Citizens Need Not Apply

April 15, 2013 at 3:05 pm 11 comments

By Andrew Richter

Well, it seems as though former Crystal Mayor ReNae Bowman isn’t too happy with the possibility of having a “citizen representative” on the West Metro Fire Board. In a recent article in the Sun Post she scoffed at the very idea.

She begins by attacking Mayor Jim Adams;

In the March 28 edition of the Sun Post, the article “Budziszewski replaces Bowman,” Crystal’s Mayor Jim Adams comments concerning the WM Board rep “traditional citizen roll- how it was created originally,” is out of context, lacks historical understanding, and does not reflect the important tax oversight responsibilities held by board members.

Talk about taking things out of context. Here is what Mayor Adams actually said from the Sun Post;

“We did talk quite a bit about this at the work session,” Mayor Jim Adams said during the council meeting. “We went back and forth about whether it should be a citizen or a council member. With the short time to fill a partial term, it was the council’s opinion to use a council member.”

Adams went on to say the council was not trying to avoid appointing a citizen, and that in the future, the council will look at the procedural differences between appointing a citizen or council representative to the Board of Directors.

“A traditional citizen roll was how it was created originally,” Adams said. “At the end of the year, we will look at both a citizen representative and council member if that’s the direction the council desires.”

So it looks like the council debated and decided to appoint Budziszewski and talk about citizen representative or a council member in the future. What exactly did Adams take “out of context” and where does he “lack understanding?” In fact, Adams didn’t endorse the idea of a citizen representative, he simply explained the process and what the council is going to do going forward.

March 28 sun post article 

Bowman continued;

Prior citizen representatives seemed to always end up representing the fire department’s perspective and not the taxpayer reality. As a result, Crystal City Council voted unanimously to make the second board rep position a council member.

The council had serious concerns about a non-elected person making decisions to spend $1 million annually (Crystal’s portion). Also when utilizing citizen reps we experienced unsustainable budget increases in the West metro budget. Previous citizen reps approved all kinds of spending but never from the perspective of how the decision might impact other city budgets and the overall financial health of a city.

Oh come on… can the former mayor lay all of the problems at the fire department on “citizen representation?” Let me ask a few questions;

Who appoints a citizen representative? Answer; the city council

Who approves the West Metro Budget? Answer; the city council

What is the makeup of the Fire Board?

There are seven members;  one council member from New Hope and one from Crystal, both the New Hope and Crystal city managers, one member at-large, and one “citizen representative” from each city.

So, in other words, the two city bureaucrats and two city council people can out-vote the three citizen representatives by a 4-3 margin so how can citizen representatives “approve all kinds of spending?” The councils and city managers had to go along with it too. Why aren’t they to blame?

And how did Mayor Bowman watch our precious tax dollars? Here is a letter to editor last June from Brian Hubbard who was the former president of the West Metro Fire-Rescue board of directors;

In reference to West Metro’s purchase of new engine trucks, [Crystal Mayor] ReNae Bowman recently said, in part, “…We need to provide appropriate education to the board before these huge purchases are ever made again … I was ignorant of the criteria … I couldn’t tell you what we got for our money… I would like to be much more knowledgeable.”

The fact is the mayor was part of numerous discussions about these engines for a year and – at least four different times – voted to approve this purchase.

1. June 7, 2009: The mayor and all Crystal Council members approved the concept of purchase of four engines as approved by the board;

2. April 5, 2010: The mayor was a member of the committee that met at least four times and recommended purchase approval;

3. April 29, 2010: West Metro Board meeting, the mayor not only voted to approve spending $2.44 million for the purchase, she actually made the motion;

4. July 6, 2010: Crystal Council approved the first half of Crystal’s $1.27 million portion of the purchase. Not only did the mayor vote to approve, she actually made the motion.

So was Bowman not listening or understanding during all of the times she was present during discussions prior to taking votes? Or, as someone who always claims to be “asking the questions I need to ask,” did she vote to approve $2.44 million of taxpayer money on something she didn’t understand?

Now it’s obvious had Hubbard and Bowman hate each other but that’s not the issue that I want to focus on. I want to focus on the spending. It sounds by her own words that she was ignorant about what she was voting for and at the same time voted for it anyway. Was that the fault of a citizen representative?

And Bowman would have some credibility is she hadn’t voted for every spending item when she was mayor. She supported unnecessary road re-stripings, regional trails, property tax hikes, and pretty much every special assessment so how then is she a budget hawk on the fire board?

Hubbard’s article

Bowman continued;

We agreed we needed a board representative who understood city budgets and could begin to decipher the West Metro budget.

Yeah those people in government are so good at doing budgets (see the U.S. Senate).

While on the West Metro Board I found many financial irregularities that were kept hush-hush or swept under the rug. Without council oversight, there is no real check and balance to the budget. This should be concerning to all because the questions raised about inappropriate spending remain unanswered and some unfixed.

Again, the councils have final say on the budget. They have the power to appoint the representatives. They outnumber the citizens by a 4-3 margin on the fire board. Why is it then that the city council accepts no accountability or responsibility?

Crystal would be wise to keep their eyes on the money and maintain two council representatives on the fire board rather than tasking citizens with this critical oversight job. A citizen representative on the West Metro Board will provide far less oversight the is healthy for “we” the taxpayers.

Hmmm…..well if it is so important to have a council member be the “citizen representative” how come ReNae didn’t resign from the fire board when she lost the election last year? She wasn’t on the council so by her definition “there was no real check and balance to the budget.”

I would encourage the city council to let citizens be a part of the process and reject the arrogant notion that citizens are incapable of serving their city. In fact, maybe I’ll apply for it! Wouldn’t that a kick in the head if I were serving in ReNae’s old position?

I don’t think this debate will be over anytime soon…….


Entry filed under: City Government, Community, Crystal, Mayor, New Hope, Taxation.

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11 Comments Add your own

  • 1. wants2know  |  April 15, 2013 at 3:58 pm

    While I wasn’t around when the West Metro Fire District was established, I have been involved with Joint Powers Agreements that have been used for many varied reasons. In my experience, most of these boards prefer to have a citizen representative as board members appreciate the perspective a citizen can give them.

    A citizen coming from outside the government process can and does provide a different point of view. In my experience a citizen serves of the board to represent the taxpayer and the community.
    This is not a responsibility to be taken lightly. It a position charged with looking at issues and budgeting from outside government.

    I did read the former Mayor’s letter which seemed rather lengthy considering that most letters submitted are held to standard of 250 words. I didn’t do an actual word count so I could be mistaken.

    Nevertheless, Ms. Bowman is no longer in office. She has stated frequently that she is a private citizen. She is certainly entitled to her own opinions but not to dictate policy going forward in what she continuously calls “my city”. Funny I didn’t realize when I bought property in Crystal that I became a subject rather than a resident.

  • 2. Michael C. Libby  |  April 16, 2013 at 10:39 am

    Would really like more information about these alleged financial “irregularities”… and don’t see how a citizen rep is less equipped to both manage the finances within reason or to act appropriately. If anything, a citizen rep is less likely to hush things up because they have nothing else riding on the WMFRD. A city manager has a six figure income riding on the perception of how they are doing their job. And a council member has their council seat involved.

    So part of me very much likes the idea of a citizen rep on this board, but wouldn’t it be better if that person were actually elected by the citizens? Otherwise that person is really just answerable to the Council anyway, as you point out so well.

    And given that the Mayor is also a WMFRD fire fighter, isn’t there is a conflict of interest if he is involved in selecting who is on the board, unless that person was elected by at least some of the residents of Crystal?

  • 3. communitysolutionsmn  |  April 16, 2013 at 12:49 pm

    I don’t know what the perfect solution is and I don’t know if electing a citizen rep to a board of directors is a better idea.

    I’m not sure if Jim Adams voting on a rep is a conflict. I know that he has consulted the city attorney on what he should and stepped down from his leadership position. Maybe he should just recuse himself to avoid the “appearance.”

    • 4. wants2know  |  April 16, 2013 at 2:35 pm

      I believe that since the full council will vote on any appointment no one member of the council can control an appointment. I also believe that Jim has said he would recuse himself when necessary to avoid a conflict.

      • 5. michaellibby  |  April 16, 2013 at 3:32 pm

        From what I know of Mayor Adams I believe he is a person of integrity who will only do what he thinks is in the honest best interest of the WMFRD and Crystal. Just want to be clear that I only mention it just as a further complication in the whole matter, not as any sort of personal attack.

  • 6. wants2know  |  April 16, 2013 at 5:20 pm

    I understand and I agree. I think too many of us have not been paying attention to what is being done rather than what is said. Hopefully there are enough of us who can find agreement on the really important stuff. Putting people in office is not as important as holding them to their promise to represent us.

  • 7. ReNae Bowman  |  April 27, 2013 at 9:16 am

    Hey Andy, when do you plan to share the list of financial irregularities with your buddies concerning the financial misconduct at West Metro? I sent it to you awhile back. Or doesn’t that list fit today’s agenda. That information is out there but people are too cowardly to talk about it because if they do they suffer from being bullied, lied about or called names. At least I have the courage of my convictions. As a tax payer, I actually tried to fix a broken system. But cronyism runs strong and deep in Crystal and without everyone asking for a positive change, we get what we get.
    Now is the time for someone else with “a set” to make changes or are all of you full of hot air and written rhetoric that will keep the waters muddied and prevent real change?

    • 8. Paul Seefeld  |  April 29, 2013 at 10:11 am

      Cronyism??? Such as giving money to a company like Northwest Family Physicians to build a brand new building??

    • 9. Paul Seefeld  |  April 29, 2013 at 10:18 am

      I also feel like “real change” is happening in crystal 3 never politically served people were elected to the council.

    • 10. Paul Seefeld  |  April 29, 2013 at 10:27 am

      Also I believe it takes “a set” to be kind to the citizens and to actually listen to them and hear some of their solutions and figure out ways to work with them… in a respectful manor.

    • 11. Jeff Kolb  |  April 29, 2013 at 1:35 pm

      ReNae- Blogs are free. Feel free to set one up and post all of the information you want on it. If you have evidence of financial irregularities at West Metro (a very serious charge) , it would be important that the public is made aware of it.

      As a former mayor for eight years, I’d be interested to know more about the “cronyism” you allege. I would think that would be a problem you would have tackled while you were in office. Or did the cronyism just start in the past 4 months? Please provide more information. (By information, I mean facts, not vague speculation please.)

      I, for one, want an efficient and responsible government that is free from corruption. If you have evidence that is not the case in Crystal, then I’d love to see it.

      I’m not sure, though, how coming on this site and behaving like a child moves your agenda forward. Do you typically find that the way to get people on board with your argument is juvenile name-calling and impugning people’s integrity?

      Either way, if you have real information about corruption, cronyism, and financial irregularities, I think you’ll find a lot of allies willing to take up the cause with you, in spite of your name calling.

      Looking forward to reading your blog!


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