Category Archives: County

Dakota, Rice

Some very good local government online engagement advice from urban planner Scott Doyon

I posted this to my business blog a few days ago but since I mentioned Northfield it in, I thought I’d post it here on LoGro as well.

Scott Doyon is Director of Client Marketing Services for PlaceMakers, an urban planning firm. He published a post to his Better Cities blog last week titled Public process: Don’t botch your online engagement (also on their Placeshakers blog here):

Scott DoyonNew tools have made it easier than ever to set up a project website, fast and cheap, for just about any endeavor. So easy, in fact, that people often assume the task of populating it with content is equally so.

It’s not. Instead, what you end up with is city staffers with limited time and limited resources, and who already engage with the public regularly in person, suddenly presented with the task of doing so electronically as well. Not surprisingly under such circumstances, whenever they find themselves in possession of any piece of information even remotely related to the project, their response seems obvious: Put it on the web.

Raw information. Posted. Done.

That’s a problem.

The City of Northfield has a history such failed project web sites, some done by the city staff, some by consulting firms. Some recent examples:

Doyon writes:

Think of the parallel: You’re in a traditional public meeting and someone asks a question about why the city is doing something. Do you provide a concise rationale, spelling out its benefits and role in larger community goals, or do you hand them a binder with 300 pages of reports and memos and tell them to have at it?

What should local governments do instead with their project sites?

Provide however much content it takes to express, up front and at each step along the way, what you’re doing, why you’re doing it, and how people can participate. No more. No less.

Grandview District blog siteExactly.  Unfortunately, Doyon doesn’t provide examples so here’s one I’ve worked on for the past 9 months: the GrandView District project blogsite for the City of Edina, MN. 

In that time, the project blog’s been updated 36 times with many dozens of photos and has nearly 300 comments attached. It includes all the files, Powerpoint presentations, archives of the webinar, and links to meeting videos.

Doyon also points out that local governments are unwitting victims of the “Blank Slate” dilemma:

Another common fumble is confusing the difference between collecting ideas and building consensus around community goals. A variety of new tools have made it easier than ever for cities to engage citizens in a discussion of ideas. “What would you like to see?,” they ask. “Provide your ideas and rate the ideas of others.”

That is, when presented with a blank slate, people naturally assume that anything is possible. But as you know, it’s not. Avoiding problems is all in how you ask the questions. For example, you’ll often find questions like this: “How can we improve Founder’s Park?” Sounds empowering, right? Unfortunately, it also sets a foundation for failed effort.

Instead, the question should be posed this way: “The city has budgeted $4 million towards renovations for Founder’s Park. Keeping in mind that further land acquisition isn’t an option at this site, what improvements, initiatives or recreational options would you like to see prioritized?”

That’s the exact approach the City of Edina took with another engagement project, the 2012 budget.  Working with the Citizens League, the areas of the budget that citizen input was sought were very narrowly defined. Ultimately, the process proved to be very effective and will be repeated again this year.

For background, see all my Edina-related blog posts about my work with the Edina Citizen Engagement project.

Just one word. Plastics. Will you think about it?

In January, Rice County Solid Waste will start accepting many more types of household plastics via the single-sort curbside recycling bins. See their PDF flyer for details. Items include:

Rice County plastics recyclingAll soft drink/water bottles (leave the bottle caps ON the bottles), beverage and mouthwash bottles, and rinsed plastic food jars/containers

Plastic bottles, plastic milk and water jugs, detergents, cleaners, shampoo bottles

Household cleaning product bottles (must be empty), cooking oil bottles, salad dressing bottles, and some shampoo bottles. (No PVC piping allowed at all!)

Plastic bags (all of the bags must be put inside one of the bags),

Small Buckets (8” diameter max.), soap dispenser bottles, food storage containers, squeezable bottles (NO Food Residue Allowed)

Yogurt containers, margarine tubs, some food containers, ketchup bottles (rinsed clean)

Small plastic flower pots (8” max. size and must be clean), plastic cups, and some medicine bottles

Some miscellaneous small plastic containers/packaging

 

In the Cannon River Wilderness Area, the snow is deep and the water table high

Griff Wigley and Chad Dougherty Chad Dougherty at the Cannon River Wilderness Area Chad Dougherty at the Cannon River Wilderness Area
Chad Dougherty (my mentee) and I went snowshoeing at the east end of the Cannon River Wilderness Area this afternoon. I wanted to show him the site of where Henry Fisk, the Rice County hermit, lived.  In the small protected meadow adjacent to where the Fisk cabin was located, Chad dug down to the ground. You can see that the snow is about 3 feet deep.

groundwater flowing at the Cannon River Wilderness Area groundwater flowing at the Cannon River Wilderness Area groundwater flowing at the Cannon River Wilderness Area Chad Dougherty at the Cannon River Wilderness Area
Up on the bank just south of the footbridge over Fisk Creek, Chad spotted this area where the water is flowing out of the ground. It appears to be a new flow because the grass sod is still visible as it turns to muck.

Something Democrats and Republicans can agree on: Move public notices to the web

In yesterday’s StarTribune: Time may be right to move public notices to the Web. Governments want to save cost of running them in newspapers. Opponents say public will be harmed.

The law requires notices in newspapers of board proceedings, tax levies, forfeited properties, financial statements and project bids. Against the rising tide of Internet use, many see dumping newspaper notices as a cost saver whose time has come.

Rep. Steve Drazkowski, R-Mazeppa, has introduced a bill to let local governments skip the papers and publish such notices only on their websites. Drazkowski, who is leading a GOP charge against several state mandates, said using websites will help jurisdictions make up for cuts in state aid. "This is a way to allow local governments the freedom and flexibility to do the best job they can," he said. The bill has six sponsors, including Bloomington DFLer Ann Lenczewski. It has not been introduced in the Senate.

Public NoticeBill Name: HF0162. "Political subdivisions authorized to publish proceedings, official notices, and summaries on their Web sites in lieu of newspaper publication."

Anyone know how much the City of Northfield, the Northfield School District, and Rice County pay the Northfield News to publish public notices every year?

Rice County wants you to take their parks, recreation & open space survey

I got an email this week from Brad Behrens, Environmental Technologist with Rice County Environmental Services (Planning and Zoning Dept), about their current Rice County Parks, Recreation & Open Space Survey.

It’s only a two-pager and be completed in less than 5 minutes, so take it! (Text below is from this news item):

Parks surveyRice County is in the process of updating the Rice County Comprehensive Parks, Recreation and Open Space Plan. The Plan will include a full assessment of Rice County Parks as well as an inventory of all existing park and recreation opportunities in all of Rice County (incorporated areas as well as unincorporated areas).

The plan will also include the development of policies to assure park and trail access, encourage use of parks and trails for physical activity, provide information about facilities to all residents and provide for integration of county-owned parks and trails with other recreational facilities in Rice County. This plan will address three questions: Where are we now? Where should we go? And how do we get there?

As a part of this plan update process, Rice County would like to hear from people who live and work in Rice County as to their park usage and recreational needs. A survey has been developed to gather information that will be beneficial in guiding the development of the comprehensive parks, recreation and open space plan.

A new proposed location for MotokazieLand in Cannon City Township

I got an email last week from Stephanie Henriksen, alerting me that MotokazieLand (see my April blog post, MotokazieLand Recreation Park: sounds like a good development) has a new proposed location in Cannon City Township, south of County 9 (150th Street East) approximately mid-way between Hwy 3 and I35 (Dennis Shaw property at 1267 150th St. East).

I spoke to Lee Theis, president and owner of Motokazie, a motorsports race promotion and track-building company. His application fits the county zoning so this will be a two-step process, ie, Rice County Planning Commission, then the Board. Since it’s not a request for a zoning change like last time, a simple majority of the Board (3 of 5) is required for approval. All the environmental studies are being done now. He expects it to go before the Planning Commission early in 2011. See the news page on his website for more.

MotokakieLand - Cannon City Township map  MotokakieLand - Cannon City Township map 2  MotokakieLand - CUP application

Continue reading A new proposed location for MotokazieLand in Cannon City Township

The fight over wind turbine siting moves from Greenvale Township to Rice County

"Township Wind Turbine Discussion" is agenda item #6 at tonight’s work session after the Northfield City Council meeting.

Dr. Gary Carlson, a physician at Allina, has a commentary in today’s Strib titled Wind energy’s ripple effects.

Gary CarlsonI just returned from a meeting of my county planning committee, where we debated the pros and cons of our neighbor’s proposal to put up two 400-foot wind turbines, with the closest about 1,300 feet from our property line. My family lives on a bluff on the edge of Northfield…

Getting up to speed on the science of sound and the medical research related to wind turbines has been exhausting, and in the process I have discovered the dark medical underbelly of industrial-sized turbines. They produce a lot of infrasonic and low-frequency noise.

See:

Scattered across four Rice County townships and capable of producing as much as one megawatt of power each, the six turbines that received preliminary approval would be constructed by Gro Wind LLC. — a company presided over by Leone Medin.  Medin was a co-owner of Medin Renewable Energy, which attempted to construct the 11-turbine Greenvale Township wind farm in Dakota County along with another company, Sparks Energy.

The companies’ plans failed last year after the wind farm ran into heavy opposition from township residents. According to permit applications submitted by the companies to Rice County, the two turbines that did not receive preliminary approval from the Planning Commission would be developed by Spring Creek Wind LLC., co-owned by Anna Schmalzbauer, Medin’s daughter.

Septic system inspections: keeping the lakes clean

Inspecting a septic tankseptic_systemSeptic system inspections have been in the news a lot lately in Rice County.  You can read more about it on the Cannon River Watershed Partnership wastewater page.

Maintenance of septic systems is very important especially if you have lakeshore property.  Having systems that function properly keeps human waste out of the lakes and reduces the bacteria and phosphorus that pollute the water.   To prepare your septic system and cabin for the cold months ahead:

  1. Have your septic tank pumped regularly
  2. Cover the system with a layer of straw or leaves for insulation
  3. Have your furnace cleaned, seal windows, unplug appliances, and winterize any plumbing that won’t be in use during the winter.

(Editor’s note: this was originally submitted to the membership sideblog but I’ve opted to post it to the main blog since Rice County’s septic system inventory has been an issue. – Griff)

From the CRWP wastewater page:

Rice County’s septic system inventory, in which county staff assess if a property’s septic system is an imminent public health threat, has come under criticism at two public meeting over the past couple weeks. This criticism caused the Rice County Board to decide to not apply for additional funding to continue the inventory, for now. See below for Faribault Daily News coverage:

The pros and cons of regional transit for Northfield

NfldTransCorrI got a postcard in the mail last week about a meeting on Tuesday Oct. 26  titled:

Northfield’s Transit Corridor: Restoring our Connections, Exploring our Possibilities

See the blog post on Northfield.org for details.

While regional transit has its obvious benefits, there are concerns about the extend to which it will encourage the development of Northfield into more of a bedroom community or commuter town than it already is.

I’m undecided.

On a related note was last week’s news that Google Cars Drive Themselves, in Traffic. I got an email from a Northfield resident who wrote:

I think that this concept of linking cars on the highway has the greatest potential to solve our traffic problems in any city and may obviate or reduce the need for massive investments in local rail or even high-speed rail between major cities. That may sit badly with some, but it would represent the combination of personal convenience, which drives our desire to own cars, and mass transit to economize on fuel consumption.