I have been a member of the Mayor’s Streetscape Task Force since it was formed by Mayor Lansing. Why Mayor Rossing was foolish enough to invite me to re-join and why I was foolish enough to accept are separate questions from my questions to the readers today. By way of background, the City of Northfield currently has $1,2000.00 of property taxes that are set aside. To assist the City Council in determining how to allocate these funds, a Streetscape Committee has been formed. (continued)While the body has no legislative authority, the Mayor has indicated that the City Council will be use the committee’s recommendations, together with staff recommendations, to decide the most reasonable and prudent use of this money.
Having served on this committee before, it was my impression that the committee had no decision making rubric. As an example, I had objected to the expenditure of approximately $500,000.00 to reconstruct and redesign the Water Street parking lot near the post office because the project lacked merit. Obviously, my vote did not carry the day, and that project was completed.
We are now deciding how to spend the $1,200,000.00. I proposed at the last Streetscape meeting that, at the very least, we had to develop a decision-making rubric. The discussion left me frustrated and bewildered. The only discernable methodology I could determine was to vote.
Having been raised as a farmer, trained as a computer scientist, and practicing as a lawyer, I have never been particularly enamored with voting as a decision-making methodology. It is my belief that a consultive body has to articulate and particularize its rationales to measure both value and results.
So, I am asking for your help. For example, how do we measure whether or not a $600,000.00 skateboard park is a good value? How do we move past the political rhetoric of being for or against kids? How do we determine whether it is worth $240,000.00 to have 600 feet of bike trail? How do we decide if we should build a new $10,000,000.00 police and fire facility, as opposed to remodeling the one we currently have, without the discussion devolving into what one commentator described as Umbrage Politics?
I posed these questions to my family at suppertime. The results there were not encouraging. My daughter, who is 17, suggested that I simply quit. Her observation was similar to most Chamber members’ observation, which is: People in and around Northfield (and people in general) are not interested in good policymaking; they are more interested in their pet projects. In a community like Northfield, policy-making generally devolves into liberal causes, regardless of value or cost. (My daughter also commented that perhaps I should vote against the bike trail expenditure so the money could go back to the school. She reasoned that if that happened, she would not have to share textbooks.)
I would like to prove my daughter wrong about dropping out. I am absolutely convinced that we can make a decision-making process for public officials in Northfield that avoids the extreme partisanship that dominates politics today. I would like to echo President Obama in stating that the real question is not between liberal and conservative; the question is between those ideas that have value and those that do not. I have some ideas; but I would like to hear yours.