Council considers a takeover of the EDA. Good idea?

Northfield EDA

In today’s Nfld News: Council may take on EDA powers.

In a last-minute move, Councilor Erica Zweifel Tuesday asked the City Council to consider transferring power from the Economic Development Authority to the council… Councilor Betsey Buckheit supported Zweifel’s query, noting that she’s concerned about the EDA’s work and its expenditures. If the EDA’s responsibilities are taken over by the council, Buckheit wondered if the city could realize efficiencies in time and money… Personalities, Buckheit said, weren’t her concern. Instead she worries that the EDA is setting policy, but isn’t accountable to the taxpayers.

See more background on the EDA and current members on the City of Northfield’s Economic Development Authority web page.

86 thoughts on “Council considers a takeover of the EDA. Good idea?”

  1. And what about the $50,000 forgivable EDA loan given to ID Insight which was to be forgiven if the company created 24 jobs within 3 years?

    It’s been 3 years, as this story in the Nfld News is dated May 25, 2007: Business will move into town.

    The company, ID Insight, which provides identity theft detection/protection software for the financial industry, was lured to the city by the Northfield Enterprise Center, the city’s Economic Development Authority and a newly formed local investment group, 3C Capital Partners. Company President Adam Elliott, a 1988 St. Olaf graduate, credits NEC Executive Director Lee Runzheimer with landing the deal.

    The package Northfield offered included a $50,000 forgivable loan from the EDA. The company would be absolved of its debt provided 24 jobs are created within three years. The city’s offer was contingent on another $650,000 in financing; $300,000 of that came from 3C Capital Partners.

    I’m not sure why 3C Capital Partners doesn’t list ID Insight as one of the companies in its investment portfolio.

  2. I think it would be an exceptionally productive idea for the Council to disband this EDA and take on those responsibilities.
    With the power structure of the EDA’s executive committee, there is virtual council control anyway, as the exec committee is made up of a councilor,the EDA chair who only VERY rarely votes away from the council /staff position, and then one of the two EDA minority voices.

    One need only to watch yesterdays, or indeed almost any EDA meeting, to see that the full Board is ‘held hostage’ to the exec committee’s controlling influence. ( .Actually, the Staff member is in an untenable position in that relationship also.)

    One need only watch yesterday’s meeting to hear the minority member of the exec committee describe the attitude that exists around awarding partnership funds to the NDDC; then a council EDA member suggests that those funds not be awarded to the organization , but to fund the activities of that organization.
    If one looks at the two pages of activities and accomplishments of the NDDC, one realizes that to fund the organization IS to fund the activities of that organization; they are inseparable.

    One need only watch yesterday’s meeting to see the council power step in when the Chair falters in parliamentary procedure.

    One need only watch yesterday’s meeting to see how facts are not presented, information not supplied, questions remain unanswered, and even the City’s Economic Development Director will not interact or respond to questions from members of the full board. The standard answer is: that is how the executive committee voted, and it is always 2-1.

    When members of the full Board, minority or not, cannot get their answers, much less even questions on the agenda, for over a year…and the exec committee claims all the power and decision making … well, then there is no need for that CITIZEN board.

    I have said this before, and have no qualms about saying it again: the EDA as currently configured, is not operating in complete compliance with the MNstatutes which govern EDAs. This is inconceivable to me given the vow each councilor must take. There is simply no reason to be out of compliance in either fact or spirit.

    Councilor Pokorney has suggested that IF the Council took over the EDA responsibility, then the Council could just ( following the Chaska model) say,’ we have one agenda/policy i.e. get more jobs’, and then direct the Economic Development staff to fulfill that directive. Wouldn’t it be interesting to watch the success rate?

    The EDA is a strange creature , with its two council members.
    Example: Council members have told me that the Council nixed spending the money to produce a marketing video; the EDA marketing committee, chaired by a Council member HAS produced a marketing video, which at Wednesday’s NDDC planning meeting Hayes Scriven said he was given a preview of, but the EDA board has had no news of its completion, no views of the marketing committee’s video project use of EDA dollars… what’s up with that?

    I believe it is time to correct the situation that currently exists in the only way possible, which is to let the Council take back that citizen responsibility, and add it to their own workload, and see if they can successfully increase economic development .

  3. Kiffi,

    Even if the EDA is fiscally irresponsible, it is hard to argue that the City Council would be better. Look at the Streetscape improvements, the new Safety Center proposed, and the Rate Search fiasco.

    One way for the Council to control the EDA spending is to place limits on its budget. Another way to gain accountablity is to have the City Administrator work with the EDA director on City priorities.

    There is no reason to believe that the City Council is going to be more competent than the EDA.

    1. I don’t necessarily think the whole Council WILL be more responsible, but isn’t it better to give them the responsibility rather than heap blame on the citizens who have lost control to the EDA’ s Executive Committee?

      You can’t give a group of citizens a responsibility, especially a taxing authority, and then structure a political game with an internal Executive Committee which has all the functional power, but takes none of the blame.

      1. Kiffi, it would seem that the net result of the Council taking over the EDA would be, as both David and Jim Pokorney have indicated, much more staff involvement.

        From the Nfld News article:

        Jim Pokorney, who noted that acting as its own EDA will take additional council time, added that Chaska’s City Council also serves at that city’s EDA, but uses a streamlined process that utilizes city staff to carry out its work.

        You consistently indicate that you have little faith in the City’s staff, so I’m puzzled why you’d support this change.  Whatever problems the EDA might currently have, I’m not yet convinced they’re structural.

      1. Griff: You mischaracterize my opinion of city staff; please do not do so. I speak of problems where I see them, as you often do. I am not slamming the entire work force in that building , ad have never done so.
        I have often said I would leave City Hall to that very competent layer of employees most of whom are one step down from some of the dept heads, and includes a lot of women who have been there many years, and have real ties to and concern for, the community.

        I support this change now for the reasons I gave above (6 and 6.1) and many more… summarily, the EDA as it exists is not capable of functioning as long as (1) the full Board is what I term “held hostage” to its EXEC committee (2) is incapable of correcting its noncompliance with statute, and I must add that is after the minority members asking over and over . (Remember the whole mess last spring?) and (3) the various and sundry ‘conflicts of interest’ that exist.

        Of course if the Council took it over the work would be given to staff. Then it would become a situation where everyone could quit blaming the citizens who have given to the community by serving on this difficult board, and in this difficult situation, where they have the responsibility of being a taxing authority, but cannot get even the financial information they ask for from ‘their’ staff.

      2. Griff,

        Did I miss something?

        Isn’t the question whether the EDA is responsible or competent? And, if it isn’t responsible or competent, isn’t the question whether the City Council could do the job instead?

  4. Griff – the Planning Commission had a meeting scheduled right after the EDA meeting you referenced in your video link, so I heard the last part of the meeting. I was confused? concerned? enough by what I saw that I went back later that night to review the video to see what had transpired before I came into the room. At the time I came in, the discussion was about funding for the partner organizations, which apparently was quite contentious for reasons I don’t understand, and was complicated by more than a few procedural snafus.

    The main question in my mind, having served six years on the EDA myself, was how the executive committee appears to make decisions which the other board members don’t have to confirm or approve or ratify in some way.

    My most recent version of the EDA by-laws is from 2008, which says:

    Section 6. Executive Committee. The Executive Committee of the EDA is comprised of the President, Vice-President, and Secretary. This group will meet only on an as-needed basis to provide direction to Staff regarding deal structuring, loan reviews, budget preparation, and Board nominations. The Executive Committee will have no authority to bind or obligate the EDA, but instead will work with Staff to formulate recommendations to the EDA as a whole.

    I looked for the current by-laws on the City website, but didn’t find them. I wonder if this part has changed.

    1. The by-laws have not changed , Tracy; that has been another contentious issue this year.
      The problem is the interpretation of the bylaws , by the Exec Committee. They have even taken control of the Agenda, and members of the full board who have asked for financial information, as well as other important other items to be put on the agenda, for FULL board discussion, have been unsuccessful.
      One of the key phrases in that by-law re: the exec committee is “will meet only on an as-needed basis” etc. The spirit of that rule is, IMO, being violated repeatedly.

      Jody Gunderson, the staff Economic Development Director is in, as I said,an untenable position; he takes the direction of the Exec Committee, and since a councilor, Rhonda Pownell, is a member of that Exec committee, how is he supposed to position himself?

      It used to be the practice, if not policy, that a council member could not be on the Exec Committee; I think that is reasonable. It gives the Council member essentially two votes , in two different places, on an EDA issue. Somehow, that… and a lot of other practice or policy issues…. have deteriorated into the situation that now exists.

      The parliamentary procedure flaws would have been way worse were it not for Steve Engler’s strong knowledge of those rules through his experience in his terms in the MN legislature. The recording secretary, through absolutely NO fault of her own, did not know what the motion was which was voted on, and on which she had been asked to do a roll call.
      Mr. Engler was put in the embarrassing position of repeatedly having to explain the correct procedure, and try to set the Chair back on the proper path. If he had not had the persistence required to correct the parliamentary process, the entire voting process would have been skewed.

  5. I think I’m convinced by Councilor Betsey Buckheit’s new blog post: Economic development policy questions
     

    But why do it? Because the EDA has not presented any clear principles for economic development, has not followed the economic policy planning which has been done, makes decisions in an opaque and unaccountable way and levies your tax dollars to do it.

    Having the Council serve as the economic development authority is only one strategy the City might employ to (re)gain control of economic development policy in Northfield, but I’d argue it is also the quickest and easiest way to accomplish this goal in the short term.

    She has details on her rationale.

    1. Griff,

      I think Betsey, inadvertently, points out why the Council should NOT take over the duties.

      First, Betsey alludes to the fact that the Council does not have the long-term competence to do Economic Development. EDA Board members are (supposedly) selected for their economic competence.

      Second, the EDA is intended to operate independently from the Council. As Betsey points out again, they are not simply an advisory board to the Council. If the EDA has to be worried about Council meddling every time it makes a decision that the Council doesn’t like, then the Council should just disband them. Then, the Council can do whatever it wants. Why have a puppet EDA?

      Betsey’s point about not following the Economic Plan is well-taken. Her point about not following the Comprehensive Plan is not. The Comprehensive Plan exists for the community as a whole, and is largely anti-development; the economic plan exists for economic vitality of the community and is generally pro-development.

      Lastly, this Council is not more accountable than the EDA, precisely because they are elected, and cannot be removed. For example, this Council is still debating whether they should allow the voters to decide whether to spend $10.7 million on the Safety Center. At least I know who the EDA members are, I can have conversations with them, and I can address my grievances with their actions with someone else. There is no one to complain to when the Council engages in imprudent action; I have to wait four years to remove them.

  6. Thanks for the info, Kiffi.

    There’s no prohibition in the by-laws of Council members serving in any of the executive positions, and I personally don’t believe it’s a problem. Even if it *is* a problem, it’s allowed according to the by-laws, so at least on that score the EDA isn’t doing anything wrong.

    1. Good question, Jane… right off the top of my head…well, sure …if City Councils can BE EDA’s, and by statute they can, then it would seem to follow that they can be voting members of distinctly established EDA boards.
      Certainly our EDA ordinance allows that.

      However, I think the thing to think about there is then the opportunity for ‘double-dipping’ by the Councilors, if they get to vote in both authorities. Should that be a cause for concern?

      Then there is also the example we have had here of the Community video process: the Council had, I believe, and I have heard this from councilors, nixed the idea of spending the money to do an image video, but the chair of the EDA marketing committee (a Councilor) continued to pursue the idea, and it has been done.

      So in that instance we have a councilor pursue an project which the Council had rejected.
      That does not sound ideal to me…

      1. Kiffi,
        Since I have been working with the EDA on the community video project, let me correct some inaccuracies in your characterization of the project.

        First, the EDA is only one of eight partners providing funding. While the EDA has been the project catalyst, funds have been provided by the Chamber of Commerce, both colleges, the hospital, and three local businesses. Other organizations (the NDDC, the school district, the Historical Society) have been involved as non-financial partners. You may belittle this project to further your personal complaints about the EDA, but the partners all went into it believing that a project promoting the positive aspects of our community is a necessary and worthwhile investment.

        Second, it is not accurate to claim that the City Council “nixed” the project. The council declined to help fund the project directly, but it gave NO direction to the EDA as to whether or not the EDA could or should participate.

        Third, you are also incorrect in stating that the project is done. It is in progress. Earlier this week, the producer, Blue Moon Productions, showed the funding partners rough cuts of several segments and invited comments. Those comments will help shape the final edits. There is a little more shooting and quite a bit of editing still to be done. The project will be completed by the end of January.

      2. Randy…as the PR wing of the EDA, you will certainly feel it necessary to defend this project.
        I’m sorry, I just do not see it the same way you do. And from councilor comments to me, I think there may be some fine points re “nixed”.

        I am not “belittling” the result: i have not seen it. But I am not supportive of the process that brought this project forward.

        Furthermore, I find it unusual, that if the goal of this project is to fulfill an EDA marketing goal, that the full EDA Board has not been shown early clips, which they have not. So that group of funding partners has seen no result of their investment as of yet, although I have noted at least two disbursements in the city’s list.

        The value of the product remains to be seen; the process has real problems, as I have seen it.

      3. Randy… since you are involved with the video project as closely as you are, maybe you can give me some idea of the budget, i.e. how it breaks down among the financial partners?

        When will the rough cut be shown to the full EDA board for their comments ? They have not yet seen any such work-in-progress, as I’m sure you know.

        I find it ‘unusual’ that they, being the largest funder, and considering the specific relevant expertise on the EDA board, were not included in notice of the ‘preview’. Maybe you could also comment on that?

  7. Actually, just thought of something else… If, and when, this issue comes to the Council for a vote, should the two Councilors who are voting members of the EDA have a vote at the Council level on this… or do they have any competing interest which would cause them to have to recuse themselves?

    Think about it…

  8. David, when I said the Council does not have the long-term competence, I meant explicitly that: long term. For a short time, however, to consider the appropriate policy direction for a Northfield EDA I think the Council is not only competent, but must provide that direction whether by assuming the duties of the EDA in the short term or another method.

    I disagree, however, that the Comprehensive Plan is anti-development. It is anti-sprawl, but shares quite a few common goals with the comprehensive economic plan.

  9. Betsey,

    I don’t think the Council has, nor is it supposed to have, the institutional nor individual competence to manage the EDA. The EDA is intended to have its own Authority to manage its policies. If that authority is undermined by the Council, then it simply becomes another advisory committee. And, in the worst case scenario, it becomes the “anti-sprawl” Committee, instead of the Economic Development committee.

    1. Tracy,

      Thanks. I will read it before making any further comments.

      If you have any articles suggesting that anti-sprawl is good economic development policy, I will read those also.

    2. Tracy- The article is interesting, but I didn’t find anything about the effects of the industrial revolution in the whole “sprawl” process. It seems that as the US has moved away from an agrarian based economy, there was a necessity for concentrating workers into urban settings. Now, we are seeing that underlying longing for more space (endimic to farming) being expressed through an exodus from the cities as people can afford to do so. Is the automotive industry or the highway system to blame or did it just enable the process? Lewyn’s reference to Ronald Utt’s study touches on this, but seems to miss the point. Utt pointed out that Europe & Japan experienced the same decrease in urban population, but it was enabled by public transportation. Seems there is something in human nature that escapes Lewyn’s analysis- given the ability to move away from denser communities, people will do so. Granted, there are many more factors involved in the whole phenomenun, but this is one aspect I believe he dismissed without warrant.

    3. Tracy,

      The author makes a couple of good points. For example, to the extent that economic development costs money – new roads, new services, etc., it isn’t really economic development. Ross has made some noise about this kind of economic development with the new business park.

      However, anti-sprawl provisions for the sake of anti-sprawl (especially as set forth in the Comp Plan) are intended to be anti-development policies focusing more on aesthetics than cost or revenue for the government.

      My issue with the Council taking over economic development is that it doesn’t an economic development policy. If the economic policy is going to be the Comp Plan, then let’s give up on the idea of an EDA, and let’s just have an Anti-Sprawl Subcommittee.

  10. Posted to the Nfld News site last night: EDA in council spotlight

    The council is also expected to continue discussing whether it wants take on the powers of the EDA. The discussion, which began at last week’s council meeting, was placed on the agenda by Councilor Erica Zweifel. Two councilors, Betsey Buckheit and Jon Denison seem to support the transfer, but for different reasons.

    Buckheit questions the fiscal decision-making of the board which has no direct responsibility to property owners who support the EDA through property taxes. Denison, on the other hand, has previously called for the group’s disbanding over what he characterizes as infighting and an inability of some members to work collaboratively.

  11. Preview: It was my turn to do the Council observing for the LWV last night, and there is a dynamic that concerns me that may not be appropriate there considering the ‘reporting’ nature of those reviews; on the other hand those reports are supposed to be concerned with Government Best Management Practices, as well as actual reporting, so… have to think more about it.

    There is a persistent voice on the Council asking for the Council always to ‘present’ with “consensus”…
    Initially, on the face of it, this might seem to some people like a good idea.
    However, it is , as expressed, would be what I would call the enemy of small d democracy.

    We certainly do not need to hear from an elected group who only speak with one voice; why not just have a dictator?

    What we certainly DO need is a Council, the members of which feel free to have a vigorous discussion, a vigorous debate if the division of opinions warrants that. The number of councilors who are willing to engage in the very policy level discussion that they maintain is their charge, is few. so: vigorous debate, vote, principled presentation of position allowing for minority opinion.

    I appreciate councilors who are willing to ask questions , during a budget discussion, which have not been answered at the lower meeting level; it is disturbing to see that staff does not answer, and there is no support for getting the answer, which may have an impact on budget decisions.

    The “culture” seems to almost preclude the type of interaction with staff that is necessary if the Council is to make the decisions with which they are charged , as policy makers and fiscally responsible budgeters.

    This subject is one which should be front and center to the Council retreat process. When the new Council is in place in January, I sincerely hope that a more meaningful retreat process can be followed; otherwise they might as well just continue to have breakfast together at the Tavern twice a month.

  12. Might we approach this issue fro a slightly different direction?
    For example what has each of these organizations and individuals actually achieved over the last year or so wrt economic development: The Council, The Economic Development department, EDA, Chamber, NDDC, NEC, others? As I am familiar with both the NDDC & the NEC, I offer the following contribution of the NDDC in the field of economic development for 2010.

    Organizing:
    •Continued seventh year of the NDDC Downtown Forums including St. Olaf College President David Anderson, City Administrator Joel Walinski, Hospital Administrator Mark Henke, Mayor Mary Rossing, State Representative David Bly, State Senator Kevin Dahle, Carleton College President Steve Poskanzer, and Interim City Administrator Tim Madigan, bringing together between two and three dozen people to discuss issues important to the downtown and Northfield.
    •Conducted the third year of monthly “Be Local” Campaign in Northfield Entertainment Guide, viewed by 10,000 people throughout the region.
    •Worked with EDA’s consultant Blue Moon, including providing the NDDC’s “Ten Reasons to Make It a Weekend in Northfield” and list of a dozen key contacts.
    •Initiated collaborations with both colleges on increasing marketing leverage including support of both Presidents and meetings with key staff members.
    •Networked on ideas, experiences and programs with recently reborn Minnesota Main Street Program, generating initiatives with proven success for quick implementation.

    Promoting:
    •Created Downtown Northfield Facebook page, to increase communication with a younger and regional audience, generating almost 900 “friends” in six months, and drawing from Minneapolis, Rochester, St. Paul and Northfield, who get three or four updates each week on downtown events and promotions. Also served as a primary communication tool during the recent flooding.
    •Created Google CommunityWalk Map for downtown, an electronic, interactive map of downtown with photos, addresses and contacts for the businesses, including links to their websites, posted on nddc.org which receives 60 to 120 visits per day.
    •With these two accomplishments, the NDDC achieved its 2010 goal of becoming a leader in Northfield in using the new Web 2.0 Social Media.
    •Launched and produced the “Be Local…Buy Local” campaign, an initiative promoted in collaboration with the Chamber of Commerce and designed to encourage shopping locally, connecting our promotional efforts through the use of a shared logo.
    •Programmed the NDDC Birthday Celebration, bringing 600 people downtown on a cold winter night and promoting some of our local music talent.
    •Programmed the 5th Annual Taste of Northfield, bringing 5,000 people, including from all around the region, to downtown.
    •Provided logistical, marketing and/or financial support to such events as Carnegie Library Birthday Party, Girls Nite Out, Riverwalk Market Fair, JuneBug, Bike Trail Celebration, Vintage Band Festival, Crazy Daze, Boutique Crawl and Low Brow High Octane, which attracted thousands of visitors to downtown during the Spring and Summer months.
    •Conducted the NDDC’s sixth annual Welcome Students Campaign, distributing informational letters and window signs to approximately 175 retailers, downtown directories to campuses, Welcome Student flyers, in collaboration with the Northfield News, to all first-year students, and, this year, succeeded in getting “Exploring Northfield” as a structured event on the student schedules, bringing over 500 new students downtown.

    Designing:
    •Brought together representatives of a wide spectrum of interests including the City of Norlthfield, the Historic Preservation Commission, the Planning Commission, Carleton College, St. Olaf College, Save the Depot Group, and building and business owners for collaborative efforts in support of downtown development.
    •Worked to support the Comprehensive Plan, the Downtown Framework Plan, and the Mayor’s Streetscape Task Force.
    •Provided City Boards and Commissions with legacy documents including the Walker Parking Study, the Stolley Parking Report and the Westside Design Guidelines.
    •Participated in the Roundtable Group’s Master Planning Session.
    •Worked with downtown businesses and city staff to enhance communication during the 4th Street Reconstruction project.
    •Co-sponsored the Northfield Transit Initiative’s Community Discussion.
    •Updated, printed and distributed the Downtown Parking Guide, along with an informational letter, to approximately 150 businesses downtown businesses as part of our “Save the Best Parking for Our Customers” campaign.

    Restructuring:
    •Conducted 12 monthly Board Business Visits, gathering and sharing information with a variety of downtown businesses.
    •Conducted 12 as-appropriate Marketing Committee Visits, celebrating new or relocating downtown businesses.
    •Worked with Northfield Police Department to address vandalism in downtown, seeking a mutually beneficial, cost-saving private-public partnership.
    •Encouraged communication between downtown property owners and Northfeld City Council on priorities for the budget balancing process.
    •As a member of the EDA’s In-fill and Redevelopment Subcommittee, helped draft the EDA’s Policy for the Acquisition of Real Estate.
    •Maintained a list of potential properties, with summary and contact information, for in-fill and redevelopment opportunities.
    •Initiated the EDA’s Emergency Flood Loan Program.
    •Refocused organizational activities and resources on Business Recruitment.
    •Developed a Market Position Statement for downtown to guide recruitment and support marketing.
    •Created a “Locate Your Business in Downtown Northfield” marketing piece.

    The list, though rather long and detailed, speaks for itself. Can someone now speak to the achievements of Council, EDA etc?

    1. Obviously, no one cares to, Norman… is it because their list is not as impressive?

      Actually, I do not include the Council in that riposte; the Council tries hard to do their work, and puts in very long hours; but the EDA? Remember, they meet 18 hours a YEAR, and are charged with creating jobs and improving the local economy at a time when more businesses DT are announcing their closings.

      EDA work ‘product’ could come out of the “ad hoc work groups”, if there was discussion at the full Board, instead of ‘rubber stamp’ agendas.
      I believe in many ways the hands of their “work groups” (don’t call them sub-committees; that would be violating open meeting law) have their hands tied by the Executive Committee of the EDA… the questionable functioning of which is the main reason I think the EDA should be disbanded, and after a period of time in which the Council more thoroughly perceives the problems, then can move to recreate the EDA with By-laws which are not so mis-interpreted, and with the Council’s clear direction to comply with the financial statutes governing EDAs.

      Because of the non-compliance with state statutes, and what appears to be the ‘takeover’ of the Exec. Comm., it is too embarrassing for the Council (or some of the Council, including the Mayor) to deal with the actuality of what has been going on there.

  13. More discussion of the EDA last night at the Council meeting, as the Mayor added a relevant agenda item saying she had been disturbed by councilors meeting outside the council meeting and having discussions on this subject.
    As another LWV observer termed it: an “oblique” discussion; they all seemed to know what was being talked about…. some who had been following the issue knew what was being talked about… i would imagine the general public was mystified at best.

    Councilor Zweifel laid out a whole laundry list of objections to the changes in the EDA ‘process’ this last year; Councilor Buckheit added to the list with complaints about the content of the report from Staff, and Councilor Pokorney said the EDA process was “disrespectful”.

    Councilor Pownell pushed, asking three times, for the Council to give her direction by a vote on guidance for her to take back to the EDA, but never said specifically what was the subject of the vote she sought !
    However, she prefaced her remarks with comments about the EDA partner funding, which has been left as a placeholder in the EDA budget until they can wrangle this contentious issue out at the next EDA meeting.

    I have a real problem with her procedure on that issue which was actually asking the Council to give direction to the EDA BEFORE the EDA has finished their discussion on the matter, and resolved it.
    Improper at best.
    The Council may have ultimate control over the EDA’s actions, but to give direction before an issue is decided? i.e. trying to influence the EDA outcome?
    WHOA!

  14. This morning’s EDA meetingTuesday’s Council meeting discussion of the EDA sounds like it was interesting. Nfld News: Discussion devolves into debate

    After a lengthy — and often heated — discussion Tuesday, the council agreed 5-2  to approve all the recommended appointments, except those to the EDA. Rossing and Councilor Rhonda Pownell, who also sits on the EDA, voted against the measure. Newly minted Councilor Susie Nakasian suggested the move, noting that the council had already planned to discuss taking over that board’s powers.

    "I think it is a grave mistake," Rossing said of Nakasian’s motion. "I don’t think we should single out one board because we’ve started a conversation. If we single out one it looks as if we have an ulterior motive … and I don’t think that’s a good way to govern."

    1. Councilor Betsy Buckheit has commented about this in her blog post today:

      Appointments (appointed by the mayor and approved by the Council) to boards and commissions are routine beginning-of-the-year actions, usually. So, this item was on the consent agenda.

      Until I asked to move it to the regular agenda. My rationale? The Council has planned to discuss boards and commissions and consider how to change, add, subtract, restructure the groups we need to more effectively use the talent in the community and give the Council the advice it needs.

      We haven’t followed through. The Council first considered evaluating (and possibly restructuring) boards and commissions back in 2009 when I took office. This effort fizzled as the Council got distracted with other issues, but this issue has bubbled up occasionally; it is currently on the draft “to do” list. Then at the end of 2010, Erica Zweifel put the EDA on the agenda by proposing the Council take over the EDA functions.

      My move was intended to seize the new year/councilor enthusiasm (Councilor Nakasian put it ever so nicely: the “plasticity of the moment”) to stress how important I think these boards are and to ask the Council to act sooner to make these groups effective and efficient: I did not (and stated as much) wish to attempt to block any individuals Mayor Rossing chose for boards. The final result: Appointments were made to all boards except the EDA (5-2 vote, no votes by EDA appointees Mary Rossing and Rhonda Pownell) and next week’s work session will be even more important for setting the Council’s work plan for 2011.

  15. Today’s Nfld News: Without appointments, EDA stuck in a bind

    In a Friday opinion by Chris Hood, the city attorney found the EDA’s bylaws don’t allow Councilor Rhonda Pownell and Victor Summa, whose terms ended Dec. 31, to continue as board members in the absence of new appointments. According to the bylaws, council members sitting on the EDA must be reappointed annually.

    The bylaws also don’t allow Jim Pokorney, whose term as a city councilor ended with the new year, to keep his seat on the EDA. On Tuesday, Mayor Mary Rossing recommended that she take Pokorney’s seat and that former EDA and city councilor Scott Davis take the other open spot.

    1. Mayor Rossing’s rationale for nominating herself and Scott Davis to the EDA is on p. 61 of the Jan. 5 council packet. It’s an odd mix of 1st & 3rd person tense, making me wonder if someone else wrote it based on boilerplate lingo:

      I am recommending the appointment of Mr. Scott Davis to the Economic Development Authority. Mr. Davis is a past member of the EDA as well as a former Council member. He worked on the Comprehensive Economic Plan and is well versed in the direction that the City has mapped out for growing a sustainable economic base.

      Councilor member Rhonda Pownell will continue on the EDA as the position is a 6-year term. I am recommending that the second Council representative on the EDA be Mary Rossing because I believe it is valuable to have the voice of an independent businessperson represented.

      The Mayor recommends and appoints applicants based on their interests, willingness to serve and background. The goal of the Mayor is to have members on the various boards and commissions who represent all segments of the community.

  16. Today’s Nfld News editorial: Slow down, you’re going too fast

    After learning that its failure to make appointments to the EDA will stall any progress by the authority, two councilors Tuesday suggested a vote next week on whether to take on the EDA’s powers. In recent weeks, the two have taken issue with the EDA board’s work, its expenditures and lack of accountability to taxpayers.

    But so far, they’ve been short on specifics.  And while some  council members have periodically mentioned their concerns regarding the EDA and its struggles, the entire board has yet to discuss those issues at length, consider possible solutions and weigh the impact of taking on the authority’s powers.

  17. Jan. 11 Nfld Patch: Northfield City Council: Dissolve EDA?

    Councilor Erica Zweifel proposed a motion for next week’s meeting to temporarily dissolve the board, giving councilors, who have oversight over EDA, decision-making power while it sorts out its role and mission. Mayor Mary Rossing and Councilor Rhonda Pownell objected.

    "Here we are looking at dissolving a board," Pownell said, "[when] there might be very simple answers to the problems," adding that she was not convinced that councilors had communicated to the EDA what reforms it needed. Despite condemning the board’s performance, Rossing said dissolving the EDA wasn’t the answer.

    Bridging the divide, Councilor Suzie Nakasian asked interim City Administrator Tim Madigan to consult with staff how a temporary receivership would function. Madigan is due to speak with city attorney Chris Hood on the mechanics of such a maneuver, and will present the results at the council’s next meeting on Jan. 18.

    1. Griff,

      Any chance you could get the opinion of Attorney Hood on the EDA?

      This is shaping up to be an interesting power play. Looking at Councilperson Buckheit’s website postings on economic development, there is clearly a huge difference of opinion on what she considers to be “economic development” and what EDA is doing.

      Reading between the lines, it looks like the EDA has seen the end of its days as an “Authority”.

  18. Griff- I didn’t make the council meeting last night, but from the reports I got, it seems that there are problems revolving around personalities more than structure or procedure. From your perspective, am I correct in this interpretation?

    1. John, I wasn’t there either nor have I watched the video of that portion of the meeting.

      I think some members of the council are angry at times about this issue but I wouldn’t say that that’s a personality conflict.

  19. Griff- I agree. Showing emotion in a meeting is a human trait, and I think indicative of genuine concern about issues. If you watch the tape from about 2:20 throught the end, I think you’ll see what I mean by personality conflicts.

  20. KYMN: Council directs EDA to fund partners

    In a 5 to 2 vote, the Northfield city council has opted to direct the Economic Development Authority (EDA) to fund the Northfield Downtown Development Corporation, the Northfield Enterprise Center and Southern Minnesota Initiative Foundation.

    Councilor Betsey Buckheit added the item to Tuesday night’s meeting agenda recommending funding at no less than the 2010 funding levels with a first payment immediately and a second payment after the contract for services has been signed and after goals and outcomes have been agreed upon by the EDA and its partners. Mayor Mary Rossing and councilor at large Kris Vohs voted against the motion.

  21. Today’s Nfld News: EDA nears deal on partner funding.

    The change in direction became public Tuesday after Pownell voted with Buckheit and councilors Patrick Ganey, Susie Nakasian and Erica Zweifel to “clearly direct the EDA to fund the partner organizations at not less than 2010 levels.”

    In 2010, the EDA gave the NDDC $35,000, the Northfield Enterprise Center $50,000 and Southern Minnesota Initiative Foundation $5,000.

  22. The article in the News says that Councilor Pownell agreed to hold off on cutting the NDDCs funding until after the Council has their larger discussion on economic development.

    Does that mean that after the March 8 Council meeting, when the council receives the interview information re: the EDA from their “neutral party interviewer, Tom Clough, that they will then have that larger discussion? or will that larger economic discussion be held still later?

    How will the March 8 discussion affect the Council’s attitude about the EDA continuing to function as it has? and the EDA’s March 24 meeting?

    1. This has to be a first: replying to one’s self… after taking a look at the packet on line, there’s nothing in it about the expected EDA discussion; neither the Tom Clough interviews or the larger EDA discussion…

      Someday.. over the rainbow..

  23. Kiffi, Tom Clough wants to present his report to the EDA first since they are the group being reviewed. The EDA is scheduled to meet on March 24 after which I anticipate the report and the discussion coming the Council as soon as possible.

  24. Nfld Patch: Developing the Developer: EDA Reform Begins

    The process to reform Northfield’s Economic Development Authority (EDA) began Wednesday night with an outsider’s candid criticism and recommendations.

    “I think it’s clear that there has not been sound strategic and financial planning going on,” said Thomas Clough, principal of nonprofit consultant Horizon Associates.

    While the Northfield City Council will ultimately decide to retool, eliminate or otherwise reform the EDA, Clough said he was optimistic the outcome would improve the city’s ability to plan future development.

  25. At yesterday’s special EDA meeting, Tom Clough made quite a link between the dynamics of ‘MN nice’, and the ability/inability to resolve the problems at the EDA.

    He was there to report to the EDA on the results of his interviews , getting any further comments from them on his preliminary report, before going to the Council next week.

    Unfortunately, their was little comment from the EDA members there, only four (there are only five members at this point and of those mr. Hoschouer was again absent), and the few comments made by (what have been called) the majority members mostly expressed disagreement with Mr. Clough.

    As in the Kris Vohs ‘letter of discontent’ , one has to wonder what will come of this… will ‘MN nice’ swallow the issue? will there be a discussion by the Council, and a resolve?

  26. Sat. Nfld News: Plan for EDA still in limbo

    Setting aside recommendations from its administrator and consultant, the City Council Tuesday, in a 4-3 vote, asked its Economic Development Authority for evidence of its last two years of work and a plan to move ahead before determining whether it should take over the board’s powers…

    Councilor Rhonda Pownell took issue with the motion, criticizing the council for failing to sit down with the EDA and discuss their concerns face-to-face.

    “That is unacceptable,” said Pownell, who also sits on the EDA. “You’re saying deliver or you’re fired. I really have some problems with that sort of mentality. You’re not even giving it a chance. You’re ready to slam down the hammer and say ‘meet our expectations.’”

    Fourth Ward Councilor Patrick Ganey, who along with Councilors Erica Zweifel and Betsey Buckheit supported Nakasian’s motion, said the request wasn’t intended as a criticism, but to determine whether the EDA “has the ability to move on.”

    Mayor Mary Rossing said the request keeps the EDA in a state of limbo, calling it “a terrible place to be operating.”

  27. Sat. Nfld News editorial: Council rushed to judgement with EDA

    We are confused by the actions of the council members who seemingly did an about face when they did not have serious problems with Clough’s recommendations in an earlier work session and who are apparently not willing to see if his findings, as well as recommendations from Madigan, will indeed help fix the problems that have hampered the EDA in the past…

    It appears to us and others in the city that certain council members do not want to see the EDA work to get better. We disagree with that notion and the actions the council has taken and feel the EDA, despite its problems, does have the ability to move on and function.

  28. Brett Reese has a guest column in today’s Nfld News: Council, EDA need to remain aligned

    There has been a process in place in which the Mayor and the Council have the responsibility for appointing qualified, experienced, talented individuals to the EDA. If the City Council is not happy with the EDA, they should work within the system with the EDA to make it better and to meet the economic vision and goals of the City. The City Council should continue to appoint solid EDA members, but not replace it with the City Council. That is not the answer.

    Perhaps it is once again time for the EDA to take a leadership role, which it did in the 1990’s with the “Framing our Future” exercise with public input in visioning, strategizing and planning sessions, and more recently in 2006 with the “Reframing Northfield’s Future” by creating a strategic plan.

  29. Impotent EDA members?

    Nfld Patch: Northfield City Council Outlines Economic Goals

    After a long discussion, Northfield city councilors on Tuesday chose a handful of near- and long-term priorities for the city’s economic development in a process that may take power to implement them away from the Economic Development Authority.

    In a process that began mid-March, Thomas Clough, a Northfield resident and nonprofit consultant, has surveyed city councilors and EDA members, which most councilors regard as impotent, to figure out a way to revitalize economic planning in the city.

  30. More like dysfunctional. Check out Tom Clough’s March 22 report to the council:
    http://www.ci.northfield.mn.us/assets/0/03-22-2011-Work-Session-Packet.pdf

    On Tuesday, Mr. Clough reported on yet another set of interviews to determine council members’ priorities for economic development. An hour’s discussion resulted in the council’s top ranked priorities. These will be conveyed to the EDA at the June 7 meeting at which time the EDA will report on its accomplishments and work plan.

    To my knowledge, the council never took up the recommendations of the March 22 report.

  31. Well, the June 7 joint meeting was convened somewhat after 9 p.m.. As requested by the council, the EDA reported accomplishments since 2009 and its work plan and budget for 2011. Council members asked questions and made statements. Suddenly it was 10:30, the hour the council agreed on for adjournment. So, the EDA didn’t hear the council’s economic development priorities, and importantly, no discussion much less decision, was made on which body, EDA or council, will work on those. This was to have been the third item in Tom Clough’s suggested agenda for the evening. (He had been asked to facilitate the discussion.)

    According to the packet for the council’s Tuesday work session, Councilor Nakasian will “present to the council her ideas on how to move forward on this topic.”

  32. Thanks for that update, Jane.

    Nfld News: Meeting of EDA, council ends without resolution on economic development

    The meeting, the latest step in a review of the EDA that began late last year, was intended to look at the EDA’s accomplishments and 2011 work plan. Early in the session, Councilors Betsey Buckheit and Erica Zweifel expressed concerns about the discussion. Buckheit wondered when the council would determine whether to maintain the EDA or disassemble the group and have the council take on its powers. And while Zweifel suggested it was disingenuous to review a work plan when the group’s fate is in question, Administrator Tim Madigan said the review would inform the council’s eventual decision.

  33. Nfld News editorial: Take care with crucial EDA vote

    As the Northfield City Council prepares to modify the Economic Development Authority’s enabling resolution as soon as Tuesday — making themselves the city’s new EDA — we believe there should be careful consideration before any definitive action is taken.

    But with so much on the council’s plate at the present time, is this an idea worth pursuing? And, are the reasons that have been brought forth in numerous council meetings enough to boot the current members? We don’t think so, at least on a permanent basis.

  34. Griff – I’m often confused when you post and reference a N.News story as you’ve done here with their editorial on the EDA. Is it that you fear they have a dwindling readership and want to make certain the community is apprized of the News’ point of view? Or, are you disdainful of the content and want to call special attention for that reason? If it be the latter, then why not comment … in this case, on editorial’s shortcomings – or if you’re inclined, on the value in their observation. Just wondering.

    In fact, My wonder spills over into your thoughts on the EDA … and in fact others on the LURK at LG. What do you think about the EDA, the City and its role in the EDA and the Council and its approach to solving a problem.

    This issue takes on the appearance of a saga with no resolve, undefined concerns, a lot of lofty rhetorical mismanagement in sorting out the flaws and frankly from all the so-called news shops little in the way of reporting on any shortcomings, or progress if they saw any of either. Everyone seems dissatisfied but no one drops a shoe.

    If you’re interested in a point of view on this subject, you might visit the League of Women Voters Observer Reports. Jane McWilliams covers the UN-events of the Council/Clough discussions, the meeting of sorts of the EDA and the Council and in her recent post adds an informed comment on her personal perspective.

    1. Victor, I link and excerpt from Nfld News editorials only because, as opinion pieces, they can add to the discussion about an issue. There aren’t many local sites/blogs where opinions about local issues are being expressed… but their editorial page is one, as are their letters to the editor. So I think there’s value in linking to and excerpting from those, with or without my own reactions.

      1. The LWV is an interesting organization. Its mission statement is:

        “The League of Women Voters, a nonpartisan political organization, encourages informed and active participation in government, works to increase understanding of major public policy issues, and influences public policy through education and advocacy.
        http://www.lwv.org/AM/Template.cfm?Section=About_Us

        I remember when the LWV used to sponsor Presidential debates, and as a kid, I thought of the League as a neutral arbiter and provider of information. As an adult, I’m not quite clear how the League’s non-partisan “education” role is reconciled with it’s “advocacy” role.

        I assume (perhaps incorrectly) that the purpose of the LWV logs of meetings and sessions is primarily dedicated toward the “informed voter” mission. But what about the comments? Are these part of the “advocacy” mission? Are they only the opinions of the observer themselves? Does the presence of these comments imply a position by the League?

        It all seems a bit muddied to me.

  35. Just for the fun of it, I Googled EDA boards. I went through about three pages of listings before I found any mention of an EDA board that was not in Minnesota. I thought that was interesting. Here is a link defining an EDA in Falls Church, Virginia:
    http://www.fallschurchva.gov/Content/Docs/GrantGuidelines.pdf
    Returning to Griff’s original question about the ciouncil’s take over of the EDA, my personal opinion, which isn’t worth much, I know, is that it is not a good idea. I think it is wiser that this function of granting developement funds to qualifying organizations should be saparated from the day-to-day city council responsibilities.

  36. Nfld News: Tie vote upends change to EDA

    A failed effort to have the City Council moving toward installing itself as members of the Economic Development Authority hasn’t clarified the future of the board responsible for economic development.

    The only thing Mayor Mary Rossing was sure of after Tuesday’s 3-3 vote was that the council didn’t want to move ahead with repealing the EDA’s enabling resolution and then re-forming the group with itself as members. Councilor Suzie Nakasian was absent.

  37. Nfld Patch: Northfield EDA Takeover Vote Fails

    The vote ended in a 3-3 stalemate, as Councilor Suzie Nakasian was absent.

    “I think our EDA could continue on,” Councilor Kris Vohs said before casting his vote to reject the motion. He was joined by Pownell, also an EDA member, and Mayor Mary Rossing.

    Councilor Erica Zweifel told opponents of the measure that the EDA, as an independent body with taxing authority, should have the initiative to conduct business without direction from the city council.

  38. Jane McWilliams, LWV Observer, had this about the EDA in her June 21st, 2011 Council Meeting report:

    Economic Development: Attorney Robert Scott reviewed the council’s legal options for assuming the EDA responsibilities. They might repeal the current Enabling Resolution which provides for a separate EDA. The council would then have the authority to pass a new resolution to create a new body. The second option would be to modify the Enabling Resolution to impose limitations on the EDA’s powers in a way that provides for the council to serve as the EDA. In either case, there is a public hearing requirement for any changes. He said the city is on firmer ground to repeal rather than amend the resolution.

    Councilor Betsey Buckheit moved that the council repeal the enabling resolution and adopt a new one on an interim basis to “set policy, evaluate funding and determine the best structure to carry out economic development policy.” Councilor Rhonda Pownell said it would have been nice to have a motion ahead of time in the packet, Further, the council has just now adopted its priorities and had never had negotiations with the EDA to give them direction. Councilor Zweifel disagreed and she was tired of telling the EDA to follow their plan. Councilor Kris Vohs said he saw no need for this change and that the council should set policy and give the EDA direction. According to Councilor Patrick Ganey, the change would put the responsibility on the council temporarily and was a good way to consider economic part of every decision they make. In response to Councilor Pownell’s concerns about the punitive spirit of the change, Councilor Buckheit said that they were doing this not in a vindictive but a respectful way, and that it is a question of who should lead. Mayor Mary Rossing was not convinced taking over the EDA is the best way, and opposed the council taking it over temporarily.

    With a tie vote (Buckheit, Ganey and Zweifel voting yes; Pownell, Rossing and Vohs voting no), the motion failed. There was no further discussion as to next steps. Before embarking on a decision about the future status of the Economic Development Authority, the council adopted their Economic Development Priorities, created to provide guidance for future economic development.

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