NDDC head honcho Ross Currier stopped by my corner office at GBM this morning to remind me that Taste of Northfield 2013 is tomorrow. As usual, he’s concerned about the weather since it’s a one-day event with a history of meteorological dramatics.
I warned y’all in my December 10 blog post, A lunch portends changes for LoGro. It’s now happening. I’ve got a contract with the City of Northfield, wearing my Wigley and Associates consulting hat, to create and manage the online platform for a City project: Developing a parking management plan for downtown.
That’s a link to the new blogsite for the project where all the activity will occur (not here on LoGro, which is why I’ve got comments turned off for this blog post.)
I’ll be teaming up with Ross Currier, Executive Director of the Northfield Downtown Development Corporation (NDDC).
I’m pretty excited about doing this, actually. I hope you Northfielders who follow things here on LoGro will participate there, not only to help create a downtown parking management plan but to help me and the City get better at managing public projects which need a significant amount of genuine citizen engagement.
See you over there!
I had lunch at Chapati last week with Northfield City Administrator Tim Madigan, NDDC Executive Director Ross Currier, and Chris Heineman, Northfield’s Director of Planning and Community Development. We were discussing the details of my proposed contract with the City to provide online citizen engagement services for two-month project starting Real Soon Now.
I’ve long contended that if I ever was appointed to one of the City’s boards or commissions, it would change the nature of my blogging about the City. And I’ve recently written that this would also be true if I ever got a consulting contract with the City. I think both situations demand that my relationships with the City’s leaders take priority over my public opinionating about them or the City. And in the case of a contract, I’ll have a conflict of interest when it comes to opinionating on city-related matters.
If I blog about anything related to the City of Northfield or its leaders, the tone of my blog post will be along the lines of "Here’s something interesting. What do y’all think?" Essentially, my role will be more of a moderator. The opinionating (praise or criticism) will have to come from all of you.
I may stumble, as I’ve been freely opinionating about the City here on LoGro for seven years. If you catch me going over the line, speak up.
I’m not sure what happened to promotion for this year’s Small Business Saturday here in Northfield but it seems to have tanked right along with Be Local … Buy Local (BLBL), the campaign by the Northfield Area Chamber of Commerce and the Northfield Downtown Development Corporation “that promotes the importance of shopping locally for products and services in the Northfield area.”
Keep it simple:
I was at a meeting of downtown office workers last week, hosted by the NDDC, when the discussion veered towards downtown amenities. NEC head honcho Megan Tsui brought up the issue of the lack of tables on Bridge Square that would be conducive for both meetings as well as eating. She said someone from the City once told her that they couldn’t put picnic tables on Bridge Square because pranksters would toss them in the Cannon River.
This little tidbit made its way back to Northfield City Hall and a few days later, NDDC ED Ross Currier told me that two picnic tables magically appeared on Bridge Square, evidently via
divine intervention an executive order from City Engineer/Public Works Director Joe Stapf.
Cool. And it makes me hopeful we’ll soon see even better table/bench amenities there that are conducive to meetings, games, socializing, and eating.
(With apologies to the author of the Book of Genesis for my blog post title.)
While I was gone, NDDC Executive Director and former LoGro blogger Ross Currier posted this comment to a 2007 blog post of his titled Is Northfield Business-Friendly?
I’m elevating it from a comment to a blog post because A) I agree with him; and B) it’s a big deal.
Griff has suggested in several recent comments that my overall evaluation of City staff may have changed. Actually, my valuation system hasn’t changed. However, over the past eighteen months, there’s been quite a bit of staff turnover down at City Hall.
I haven’t attended any of what I’ve heard to be excellent Candidate Forums at the Contented Cow. From what I’ve heard, one of the most-promised deliverables by the candidates is to “increase the business-friendliness” of Northfield. Apparently, it’s repeated like a slogan, something along the lines of “I’m for Mom, Apple Pie, and Increasing Business-Friendliness”. However, there has been very little definition of “business-friendliness” and even less on specific steps to take in order to increase it.
I’ll offer one definition of “business-friendliness”: a good attitude. In this specific case, I’m thinking of the attitude of City staff. Most the staff I’ve worked with down at City Hall over the past eight years have been great; more importantly, they have that good attitude that is a key component of “business-friendliness”.
Most of my work has been with the “worker bees”. If the City’s organizational structure is a pyramid, I’m working with the folks down at that rock-solid base of the pyramid. In thinking about the staff turnover over the past eighteen months, most of it has been at or near the top of the pyramid.
In my opinion, the staff members who departed from the higher strata of the City staff pyramid over the past eighteen months (or so) did not have that good attitude. I don’t wish to be overly dramatic, but with the City staff who departed, the City staff who were added, the City staff who were (at least on an interim basis) elevated, and the City staff who had been there for a couple of decades and were finally recognized for their long-standing good attitudes, there has been, in my experience, what feels like a 180 degree change in the, let’s call it, attitudinal culture of City staff.
The four “newer” Councilors, Buckheit, Ganey, Nakasian, and Zweifel, have been frequently criticized, at least by specific segments of the population, about their approach to economic development. They have been accused of being stuck in amber, trying to turn a lawnmower into a go-kart (which, frankly, made me think of Steve Jobs, who tried (successfully) to turn a telephone into multi-media device), and, most remarkably, “mean”.
Now, I admit, I generally limit (in fact I work hard to limit) my observations of the City Council to those times where they are discussing issues that have substantive impacts of areas or functions for which I believe I have some interest or responsibility. However, I have observed several instances in which some or all of the four “newer” Councilors were accused of being “mean”. At the risk of generalizing, the majority of these instances, in my opinion, seemed to be based on situations in which the Councilors were accused of being “mean” to City staff.
“Mean”, in my opinion, was not the appropriate word to use. In my personal observations of this handful of instances, it seemed to me that the Councilors had requested information from City staff at a previous meeting and City staff had not delivered the information, or at least not in the format or to the level of the Councilors’ expectations. Perhaps a better word might have been “tough” or “demanding” or even just “following up”.
It is interesting to me that the City staff members who were subject to this alleged Council “meanness” are the same City staff members who have moved on. Yes, that’s right, these victims of “meanness” were the same City staff members whom I, personally, thought lacked good attitudes.
So, were these Councilors “mean” to the staff with bad attitudes and “nice” to the staff with good attitudes? Perhaps it could be considered effective management, enforcing a policy requiring good attitudes.
Perhaps it is a management strategy shared by the chief of operations, in the last eighteen months, City Administrator Madigan. Certainly he has been clear from the beginning about his expectations for the attitudinal culture of the City staff.
Perhaps most importantly, there appears to be more agreement between a majority of the Council and a majority of staff on attitudinal culture at City Hall. From my perspective, over the past eighteen months, this certainly has been a rapidly and clearly emerging trend.
Perhaps it’s just a coincidence. After all, I’ve only had my current level of involvement with City staff for the past eight years. Perhaps six and a half years of a bad attitudinal culture and a year and a half of good attitudinal culture is not an adequate period of observation from which to draw a conclusion.
Then again, maybe there is a connection. Maybe the “newer” Councilors’ “meanness”, or “demanding” management style, or simple “following up” and the City Administrator’s “severity”, or “clarity” of expectations, or simple “following up” has played a role, perhaps even a key role, in the 180 change in attitudinal culture of City staff.
In which case, perhaps I owe them my thanks for the recent, steady, even dramatic increase, at least in my experience, of the “business-friendliness” in Northfield. Oh, and I guess I owe my thanks to Griff for pointing it out to me.
In July of 2004, I took a photo of NDDC‘s Ross Currier eating Quality Bakery’s Alaskan donut at the start of Northfield’s Crazy Daze. Many interventions have been attempted over the years to break him of this habit, to no avail. Yesterday morning, I once again chronicled the sad debacle of a once proud man, powerless in the face of a particular combination of flour and sugar.
Northfielder Hans Muessig is a Director with the Minnesota Intelligent Rural Communities program at University of Minnesota Extension. Last week, he was the presenter for Doing business online, the first in a series of three workshops on ‘Reaching Customers in the 21st Century’ that’s sponsored by the NDDC, the EDA, the NEC, and the Northfield Area Chamber of Commerce.
See Ross Currier’s posts on his NDDC blog: