Say it Ain’t so Golden Valley


By Andrew Richter

And people complain that I’m hard on Golden Valley;

Golden Valley City Council and staff completed a strategic planning process this spring focused on the failing infrastructure of the city, but some comments that arose from the sessions has ruffled feathers. To begin the strategic planning process, council members and department directors completed a SWOT – strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats – analysis. Each individual documented his or her thoughts on each category anonymously.

Sounds like a bunch of wishy-washy stuff but wait it gets good;

From the responses regarding strengths and weaknesses came a list of top priorities for the city. Priorities include targeted development and redevelopment, effective governance, infrastructure maintenance and enhancement and financial stability. Strengths identified during the analysis include amenities, good service delivery, Golden Valley’s reputation and willingness to partner with neighboring cities and staff.

Where’s Bottineau on that list?

Staff is specifically described as having great skills, training and experience, being responsive and considerate, knowledgeable about inner city workings and innovative.One anonymous comment claimed city staff as Golden Valley’s greatest strength. Weaknesses listed in the analysis include deteriorated infrastructure, debt, not sticking to codes and policies, misinterpretation of city codes and ordinances and even the council itself.

The council itself?

One individual described the council as “cowardly, ignorant and self-absorbed.” Another said a major weakness within the city is the lack of leadership and dysfunctionality of the council, mentioning Mayor Shep Harris specifically.

According to one anonymous writer, the city council is the greatest weakness and a liability for the city. That same individual said several council members hate to deal with conflict, do not understand government processes, violate open meeting laws regularly, disregard the city attorney’s advice and make changes to the rules based on resident complaints.

Like Austin Powers said; ouch baby, very ouch!

The council was also criticized for its inability to make a decision in a timely fashion, according to another writer. When the council reviewed the strategic plan at its July 14 meeting, Harris took exception to the negative comments regarding him and the council.

“I wanted to say that I am very troubled by some of the comments that were put into part of this that are directed specifically at us as a council,” he said. “I thought they were pretty inflammatory. I think, if anything, they create more of a problem than solutions.” He was concerned that candidates for city manager and city council would likely view the comments. “It’s a little unfortunate, I think,” he said.

Poor Mayor Harris, are you getting criticized? How about you play the victim?

Harris chose to support most of the strategic plan. “In no way am I endorsing or supporting those comments,” he said. “I think they were isolated and anonymous comments.”

Of course they are anonymous, that way you can’t retaliate against them!

According to Harris, the city’s issues are average compared to any of its neighbors. He preferred instead to look at a recent city survey where 92 percent of the community said they think Golden Valley is going in the right direction.
“I put more weight on that,” he said. “I’m not pointing fingers and I want to move forward.”

Yeah just focus on what you like!

Councilmember Joanie Clausen said people had a right to their opinions. “When we did this strategic planning, we were asked to do certain things,” she said. “On our second round when these comments were made, people were just being honest. People were being honest because that’s how they felt.” Clausen claimed her comments were focused solely on the infrastructure and finance portion of the plan. Although she admitted some of the comments did not sit well with her, she accepted them as part of the process. “I think people should see them, they read them,” Clausen said. “We are all accountable for what we do here.”

Now, I’ll never forgive Joanie Clausen for flip-flopping on Bottineau but she’s right on here.

Councilmember Andy Snope had minimal concern about the statements. “I think some of the comments are a little hoarse and rough, but I have no problem adjusting them and making them a part of the report,” he said. “I think it’s just part of growth.”

Huh?

Neither Councilmember Larry Fonnest nor Councilmember Steve Schmidgall responded to the comments. Harris finished by pointing out there was no direction included in the document to improve the working relations between council and staff but hopes the new city manager can help with that.

Sure there is, it’s called your resignation.

City Manager Tom Burt will retire from his position Nov. 17. Following the meeting, Harris provided the Sun Post with additional comments. “The city council has learned a great deal from this proposed strategic plan,” he said. “While the city has made significant progress over the past several years in certain areas, this plan will help the city council move Golden Valley further in addressing needs in areas of development, infrastructure, governance and financial stability.”

What?

The strategic plan was brought back in front of council for formal approval July 21, after this edition’s writing deadline. The strategic plan, including staff and council comments regarding strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats, was published in full in the July 14 agenda packet available at goldenvalleymn.gov.

Golden Valley you have a chance to vote in November and you can do yourself a favor by electing a new mayor!

Article

July 26, 2015 at 10:26 pm 1 comment

Point of Sale to Set Sail!


By Andrew Richter

Well, it’s nice to see less government somewhere! At the July 14 city council meeting the city council voted to end point of sale inspections in section 425 of the city code by a 5-1 vote (Olga Parsons was absent). Removing this unnecessary nanny-state regulation will be a great thing for our community by letting the private sector deal with home buying and selling.

Laura Libby was the lone dissent. Removing one government regulation is one too many i guess. She also accused the other council members of “playing politics.” if you want to see an example of playing politics I suggest you see the Libby-led Green Step incident from last November where she and the three outgoing councilmen jammed that down our throat. That’s how the left acts when they lose power.

Of course, this was just the first reading of the ordinance change. There will be a second reading on August 18. I suggest you contact your council person and encourage them to vote YES to remove big government inspections!

July 22, 2015 at 10:01 am Leave a comment

Three Strategies To Immediately Impact Your Local Government


Community Solutions MN

by Jason Bradley

I used to have a number of misconceptions about the way my City government was run. In fact, I probably yawned just like you did, and got ready to say “next”. Let me stop you right in your tracks for a moment. You see, what happens at the local level is really the most impactful to your everyday life. It may not get the headlines that the federal and state governments get, but I argue that the resolutions and ordinances City and County governments pass restrict your freedoms more and are more easily enforced. The fact that none of this hits the news should worry you greatly.

You see, I’ve been watching this for a long time, and I was completely blown away when I discovered how much of what is done at the City (and County) level is done “behind the curtain”. That’s not to say that they are making changes illegally, it just means that you are watching the wrong hand. Here are three things you can do right now to tip the scales in your favor:

  • Stop thinking that City Council meetings are where decisions are made. What do I mean by that? You can watch a City Council meeting, and see them vote on an issue right before your eyes. Yes, but did you notice how most of those votes are unanimous, or at least consistently in favor of a certain group of individuals on the Council? Did you also notice that they can (sometimes) make big decisions, or spend a lot of money without much discussion? It is because they have already put hours of time into talking about the topic, and you didn’t even know it. This is what has led to the old phrase “You can’t fight City Hall”. Public hearings are held on a subject only after the Council has had a chance to discuss it and come to a consensus. How can you fight that? You have to be present and involved in your City Council meetings (or at least be at some and watch some online). It lets your Council Members know that someone is watching them, but that only scratches the surface.
  • You need to have eyes and ears on the City work sessions. This is where the real work gets done. As one former Council Member in Crystal put it, this is an opportunity to talk freely about his/her opinions. Why? Because work sessions are almost never recorded. They are open to the public, but people very rarely attend these meetings. In Crystal, Mayor Jim Adams, was able to decide to just start recording them and put them on the City website. This was because there was so much information at these meetings that people weren’t hearing. It was from a work session that we were able to discover the proclivities of a local Councilman that believed that he could raise taxes anytime he wanted to, for any reason he wanted to, and that he preferred borrowing money to having cash. It is in these meetings that City staff presents their ideas, City Council people candidly discuss them, and a consensus is reached. The information that is often presented in the City Council packets is one-sided sales literature that supports the staff’s positions. If you were going to attend work sessions or City Council meetings, I’d choose the work sessions, and watch City Council sessions online. I’d also press to have at least the audio from work sessions available on the City website.
  • You need to get on a City Commission. Commissions are made up of groups of citizens approved by the City Council. They each review and provide a recommendation on a specific sector of City business. Various groups you might see are Charter, Planning, Parks and Recreation, Human Rights, Water Shed, and Environmental Quality commissions. There are also other iterations that vary from city to city. These commissions get the same ideas from staff as the Council, and often the same limited information. They are then tasked with recommending, recommending with changes, or not recommending the resolution, ordinance, or charter change. The Council often follows these recommendations, but not always. Being on one of these commissions gives you a chance to find out what is coming down the pike long before the public ever hears about it (which is a huge advantage), and allows you the opportunity to advise your City Council. Most commissions meet one night per month or less. These seats are also a great place to get experience for a run at a City Council seat someday.

As you can see, there is a lot to consider here. These three simple strategies can give you the ammunition you need to eliminate surprises, alert the public, and defeat dangerous ideas early in the process before they grow legs. It is difficult to change things that are well on their way to becoming law. Each City has got to have a handful of people that care enough to keep tabs on what their government is doing.

If that is you, e-mail us through our contact page, and we’ll be in contact to help you further!

Jason Bradley is an entrepreneur in the music industry (Jason Bradley Live and Paper Lanterns Intl) and owns a consulting/advocacy/education firm that specializes in non-partisan politics (Community Solutions MN). Jason Bradley helps others to reach their goals in music and reduce the size and influence of government.

Connect with Jason on Google+

Jason on Google+

July 14, 2015 at 11:31 am 8 comments

It’s My Honor to Serve You!


By Andrew Richter

Well I hope everyone had a great 4th of July! It’s time now to get back to business! As some of you may know the city of Crystal appointed a task force to review the city code. At their June 2 meeting, 14 members were appointed including yours truly!

Fast forward to June 30. On that night the task force met for the first time! The meeting lasted for about two hours but the jest of the meeting were the following;

*We are going to meet on the 4th Thursday on the month in conference room A

*The meetings will be recorded for the public

*One week before the meeting, out proposed changes and agenda will be published

*For the first meeting we are studying chapters 1-3

^And perhaps the most exciting news; I was elected as the task force chair!

I will be regularly updating the progress of the task force and I will explain the changes I want to make here so stay tuned! I welcome your feedback!!!

July 6, 2015 at 8:30 pm Leave a comment

Champlin Throws Its Hat In The Ring For Ridiculousness


149H

by Jason Bradley

Let’s move north of Crystal for a bit. After all, we are an equal opportunity watchdog. In Champlin, we have a City Councilman that has been raising eyebrows!

To start, Champlin had a long time (15+ years) Councilwoman sitting in Ward 1. She was challenged many times but always retained her seat. There were rumors that she had moved out of the city, yet retained her seat for sometime. Conveniently, she resigned from the Council after the time for a special election had expired.

Along came Ryan Karasek, who was appointed to the Ward 1 Council seat.

Let’s back up for a moment… After more digging, Ryan launched a Facebook page and was poking around at a Senate run in 2011. John Hoffmann ultimately ran, and won that seat.

Since his appointment, Mr. Karasek has made a few questionable comments and statements. He is also a real estate agent operating in the city of Champlin, but we’ll get back to that in a minute.

Recently, there was a Planned Unit Development (PUD) for a high-end home development on the northern edge of the city. The Planning Commission supported said development. The plan (and the planning Commission’s recommendation) moved to the City Council. The developer had planned on a clubhouse and a couple other amenities that they removed before it went for Council vote. Karasek flipped out on the changes stating that “the City grants you certain privileges” and “this feels like bait and switch”, even critiquing their siding choices. Really?

After some behind the scenes debate, the developer decided to reduce the home size (4500 square feet now REQUIRES a home sprinkler system) and asked the Planning Commission for variances on almost all of their properties.  The Planning Commission asked a lot of questions and the proposed changes passed, but not with unity.

NOW, Karasek loves the development. Loves their “new” siding choices, loves their concrete driveways, etc.

HERE IS THE BEST PART! He actually said “as a real estate agent in Champlin, I can’t wait to start selling these homes!”

You can watch it here, starting at 37:50: Champlin City Council Meeting April 27, 2015

The question is, should he have abstained from any of the votes, agreed to not sell homes in the area, or both? He certainly should not be involved in holding power over developers, whose homes he turns around and sells. That is unethical, and believe me, we’ve had some experience spotting that kind of stuff over the years. Just to avoid the appearance of being unethical, I would have avoided this like the plague, but not this guy.

How many clients does he have lined up to purchase this style of home? Why was he against it before he was for it? Is there not a huge conflict of interest here?

This man seems to be ignorant of ethics, just like so many others in power. Do we really want to keep people like this in office? Just another reason to pay attention to local politics.

Jason Bradley is an entrepreneur in the music industry (Jason Bradley Live and Paper Lanterns Intl) and owns a consulting/advocacy/education firm that specializes in non-partisan politics (Community Solutions MN). Jason Bradley helps others to reach their goals in music and reduce the size and influence of government.

Connect with Jason on Google+

Jason on Google+

June 23, 2015 at 7:56 pm Leave a comment

Ranked Choice Voting Goes Nowhere in Brooklyn Park


By Andrew Richter

Liberal groups continue to push “ranked choice voting” but it appears to have no support in Brooklyn Park.

Ranked choice voting, where citizens vote for first-, second- and third-choice candidates running for election, doesn’t appear to have much support from the Brooklyn Park City Council. During the council’s annual meeting with the chairmen of the city’s commissions on June 8, Charter Commission Chair Jessica Bennion asked for feedback on the ranked choice voting, which the commission has been studying for about nine months.

“I’ve had a person ask me to raise (their) taxes, but I’ve never had someone ask for ranked choice voting,” Mayor Jeff Lunde said, noting the responses he’s heard from citizens when door-knocking city residences in election season. Lunde’s reaction was echoed by most of the council members.

Wow! If it can’t get support from this DFL mayor (oh wait he still claims to be conservative laugh, laugh) then the proposal will go nowhere.

“Why fix what’s not broken?” Councilmember Terry Parks asked. “I don’t think there’s a problem to solve,” Councilmember John Jordan said, noting that the change in voting would create more work for the city clerk on election night, as it would require completely different ballots. Councilmember Peter Crema noted that discussion is good, but that he hadn’t been convinced of why the city would change to ranked choice voting.

“I haven’t seen the reason yet,” Councilmember Mike Trepanier said. Councilmember Bob Mata noted that he was the council’s liaison to the charter commission when the ranked choice voting discussion started. “I wasn’t a fan then, and I’m not a fan now,” he said. Michael Kisch, chair of the Citizen Long-range Improvement Committee, also known as CLIC, noted that the city must determine the added value of ranked choice voting. “We’ve got to find that value to continue the discussion,” Kisch said.

If you haven’t found any value in the discussion, why are you even continuing the discussion?

Ranked choice voting would create expense and confusion, Mata said, requiring the city to re-educate the public on how to vote. Debra Englund, chair of the Budget Advisory Committee, noted that communication with the city’s diverse population is already difficult and would be made more difficult with a complicated topic such as this one.

Once again, I’ve seen no reason at all to change the way we vote.

Article

June 20, 2015 at 2:26 pm Leave a comment

Go Ahead and Ponder That New Hope


By Andrew Richter

There really is no hope for New Hope

After receiving a proposal to construct a market rate apartment complex at 8400 Bass Lake Road, New Hope City Council is questioning the future of the property. The city-owned property next to New Hope Village Golf Course is a prime location for redevelopment. It previously housed the Bass Lake Road Apartments, but New Hope acquired the property in 2008. The deteriorating structure was demolished and left as an open lot. The city saw several interested developers at the time and ultimately chose one to move forward. After discovering poor soils under the site, the project cost increased and the housing market collapsed shortly thereafter. The development quickly fell through, and the lot has sat vacant ever since.

And you wonder why I think government should stay out of the real estate business.

Now that the housing market and economy have bounced back, New Hope developers have expressed interest in the property again. Gary Brummer and Fred Stelter hope to construct an apartment building with underground parking known as Meadow Lake Apartments. Although New Hope staff and council would like to see the lot redeveloped, neither group is certain a market rate apartment is the best use. In early May, staff questioned what other uses the council may want at that site. Answers varied from luxury apartments and single-family homes to a sports dome and senior living facility.

Luxury apartments? A sports dome?

Based on council’s interest, staff plans to seek developers who can create those options and bring their ideas to a future council meeting. In the meantime, staff believes the city should conduct additional soil borings in an effort to learn more about the level of contamination of the property. Seven soil borings have already been completed on the site – three when the city acquired the property and four more when the previous developer showed interest in the lot. However, there was no technology at the time to pinpoint where exactly the soil borings were. “Developers will tell us what they think they can do at this site,” said Community Development Specialist Aaron Chirpich. “The soil borings will let us know what we actually can do.”

Unlike the Centra Homes development, which involved a purchase price reduction after the developer discovered poor soils, staff wants to be sure the city knows what it is offering to a developer upfront. Two vendors provided bids to complete eight more soil borings on site. American Engineering and Testing Inc.’s cost for soil borings came in at $11,700 whereas Braun Intertec’s would cost the city $9,490.

Ain’t it boring paying for borings?

Staff believed both companies would provide the work and information needed and inevitably recommended choosing Braun Intertec due to the lower bid. Braun Intertec is also familiar with the site from previous contract work with the city and developer.

Councilmember Jonathan London questioned why the seven existing soil borings were completed in the first place. He did not agree that the city should pay more money to have additional soil borings done when the developer may complete his own soil borings later. “I think you market the property, bring in what you can and then see what can be done,” he said. The rest of the council disagreed, believing the additional soil borings were necessary before moving forward. Staff will return with soil boring results as soon as they are available.

We wait great anticipation!

Article

June 15, 2015 at 8:57 pm Leave a comment

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