2010 Archive

January 5, 2010 Well, they’ve pretty much changed their tune now.

An Interesting Meeting?

Short and sweet, until Council Member Velishek opened a can o’ worms. And I must say, I admire her for doing so.

It being the first meeting of the new year, staff had virtually nothing to report. The Pledge of Allegiance was one of the longer items on the agenda. There was some discussion about a request from Elite Waste Disposal. Elite wants to change the end-of-service period for delinquent accounts from 90 days, to 15 days. Discussion centered on whether the period was being reduced too much. Council accepted Elite’s request with a 4:3 vote.

Things got back on track, and the meeting continued apace. During the second Public Comment period, a speaker commented on a quirk in the Elite contract by which people whose service had been discontinued might be required to pay for service they never received before their service could be renewed.

Then the same speaker commented on public comment. The gist of his comment was that it didn’t matter who was commenting, or how often that person had commented before. He felt that the Council was obliged to listen to each comment, and judge it on its’ own worth, not on the commentator’s reputation.

Then Council Member Velishek got out her can opener. She said she sensed a disconnect. I presume she meant between the Council, and their constituents. (We should all keep in mind that a disconnect works both ways, and constituents are not blameless in the lack of communication.) Ms. Velishek said something to the effect that she’d like to hear from the audience about their take on the disconnect. No one else had anything to say, so I sought, and was granted recognition.

The discussion was interesting and amicable. Council Member Shaw asked an interesting, and valid question. He wondered if I was using public comment as a campaign tool. I told him that I was not, but that if the Council felt that I was campaigning through the meetings, they had the right and obligation to limit my comments. I also pointed out that I’ve been attending meetings for years, and have been commenting frequently, so it’s not something I just started doing.

Council Member Goebel said that he thought it was acceptable that I was establishing “a body of work” so that people could judge me on that.

There was more, of course, and I’ll be happy to discuss it in more detail with anyone who wants to e-mail me. But the main point here is that the issue of public comment is not something that will just go away. It’s good to sense that Council Members are starting to think more about the idea of public comment on agenda items. It’s a trend I applaud, and one that I hope will grow in the new year.

 

January 12, 2010

Too Much of a Good Thing?

A while back, I began to notice a change in how people make decisions. Important people would call meetings to gather information from a lot of sources. And as the meeting went along, invariably the meeting organizer would feel the need to make a phone call to someone who wasn’t at the meeting because:
A. He didn’t have time to prepare or participate
B. He didn’t care much about the subject of the meeting
C. He thought the organizer was overstepping the bounds, and cutting into his turf
or
D. All of the above.

Who Else Are You Inviting . . .
As time went by, it became obvious to me that many people began to feel that only the unimportant people actually attended meetings. A measure of one’s importance was if the meeting organizer phoned for one’s input during a meeting.

Cell phones only made matters worse. It became possible for anyone to interrupt everyone. And now we have texting.

If You Ask Me . . .
It seems that people are losing their ability to decide for themselves how to behave. What used to be a simple question of right or wrong, now is a matter for multiple calls and texts to find out what one’s “social network” thinks . . . oops, excuse me. I have to take this call – Y.A. stands for Yelberton Abraham, I think – bye . . . one should do. What should I wear? Should I go out with him/her? Does the Southwest Regional Sales Manager think we should concentrate more on the snow removal market? Brewer’s or Clancy’s? Excuse me . . . I have to take this call – If the people in Chicago are okay with it, I suppose I am too . . . . Distracting, isn’t it?

Of our own volition, we are becoming more and more like the Borg in Star Trek. A hive mind, overloaded with information, and unable to think for ourselves. We (and I include myself) are becoming unable to make on our own some of the simplest decisions that face us. We are becoming a people so easily distracted that we can’t focus on a job unless all possible distractions are removed. We can’t process information unless it’s fed to us in the form of sound bites.

So, what to do?
I suggest reading. Fiction. Non-fiction. Self-help. Instruction manuals. Magazines. Anything that requires more than five minutes of focused attention. Anything that has punctuation and capitalization. Anything that conveys information or ideas, and not just mental mush. I also suggest that you think before you dial. Soliciting advice from someone who’s better informed is always a good idea. But just calling around to ask what others would do is simply opening oneself to peer pressure. You may have strategies of your own for cutting through the noise of everyday life. If so, I’d love to hear about them.

 

January 22, 2010

Public Involvement at Its’ Best
Or
Hit First, Hit Often, and Hit Hard.

Last night the seats were just about full at the City Council meeting, and most of the attendees stayed for a long time. Wow! Why all the stir?

Well, not because of what was on the agenda. But an alert voter took it upon himself to tell all his neighbors that the City would be discussing the trucks on Valley View. The City hadn’t notified the people along Valley View about the workshop for the usual (bogus) reasons:
It’s just a workshop, not a regular meeting . . . never mind that workshops are open to the public.
It’s just for information about what the township, state, and county are planning . . . never mind that it might affect Jordan.
The affected residents will be notified of later meetings, when the City has a better handle on what it wants to do . . . never mind that the time for citizens to grab the bucket is while the handle is still slippery enough that they can affect the outcome.

It only affects part of the town . . . never mind that everybody’s taxes will have to go up to pay for improving and maintaining the road.

So what happened?
I looked around, and saw all those people in the audience, and thought, oh boy, this is going to be an interesting meeting. And so it was, but not what like I expected.

It would seem that the Council, seeing all those faces out there got the sense that they had an issue on their hands, that they needed to address it, and they needed to show that they cared.

The Mayor said something to the effect that “we shouldn’t even be having this discussion. It’s just a bad idea all around to run these big trucks through Jordan.” People applauded.

Member Goebel said something to the effect that he “wondered what options Jordan has, and he wanted staff to present them, rather than just tell the Council what other jurisdictions are going to do.” More applause.

Member Hanson said something to the effect that he wanted to “keep those trucks the hell out of Jordan.” More applause.

The Police Chief, who usually doesn’t get too involved, asked how the Council would feel if all those trucks were running through their neighborhoods.

The Public Works Manager reminded the Council and staff that the City was told the County and State would be setting the regulations controlling trucks to and from the mining operation. He reminded everyone that if Jordan wasn’t involved in regulating traffic from the get-go, it would be all but impossible to have any control.

Concerned citizens chose a spokesperson to address the Council and Staff. He cited a boatload of concerns in a well-written presentation. Individuals also expressed their concerns – the biggest being that the workshop was held with no notice to residents along Valley View.

So Now What?
The most important thing, in my opinion, is to keep at it. Council and Staff must not throw up their hands and say “there’s nothing we can do.” Voters (and not just the ones who live on Valley View) need to keep pressure on the City to protect its’ citizens. And the Council needs to learn from this meeting, the value of involving people at the earliest stages of a project.

It’s really too bad the workshop will not be broadcast on cable TV. It was a shining example of what open government is all about

 

January 26, 2010

A Trip to Washington

Regular readers of this site will know that I generally try to stick to local issues. I also generally avoid passing on internet calls to action. They usually are long on passion, have little merit, and offer no real plan to accomplish anything but generate hits to some website. A friend sent me one such e-mail, the gist of which is the topic of this week’s post. I wasn’t planning on putting it out there, but lately news coming out of Washington has been so disheartening that I’ve been considering broadening my internet horizon. Today, news reports that Nancy Pelosi spent over $400,000 on Christmas travel provided the final impetus for a post on congressional reform.

Serving in Congress is an honor, not a career.  The Founding Fathers envisioned citizen legislators, serving their term(s), then going home and back to work. Sadly, Congress has become disconnected from its’ populist roots. More and more, Congress is concerning itself with . . . itself.   Who else can give themselves significant raises, can be exempt from a wide variety of laws, and have a separate health care system? When did the Senate seat from Massachusetts become “the Kennedy seat”? Why are people who have little or no other credentials representing states for 20, 30 or 40 years?

This won’t change unless we do something about, and do it now!  The only way that congress will ever right itself is for Americans to demand it to the point that our elected officials feel they have no choice.  That means many Americans, which includes you, must push to get a bill written and persuade a majority to vote for it.

Will you help or are you just blowing smoke when you get upset with congress when they play partisan politics.  If something is not done our children and grandchildren may not have a country like we had to grow up in.  Can Americans depend on you to support Congressional reform, or will you make excuses as to why it will not work?  This is something that cuts across party lines, and goes straight to your wallet. I’m in – what about you? I’ve listed appropriate contact information for members of Congress at the bottom of this page. Cut and past from this post, if you want. Or compose your own message. Just take the time to remind Al and Amy and John that they serve our interests – not their own, and certainly not the interests of their corporate sponsors.

Congressional Reform Act of 2010

  1. Term Limits: 12 years only, one of the possible options below.
  2. Two Six year Senate terms
    B. Six Two year House terms
    C. One Six year Senate term and three Two Year House terms
  3.  No Tenure / No Pension:

A congressman collects a salary while in office and receives no pay when they are out of office.

  1.  Congress (past, present & future) participates in Social Security:

All funds in the Congressional retirement fund move to the Social Security system immediately. All future funds flow into the Social Security system, Congress participates with the American people.

  1. Congress can purchase their own retirement plan, with their own money, just as all Americans can.
  2. Congress will no longer vote themselves a pay raise.  Congressional pay will rise by the amount of the Consumer Price Index, or 3% – whichever is lower.
  3. Congress care system eliminated. Congresspersons participate in the same health care system as the American people.
  4. Congress must equally abide in all laws they impose on the American people.
  5. All contracts with past and present members of congress are void effective 1/1/11.

The American people did not make these contracts with members of congress. They were made by the members of Congress, for their own personal gain. The only obligation America has to its’ members of Congress is to provide them with reasonable support during their terms.

Contact:

Senator Al Franken
Saint Paul Office
60 East Plato Blvd
Suite 220
Saint Paul, MN 55107

(651) 221-1016
Internet Contact Page:
http://franken.senate.gov/contact/

Senator Amy Klobuchar
1200 Washington Avenue South,
Suite 250
Minneapolis, MN 55415

Phone: 612-727-5220
Toll Free: 1-888-224-9043
Internet Contact Page: http://klobuchar.senate.gov/emailamy.cfm

Congressman John Kline
Minnesota Office
101 West Burnsville Parkway,
Suite 201
Burnsville, MN 55337

Phone: (952) 808-1213
Toll-Free: (888) 808-6644
Internet Contact Page: E-mail: Click here

 

January 31, 2010 I think I’ll stick with snarky.

I Suppose We Should Be Happy

On Friday (the 29th) the StarTribune reported in its’ Southmetro section that the State and the Metropolitan Council are rethinking their plans for major highway expansions.

According to the Strib report, Arlene McCarthy, the Met Council’s top transportation staffer told a workshop at the U of M “In general, the highway system we have today is essentially what we will have going forward. We need to wring every little bit of capacity from the infrastructure we have now.”

I’m torn between a snarky “oops”, and a smirky “I told you so.”

What are they really saying?
“ . . . going forward . . .”

Note that there is no specific timeline to “going forward”. That means the Met Council has no idea if or when the situation might change.

“We can’t afford to do things the old way.”

Well, duh! So what does that say about all the studies the Met Council foisted off on Scott County, which Scott County promptly foisted of on its’ cities and townships? Hello! The studies are flawed. They lead to plans that can’t be funded, and are unlikely to be completed. Jordan, look at your 2030 Comprehensive Plan. Look at the roads and homes that were foreseen in that plan. Look at the funding for all those roads. You’ve just been told, “sorry, no can do.” So what’s your “Plan B”? Raise taxes? Won’t fly. Raise water and sewer rates? I don’t think you’ll be able to sneak that past us any more.

“The role models, speakers said, are London and Stockholm, which have made transit more attractive, while finding ways to discourage driving, especially in the most congested places, at the most congested times.”

Let’s see . . . London . . . the metropolitan area has an estimated population of between 12 and 14 million people, in a space about 75 by 75 miles. Most extensive underground railway network in the world . . . busiest airspace of any urban centre in the world. Ranks as one of the most expensive cities in the world, alongside Tokyo and Moscow. Yup, sounds just like Scott County. Thanks, google.

Looking at . . . Stockholm . . . the metro area has about 2 million people, in a space about 30 by 30 miles. Extensive public transport system, that by at least one measure is the most expensive in the world. . . . results of the (congestion charges) referendums were that the Stockholm Municipality voted for the congestion tax, but all the other municipalities voted against it. Okay, that sounds like what’s happening here. 14 islands . . . . The Baltic Sea, ferries, canals, fjords. No mention of the Swedish Bikini Team. Thanks again, google.

So Here We Are . . .
The Metropolitan Council led us down the road, and now they propose to abandon us like an unwanted dog. Okay, I’m good with that. Just so they don’t come asking for money. They’ve made foolish projections, upon which they based foolish plans. We, in our hopeful, but misguided zeal, took what they said as gospel. Oops.

Looks like the State, and the Met Council are not going to follow through on the transportation part of their plan. At least not for the foreseeable future. That, in turn, will retard the recovery of development in areas not already served by either mass transit or existing roads. So what should we do? No, really, I’m asking you. Aside from firing the Met Council, and seceding from the state, what would you suggest?

 

February 8, 2010

A Few Questions for Rep. Mark Buesgens

Last week I sent Rep. Mark Buesgens a note with three questions I hoped he would answer at the Town Hall Meeting on Saturday.  A day later, I got the following response, which I’m pleased to share here. My sincere thanks to Rep. Buesgens for his thoughtful response, and for allowing me to share it with you.

On 2/7/10 7:38 AM, “Mark Buesgens” <rep.mark.buesgens@house.mn> wrote:

Thom,
Thanks for the note.  Here are my thoughts:

JUG: In these times of economic crisis, when private industry is closing entire corporate divisions, why does the State of Minnesota persist in having two management bureaucracies?  Is there really a valid reason for having both a State Senate, and a State House of Representatives?  Nebraska seems to manage quite nicely with a unicameral government.

MB: I support a unicameral legislature in Minnesota, but not because it can “save money.”  I do so because, unlike our federal system, we elect both the House and the Senate based on population.  This puts too much power in the hands of our urban core.  Our inequitable funding (especially in education) is the result.

JUG: Why does State Government persist in delaying setting a budget until the very end of the session.  In private industry, most companies set a budget first, and then conduct their businesses accordingly.

MB: I, and a number of conservatives have a bill we’ve termed “First Things First” which would do just what you are suggesting.

JUG: And finally, how do you feel about term limits?

MB: As a staunch libertarian, I am not a fan of term limits. Why should I be told who I can’t vote for?? [I understand the idea for the President because we must FEAR a monarchy!]  Besides, term limits are a cop-out for lazy people who refuse to become educated and involved; this would be a bad move for the psychology of our society.  Term limits would also put too much power in the hands of the paid staff, who would be the only ones with institutional knowledge.  Finally, I understand the problem of people serving too long so, if a twenty or thirty year term limit was proposed, I might go along – begrudgingly!

Thanks again and I hope to see you Saturday (Feb. 13th, 8:00 AM at the Feed Mill Café).

Mark Buesgens
State Representative, 35B
Room 307, State Office Building
(651) 296-5185
You can sign-up for my periodic email updates at: www.house.mn/35B

A Note From Council Member David Hanson
Generally, I try to update JordanUnderGround on Tuesdays. However, I received the following e-mail from David Hanson. He has given me permission to reprint it here. His note is in reference to an editorial written by me, and published in the Jordan Independent. In keeping with my promise to him and you, I’m reprinting Mr. Hanson’s note in its entirety. I have not edited any part of the following.

“Good afternoon, Thom.

I received my paper today and was a little alarmed at the context in which you describe my ideas regarding upgrades to Valley View Drive.

First of all, nothing has been cast, anted or otherwise in Jordan’s favor. The meeting in which we will do that is tomorrow morning at Prior Lake City Hall. Mayor Ewals, Councilman Goebel, Administrator Shukle and I will all be there to cast our objections to the project toward the appropriate County officials.

I am in stiff opposition to the gravel mining operation using VVD as a route to get going North or South. We are going to make every effort to convince Scott Co and MnDOT that their ultimate plan to have no entry points between

CR41 and CR9/TH282 is more than 20 years off, it’s more like 50 years off. The 15yrs that this mining operation will enter 169 will in no way affect their long term plan.

My POINT, in mentioning the under-the-road pedestrian crossing on the east border of Syndicate Street, is that regardless of our success or failure at the county/state level to steer traffic off VVD, Hentges is going to upgrade VVD from Syndicate eastward to blacktop. This will be the last time Jordan has an opportunity to lay anything under that roadway for the next 15+ years.

It would seem awfully foolish to waste an opportunity to connect these segments of Jordan when it costs the least.

Don’t attempt to steer public opinion or my position on the gravel mining operation with these statements, at least until you are willing to offer the truth behind them.

I actually have several points to consider regarding upgrades to Valley View Drive as well as our park & trail system. I’d love an opportunity to discuss them with you. I’ve waited to become more public about them considering that people will do exactly what you just did–assume I’ve made up my mind about the project. Nothing could be further from the truth.

David E. Hanson

Old Indian proverb:
There are two “wolves” inside us all.

One is evil–anger, envy, jealousy, greed, arrogance, self-pity, guilt, resentment, lies and ego.

The other is good–joy, love, hope, serenity, humility, generosity, truth, compassion and faith.

Which wolf wins?
…the one you feed.”

 

February 23, 2010

Serious Blogger Community Out There

At a recent City Council workshop on the topic of Town Hall meetings, one Council Member voiced his opinion that there were already plenty of opportunities to communicate with the City.  Though I can’t quote word-for-word what he said, I can paraphrase. Among the things he mentioned were:
“We have a serious blogger community out there.” (Funny. I thought bloggers were just a vocal minority trying to railroad the Council.)
“We have Council meetings with public comment.” (When the Council chooses to allow it.)
“We have hearings before we vote.” (But after Council Members have decided what they want to do.)
“People can send us letters or call us on the phone.”
“They can write letters to the Editor.”

What he’s saying – more or less – is, it’s not up to the Council to improve listening. It’s up to the people to improve speaking.

And you know what? He’s right. Which brings us to . . .

The Silent majority
Acceptance is not the same as support.

In all likelihood, the “Silent Majority” will accept whatever government (at any level) does. When things happen, that they don’t like, the “Silent Majority” will say, “Well, I guess they’re doing the best they can.” When things happen that they do like, they’ll say “That’s nice.” To put this in local terms, the “Silent Majority” will accept whatever the outcome is regarding gravel trucks on City streets. Accepting things one disagrees with is a matter of conscience. One must weigh who is affected, what the effect is, and whether the issue is something worth speaking up about.

Which brings us to . . .

The Vocal Minority
I prefer to use the term “Active Minority”. An active minority might be vocal, or it might be working quietly to achieve some end. Allowing an active minority to run the town isn’t necessarily always wrong. But it’s not necessarily always right either.

It’s possible to appreciate the effort and dedication someone puts into city government, while disagreeing with some of the things he or she does. A person may support or accept most of what city government does, while still disagreeing with certain specific actions.

Archbishop Fulton Sheen once said “Dead bodies float downstream.” Although I don’t know the full context of his remark, I doubt he was talking about pollution or hydrology. More likely, he was saying something about always taking the easy way out – going with the flow, so to speak. I think he was implying that sometimes, just to prove one is still alive, one must swim against the current.

I’ve heard people say, “but what will my friends think?” To which I say, if your friends don’t respect your rights and opinions, maybe you need a better class of friends. I’ve heard people say, “I’ll never be able to shop in this town again?” To which I say, any merchant dumb enough to refuse your business doesn’t deserve it. I’ve heard people say, “you speak for a lot of people in this town.” Maybe so. But maybe if some of those people would start speaking for themselves, the City would pay more attention. I’ve heard people say, “I don’t have the strength to fight City Hall. To which I say, what do you think they are going to do to you? If you don’t speak up about things you think are wrong, you, and all your friends will pay the price for your silence. If you do speak up, you might create some ripples in the pond, that get some of your friends to speak up also. And if City Hall were to try and beat you down, don’t you think your friends would support you? After all, that’s what friends do, right?

In his first letter to the Corinthians, Paul, writing about God’s great gifts says:
“And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.”

Do you see anything in there about logic? Me neither. If logic isn’t tempered by love, I don’t think it’s a good thing.

It’s not enough to say, “I don’t hate (insert whomever here). I’m just being logical.” Saying that my neighbor’s plight is sad, but logically acceptable is, to my mind, the first step in denying my own humanity. Somewhere between Spock’s pure logic, and a Klingon’s raw emotion is what makes us human.

 

 

March 2, 201

Hello Bridle Creek, Your Gravel Trucks are Enroute.

At the City Council meeting Monday night (3/1/10) the City Council reviewed an Interim Use Permit (IUP) request for the Knife River Corporation’s portable asphalt mix plant just outside Jordan’s city limits. Sound familiar?

Let’s look into the details.
Interim means a l-o-n-g time. That mining operation has been in use since 1985, and there is no mention made of when it might cease. Twenty-five years and counting.

There are two potential outlets for gravel trucks. One way is more or less south and west to connect to US 169 by the OK Corral Restaurant. One way is more or less north, up Old 169 (CH 66), and then to MN 21. How long do you suppose it will be before MnDOT decides that gravel trucks entering 169 at an uncontrolled intersection is dangerous? Oh, wait a minute. They’ve already made that determination about trucks entering at 173rd St.

So when gravel trucks can no longer get onto 169 by OK Corral (which is all but inevitable), where will they go? Would you believe, up CH 66, through the intersection at Aberdeen, and on to MN 21. Then they will choose whether to go off toward New Prague, or right smack into Historic Downtown Jordan – to our new, improved, truck-friendly intersection at Second and Broadway.

But it’s only a few trucks, and only during the day, right?
Well, sort of. The funny thing is, many paving operations take place at night, and the IUP contains specific language that will allow for around-the-clock operation “when related to a public road project that requires night hauling/paving . . . “ So, as the Police Chief pointed out, there is considerable likelihood that gravel trucks may be stopping and starting at Aberdeen at 3:00 in the morning.

A Council Member said something to the effect that he didn’t like the idea of trucks running along Old 169, and pointed out that it’s already hard to carry on a conversation in some of the backyards in Bridle Creek.

So much for all the effort to get a four way stop at Aberdeen. Oh, and it should be just peaches and cream for all you bike riders too.

The IUP was submitted to Jordan as a courtesy. Knife River Corporation’s trying to be a good neighbor, and for the most part, they are succeeding. They are certainly doing everything by the book.

The Council tabled discussion of the IUP in order to have more time to study it. One wonders if they will apply the same amount of logic and concern to this business as they have to the Valley View business. If they do, be prepared, Bridle Creek. The trucks are coming.

March 7, 2010 A note from a disgruntled JUG reader.

Just a random thought to add to an old post. I’ll probably put this in the JI too. How about [as spring approaches and more and more dogs are out being walked] that an ordinance be passed that some visible means of picking up dog poo is required, or you could be stopped and questioned by the local gendarmes.

I’ll find in the JI a post that probably dates back two years or more talking about how they were going to “step up enforcement” of the clean up after you pet ordinance. I’ll probably also include a really crappy picture of two gals walking today that allowed their German Shepard to take a crap about the size of his head along the path through the park with no effort of course to pick up after him.

 

March 8, 2010 Caught a little heat for this one – I used a naughty word.

“Sustained barrage . . . mortars and rockets . . .”

As I sit here writing this, I’m looking at a picture in the Star/Tribune, of Iraqi electoral workers sitting on a floor, counting ballots. They’re working by lamplight because of power outages. Unspoken is the reason for the power being out – probably sabotage by insurgents intent on destroying Iraq’s government. Elsewhere on the page is a picture of a young girl’s finger, dyed purple. The girl is too young to vote, but still asked permission to dip her finger in the marking dye used to prevent vote fraud. The dyed finger is also a sign of defiance against those who are trying to disrupt the election.

The accompanying article says “Defying a sustained barrage of mortars and rockets in Baghdad and other cities, Iraqis went to the polls in strength on Sunday to choose a new parliament meant to outlast the U.S. military presence here.” (Star/Tribune, March 8, 2010)

Can you imagine what Iraqis are enduring to get the type of government we so take for granted? Nobody’s going to shoot you if you attend a Jordan City Council meeting. (I’ve been to over a hundred, so you can take my word for it.) You won’t be arrested for expressing your opinion at a Council meeting (though you are expected to maintain civility, and refrain from fighting words). Nobody’s going to launch mortar shells at your home if you write a letter to the editor of the Jordan Independent. You can safely use your name on JI blog posts. (I’ve done it hundreds of times, so you can take my word about that, too.)

Whether you choose to call our government a democracy or a federal republic, it still requires your involvement to succeed.

What the hell are you waiting for?

 

March 16, 2010

What Does “Unallocated” Mean?

Those who know me will know that I spend some time at City Council meetings. I also try to review the information packet the City Council Members get before their meetings. Included in this week’s packet is the February 2010 Finance Report. Once again this report contains a “Department” labeled “Unallocated”, which has a budget of $408,014.00. That’s four hundred, eight thousand, fourteen dollars, and no cents. Only the Police Department, and the Fire Department have bigger budgets.

In case you didn’t catch what I just said, the third largest “Department” in Jordan is the “Unallocated” Department.

I can recall Council meetings at which it was suggested that staff rename the “Unallocated” account to something that more accurately reflected the true nature of the account. That never happened.  Perhaps the Council needs to be more assertive?

Staff has explained the account as not really all unallocated. In City-speak, the true amount of money in that account that isn’t allocated is roughly $60,000.00. I can understand the idea that there are some unforeseeable expenses.  I understand that the true amount may be $60,000.00. What does that make the other $340,000.00?  Untrue?

Multiple Choice
As I see it, the “Unallocated” items must be one of three things – laziness, sloppiness, or deception. Your choice.

For the Council to allow, year after year, hundreds of thousands of dollars to be described as unallocated is unconscionable.  Staff will continue to apply that (lazy/sloppy/deceptive) label until instructed to do otherwise.

Personally, I would tell staff that the first thing cut from the budget would be the “unallocated” funds.  If staff isn’t willing or able to publicly specify where $340,000.00 is going, they shouldn’t get it.  A third of a million is not chump change.  It’s not miscellaneous.  It’s not other.  It’s not unnamed.  It’s office furniture, or computers, or employee compensation, or whatever.  But the Council darn well better be expecting something tangible for that third of a mil.  Taxpayers have a right to a more public accounting of that third of a mil, too.

Beating The System
I’ve been told this fund is used to cover things such as unbudgeted pay raises, unexpected legal fees, engineering costs for yet-to-be funded projects, etc. Sounds an awful lot like shady accounting to me – especially the parts about unbudgeted pay raises and yet-to-be funded projects.  It’s like a way to get around the budgeting and funding processes – and thus it invalidates those processes.

Staff can say “There’s no money in the budget for raises” because it’s hidden in the “Unallocated Department”. They can start a project the Council hasn’t approved yet, cover the startup costs with “Unallocated” funds, and then tell the Council all the preliminary work is done, and all the Council needs to do is fund the project.

What I can’t understand is why the Council isn’t more worked up about this. No boss in the private sector would accept that kind of budget reporting.  (Well, maybe Denny Hecker, or Tom Petters would . . .) I think the Council should start digging into this, and get it fixed before it becomes a public stink.

So there you have it.  My take on unallocated. There are over four hundred thousand reasons why I think it’s wrong.

 

March 23, 2010

It’s A Vision Thing

Took a little trip down US169 to Mankato today. Since someone else was driving, I was free to daydream, so I did.

As so often happens along the way, I was impressed by the richness of the soil. It’s some of the best farmland in the world. And in what must be the most supreme irony – and folly – I saw “Zoned Commercial” signs encouraging buyers to turn this precious resource into factories and strip malls. It strikes me that only people who have no idea where food comes from could be so stupid.

For years we’ve been hearing about how irrigation and overuse of fertilizers is ruining soils in many places like California. These are places we rely on for tomatoes, lettuce, and oranges. What do you suppose will happen to their crops as the soil becomes ever more alkaline? Places like Los Angeles already have to draw water from Colorado for the millions who live there. What happens when there are so many people to supply, that crops can no longer be irrigated?

We’ve got all this great soil, that doesn’t need irrigation, and we want to turn it into what? Starbucks? SuperAmericas? Golden Arches?

And when we’ve destroyed (whether by misuse or by foolish development) our ability to grow our own food, who will we turn to for sustenance? China? Canada? The Ukraine? Brazil? There are very few countries in the world that actually have the agricultural capability to sustain their own populations, let alone send food to other hungry people.

Detroit is an example of what may become of this country if some drastic changes don’t happen, and happen fast. I read in a recent Star/Tribune article that Detroit’s population has shrunk from over two million to about 800,000. The article pointed out that there are no supermarkets in the city any more. It’s simply not worth it to the food store chains to do business in Detroit. Whole neighborhoods are being abandoned, bulldozed, and turned into green space, in the hope that people will grow food for themselves, and possibly to sell in farmer’s markets. No joke.

Here in Scott County, we have some groups like Jordan Area Visioning Alliance (JAVA) who are doing their best to show us how to make local sourcing, sustainability, and smart development a priority in our planning. I used to think they were just groups of pipe-dreamers, and ivory tower theorists. But more and more, I’m coming to realize that I like their vision for the future better than that of the assorted “developmentalists” who want to turn the county into wall-to-wall McMansions and urban sprawl. I’ve noted too, that Scott County has begun to rethink some of its’ planning – focusing more on developing existing corridors, and less on saturating the county with homes and businesses.

I just pray that we can hold out until they finally realize that it’s not smart to cut off the hands that feed them.

 

 

April 2, 2010

Today is Good Friday.

So long ago, when today first became Good Friday, Christ died so we could go to heaven. Not would. Could.

Christ’s death makes it possible for us to enter His kingdom. It’s still up to us to prove ourselves worthy. Dismas – the good thief – recognized this when he said “Lord, remember me when you come into your kingdom.”

Happy Easter.

The Quote
“All that is necessary for evil to triumph is for good men to do nothing.”
Edmund Burke (1729 –1797) Irish political philosopher

 

April 6, 2010 The first of the infamous water billing screw-ups. As I recall, a lot of people were really upset because I “released” this public document. The local newspaper had the document two weeks before I took it public. Such aggressive reporting.

How Not to Run a City

At the Jordan City Council Meeting on Monday, April 5th, Mayor Ewals read to the public, a memo mailed to him and all City Council Members on March 29th. The memo was sent by the City Administrator, and detailed the specifics of billing errors that resulted in the Valley Green Manufactured Home Park being undercharged for water use. The amount undercharged was $88,567.52.

Seriously.

The Backstory
Valley Green is managed by an outfit called Continental Communities. Fourteen billing cycles ago they were paying a water and sewer bill of about $6,100.00 per month. Their bill dropped to $430.00 per month. The City didn’t notice the humongous drop in the bill, and Continental Communities happily paid the new low bills for 14 billing periods – 28 months, over two years.

The Memo says, “Not long ago, we discovered that the metering system was not transmitting accurate information, so the meter was replaced with a new meter.”

A couple of paragraphs later, the memo says, “Upon reviewing what happened, it has been determined that there was a data entry error created by taking the good readings and cutting off the last digit.”

So which was it? The meter was bad? Or the “good readings” were not entered properly?

Only after Continental Communities called to ask why their water rates shot up, did the City start to review the situation.

The City “apologized profusely” to Continental Communities for creating the data entry error. The City is “working towards paying the amount due over the next 4-6 billing periods.” The City says that it was Continental Communities’ responsibility to notify the City when they got the first significantly lower bill.

Meanwhile, Back At The Meeting . . .
Or not.

An error of over 88 thou wasn’t on the meeting agenda because staff wasn’t sure if the Council wanted it to be. Put another way, if the Council was willing to sweep it under the rug, staff would hold up the corner. Considering how much time the Council spends talking about individual building permit fees, the cost of accommodating hearing impaired meeting attendees, and whether to plant flowers, how can there possibly be any question whether such a huge problem is a worthy subject for the Council to discuss at a meeting?

Sadly, it seems to me that the Council was indeed prepared to sweep the whole thing under the rug. I believe, based on the flimsy questions they asked, that they gladly would have it pass. Only the fact that the Mayor showed the guts and leadership to read the staff memo kept this fiasco from being buried.

The City’s own Values Statement says “We believe that ethics and integrity are the foundation blocks of public trust and confidence and that all meaningful relationships are built on these values.” I agree. A more open approach to this issue would have gone a long way maintaining public trust. The backdoor approach that was actually used can only erode that trust. When staff sent, and the Council accepted the memo, they came awfully close to violating open meeting laws. The only positive I can find in this action is that staff didn’t conceal the problem.

Oh, About Your Water Bill
A local businessperson told me that his water bill can be anything from $500.00 to $900.00 per month. He has no lawn. After our discussion, I think he’ll be looking at his water bills a little closer. You should too.

By the way, the City has raised water rates twice since they started underbilling Valley Green. Do you suppose that if they had been billing one of their top 10 customers correctly, they wouldn’t have had to raise rates? Clearly, at least some of the data they were using to determine the rate increases was faulty. That being the case, the City should immediately return water and sewer rates to their 2007 level, and start putting together accurate data.

And, when the City recovers the under-billed amount, I want a refund, since I was one of the people who covered the cost of the under-billing.

The Curiosities of the Calendar
Two interesting things happened just about the same time that this under-billing problem originated.
First, a local resident who was having a water fight with the City accused them of selling water at a profit – which is illegal under Minnesota law.
Second, the City shifted over $170,000.00 in salaries to the water and sewer account.

Professionalism is a Value Too
The City’s Values Statement says “We believe that continuous improvement is the mark of professionalism and are committed to applying this principle to the services we offer and the development of our employees.” Professional punctuation would help this statement a lot – but that’s a topic for another time. For now, let’s just contemplate this:
Two of Jordan’s top professional staff persons spend 60% of their time on water and sewer issues. In other words, water and sewer issues are their primary responsibility.
Another staff person spends virtually all of his/her time preparing water bills. And yet, with all that professionalism, one of the top water and sewer users in town was billed only one tenth of the appropriate amount for over two years.

I certainly hope the Council remembers all this when they review staff’s professionalism.

Mistakes happen. Dealing with them fully and openly is the only way a City government can maintain the trust of its’ constituency. The bigger the mistake, the more the need for openness. I’m annoyed by the original mistake. I’m even more annoyed by the sloppiness and lack of professionalism that allowed it to go on for over two years. But I’m flat our angry with how it’s been handled.

I sure hope everyone out there is paying attention. Were it not for the Mayor’s comments, the people of Jordan probably would never have learned of this $88,567.52 mistake.

 

April 14, 2010 The one about the first Town Hall Meeting at Feed Mill Restaurant.

Once Upon A Time. . .

Once upon a time, in a quaint little town along a quaint little stream, some people got together for coffee and conversation about the future of their town. I’ll do my best to tell you what happened next.

First of all, the City expected 15-25 (and closer to 15) people to show up. 73 or so, actually came. The restaurant owner who provided the site and coffee for free was really impressed. (Thanks to the Feed Mill Restaurant!)

Two City Council Members – Tanya Velishek and Jeremy Goebel, plus Mayor Ewals came to hear what people in Jordan were concerned about. (Thanks to them too, for giving their time, and listening.)

Concerns ranged from gravel trucks on Valley View, to water billing errors to whether the Council was leading City staff, or vice versa. Because this wasn’t a formal City Council meeting, conversation tended to bounce around, but it seemed to me that the lion’s share of the talk was about the gravel mining operation, and its impact on Jordan.

Scott County Board Member Joe Wagner commented that the permit to run the pit hadn’t been issued yet, and maybe there were ways to work out the details to everyone’s satisfaction.

Mr. Wagner apparently thought the meeting was only about the gravel pit. When it became obvious that other concerns were also being addressed, he had nothing more to say.

Mayor Ewals said there’s nothing about the mining operation that’s good for Jordan, and much that’s bad, so he opposed it.

Council Member Goebel said he has never been in favor of the mining operation, but he sees no way to stop it.

Council Member Velishek, who wanted to report to the rest of the Council on the meeting, was so busy taking notes that she didn’t say much, as far as I could tell.

Conversation slipped into the topic of the Valley Green water bill problem. There were questions about how it happened. There were comments about sloppiness. Council Member Velishek summarized the results of a meeting she’d had with the City Administrator on the subject. There was conversation about the City had software and procedures 12 years ago to prevent these types of problems, but now the problems are cropping up. The question was asked “What’s changed?” And of course, there were questions about whether people would be getting a refund.

That led to discussion about the need for citizens to be more engaged – especially in the budget process. And that led to the suggestion that the Council might want to find citizens who are willing to be involved early in the process, and work with them to make the budget more transparent.

As I recall, woven into this discussion was the topic of whether the City Council understood the budget, or whether they were just accepting staff recommendations. That led to discussion about who was leading whom on other issues as well, and why staff wasn’t presenting more options.

Someone asked Council Member Goebel if he was a lame duck member, which brought a chuckle, but no response.

The meeting was more or less orderly. No one was yelling, though some had to raise their voices to be heard. All in all, it was a great event. I want to especially give a shout out to Velishek and Ewals for their determination in making this meeting a reality. There was a fair amount of resistance. But in the end, I think the value of the meeting was clearly demonstrated.

 

April 16, 2010

Wow, what a week!

Actually, less than a week, I guess, but it seems longer. A lot longer.

In the course of the past few days, I’ve been posting thick and fast on the Jordan Independent web site. What started out as a pretty basic summary of what happened at the City’s first Town Meeting soon got into a sometimes intense discussion of the Hentges Gravel Pit.

One person in particular seemed to be trying to get my goat. Did a pretty good job of it, too.

The guy accused me of writing a letter to the Editor, and then having my wife sign it. All I can say is, the guy must not be married.

He said I was taking over the official paper of the City of Jordan, and wondered if the Jordan Independent should be renamed “The Boncher Bugle”. (I kinda like that, but I’ll stick with JUG for now.)

Then he started calling me the Grand Mason of the “followers of the order of Boncher”. Then it was “Tommy Bonkers”. He even called me “a warped, frustrated old man” because I used the term “shout out” in a post.

He even thought that I didn’t get the fact that “Tommy Bonkers” is a play on my name.

Through all of this, the person (could be a woman, I suppose) contributed not one fact, not one reasonable supposition or inference, not one reasonable – anything.

There are things I could say here, that would be inappropriate on the JI web site. They involve words like “moron”, and “illogical”, and “silly”. But I guess I’ll hold off on that for now.

Still, I sure hope the person reads this thread, and decides to respond here. If that happens, I’ll rip him from hell to breakfast.

 

May 2, 2010 A lot of this sort of thing is still happening. Not long ago, a Council Member told me smart meters don’t cause cancer – something my oncologist doesn’t know.

Where Does the Buck Stop?

Do we hold managers responsible for the performance of the departments they manage? Or do we push the responsibility down the chain to someone else.

In Jordan, it would seem, the City Administrator has little responsibility for the work of the staff he supervises. He can expect the unwavering support of the City Council, even in the face of errors running to $100,000.00 or more. (Two water billing errors, one of $88,000, and another of $21,000.00 for example) He seems to have no responsibility for thousands of dollars mislaid in book keeping errors. (In May of last year, Jordan’s independent auditor stated that a sharp change in some of last year’s numbers could be accounted for by the error of over $400,000 made in the previous year fiscal 2006/07).

And, as if to add insult to injury, he asked a consultant, who had no appropriate credentials, to assess my hearing loss. He then accepted that consultant’s assessment, in spite of the fact that she never even spoke to me. At least one of our City Council Members, who is a health care professional, should have pointed out just how unprofessional that is.

Why would we pay someone $90,000.00 per year to do a job, and then not hold that person accountable for the results? The only reason I can think of is that we don’t want to be bothered, and so accept whatever is put before us.

Doesn’t it seem odd that the arrival of a $35,000.00 per year billing clerk coincides with the finding of over a hundred thou in water bill errors? Keep in mind that the City Administrator, and the Finance Manager spend three days out of five on water and sewer related work.

Isn’t it a little scary that Jordan’s independent auditor is turning up huge accounting errors, that have been unseen  by management over a period of a couple of years?

Wouldn’t you say that the quality of all the information the City Council uses to make its decisions is suspect, to say the least?

Perhaps a full, and careful examination of the City Administrator’s performance won’t support removing him from office. But I don’t think it will support giving him attaboys either. Jordan’s City Council has backed itself into a position of supporting an employee who seems unwilling to accept responsibility commensurate with the salary he receives.

The City Administrator is a nice enough person. But if he were managing a private business, he would be held to a much higher standard of accountability. Why should Jordan expect less?

 

May 5, 2010 The week of the Mama Bear protecting her babies.

Say What?

One City Council Member likens herself to a bear protecting her babies.

Another says staff is doing what the Council asked of them.

Say WHAT?
Shouldn’t a City Council Member be protecting taxpayer’s pocketbooks?

And if the Staff is doing what the Council asked of them, does that mean that the Council is accepting responsibility for thousands and thousands of dollars of billing and accounting errors?

Debate Goes On
So who’s responsible for Jordan’s biggest financial fiascos ever? We may never find out, because the Council wants to take the debate to a closed session. Oddly, the City Administrator was willing to have public discussion of his performance, but members of the Council said he shouldn’t have to endure that humiliation. If he’s doing what the Council wants, why would he be humiliated? Or is it the Council who would be humiliated for having to acknowledge their role in his performance?

Accountability Isn’t The Same as a Head on a Plate
In most private sector businesses, accountability means an employee does a job to the best of his or her ability. And if that’s not good enough, an employer will usually try to find a place for that employee that more closely matches his or her capabilities. Why should Jordan be different?

Painting With a Broad Brush
The resolution that died Monday night, for lack of a second, was very deftly worded to link support of the City Administrator to support of City staff. It was written to sound like the Mayor didn’t support staff. I can’t recall ever hearing the Mayor voice dissatisfaction with the staff at large. Can you?

Without the Rose Colored Glasses
If the City Council is honest with itself, and with us, they will recognize that there are deep concerns about the City Administrator’s performance. They will recognize that the concerns come from not just one or ten people. AOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAnd hopefully, they’ll move to address the concerns. Or else, they can opt for more of the same old same old. If I were a betting man, I’d put my money on same old same old. It’s the easy way out. In the words of Charles Barkley, “I could be wrong, but I doubt it.”

The Quote
“The beat goes on, the beat goes on.
Drums keep pounding a rhythm to the brain.
La de da de de, la de da de da.”
Sonny and Cher

 

May 12, 2010 I think this Planning Commission meeting marked the beginning of the end of the Planning Commission as a relevant part of the City planning process.

Went to a Planning Commission meeting last night.

Turned out to be more interesting than usual. There were a dozen or so people in the audience – quite a turnout for a PC meeting. After the commission finished discussing mission statements, values and strategic plans, they got into the CGO for the highway commercial district.

Vox Populi
One business owner pretty much told the PC they were anti-business, and just about everything they wanted to do would keep Jordan from drawing new businesses.  He didn’t want more green spaces, trees, setbacks, sidewalks or limits on hanging banners.  At one point, he got a little animated, raised his voice, and reminded the PC that his business does more for Jordan than just about any other retail business in town.  He also pointed out that neither the City, nor MnDOT takes care of the ditch in front of his business, on MN282, so he has to mow it. Otherwise it would look terrible, and reflect badly on his business.

One person said he’d placed building “pads” on lots he was developing back in the late ‘80s, and if the zoning codes and setbacks were changed, some of those pads would be useless, and the lots wouldn’t be worth developing (buildings would be too small, green spaces would be too big, parking lot landscaping would eat up too much usable space).  He wondered if those pads, and all the work and planning put in back in the late ‘80s and early ‘90s would be grandfathered in or not?

A businessman didn’t want Jordan to have such stringent codes that new businesses would be unwilling to come here.

Another business owner said a Police Chief (before Chief Malz, I think) told him to cut down the trees and shrubs he had because they were places for people to hide, and thus a danger to his employees leaving late at night.  And now the City wants him to plant trees.

At least one other person showed up, but didn’t speak.

In the end, the PC decided they would have to go back and rethink a lot of what was in the CGO.  So, months of work pretty much shot, it would seem.

It was a long meeting, but it was actually kind of interesting. Clearly, the current business owners in the highway commercial district pretty much want the City to leave them alone.

So where the heck were all these people EARLY in the process, when their concerns could have been addressed without a lot of wheel spinning? I suspect they all got the same notice I did – an e-mail before each Planning Commission meeting involving Community Growth Options (CGO) for the highway business corridor. Their concerns are all valid. Those concerns should have been expressed and addressed months ago, when the process was just beginning.

The Moral Is . . .
I’ve harped and carped about the need for people to get involved early and often in the processes that affect them. This is a prime example of a group of people waiting too long to express themselves. Better late then never, I guess.

 

May 16, 2010

Now We Know Who’s Responsible

Not city staff. They’re merely doing what the Council directs them to do.

Water bill too high? City Council is responsible.

Water bill too low? City Council is responsible.

A fifth of a million dollars in fund transfers buried in the “Unallocated” account? City Council is responsible.

“Unallocated” account a hodge-podge of capital expenses, transfers, operating expenses, debt service, and of course, miscellaneous? City Council is responsible.

The two largest billing errors in the City’s history? City Council is responsible.

The City’s check register not balanced for a year? City Council is responsible.

Raises paid from a contingency account – while staff says there’s no money in the budget for raises? City Council is responsible.

Faulty information that leads to bad decisions and higher taxes? City Council . . . you get the idea.

That’s what happened at Monday’s meeting, when the Council decided to not hold the City Administrator responsible for anything that has happened on his watch.

Folks, the buck stops with the City Council. They said so last night.

 

June 6, 2010

Must Be Something In the Water

Monday night the Jordan City Council spent about a half hour discussing weeds, mowing and enforcement of nuisance lawn laws. They spent about a half hour discussing (again) whether Jordanites should be billed for water every month, or bi-monthly, as they are now. And they spent about 17 minutes discussing a shift of funds from the city water account to the sewer and storm sewer accounts.

Nuggets From Those Seventeen Minutes
All quotes are from the presentation by the Finance Director to the City Council.

“Also, over the past 3 to 4 years we have been increasing our user rates to help cover expenditures. However, we can’t increase user rates fast enough to cover the extra debt loads.”

Just my impression, but it seems to me the City has been raising user rates pretty consistently for a lot more than “3 to 4 years”. In any case, I would expect more precision in defining the time period in question.

“Water is still losing ground, but at a slower pace, estimated to be reduced by $76,000 in 2010. Sewer is estimated to lose $160,000, and storm $79,000 in 2010.”

In other words, all three enterprise funds are losing money. Why might that be?

“We have been monitoring our fund balance over the past 5 or 6 years.”

This, I think, is just a blooper. Surely the City monitors fund balances every year, right?

‘What we are asking for it (sic) to transfer $700,000 from water to sewer and $300,000 from water to storm.”

Only one Council member raised an eyebrow to the appearance of more money shuffling in the enterprise funds. No mention at all was made of how the shuffle could be avoided, if not now, at least in the future.

“The fund balances at the start of this year were; water $3,800,000, sewer $300,000 and storm $120,00.”

How did 3.8 million dollars get into the water department fund balance? The water treatment plant came in 1.3 mil under estimates, but that’s sewers, right? Smarter heads than mine will be needed to sort this all out, but just on the face of it, there seems to be a lot of creative finance management going on.

“I have numerous spread sheets with various options but we feel that the transfers of $300,000 and $700,000 will keep all three utilities sitting comfortably at least until we can weather the economy, payoff (sic) the debt or increase the user rates to cover the costs.”

Meaning, since the whole funding scheme for water/sewer/storm sewer departments was based on getting at least 50 new homes per year built in town, and since we’ve added 13 in the past two years, you can expect your water bills to keep going up every year for the foreseeable future. Learn to like it.

How Much?
Over all, about 6.4% in 2011.

Breaking it out, it looks like this:
Water Availability                   2% increase
Water Usage                            2% increase
Sewer Availability                   9% increase
Sewer Usage                           9% increase
Storm Sewer Availability     15% increase
Street Lighting Fee                  2% increase

So, sewers are going to be 9% more available? And we’re going to have 15% more storms?

Be Prepared
The same management team that lacked the foresight to think that there might be a slowdown, is now scrambling to formulate a Plan B to spread the impact, and mask the overall impact of their bright eyed optimism. A dollar or two here. A dollar or two there. But in the end, whether the money is filtered through water bills, fees, or direct taxes, it all comes from the same source. Your pocket.

It seems to me that the Council can’t deal with major financial issues, so they spend their time attacking straw man issues. Monday night the straw man issues were weeds and billing cycles. On the 21st, it’ll be something else. Then, one of these days, bam! The budget will surface, and the Council will be compelled to deal deeply with financial issues. Hopefully, they’re thinking about the City’s finances for 2011 now. It sure would be a shame if they were caught by surprise by a staff request for a major tax increase.

 

July 20, 2010 I suppose it’s unseemly to gloat, but I posted my summary of the first crematorium hearing before the local newspaper did. After the post, a sitting Council Member said I made an inaccurate comment about two Council Members being absent. They weren’t at the meeting, so I don’t see how my post was inaccurate.

Mayor Suggests Pulling Teeth

On Monday, the City Council passed a Conditional Use Permit that will allow a local business to install a crematorium on its’ premises. The vote was 3 to 2, with two Council Members absent.

For those not familiar with the idea behind a Conditional Use Permit, its’ function is to allow the City to place conditions on the use of a building, or piece of land. The idea is that the applicant gets to use his property in a way that wasn’t originally planned, but the City maintains a level of control over the use.

The CUP for the crematorium contains several conditions. If you’re interested in knowing what they are, send me an e-mail at the address below, and I’ll post them here.

Meanwhile, one of the most contentious parts of the discussion about the crematorium was the idea that there might be toxic emissions. Among those emissions would be mercury from the fillings in the deceased’s mouth. The Mayor noted that some states are beginning to require that teeth be extracted before cremation, as a means of reducing mercury pollution. The Mayor wondered if that couldn’t be one of the conditions imposed in the CUP? The applicant said he wouldn’t do it, that he wasn’t qualified, that dentists wouldn’t do it, and that relatives of the deceased might object.

Did you catch the little bit about “not qualified”?
The applicant also said that they routinely remove pace makers from the deceased, which he described as a pretty straightforward procedure.

I suppose if I were given to hyperbole, I could make some remark about being able to rip out part of the heart, but not the teeth.

There was a lot of emotional appeal last night. One speaker noted that the applicant sees his clients at their very worst moment. That’s absolutely true. Another said something to the effect that going to the hospital was more dangerous than going to the funeral home. Also true. Another said that the City issues hundreds of fire pit permits, and they are probably responsible for vastly more pollution than the crematorium would be. Also probably true. But how are these things relevant to the CUP?

What was missing, it seems to me, was concern over the conflicting information about toxic pollutants. I personally still don’t believe that I have enough solid information one way or another, to make an informed decision about whether the benefits of a crematorium outweigh the potential risks. There also was a scarcity of detail in the CUP applications – which was made all the more obvious by the intense attention to detail in another applicant’s gas island CUP application.

Also missing was critical thinking from some of the people asked to represent us. One Council Member has developed a mantra of sorts. To paraphrase, it goes like this – I think we should just let the professionals do their jobs. Okay, then, why bother with a democracy, when a technocracy is what our representatives are giving us?

Also missing were two members of the Council. I guess they had better things to do.

Comment From A Reader 07 20 10
Thom, I understand being your “house” you can say what you want.

However, you made a statement that simply wasn’t true and I will politely ask that you post a correction if not an apology for the error.

Council members Velishek and Goebel were both absent on vacation.  I would hope that any voter would give their council members a pass to take a vacation.

Be careful when you say things like that, it’s malicious (in my opinion) and in this case completely inaccurate.
–David Hanson
August 3, 2010

This and That

Today marks the opening of filing for City Council seats in Jordan. At 5:00 on Tuesday, August 17th, the ambiguity ends – at least for the other candidates seeking election. For me, it ended months ago. Signing the papers today was a mere formality.

The incumbents have been uniformly coy about their intentions.

One person has, at times, called himself a candidate, and said his only platform plank was to keep me out.

Actions speak louder than words, so I’m told. I hope people here in Jordan will keep that in mind when they vote.

So, on to last night’s Council meeting.
Not a whole lot of excitement last night. However, one Council Member did say that she was disappointed with the number of calls she gets regarding the problems with the telecasts of the City Council meetings. She let it be known that she was unhappy to have to point out the problems three times, with no solution in sight. The gist of what she said was that if it’s so hard to get the current system to work right, it’s time to try something else. The Finance Manager mentioned that the latest problem was because someone left a piece of equipment unplugged, and that it wasn’t a system problem, but rather, human error. The Council Member restated her feeling that regardless of the reason, the Council was trying to improve communication with the people of Jordan, and it didn’t help that people didn’t know when the meetings would be broadcast, and if they did catch the broadcast, they might, or might not see the entire meeting, since broadcasts are sometimes truncated.

Oh, and about those gravel trucks . . .
The City Administrator said last night that he believes the Jordan Aggregates proposal will be presented to the County within the next two weeks. He said that when it happens, people will have 30 days to address the Environmental Assessment Worksheet. After that, the County will vote on the proposal. In other words, if you plan to oppose gravel trucks on Valley View Drive, you’d better be getting your facts together. No matter how many residents oppose the Valley View haul route, the County Board will need to see factual information specific to the Valley View route to justify not using that route.

Is there a grass roots opposition group which has hired an appraiser to figure out what will happen to the value of the affected homes?

Has the Brentwood homeowners’ alliance done any kind of traffic count to show what’s currently happening on Valley View?

And you’re all organized for the town meeting Saturday, right?

Time to start wrangling your ducks into rows, folks. Angry words won’t be enough. And I’m not sure you should count on the City for a lot of support.

Other than that, it was a pretty boring meeting. See you Saturday Morning.

TOWN MEETING
Saturday, August 7, 2010
9:00 a.m.—11:00 a.m.

at the Ridges at Sand Creek Golf Course located at 21755 Ridges Drive in Jordan.

 

August 11, 2010

Two Stories, Then and Now

The following story was related to me by a friend, who is a long time resident of Jordan.

About twenty some years ago, Mr. Whatshisname, accompanied by his sons, went to a business he patronized frequently. The owner of the business met him at the door, and began to shout at him. Mr. Businessowner shouted that Mr. Whatshisname should tell his bit** wife to get out of city business. His tirade was foul, loud and virulent. All this because Mrs. Whatshisname was concerned enough to speak out about the impact of a proposed business on the quality of life in Jordan.

Fast forward to August 2nd.

A city resident leaving the City Council meeting encountered three men standing outside City Hall. One of the three men – Mr. PillarofJordanbusiness – began yelling at the resident about how “you people” had no business discussing the conditional use permit that was subject to a PUBLIC hearing that night. He said “you people” were dragging out the hearing, and interfering with the important business that his two colleagues had to conduct that evening.

I understand the value of businesses in Jordan. And I support appropriate business expansion. But when business people treat their neighbors and customers so poorly, they forfeit the right to my respect and patronage.

Businesses exist to serve Jordan, not the other way around.

But, you say, two such events in twenty some years isn’t exactly an earthquake trend. True. Also true is the fact that I can tell you more stories of shabby treatment, not just BY business people, but ON business people. And as everyone in this town well knows, people have long memories.

In fairness to businesspeople in Jordan, I have to say that most are not like the two cited in the examples above. To those businesspeople I say, be careful who you permit to speak for you. You may not have chosen Mr. Businessowner or Mr. PillarofJordanbusiness to be your spokespersons, but they ARE, nonetheless.

 

August 19, 2010

Random Thoughts

Well, now we know who’s running for Jordan City Council. The first thing that comes to mind for me is, where have some of these people been for the past couple of years?

Where were they when the Council was debating how much public input to accept?

Where were they during the discussions about the gravel pit, and haul routes?

Where were they during the 282/21 fiasco?

Hopefully, over the next few weeks, their positions will become more clear.

Meanwhile, the City is well into the budget process again. Staff presented a “treading water” budget designed to keep services as they are, with a relatively modest tax increase. One incumbent actually suggested raising the increase, to generate another $67,000.00, just because the City could. He said something like “Once we have the money, we can find things to spend it on.” Hm-m-m-m-m.

Oh, and FYI, the Unallocated account is projected at $429,288.00. Of that amount, $217,000.00 is shown as Debt Service & Transfers. I cannot for the life of me understand how debt service can be unallocated. I can understand using an unallocated account to cover the cost of copier paper for the whole town. Or for covering pens, pencils, and scouring powder that will be used by every department. But over half of this account is debt service, which surely is a predictable expense. Isn’t it?

Unallocated swings wildly, from a low of $146,095.96 in 2005, to a high of $695,414.42 in 2008. Sorry folks, but this just looks off to me.

Also FYI, the City approved Tax Increment Financing (TIF) for the memory care facility that’s planned for the Wexford neighborhood. Naturally, a new business in Jordan is a good thing. The memory care facility seems like an especially good thing, since it involves no pollution, noise or heavy traffic. To get the business, Jordan wrote off 80% of the business’s property tax for 25 years. Cost to the City? $683,000.00 in lost tax revenue over those 25 years. The City may actually gain some financial benefit from having this business in town. But I doubt it will be enough to offset the lost taxes plus the cost of services such as police and fire protection, ambulances and snow removal.

Another, similar facility is being proposed for another part of town. No doubt, they will want the same type of sweetheart deal. They’ll probably get it, too. I really don’t know what to make of this kind of stuff. Should we be doing all these TIFs? Tell me what you think via the e-mail address below.

 

August 31, 2010

Lots of Lines

In the past few weeks I’ve heard some stories about property line problems here in Jordan.

In a couple of instances, the City installed sidewalks In another instance, the City reconfigured a creek bed.   Each time the City moved or buried lot markers, and didn’t replace them.

In the most troubling of these stories, a property owner who’d gone to the expense of having a survey done had corner markers removed by the City during the placement of sidewalk. The homeowner had a handshake agreement with a representative of the City, to the effect that the markers would be replaced when the sidewalks were done. That was two years ago, and the markers are still not in place.

What kind of a neighbor would remove another property owner’s markers? What kind of a neighbor does that make the City?

Yet another instance of the City not following through. The aftermath of this particular lapse may well be visited on homeowners years from now, when they try to sell their property, and can’t find the markers. The City needs to accept responsibility for its’ actions, and replace the markers now.

 

September 8, 2010

Lying, and Evolution.

Today, I’m not writing about politics, or politicians. And I’m not writing about any individuals. I like to read the comic strip Alley Oop. Lately there’s a story line involving a new character, Goob, who’s a nice guy, but prone to just blurting out whatever is in his head. He also seems a touch slow, and doesn’t bother to dissemble, or soften what he says. And he assumes everybody else is the same.

That got me to thinking. Is lying part of human evolution? (It must be, since it exists.) Is it necessary to human evolution? And what other animals lie to their own kind?

If you follow the Bible, you’ll know that one of the very first sins of Adam and Eve, right up there with stealing apples, was trying to deceive God about the theft. Good luck with that.

It almost seems like the ability to lie is the fruit Adam and Eve plucked from the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil.

Wolves or spiders might kill their own kind, but they don’t lie to them. Deception is common in nature. Alligators deceive their prey. Cowbirds lay their eggs in the nests of other birds. Opossums play possum. These are survival mechanisms. Humans are more highly evolved (?) than other species, and it seems that their ability to deceive is also more highly evolved than other species. People don’t just lie to survive. They lie to have their egos stroked. They lie to accumulate more material wealth than they can reasonably use in a lifetime. They lie because it’s sometimes easier than telling the truth. Sometimes they lie by not saying anything. And of course, they lie to avoid having to tell someone a truth that might cause the hearer pain. Naturally, this line of thinking wouldn’t be complete without a scale, so here it is:

Whoppers — Little White Lies — Fibs that make someone feel good — Lies to save someone from pain or peril

Maybe lies are the human equivalent of a peacock’s feathers.

Now and then Goob’s naiveté and openness get him into trouble. But the trouble’s never as deep as the mess Alley Oop gets into when he starts fibbing. The comic strip may not be high art, or profound philosophy, but I think there’s a message there for all of us.

The Quote:
If you tell the truth, you don’t have to remember anything.
Mark Twain

 

September 15, 2010

Position of Power

Lately I’ve been accused by an anonymous blogger of doing everything I can to get elected. This same person says that I am “not near the top of the field as far as knowledge on topics very important to the future of the City.” He (possibly another candidate) may be right. But how are you – the voter – to determine where I am in the spectrum of brains if the other candidates won’t come out in a neutral public forum like the Jordan Independent blogs, and express their stands?

Do those other candidates lack the brains to blog?

 

September 25, 2010 There’s a comment in this post about the Council generally following the recommendations of the EDA and Planning Commissions. Gave me a chuckle. Also, looking back a couple of years, local business leaders haven’t changed their spots. They still don’t want anything that might change their neighborhood.

Went to this month’s Commercial Club Meeting.

As often happens, I got some useful insights.

Council Member Velishek took part in the politician’s Q and A session. She fielded a lot of sharp questions about why the City Council was still talking about a crematorium, and about why it was so hard to do business in Jordan. Of course, the Commercial Club is primarily a gathering of business people, so they would rightfully address business issues. But I noticed a very interesting disconnect between what was being said, and what’s actually happening in town. It seemed like at least a few people wanted to blame City government and vocal hotheads for what’s happening in Jordan. They didn’t say anything (that I heard) about whether the business community had any responsibility in the state of affairs.

Is it really hard to do business here?
When Radermacher’s decided to add gas pumps to their store, there was virtually no resistance. Radermacher’s came in with a solid plan that addressed all the safety concerns. Their permit sailed through.

When Fertimix wanted to put an addition on their building, did the City refuse it? Nope. But one property owner resisted it. Oddly, the City pushed Fertimix to begin construction, because they (the City) had budgeted for the funds from the permit.

When S.M. Hentges wanted to build a new pole building on its’ property, there was no significant resistance. They came to the City with a plan that addressed all the pertinent issues.

When Clancy’s wanted to add outdoor dining, how hard did they have to fight to get it? I recall some concern about whether there would be any greenery, which if memory serves, Clancy’s agreed to address with some plantings.

Do Building Permits Really Cost More Here?
Yes, they do. But when did that happen? Those fee structures are not new. They were put in place during the administration of the former Mayor. Many of the current Council Members were there when they were enacted. Business people in this town should place the blame where it belongs. The CGO process began in about 2006-07. If they think the City’s standards are a burden, they should have acted to stop them back then.

Are Some Vocal Hotheads Making It Hard to Do Business In Jordan?
Well, I suppose so. Can you blame them for wanting to protect the value of their homes? Can you blame them for trying to protect their own businesses? Has the City done anything to determine the effects of a crematorium or gravel mining operation on home values? Everyone should keep in mind that the vocal hotheads are just as attached to their homes as business owners are attached to their businesses.

Are Jordan’s Standards So Tough That They Prevent New Businesses From Coming Here?
Elite Waste Disposal didn’t think so. At least one, and possibly two adult care facilities don’t think so.

Jordan’s staff did a comprehensive review of zoning and building standards among cities like Jordan. Then they formulated standards that were lower than some cities, and higher than others. One needs only to go to Lowe’s or CVS in Shakopee to see what our standards are like.

If it’s not the standards, what is it that keeps Jordan from growing? Could it be that we have the wrong kind of traffic? Could it be that we have business leaders who are so concerned about having to plant a few trees, that they’ve lost sight of the fact that making Jordan more inviting will draw business? Think about it. How many yuppies want to shop at a business conducted in a tin shed, on a barren lot? Who would put Mom or Dad in a memory care facility that looked like a barracks?

Now go Downtown, and look at all the old buildings. Visualize them as they were a hundred and fifty or so years ago. The builders competed to see who could build the nicest place. They incorporated beautiful brickwork. At the time those buildings were built, trees were planted along the street, to create an inviting environment in which to stroll and shop. We cut the trees down to make the streets wider, which benefits drive through traffic – trucks – at the expense of parking and pedestrians. We made it all but impossible to get from the west side of Broadway, to the east side. Is it any wonder businesses abandoned Downtown? Do you really want to see the same kind of mistakes made again in the highway commercial district?

Those who would complain that the Jordan isn’t what it was 30 years ago should keep in mind that the City didn’t suddenly turn into what it is now. The changes didn’t happen two weeks, two months or two years ago. The Economic Development Authority and the Planning Commission – both composed largely of business people – have been working for years on Community Growth Options plans. As Council Member Velishek said, the City Council generally follows the recommendations of those committees. Business leaders in this community need to recognize that they share a large part of the responsibility for what Jordan is today. For the good things, and the bad. Not everything is someone else’s fault.

 

October 5, 2010 The Council still blissfully tromps on “team members” who say things Councilors don’t want to hear. I wonder if they got the message voters sent when they unseated two incumbents shortly after this post went online.

Epiphany!

“The team is broken.”

So said Council Member Velishek. Council Member Marnoff agreed. I think they may have been talking about different things, but their conclusion was the same.

Was the Council Member speaking about the inept handling of the water bill delinquency letters? Was she talking about the ongoing issues with the cable broadcasts of the Council meetings? Was she referring to the faulty and insufficient information provided to the Council regarding the Ballard/Sunder CUP? Was she angry because the rest of the Council wouldn’t support her request for an informational meeting regarding that CUP? Was she angry at the Mayor for keeping the CUP issue in front of the Council and public? Or was she angry at herself because she finally came to the realization that City staff has been using the Council, rather than supporting it?

“In any other business, that kind of performance would get someone fired.”

So said (more or less) Council Member Hanson. I’m paraphrasing, but he did use the word “fired”. His point was that City staff needs to be held accountable for errors, poor performance, and ineptitude. I think that as he campaigns, he’s hearing from people who want some changes made in City Hall. If he’s hearing the same things I’m hearing, people are naming names. So now he’s angry because he’s getting hammered everywhere, and feels the only place he can get his message out in at City Council meetings. Oh, the irony!

What Took “em So Long?
People in this town have been saying for years that certain parts of City staff are inept. Lately, as I canvass neighborhoods, I’m hearing much harsher language, even the suggestion that there’s some dishonesty involved.

Months ago, the Mayor pointed out that the City Administrator was blocking things from being added to Council meeting agendas. He pointed out that the City Administrator and Financial Manager had overseen (one might say overlooked) the largest financial errors in the City’s history. After trying, without success, to work behind the scenes, the Mayor went public – which led one Council Member to liken herself to a Mama Bear protecting her babies. The Council gave the Administrator an attaboy for fixing a mistake he was responsible for in the first place. And now, the Council is beginning to see the ruts in the road they chose to follow. They are waiting for the results of an Environmental Assessment Worksheet, which was initiated by a petition from a group of angry citizens – not by the City staff, or the Council. They’ve come to the sad and sorry state of having to make decisions based not on right or wrong, but on whose lawsuit will cost the least.

So, yeah, the team’s broken. Now let’s put it back together, with the City Council acting in the interests of the people, and the City staff following the Council’s direction – the way it should be.

October 10, 2010

Old Spice

Grampa wore Old Spice. My Dad wore Old Spice. It was good Old-Spiceenough for them, and it’s good enough for me.

I don’t need a fancy scent with a name like Canoe. I don’t need someone from New York or L.A. to tell me what’s stylish. And I don’t need to spend a lot of money to do what simple cleanliness can accomplish.

I don’t feel the need to just change things for the sake of changing them. I don’t feel compelled to do things just because they’re stylish, or trendy, or because everyone else is doing them. So it bugs me when I hear people say “other cities do thus-and-so.” Or, “this is what other cities are doing.” What matters to me is, should we be doing (or not doing) something, and why?

Should the City be budgeting money into an unallocated account when that money is being used for debt service? Should the City continue to accept erratic service on its’ televised meeting broadcasts?

Folks, Jordan doesn’t need to be just like every other town. Jordan doesn’t need to be fancy. Common sense and just a dash of Old Spice will get the job done.

 

October 19, 2010

A Storm In The Sewer

Are you ready for this, Jordan?

It’s budget time again, in our beautiful town. The City was talking about raising water and sewer rates about four to eight percent. However, the Council had no stomach for that kind of a rate increase. So now they’re thinking about raising storm sewer rates 15%. In other words, your “water bill” will go up five or six bucks – again.

One wonders how many people in town actually differentiate between the water, sewer, storm sewer and street light components of their “water bill”? Regardless, the money all comes from the same place – you, the taxpayer.

And make no doubt about it, this method of “enhancing the revenue stream” is nothing more than another tax.

Again, with the sneak attack on our wallets!
And how exactly, did the storm sewers change that merits an increase in fees? Did we get 15% more storms? Were 15% more sewers added? Or is this just another attempt to hide the true cost of running the town? Oh, wait! Could this be a means of covering billing errors?

Whatever. I’m not okay with it. Are you?

The Quote:

If

If you can keep your head when all about you

Are losing theirs and blaming it on you;

If you can trust yourself when all men doubt you,

But make allowance for their doubting too;

If you can wait and not be tired by waiting,

Or being lied about, don’t deal in lies,

Or being hated, don’t give way to hating,

And yet don’t look too good, nor talk too wise:

If you can dream — and not make dreams your master;

If you can think — and not make thoughts your aim;

If you can meet with Triumph and Disaster

And treat those two imposters just the same;

If you can bear to hear the truth you’ve spoken

Twisted by knaves to make a trap for fools,

Or watch the things you gave your life to, broken,

And stoop and build ’em up with worn-out tools;

If you can make one heap of all your winnings

And risk it on one turn of pitch-and-toss,

And lose, and start again at your beginnings

And never breathe a word about your loss;

If you can force your heart and nerve and sinew

To serve your turn long after they are gone,

And so hold on when there is nothing in you

Except the Will which says to them: “Hold on!”

If you can talk with crowds and keep your virtue,

Or walk with kings — nor lose the common touch,

If neither foes nor loving friends can hurt you,

If all men count with you, but none too much;

If you can fill the unforgiving minute

With sixty seconds’ worth of distance run —

Yours is the Earth and everything that’s in it,

And — which is more — you’ll be a Man, my son!

By Rudyard Kipling

 

November 3, 2010 Well, I got in. and looking at this post, I think I hit a nail or two on the head – especially to ones about shedding more light on things, and about people being more involved. When I started going to Council meetings, I was usually the only person in the audience. Now there are more – but still not enough – people at each meeting.

Okay, NOW What?

The people of Jordan have elected three City Council Members. One is an incumbent. Two are new members, replacing incumbents whose candidacies failed.

What’s THAT Mean?
It seems to me, voters generally didn’t want incumbents back. They are looking for something different from what’s been happening in Jordan lately, and they’re willing to take a chance on new people rather than accept the status quo.

In my walks around town, I heard some repeated themes:

Taxes are too high for what we have (or put another way, considering how much we pay, why don’t we have a new library, pool, or trails?).

Water bills are crazy high.

How much money did the City waste on those delinquent water bill letters?

The most surprising thing I found out was how upset people got about the relatively minor water bill delinquency letter, compared to some of the bigger issues facing the town. I think that letter was the tipping point for many people.

What Will Change?
One thing a single Council Member can do is push things out into the open. I think you’ll see more light shed on many issues. Hopefully, that will result in more people being aware, and involved. You are being given an opportunity to be one of those people who’s up to speed with what’s happening in Jordan. Don’t waste it. Ask questions. Express opinions. Don’t assume that the City can read your mind.

As a new City Council Member, I’m one of the people who needs to hear from you often! You can reach me via e-mail at mailto:Thom.Boncher@gmail.com

I also intend to explore the possibility of having neighborhood meet-and-greet sessions that would bring a couple of the Council Members together with people from each Jordan neighborhood. I can’t make any promises on this right now, because there are open meeting issues that need to be addressed, and the cooperation of other members is yet to be determined.

There will be other changes, which we cannot foresee. Hopefully, they’ll all be good changes for Jordan.

What WON’T Change
I intend keep JordanUnderGround going, and I plan to continue updating the site each week. I won’t avoid issues. And I will post any responses that are not anonymous.

 

November 16, 2010

Scott County is finally catching on.

The County is considering suing the Metropolitan Council over what the County deems to be under-representation of taxpayers in the outer ring counties – especially as it relates to transportation funding. You can find a complete article online at the Jordan Independent web site. The link is:
http://www.jordannews.com/news/county-politics/scott-county-may-sue-met-council-111

The essence of the issue seems to be that Scott County thinks the Met Council is spending way too much money on light rail and mass transit, at the expense of highway development. Needless to say, mass transit provides minimal benefit for inter-community transportation in the outer suburbs. A light rail line to St. Paul isn’t much help if you’re trying to get from Jordan to Lakeville.

An interesting quote from that story is “County officials say this latest situation is especially disconcerting because a massive amount of transportation dollars are being directed by an unelected body.”

Told You So!
The “latest situation”? Some of us have been saying for years that the Met Council should have no authority to control tax dollars. “Unelected body”? We didn’t vote for them. We can’t oversee them. And it would seem that they don’t even want to hear from their own advisory boards.

A Little About Open Meeting Laws
At yesterday’s (11/15/10) City Council meeting, the City Attorney gave a bit of a presentation regarding open meeting laws, and what constitutes an open meeting law violation. Among the topics were “serial meetings” and “electronic meetings”.

A serial meeting results when one council member hears something from another member, and carries the information to a third member. If the third member carries the information to a fourth member, under OML, a quorum is reached, and the City has violated the law.

An electronic meeting can take place in a variety of media, including e-mail, Twitter, telephone – and blogs.

A serial electronic meeting can happen if multiple council members read and respond to a blog post. In that situation, OML considers that the responding council members are communicating with each other – not just with the public at large. So for example, if a blog is posted for two weeks, and during that time four council members comment on-line, an open meeting law violation has occurred, Council Members are not protected by using an alias or on-line identity. (I’m guessing that using a false identity on-line would actually be considered evidence of an attempt to circumvent OML.)

Gray Area?
What happens if four or more council members have their own blog sites, on which they discuss Jordan issues? Even if they don’t respond directly to each other, are they violating OML? That question was not raised, but probably will come up at the December 6th Council meeting, when a representative of the League of Minnesota Cities.

Which Means What for JUG?

It would seem that JordanUnderGround will have to enact a new rule or two. For the time being, at least, the Mayor and other Council Members can read this site, but I won’t accept comments from them on City issues.   Everybody else is welcome to respond as in the past.

Please keep in mind that OML is about interaction between Council Members. It has nothing to do with a Council Member’s interaction with the people of Jordan. Talk to any Council Member you want. Make your thoughts known.

 

November 23, 2010

Budget, 2011

During my campaign for City Council, I promised to promote transparency in city government. Here comes the first effort.

On Monday, December 6th, the City Council will hold its’ annual budget hearing. This used to be called the Truth in Taxation hearing, but that name has fallen into disuse. I’m not sure if it was because of reluctance to use the words “truth” and “taxation” in the same name, or if there was some other reason.

Whatever.

The City is proposing an average tax increase of about 1.6%. That’s if you’re a home owner. Based on something I read elsewhere, apparently business owners can expect much higher increases.

Not Exactly Oprah’s Book of the Month
I have a copy of the budget – all 200-plus, Technicolor pages of it. On Friday, December 3rd, I will bring my copy to the Carasim Coffee Shop, from 4:00 PM until closing. Anyone who wants to take a look at the budget is welcome to do so.

Highlights
Yes, there is still a $217,000.00 debt service and transfers item in Account No. 49200 – Unallocated.

Yes, there is no explanation for $187,513.00 listed as “Charges & Services” in the Unallocated account. (During the “boom” of 2005 that amount was only $72,598.96. We’re doing much better now, right? So the amount has more than doubled – just like your income, I imagine.)

Yes, there is a section in the budget that details salaries.

Yes, I’m looking forward to hearing from you.

No, this is not the time to appeal your assessment, but if you want to complain about it, feel free.

No, this is not an official City Council event. It’s just me having coffee at Carasim with my friends.

No, I won’t buy you a cup of coffee, and I won’t let you buy me one either.

Carasim, Friday, December 3rd, after 4:00 PM. See you there?

 

November 30, 2010 Oh dear! Didn’t I just touch a lot of nerves with this one. Councilors who thought I had somehow betrayed the public’s trust because I revealed what happened in an open meeting. County Board Members who almost immediately began banning discussion of matters on the Board’s meeting agenda. Staff who didn’t appreciate me sticking my nose in their meetings. Sheesh, it’s not like I was revealing state secrets, or advocating overthrowing the government.

Valley View Volley

First Round – Options
The City Council sub-committee for gravel haul routes met yesterday (Monday, 11/29/10) with representatives of S.M. Hentges, to try to clarify what’s happening regarding the proposed gravel mining operation, and related haul routes. My summary here may not be particularly balanced or fair – I’m aiming for fairly balanced. As always, if anyone, participants or otherwise, wants to comment, I’ll publish the comments.

What’s Been Happening?
Not much. S.M. Hentges has not filed the Environmental Assessment Worksheet for the project. Their position was that they were waiting for guidance from the City regarding the City’s wishes relative to haul routes. The City, meanwhile, has been saying “let’s wait and see what the EAW looks like, and then we can comment”.

What Happened At The Meeting?
The sub-committee advised Hentges that the City was not willing to accept Valley View Drive as a haul route. The primary reasons cited were:
Cost to the City

Impact on homes and home values

And a variety of safety issues

Hentges reps responded that the company was being pushed, first one way by the County, then another way by the City. They said they didn’t really care which haul route was used – that their concern was to run a profitable business. Hentges also said that there is no real plan for “what everything will look like” – that the City’s plans are all based on speculation.

Discussion moved to the possibility of a private haul road, or connecting to County Road 9 at 185th Street. Hentges didn’t seem too enthusiastic, but was willing to consider the options. The sub-committee instructed the City Engineer to put together a conceptual plan, so that the City could decide whether to approach property owners about annexation into the City.

Discussion then turned to getting something done, with one sub-committee member saying there must be some way to get a haul route done, and that there’d been enough “plan, plan, plan”. Another sub-committee member said that the committee needed to do what’s right for the 50-plus hard-working homeowners in that neighborhood.

Hentges said that they wanted to get the ball rolling, so they were going to submit the EAW with Valley View Drive through Jordan as the haul route.

I’m not aware of any plan for any further discussion. As far as I could tell, no additional meetings between the sub-committee and Hentges – or anyone else – are being planned.

This is not an exhaustive summary of what happened. There were other unrelated subjects broached, such as open meeting considerations and the County’s connector route plans. The meeting was generally amicable, though there were some long silences. It will be interesting to see what happens next.

Second Round – Act or React?
As mentioned earlier, City Staff and the City Council have been taking a wait-and-see approach to the mining operation Environmental Assessment Worksheet. Personally, I’d favor a more pro-active stance. A group called 1000 Friends of Minnesota has been helping Jordan develop its’ Community Growth Options (CGO) plan. They seem to feel the same. The following is from their publication “A Citizen’s Guide To Influencing Local Land-Use Decisions”:

“Be part of the process of preparing the EAW

EAWs are often prepared by a contractor chosen by the developer and then adopted by the RGU without any changes or additions. Typically, citizens then comment on what has been prepared and the developer and RGU will often take a defensive position rather than remaining open to changes based on citizen input.

Instead, citizens should try to establish a process that allows them input into the preparation of the EAW. Talk to the developer and the RGU about how you can submit information for the EAW before it is prepared. Find out who is preparing the EAW and contact them to explain your concerns. Often, when a contractor identifies a potential problem while preparing an EAW, the developer will make changes to the project to avoid the problem before the EAW is finalized. Or, by expressing your concerns to the developer and the RGU a compromise position may be achieved with the developer. This was the case with a development on Stockhaven Lake in Douglas County described in the case study “Everybody Can Win Something.”

Third Round – The County Tries Another Approach
Today, the Scott County Board tabled discussion regarding paving Valley View Drive and 173rd Street in Sand Creek Township.

What started out as a consent agenda item, became a topic for discussion when a Jordan resident pointed out that it looked like the County was engaging in an end-run to force Jordan to accept a Valley View haul route. County staff countered that the paving project had nothing to do with the mining operation, but a Board Member pointed out that the work-up submitted to the board specifically mentioned the mining operation as a reason for paving. The Board then voted to table the item for two weeks, so that everyone could study the full ramifications of the project.

One wonders if the City offers any input.

 

December 7, 2010 Pearl Harbor Day

Open? Closed? Secret?

The Jordan City Council voted yesterday, to allow sub-committees to decide whether their meetings are open, or whether the public will be barred from attending. Sub-committees will decide on a meeting-by-meeting basis.

This issue of JUG is strictly my opinion. The above statement is the only one that I’ll present as a fact.

Why do Council Members want to be able to bar the public from a meeting being conducted by a group of Council Members, for the purpose of advising the Council at large? What will the Council say when one of the City’s commissions (EDA, Planning, Parks and Recreation) decides to apply the same secretive thinking to meetings?

In my opinion, public officials (whether elected, or hired) who are behaving in an ethical manner, and who are doing their best to serve the public, should welcome public scrutiny – not hide from it.

Why did the issue of public participation come up, anyway? It seems that two members of the public had the audacity to attend a sub-committee meeting regarding proposals for gravel haul routes on Valley View Drive. And then one of those members of the public had the further audacity to (gasp) blog about the meeting.

Never-you-mind that the decision to hold the sub-committee meeting was made during a public City Council meeting. And just because one of the members of the public has asked repeatedly to be informed about meetings regarding Valley View Drive haul routes, doesn’t mean the City has to honor his request, does it? And does the Council think that the person who made the request will just shrug, say “okay”, and that’s the end of it? Or will his (and his neighbors’) radar be turned all the way up? If that person was wary, and didn’t trust the City before, what will he be now?

There are rules for public participation in public meetings. Most people follow the rules. Those who don’t can be removed from the meetings. So the argument that public participation might be disruptive doesn’t hold water. Besides, in this country, we don’t punish people for what they might do.

Maybe the City Council, instead of worrying about who might show up uninvited, should be worrying about why no one was invited. It’s certainly a cause for concern to me.

December 9, 2010

A Response From A Reader

Good day, Thom.  My comment about sub-committees (SC) is over your suggested word limit but hopefully you will post it on JUG it in its entirety.

Members of the SC (especially would-be developers) may not feel comfortable discussing alternatives at the SC level with members of the public.  As a courtesy to your fellow members, they must have an idea before a meeting who they will be meeting with.

According to the League, given the lack of a quorum or decision-making capability, when the SC meets it isn’t technically a meeting, therefore whether it is open or closed is irrelevant.

If any member feels that the input or participation of a non-member is warranted, the courtesy to the other members is to ask ahead of time if that non-member could be added either to a specific meeting or to the SC directly.

Furthermore, if you ask any member what’s going on, I’m confident he or she will tell you what he or she can.

The recommendations and updates to the extent possible of any SC will be given to the rest of the council (and public) in a public meeting.

David Hanson
Councilman, City of Jordan

And My Response to His Response

Dave, your response is posted, unedited.  Two things about it jump out at me.

  1. Where and when do we consider courtesy to someone besides developers and sub-committee members?  If someone is concerned about a specific issue, has asked to be included in discussions about that issue, and hears at a public meeting that a discussion will be taking place on the issue, is it not courteous to ask if he or she would like to participate?
  2. The moment someone says something “isn’t technically” anything, my spidey sense starts to tingle.  “Isn’t technically”  is a way of avoiding reality.  The entire purpose of setting up a sub-committee is for the sub-committee to study something, and report to the full body on the sub-committee’s findings.  If the sub-committee doesn’t report, it has no purpose.  And if it does report, it influences the decision making process.

I’m sending you this note now, as a courtesy.  I’ll post these comments on-line in a couple of hours.

Thanks for participating in JUG discussions.

Thom

 

December 14, 2010 Note what the Finance Manager said about where he spends his time.

Budget Questions From the Peanut Gallery

Two Weeks ago, as I sat at Carasim, with the City Budget book, a few people stopped by to look at it, and ask questions. I passed those questions on to a Council Member, who in turn passed them on to the City. I’m not sure who is responding to the questions

Obviously, it’s too late for these questions to have an impact on the 2011 budget, but we can get a jump on 2012, right?

Q: How much does the City spend for insurance?

A: In 2010 the City spent $86,890 on property and liability insurance.  The general portion is listed in the unallocated/general government budget.  The rest of the insurance is allocated out if it can be.  This is a great example of why we use the unallocated account to budget for insurance that is city wide and can’t be allocated to something else like fire or parks or water and sewer.

JUG Comment: Insurance is a fixed cost. Even if it is “city wide”, it deserves its’ own account, so that Councilors can see what it costs. $86,890 is a lot of money to be just clumped together with the city’s janitorial and office supplies.

Q: Given declining home values and revenues, why has the Unallocated Account more than doubled since 2005?

A: In 2006, it was the first year we received MSA funding.  Meaning our population just got over 5,000. The $209,0000 is for MSA.  It is a flow through, meaning it has a expenditure and a revenue.  If we have the revenue funds come in, there will be a matching transfer out. It is shown in the unallocated as part of full disclosure to the citizens and the council.  It must be working if people see it and ask this question. But the expenditure and the revenue have no direct effect of our tax levy.

JUG Comment: The answer doesn’t explain why the Unallocated Account continues to grow, in the face of declining revenue. Most of the City’s allocated accounts have declined or stayed the same during that same period.

Q: Within the Unallocated account, $217,000.00 is listed as Debt Service & Transfers.  What debt is being serviced, and/or what is the source of the transfers?

A: Answer is above except there is $8,000 for debt payment for the Cities contribution to the SCALE training facilities yearly debt payments.

JUG Comment: So $8,000 is for debt service to SCALE. And $209,000. is for MSA – Municipal State Aid – which, as I understand it, can be applied only to a limited range of City activities. How is that “unallocated”?

Q: Does the Finance Manager actually spend just 2/5ths of his time on Finance issues?

A: Yes.

JUG Comment: Then why isn’t the position a part time job.

Q: Does the City have a plan in place to accommodate loss of state aid (including MSA funds)?

A: We currently don’t budget for State Aid.  The only state aid we get is for fire retirement, police training and MSA.  All three of those aids are very secure.  We are told the State can’t reduce the MSA funding. But if they do then our revenues will go down by the same amount as our expenditures.  So basically if we don’t get their money we won’t spend it.  The police training and fire retirement are kind of tough things for the State to touch.

JUG Comment: We don’t budget for state aid, but we get state aid for fire retirement, police training, and MSA . . . sorry, you lost me on the last turn.

The state can, and probably will reduce or eliminate MSA funding. They are hacking at everything else. They’re borrowing money from school districts, for heaven’s sake! So, for purposes of discussion, if MSA funding is cut in half in 2012, what is the City going to do to adjust for a $100,000 decrease in cash flow? If we don’t get state money, we don’t spend it. Duh. But what are we spending it on now? What’s plan B?