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. 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
    Reply
  2. 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
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    • 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
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    • 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
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  3. 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
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  4. 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
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    • 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
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  5. 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
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  6. 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
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  7. 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
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  8. 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
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  9. David Ludescher said:

    I would mediate for nothing.

    February 25, 2010
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    • 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
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    • 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
      Reply
      • Patrick Enders said:

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

        February 26, 2010
      • kiffi summa said:

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

        February 26, 2010
  10. 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
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  11. 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
    Reply
  12. 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
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  13. 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
    Reply
  14. 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
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  15. 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
    Reply
  16. 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
    Reply
    • 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
      Reply
      • 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
  17. 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
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  18. 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
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  19. 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
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  20. 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
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  21. 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
    Reply
    • 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
      Reply
  22. 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
    Reply
  23. 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
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  24. 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
    Reply
  25. 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
    Reply
    • Phil Poyner said:

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

      March 25, 2010
      Reply
      • 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
  26. 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
    Reply
    • 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
      Reply
      • 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
  27. 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
    Reply
  28. 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
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  29. 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
    Reply
  30. 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
    Reply
  31. 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
    Reply
    • 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
      Reply
  32. 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
    Reply
  33. 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
    Reply
  34. 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
    Reply
  35. 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
    Reply
  36. 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
    Reply
    • 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
      Reply
    • 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
      Reply
  37. 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
    Reply
    • 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
      Reply
      • 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
      • 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
    • 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
      Reply
  38. 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
    Reply
  39. 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
    Reply
    • 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
      Reply
      • 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
  40. 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
    Reply
  41. 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
    Reply
  42. 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
    Reply
    • 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
      Reply
  43. 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
    Reply
  44. 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
    Reply
  45. 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
    Reply
  46. 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
    Reply

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