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.
Last week, members of Northfield Transition Youth/YES (Youth Energy Summit) who worked on welding downtown’s new combination recycling/trash bins stopped by my corner office at GBM for a photo. And they brought a few photos of themselves welding the bins with Eco Gardens co-owner Howie Holt.
In the photo on the left (L to R) are high schoolers Arlo Cristofaro-Hark, Helen Forsythe, Antonia Cristofaro-Hark, and Cliff Martin. Not pictured: Avery Swearer. Behind them are two of the many adults who were involved in the project: George Kinney and Mary Jo Cristofaro.
Back in July, I blogged about the arrival of the combination recycling/trash bins downtown. Three commenters to that post told the story of how the project came to be. Northfield Councilor Betsey Buckheit wrote:
Northfield Transition Youth/YES developed the project to build recycling bins for downtown because, as Griff has complained, the plastic wheelie bins chained to the trash receptacles weren’t very attractive (and then they disappeared) and to encourage recycling. I believe they had a design competition, but their first design made of wood did not pass muster with the HPC. George Kinney was helping develop the project in its design/initial attempt, but I believe this was as a private citizen and not an EQC project.
The Downtown Streetscape Task Force was moving ahead to buy receptacles much like what has been created, but they cost $1500 apiece. Streetscape was willing, but that’s when Howie stepped in to say — Hey, we can do this cheaper here. I can teach kids to weld, we can cut apart old trash containers and “stretch” them with similar-looking slats. A bit more back and forth on this — keeping recycling dry is a big deal because wet paper, according to Joe Stapf, spoils the lot, so ensuring there were lids on the containers was critical. TJ Heinricy helped by providing old trash receptacles for creating a prototype. Streetscape Task Force worked out the details and is paying for the containers.
And, now they’re beginning to appear on the street. I understand from Howie that he’s got some great youth welding talent, too. The Transition youth, Mary Jo Cristafaro (another adult assistant), and Howie deserve a round of applause for their idea, persistence, and execution. Looks great; saves money.
NDDC’s Ross Currier wrote:
Betsey, in addition to the much-deserving Joe Stapf and T. J. Heinricy, I think thanks, by name, are due to Bob Will, Chair of the Streetscape Task Force, Steve Edwins, Member of the Heritage Preservation Commission, and Betsey Buckheit, Second Ward Councilor, for walking down to Eco Gardens and checking out Howie’s prototype. They all went the extra mile (okay, maybe it was only half a mile) to give the local option a chance.
Although having a decision-making rubric is a great idea (it can promote fairness and efficiency), it would appear that sometimes it’s a good idea to add a little “common sense” or, for a lack of a better term, subjective valuation to the decision-making process. The decision had been made according to the proper policy/procedure and the process/organization was moving toward timely implementation when Howie basically asked, “Could you give it another minute or so?” and Joe, T. J., Bob, Steve, and Betsey said, “We can give it another minute or so”.
Understandably, it would be a challenge to municipal efficiency (in terms of time and, sometimes, money), if we essentially second-guessed every decision made by a public sector group or entity. However, in this particular example of a sometimes stumbling (or seemingly inefficient), and admittedly stop and go process, reviewing the decision, particularly double-checking both the explicit and implicit values likely to be used by the community to judge the results, before taking irreversible steps to implement the plan, resulted in a better outcome.
City of Northfield Environmental Quality Commission (EQC) member George Kinney wrote:
Well deserved credit goes to the stalwarts of Transition Youth/YES, Mary Jo, and Mera Colling, who worked on quite a few designs over the past year and a half or more — lots of prototypes, many false starts, and I think we are so happy that the final design received everyone’s approval. TJ and Howie really came through for the group — helping to find solutions and getting the process moving. It wouldn’t have happened without their help. The group received additional support and encouragement from Northfield in Bloom and Curt Saffle of Waste Management.
As far as the EQC is concerned, we’ve been pushing for permanent downtown recycling options for probably close to 10 years, with Suzie Nakasian being the champion for several years on EQC (and then Planning Commission).
Happy to have had a hand in it.
In August, Jordan Osterman at the Northfield News did a story: Northfield youth group leads the way on recycling in parks, downtown
Thanks to the leadership of a group of Northfield High School and Arcadia Charter School students, along with the help of the community, city workers are now in the process of installing what will eventually be 28 new recycling/garbage bin combos in the downtown area and parks where no recycling bins were previously available.
In October, high school student Logan Regnier produced a video about the project and it’s up on Northfield Patch: Youth, City Collaborate on New Recycling Bins
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.)
Tracy Davis, former queen of the Locally Grown Triumvirate, now has her own radio show on KYMN called Think Twice, ‘Ideas and Insight for a Vibrant Community,’ airing Wednesdays at 6 PM. (She also has a Think Twice show page on her City Commons blog site.)
This week, she invited me and Ross Currier as guests, talking about the City issues. (Apologies for the crappy smartphone photos.) I had fun and I’m guessing that we were marginally adequate in pumping up her audience numbers.
See the Episode #6 show notes and MP3 here.
Historical note: the Locally Grown Northfield radio show/podcast ran from early 2006 to mid-2010. You can still listen to all 189 episodes.
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.
The weather for Taste of Northfield 2012, Round 2 started out gorgeous on Thursday afternoon (it was rained out in June) and Bridge Square began filling up with hungry townsfolk.
I returned an hour later, shocked to see Bridge Square packed with people eating and musicians performing. Women were bestowing their charms upon NDDC‘s Ross Currier in appreciation, his Alaskan donut addiction notwithstanding. Once again, Northfield citizens had pulled together to defend the town.
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.