dad got me a western shirt – pink and black, with shiny embroidery. And a red and white straw cowboy hat. Red and white cowboy boots too. Aunt Gen, Uncle Bud and their kids came on Christmas Eve for a visit. I got put to bed probably about 8:00 PM. By and by, the sound of talking and laughing woke me. Every light in the house was on, so I figured it must be Christmas morning. Well, we all know that means presents! So I went to the Christmas tree, opened all the presents with my name on them, and got dressed up like a tiny cowboy who had absolutely no sense of color taste.

I walked into the kitchen, to show everyone my neat outfit. Mom said, “Tommy, what are you doing up so late?” Turns out they’d all just returned from Midnight Mass, so I got sent back to bed. Mom didn’t make me take off the shirt or hat, but the boots came off, since shoes in bed were not permitted. And besides, everyone knew cowboys didn’t sleep with their boots on.

It was the best Christmas ever.

Christmas at Gramma and Grampa’s house is probably the high point of the Christmas season. Cookies, ham, presents, and listening to Bing Crosby on the phonograph (really fun if you listen to the 78 rpm records at 33 or 45).

Visiting “The Folks” in Milwaukee was always a thrill for me, but the year Grampa asked me to help him get a tree was special. Grampa didn’t have a car, and there were no tree lots near his home, as far as I could tell. (Of course, when you’re 8 or 9, everything seems far away.) So I asked Grampa how we were going to get a tree. He said, “Oh, we’ll take the bus.” And so we did! We walked a couple of blocks, rode the bus for a bit (I got to pull the cord to signal the driver that we were getting off). Grampa picked out a tree, and we took it home on the bus. The bus part is especially memorable since Milwaukee had electric buses, with their overhead cables and sparks at every intersection.

When we got off the bus, Grampa carried the middle of the tree, and I kept the tip from dragging.

It was the best Christmas ever.

In 1960 or ’61, my older sister was just starting out in her nursing career in Flint, Michigan. It must have been hard for her to be so far from home. And being the oldest, I think she felt a particular responsibility to me and my brothers to make Christmas special. So, as I recall, she booked a flight from Detroit to Manitowoc – an expensive and iffy proposition on DC-3s in the Winter. She didn’t have much time off, so the plane seemed like the thing to do. Naturally, we had an outrageous snow storm, and the flight was grounded.

So she switched to a train. I guess she had a layover in Chicago, then caught a train to Manitowoc, and a cab to Two Rivers. When she got out of the cab, this angel was carrying a basketball, hoop, and backboard for me and my brothers. She only got to spend about 14 hours at home, before getting back on the train.

It was probably a horror story for her, but for me, it was the best Christmas ever.

When I was a Freshman in college things were kind of tough. Dad had passed, and there were lingering mixed feelings of relief that he’d been released from his illness, tempered by sadness at the loss. I don’t even remember if we had a tree that year.

I was home for a couple of days at Christmas time, and not really feeling blessed. One night Mom said, “What’s that sound? It’s coming from out front.” Out on the sidewalk, in the cold and dark, were several of my friends and a few people from St. Luke’s. They sang a couple of carols before moving on to spread holiday cheer.

It was the best Christmas ever.

Buying a house in North Minneapolis was a big step for me. I was drained financially, but determined to have a tree and a party. When I saw the Blue Spruce on the Holiday Village tree lot, is knew it was The Tree. (When I saw the price tag, I about fainted.) I tied it to the Pinto, hauled it home, and crammed it into the “Dining Room”. I bought ornaments, including a tree-top star which sits proud on the tree to this day. And I invited my friends to come for a Christmas barbecue. Meanie Metz tried to open a bottle of Cold Duck. The cork went POP, right through the kitchen window.

It was the best Christmas ever.

A few years later, Sandy and I shared our first Christmas tree. She favors handmade, hand painted ornaments. My Christmas heritage leans to the glass ornaments.

It was the best Christmas ever.

So now the tree is up. The lights are untangled, and the ornaments from children and grandchildren hang in their places of honor. The cat is sleeping on the tree skirt, and Sandy’s making dog biscuits for all the pooches we know.

Last Sunday the Carisim presented “A Simple Christmas Story”. It was a short, informal program about what Christmas is, and what it might have been if things had been a little different at Christ’s birth. Sandy played the piano. The cast shared their gifts of singing, dancing, acting and making music with an audience of about 40 people. We sang (and I’m being very charitable describing what I did as singing) a few carols. It was marvelous fun.

Now I’m going to share a carol with you. I don’t remember where I first heard it sung this way. And as you can imagine, I’ll be singing off key, but here goes anyway . . .

Go, Tell It On The Mountain,
Over the hills and everywhere;
Go, Tell It On The Mountain
That Jesus Christ is born.

While shepherds kept their watchin’
O’er silent flocks by night,
Behold across the heavens,
There shone a wondrous light:

The shepherds feared and trembled
When first the angels sang,
And all across creation,
Their thundrin’ voice rang:

Down in a lowly manger
That precious child lay,
Who came to bring salvation,
To us on Christmas Day:

Go, Tell It On The Mountain,
Over the hills and everywhere;
Go, Tell It On The Mountain
That Jesus Christ is born.

It’s going to be the best Christmas ever.

The Quote:
“Christmas isn’t a season. It’s a feeling.
         Edna Ferber”

 

December 28, 2011 It would seem that I am missing a post from a reader who responded, saying something to the effect that I get the truth out. That brought a response from another reader, which you can see below.

I’m Still Not Nostradamus . . .    

. . . or even Karnac, but I’m going to make some predictions for 2012.  I may be wrong.  I hope I’m wrong.  But if I’m right, we could be in trouble.

In 2012 the number of homes in foreclosure in Jordan will remain at about the current level.
Three businesses will fail or move from Jordan.
There will not be a new hotel or motel in Jordan.
One new business will move into town.
Fifteen people will be laid off from their jobs, or pushed into early retirement.
New home starts will go up to about 10.
City staff will submit a budget seeking a 10-12% increase in spending.
Jordan will remain at or near the top of the tax rate scale for comparable size towns.

Will We Learn . . .
To look at contracts, and make sure they conform to City codes regarding duration?
To treat all concerned citizens with respect?
To treat Commissioners, and the advice they give, with respect?
To enforce all our laws with equal vigor?  Or will we go after some high-profile cases, while ignoring others?
To get competitive quotes before entering into expensive long-term contracts? (think water meters)
To take turns speaking at Council meetings, and not just barge in with our random thoughts or snide remarks?

Considering past performance, I’m not optimistic that any of this learning will happen.

My Hope
For you, and for Jordan, is that God will grant us all a happy, safe, and prosperous New Year!

A Reader Responds
Thom,
I just wanted to respond to your postings on your JUG website, and the response I see from someone else.  Feel free to post, if you wish.

Since this is your website, and your opinions, I believe it should be clearly stated as such.  That is great that you have an opinion (you know what they say about opinions and…), but to say it is the “truth” needs to be clarified.  “Truth” as in what?  Your/her opinion?  Yes, but “truth” in facts?  That is debatable.

Also, to classify people that do not agree with you or your opinions is rather prejudice. (sic) There are plenty of other options than just the ones you give.

While you do have a passion for the city, I disagree with some of your opinions.  That is my opinion, and obviously debatable.

Take care, and Happy Holidays.
(The respondent’s name appeared on www.JordanUnderGround. TB)

The Quote:
“I predict future happiness for Americans if they can prevent the government from wasting the labors of the people under the pretense of taking care of them.”
          Thomas Jefferson