Bad News for the Angry Birds and Sour Grapes


By Andrew Richter

Well, for those who want to argue for more borrowing in Crystal or those former mayors who are trying to become mayor again, they got some bad news. The bond ratings for Crystal came out and guess what? Crystal’s bond rating remains strong;

image

I guess that undermines the idea that the sky is falling because we didn’t borrow for a public works building and go into further debt to protect so-called “interest income.” LOL

Since paying cash did nothing to destroy the city as the Angry Birds would have loved, what now are they going to say.

We’ll see what sour grapes they “squawk” about next!

 

 

July 19, 2016 at 1:01 pm Leave a comment

Keith Ellison is One of a Kind


By Andrew Richter

Even though my heart is still in Crystal, one of the best things about moving to Champlin is that Keith Ellison is no longer my congressman! It’s still comical to watch him work, though, as the city councils of Robbinsdale, Crystal, and New Hope recently got an email from him;

July 19, 2016 at 7:24 am Leave a comment

How is This Worth It?


By Andrew Richter

Oh what a shock!

Following the Minnesota Legislature’s failed attempt at passing a transportation bill in the last session and two canceled Blue Line Extension Corridor Management Committee meetings in June, the committee reconvened to discuss the updated project scope and budget on July 7.

The last project scope and budget was discussed in late October 2015, when the line was expected to cost $1.5 billion. That estimate came after only 15 percent of the project was complete. At the time, project staff knew there would be additional costs associated with the line in the future.

Now, eight months later, project staff has completed 30 percent of the project’s development. On July 7, Project Director Dan Solar reviewed items that have been added. According to Solar, project partners such as the Minnesota Department of Transportation, Hennepin County and others are required to pay for benefits received as part of the project.

For MnDOT, this means funding $8.2 million for the mill and overlay of Highway 55, 50 percent removal and replacement of existing traffic signals on Highway 55 and the relocation of Bassett Creek stormwater tunnel. Hennepin County will also need to provide $4.1 million to go toward a portion of West Broadway Avenue north of Highway 610 to Winnetka Avenue.

Finally, Brooklyn Park is required to pay $8.2 million for various segments of street and utilities work north of Highway 610. The additional funds allows an increase in matching federal funds, if received, from $19.6 million to $752.7 million, but does not increase the Counties Transit Improvement Board, Hennepin County Regional Railroad Authority or state’s cost participation. When it comes to the overall project cost, two large components are adding expenses. Advanced design, which consists of bridge refinement, parking ramps, rail system elements, traffic signal adjustments, retaining walls and a reduction in traction power substations, adds $26 million to the overall project cost.

Seriously! Does anyone care about the taxpayer?

Environmental mitigations and requirements including noise walls, Sochacki Park restoration, visual screening in Crystal, secondary access to the Plymouth Avenue station, retaining walls, eliminating the crossing closure at 39 1/2 Avenue and relocating the Bassett Creek tunnel equates to an additional $14 million.
The combined $40 million in additional costs brings the overall project cost to $1.54 billion.

My God!

If all scope additions — at-grade improvements at 63rd Avenue, pedestrian bridge at Bass Lake Road, Rail Control Center modification, Hiawatha Operations and Maintenance Facility modifications and rail crossings and gates north of Highway 610 — are included, it would add another $31 million to the project. These funds could be covered through contingency funds, however. The contingency funds could then be reduced from 30 percent to 28 percent.

Anoka County Commissioner Scott Schulte was most concerned about the suggested reduction in contingency funding. He said there are continued risks that could increase the project cost therefore requiring the full 30 percent contingency. He also believes it is problematic to “mix controls,” meaning either the Met Council controls maintenance of the entire line including bridges or not. “I think there’s too many wants in this and not enough needs,” he said.

The entire project is a want not a need you idiot!

Crystal Mayor Jim Adams spoke up about Crystal being told it needed to fund maintenance of a pedestrian bridge at County Road 81. “The discussions we’ve had are not consistent with us taking on that cost,” he said. “We didn’t find out about this until three hours ago. We haven’t had a chance to vet that out. We were under the impression this would be part of Met Council’s expense.”

Yes, Jim Adams is right. I was at those council meeting and heard the Met Council hired gun say just that.

Golden Valley Mayor Shep Harris requested estimates for what bridge maintenance in Crystal would cost. “I hope it’s not a deal breaker since we’ve gone through all this,” he said. Adams agreed his city needs figures. “If I were to guess, I would think it would be a deal breaker, and that’s a very tough thing to say,” he said. “We really strongly feel this is a metro transit driven cost. It is something to support the vision of the region.” 

Met Council Chair Adam Duininck provided his opinion on the issue. “From my vantage point, it’s always been uncertain who would pay for that,” he said. “No one volunteered. I think everyone assumed someone else would pay. I don’t think it’s a cost that we were hoping or thinking we’d take on.”

You liar!

Hennepin County Commissioner Mike Opat said it was clear that the cost of the pedestrian bridge maintenance would be between Crystal and the Met Council. “It’s the fact that this is dropping in at the last minute that makes it hard to bear,” he said. Adams said he would love to have a conversation with the Met Council prior to the next corridor management committee meeting.

How would you know Opat? Why don’t you just stay out of it and go build another monument to yourself?

After much back and forth, Solar stated that local improvements have always been identified as outside of the project scope. With no other concerns, project staff informed the committee that the Federal Transportation Authority approved the publication of the Final Environmental Impact Statement. The entire 3,200 page document is anticipated to release Friday, July 15. The Final Environmental Impact Statement will be available at all corridor libraries and city halls as well as online at metrocouncil.org.
Over the next two months, project staff will finalize the project scope and budget.

3200 pages!!!!!

Once the final project scope and budget are determined, project staff can apply for financing and enter into the engineering phase, which will bring the project up to 60 percent completion.

This project is such a disaster!!! Maybe we can get ReNae Bowman to pay for it all!

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July 14, 2016 at 7:49 am 1 comment

Dream Big? Really?


By Andrew Richter

Hennepin County just has money to burn;

I hope by now you have had an opportunity to check out the new Hennepin County Library – Brooklyn Park, located at 8500 W. Broadway. It is a special place!

All I saw was the price tag: a cool $24 million! Couldn’t you build this for $21 million?

Brooklyn Park is the sixth largest city in Minnesota and one of the state’s fastest growing communities. Now it finally has the signature library it deserves. While the new library was conceived of more than a decade ago, the building’s technological features and flexibility contemplate far into the future of Brooklyn Park.

The original Brooklyn Park Library Task Force was creative in its initial conception of what the building should represent. Today, we have the first STEM-focused library in our system.

Library task force?

Throughout the years, the Community Advisory Committees were equally as thoughtful when considering the library’s design and the gorgeous displays adorning the walls, ceiling and perimeter of the building. Thanks go to the dozens of involved residents for making the library truly reflective of the diverse backgrounds and viewpoints of Brooklyn Park.

There is space devoted to learners of all ages, with square footage more than twice that of the old library on Zane Avenue. The amenities at the new Brooklyn Park Library rival any great library in the nation: an interactive learning wall, a fully-immersive recording studio, 78 new computers, 11 private meeting rooms, early literacy programming with science and technology themes, large format video conferencing that can take you all over the world, dynamic public art that you can touch and explore. All open seven days a week.

It’s got every bell and whistle that you could possibly charge to the taxpayer. Funny, too, I thought this was a library, but no, now it’s for meeting space or surfing the net I guess.

Now, the kicker; as always Opat links it to the light rail.

Hennepin County has always been committed to the vision of a signature library, a gathering place for the people of Brooklyn Park. We have delivered one that will ensure new discoveries and experiences with each visit. In the not-too-distant future, we will have a Blue Line LRT station at the intersection of 85th and West Broadway. North Hennepin Community College continues to assess its plans for growth in the area as well. Our new library is yet another reason why residents have good reason to dream big about the future of Hennepin County and Brooklyn Park.

I’m so excited I can hardly contain myself.

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July 7, 2016 at 8:53 am Leave a comment

Public Education’s Golden Parachute


By Andrew Richter

You have to just love public education. The incompetent St. Paul school district is at it again with their “buyout” of their superintendent at the “reasonable” price of $787,500!!!!

The St. Paul school board fired Superintendent Valeria Silva without cause Tuesday night after butting heads for five months over budgets, student discipline and declining enrollment. Out on July 15, Silva will serve as a consultant through Sept. 30, 2017. She’ll get a separation agreement worth $787,500 in salary and benefits, including pension payments through Oct. 1, 2019, which will enable her to earn a full pension in retirement. Board member Steve Marchese called removing the district’s leader a difficult and expensive decision.

So you are firing her, but she remains employed for another year and change, then she gets payments to give her a full pension! Would this happen to you if you got fired from your job?

“But I do believe it is the right thing as a board member to be thinking about the long-term interest of the school district,” he said. Two of the seven board members, Jean O’Connell and Chue Vue, voted against the buyout. 

O’Connell then immediately resigned her school board position, blasting Marchese and board chair Jon Schumacher for aggressively challenging Silva and her staff soon after they took office in January. She said the two worked in secret to buy Silva out. “Not only is this questionable governance, it is terrible leadership,” she said. 

A board member since 2010, O’Connell said St. Paul is “a high-performing urban school district (that) does not have a high-performing school board.” “The environment at this table has become so disrespectful, destructive and cynical that I can no longer be a part of it,” she said.

Just chaos!

Silva, who was at work earlier Tuesday, did not attend the 5:30 p.m. board meeting and declined to comment through a spokeswoman.

John Thein, who retired last year as Roseville’s superintendent, will be St. Paul’s interim superintendent. He’ll get a salary of $202,500.Schumacher had no details on the search for a permanent replacement.

Exactly what Silva will do for 15 months hasn’t been settled. Schumacher said she likely will not have an office at the district’s administrative building, and her only defined role is to help in the transition. “The superintendent is very interested in helping with the transition and making sure the district is taken care of,” Schumacher said

So you’re going to pay her all this money to do nothing! Next, of course, comes the liberal “racial equality” praise;

Silva, 54, a native of Chile who joined the district in 1987 as a Spanish immersion teacher, has been superintendent since December 2009. She quickly closed several low-interest magnet schools and moved St. Paul to an enrollment model that encouraged students to stay closer to home, with mixed results. The district has lost a growing share of the city’s students to charters and suburban school districts, exacerbating budget problems each of the last two years. The district enacted a policy on racial equity but failed to meet high goals for closing achievement gaps, although improved graduation rates are a bright spot. O’Connell credited her with boosting preschool enrollment, training parents of color to get involved in their children’s education, and putting iPads in the hands of every student.

So we have to “train” parents of color? An iPad in the hand of every student? Yet, as always, that didn’t lead to meeting any education goals, but she should get credit “for trying.”

Critics and fans alike on Tuesday lauded Silva for focusing the district’s attention on racial equity. Marchese said he has great respect for Silva’s equity focus, and that the board will carry that work forward. “She should be very proud of that and we as a community should be very proud of what has been done on that,” he said.

So if kids don’t learn anything, at least they do so equally….

But the way Silva has executed her racial equity agenda has sparked controversy. Teachers and parents have complained that softer penalties for student misbehavior and the rushed mainstreaming of special education students have made schools less orderly and safe, causing families to enroll at schools outside the district.

The teachers union considered striking amid disagreements with Silva over how to address violence against teachers. That discontent largely is why four new board members were elected last November.

“It’s just critical that we understand what the challenges are and we address them,” Schumacher said.

By doing what?

Silva has two and a half years left on her contract, thanks to a three-year extension the previous school board approved on a 6-1 vote in March 2015. Louise Seeba said both she and John Brodrick would have preferred a shorter deal. Momentum had been building for the four new candidates who would win the city DFL Party’s endorsement a month later and then the election in November.

Memo to St. Paul voters; stop electing the DFL!

Seeba and Brodrick wanted to give the new board the freedom to hire a new superintendent, but “there just wasn’t the appetite for that” among the other board members, Seeba said.

Seeba, who did not seek re-election, said she counseled Silva to change her attitude and work with the new board to execute their agenda. “She clearly didn’t do that,” she said.

Keith Hardy, the lone incumbent to run for re-election without the DFL endorsement, said the blame for the six-figure buyout should fall on the new board.

“It’s a poor financial decision of the board to take this action. You had a superintendent who said at the end of this contract she was going to step down. Boards don’t get that luxury very often. They had time to set up a smooth search process,” he said.

Silva said in February that she would leave the district once her contract expired in December 2018. The new board couldn’t wait that long.

As always, everyone passes the buck.

Silva’s separation agreement effectively pays her half the salary should would have earned — $269,478 — over the final 30 months of her contract. There’s also $25,750 in longevity and deferred compensation she was already set to receive, and a $75,712 for 91 days of vacation.

The board added a $100,000 severance, along with $103,350 in pension payments and insurance benefits worth an estimated $213,210. Schumacher said the agreement took more than a month to negotiate.

Under terms of the deal, Silva may leave her consultant job early with 30 days’ notice and the district would not have to pay her the remainder of her salary and benefits.

This is disgusting. How many teachers and program could $787,500 pay for? St. Paul should be ashamed but they won’t be. Nothing will change. Nothing will get better. They are just getting one dummy out and bringing another dummy in.

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June 22, 2016 at 7:58 am Leave a comment

Peak and Dahl Lead the Way


By Andrew Richter

Once again, despite the lies by certain mayoral candidates, Crystal leads the way in openness and transparency;

A four-person task force in Crystal has been brainstorming ways to help citizens get more involved in their city. Spearheaded by City Councilmembers Elizabeth Dahl and Casey Peak, the Crystal Outreach Task Force’s ideas include creating a list or database of residents who are interested in volunteering, what their interests are, and what their weekly or monthly availability. Task force members hope that effort will connect residents with others who share similar interests or causes.

“Not everybody wants to put their money where their mouth is and get out there and do something, or they don’t know how, and that’s really the point,” said Peak, who added that the task force’s efforts to bring citizens together can help groups that aren’t directly affiliated with the city government. “By being able to actually pinpoint where our talent is going to come from or our manpower … it’s going to be easier to help out some of our groups in the community.”

The database is the task force’s largest undertaking so far, but Peak and Dahl hope that it can eventually become a full-fledged city commission, like Parks and Recreation or the Human Rights Commission. Other ideas they floated include a redesign of the city’s flag, more outreach efforts to recruit volunteers for the Crystal Frolics and expanding the Frolics itself.

“You create community best when you’re bringing people together to actually create something,” said Dahl.

One again our council leading the way!

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June 16, 2016 at 8:35 am Leave a comment

Crystal Races Take Shape


By Andrew Richter

Well the Crystal races this year include some interesting issues, new candidates, and old faces. The mayor’s race will be a rematch with hopefully the same result;

Incumbent mayor Jim Adams and former mayor ReNae Bowman have both filed for that office, and three pairs of candidates are set to run for the council seats representing Section I and Wards 3 and 4.

Adams said he’s running for re-election in part because of a long-term strategy for a “debt-free Crystal” that will take a few years and may have to wait until the city’s street reconstruction project is finished. That initiative came to the fore when the city elected to pay for its new public works building with cash on hand, rather than borrowing money for the project.

Critics of that decision include Bowman and Ward 4 candidate Jeff Munson, who believe it unnecessarily depleted the city’s resources and resulted in higher taxes.

This is the biggest lie of all! Higher taxes have everything to do with the operating budget and have nothing to do with bonding a building. And bonding IS a tax! It’s not free! Why should we pay $20 million for a $15 million building?

“Bonds are not evil,” Bowman, who declined to speak directly with the Sun Post, wrote on her website. “I will preserve our reserve accounts so that we have the money we need to keep Crystal healthy.”

Declined to speak directly? Why? Too busy?

Adams bested Bowman in a close, contentious 2012 mayoral election.

Bowman’s website says this year’s election is about “choosing a financial philosophy that you believe will preserve financial health and assure budget sustainability over time.”

That means nothing.

Munson, a current Crystal Charter Commission member and real estate agent who said he’s lived in the city about 15 years, echoed those sentiments. He said that bonding could have been a better route, especially because he thinks the cash-only decision meant higher taxes to pay for the city’s ongoing mill and overlay project.

Again, it isn’t free. You’re paying for the mill and overlay project regardless. If it is in bonds, the cost will be higher.

“They seem to be wanting to raise taxes to cover other expenditures,” Munson said of the current council. He said he hopes to keep an eye on city spending in order to lure new residents there. Munson is set to run against incumbent Julie Deshler in Ward 4.

I don’t get it. The strategy of re-fighting funding of a government building doesn’t seem like a winner to me. Take it from me, I tried to go door to door and explain the Comprehensive Annual Financial report and it went over people’s heads. Residents will want to know what you plan to DO not what you would’ve done.

It should be noted that Munson seems to be a big fan of Bowman. On facebook he likes pretty much everything she posts. It isn’t clear if he is Bowman’s lackey or not, but if he stands any chance of unseating the popular Julie Deshler, he should distance himself from the former mayor.

Deshler said her biggest priority is a “facelift” for the community, which she hopes to accomplish by bringing new businesses into the area, particularly the area around Becker Park and Bass Lake Road.

“I enjoy working with the community, the residents, and I want to continue to strive to make Crystal better for all of us,” Deshler said, adding that she hopes to give the city a more “upscale look” by, perhaps, installing new facades on buildings.

I don’t see Ward 4 as much of a contest.

In Ward 3, former council member John Budziszewski will challenge incumbent Casey Peak.

Good ol’ Johnny B!

“I like working with the public. I like working with issues that involve the city,” said Budziszewski. “It’s just a good fit.”

Does that include me?

He added that he wants to work with U.S. Rep. Keith Ellison (DFL-Minneapolis) to quiet freight train’s whistles as the trains move through town, particularly near the intersection of West Broadway and Douglas Drive.

Isn’t the council already doing that?

He also hopes to add more signs to existing bicycle paths and promote “healthy practices” for honeybees by putting bee and butterfly-friendly gardens in city parks. Both Budziszewski and Peak are hobbyist beekeepers.

Peak said his current project is the nascent community outreach task force he’s spearheading with fellow council member Elizabeth Dahl.

“It would be nice to use the project to reach out to new members [of the community] and introduce them to old members of our community,” Peak said of the task force. He said he also hopes to work on the city’s newest iteration of its 40 year plan and potentially redesign Becker Park, which would be adjacent to the planned Blue Line Extension light rail line. “I believe it’s in our best interest to start looking at it as a central park,” Peak said.

Sounds better than bike signs.

Section I encompasses the city’s first and second wards, and current council member Laura Libby did not file for re-election. Newcomers Nancy LaRoche and Therese Kiser have both been involved in city and school district initiatives for years and hope to make the leap to elected office.

Kiser is a 23-year Crystal resident who was involved with the “Yes 281” campaign for a pair of school district referendums and School Boardmember Patsy Green’s campaign in 2014 but has no direct government experience of her own. Kiser said she would like to see the city work more closely with neighboring cities, perhaps via cooperative arrangements like the West Metro Fire-Rescue district, which is a combined fire department shared by New Hope and Crystal.

“The better relationships, the better for us,” Kiser said.

Kiser seems to have the usual boring DFL connections. A search of her name yielded nothing but four traffic citations since 2012.

LaRoche, a member of the city’s charter and parks and recreation committees and an organizer for the city’s annual Crystal Frolics summer festival, said a council seat seems like a “natural progression.”

She said she sees the potential light rail line along County Road 81 as, “a tremendous opportunity for change and to make [Becker Park] a real crown jewel for Crystal.”

She added that she hopes to get more people of “different backgrounds” involved in the city.

“The next chapter for the city of Crystal is critical for building momentum,” LaRoche said.

Election day is Nov. 8.

You know what do folks; keep moving Crystal forward not backward!

Article

June 9, 2016 at 2:19 pm Leave a comment

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