The fight with Waterford Township: communication and transparency issues again bite City of Northfield in the ass

Five items to suggest that the City hasn’t yet learned the importance of communications and transparency:

  • bite_me_toilet Posted to the Nfld News at 7 pm yesterday: City may have violated Open Meetings Law. “Five City Council members have now confirmed that they met individually with the city administrator to discuss withholding tax reimbursements from Waterford Township, an apparent violation of state Open Meetings Law.”
  • Wed. Nfld News: Fighting words arise over 30-year-old annexation agreement: “The city’s decision to review the agreement at next Tuesday’s city council meeting is “unethical,” since it doesn’t provide enough time for Waterford to weigh its legal options, Dudley said after discussing the issue with city officials at the township’s regular meeting on Monday night.”

  • Managing Editor Suzy Rook in her Writer’s Block column: Jim Pokorney says he didn’t intend to say the News acted unethically. “During a discussion of an apparent “security breach” at City Hall in which the newspaper ended up with a document the city administrator says he asked staff and council members not to share, Pokorney said we should have given the document back to its rightful owner.”
  • Jane McWilliams observer report: “There are yet unanswered questions about whether and how the staff got direction to request the memorandum, as there has been, to the knowledge of the League observer, no recent public discussion about the matter.”
  • Council Betsey Buckheit’s blog post, What I’m still learning: "Have staff overstepped their authority? Yes, I believe they have. Why have they done this? Because the Council (and previous Councils – this is an entrenched cultural problem, not a one time error) has allowed it to happen. Transparency in the workings of city government is paramount.   The council has failed to make clear that anything that smacks of secrecy, or strategic withholding of information, and or non-public process are all unacceptable.

185 Comments

  1. Griff Wigley said:

    KYMN news update yesterday:

    And according to Mayor Rossing there’s another aspect of the story that may require further scrutiny. It appears information about the annexation agreement in a memo to the city council was leaked to the media. She says the memo clearly indicated attorney-client privilege and was known about by city counselors before the city’s visit to the Waterford board, but was supposed to remain confidential up to that point. Mayor Rossing says an investigation may follow.

    January 14, 2010
  2. kiffi summa said:

    With respect to the mayor’s opinion, she is side stepping or conflating the base issue. This is a ridiculous “spin’ to put on a problem that is far more serious than leaks to the newspaper, which I might add, have been presumed to have been occurring since the conflicts of the previous administration.

    The basic and far more troublesome issue is that of the City Administrator having even ‘sequential’ meetings with councilors to advance a policy decision… a policy decision which degrades the fragile relationship Northfield maintains with its neighboring townships.

    All of this speaks of an arrogance that cannot be tolerated in a community that expects more of both its elected officials and staff.

    But, “make no mistake ” as our primary politician and governmental leader says … Not all of the council is “in” on this or in agreement, but councilors who are ‘obstreperous” get phone calls at home from their highest level employee…
    Those councilors who want to clear these issues up, must be supported by public comment. Do not condemn them all, but listen to what they say… and if they say it, hold them to their words.

    January 14, 2010
  3. David Ludescher said:

    Did I miss something?

    Can’t City Council members meet with the City Administrator serially? I thought the concern was councilmembers deciding issues without public discussion.

    So what if a memo is attorney-client privileged? The client doesn’t have to keep it privileged; only the lawyer has to. If a public official wants to leak information to the media, so what?

    January 14, 2010
  4. Patrick Enders said:

    David,
    Interesting questions. I guess different lawyers have different opinions on the open meeting law.

    January 14, 2010
  5. john george said:

    And then we wonder why it is so difficult to get anyone to serve on commissions? Seems like if you are in any way connected with city government, you about have to consult legal council to determine where you can go to the bathroom.

    January 14, 2010
  6. kiffi summa said:

    Serial meetings are a violation of the open meeting law. period.

    Mark Anfinson is the authority, in this state, on this law… he also advises the League of Minnesota Cities, and the newspaper ‘s professional assn.

    Policy decisions are not to be made in serial meetings and out of the public eye.

    Everyone can make mistakes; the question is: will these misadventures be owned up to, apologized for, or will the spin continue?

    January 14, 2010
  7. kiffi summa said:

    David: of course the City administrator may meet with councilors, when it is for information delivery,… but not to come to a conclusion which results in a policy action. that’s the difference; the spin is all about the leak; the leak is not the basic issue.

    January 14, 2010
  8. kiffi summa said:

    By the way… for those who have not read Councilor Buckheit’s latest blog post on this and related matters of transparency, you need to read it , and appreciate the courage it takes to be the first Councilor to acknowledge ,a serious problem of governance.

    Adults acknowledge, correct , and move on with good intentions… that’s what C. Buckheit has done. Thank you, Ms. Councilor.

    January 14, 2010
  9. Jane McWilliams said:

    My concern is not only with the possibility that Joel and the council may have engaged in some questionable decision-making procedures. I am troubled also by the “privileged and confidential” designation of Hood’s analysis and opinion. What is that all about? If it was prepared at the behest of the council to be presented to the Waterford board, why wouldn’t it be considered a public document? Did the councilors see it before Monday? If so, doesn’t that make it a public information?

    Finally, I think it was very inappropriate for such a provocative document to be conveyed to the township folks without explicit public sanction by the council. In addition to transparency, we should expect accountability from our elected officials. Moreover, how can we possibly expect Waterford to cooperate with us if we treat them so heavy handedly?

    The kindest spin I can put on all this is that the staff is so beset by so many issues (budget, safety center/library financing, annexations, assembling documents for the Lansing investigation, etc.), that they resorted to expediency rather than prudence.

    January 14, 2010
  10. Patrick Enders said:

    For those who are interested, MN Open Meeting Law is here:
    https://www.revisor.mn.gov/statutes/?id=13D

    In addition, the mystery poster fairandbalanced over on the News site quoted from the following legislative research paper on the subject:
    http://www.docstoc.com/docs/14619997/Minnesota-Laws

    It says on the subject:

    Serial meetings in groups of less than a quorum held in
    order to avoid open meeting law requirements may also be found to be a violation, depending on the facts of the case.11

    However, the footnote in the same reference states:

    11 Id. at 518; see also Mankato Free Press Co. v. City of North Mankato, 563 N.W.2d 291, 295 (Minn. App.
    1997). On remand to the district court for a factual finding on whether the city used serial interviews to avoid the
    open meeting law, the trial court found, and the court of appeals affirmed, that the serial meetings were not held to
    avoid the law. Mankato Free Press Co. v. City of North Mankato, 1998 WL 865714 (Minn. App. 1998)
    (unpublished opinion).

    I guess it all comes down to what was discussed when Joel met with the various councilpersons.

    January 14, 2010
  11. Stephanie Henriksen said:

    The law firm of Flaherty & Hood is known for aggressive action against townships in annexation matters on behalf of cities all across the state. Now that this firm has begun work for the City as of Jan. 1, am I surprised at the move against townships, starting with Waterford, in recent days and the charge of violation of open meeting law? Not really.

    Let’s hope this serves as a wake-up call for the Mayor and Council to see to it that city business is conducted in the light of day and that staff and legal counsel are held to a higher standard. Time will tell.

    January 14, 2010
  12. kiffi summa said:

    The reason that serial meetings are against the law is that they obscure the absolute for decision making in the public eye, except for the few named exclusions which permit a closed meeting.

    The council did NOT give direction to the Administrator in their public meeting to develop a legal position and present it to the Waterford Town Board…

    ***Think about it folks… if that direction had been given in the public meeting, there would have been no need for these non-public meetings with councilors on this policy issue… would there? ***

    January 15, 2010
  13. kiffi summa said:

    Patrick: “fairandbalanced” (NFNews troll) is always selective in the information he/she/it provides.
    I suggest you read Betsey Buckheit’s blog as to whether there was an infraction or not.

    January 15, 2010
  14. Patrick Enders said:

    Kiffi,
    Many people are selective in the information they present.

    The paper that F&B referenced was a legislative analyst’s paper – generally about as good as it gets for a brief and fairly reliable summary of the law.

    I’m just acknowledging the source that brought the reference to my attention.

    January 15, 2010
  15. Patrick Enders said:

    Kiffi,
    Many people are selective in the information they present.

    The paper that F&B referenced was a legislative analyst’s paper – generally about as good as it gets for a brief and fairly reliable summary of the law.

    I’m just acknowledging the source that brought the reference to my attention.

    January 15, 2010
  16. kiffi summa said:

    Patrick: a legislative analyst’s opinion is yes, ” about as good as it gets for a brief and fairly reliable summary of the law” AS IT APPLIES TO THE PARTICULAR CASE BEING ANALYZED.

    Since you seem to put some faith in some anonymous opinions, read “dapa2″‘s reply to “f and b”.

    … and please read Councilor Buckheit’s blog. Isn’t she your council rep?

    January 15, 2010
  17. David Ludescher said:

    Kiffi: This is an excellent point. There should have been a public decision to conduct this business, even if the business could have been conducted privately. We need to remember that our new legal counsel has neither the institutional experience nor practical wisdom of our previous counsel.

    January 15, 2010
  18. Patrick Enders said:

    No, Betsey is not my councilperson. I am happy to report that Jim Pokorney is my council representative.

    I have read dapa2’s post (and responded to it). I have not read all of his linked materials, because I have done so in the past, and I have found that he generally relies on pretty unreliable sources. For good examples, check out any of his voluminous references on the subject of global warming.

    If you look at the paper I referenced, you will see that it is not an analysis of a single case, but a summary of MN Open Records law generally.

    At some point, I will read Betsey’s blog. Thanks for bringing that to my attention. However, I find that I need a better understanding of the law generally before I’ll be better able to make sense of this case in particular.

    Oh, and Joey’s waking up now. Bye bye.

    January 15, 2010
  19. Patrick Enders said:

    Kiffi,
    I have now read Betsey’s blog. However, I don’t see anything she has written there which directly addresses “whether there was an infraction or not” – if by “infraction” you mean “violation of the Open Meetings Law.”

    All I see is a vague statement:

    “Have staff overstepped their authority? Yes, I believe they have.

    Why have they done this? Because the Council (and previous Councils – this is an entrenched cultural problem, not a one time error) has allowed it to happen.”

    Indeed, it’s hard to tell what exactly she is referring to. Perhaps she will clarify her remarks at a later date.

    January 15, 2010
  20. Jane Moline said:

    Great. Can we all agree that when you go to a city council meeting it appears that all of the council has previously come to a decision, fail to fully discuss these decisions in the meetings, and then take votes that appear to be premature for everyone involved (becuase how could they have come to a conclusion unless they had previously met secretly and pre-decided their decision?). That seems to be the dilema of all public-elected-authorities (not just Northfield). Woo-hoo. This complaint will never go away until the City Council can get it through their heads that they have a responsibility to the citizens to fully discuss every issue–including discussing how much they discussed it before they got to the meeting. Instead, the city administrator and city council seem to work in concert to circumvent the open meeting laws. In all cities. Maybe they learned this from Dick Cheney or maybe it is part of our cynical political situation, but it is what it is.

    How about questioning the original agreement with Waterford. This agreement was entered into by a previous council and is unfairly beneficial to Waterford and absolutely prejudicial to Northfield. It is resonable for the Northfield administration and the Northfield city council to question why they should be working to keep Northfield taxpayers bound to such a one-sided agreement.

    Second, what about a general discussion of annexation? One of the problems facing county governments is dealing with residential (and comercial/industrial) growth in the townships–townships whose governance was originated and based on an agricultural society requiring residential restriction in order to preserve farming. Municipalities, on the other hand, are endowed under state law with the ability to govern residential development and monitor and regulate residential and commercial/industrial development.

    Look at Bridgewater–which enacted municipality-like structure (zoning and planning) in order to restrict industrial development due to the failure of the county and state to regulate that development.

    Waterford is unincorporated yet has substantial residential growth. Some years ago Northfield foolishly entered into an unfavorable agreement. Well, even this non-lawyer can tell you that you can’t enter into an illegal contract–and for Northfield to pay Waterford for property taxes forever seems pretty hinky to me. Frankly, Waterford was a big greedy in their blackmail on the original agreement, and it is their due to deal with that greed now.

    I have every sympathy with Waterford residents to want to control development in their neighborhood. Incorporate and govern, then.

    January 15, 2010
  21. Patrick Enders said:

    Jane,
    Want to join me, and post your thoughts on the annexation agreement over here:
    “Does the Waterford Township annexation agreement need to be revised?”
    https://locallygrownnorthfield.org/post/3604/

    I agree that the Waterford annexation agreement needs to be fixed, but I’m pretty sure that the “who said what to whom, and when?” discussion will dominate in this thread. Heck, just compare the two titles.

    January 15, 2010
  22. Stephanie Henriksen said:

    Jane, your portrayal of Waterford as the “big greedy” I find appalling. Waterford Township has already been reduced to a fragment of what it once was by land grabs by Northfield, including the waste treatment plant. That was about 1971. When they were hesitant to release 20 acres to Northfield for Sheldahl in 1980 without getting something in return, who could blame them?

    It was a good compromise, supported by the State Legislature. Certainly Mayor Arnie Nelson thought so at the time. The first tax payment Waterford got was very small. Now it’s up to something over $3000/yr as I understand it. Northfield gets the larger tax share on it by far and should be satisfied.

    All Dakota Cty townships have their own zoning, coordinated with the County. Bridgewater is first to do p&z in Rice County. We, too, are tired of bad decisions by the County. We exercised our right to local control provided by state law.

    We did not have our own zoning when the annexation agreement w/Dundas was passed and this led to some confusion when it came to issuing permits on property on borders of Dundas (Annexation Reserve District), but this has been worked out.

    I am pleased and thankful that my township supervisors chose to do their zoning, with the support of the large majority of our residents.

    January 15, 2010
  23. Griff Wigley said:

    Kiffi, I’ve also removed your comment about the anonymous commenters on the Northfield News website. I’ve asked you several times to stop doing this, that it’s not a concern of ours here.

    Patrick, I’ve removed your comment since it was attached to Kiffi’s.

    For others, Patrick linked to her comment to Jon Denison, which I’ve also removed.

    January 15, 2010
  24. john george said:

    Griff- Feel free to remove mine, also. It really doesn’t mean anything without the other comments, and you did exactly what I thought you should with those. Thanks for a great job of moderating.

    January 15, 2010
  25. kiffi summa said:

    Griff: As previously stated, In My Opinion, you do not understand the nature of an “ad hominem” comment. It is not possible to make an “ad hominem” “attack” on an anonymous commenter.There is no possibility of defamation to a anonymous entity.

    The fact that you don’t “like” comments about the administrative structure of the NFNews website might be considered irrelevant to any pertinent issue except for your personal preference, since you regularly make critical personal evaluations of both that and the City Website.

    January 16, 2010
  26. Griff Wigley said:

    Kiffi, Jon Denison may be anonymous on the Nlfd News site but he’s not anonymous over on the EDA thread where you addressed him. Ad Hominem attack? I don’t know. My main concern is that it poisons any hope of having a discussion about the EDA’s situation with someone who’s in a relevant leadership position… and sends a signal to the rest of LG readers, especially other councilors and community leaders, that if they make a comment here, they’re likewise opening themselves up to that type of comment.

    As for your comments about the anonymous commenters on the Nfld News website, I’ve told you before: If and when one of us blogs about that policy, then you can chime in. Until then, don’t bring it up. My sandbox, my rule.

    January 16, 2010
  27. Griff Wigley said:

    Joel Walinski’s unhappy with the Nfld News, as evidenced by his wording in this week’s Friday Memo:

    In response to the allegation and creation of news by the Northfield News this week, I requested City Attorney Chris Hood to provide a memo regarding Open Meeting Law requirements and the relevant facts regarding the distribution of information to Council members on the Waterford/Northfield Joint Resolution. His memo is attached to this week’s Friday Memo.

    January 16, 2010
  28. Patrick Enders said:

    Kiffi,
    For the record, there is no evidence that Jon Denison posts on Nfld News – anonymous or otherwise.

    January 16, 2010
  29. Patrick Enders said:

    Actually, that should’ve read “Griff,…” not “Kiffi.”

    January 16, 2010
  30. Patrick Enders said:

    His memo is attached to this week’s Friday Memo.

    Is it in a separate PDF? It doesn’t seem to be in the memo itself, and it would be interesting to see his explanation of his meetings with the individual councilpersons.

    January 16, 2010
  31. Griff Wigley said:

    Nfld News has an updated version of: Meetings may have broken state law.

    Giving Waterford a heads up was the neighborly thing to do, said councilors Pokorney and Rhonda Pownell. Walinski said his discussions with Waterford were in keeping with an informal agreement with town Supervisor John Dudley to notify him before the city took any action that could impact the township. “I was being true to that and building a relationship with the Waterford Town Board,” he said.

    John Dudley appears to be upset with BOTH the process and the content, so Joel’s attempt at relationship-building appears to not have worked.

    January 16, 2010
  32. Griff Wigley said:

    In the same Nld News article:

    Jessica Peterson White, Northfield’s League of Women Voters president, says her worry is about the lack of transparency. “I’m concerned that there doesn’t seem to be clear direction to staff to seek this (attorney’s) opinion,” she said. “It’s a substantive enough action that I think it deserves some discussion in the council chambers,” she said, noting Thursday that the league board hadn’t yet weighed in on the topic.

    Jessica’s comment echoes that of Jane McWilliams which I noted above: “There are yet unanswered questions about whether and how the staff got direction to request the memorandum, as there has been, to the knowledge of the League observer, no recent public discussion about the matter.”

    I’m wondering, if Joel did this on his own, what could have been the motivation? Why the urgency?

    January 16, 2010
  33. Patrick Enders said:

    Thanks.

    Mr. Hood’s account of the meetings in the “Relevant Facts” section, if accurate, would not seem to violate the open meeting law.

    If they differ on what transpired at the various one-on-one meetings, perhaps Ms. Buckheit or some other councilperson could offer some other account. Otherwise, I assume we’ll never know.

    Still, as I said in the EDA thread, “I would hope that the Council can follow both the spirit as well as the letter of the law.” Even if Joel/Mr. Hood’s account is accurate it could be certain to create suspicion among some city observers, the same matter could’ve been better discussed in a work session, and then relayed to Waterford before meeting in a regular council session to make the decision.

    January 16, 2010
  34. kiffi summa said:

    Since Mr. Walinski says new city attorney Hood gave him the go -ahead to hold meetings with the councilors, and since it is stated that Councilor Denison was the first councilor to meet in Walinski’s office on Jan 4, the first business day of the year… it would seem appropriate to note the times of Mr. Denison’s conference with Mr. Walinski, and Attny Hoods’s advice to Mr. Walinski.

    Since the council meeting of Jan 4 was the beginning of this issue, and was NOT the source of council direction to Mr. Walinski, the date/paper trail would seem to be relevant.

    January 16, 2010
  35. Patrick Enders said:

    Thanks Tracy. Betsey, in her new posting, shows some good insight into both the matter of importance here: how to be more open in discussions going forward, and the importance of readdressing the Waterford agreement.

    January 17, 2010
  36. john george said:

    In looking at what Mr. Laugen linked to (on Ms. Buckheit’s blog), the is difference in legality is between one-way information communication and two-way responses to that information. That is an interesting dilema in this day and age of nearly instant communications. The other question I have is why the information communicated to the councilors could not have been communicated to the Waterford board at the same time?

    January 17, 2010
  37. Stephanie Henriksen said:

    I skimmed through the pdf of the Hood document on open meeting law provided by Griff (comment 21.2 above). I am not impressed, given that Hood has been caught in violations of open meeting law at other locations. Naturally he will defend himself to the best of his ability.

    City wants closed-door meeting with Wilson Township officials
    http://www.winonapost.com/stock/functions/VDG_Pub/detail.php?choice=7549&home_page=1&archives=

    I gave the Mayor and some Council members fair warning of what hiring this firm could mean before they approved the contract. They saw fit to ignore it.

    I will be waiting to see if the Council votes to deny Waterford its annual tax (something in the range of $3000) on Tuesday night, thereby opening up action by Atty Hood to have the whole annexation agreement of 1981 set aside. Or do the right thing for the good of all and drop it. What will they value more–this small amount of tax or the goodwill of the people?

    January 17, 2010
  38. […] to complain that city staff and Council members have failed at transparency (see the News and Locally Grown and more Locally Grown) let’s see what we could have done […]

    January 17, 2010
  39. David Ludescher said:

    Stephanie: I don’t agree with you very often. But, this is one time I do agree.

    This is a 28 years old annexation agreement. We don’t need secret meetings and attorney’s advice to sit down with our neighbors and talk.

    With regard to the attorneys, most of the town, including the Chamber, gave the Council plenty of warning.

    January 18, 2010
  40. Curt Benson said:

    If Northfield is successful in saving $3000/yearly by stopping payments to Waterford, how many years will it take to make up for the impending loss of thousands of dollars in attorney’s fees? What a clumsy way to deal with one’s neighbors.

    January 18, 2010
  41. Patrick Enders said:

    Stephanie,
    They will also weigh the value of the ability (or lack thereof) to annex in the future.

    January 18, 2010
  42. Griff Wigley said:

    Can anyone decipher why there appeared to be urgency for Joel and Brian to delve into this issue and attend the Waterford meeting prior to it being discussed at a Council work session or meeting?

    January 18, 2010
  43. David Ludescher said:

    Griff: No. Betsey’s blog isn’t any help either.

    January 18, 2010
  44. kiffi summa said:

    Griff: I think you should inquire of the relevant parties, i.e. Mr Walinski and Mr. O’Connell, rather than encourage speculation.

    If you ask them directly maybe they will not be hesitant to comment here, as opposed to having speculation about their motives.

    January 18, 2010
  45. Stephanie Henriksen said:

    Yes, Griff, what’s the rush. I heard you ask that of Council member Erica Zweifel in the LG interview on KYMN at 6 pm. We in Bridgewater Township have been wondering why Northfield staff have have been in such a hurry to process the Gill/Prawer annexation also.

    Since the Waterford issue is coming to a vote (whether to cancel the payment of the $3000 tax) tomorrow night, Jan. 19, the vote on the Bridgewater annexation has been postponed to the Feb. 2 Council meeting. What?? It’s scheduled for caucus night? How can this be? Most township residents will be at their party caucus.

    Eric Zweifel did not believe it, when I called her today. She said she had specifically asked that there not be a meeting on caucus night.

    January 18, 2010
  46. Griff Wigley said:

    Today’s Nfld News: Council agrees to wait on Waterford discussion.

    City Councilors agreed to wait a month before deciding whether to stop reimbursing Waterford Township for property taxes the township lost in a 1980 annexation.

    But during a discussion on council process, requested by Councilor Betsey Buckheit, council members agreed that Northfield residents deserve first crack at information and that council should be presented information simultaneously and publicly to avoid a perception of impropriety.

    They also agreed to be clearer in giving staff direction, feeling that city staff went to Waterford based on unclear direction from the board.

    January 20, 2010
  47. Kiffi Summa said:

    Regardless of the thorough discussion at last night’s council meeting on the two internal issues surrounding the Waterford bigger annexation document issue, there are still some ‘holes’.

    First of all , let me state , with great emphasis, that the council was very genuine in its desire to straighten out what had become a murky mess.

    Councilor Buckheit asked for a discussion just on the process surrounding Attny Hood’s memo, and its presentation to the Waterford Town Board. That discussion was far ranging, and very well intentioned.

    However, there is one big discrepancy in my mind, as I watched the meeting and listened carefully. The attorney’s POV is definitely that the entire annexation agreement with Waterford is “null and void”.
    But the primary issue, as brought forth, was the cessation of reimbursement payments (for Tax loss) to Waterford.

    A question was repeatedly asked, by councilors and public, of how ‘tied’ together the two parts of this agreement are; i.e., if the council discontinues making the payments, is the entire agreement negated?
    It would seem so although the attorney did not, I felt answer that as clearly…I may be mistaken… but instead kept saying that in his opinion, the entire agreement was null and void by its own structure anyway.

    So… although the council voted to have a 30 day period for Waterford and their attorneys to respond… the larger issue of the entire agreement still looms large.

    January 20, 2010
  48. Stephanie Henriksen said:

    My two bits:

    Council seemed oblivious to the increasingly negative effect their discussion was having on the audience. Atty Hood said the annexation agreement was nul and void and had been for years. Council members, including Betsy Buckheit (also an attorney), took his word for it. I still believe the agreement is grandfathered in. I hope Waterford gets a good attorney opinion.

    Don McGee, Northfield resident who ran for Zweifel’s seat, said “Amen to those at the mic (Waterford group).” He said just because something is legal does not make it right. As for illegal meetings, people are offended. Won’t legal fees exceed the $3000 annual tax? I say, ” Don’t just table it, BURN IT.” Meaning the atty memo. People broke out clapping.

    January 20, 2010
  49. Jane McWilliams said:

    I don’t think it was reported in the News, but Jessica White Peterson, President of the Northfield League of Women Voters, made a statement at the council meeting Tuesday night about transparency. Find it at: http://lwvnorthfieldmn.org/

    January 21, 2010
  50. Griff Wigley said:

    Jane, can that statement of Jessica’s be put into it’s own blog post so that it’s linkable? If not, can I put it in a comment here in it’s entirety so that it’s not lost when the LWV home page changes?

    For others, Jane’s Observer’s Report of the Tuesday council meeting is at:
    http://lwvnorthfieldmn.org/weblog/post/2076/

    January 21, 2010
  51. Jane McWilliams said:

    Sure – post it as a comment – with attribution! I’ll suggest to the LWV webmaster that she put the link in my post, should the statement disappear from the home page.

    January 21, 2010
  52. Griff Wigley said:

    Jessica Peterson’s statement read at the 01/19/10 City Council meeting:

    Since this new council and mayor took office, there has been an expressed commitment to openness and transparency in city government. The League of Women Voters shares these goals, and considers the encouragement of open government one of our most important responsibilities to our community.

    After speaking with our League City Council observer, Jane McWilliams, with the City Administrator, Joel Walinski, and with others on the communication and decision-making surrounding your agreement with Waterford Township, I don’t believe anyone intended that business be done behind closed doors. It’s not for the League, at this point, to determine whether the Open Meetings law was violated. We have no disagreement with those who are suggesting that the city “move on” and ensure that things are done differently in the future.

    But the League is here to remind you of the absolute, non-negotiable importance of your decisions being made openly. Even the appearance of a lack of transparency fosters distrust and suspicion, as we’ve seen this week, between our city and other units of government, and between you and your constituents. While in your individual conversations with the administrator, it may not have been quite clear whether you were acknowledging, approving, or supporting a document or a course of action, this is the sort of grey area that you, as our leaders, must be alert to. Your constituents want and need to hear discussion from each of you, here in the council chambers, on decisions like the one regarding Waterford township.

    No one but you can take responsibility for ensuring that all your decisions are made in the public eye. League believes that strong leadership is always as open as possible, and shares information readily, except in the very few cases where you have an obligation to protect individuals through secrecy. We depend on each of you to show this kind of leadership, and to be watchdogs, along with us, of the public’s interests and understanding of the business of city hall. Your openness and that of your staff will be rewarded with the public’s trust.

    Jessica Peterson White

    President

    League of Women Voters Northfield – Cannon Falls

    January 22, 2010
  53. Griff Wigley said:

    Did the Waterford supervisors violate the Open Meeting Law this week? Suzy Rook says they may have:

    It’s interesting that Waterford supervisors, who through their attorney, say they’re worried about whether Northfield’s council has violated the state’s Open Meeting Law when shortly after the council agreed to postpone a decision about ending tax reimbursements to the town all three of them gathered in the hallway just outside council chambers.

    January 22, 2010
  54. Kiffi Summa said:

    In reply to # 43… How interesting that the NFNews is all a-Twitter about Northfield possibly violating the OML, and criticizes a councilor, Jim Pokorney, who said at the council meeting “Why didn’t they just give it back?” (referring to the leaked memo from city hall, and simultaneously showing a grand oblivion to the essence of ‘news’)…
    But then… rather than carrying through any investigative journalism, editorial opinions…or otherwise informative news posture… jumps right back onto the city bandwagon!

    In reply to #44 … Maybe the Waterford Twp supervisors ‘noticed’ the NF Council meeting at which they all appeared as an emergency meeting; seems reasonable… if anyone’s still being reasonable.

    January 22, 2010
  55. victor summa said:

    Someone should tell S Rook to do the math. A body of three has a quorum in two … therefore an unannounced meeting of Supervisors that is NOT illegal (vis a vis the Open Meting Law) would be a meeting of ONE!

    Hmm. Only the seriously disturbed would have a problem prevailing with those numbers and, it does not require a large facility.

    Don’t we all do that frequently; In the bathroom, walking in the woods mumbling to ourselves? You get my point.

    But Rook’s point is, interesting. She should ask the News’ Open Meeting guru to ferret out an acceptable answer.

    The EDA Executive Committee handles it by small groups meeting unannounced with their leader (for many that’s the staff Eco. Dev. Dpt. Executive Director). So, Is initiative formed-up in these situations that of the Executive Committee? Or staff – or some convenient combination? No one knows where actions coming from those meetings starts. Seems to end in shouting match, according to the N News, or a rubber-stamp vote.

    January 22, 2010
  56. Stephanie Henriksen said:

    I was surprised at what Ms. Rook posted on the website suggesting Waterford may be in violation of Open Meeting Law. I hope you all saw the Liz Messner response:

    By: Liz on 1/23/10
    As one of those Supervisors, I would like to point out that a notice was posted at our Town Hall on Saturday, Jan. 16th regarding this meeting. It stated that all Supervisors would be attending the City Council meeting on Tues. Jan 19th, 2010 and may meet afterwards to discuss it. Township are allowed to post a notice in a public place 3 days prior to holding or attending a meeting where one or more supervisors may attend. At our annual meeting each March, the Town Hall is designated as that public place.
    Liz Messner
    Waterford Supervisor

    January 23, 2010
  57. Kiffi Summa said:

    good for Waterford!
    I hope they have also posted a notice that they will be attending the Council’s goal setting session (retreat) at the Hospital Board room on Tuesday night., to listen to that discussion.

    Will Waterford be one of the News’s new ‘targets’?

    January 24, 2010
  58. Stephanie Henriksen said:

    Kiffi, if township residents popped in on a “goal setting” Council retreat Tuesday night, I’m afraid it might put a damper on things. But thanks for the invitation.

    As for the troubles the Council is experiencing, one has to remember that five of the seven Council persons are fairly new. “Greenhorns,” if you will. I assume each of them has had some basic training sessions through Assn of MN Cities or whatever. Minnesota Association of Townships offers such trainings for new township board members.

    As Supervisor Messner has said, the attendance of the Waterford Board at the Jan. 19 Northfield Council meeting was properly posted–there was no violation. The Bridgewater Township Board is also well informed on open meeting law.

    In my years as a farm activist, I find that township government is widely supported. At an ag forum in Owatonna Friday, all three candidates for the Senate seat vacated by Dick Day said they supported the right of townships to have their own planning and zoning. Candidates are Jason Engbrecht (DFL), Roy Srp (I) and Mike Parry (R).

    *Election is Tuesday, Jan. 26. Townships in southern Rice Cty bordering on Faribault are in SD 26.

    January 24, 2010
  59. Kiffi Summa said:

    Stephanie: I understand the reticence you remark upon; even the LWV observers felt hesitant at attending a previous ‘retreat’ in the Hospital Board room. It seems chosen to inhibit public observance.

    However, if annexation is to be one of the Big Issues in this coming year, then those interested parties would do well to listen to a more general discussion, rather than the specific action related items at a council meeting.

    January 25, 2010
  60. Stephanie Henriksen said:

    There is a LWV observor report on the Council Retreat that Griff might want to post here.

    I would be surprised if one or two Council members do not regret their action against Waterford, given a little while to reflect on it. Someone who attended the jt. govt meeting hosted by Dundas at Bridgewater Township last week remarked that he doubted a local attorney firm representing the City would have moved ahead in this fashion. Only an outside firm unfamiliar with the close ties in our community would have done that.

    January 28, 2010
  61. Tracy Davis said:

    Maybe a bit of thread drift, maybe not, but here’s the link to the Northfield League of Women Voters observer report on the Council’s goal-setting session last Tues:

    http://lwvnorthfieldmn.org/weblog/post/2100/

    January 28, 2010
  62. Griff Wigley said:

    Be sure to read Betsey’s Waterford-related comments in her January recap blog post:

    • Issue 1: the Annexation Agreement
    • Issue 2: anything having to do with any actual land in Waterford
    • Issue 1 + 2:
    January 30, 2010
  63. I agree. Betsey seems to understand the different issues Re: Waterford well, and explains the different issues (and her position on annexation) succinctly.

    January 30, 2010
  64. David Ludescher said:

    I don’t agree with just stopping payment to Waterford for a number of reasons: first, we agreed to pay them, second, they are our neighbors, third, they aren’t ever going to trust us, fourth, there is no urgency, fifth, we have better things to do, and sixth, we are going to spend more money on attorneys fees than we will ever get back (and that assumes that Northfield will win).

    January 30, 2010
  65. Stephanie Henriksen said:

    Patrick,
    A businessman wiser than I says Betsy’s analysis in her blog is inaccurate. Northfield has received substantial benefits from the annexation agreement. Sheldahl had to expand at their location in l980 or move out of Northfield. The agreement allowed them to remain, keeping jobs here. Since then, they have paid something like $750,000 in taxes. All-Flex might not have ended up here, otherwise.

    Mayor Arnie Nelson defends the agreement to this day, I believe. And David Ludescher’s list of reasons not to stop payment says it all.

    January 31, 2010
  66. Griff Wigley said:

    In today’s Strib: Northfield, township sparring over annexation.

    Northfield, the town of colleges, cows and contentment, is adding another “c” to its list: controversy. A city government that has already gone through its share of turmoil over the past few years is now embroiled in a dispute with a neighboring township over an annexation agreement, and the accusations about below-board behavior by the city have added yet another point of contention.

     

    February 24, 2010
  67. Patrick Enders said:

    Griff,

    Since you’ve locked the very-reasonably-titled “Does the Waterford Township annexation agreement need to be revised?” thread, do you suppose that you might revise your negatively loaded title for this thread?

    “Communication/transparency issues again bite City of Northfield in the ass” doesn’t seem ideally suited to foster a spirit of reasoned discussion of annexation issues.

    February 24, 2010
  68. Stephanie Henriksen said:

    Ackerman of the Hvistendahl Law Firm goes through the Waterford attorney submissions for 25 minutes, trying to build a case against the Waterford position on air.

    She is especially irritated about the mention of an annexation case which she says was a totally different type of case. Wrong, wrong. I note she avoids saying the losing attorney was Hood. That’s what I call a half truth, but then, I’m no attorney.

    She also attempts to show that the Waterford attorney letters are simply empty threats. I would remind her that Waterford is not the aggressor here. The City is.

    Much as I like Dave Hvistendahl personally, I found his call for Northfield to annex township land in all directions during his campaign for Mayor a bit extreme. I doubt it got him many votes.

    February 24, 2010
  69. Patrick Enders said:

    Stephanie,
    I don’t think Britt suggested that letters contained only empty threats – but rather that the Waterford attorney’s conflation of the two issues was in there as part of a veiled threat to sue, which she seemed to think was the main purpose of the letter.

    If I followed her correctly (I had some distractions while listening), I think she felt that Waterford didn’t have much of a case on the actual annexation issue. The other stuff was in the Waterford attorney’s letter mostly to say “we’ll make it very expensive for you if you try to end this agreement.”

    I did enjoy Britt’s assertion (generalizing from this particular situation) that people should not be intimidated by such threats, and that they should not be afraid of ending up in court if needed to settle such disputes.

    February 25, 2010
  70. David Ludescher said:

    Patrick: Even if Britt and Attorney Hood are right about the fact that Northfield doesn’t have to pay Waterford under state law, Northfield made a deal with its neighbor.

    Regarding the open meeting violation, it is a threat. So what? The possible violation has to be factored into the decision about whether or not going to court is a good idea.

    Gees, we just spent $250,000 to build 600 feet of bike trail, is taking $3,000 per year from our neighbor worth all the bad blood? And, what about the costs of litigation, which will eat up the savings for many years to come?

    February 25, 2010
  71. Jane McWilliams said:

    In the February 17, 2010 letter from Waterford Township Attorney Mark Johnson to the Mayor and City Council of Northfield, Johnson lays out his opinion that the original annexation agreement is still valid because it was enacted through a 1981 Special Law which he says has not been nullified by subsequent legislation. He ends the letter thus, referring to the Pine River/Wilson Township case:

    ‘We recommend a different approach. If the city believes that the current Orderly Agreement should be amended, it should convey its proposals in this regard to the township, and do so through open meetings, in the spirit of give and take and without making abrupt demands that current agreements will be ignored. Our consultations with the Supervisors of Waterford Township convince us that Waterford Township would respond positively to such an overture.’

    I’m not an attorney, but this hardly sounds like a veiled threat! I hope the city will take Johnson’s suggestion to heart and that the two jurisdictions can work this out here through mediation rather than in a courtroom somewhere.

    It is unfortunate that it wasn’t handled this way earlier, but hindsight is always better . . .

    February 25, 2010
  72. David Ludescher said:

    I would mediate for nothing.

    February 25, 2010
  73. Stephanie Henriksen said:

    It’s good to see that Waterford has hired a good attorney. Greenvale Township got along without one, I am told, during that long period of negotiations with the City of Northfield on annexation of the 530 acres. Atty Chris Hood was employed by the City to handle that annexation.

    It would seem that the City Council accepts what went on with the Greenvale annexation as standard procedure. The township is getting some annual tax payments, I understand, but did not get a longterm annexation agreement out of it.

    February 25, 2010
  74. Patrick Enders said:

    David,
    That may well* be a very good idea.

    (*: Qualified only by the fact that I know nothing of your qualifications, or your skills, in the area of mediation.)

    Certainly, a peaceably-agreed-upon new agreement would be far preferable to litigation or unilateral action – if the parties can reach one that is in compliance with both the spirit and intent of MN state law. Although I am not optimistic that such an agreement could be reached, I would love to be proven wrong. Therefore, I agree that it would be best to take Waterford at its word when it says:

    “If the city believes that the current Orderly Agreement should be amended, it should convey its proposals in this regard to the township, and do so through open meetings, in the spirit of give and take… Waterford Township would respond positively to such an overture.’

    The period between now and the next payment-due date (according to the old agreement) would seem to be an excellent window in which to meet and discuss a peaceable resolution to the present situation.

    One thing that you should be aware of, however, is that it is not the $3000 a year that is the most problematic thing about the agreement. The biggest problem with the agreement, as I understand it, is that Waterford claims an absolute veto over any annexation request that might be made by any Waterford land owner. Further, as I understand it, this agreement does not foresee/plan for any future annexations. Again, this seems to run counter to the intent of annexation law. (See my comment #2 here for what little I know about the purpose of annexation agreements: https://locallygrownnorthfield.org/post/3604/ . My primary reference for this understanding is here: http://www.mnplan.state.mn.us/pdf/annex.pdf#3 .)

    Good luck with the talks, and make sure that they’re open, and recorded for posterity!

    February 26, 2010
  75. David Ludescher said:

    Patrick: It doesn’t take much skill to mediate if both parties are negotiating in good faith.

    Northfield’ “problem” is that they gave Waterford their word, and now they want to break it. Waterford “problem” is that the law gives towns more power than townships.

    We are neighbors. We should be able to work on our differences.

    February 26, 2010
  76. Patrick Enders said:

    Yes, we should. I agree that it is worth a try.

    February 26, 2010
  77. kiffi summa said:

    David: Thank you for the most succinct analysis in the midst of all this opinion.
    Thanks again…

    February 26, 2010
  78. Liz Messner said:

    It seems as though the concern with Waterford’s Annexation Agreement now is the clause that says ‘annexation may occur when both the City of Northfield and the Waterford Town Board agree’. It is my understanding the Bridgewater Township also has ‘veto’ power over the proposed Prawler/Gill annexation, so this is not limited to just Waterford Township. Does this mean that the City will look to change that for Bridgewater as well?

    Waterford also has had a Comprehensive Plan and Zoning Ordinance in place for the last 30 years. It clearly defines the commercial zone for the Township to the area along Hwy 3 from the city limits to what is refered to locally as Enebec Road. There are several commercial sites outside of this area that were ‘grandfathered’ in when the Ordinance was adopted, but no further expansion of the commercial area has been allowed as defined by the Zoning Ordinance. This is one of several reasons Mr. Sitzmann was denied a commercial business at the old ‘Waterford Oil’ site. The City is looking to ‘infill’ within its own city limits and has expressed concens that the Townships may develope areas for commerical or residential within their own borders. As firm believers in following our Comp Plan and Zoninng Ordinance those concens are unfounded for Waterford Township. More commercial developement is simply not allowed under the Zoning Ordinance, and residential is limited to 1 per 40 acres except for a small area of allowed higher density rate. That area is now at capacity and no more home are allowed. If the City is looking to keep commercial in areas that it feels are suited for such purposes and wishes to maintain it’s ‘rural’ edge, then Waterford is providing that through it’s Comp Plan and Zoning Ordinance with no additional cost to the City. Much of the misconceptions that people seem to have regarding Waterford Township, it’s residents and it’s own vision for the future could be avoided if there were an open free discussion regarding these issues. We are a small Township who feels that we are a valuable neighbor to Northfield and wish to remain so.

    February 27, 2010
  79. Jane McWilliams said:

    I’m pleased to read in the accompanying memo to the discussion of the Waterford Annexation Agreement issue at Tuesday’s council meeting that Joel Walinski suggests 3 options, one being that the two jurisdictions sit down and talk:

    “The City Council directs that Staff coordinate with Waterford Township Supervisors and invite them to a City Council work session to discuss the annexation relations between the City and the Township and take no further action to adopt Resolution 2010-008 at this time.”

    If the council take this path, it could be a good first step toward working on a resolution of their conflicts.

    February 28, 2010
  80. kiffi summa said:

    I hope those who are interested in this issue will take the time to read the Waterford’s attorney’s letter which argues that Chris Hood’s evaluation is incorrect, and gives all the statutory citations to seemingly prove their point.

    Aside from the feelings of how we should respect our township neighbors(and we most definitely should) there is a basic legal issue here that cannot be ignored: Is the Waterford agreement still valid or not?

    March 1, 2010
  81. Griff Wigley said:

    In today’s Nfld News: Council votes to meet with Waterford on annexation.

    Officials on both sides now say a direct meeting will open a chapter of more constructive dialogue between the two bodies. The meeting between the city and Waterford Township may be scheduled for a city council work session in April, City Administrator Joel Walinski said. In the meantime, the council expressed an interest in again reviewing its attorney’s opinion and the original annexation agreement to gather information to inform its discussion with Waterford.

    March 3, 2010
  82. Patrick Enders said:

    Apparently, annexation issues between Northfield and Waterford predate the founding of the State of Minnesota. On his show on KYMN last night, David Hv. read from a letter penned by Mr. North, which briefly touched on issues between Northfield and Waterford over annexations. If I heard correctly, Susan Hv. has been working on a couple articles for the Historical Society, and came across the letter in her research.

    March 10, 2010
  83. Tracy Davis said:

    Here’s the letter. I actually thought this was kind of amusing. Maybe John Dudley’s great-great-grandfather was in charge of Waterford back then…?

    March 10, 2010
  84. Patrick Enders said:

    “Progress Made in 1857… Everything looks prosperous for us for the coming year except that there is some opposition from our northern neighbors at Waterford and Lewiston against the annexation of those townships north of us.”

    Thanks Tracy – I just showed that to Felicity, and she started laughing hysterically. Where did you find it?

    March 10, 2010
  85. Griff Wigley said:

    Sat. Nfld News: Council tackles township annexation issues

    Although the council again expressed a desire to listen to the township’s concerns and find a mutually acceptable solution, Councilor Jim Pokorney spoke in opposition of the reimbursement payments, calling them “unfair” to Northfield taxpayers. “Why should Northfield taxpayers have to pay Waterford?” he asked. “This is a matter of cleaning up our books to be fair to ourselves.”

    The council also entertained the possibility of renegotiating the whole of its agreement with Waterford, but agreed not to pursue an annexation in Waterford unless property owners in the township requested to be annexed.

    March 15, 2010
  86. Tracy Davis said:

    Patrick – the letter was sent to me by Commissioner Alice Thomas (Planning Commission). She received it from an acquaintance who had found it while researching at NHS.

    March 15, 2010
  87. Stephanie Henriksen said:

    As I may have said before, Mayor Rossing asked me if I, as a Northfield home owner, accept the idea of paying my share of the annual $3000/yr tax payment to Waterford. My answer is YES.

    I am hearing Nfld must cut $750,000 from its budget. I think cuts can be made in other areas.

    March 16, 2010
  88. The City’s record on open meeting law hasn’t been good, and the city has done more than a few things that they knew or should have known were dangerous territory. A City Administrator should not be writing much less passing around memos “not to share.”

    I’ve been hoping that with a new City Attorney, there will be visible protective proactive representation of the City’s interests, butt-covering perhaps in some people’s view, but the city has, as Buckheit notes, a long cultivated culture, and openly waded where it should not go without disclosure or weighing of the risks by counsel and council. I hope the City Attorney will jump up with a resounding “NO!” and have Open Meeting and transparency workshops that are long overdue.

    Re: Waterford – What amazes me is the ability of a City to decide that it doesn’t like the terms of a prior agreement and think that they should be allowed to toss it out! That’s the kind of arrogance I see with our “good neighbor” Xcel and its treatment of counties, cities/townships/school districts that receive the benefits of its utility personal property tax revenues (Rice County is a recipient, I believe Northfield too). Ludescher is dead on in his analysis (had to say it, we don’t often agree!). Budget cuts hurt us all, but that doesn’t mean contracts can be tossed out. Looking for more revenue? It’s time for cities and counties to work to reinstitute the original levels of utility personal property tax to local governments — for many counties, and some cities, those cuts far outweigh LGA cuts.
    .-= (Carol Overland is a blogger. See a recent post titled NRG’s Corneli in the news!) =-.

    March 23, 2010
  89. Jane McWilliams said:

    Carol – the city is holding a training session for all boards and committees (and the council!) tonight – on the open meeting law. Chris Hood, the City Attorney, is conducting the training, I believe. This should help get us all up to speed. Now, it is up to the community to hold everyone to it.

    March 23, 2010
  90. Stephanie Henriksen said:

    I find it ironic that the law firm that apparently set up the scenario Administrator Walinski followed in dealing with the memo to Waterford is conducting the training session tonight on open meeting law.

    Wish I could be there, but we have a township meeting.

    March 23, 2010
  91. David Ludescher said:

    Stephanie,

    I agree. The township’s lawyer has accused Hood of advising the City inaccurately. So, now Hood is going to have a training session to teach the City? It sounds like he should be one of the students.

    March 23, 2010
  92. Bruce W. Morlan said:

    As the newest elected Supervisor in Bridgewater Township I must tell you that at the Minnesota Association of Townships training that I attended, the most frightening presentation was on the Open Meeting Law. This law, with the best of intentions, was designed to keep politicians from conducting business in smoky back rooms. However, like many laws, it has become a trap that probably serves mostly to terrorize the conscientious and merely inconvenience the truly despicable. For example, it was suggested that if one member of a body like the city council wrote a letter to the editor and a quorum of that body eventually weighed in using letters to the editor, it would constitute a violation of the open meeting laws, even though I cannot conceive of a more open process. We were left huddled in the corner, terrorized, worried that innocent gaffes would be met with harassing law suits.

    It does not help that the Northfield city attorney may not understand the law and even worse, that the law’s true meaning is only available after large sums of money are sacrificed on the altars of legal processes. Sigh, another example of unintended consequences? Is this the best we can do?

    March 24, 2010
  93. David Ludescher said:

    Bruce,

    As a general rule, I would agree with you. The Open Meeting law has been interpreted in ways that stifle effective decision-making.

    However, in this case, the Open Meeting Law wasn’t a trap for the unwary. There was an apparent attempt to see how far the Open Meeting Law could be pushed in a plot to break a contract with another government entity. Where I grewed up, you don’t need no open meeting law to tell you that this is wrong.

    March 24, 2010
  94. David DeLong said:

    Bruce, as a former Northfield City Council member I also attended a training session for newly elected officials. There was indeed training but there was also a heavy dose of indoctrination. Along the way you can pick up a few tidbits of unfiltered knowledge. It doesn’t necessarily need to cost large sums of money to get an answers. I would direct you to the Information Policy Analysis Division of the State of Minnesota.

    http://www.ipad.state.mn.us/about.html

    From the website

    What we do:

    Provide technical assistance and consultation – answering questions and educating individuals, government entities, businesses, and associations – about Minnesota’s data practices act (Minnesota Statutes, Chapter 13), the Open Meeting Law (Minnesota Statutes, Chapter 13D), and other information policy laws;

    Work with individuals, organizations, government entities, and the Legislature in drafting, proposing, and tracking legislation;

    In addition, as of August 1, 2003, any governing body subject to Minnesota Statutes, Chapter 13D, the Open Meeting Law, may request an advisory opinion on any question relating to the body’s duties under Chapter 13D. Any individual who disagrees with the manner in which members of a governing body perform their duties under Chapter 13D may seek an advisory opinion. The fee for requesting opinions relating to Chapter 13D is $200. For suggestions on how to make an effective open meeting law opinion request, click here.

    Advisory opinions concerning the Open Meeting Law are not binding on the governing body that is the subject of the opinion. A person or governing body subject to Chapter 13D that acts in conformity with an opinion will not be liable for compensatory or exemplary damages, awards of attorney’s fees, or any other penalty under Chapter 13D. However, in a related judicial proceeding, the court is not required to defer to an Open Meeting Law opinion.

    Your board could also ask for an Attorney Generals Opinion. Of course neither of these methods may stop a City or Township from doing whatever the heck it wanted to do in the first place but reasonable entities usually find the logic when a third party provides an answer. The city attorney has provided an answer responsive to the wishes of a majority of his client and the town board attorney has provided an answer responsive to his clients. That’s what lawyers do. So who’s right? Don’t know, but I do know it doesn’t have to cost thousands and thousands to get there.

    One thing that continues to puzzle me about this situation is that one of the reasons given by the City is that the Waterford Annexation Agreement does not have a expiration date, and current State laws doesn’t allow for that. If Northfield is so darned concerned about the legality of contracts with no expiration dates how come the contract the City has with the Chamber for the Northfield Convention and Visitors Bureau has no expiration date. I would think the City would want to be consistent in the handling of similar contracts. To do otherwise would leave them open to rumors of favoritism.

    Waterford is only half a township why not have the City annex the whole thing. Then they could have all the tax revenue. The northern townships of Dakota County were absorbed into cities why not Waterford too.

    There was a post about a letter concerning Waterford and Lewiston being in opposition to annexation. I do believe what Mr. North was talking about was a new county and new county seat. A Northern Rice County if you will, with Northfield as county seat. The state wasn’t a state yet and county lines, county seats where all in the mix. The idea of a Northern Rice County still comes up occasionally even today.

    Did you ever wonder why Waterford and Sciota are just half size townships. Did you ever wonder why Rice County is L shaped on top? What about the community of Etter in Ravenna Township. I guess it would be similar to the redistricting fights that go on every 10 years after the census. Gerrymandering indeed. Lewiston was a going little town along the Cannon. It is now a ghost town. The Historical Society has a great book about it. Should someone start writing a book on Waterford as well?

    March 25, 2010
  95. Bruce W. Morlan said:

    David DeLong – thanks for the lead to IPAD, I will add it to my bookmarks.

    As for State law on expiration dates, the Waterford agreement precedes that law and I would think (I am not a lawyer) that some sort of ex post facto rule would protect the agreement.

    But the lack of in perpetuity capabilities is why I often suggest that government entities are the wrong stewards of natural resources since they are just an election away from sending in the bulldozers.

    March 25, 2010
  96. Phil Poyner said:

    Who would you suggest as a better steward for natural resources?

    March 25, 2010
  97. kiffi summa said:

    A simple answer will not do here, Mr, Poyner…
    It would have to be looked at from the POV of the interested parties; it MIGHT be the government entities , depending on how their goals were codified in law, and it MIGHT be the landowners depending on their goals for the land they own.

    I think the most important issue here , besides the legality of the Waterford annexation agreement is the idea of “takings” by government… whether it actually involves a concrete taking of the land by eminent domain, etc. or not.

    I would argue that to be most fair, everyone would have to value each other’s sense of their right to control the land they own as almost THE most important right that they have… i.e., property rights trump ALMOST all other rights.

    March 25, 2010
  98. Phil Poyner said:

    Ms Summa, I was just curious as to whether Mr Morlan had any other particular sort of entity in mind, not just in this case but for natural resources in general.

    March 25, 2010
  99. kiffi summa said:

    I certainly hope Bruce will answer; I know Bruce well enough to know that he always has a very well thought out opinion.

    March 25, 2010
  100. Stephanie Henriksen said:

    As I see it, landowners have a right to use their property as they see fit, as long as right of neighbors to enjoy their property can be maintained and the air, land and water resources are not damaged as a result.

    In regard to natural resources, EPA is the general guide, then states can go more stringent and local governments even more. That is where comprehensive plans and ordinances fit in.

    March 25, 2010
  101. Griff Wigley said:

    Wednesday’s Nfld News: Questions remain after Northfield-Waterford meeting

    The council spent much of the hour-long talk on Tuesday with Waterford officials assessing the township’s position on annexation and development. As part of that discussion, the two were able to find some common values and establish a “baseline of trust,” Mayor Mary Rossing said after the meeting.

    But several times during the discussion, township board members emphasized their opposition to reworking the current annexation agreement, or allowing any substantial development in Waterford Township, leaving the council little wiggle room in future negotiation efforts

    April 17, 2010
  102. Jane McWilliams said:

    Because I was out of town last week, I was especially glad to find the April 13 work session in the KYMN archive and I watched it last night. It was quite a discussion. There is a sense of inequality between the two groups, and that came through at several points. Earlier, I took the liberty of suggesting that the council bring in a facilitator to keep the discussion focused and to neutralize the perceived status problem. My impression is that Mayor Rossing tried to lay out the goal for the meeting, finding areas of commonality. but she wasn’t always successful in keeping the group focused on that goal. That is hard to do when you’re representing one community in a tense discussion with another.

    They will meet again, next time in Waterford.

    April 19, 2010
  103. kiffi summa said:

    I missed that council meeting completely because I had some houseguests; I was supposed to write the League of Women Voters observer report because Jane McWilliams was out of town. It’s a good thing I was also unable to write the LWV report, because I, in all honesty, would have had to write how one councilor wrecked the entire idea of this being a “listening session”.

    The insulting, purely aggressive attitude of that one councilor stood out like a sore thumb… no bigger, a sore arm… in contrast to the listening attitude adopted by other councilors.

    IMO, the Mayor tried hard to make it a “listening session”; how frustrating to have one person stir up all the animosity again.
    This was supposed to improve the relationship between NF and Waterford, not reinforce old angers.

    April 26, 2010
  104. Jane McWilliams said:

    Tomorrow, the council will consider approval of “Annexation Policies”, the result of the discussion at their April 6 meeting. If they’re approved, they will be presented to the Waterford Township for discussion later. You’ll also find additional talking points for the Waterford discussion.

    Take a look: http://www.ci.northfield.mn.us/assets/p/Packet164.pdf (#14)

    May 3, 2010
  105. kiffi summa said:

    I am apprehensive of looking at the packet for this discussion after hearing/seeing what one councilor was allowed to express at the Waterford work session. I hope that was a totally disregarded minority opinion.

    I also hope the ‘tone’ is not one of ‘parent’ to ‘child’…

    May 3, 2010
  106. Patrick Enders said:

    Thanks Jane.

    The proposed annexation policies (starting on page 83 of the packet) look good, and quite sensible, on a quick glance.

    May 3, 2010
  107. Griff Wigley said:

    Last week’s Nfld News: Waterford negotiations show little progress

    If the city expects to strike a new annexation agreement with Waterford Township, they will have to do it on the township’s terms, Waterford supervisors told the Northfield City Council in a heated joint meeting Monday night.

    Tempers flared several times over the course of the two-hour-long conference, held at Waterford Town Hall, as township officials twice expressed their frustration with the city for seeking an attorney’s opinion before opening negotiations with the township over a 30-year-old disputed annexation agreement the city and the township share.

    The apparent obstinacy of the township also frustrated several council members during the meeting, as they sought to find middle ground between the city and the township. “It feels like the doors are closed,” said Councilor Erica Zweifel during the meeting.

    June 28, 2010
  108. Kiffi Summa said:

    When any two entities have made a contract, it is the obligation of the party seeking the change to announce their desire for change and bring forth a plan for the other party to evaluate.

    How can it be otherwise? The party who is satisfied with the contract has nothing to broach.

    Northfield has announced its dissatisfaction with their contract with Waterford. It is, therefore, Northfield’s responsibility to give a list of succinct talking points, or specific changes in that agreement for Waterford to consider, then accept or reject.

    Vague statements, like “regional planning” will not suffice.

    June 28, 2010
  109. Stephanie Henriksen said:

    Good points, Kiffi. I was out of town last week and missed the Waterford meeting. Sounds like Northfield is operating under the misconception that there is no agreement and that the two parties can start from scratch to create one. I wonder if Northfield will try the same tactic on Bridgewater….

    I see there is a comment from Michelle Hawkins on the NNews website in response to the Henke report on the meeting. Maybe Michelle will tie in with the LG discussion here.

    I would guess Northfield was overly confident, when they hired Atty Chris Hood, that he would be able to undo the agreement w/Waterford, due to his reputation as hired gun in these matters across the state. My opinion is he will lose this one.

    June 28, 2010
  110. Tracy Davis said:

    Kiffi and Stephanie,

    I’m of the opinion that Northfield and Waterford do not have a valid agreement in place now.

    The 1980 agreement between Waterford and Northfield did not specify the duration of its terms. As I understand it, the legal presumption in such cases is only that the term be “reasonable”. The township’s and city’s respective attorneys disagree on what a court would consider to be a “reasonable” term for such an agreement between municipalities. I suspect that 30 years is more than reasonable.

    Waterford’s assertion that a new agreement has to be on their terms is incorrect. Annexation agreements are part of regional planning, and without the agreement part of “annexation agreement”, you don’t have one.

    If Northfield and Waterford cannot come to an agreement on annexation, State law favors the incorporated municipality. The reality is that if Northfield wanted to annex a chunk of Waterford township, they could do so.

    How Northfield chooses to proceed in light of all this is another issue altogether.

    June 28, 2010
  111. David Ludescher said:

    Tracy: The agreement is valid; its enforceability is what is questionable. Under these facts, I’m not sure that the general principle that cities’ expansion needs take precedence over townships will carry the day.

    It might help if the City was a little more open about what is driving this discussion. Is this about getting more Sheldahl tax dollars? Is this about Hood’s ego in proving that his original opinion was valid? Is this about businesses wanting to expand along Highway 3? Is this about taking the tax dollars of the Waterford Township?

    In the end, I think we have to consider that we made a deal with our neighbor. And, my guess is that the parties intended the deal to be permanent. I haven’t heard anything to the contrary.

    June 29, 2010
  112. Michelle Hawkins said:

    Tracy, this and a few other issues boil down to one very pointed question:
    Does the City of Northfield proceed with Honor in all the things they do and don’t do?

    It’s the basis of any question I have about any Councilor, Issue, and action, whether ballot based or not. The answers will determine my votes this year and my mouth!

    June 29, 2010
  113. Tracy Davis said:

    David, it’s my understanding that Northfield’s desire for a new annexation agreement is simply a matter of housekeeping. There is legal ambiguity about the validity (or enforceability, if you will) of the existing agreement. I don’t think there’s anything imminent on the horizon about Northfield actually planning or wanting to annex any parts of Waterford.

    Michelle, I don’t understand your point about proceeding with honor. What does that mean to you in this situation? The current council had no part in creating the original document a generation ago, and they’ve been advised that it is not in the best interests of the City and the taxpaying citizens to proceed as though the agreement is still legit and valid. I believe the current council is trying to be conscientious in tying up some loose ends.

    June 29, 2010
  114. David Ludescher said:

    Tracy,

    A matter of housekeeping? That’s not a credible explanation. You don’t ask your attorney for an opinion about whether or not you have to honor your contract if you intend to honor your contract.

    Why did Northfield (Walinski?) want to know the consequences of breaking the contract? Who is hatching what plan?

    One rumor is that Northfield wanted to see if it could capture the tax revenue from Sheldahl immediately, and then capture the tax revenues from the other businesses by annexation. For their part, the businesses would be able to get less land restrictions than Waterford imposes.

    That line of thought makes much more sense than the “housekeeping” line of thought, especially when one considers the hiring of Attorney Hood who, almost immediately, does an opinion about breaking the contract.

    Another thought is that Northfield is just looking at possible revenue sources like it did with the street lighting assessment proposal. That line of thought makes sense to me also.

    June 29, 2010
  115. Tracy Davis said:

    David, I don’t know all the inner workings and nefarious dealings at City Hall; but I’ve been aware since at least 2005 that there were questions about (and possible problems with) the legal status of the Waterford agreement and it needed to be addressed. So to me, “housekeeping” is indeed credible.

    June 29, 2010
  116. Michelle Hawkins said:

    Tracy, were all parties of the agreement involved in it’s drafting? Was any clause in the agreement that provided for amendment or end date? Was it then signed by all parties in full knowledge of it’s contents? Were all parties aware they would not be in their position 20,30 years later? Having had opportunity to participate in construction of the agreement and full knowledge of its contents, regardless of who is on councils later, and despite any later “self-interest” the agreement is between entities, rather than people/council etc.

    Please refer to Mirriam Webster’s Unabridged for definition of Honor.

    June 29, 2010
  117. David Ludescher said:

    Tracy:

    As far as I am aware, no one doubts that the agreement is legal. Apparently, some people want to know what happens if Northfield breaks the contract. I am not one of those people.

    Waterford is our neighbor and partner. Northfield should have compelling reasons for wanting to break the contract. If there aren’t any reasons to explore breaking the contract, then who cares if the agreement is enforceable or unenforceable? It’s all academic.

    June 29, 2010
  118. David – I agree with your take on this (oh, my, then it MUST be true! I think this is the second time now…), and Tracy, I’m concerned about your statements of “the law” which leave me scratching my head. Housekeeping? They can’t just sweep a contract they don’t like under the rug! A council does indeed have the power of making an agreement with another local government, and they are bound. Period. They can alter it if they wish, but that does take two parties in agreement. They can do a forced annexation, but I see two problems with that, first, violation of the agreement, and second, hostile annexation and any related gains probably aren’t worth the PR price. Yes, annexation for tax revenue does happen. That’s the reason Red Wing annexed all the way out to the Prairie Island reservation, where NSP built the nuclear plant, and has since dramatically cut utility personal property tax. What captureable tax revenue could Northfield see looming? What expansion will be happening (remember the Hwy. 1 & 46 development that thankfully didn’t happen leaving us with empty buildings like developments in Lonsdale)? Hospital/clinic expansion that isn’t exempt from property taxes? One idea — all local governments needing tax revenue should get their associations (AMT, MAC, LMC) in gear and lobby for restoration of utility personal property tax rates back to previous level.

    June 29, 2010
  119. Tracy Davis said:

    Carol, there is no anticipated or planning annexation of properties in Waterford that I’m aware of.

    Consider me stupid for arguing with a couple of lawyers, but I’m used to it. 🙂 Let me turn this around and ask both you and David: How can an agreement with no specified term be held as binding thirty years later? What is “reasonable” as an agreement between two municipalities? “Forever” is not reasonable unless the original agreement specified that it was in perpetuity.

    Michelle, your question gets to my point exactly: “Was any clause in the agreement that provided for . . . end date?” The answer is NO, and that’s the problem.

    Show me another example of an agreement between two Minnesota municipalities that is considered to be permanent when it was not deliberately crafted (and specified) to be such.

    June 29, 2010
  120. Liz Messner said:

    Here’s the facts regarding the agreement. It was neogiated over a year long period of time between the City and Waterford. Northfield Resolution # 80-93. On May 20, 1980 a letter acknowledging the filing of the Joint Agreement was made at the Minnesota Municipal Board (predecssor to the current Minnesota Office of Administrative Hearings). Following a hearing on August 27th, 1980 the State Board ordered the annexation of the Sheldahl property.

    In regards to the payments, prior to this agreement with Northfield and Waterford there was NO compensation for ANY Township who lost land to annexation. As part of the agreeement with Northfield, a state law was passed to allow Northfield to pay Waterford compensation for lost revenue. This was passed by the House and Senate and signed by then Gov. Quie and approved on April 3, 1981. (Chapter 18, H.F. No. 38) All other statues relating to payment to Townships were created after this law was passed. The Statue in question is a stand alone / Waterford Townshipand City of Northfield only Statue.

    As a small Township we need to be selective about what annexations occur. Aside from the Sitzman (Hwy 3) property, which was denied by the City, there have been no requests for annexation from property owners. Waterford Township is also located in Dakota Co. and as such we have urban powers which allows us to have our own planning and zoning. Our Comp. Plan and Zoning Ordinance have been if effect since Feb. 1980 and is strictly adhered to. We are involved with regional planning in conjuction with the Metropolitian Council as Dakota Co. is in what is refered to as the 7 County Metro. Area.

    What was stated at the last joint meeting of Waterford and Northfield (June 21st.) was that the Waterford Town Board feels that the current Agreement with Northfield is a legal, valid and binding contract both on the Township and the City of Northfield. The City Council feels it is not. This does not rule out further discussuions with the City in regards to growth. Currently there are no requests for annexation into the City from the property / business owners who are contiguous to the City limits, a requirement of the City for annexation requests.

    Liz Messner
    Waterford Township Supervisor

    June 29, 2010
  121. Tracy Davis said:

    Liz, thank you for your comment, and for the outline of the history of this agreement.

    In your opinion, what is the best way to proceed if the Waterford Town Board believes the agreement is valid and binding, and the Northfield City Council does not (and each entity has a least one attorney validating their respective points of view)?

    If the two parties cannot come to agreement in a reasonable amount of time, whatever that is, it seems that a court determination about whether the 1980 agreement is still in force is the only option.

    June 29, 2010
  122. Bruce W. Morlan said:

    Sorry to be so long, but I was “reviewing the bidding” here preparing another comment and I ran across your question. I was thinking of NGOs that exist because they, their staffs and their supporters have a passion to protect that exceeds their need for greed. Examples from across the spectrum include Sierra Club, Minnesota Land Trust, Minnesota Deer Hunters Association, Ducks Unlimited, etc. Not all of these are interested in holding development rights in perpetuity, but if they were so inclined they would (should) honor agreements in perpetuity along the lines of

    XYZ will hold in perpetuity the development rights to lands ABC, said rights never to be exercised. Should XYZ change their minds, go away or try to sell said rights, all such rights revert to the current landowner. Period.

    As long as we protect private property rights, these organizations should by their nature prove better stewards than any government agency that is subject to the political winds of the day.

    June 29, 2010
  123. Bruce W. Morlan said:

    Tracy, you ask for an example of a permanent agreement between municipalities (well, Responsible Government Units at least).

    I certainly hope we can craft a permanent agreement to protect the farmlands and rural areas that I see Northfield and Dundas needing over the next 100+ years. But then, I have long maintained that planning for only the next 5 years is in actuality little more than reacting to events already in motion. Planning Commissions need to be more than just reactors to events, they need to have vision that goes beyond the local time horizon.

    June 29, 2010
  124. Michelle Hawkins said:

    Tracy, I restate, both parties were in agreement and knew of all contents of the agreement. An end date was not part of the agreement so YES, it is in perpetuity by informed action of those signing the agreement unless BOTH entities AGREE to a change. As long as one doesn’t want that change, the agreement will stand.

    June 29, 2010
  125. Tracy Davis said:

    Bruce, it’s unlikely to be “permanent”, but I’m with you that a well-crafted long-term agreement would probably be in the best interest of Northfield and the adjacent townships.

    June 29, 2010
  126. Liz Messner said:

    Tracey,
    It will be up to the City Council to decide what they wish to do. At the last meeting the Town Board presented the Council with a list of Annexation Standards that were adopted by the Town Board. This is essentialy a guideline list that the Board will use should an annexation request come forward. Aside from the tax revenue sharing, the only other part of the agreement is there must be agreement between the property owner, the City of Northfield and Waterford Township for a annexation to take place. Again, aside from the Sitzman property, there have been no annexation requests from the property owners contiguous to the City limits. We haven’t said ‘no’ to any annexation because there haven’t been any annexation requests to say no too. Also, the Town Board is maintaining it’s commintment to the Township Comp Plan and Zoning Ordinance which clearly state that the industry the Township will support is agriculture. The City, by it’s own statements, has indicated that it has enough property for developement for 40 plus years, so why it should want / need any more in Waterford is unclear but hopefully will be discussed in future meetings between us.

    Liz Messner
    Waterford Township Supervisor

    June 29, 2010
  127. Tracy Davis said:

    Liz, thanks again for your thoughtful comments. As I stated earlier, I don’t believe there is any specific thought of annexing particular properties in Waterford; it’s the validity and enforceability of the agreement itself that’s in question. It would certainly be best if Waterford and Northfield could come to terms. I don’t know what next steps Northfield may have in mind (I haven’t spoken to any councillors or staff about this issue), but is the idea of a formal mediation worth exploring as a next step? It might help to find areas of agreement that could be built on, and help clarify the points of disagreement to see if either side can find ways to compromise.

    June 29, 2010
  128. Tracy Davis said:

    Michelle, I understand your point, but your contention that an agreement is “in perpetuity” if it doesn’t state a term is mistaken.

    I’ll be the first one to say “I stand corrected” if I hear any compelling legal arguments that convince me otherwise!

    June 29, 2010
  129. Jane McWilliams said:

    Tracy – Back in March, I suggested to Mayor Rossing and the council that they consider bringing in a mediator to conduct the conversations between the Waterford Board and the Council for just the reasons you cite. After observing the joint meeting in Waterford earlier this month, I’m all the more convinced that mediation is necessary if the two jurisdictions are going to get anywhere with reconciling their disagreement about the validity of the annexation agreement, in particular, the provision which requires approval of the Waterford Board of any annexation.

    June 29, 2010
  130. David Ludescher said:

    Jane and Tracy:

    If Northfield wants to change the agreement, it has two choices: threaten Waterford with litigation or offer them something to change the agreement. Essentially, Northfield has taken the position that Waterford should nullify the agreement or it will be sued. There isn’t anything to mediate.

    Northfield should clearly and concisely articulate what the problems are with the current agreement. No end date? OK, make it permanent. Tax sharing issues? OK, then buy out Waterford’s interest. Annexation issues? OK, then define how annexation should proceed.

    Northfield probably has the law on its side. But, what do we gain, and at what financial cost and at what cost to our combined interests? Our lawyer might be giving us good technical advice, but we are getting imprudent counsel.

    June 30, 2010
  131. Tracy Davis said:

    David, have you given legal advice to Waterford Twp on this matter?

    June 30, 2010
  132. David Ludescher said:

    Tracy: I am giving free advice to Northfield.

    June 30, 2010
  133. Tracy Davis said:

    You know what they say about free advice…..

    June 30, 2010
  134. Liz Messner said:

    If any one would like to see the opinion of Mark Johnson, who represented Waterford, please let me know.

    Liz Messner

    June 30, 2010
  135. Patrick Enders said:

    Liz,
    Perhaps you could give a copy to Tracy or Griff, to post?

    June 30, 2010
  136. Liz Messner said:

    I would be happy to if someone could give me direction on how to do so. Can drop off a hard copy anytime.

    Liz

    June 30, 2010
  137. Phil Poyner said:

    Thanks for all the paperwork, everyone. Very interesting reading, even for a non-lawyer type like me. And to my non-lawyer eyes it sure looks like the Waterford township lawyer makes the more compelling argument. Don’t get me wrong; I think paying for lost taxes indefinately is pretty much bogus. But it looks like Waterford knew what they were doing back in 1980 when they got this agreement!

    June 30, 2010
  138. Patrick Enders said:

    Well, they certainly did achieve a very advantageous arrangement for themselves.

    Phil, in case they’re of interest to you, I came across a couple resources for an overview on MN annexation law, linked to from this thread:
    https://locallygrownnorthfield.org/post/3604/ (particularly posts 2 & 5).

    June 30, 2010
  139. Tracy Davis said:

    Liz, is it only available in hard copy? If you’re going to be at your store tomorrow (Thurs.) I can stop by and pick it up – will scan and get back to you.

    June 30, 2010
  140. Jane McWilliams said:

    Tracy – What can you tell us about the map in the Comp Plan which illustrates the extension of Thye Parkway to Highway 3 (Map 7.4 Future Roadway Functional Classification, in the Transportation chapter.) ? Is there an anticipated time line for such an extension? Would it require annexation or could right of way be sought from property owners for it to be created?

    In the recent discussion at the joint meeting between the township and the city, the extension was mentioned. It would help if more people knew what the comp plan envisions about this. Do you know whether anyone in the city mentioned this concept to the Waterford Board when It was included in the comp plan? I can understand the need for an east west route to Highway 3, but because this goes through the township, it is a concern for the folks there.

    June 30, 2010
  141. David Ludescher said:

    Phil,

    Reading the reimbursement provision suggests that Waterford is only getting the amount of property taxes that it would have received if the property had remained in Waterford as undeveloped property; it looks as if Northfield gets all of the difference between the developed and undeveloped price. On first glance, I don’t how it could be more fair.

    I think we also need to remember that the property owner is still paying the same amount of taxes to the government. So, this dispute isn’t going to create additional tax wealth. Fighting will cost both entities attorney’s fees. And, if Northfield isn’t careful, they might just end up paying fees for both lawyers and end up without any additional revenue.

    June 30, 2010
  142. David Ludescher said:

    Patrick: Do you think so? Waterford doesn’t have anything more than what it started with. Northfield is getting all kinds of additional revenue, and now it wants it all.

    June 30, 2010
  143. Tracy Davis said:

    Jane, that’s an excellent point, I’m glad you brought it up.

    Even though multi-modal transportation and streets are an integral part of planning and land use, Northfield has kept it in a separate silo, which is something that should be addressed and corrected.

    When the Comp Plan was revised and updated, the Transportation Plan was also undergoing a thorough revision, and the Planning Commission was told that the Transportation chapter of the Comp Plan would essentially be a condensed, conceptual version of the Transportation Plan; the commission had very little input.

    I believe the the extension of Thye Parkway to Hwy 3 was first found on a concept map–it’s a logical idea–and eventually became institutionalized in the Transportation Plan. I’m not sure if it was deliberate, or if it’s just one of those things that happen when a series of people inherit documents and ideas whose origin is unknown to them.

    Ross could probably speak to this issue better than I. It was a particular interest of his when he was Chair of the Planning Commission, and I think he knows a lot more of the history than I do.

    Ross?

    July 1, 2010
  144. Liz Messner said:

    On behalf of Waterford Township I will say that in the 11 years I’ve been on the Board, there have been no explaintions as to why part of Waterfoed is inculded in the prioity growth area, the urban expansion area or why Thye Parkway goes through our Township. Yes, we had been to the open houses and were told there ‘not to worry about it, it’s just something on the map.’ At one point residents in that area came home to find survey flags on their property with no previous mention of survey work or any reason for it. The Town Board has not been approached about any of this. This is why I questioned it at the meeting, unfortunatly it seems that no on knows. The extention of Thye Parkway also incluldes parts of Greenvale Township, as well as crossing a paved road and 2 railroad tracks. There has to be a better access route available, as the cost of working over these existing areas would be great.

    Liz Messner
    Waterford Supervisor

    July 1, 2010
  145. Patrick Enders said:

    David,
    Waterford extracted an absolute veto power, supposedly in perpetuity, over annexations. It didn’t have any such veto power under state law without the agreement, and as far as I can tell, it is the only township in the state that has achieved such a level of power and control over the growth of the adjacent city.

    July 1, 2010
  146. Thanks for all the primary documents! That’s much needed in any discussion like this.

    As I see it, Waterford did a good job of negotiating and Northfield doesn’t like it. Yeah, so what! Parties can and do agree to anything, and Northfield can whine and cry all it wants but they can either entice Waterford to alter their position, or they can try to get the agreement voided by a judge. Waterford is under no obligation to alter the agreement. Northfield were represented by counsel, the City Council stamped their approval on the agreement, and have far greater monetary, politlcal and other resources and power than Waterford — Northfield can’t argue it was an uneven playing field, some extreme disadvantage. In either case, abusive behavior will not help. If I represented them (again, more free advice, worth whatever), I’d push them to focus on what would entice a change, and to lay off the negative pressure — each push by Northfield makes a Northfield-favorable outcome less likely.

    July 1, 2010
  147. Patrick Enders said:

    As someone who periodically needs to get to the Northfield Hospital as quickly as possible, I have to say that east-west travel on the north end of Northfield is problematic, at best.

    All those twisted, slowly-winding suburban roads up there make a new north-side thoroughfare an unfortunate, but eventual, necessity.

    July 1, 2010
  148. David Ludescher said:

    Patrick: True enough. But, as Carol points out, there wasn’t anything unfair about what Waterford did.

    July 1, 2010
  149. Patrick Enders said:

    Carol,
    There’s no reason that the mistakes of the past are required to be carried on in perpetuity.

    July 1, 2010
  150. Patrick Enders said:

    David,
    I didn’t say Waterford did anything unfair. I said, “Well, they certainly did achieve a very advantageous arrangement for themselves.”

    July 1, 2010
  151. victor summa said:

    RE: Patrick’s 105.3

    Patrick, research Hostile Annexation. It’s messy but allowable … and potentially overrides the veto. The outcome, as I understand, is determined by a state agency reviewing all the circumstances and making the “greater good” decision.

    Unfortunately, I believe in most cases, the decision would come down on the side of the property owner’s request and the City’s desire.

    David Ludesher seems to have the stronger hand of logic and reasoning on this question. I’m sort of amazed some of the Councilors don’t follow suit.

    What is it about a contract that you don’t see as binding? And more to the point, what of Northfield’s motivation … what’s its gain?

    Regardless, As Ms Messner points out, over and over, Waterford, situated in the Metro Counties, has a unique position in the matters of its sovereignty and voice in these matters.

    Again, what’s Northfield’s motivation, keeping the staff busy?

    .

    July 1, 2010
  152. Patrick – Ummmmmmm, yes there is! Unless the parties AGREE to change the agreement, yes, there is a requirement — it’s that little matter of a legally binding contract. If the City doesn’t like it, it will have to work something out if they want something different, and it’s in their best interests to focus on what actions will get them where they want to be and what they would have to give Waterford to get them to alter their position. This is an example where “enticement” would be a good thing…

    July 1, 2010
  153. If it’s that bad for Northfield, maybe it’s an “errors and omissions” issue…

    July 1, 2010
  154. Patrick Enders said:

    Victor,
    I have done a bit of research on the subject; check out my links in posts earlier in this discussion.

    As you say,

    Unfortunately, I believe in most cases, the decision would come down on the side of the property owner’s request and the City’s desire.

    I agree, although I’d leave out the “Unfortunately.” I’d say that is as it should be, given the goals of MN annexation law.

    I support a carrot-and-stick approach to this negotiation. I would be very happy to see a renegotiated annexation agreement, which removes the absolute veto and the lack of an end date. Failing that, I believe that it is in the city’s best interests to pursue other paths to a policy that will be consistent with the long-term well-being of our community.

    Unfortunately, the present agreement is not sustainable over the long term.

    July 1, 2010
  155. Patrick Enders said:

    Carol,
    Ummmmmmm, that’s only true if the courts agree with your interpretation of whether or not the 1980 agreement is validly arranged, and truly binding in perpetuity. At least some legal opinions hold that it is not.

    In a matter of this long-term importance is in dispute, I fully support renegotiation. Failing an acceptable renegotiation, I support taking our case to a court to determine the legal truth of the matter.

    July 1, 2010
  156. Tracy Davis said:

    I agree with Patrick in 111.1.1 above. I suspect it may be more an issue of contract law than annexation law.

    It’s a specious argument to say that “Northfield and Waterford determined that no termination date should be included in the agreement.” That’s just silly. If they had truly determined that, they would have tried to include some language that ensured the agreement was for 100 years, or in perpetuity, or whatever. They wouldn’t have just forgotten to include it.

    July 1, 2010
  157. Tracy Davis said:

    I hope that we can find some people who’ve been involved in this who remember how it came about. That could shed some light on things.

    July 1, 2010
  158. Kiffi Summa said:

    I’ll go back to my comment in #88..: The party seeking a change to a contract has the obligation to bring forth the changes they are seeking for the other party to evaluate.

    Two attorneys have commented here that Waterford has a valid contract: David Ludescher and Carol Overland, and of course we have the opinion of the Waterford attorney.

    What the heck is the big whoop with NF getting its act together and presenting the WF supervisors with a list of changes the NF council would like to make?

    Wouldn’t that be a lot simpler than all the posturing back and forth?
    Just do it…

    July 1, 2010
  159. Patrick – true enough, and that would require one of the parties to take it to court. And again, I’d strongly argue against taking it to the judge because I doubt they’d win, and the PR consequences would be high.

    Tracy – I also would strongly argue against taking the position that “If they had truly determined that, they would have tried to include some language that ensured the agreement was for 100 years, or in perpetuity, or whatever. They wouldn’t have just forgotten to include it.” That won’t fly in the court of legal intent. And yes, it’s obviously about contract law — it’s about a contract!

    Patrick and Tracy – Color me biased, I’m an attorney! For both of these arguments, it’s not a position I would want to take, I think it’s asking for Rule 11 sanctions, well, maybe that’s a bit extreme, but I wouldn’t stick my neck out because as arguments, I don’t see any legal merit.

    July 1, 2010
  160. Liz Messner said:

    Forgive me for asking, but I fail to see how a new road (Thye Parkway) running west to east through Greenvale and Waterford Township makes it easier to get to the hospital. The hospital is to the west not the east. There is also no developement along what is proposed for Thye Parkway, nor can there be by Waterford Township Zoning Standards. We have had no complaints about hospital access from our residents or business owners or the people involved with the ambulance service.

    I would also like to point out that our Comp Plan and Zoning Ordinance mesh with what Northfield is looking for along it’s borders – green space. We have alot in common with the overall vision Northfield has, but we will retain the right to govern it for ourselves.

    Liz Messener
    Waterford

    July 1, 2010
  161. David Ludescher said:

    Patrick: It’s not clear why this issue is important. Do you know what the potential financial gain is? (I heard $3000 per year from someplace.) Prudence dictates that the consequences of the options be considered. There is no sense going to litigation just to discover who can p*ss further.

    Another thing to consider – someone is going to have to break the contract before the court is going to interject itself into the action.

    Think about it this way: if Northfield does break the contract, and Waterford sues and wins, do you think Waterford is ever, ever, ever going to negotiate with Northfield? It will have Northfield by the short hairs.

    A win for Northfield might be worse. Think about all the bad blood it would create. How is Northfield going to be able to negotiate with Greenvale, Bridgewater, Waterford, Dundas, etc. if it (we) have a reputation for breaking our contracts?

    July 1, 2010
  162. Thank you, David, for so artfully expressing it in true legalese. It’s all about “p*ssing” and “short hairs” in something that is not consistent with being a good neighbor, much less a contractual party. Pushing like Northfield is is just bad policy, a classic example of how not to do it, boneheaded… I hope the City will back off and rework its approach to something that might work and won’t harm relations with its neighbor.

    July 1, 2010
  163. Tracy Davis said:

    Isn’t the immediate issue that Northfield wants to discontinue the payments to Waterford? Thirty years seems long enough.

    July 1, 2010
  164. David Ludescher said:

    Tracy: I think that’s the issue although I am having a tough time figuring out if there is something else driving this discussion. Do you know how much we are talking about each year?

    (FYI, I don’t think Northfield is “paying” Waterford anything; Northfield is giving Waterford the agreed share of the tax receipts. Isn’t that right, Liz?)

    As a bit of irony, Northfield is collecting $10,000’s ($100,000’s?) of tax dollars every year of County and School money and putting it into the “Streetscape Fund”. Look for the County and School to start their own whining if Northfield keeps it up.

    July 1, 2010
  165. Ross Currier said:

    Tracy –

    Gosh, we’re talking about a pretty dusty corner of my brain with this topic. By the way, you owe big-time for dragging me into this discussion with your e-mail.

    As I recall, our work included reviewing the 1998 City of Northfield Transportation Study, the 1998 Trail Master Plan, the 2000 Northfield Industrial Corporation Plan, and the 2001 Comprehensive Plan Transportation Task Force. There may have been a few other studies or reports that I’m not recalling at the moment.

    There seemed to be ten or twelve themes or projects that were common to all these studies, issues that were raised, discussed, and rarely resolved, over the years. One of these projects was often referred to as the “Northern By-pass”.

    To summarize to the best of my ability, there are big trucks that pass through Northfield, many, if not most, traveling along Highway 19, going from west to east or east to west. These trucks, or their drivers, have no intention of stopping in Northfield, even to eat at one of our many fine restaurants.

    This “through traffic” apparently puts some stress on our system. In particular, the approximately one-quarter mile segment where our great north-south road, Highway 3, and our great west-east road, Highway 19, run together, from 5th Street to 2nd Street, experiences some undesirable side-effects from this traffic.

    So, for about, I’m guessing, twenty years, folks have talked about a “Northern By-pass” taking some of the traffic out of this already very busy segment. I’m pretty sure that every study or plan had some kind of Northern By-pass at least mentioned, if not drawn.

    Apparently, due to the substantial development of housing, it keeps shifting further north. Originally, North Avenue was discussed. But we “lost” North Ave. to development, so then it was Thye Parkway.

    Some have suggested that Thye Parkway can no longer be an option. They talk about 320th Street. Others say that if it’s too far north of Highway 19, no one will take it and they’ll continue to come through the intersection of Highways 19 and 3.

    I can understand that the Waterford Township people don’t want it in their backyards. I’ve heard that it was the North Avenue people who kept it out of their backyards. I’ll bet that the folks along 320th Street don’t want it in their backyards either.

    As I recall, the “traffic scientist” that presented to us modeled what would happen if we never created a Northern By-pass. According to him, at some point the traffic on Highways 19 and 3 would get so bad that people would start taking side streets. I believe that he mentioned St. Olaf Avenue and Greenvale Avenue as being likely candidates for an improvised by-pass.

    Now, we’re living in a new reality. Maybe Northfield, and the surrounding areas, won’t continue to experience the same growth, or change, that we did in the recent past. Perhaps we don’t have to worry about a Northern By-pass for another ten years…or, who knows, maybe another twenty.

    Hey, we could hire another consultant and get another study or report written. Maybe we can draw the map differently for this one.

    July 1, 2010
  166. Liz Messner said:

    Here’s the facts regarding the “payments”. We prefer call them a tax revenue sharing item. Which is what is is.

    For the years 1999 thru 2009 a total of $ 247,573.51 was generated and collected by Northfield for local tax. Of this a total of $ 37,933.36 was returned to Waterford Township based on the formula in the Annexation Agreement. This leaves a total net tax of $ 209,640.36 for Northfield. The property tax information is direct from the Dakota County Auditors Office who had faxed me the last 11 years of property tax statements for the Sheldahl Property in April of this year. This information was given to the City Councilors in April, and reviewed again at the meeting on June 21st.

    Liz Messner
    Waterford Township

    July 1, 2010
  167. Liz – THANK YOU (yes, I’m shouting!) for posting the specifics. At an average of $3,800/yr, I hope the City is carefully considering the cost/benefit analysis of its options. I’m rolling my eyes… I can’t see how it could be worth the battle it would be.

    July 1, 2010
  168. Jane McWilliams said:

    I believe that the council is less concerned about the monetary issue than they are about language in the 1980 Joint Resolution which seems to allow Waterford to decline to approve an annexation. Take a look at it and see what I’m referring to: http://www.ci.northfield.mn.us/assets/w/Waterford-Annexation-Discussion-Att-3.pdf

    This is from the packet of the April 13, 2010 council work session at which they met with the Waterford Town Board.

    Thanks, Ross, for the planning history. I mentioned the Thye Parkway “plan” because it seemed to me at the June 21, 2010 joint meeting it was a concern to Waterford. My greatest worry as a Northfield resident, is as you sugges, Carol in 111.1.3, that we haven’t been very “good neighbors” in the way we’ve handled discussing the Joint Resolution with our neighbors or informing them of our planning goals. Why can’t there be more regular communication with Waterford about our mutual planning policies and goals? I think this could lay the foundation for avoiding potential conflicts and could encourage focused discussion on resolving those which arise (or are codified in contracts.)

    It is never too late to start!

    July 1, 2010
  169. David Ludescher said:

    Jane: Whomever is driving this “discussion” from the Northfield side needs to be more open about the political motives. As far as I can tell, Northfield has offered Waterford nothing to change the agreement. All it has done is threaten them using a hired gun out of the Twin Cities.

    Why should Waterford want to discuss anything? Northfield should give them an offer to change the agreement from what it is to whatever they want it to be, and provide Waterford some incentive to change the agreement.

    July 2, 2010
  170. Bruce W. Morlan said:

    Well, as the people who know me might know, I have long been a proponent of regional planning. I have suggested that the two cities (Northfield and Dundas) as well as the surrounding townships need to address some issues not as their own stand-alone issues, but rather as partners with some shared visions. For example, transportation is an obviously regional problem, as township roads are heavily impacted by where the cities expand and where they guide traffic (e.g., Decker Ave), where Rice county sees need (e.g., CSAH 1) and where the state sees need (e.g., MN 19). The road system should be a cooperatively designed network that is well modeled once, with that model being maintained, updated and used by all government units to identify current and future needs. Other less obvious examples include water and sewer (e.g., the cities shared sewer plant and contingency plans to share water), schools, power (both the grid and local generation) and food production (farming). These are all issues that cross jurisdictional boundaries.

    We know there are local groups working towards the goal of regional planning. Balancing the needs of the collective with the property rights of the individuals is a balancing act that requires that our elected officials see themselves as both representative of the voters but also as teachers and decision makers. We do not hire them (through the ballot box) to simply reflect our demands — that way lies the madness of mob rule — nor do we hire them to be our masters. We hire them expecting them to become more informed than we are, to use that information to guide their decisions and to clearly explain their motives, their decision criteria and their ultimate decisions to us. We are the clients — not always right — but certainly expecting our public servants to serve.

    This LGN conversation has covered a lot of very useful background information, and it certainly informs my expectations for my future work (as a township supervisor for Bridgewater Township) negotiating with Northfield and Dundas. As a mediator for the Rice County Dispute Resolution Program I have learned many things about how guided discussions can bring two conflicting parties together to a mutually satisfactory condition.

    The key is good communication, and communication is not what I say, but rather what you hear. Without understanding, we have only posturing and rhetoric. The most critical component of this conversation is the signed agreement from 1980. That is the governing document. But the question has to be “what is the City trying to do?”

    At a Northfield City Council meeting I spoke out on the proper relationship between elected officials and their staffs. I said that if the elected city councilors and the elected township supervisors wanted to paint their roads red in the city and white in the township and candy stripped for the shared roads, then the role of staff and the legal counsel they employ is simple.

    • Inform us if we can afford it (money, such a nasty topic).
    • Inform us if it is legal.
    • And help us to make it happen.

    I suggested that we are much more partners serving the people than businesses competing for income, and as partners, we should be using our staffs and counselors not to find the loopholes and obfuscations that would let us “win” but rather to find the loopholes and obfuscations so that we can eliminate them. The first step is to have a shared vision, the next step is to use our staffs to help us reach that vision.

    So what do I take away so far from this conversation?

    • Northfield is only paying about $3,000 a year, so I presume money is not their primary issue (it’s a red herring).
    • Northfield appears to have no immediate need to expand northward, and there are no Waterford residents pounding on the city’s doors to be let in.
    • The northern bypass problem is a big one, and a regionally oriented solution would give people 10-20 years to get used to the idea of a highway coming through their back yard. The question is whether Northfield should continue to plan to NOT use North Avenue (extended) and continue to look further north.

    Regional planning would certainly help. Dundas could not come to terms with the idea of straightening out CSAH 1 to go through downtown, and tried to push it south. After working with the regional partners, there is now a compromise route that attempts to satisfy all the major players, or at least dissatisfy them equally (Northfield needs a southern bypass, Dundas needs its downtown, Rice County needs an east-west route and the township residents need to know where the roads might go if they want to join Dundas from the north side). Unfortunately, this compromise route has few champions as it is not optimal for any one jurisdiction. But the regional nature of the plan suggests that in any open meeting there will be representation to ensure that politics as usual does not result in another NIMBY solution (the active parties taking advantage of the relatively inactive parties).

    So, what about this conversation? I think it is time for the elected officials to meet with each other to start to figure out what they want their staffs to make happen. And those meetings should be cross-jurisdictions and guidance generating.

    July 2, 2010