Crystal City Council to Give Commissions a Much Needed Makeover
By Andrew Richter
I have long been a critic of the Crystal Environmental Quality and Human Rights Commissions. I don’t see what the purpose is of either commission is and FINALLY we have a city council that seems to be open to changes.
As Crystal recruits citizens to review the city’s code, some city council members are considering ideas that could alter the city’s volunteer commissions.
As part of their Citizen Connection Initiative, Crystal City Council Members Olga Parsons, Elizabeth Dahl and Jeff Kolb hope to re-evaluate the structure and goals of city commissions and boards. “We just want to make sure we’re utilizing our commissions to their fullest potential,” Parsons said. Some ideas for possible changes include folding the city’s Environmental Quality Commission into its Parks and Recreation Commission.
“The EQC primarily does recycling. That’s what they do and were founded for in the beginning,” said Dahl. “My idea is that the environmental stuff really needs to happen under Parks and Rec because they know all about the environmental issues in our city.” Another thought is to change the direction of the city’s human rights commission, which Dahl said was originally founded to act as a mediator between the city and aggrieved citizens.
“The Human Rights Commission doesn’t have that function, so it’s purely educational,” she said. City commissions have often recommended that the council approve symbolic resolutions in favor or commemoration of a multitude of benign causes and occasions. Past councils have also approved symbolic resolutions for or against proposed school district levies and statewide votes on gay marriage, among other, more politically charged causes.
The current iteration of the council has moved away from making those gestures, however, and declined to read a proclamation from the Human Rights Commission condemning child abuse. That decision incensed at least one commission member, who later resigned.
Nice volunteer! You don’t get your way so you quit!
Dahl said she wants to find specific people and organizations in Crystal to highlight, instead.
“For instance, if the human rights commission wanted to do a child abuse awareness day, instead of just having a proclamation … why don’t we do something like highlight the TreeHouse that actively works with teens in our area?” she said.
No that’s real work! The HRC would rather just sit and issue proclamations and pass resolutions than do real work.
More than one council member mentioned the city’s proclamation that May 8, 2015 is “Lynn Haney Day” in Crystal. Haney is a longtime organizer of the Crystal Frolics community festival. “The proclamations we want to read at the council meetings are things in our own community … and maybe not so much generic proclamations that don’t have much to do with city business,” said Council Member Julie Deshler.
I agree here! Lynn Haney is a great volunteer and her service should be honored!
As another example for possible reform, Kolb said the city’s Employee Review Board has a short annual meeting to elect officers, and not much more. Most issues the board originally was established to handle are now dealt with by other agencies, such as unions, law firms and city management, Deshler said.
“It’s a little tough to go and recruit for a job … and you say to somebody, ‘hey, do you want to be on this board? It doesn’t do anything,’” Kolb said with a laugh. One possible change to the review board he mentioned is constituting it with the chairs of others commissions. Kolb added he thought New Hope’s citizen advisory board was an interesting idea, but was unsure if it was right for Crystal.
I agree again! Kolb and Deshler are right, the Employee Review Board does practically nothing.
The council recently changed the interview process for its commissions, too. Applicants once were interviewed by a handful of city staff and officials, but more recent rounds of interviews have been changed to include the full council. Recent interviews for Crystal’s light rail advisory commissions were conducted in that manner.
As it should! Everyone should participate in this process!
Kolb said he and Mayor Jim Adams recently met with the mayor of Shakopee, whose city rejiggered its commissions a few years ago. “One of the things that Shakopee does that I like is they actually accept applications annually, once a year,” Kolb said. “It’s kind of a major community event to get applications for the commissions. We (Crystal) accept them throughout the year, and they kind of trickle in.”
The Environmental Quality Commission or EQC staged something of a protest at the May 5 council meeting no doubt led by former Mayor ReNae Bowman and former Councilman Dave Anderson who both happen to be on the commission. I have to say that I find it amusing that a commission had to come to a meeting to prove their relevance.
This commission seems to want to preach to citizens about rain gardens, solar panels, recycling, and tech dumping but when that’s where it stops. Nobody dares to do any action. Last month I went out on a Saturday morning and picked up trash for two hours along West Broadway with the Crystal Lions. I picked up wonderful things like a dirty diaper and a used condom. And how many members of the EQC were there? Yeah that’s right none! Where was the EQC? Where was Bowman and Anderson? They claim to care so much!
The Human Rights Commission or HRC is another commission that seems to want to issue proclamations and pass resolutions but again it stops there. How about some action?? Their claim to fame so far this year is to sponsor an even to “End Genocide” by a speaker who thinks that the way to end genocide is to reduce your carbon footprint. Last year they did nothing whatsoever.
The thing that perhaps drives me the most crazy about these commissions is that they think they can make their own agenda. When I was on the planning commission, I didn’t get to set the agenda so why should these commission members get to do that? In some ways, I don’t necessarily blame the commissions for this. There has been a lack of direction from the city council for a long time.
This is why I support the council review process. I want to commend the new council members especially Elizabeth Dahl who has done a tremendous amount of research on the history of these commissions. The new council is doing exactly what they said they would do; they are openly and deliberately trying to work to make changes and do things better . I also call on citizens to listen to the April 9 work session (you can do that HERE) and hear a good and lengthy discussion on the subject.
I’d like to see Mayor Adams and the council continue their work on this subject and make reforms if they feel that change is needed. I hope they don’t get intimidated by city dinosaurs like Bowman and Anderson who are trying hard to hold on to power and relevance.
Make the changes and don’t look back!