Category Archives: City

Northfield & Dundas

The pros and cons of forming a regional bicycle council

I was in St. Paul yesterday morning for the Parks and Trails Council of Minnesota’s Day on the Hill which their web site described as:

Parks and Trails Council of Minnesota… a great opportunity to network with other park and trail supporters from around the state, learn about the issues, and hear from park leaders and legislators. Whether you come as a member of a Friends group, a concerned citizen or a student looking to learn about the process, you’ll leave informed and your involvement strengthens our efforts to preserve and enhance Minnesota’s special places! The morning will equip you with the necessary tools to meet with your legislators.

MN Parks & Trails Executive Director Brett Feldman Parks and Trails Council of Minnesota's Day on the Hill 2013 Northfield area Mill Towns Trail delegation
I went primarily because of their involvement with mountain biking (see my post about that on my Mountain Bike Geezer blog) but there was so much more that caught my interest, especially the delegation of Mill Towns Trail supporters from Faribault, Northfield, and Cannon Falls. I’m kicking myself for not getting a good photo of them because Peggy Prowe had them all wearing Mill Towns Trail t-shirts (right photo above).

MN Parks & Trails Executive Director Brett Feldman, Northfield Councilor Suzie Nakasian I briefly met Parks and Trails Council of Minnesota Executive Director Brett Feldman who asked me to send him some of my photos.  When he thanked me via email on Friday, he mentioned that he was coming through Northfield later in the day as he had a meeting at Nerstrand Big-Woods State Park. He accepted my offer to meet for lunch at Chapati and since I’d already had a late-morning meeting scheduled with First Ward Councilor Suzie Nakasian, I invited her to join us.

At the end of my blog post last month (Bemidji has earned ‘Bicycle Friendly Community’ status. Why not Northfield?) after attending the Bicycle Alliance of Minnesota‘s (BikeMN) third annual Minnesota Bicycle Summit on Capitol Hill, I wrote:

What’s not clear to me is what city board or commission would be best to consider taking this on. The City of Northfield created a Non Motorized Transportation Task Force (NMTTF) back in 2007 that I think sun-setted a couple years later. Might it be time to create something similar but specifically for bicycling?

Since then, it’s become apparent to me that there a number of other bicycle-related issues that need attention, some that are Northfield-specific but others that are regional.

And so the bulk of our conversation with Brett Feldman was related to whether the creation of a regional bicycle council (Northfield, Dundas, Waterford, Rice County, and surrounding townships)  would have significant advantages over a City of Northfield bicycle commission or task force. I was initially leaning towards the latter but came away from the lunch leaning towards the former.

Northfield’s intra-city trails and on-street bike routes are a big focus. But the importance of their connectivity to the Mill Towns Trail and the surrounding streets and county roads is increasingly important for bike-related recreation of area residents, recreational tourism, company wellness on the part of local employers, and the overall economic benefits of the establishment of the greater Northfield area as a  northern recreational hub for southern Minnesota. (We already have a good reputation with Northfield Rotary’s Jesse James Bike Tour, Milltown Cycles’ 4th of July Criterium, and the Saturday Morning Rides book by Bill Metz.)

There are other projects and developments that have a bicycle-component: the Northfield Depot; the East Cannon River Trail segment; the TIGER Trail (aka the Northfield Modal integration project); Safe Routes to School; the Gateway Corridor Improvement Plan; Northfield Roundtable’s Framework Plan; and the Cannon River Corridor recreational concept (May 1, 2012 PRAB meeting packet link).

As Suzie wrote in a subsequent email:

With so many related projects… and with so many people in town who “get” what bikes and trails mean for the community well-being including economic well-being, it does seem that all the spokes are coming together in a perfect way.

So let’s discuss the pros and cons of forming a regional bicycle council.

More of my photos of Parks and Trails Council of Minnesota’s Day on the Hill:

Parks and Trails Council Executive Director Brett Feldman Luke Skinner, Deputy Director of MnDNR Parks and Trails Division Erika Rivers, Assistant Commissioner of MnDNR
Brett Feldman, Parks and Trails Council Executive Director; Luke Skinner, Deputy Director of MnDNR Parks and Trails Division; Erika Rivers, Assistant Commissioner of MnDNR

Greg Mack, Director of Ramsey County Parks and Recreation Tom Ryan, Superintendent of Olmsted County Parks Greg Mack, Erika Rivers, Tom Ryan Rep. Alice Hausman, Chair of House Capital Investment Committee
Greg Mack, Director of Ramsey County Parks and Recreation; Tom Ryan, Superintendent of Olmsted County Parks; Rep. Alice Hausman, Chair of House Capital Investment Committee;

Rep. Leon Lillie, Assistant Majority Leader, Vice-Chair Legacy Committee Rep. Jean Wagenius, Chair of House Environment, Natural Resources, and Agriculture Finance Committee Jean Wagenius, Alice Hausman Sen. David Tomassoni, Chair of Senate Environment, Economic Development and Agriculture Division
Rep. Leon Lillie, Assistant Majority Leader, Vice-Chair Legacy Committee; Rep. Jean Wagenius, Chair of House Environment, Natural Resources, and Agriculture Finance Committee; Sen. David Tomassoni, Chair of Senate Environment, Economic Development and Agriculture Division.

Sen. Dan Sparks, member, Environment, Economic Development and Agriculture Division Rep. Phyllis Kahn, Chair of House Legacy Committee Rep. Denny McNamara, member, Environment, Natural Resources, and Agriculture Finance Committee Joe Bagnoli, Government Relations Consultant for Parks & Trails Council of Minnesota
Sen. Dan Sparks, member, Environment, Economic Development and Agriculture Division; Rep. Phyllis Kahn, Chair of House Legacy Committee; Rep. Denny McNamara, member, Environment, Natural Resources, and Agriculture Finance Committee; Joe Bagnoli, Government Relations Consultant for Parks & Trails Council of Minnesota.

Southwest Neighborhood files discrimination lawsuit against the City of Northfield for misspelt street signs

DSC08855 DSC08856 DSC08857 DSC08859
In what is perceived as a social stigma in a two-college town, members of Northfield Southwest Neighborhood Association (NSWNA) have filed a discrimination law suit against the City of Northfield for it’s refusal to replace the four street signs in the neighborhood which have the words ‘W Nineth St’ on them in stead of ‘W Ninth St.’

img-46701Three of the neighbors in particular are perturbed because they are accomplished spellers, finishing 2nd as a Northfield Rotary team in the Friends of the Northfield Public Library Spelling  Bee in 2007. NSWNA neighbors Jeb Flufkin, Ricky Coldman, and Mitch ‘Penny’ Lane say that its not just the image of the neighborhood that’s at stake.

"Northfield is known for it’s educational values and the value of our homes in the neighborhood are likely to be negatively effected the longer that we have to live under this cloud of misspelling," said Flufkin. "My stomache just churns when I drive down the street every day and see those signs."

The group has retained the services of Northfield attorney Dave Hviscerate. "This is yet another sign of the incompetence at City Hall, and their intransigence is unconscionable. How hard or expensive could it be to change four signs? These people have suffered enough. Residents of 9th St. east of Division don’t have to put up with this embarrassment. Neither should those west of Division."

Ward 4 Councilor Jesse Anderson Black declined to comment on the suit but Public Works Director and City Engineer Jose Staphylo said it was with out merit. "We know their misspelt and we plan to fix them. But its not cheap. We tentatively have it in the department budget for 2014. Its not like people will be unable to navigate the neighborhood in the meantime."

Below are photos of the Ninth St. signs west of Division St.

DSC08860 DSC08867 DSC08861 DSC08862

DSC08863 DSC08864 DSC08865

Bemidji has earned ‘Bicycle Friendly Community’ status. Why not Northfield?

BikeMN   Bemidji Mayor Rita Albrecht Bemidji Mayor Rita Albrecht
I attended the Bicycle Alliance of Minnesota‘s (BikeMN) third annual Minnesota Bicycle Summit on Capitol Hill on Monday, as I’m trying to get smarter about the state of bike advocacy in Minnesota and who the players are.  I became a BikeMN member a couple weeks ago and am impressed with all that they’re doing and how well-organized Monday’s Summit was.

Bemidji Mayor Rita Albrecht (@BemidjiRita) was one of the featured speakers, talking about Bemidji’s new designation as a Bike Friendly Community. From the BikeMN blog in October:

The city of Bemidji was granted the bronze Bicycle Friendly Community (BFC) designation by the League of American Bicyclists(LAB) on Monday October 22, 2012. The award was the culmination of persistent efforts by many community leaders and advocates including Mayor Dave Larson, Parks & Recreation Director Marcia Larson as well as health, tourism, bicycling, law enforcement, transportation and environmental representatives from the community. BikeMN has been involved along the way and helped in preparing the BFC application.

I think the timing for mounting an effort to gain formal Bicycle Friendly Community designation is right:

Those two items are providing some incentive to figure out how Northfield’s downtown streets should be best managed for bicycling, part of the discussion going on this week on the Parking Management Plan blog.

What’s not clear to me is what city board or commission would be best to consider taking this on. The City of Northfield created a Non Motorized Transportation Task Force (NMTTF) back in 2007 that I think sun-setted a couple years later. Might it be time to create something similar but specifically for bicycling?

Parking management for downtown: Focused blog discussions all week

For the next week (and maybe longer), I’m moderating three focused blog discussion threads on the Parking Management for Downtown blog.

Downtown building owners mtg at RuebDowntown bike commuters mtg at GBMDowntown pedestrian commuters mtg at HideAway

Although each one addresses the concerns of the particular stakeholder group (F2F meeting photos above), the discussions are open to all. Here are the links to each blog post:

Among the many issues raised by the three groups:

  • parking meters
  • enforcement
  • diagonal vehicle parking
  • painting center lines and sharrows
  • crosswalk safety
  • walking routes to downtown

Change the Open Meeting Law to allow our public officials to discuss some issues online without fear

I’ve been digging deeper into the Minnesota Open Meeting Law (OML) lately, because A) my citizen engagement work with the City of Northfield (parking) and the Northfield Public Schools (technology); and B) my presentations (example here) to public officials on blogging and social media on behalf of the League of MN Cities (LMC).

It seems generally accepted under the current OML that there’s no problem with an elected official having a blog, a Facebook page, or a Twitter account when used for one-way communications.   When used as publishing platforms, these tools are no different than having an opinion column or letter to the editor published in a newspaper.

Rather, the concerns are when the interactive features of these online platforms are used: a discussion thread attached to a blog post; comments on a Facebook wall post; conversational tweets; a live web conference with audio and/or text exchanges; a live online chat. In these instances, the possibility exists that a quorum of a public body could end up participating, that this could be interpreted as a serial meeting under the OML, and if not handled properly, could be a violation.

Last week I spoke by phone with Susan Naughton, LMC staff attorney.  And yesterday, she was the main presenter for the LMC webinar: Shedding Light on the Minnesota Open Meeting Law that I attended. That page has the entire Powerpoint presentation, plus a video archive of the webinar.

Here’s slide #38 from the Powerpoint.

LMC OML slide 38

I think this is overly cautious. In her remarks to me by phone, Susan indicated that two areas of concern under the OML for the interactive use of these online platforms are A) whether they can be included in the definition of what constitutes a ‘meeting’; and B) whether they can be consider ‘open to the public.’

The good news is that since the OML places considerable emphasis on the ‘intention’ of the parties involved when a meeting is held, a local unit of government can get an opinion ahead of time from its own attorney and from the State of Minnesota’s Information Policy Analysis Department (IPAD) on the type of meeting it wishes to hold.  Doing so would show that its intention was to not circumvent the law.

After getting these supporting opinions, I think the best way to conduct an online discussion with elected/appointed officials would be to A) announce it as a ‘special meeting’ as defined by the law; B) use time constraints on the meeting, for example, 8-9 pm for a live event or two weeks for a blog discussion thread; C) conduct the meeting like a Council Work Session, avoiding decisions, votes, or expressions of intention on how one plans to vote; and D) avoid any discussion of quasi-official business such around land use, property, licenses, etc.

I’ve found Northfield City Council work sessions to generally be more engaging and enlightening because of the open discussion among the councilors.  You’re more likely to hear what they’re thinking, wondering, questioning.  Opening up that type of exchange to a wider audience via online tools would be a genuinely helpful contribution to public involvement and engagement.

More good news: during the webinar, Susan announced that a bill to amend the OML was to be introduced in the legislature this week with the involvement of the MN Association of Townships. As soon as I find out more, I’ll post it here.

Meetings and straw polls and chat, oh my

It’s not been a quiet week in Lake Wobegon Northfield for me.

bicycle commuters - stakeholders group meetingbuilding owners - stakeholders group meetingcommunity meeting - Transformational Technology proposal

live chat replay webinar archive transformationaltech staw poll

The face-to-face meetings and online engagement activities for both the  City of Northfield’s Downtown Parking Management plan and the Northfield School District’s Transformational Technology proposal have kept me busy this week.

Gillian Wigley, January, 2013crashed Toyota Gilly Wigley recovering at home

And to top it off, my daughter Gilly was in a serious car accident in Minneapolis earlier this week so I’ve been making daily treks to the Hennepin County Medical Center (HCMC) all week. As of this morning, she’s doing much better: no apparent complications from a concussion and a lacerated liver, and she doesn’t have to have surgery for her fractured pelvis. She’s moving over to the adjacent Knapp Rehabilitation Center later today.  If you know her, contact/follow her on Facebook.

Update 2/15: Gilly is now recovering at our house, camped in a bed in our living room (right photo)

Mowing in the winter: Steve Malecha gives Northfield’s storm water ponds a shave

20130201_13310320130201_13181720130201_133107
Steve Malecha, operator for the City of Northfield’s Public Works Department, was mowing the invasive trees around Hidden Valley Pond last Friday, right outside my back door.

The City rented the skid steer loader for a week to mow around all the city’s ponds. I guess it helps when the ground is frozen solid.

Normally this time of year, Steve is plowing snow for the city. See this December 2010 video on Northfield Patch that features his work after a 15-inch snowfall.

Steve Malecha, Northfield Public Works Operator

Northfield Patch also has a photo of Steve with his VFW buddies in story titled Northfield VFW Donates U.S. Flags to City:

VFW donates flags

Northfield’s Convention and Visitors Bureau: What needs to be changed?

In today’s Northfield News – Promoting Northfield’s identity: Convention and Visitors Bureau presents strategic plan

In addition to approving the CVB’s budget at its Feb. 5 meeting, the council said it wants to direct the group to reexamine its bylaws and look at potential options for an increased downtown CVB presence. The council also brought up concerns on how the CVB plans to engage various stakeholders and how to hold the group accountable to those plans.

Visiting Northfield homepageThe article goes on to quote Councilors Jessica Peterson White and Suzie Nakasian, and notes how some councilors question the interconnectedness between the CVB (public website VisitingNorthfield.com) and the Northfield Area Chamber of Commerce (NACC):

For example, the group’s policies and procedures currently state that those allowed to participate on the CVB advisory board must be members of the NACC, unless appointed by the mayor and city council. Some council members said that that strong overlap limits who can be on the CVB board, narrowing the pool of potential stakeholders involved.

See pages 3-28 of last night’s Council packet where the CVB was discussed in the work session.