Government.14.1: Griff Wigley (griff) Wed, 04 Sep 1996
Later this month we’re planning to have the new Northfield City administrator Scott Neal and possibly other city officials here for a one-week panel discussion/interview.
This topic will be the “panel/interview” topic, a virtual stage where only the moderator(s) and the panelists can post.
Topic 15 will be the open discussion topic. Stay tuned for details!
Government.14.2: Griff Wigley (griff) Thu, 19 Sep 1996
Nfld City Administrator Scott Neal, Finance Director Karl Huber, and City Council member Nancy Gruchow will be here for a week in this panel topic beginning Sept 25.
Submit your questions in and join your fellow citizens for the ongoing conversation.
Government.14.3: Griff Wigley (griff) Wed, 25 Sep 1996
Ok, we’re ready. Welcome, Scott, Karl, and Nancy… and thanks for joining us here for a week. It’s a Northfield first and may be a first for Minnesota, i.e., having city officials in an online panel like this.
I’d like to start with two questions for each of you to answer:
- Can you say a little bit about why you’ve chosen to do what you do in your roles as public servants? It’s easy for us citizens to not think about the commitment of the person who’s in a public position — I don’t often hear the phrase “public servant” anymore. And in this age of cynicism, I think it’s important to revive it a little.
Secondly, what are the important tasks facing the city in the next six months or so, especially in light of the fact that we have a new city administrator, planner, and community development director.
And please respond to each others’ posts — no need to wait for me to invite you to do that.
Government.14.4: Scott Neal (guest01) Wed, 25 Sep 1996
I think I’ll get the introductory stuff out of the way first. My name is Scott Neal. I grew up in Independence, Iowa. Got my B.S. in Economics and Master of Public Administration degrees at Iowa State. Shortly after receiving my MPA, I went to Norris, Tennessee for my first job as a City Manager. Nice small town, but Tennessee is not the best environment to educate your children. So, moved back to Iowa in Iowa to assume the position of City Administrator of Mt. Pleasant, Iowa. Town of approx 8,500 people, a small private college, with a diverse economic base. I started my new job here on June 17, 1996. Yesterday marked my 100th day in the job. I’m enjoying Northfield and my new position very much.
First question I’ll respond to is the highway 3 issue. Tracy asked if MnDOT can just steamroll a city into accepting something the city does not support or want. The literal answer to the question is “yes”. When it comes to building or designing a road, MnDOT can steamroll a city into accepting something the city may not want. By the way, the City, County, or federal government could do the same. True, there are some exceptions for issues touching on archeology and ecology, but the burden of proof for not doing what MnDOT wants to do will typically be placed on the archeologists and ecologists, not the civil engineers at MnDOT.
Now to moral answer to your question. SHOULD MnDOT steamroll a city into accepting something the city doesn’t want? Of course not. Their interests in a project like highway 3, however, are different than ours. They want to move their traffic through Northfield as safely and efficiently as possible. Our interests are more focused on pedestrian safety and the sociological impacts of the proposal.
The matter is further complicated by the division of local opinion. When MnDOT speaks on highway 3 its speaks with a single coherent voice and a single coherent message. When Northfield speaks on the matter, MnDOT hears several different voices with even more viable, rationale proposals. In this forum, we are going to have trouble getting our point across because we have not (maybe can not) decide what we (i.e. City of Northfield) want. In the end, the City Council will have the take a position on the proposal; a position that will probably make 66 2/3% of the people unhappy for 3 or 4 different reasons.
The highway 3 design issue will come to an end one of these days. In the end, will probably get a slight deviation of what MnDOT really wants, but you never know ’til it’s over.
Government.14.5: Scott Neal (guest01) Wed, 25 Sep 1996
I think the public servant model is still relevant today, and you’re right, I don’t hear that term very often either, even from my fellow public servants.
The term “public servant” probably means different things to different people. To me it means “in service of the public interest”. The public interest is sometimes difficult to determine. That’s where democracy comes in handy, especially representative democracy. As a public servant I see my role as working to further the mission of the democratically elected Government. In that role, I see myself as an instrument of the elected officials, not necessarily of the 15,000+ citizens of this community. That may sound like I’m splitting hairs, but it determines the positions I take every day. I feel that appointed officials (yes, “bureaucrats”) who spend their time and energy building up their own private constituencies do it at the cost of supplanting the democratically elected citizens of the community. In so doing, citizens are deprived of their right to a direct accountable Government.
Is this drivel? Unimportant detail…. Think about it. What happens to your ability to influence local decisions when the people who are
directly accountable to you, your City Council Members, don’t have the political or moral power to sway the government anymore? That sounds like a dangerous situation to me. Now, they may not be swaying the government the way you might want them to, but it is important that they are able to move it at all. Period.
I got in to this profession because I have always had a passion for government and for democracy and trying to mold the two ideals into one that can make the buses run on time and the toilets continue to flush. The blending of the ideal into the practical makes this job interesting every single day.
Government.14.6: Griff Wigley (griff) Wed, 25 Sep 1996
Thanks for the quick posts, Scott. I’ll get back here later today with more questions.
Also, so everyone else is aware, we have two others here who are able to ask questions and comment in this panel topic: Tracy Hartke, chair of NCO, and Rich Kleber, general manager of the Northfield News.
Government.14.6: Griff Wigley (griff) Wed, 25 Sep 1996
Thanks for the quick posts, Scott. I’ll get back here later today with more questions.
Also, so everyone else is aware, we have two others here who are able to ask questions and comment in this panel topic: Tracy Hartke, chair of NCO, and Rich Kleber, general manager of the Northfield News.
Government.14.7: Griff Wigley (griff) Wed, 25 Sep 1996
To Scott: if you’re most focused on the wishes of the council and mayor, what’s your sense of what THEY think are the important tasks facing the city in the next six months? You’re their pick as the city’s new CEO. What do they want most from your leadership right now?
To Panel: What’s the rationale behind the community consensus/prioritizing technique that Mayor Paul Hager has been looking into? Is the idea to get a better sense of what the community really cares about (public spending for which needs) before deciding on whether or not to change the tax rate for next year, e.g., if there’s enough support for an ice arena?
Government.14.8: Rich Kleber (richkleber) Thu, 26 Sep 1996
I just saw the concept plan for the Hubers/Golf Course property yesterday for the first time. Wow!
Could you explain to me and all others how much it costs the city to put in the infrastructure in a new development like this one and how the city is paid back? What is the level of risk to the city and the developer by way of up front expenses and what is the potential gain (taxes and other) for the city?
Government.14.9: Scott Neal (guest01) Thu, 26 Sep 1996
The rationale behind the Community Consensus surveying technique is that it attempts to produce a more realistic decision-making environment for citizens by causing them to do mental trade-offs between unlike and unrelated programs and policy goals. Why is this necessary? Because this is what the City Council must do during its budget preparation period, and really throughout the year.
Sometimes citizens see only a specific piece of the Council’s pie. They see the City Council’s policy on bike path development and decide if it is good policy or a bad policy and then make an inference about the City Council based on their bike path policy.
The City Council, however, cannot look at an issue like bike path
development policy without also considering financial matters (Where does the money come from to build the path? What won’t the City do to build bike paths?), operational matters (Will the City need to hire additional employees to maintain the bike path? Can the maintenance be contracted? Will the City need to direct police protection to the
path?), and political matters, both internal and external (If I vote for this bike path policy will I also have vote for another bike policy I don’t favor later down the line? What will the unions think if we give them a 1% raise and then spend a $1,000,000 on new bike paths? What will the neighborhood think when we put their road resurfacing off for a year and then build a new bike path?).
Do people like bike paths? Most will say “yes”. The Community Consensus survey asks respondents how they favor bikes paths relative to, say, increased funding for homeless programs, or the purchase of a new fire truck, or the decrease in water rates. These subjects are somewhat unrelated, with the exception that they are all issues which find their way to the City Council for a decision.
We will put more out on the Cafe about Community Consensus survey later, including samples of actual questions.
Government.14.10: Scott Neal (guest01) Thu, 26 Sep 1996
The proposed Hubers/Olsen development on the City’s east side will be a major development. 100+ residential lots plus two areas of multi-family housing. Plus an expansion of the golf course.
What are the costs of the infrastructure for the development? The City will not do much engineering analysis on this proposal until it gets to a more formal stage. Why? We get these sorts of things more often than one would think and if we had our Engineering staff estimating the cost of improvements for speculative subdivisions and business expansions, we could keep one fulltime technical busy doing that 40 hours/week! That’s alot of public money to invest into something that may or may not
When this developer puts his request into the form of preliminary plat for presentation to the Planning Commission, then our Engineering staff will analyze it more closely. Clearly though, the water, sewer, and streets for this subdivision will be well over $1,000,000.
How does this get paid for? There are several scenarios. Scenario One is that the developer hires his own engineer and designs the improvements to conform with City specifications. Then the developer hires his own construction contractor and builds the improvements. Then the developer sells the lots and makes a profit. Scenario Two is that the developer has the City’s Engineering Department design the improvements and then has the City control the construction of the improvements. The City pays for everything upfront in this scenario, but then the City recoups its investments by leveling special assessments against all the property that benefited from the improvements. It could happen either way in this case.
Is there risk to doing this? Yes, if the real estate market tumbles, the City may have to recoup its investment over a longer period of time than we really want. If construction prices are too high, the special assessments will be too high and our lots will not be as competitive as lots in Lakeville or Eagan or wherever. The risk assessment is something we will do a little closer to the end of the consideration process.
Government.14.11: Griff Wigley (griff) Thu, 26 Sep 1996
Nancy Gruchow is having some computer difficulties. But one way or another, she’ll have some replies ready to post on Friday.
Government.14.12: Nancy Gruchow (guest03) Thu, 26 Sep 1996
I sort of backed into this city council gig. I was outraged when Gloria Krusemeyer was arrested for trespassing at the city council meeting a couple of years ago. My daughter was watching that meeting as part of her high school civics class with Mr. Neubol, and she gave me a blow-by- blow description. Then I watched the video of the meeting and saw for myself that Gloria has A) asked an embarrassing question of the city council and mayor; B) allowed free use of the podium by other citizens; C) refused to sit down until she got an answer to her question (which she never did); D) stood there in perfect silence, patiently waiting, until E) Mayor Marv lost his temper and had her arrested.
I was also angered by the city council voting to disqualify David
Garwood-DeLong’s vote a few months later. They didn’t like his vote and so they passed a resolution taking away his right to vote!
I fumed about both of these situation. They indicated, to me, a breakdown of communications within the council and also between the council and the citizens. So my husband finally said to me, the night before filings closed, “If you think you can do better, why don’t you run?”
Now I have always been the person in our household who did kid-related things. I scrubbed the floor at the Worthington Montessori School, ran the rummage sale, and baked treats; my husband Paul chaired the citizens committee to pass the school bond issue. I ran the youth group for 7th and 8th grade Sunday School; my husband Paul served on the board of elders. I coached soccer, attended school conferences, and sewed all the costumes for the church Christmas pageant; he served on advisory board for the DNR and the Nature Conservancy. I did hands-on, he did boards.
After graduating from the U of M law school, I had done legal aid work and public defender work in SW Minnesota for 12 years. When we moved to Northfield, I bought the bookstore which instantly brought me a steady stream of information and comment about public affairs. Almost every customer says something interesting about the city (except for the tourists.)
So I took up Paul’s challenge and filed and won, spending $73 in the process of the campaign, of which $5 was the filing fee.
We have city council meetings on a weekly basis, alternating Mondays and Tuesdays. We also have monthly meetings of boards and commissions to attend. I go to the Arena Board, the Hospital Board, the Environmental Quality Council, the Friendship City committee, and occasionally the Housing & Rehabilitation Authority. Two of these meet every month. I participate — vote, argue, suggest.
Our daughter is off in college now, and our son at the high school. During hockey, tennis, and soccer seasons, I attend his home games. I also attend as many of the away ones as possible, plus drive him to/from practices. There were some months during hockey season last winter where I had no night off for 20 days in a row. Thank God he wasn’t twins!
Government.14.13: Nancy Gruchow (guest03) Thu, 26 Sep 1996
My first task on coming on the council was to improve civility between its members. Since there were three new members, and the three of us talk to each other, we were able to spread tolerance and goodwill like butter on hot toast. We disagree all the time and probably always will, but you won’t see any more arrests, any more vote disqualifications, or any personal fights. We argue about issues, and we have some real hot issues coming up.
Highway 3 has not yet come before the council but of course we have opinions about it. It is too bad the darn highway has to go through our town rather than around it, but hat decision was made a long time ago and I don’t know we can change it. If we work hard, we might be able to get bypass routes for truck traffic, and maybe cars heading for Texas will use those bypass routes too. I view the 2nd avenue corner as extremely hazardous — the one where Insty Prints and Schultzie’s are. We have to fix that corner because trucks can’t turn there to follow Hwy 19. I also view fast speeds as hazardous to people trying to cross Hwy 19, so whatever can slow the traffic is good. Probably that means a curvy road which forces people to slow down.
MnDOT showed the sensitivity of an elephant on the first phase of
construction. This time, they have tried to work with our committee, but I believe they are losing patience and will just go ahead pretty soon, whether we have agreed to a plan or not. I am worried about that.
Government.14.14: Nancy Gruchow (guest03) Thu, 26 Sep 1996
Another serious issue facing us is growth. Our sewer plant is good for another ten years, at the current rate of growth. Anybody drive up to the Cities lately? Housing developments are chewing up farmland and creeping our way.
I don’t want to see houses made of ticky-tacky, all looking just the same, encircling our town. I don’t want most of the new housing to be built with $400,000 price tags. I don’t want housing to gobble up the sewage capacity without any new industry, or commercial development, coming in too.
So we are grappling with issues of affordable housing, placement of roads, expansion of industry, construction of cul-de-sacs, etc. etc. Do we need more parks? Do we need a new fire station? Additional library space? More soccer fields, baseball fields, swimming pool, ice sheets, tennis courts?
Probably all these facilities are needed; then come the questions, where and how? The Mayor has suggested a community survey to find out how to prioritize the building of city facilities. It seems like a useful way to proceed.
Government.14.15: Griff Wigley (griff) Fri, 27 Sep 1996
Welcome, Nancy! Thanks for joining us in this civic experiment. Both you and Scott are doing terrific thus far. Feel free to comment on each others’ comments, ok? Or the comments of citizens over in topic 15. Or even, as Scott has done, to post over there.
Both of you have mentioned the community prioritizing survey. The more I think about it, the more I like the idea. One question, tho: will there be an attempt to help citizens become more informed about the pros and cons of spending money on the various items on the survey, ie, bike path, ice rink, fire station, etc? Or will it be just a raw, off-the- cuff opinion survey? I much prefer the former but that would take a lot more effort.
Government.14.16: Griff Wigley (griff) Fri, 27 Sep 1996
I’d like to keep throwing out some “big picture” questions at the same time as the more detailed ones. Hope that’s ok.
In Wednesday’s Strib, there was a great opinion page piece titled:
Renewing the commonwealth by Harry Boyte and Nan Kari.
I’d be interested in your reaction to it as it relates to Northfield.
Here are a few quotes from the article. I’ll temporarily hide the text of the entire article in the next post.
“Citizens have become consumers of politics. We no longer do democracy. It comes at us in a tidal wave of commercials.
“Our greatest challenge is to reclaim the idea that public affairs issue from the people. The commonwealth understanding of democracy offers resources for a radically different politics than the one we know in 1996, where citizens are consumers, not producers.
“Today, people are mainly worried about whether they are getting their money’s worth from government, rather than thinking about what they can contribute.
“Most dangerous of all, as we lose public work — work that creates public things and addresses public tasks — our collective power to act on common problems erodes. Citizens are redefined as customers for government services. Political conventions become backdrops for political ads. Elections come to resemble sales campaigns for toothpaste. As civic muscle atrophies, citizen participation becomes a figleaf for a market takeover of democracy.
“When we help to build something, it belongs to us. We have a stake in what happens. We have authority to act boldly and with confidence. For democracy to be sustained in our time will require that we renew the idea of the commonwealth. This once inspired Minnesotans and all Americans. It needs to inspire and energize us again.”
Government.14.18: Scott Neal (guest01) Fri, 27 Sep 1996
I read the Strib article on citizenship and could not agree more. I belong to a professional association called the International City/County Management Association. For the past ten years, this association, which represents 85% of all appointed local government CEOs and CAOs in the US and Canada, has been advocating the “citizen as Customer” model of citizenship. I hate it and I’m disappointed that my profession has been one of the leading advocate of peeling the notion of civic responsibility out of the citizenship model. I hate the citizen as customer model because I think it is demeaning to citizens and inconsistent with the foundations of our country.
The citizen as customer model demeans citizens because its basic assumption is that citizens are, first and foremost, consumers. Citizens are consumers of government services. As consumers of government services, it is incumbent upon the government to provide them services they wish to consume at a price they wish to pay. Simple enough? All we have to do in government is put together a supply & demand matrix, figure out our margins, and go.
If citizens are consumers, then their obligation to me is ZERO. What is your obligation towards Coca Cola Corp or Dayton-Hudson or Cray Research? It’s zero. They are companies whose obligation is to you. Local government, on the other hand, and other levels of governments in general, must have an obligation from you. We require your allegiance. I did not say your blind faith. Governments used to ask for that. Not no more. (double negative for literary effect only ) As a citizen, you have a responsibility to participate in your Government. Not just a right. A responsibility. A customer has no responsibility to do anything. To me, that’s what differentiates a citizen from a customer.
It’s a very important difference.
Government.14.19: Scott Neal (guest01) Fri, 27 Sep 1996
I think it was Dan who asked a question about what I thought about Northfield in comparison to other communities in which I have worked and also how the organization was taking to change.
First, I know you all have probably heard this before, but Northfield is different. Cliche, right? Politically it’s different in who it is not dominated by. It is not dominated by the Country Club and its associated members. It is not dominated by Industry or the Chamber of Commerce. It is not dominated by Carleton. It is not dominated by St. Olaf. The political power, although I’m sure some will disagree, is sufficiently fragmented in Northfield that it makes it pretty difficult to predict the outcome of any political debate.
That’s good in many ways. City staff don’t get entrenched into serving the interests of any one interest group. You can’t because that interest group probably won’t be in the saddle for long. It requires, therefore, city staff to be more honest and straight-forward with the idea that you may have to justify every detail of a proposal in public to more opposers than supporters. That can be stressful, but it does cause one to be more diligent about research and preparation. (Anybody out there thinking about final oral examinations from grad school??? Same feeling, except weekly.)
This is different from the other two communities in which I have worked and most other communities with which I am familiar. In Mt. Pleasant, Iowa, all I had to do to be comfortable in my job is serve the needs of the local industrial employers and residential developers. End of story. Now, that doesn’t mean that’s what I did all the time. But that’s all I HAD to do. In my job in Tennessee, it was please the TVA. That was something.
The commentator was right about organizations and change. Organizations without much change at the top can get stuffy and insulated. I must say that I have found this organization ready, willing, and bale to change. Instead of rebuffing change, they have been interested in the freshness of a different perspective. What a deal for me.
Government.14.20: Nancy Gruchow (guest03) Fri, 27 Sep 1996
With regard to the Hubers development:
Brian Olson, who is a developer who has done a lot of work in Apple Valley, came to the Council on Tuesday night with the latest concept plan for the Hubers/Golf Course property. Leonard Hubers owns 400+ acres on the east side of Northfield, which he farms. It is outside the city limits.
We allow sewer hookups only inside the city limits, so if a developer buys land outside the city and wants flush toilets, he must get the land annexed to the city. Olson said eventually Hubers will ask for all of his farm to be annexed, but right now he is talking about a portion of it.
He wants to sell enough land to the golf course so the course can
reconfigure, becoming a par 72. And sell 124 individual lots around the golf courses for single-family homes. And sell a few acres for multi- family residences, too. Olson would develop the single family homes.
There are several problems with his concept. First, Hubers does not particularly want to include roads — they take up building lots — so he has a couple of dinky cul-de-sacs. We don’t know if they will handle the volume of traffic generated by two cars per luxury home for 124 homes, but it seems doubtful.
Second, Hubers proposes to put a north-south road in his development, but not the location desired by the planning commission. The planning commission met Monday night and told Olson where the road should go. Olson then came to us on Tuesday night and wanted the road in a different place. We told him to talk to the Planning Commission. He said he wouldn’t build unless he could select the path of the road.
Third, Olson told us that lots on the golf course would probably sell for $60,000 to $80,000. Then they buyer would want a house, too, and you can bet it would be expensive. Does Northfield need 124 more luxury homes? The average price of new homes is $160,000 now in Northfield. We need some below-average-priced homes, not more mansions.
Fourth, because of the topography, installation of sewer and water will cost a bundle. If we follow the usual plan — which Scott Neal explained in , the city will bond for those costs and assess the lots over a ten year period. For ten years, then our bonding capacity — our ability to borrow money — will be lessened for other projects, because we have committed more than $1,000,000 to this project. We only have so much bonding capacity; Karl Huber can tell you much that is.
Government.14.21: Nancy Gruchow (guest03) Fri, 27 Sep 1996
The Star Tribune article referred to by Griff hits the nail on the head.
My parents’ generation believed that doctors were responsible for your health. When my mother’s doc advised her to quit smoking during bronchitis, my mom demanded medicine. When my father’s doc said he’d better lose weight, my dad asked for a diet pill. When my dad had sore shoulder muscles, the doc advised an exercise regime; my dad demanded a shot.
My parents consumed medical care. They never did quit smoking, start a diet, or begin exercising; they never took individual responsibility for their bodies. They never considered that they HAD any responsibility for their health; this was the doctor’s job, wasn’t it?
My generation thinks differently. We want a healthier lifestyle — no more Camel cigarettes, or nightly cocktail parties. We try to practice wellness. We still go to doctors, but the total responsibility for our basic health and well-being is not in the hands of the doctor alone.
So too with Government. We are the government, because we are citizens. Part of our responsibility is to take care of our body politic. I
believe there are several things we can do to keep ourselves healthy:
Be informed * listen to each other * help each other * care for each other * role-model to children * volunteer * be tolerant * allow for differences * share information and ideas * speak to people outside your little circle of friends * try new ideas * act more, complain less.
Government.14.22: Griff Wigley (griff) Sat, 28 Sep 1996
Rich, you have a considerably more upbeat reaction to the Hubers/Olson development proposal than Nancy. Go ahead and ask her questions about her comments in .
Or Nancy, read Rich’s opinion page column about the proposal in Friday’s Nfld News and ask him questions about his comments.
BTW, the article about the proposal itself is at:
Nfld News Hubers/Olson article
Government.14.23: Griff Wigley (griff) Sat, 28 Sep 1996
Scott and Nancy, you both seem to be in synch on the need for citizens to DO democracy.
But it seems to me that there are two distinct aspects of this issue: yes, citizens as joint partners with government as public problem
solvers; but we are customers of some government services, aren’t we?
For example, if I apply for a driver’s license and get treated rudely, or if the trash pickup is not reliable, and the city functions like an unresponsive monopoly when I complain, then that’s a city government problem, isn’t it? Isn’t this what the Reinventing Government movement is all about, ie, making gov’t more responsive and accountable for those services it delivers to its citizen customers?
Which brings me back to the current state of affairs/morale with city employees, given all the managerial changes in the last 6 months and now the reorganization plan that Scott’s presenting to the Council.
BTW, the article on this reorg plan is at:
Nfld News reorg plan article
Government.14.24: Scott Neal (guest01) Mon, 30 Sep 1996
My sense of morale within the city organization is that it is goo right now, especially with the anxiety of reorganization hanging over some employees’ heads. I’ll confess upfront though that I may not be the best person to assess employee morale at this point. It seems pretty good. No festering squabbles or anything sucking my work time. I’ve been impressed with the city employees here. Smart folks. Good workers.
The organization was ready for change when I arrived. I did not have to spend alot of time convincing them that change was necessary. They were all ready there.
The next six months will be important for the organization and for me. The reorganization will be in place. New staff will be trained and productive. New City Council set. It will be a better test of the morale question as well. I hope someone asks it at that time.
Government.14.25: Rich Kleber (richkleber) Mon, 30 Sep 1996
You’re right Griff, I am upbeat about the new development (I am a golfer and wouldn’t mind living on a golf course some day:)
I think building luxury homes is great for the community. But I too am concerned if the city has to tie up all its money into developing this area, not allowing other areas the same chance. Any indications yet as to how much the developers would be willing to spend on infrastructure development and how much they will ask for from the city?
I don’t think the lot prices should be huge factor in the discussion, it’s clear that they are going to be high, but I don’t see any problem with the developers making a profit, even a large profit. If there is a large profit to be made it is more likely that the developer is willing to take on more of the risk. If that is the case, the city shouldn’t stand it their way.
The issue of where the roads go is a valid concern. Of course they want to get as many lots in as possible. The collector road that bends to the east makes sense to me because there is such a nice hill where they have put the multi-family units to over look the course. Why would you want a road there, it’s prime property? Plus it would be too close to the golf course for a road.
As you can probably tell, I tend to be a pro-developer person. However, I don’t think the city should overextend itself. There is nothing wrong with the city asking developers to pay their fair share.
Does Northfield need 124 more luxury homes? Sure, along with many other homes in all price ranges. Northfield could use a bunch of homes in the $100,000 to $120,000 range. The problem is that you can’t build a home for that price, except maybe a small townhome, and the existing homes don’t turn over much. Why would the city want to keep people that can afford $300,000 to $400,000 houses from building here? Why would we want their property tax dollars to go somewhere else?
Government.14.26: Nancy Gruchow (guest03) Mon, 30 Sep 1996
Rich, I read your Northfield News piece about the Hubers development but, since it appeared about the same time as my posting, we were
talking about different points. I have since talked to the Planning Commission chair, Don Starr, about the north-south road, and he thinks Olson can curve the road so long as it starts and ends in the right place.
I am perturbed by the cost of streets, sewer, water, etc. The city will need to borrow more than one million; that ties up our borrowing capacity substantially, On a family level, that is like buying the most expensive car the bank will finance; your family can’t take vacations then, or buy season tickets, or splurge on a new couch, because all of your money is tied up in car payments.
I am also concerned about the price of these fancy houses. Dan Kjar (Hi! Laura was just home!) says there is plenty of space for expansion around Northfield for normal people who want cheaper housing than Olson would build around the golf course. I agree there is plenty of space, but naturally developers make more money if they build expensive houses.
The Council has been talking about the need for average houses and how to encourage developers to include some of those. We would like developers to agree to some targets, and we proposed as follows:
10% at below-average prices ($115-120,000 is 2/3 of the average price of new homes in Northfield; that’s what we suggest; 20% at average price ($160,000) 70% at whatever price they want, which is going to be more than $160,000.
So far, Steve Schmidt/Brent Reese have indicated these targets are probably achievable for their next development. Since the Hubers’ lots will cost $60-80,000, I think he wants 100% to be at more than $160,000. Do we want to let one developer have a free hand? Schmidt/Reese would like a free hand also. So would the rest of them.
I am convinced that the developers will not spontaneously build $120,000 houses. They certainly won’t build $80,000 houses (half the current average prices). And a $120,000 house requires a monthly payment of about $750, and a down payment of $7,000. That isn’t cheap housing, but it is still substantially cheaper than the average new house in our town.
Government.14.27: Nancy Gruchow (guest03) Mon, 30 Sep 1996
Griff, we want to make the city more responsive to citizen complaints such as unreliable snow plowing, or carp in the Bride Square fountain, or stolen bikes. Scott is suggesting designating a staffer to do this full time; some who can pick up the phone and call exactly the right employee to fix the situation.
Right now those responsibilities are spread out among the staff. I think his idea works better for the citizen. Let’s take the typical situation of carp-in-the-fountain.
Citizen notices the carp and calls city hall. Citizen is told carp will be caught. City hall calls appropriate worker bee who accomplishes this. Citizen does not have to call park dept., or police dept., or figure out who to call. Park Dept., police dept., etc. don’t have to take time away from whatever they are doing to refer citizen to a different phone number. One number does it all.
So far as current state of affairs/morale of city employees go, there is always a honeymoon with a new boss. I think the city employees are still adjusting to their new administrator, and the time to check their morale will be in a few more months.
Government.14.28: Nancy Gruchow (guest03) Mon, 30 Sep 1996
Bob Courchaine asked about privatization.
We privatize the trash/garbage pickup, and that works well. We hire NSP to do the electricity, contractors to install roads, a group to help snow plow when there’s a heavy fall.
We do our own water and sewer, fire and police. We could privatize the arena, if someone would care to take that off our hands; but the swimming pool is tied up legally and most be owned by a government unit. We could privatize the liquor store, but we get $170,000 profit from it every year and we would want to get that much for the city if we privatize it, and I’m not sure a private operator could make enough more money to pay us and get a decent return.
What would people like to privatize?
Government.15.35: Griff Wigley (griff) Mon, 30 Sep 1996
A follow-up on the privatization question, Scott and Nancy: what’s your philosophy about when to privatize and when to not privatize? For
example, now that city garbage pickup is privatized, under what scenarios should the city reconsider and have its employees do it?
Second follow-up: I wonder about hiring one person to be the liaison for citizens complaints. It’s reminiscent of when companies had quality control workers in factories. TQM and similar programs discovered that it’s far better to have the production workers in charge of their own quality control. While the liaison might know who to call, they’re not going to have anything to do about whether or not the problem will get handled satisfactorily or whether there’s the kind of work environment where city workers want to get it done right the first time. Can you address this bigger issue of creating an environment that fosters a responsive, inspired workforce?
Government.14.29: Scott Neal (guest01) Tue, 01 Oct 1996
I’m not sure there is a particular formula which will dictate the
optimal moment when privatization become more feasible and practical than performing the same function in-house.
Garbage collection is a great example of a formerly very common municipal function which is now more commonly performed by private contractors than by cities. Why? The old cycle of workers organizing to gain benefits for themselves, driving up the costs of their services, and cities, looking to keep costs in check, pit their own workers
against lower costs private sector workers who hadn’t been as successful in gaining wage/benefit gains as their public sector counter-parts. The same process has played out in meatpacking and textile industries as well. No rocket science here.
The City, however, has a continued role to be vigilant about its associations with private contractors in the privatized environment. The basis of the privatization is most likely cost. If so, the City must insure that cost is controlled and that contracts are enforced. At the time or rebidding the contract, the City should consider resuming the service. Why? It might be best from a cost standpoint. It also might encourage a bidder to put less profit in his/her bid.
We will constantly examine the cost/service structure of our operations to discover methods of decreasing operational costs. If that means privatization, so be it.
Government.14.32: Griff Wigley (griff) Tue, 01 Oct 1996
Ok, with the panel’s permission, I’d like to squeeze one more day of participation out of you.
We have a topic of discussion here in the Cafe called:
“Hooligans!” – Youth problems in downtown Northfield
See BridgeSquare, Topic 8.
This is a problem that needs citizens to join together with city hall to tackle, IMHO. The city can address the symptoms a bit with policing strategies. Youth and social services have teamed up with other adults to create the Union of Youth organization and its youth center, The Key. But clearly, more needs to be done, especially with the 18-25 crowd.
Scott and Nancy, what would you like to see more of from the citizens of Northfield to help tackle our community’s youth problems?
Government.14.33: Griff Wigley (griff) Tue, 01 Oct 1996
Scott, if you can, I’d appreciate a reply to my second question in about your plan for a citizen liaison position.
Government.14.34: Scott Neal (guest01) Wed, 02 Oct 1996
The position I am advocating for will have several facets. One facet will be the citizen services. The citizen services aspects of the job would be to assist citizens in directing their questions and concerns to the appropriate person/office/level of Government. Not necessarily answering the question or concern. More gate-keeping and hand-holding. The position would also then track the questions and concerns we are hearing AND the responses we give. Further, the position would also track the actual citizen to do follow-up on the City’s response. A “how’d we do?” sort of thing.
Our organization can be daunting at times. Maybe not to anyone who is sophisticated enough to be on-line with NCO, but maybe for your Grandmother or the new people who just moved in from Iowa (for example). Some people don’t need government to be friendly to them. They know what they want. They know who to ask. They know what their options are. Other people aren’t as bold or persistent. But they pay taxes too and we should try to serve citizens as equally as possible.
Government.14.35: Nancy Gruchow (guest03) Wed, 02 Oct 1996
I think, regarding privatization, that we hire out two kinds of jobs:
a) jobs that are too technical for our own staff (such as drilling the new well);
b) jobs where we can save money by hiring a non-city employee.
If you can think of any in category b, let us know.
Government.14.36: Nancy Gruchow (guest03) Wed, 02 Oct 1996
Griff, re: your followup question on liaison for citizen complaints, concerning creating an environment that fosters a responsive, inspired workforce.
When you’re scraping bubblegum off the Arena benches, it is hard to be responsive and inspired. Much of the work our employees do is repetitive and non-inspiring: cutting grass, cleaning the arena, picking up after DJJ Days, etc. A decent rate of pay for employees helps them get through the boring jobs. Also, being treated with respect by their employers helps; in this case, the citizens are the employers. The supervisors and administrators thank the worker bees on a regular basis. Do you?
Government.14.37: Nancy Gruchow (guest03) Wed, 02 Oct 1996
The Public Safety Committee (Council persons Greg Colby and Bill Rossman are on it) has got a couple of ideas about the downtown youth problems. The PSC will be getting more trash barrels along the More 4 and Armory Block, for one thing. The PSC will be talking to the guys who hang out there about their bad language. And the PSC will be meeting with skateboarders (again) to talk about where to skateboard.
Clearly we need more things to do in this town. The Upstairs Reub has had some dances (alcohol-free) with local bands, and they have been well-attended. The KEY has had some concerts, and they have been popular.
I think we could use more dances and more concerts. I hope somebody organizes them.
I think we could use more interaction between adults and kids, too, including kids in the 18-25 year range. I am hosting the JV soccer team for dinner Friday night. I am trying to get a city committee to work on an environmental project with KEY kids. This is the kind of problem that we cannot leave to someone else to solve; all the citizens of Northfield have to reach out and interact with youth.
There is, throughout the summer, a pick-up soccer game for young men on Sunday evenings, with Hispanics on one team and Anglos on the other. Now, it would be more comfortable for the organizers (Dan Morin and Fred Howe) to play with only white, English-speaking guys; but they are reaching out to Hispanics who live in Viking Terrace, Mount Vernon, and other enclaves. And together they have a lot of fun. We need more
activities like that.
Government.14.38: Griff Wigley (griff) Thu, 03 Oct 1996
Thanks much, Scott & Nancy. I’m really pleased that you’ve been willing to participate in this panel and hope that we can schedule you again in the near future.
We plan to take the full text from this topic, do a teeny bit of editing, and the post the entire transcript outside the Cafe on our Web site. We’ll do a little PR on it in the next NCO-News, too.
I’d like your thoughts about the experience, as well as any ideas about what could be done to make it better.
Also, we’re very willing to consider your ideas about how the City could utilize this medium. As more & more citizens get online over the coming months and years, we’d like to have NCO and the Web Cafe become an important means for enhancing communications with the City.
And thanks to Rich Kleber, GMgr at the Northfield News, for participating, too. Would a recap of this event be worth writing about in the paper?
Government.14.39: Scott Neal (guest01) Fri, 04 Oct 1996
Thank you Griff, et al for arranging this opportunity. I’ d love to do it again in the future. How about “real time” next time?!
Government.14.40: Griff Wigley (griff) Sun, 06 Oct 1996
Yikes! No thanks, Scott. Real-time conferencing tends to produce a plethora of one-liners. It doesn’t exactly lend itself to thoughtful answers. But it can be fun, I’ll grant you that.