Prayer group meets at City Hall

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Judy Dirks (left) read a statement at the open-mic portion of the Northfield City Council meeting tonight, criticizing City Administrator Al Roder and members of the Council for allowing a group of citizens to meet in Roder’s office during council meetings to pray. (Dirks identified herself as chair of city’s Human Rights Commission (HRC) but stated that she was not speaking in that role but just as a citizen.)

I took a photo of Judy’s statement (center, click to enlarge) and then briefly chatted with her outside the meeting. She said the prayer group had approached the HRC last fall to inform them about their efforts to get Northfield area businesses to allow employees to meet for prayer during the workday. (When I returned home, I found the minutes of that HRC meeting, and the minutes identify the group as the Northfield Transformation Team, described as “… an association of Christians in Northfield consisting of four churches plus a home church and individuals who belong to various other churches.” The Rejoice website has a Transformation Northfield page on it.)

After chatting with Judy, I went looking for the group in Roder’s office on 1st floor. It was open so I went in and but they weren’t there. I returned to the council meeting and asked Northfield News reporter Suzy Rook if she knew where they were and she said that Roder moved them. I went looking again and found them in a conference room on the second floor. Helen Medin (center in photo on the right) was there with two other women (apologies, I didn’t get their names), each with a Bible.

I asked them if they were part of any organized group or church and they said they weren’t, just a group of Christians from different churches who engaged in various prayer activities in the area, and that this effort was aimed at prayer for our local government leaders, especially during council meeting times. They didn’t seem to have a public awareness agenda to this particular activity, hence the praying in private vs. say, in the hallway outside council chambers. Why not pray for our leaders at their own homes or churches or a coffeehouse? They do, but they seemed to think proximity was important, though they didin’t express it that way and I don’t recall the exact wording of their rationale.

I asked several times whether they would pray for an outcome on a particular council agenda item and they said no. Their prayers are more along the lines of asking that our leaders open their hearts and minds to God’s wisdom and that our leaders seek strength from God to do the right thing… again, those are my words, but I think that’s pretty close. Helen read me a passage from the Old Testament that referenced leaders and seemed to support this type of praying.

I pointed out that it could easily happen that someone show up at their prayer who DID have a council agenda outcome in mind that they wanted to pray for, and that having unsupervised access to the city administrator’s office could be seen as an unfair advantage over those who might be opposed to that outcome. They seemed to agree that, although unlikely, that could happen and that it was fine with them to just meet in a conference room.

So unless there’s more I don’t know about, it seems like a judgment error for Roder to let them meet in his office for prayers, especially unsupervised. But I don’t see a problem with them meeting in a public conference room at city hall, as their activity doesn’t seem to meet the ‘attributed to government’ smell test that Judy cited in her statement. It doesn’t seem any different than a group who might meet on Bridge Square to pray for peace. Or am I missing something?

I told the three women that I would be blogging about this and invited them to comment. I’ve invited Judy, too. It’s not clear to me whether she had already approached Roder with her concerns about this, or if this was her first attempt to draw attention to the issue.

Aug. 7, 12:10 PM update: I asked for Judy to email the text of her presentation and she just did. I’ve put it here in the extended entry.

Aug. 8, 12:30 AM update: I captured 5 minutes of audio from the NTV rebroadcast of the end of last night’s City Council meeting where City Administrator Al Roder addresses the Council about Judy Dirks’ remarks.

Click play to listen. Mayor Lansing’s voice is heard initially for a few seconds, then Roder. At the 2:40 mark, Councilor Noah Cashman begins his critical remarks of Dirks, with Scott Davis voicing support for Cashman’s comments right at the very end.

My name is Judith Dirks. I live at 715 Highland Avenue. Although I Chair the Northfield Human Rights Commission, I am not here in that capacity this evening; I am here to speak solely as a resident of Northfield about a matter that concerns me.

Over the past few months I have become aware of a prayer group that meets in City Administrator Al Roder’s office during many of the City Council meetings. I have been told that they are there to pray for Northfield during the Council meetings. A Councilman confirmed this to me. I personally have observed members of this prayer group going into Mr. Roder’s office, staying approximately 1½ hours, or sometimes longer, then coming out and leaving the building.

It deeply disturbs me that people who are not employed by the City are in Mr. Roder’s office while he is not present. They have unsupervised access to anything in his office including files, his computer, papers on his desk … and so forth.

What is currently happening in Mr. Roder’s office appears to me to be an opportunity of access, and an opportunity not afforded other members of this community. It concerns me that a specific religious group may be exerting undue influence on a city official to their benefit.

It also deeply disturbs me that this it not public knowledge for all of the residents of Northfield.

It appears that this is deliberately being kept a secret and I wonder why? I have discussed this with several Northfield residents. Virtually everyone has expressed concern about “separation of church and state” as law in the U.S. Constitution. They are as concerned as I am that this is happening in a City government building and office. In researching this issue, I found a law review article from the Florida State University Law School that is also in a Minnesota Law Review. It states in part (and I quote) “For almost forty years the Supreme Court has limited the extent to which religious expression can take place on public property or in other circumstances in which the religious expression may be attributed to the government.” I have a copy of this document, which I will leave with Attorney Swanson.

Are you Council members all aware that this practice is taking place here, and do you feel the public has a right to know that this practice is taking place during Council meetings? As individuals who are elected to represent all citizens of this community, your willingness to allow favored status to a select group of individuals conflicts with the oath you took upon accepting your elected position to this Council.

By far the most distressing, however, is the covert manner in which this activity takes place in City Administrator Roder’s office while he is not there. I don’t care if this has been just a couple of times or dozens of times, it is not appropriate. I would ask that the practice stop until a review of this practice can be held and a public discussion conducted. I am glad if people want to pray for Northfield’s City Council, just do it in homes or churches, not in our City Administrator’s office, and especially when he is not present.


  1. victor summa said:

    Up date!

    Sometime around mid-night (the N News was still there!) at the “Closing Remarks from Council and Staff” portion… Al Roder spoke back to the now absent Ms Dirks. His remarks were quite personal and pulled few if any punches in this public appraisal of Dirks earlier remarks. While verbatim quotes are impossible here I can say that he expressed concern that such inappropriate comments had been made at the Open Mic by the Chair of the Human rights Commission, though Dirks had earlier identified her role on the HRC, saying, she was NOT speaking as a member of the Commission. While much of the Council was silent – there were a few comments from some, and I’d assess those as largely supportive of Roder in his condemnation of Dirks.
    Evidently, some on the Council see it as an employee’s right to religious freedom. Dirks, I’m assuming, feels using public property and in a veiled manner – and evidently moving the Prayer Group to a safer haven somewhere in City Hall.. goes beyond personal religious freedom and steps squarely into separation of church and state.

    It was unfortunate that Roder took advantage of his position, commenting at a time when Dirks was absent, when he had failed to address the obvious earlier when Dirks made her comment.

    It is also unfortunate that at a time in our nation’s history, when Religious Right movements are being questioned as to their impact on the nation’s destiny and direction, that even the slightest hint of this: cross over, is sanctioned by the Northfield Staff our council.

    Griff’s accounting and his investigation are laudable. He closes w/

    “I told the three women that I would be blogging about this and invited them to comment. I’ve invited Judy, too. It’s not clear to me whether she had already approached Roder with her concerns about this, or if this was her first attempt to draw attention to the issue.”

    I’d say from the tone of Roder’s remarks, it was her first airing of the issue and in my view took courage.


    August 7, 2007
  2. Tracy Davis said:

    Hmmm….. I don’t see any problem here, or any church/state issues, unless the City Administrator allows this group to meet for prayer, but not Buddhists or Muslims or what have you.

    August 7, 2007
  3. I also don’t think it’s a huge issue, and shouldn’t get blown out of proportion. However, how was the group was awarded access? Is there a process for this that is made clear to everyone? Do they pay a fee? Should they?

    I would not have guessed that I could or should be granted access to a city official’s office, especially when said official isn’t there. So, while I don’t think it’s a terrible scenario, it does look bad and leave the city open to claims of religious favoritism, etc…

    I find the “proximity” argument to be the strangest element of this story, however. I snark it up here:

    August 7, 2007
  4. Christine Stanton said:

    I know Judy as a fellow Christian citizen. It makes me wonder if there is more to this story, which might explain why Judy has a problem with it. The issue of meeting in Roder’s office was probably not a good decision, but is there more to the issue that I am not seeing? Does Judy still have a problem with it if they meet in a conference room? Is it an issue of separation of church and state? I would like to hear Judy’s perspective on the issue.

    August 7, 2007
  5. David Schlosser said:

    First of all, full disclosure here: I am a Vice Chair of the Northfield Human Rights Commission though I, like Judy, am speaking just for myself and not for the group.

    I think what we have to be careful of here is the perception that allowing this group to meet at City Hall (whether in Mr. Roder’s office or in a Conference Room) creates. It certainly at least appears that this group has some influence or at least an “in” with the City Administrator, and Mr. Roder needs to think carefully about allowing any particular group to meet in his office. If he allows one group to meet in a city office–not a private office–he needs to allow another. Would he be just as inviting if a group of Muslims/Buddhists/Athiests/etc. asked to meet in his office? Only Mr. Roder knows for sure…and his answer should be “yes”. He has set a precedent here.

    At the very minimum, the apppearance is that this group has favored status and, perhaps, as Judy says, some influence within City Hall.

    I am also appalled if, indeed, Mr. Roder made personal, condemning comments toward Judy Dirks (according to Victor’s account), that he waited to do so until she had left the room. Not professional nor what I would expect from a City Administrator.

    August 7, 2007
  6. Griff Wigley said:

    I’m at a client’s today but could someone confirm the times for the airing of last night’s council meeting on NTV? I’d like to Tivo it.

    August 7, 2007
  7. Griff Wigley said:

    I asked for Judy to email the text of her presentation and she just did. I’ve put it above in the extended entry of my blog post. She plans to visit here later today with some additional comments.

    August 7, 2007
  8. Okay, one hour later, and this issue is starting to nag at me more and more.

    I’m growing more concerned about it.

    Honestly, what was Roder thinking?

    How many red flags have to pop up before one of them is noticed?

    Access to a city official’s office? Sure, why not.

    When that official, or anyone else, is not present? No problem.

    By a small, private group? Okey-dokey.

    To engage in Christian prayer? Everyone’s Christian, right?

    Don’t tell anyone about it? Who needs to know what the government is doing?

    Don’t make it abundantly clear how the rest of the public may have the same access. Why? Are you spying or something?

    Said city official may be under investigation, meaning documents and data in his possession may eventually be evidence? So what?

    I have much less of a problem with them using an available conference room, provided they go through the same process for reserving and renting(?) the room that any other group would have to go through, and provided those procedures for reserving the room are publicly stated. (I’m assuming they are.)

    Christine, I too want to hear from Judy, but her letter states the problem pretty clearly. I’d like some more history, perhaps, but I think the problem as stated by her is enough on its face to rouse ire and suspicion from even a “Christian citizen”, as you put it. (After all, separation of church and state prevents government from messing with religion as much as it prevents religion from messing with government.)

    August 7, 2007
  9. Christine Stanton said:

    After reading what Judy presented to the Council, I have to agree with her that it is not appropriate.

    I am not a layer, but according to the following, it seems that it is also illegal. “I found a law review article from the Florida State University Law School that is also in a Minnesota Law Review. It states in part (and I quote) ‘For almost forty years the Supreme Court has limited the extent to which religious expression can take place on public property or in other circumstances in which the religious expression may be attributed to the government'”

    Thanks for bringing this to our attention, Judy. I, too, am all for praying for our government, but there is a reason we have laws. As Brendon states, “After all, separation of church and state prevents government from messing with religion as much as it prevents religion from messing with government.”

    August 7, 2007
  10. Helene Haapala said:

    Also, in the interest of full disclosure, I am a member of the Northfield Human Rights Commission but the following comments are from me as an indivual and not as a Commission member.

    I am deeply troubled by the notion of a public official giving free access to his/her office to a group when he/she is not there. There’s privacy concerns, the appearance of favoritism to the group, protecting city property, etc.

    I had heard months ago that this same group was attending City Council and other public meetings and sitting in the meeting room but quietly praying in the back. That’s fine. These are after all public meetings and anyone is welcome to attend and be there. However, to give private access in city offices to private groups and to be secretive about that seems a totally different animal to me.

    August 7, 2007
  11. BruceWMorlan said:

    Separation of church and state USED to mean sort of a mutual agreement to stay out of each other’s business, but churches have long tradition of mucking about in our secular state. Although some are worried about the “Religious Right” I would point out that those same types were probably silent when churches in the South fought for civil rights (good), when churches fought to end slavery (good) and when churches led the charge against alcohol (bad, bad church). My point is that we can separate to a point, but churches represent one way that people organize their behavior structures, and it is not logical to expect that churches will stay out of politics. Now, a prayer group, unescorted, in a city administrator’s office is another matter. I suspect that had they been using prayer rugs and looking to Mecca, or if they were chanting and dancing with poisonous snakes then there would have been a stink. And under the “slippery slope” doctrine that so many of us seem to follow, this (using public offices for religious purposes) is one camel whose nose we should keep out of our tent.

    August 7, 2007
  12. Tracy Davis said:

    Aren’t there two separate issues here?

    1. Whether it’s “okay”, allowable under the Constitution, to freely assemble for religious purposes on City property.

    2. Whether it’s “okay”, legal, or smart to give any unescorted people access to a civic official’s office and its (presumably at least some confidential) contents when he/she is not present.

    In order to be answered well and appropriately, these two issues need to be dealt with separately rather than bundled together.

    August 7, 2007
  13. Linda Willgohs said:

    I’d like to highlight Tracy’s point #2. Griff, although just as well-intentioned as the praying women, had the ability to enter the City Administrator’s office unescorted on Monday night.
    Maybe Mr. Roder hasn’t heard that there is a petty crime wave in town?!
    While an Open Door policy is generally well received, I’d personally feel better if Mr. Roder was a little less trusting of the overall public good and kept his door shut and locked, especially during epic length council meetings when the building is open to the public but largely deserted.

    August 7, 2007
  14. Judy Dirks said:

    My comments at the City Council meeting last night perfectly state my concerns about this prayer group meeting in Mr. Roder’s office on a regular basis. As I said, I am glad to have people praying for Northfield and the City Council, I just don’t think it should be in the City Administrator’s office, or being done so secretly. If Roder thinks it’s okay, why is he keeping it a secret?

    Although I am also reluctant to have the group meet in the conference room upstairs (that’s still in a government building), that would be so much more preferable than in Roder’s office without him present, or in any other government official’s office without the public’s awareness, or the government official present.

    My other concern, which I couldn’t address last night due to lack of time, is that other Christian denominations or other religious faiths represented in Northfield are not invited to take turns doing these prayers for Northfield during the City Council meetings. Why just this one faith group? For over 32 years I have been helping refugees and immigrants in this community and in nearby towns. I have been teaching a citizenship preparation class for 7 years through Community Ed. As a result, I have personally become acquainted with Northfield residents of many different faiths. We have Buddhists, Muslims, Hindus, Jews, Confucianists, and perhaps others I am not aware of, all living in Northfield and with whom I am acquainted. Frankly, they often feel “invisible” and left out in many ways in Northfield, but certainly are in a matter like this prayer group that is given such priority. I, myself, feel left out due to their secret meetings! Think about this.

    I want to make it very clear that I was not representing the Human Rights Commission last night although I was told that Mr. Roder tried to imply that I was. No one from the HRC knew that I was going to be talking about this last night and none of them were present; my decision to do this was not discussed at a HRC meeting. A year ago the HRC invited this prayer group to come to a HRC meeting when we learned of them. We encouraged them to be mindful of other religious denominations and faiths. That is the only time the HRC has had any discussion regarding, or interaction with, this group. What I spoke about to the City Council was entirely my own opinion and concern.

    I had not approached Mr. Roder about my concern prior to last night’s meeting because I wanted to address the Council and Mr. Roder at the same time. I was afraid, frankly, that if I went to him privately before the Council meeting, he might prevent me from addressing the Council on this. I don’t think he would have had that right, but I was not sure.

    I really appreciate the kind words of support that have been expressed, especially after hearing the comments made about me (in my absence) at the end of the meeting last night.

    August 7, 2007
  15. Stephanie Henriksen said:

    It may take me awhile to absorb all this….
    If Judy Dirks saw fit to bring this to Council attention, I’m sure it is important. David Shlosser has some good insights. Haapala too.

    Jeff Johnson interviewed Lee Lansing about 8:30 am today, and they covered several agenda items from last night’s meeting, but no mention of this. Maybe it’s too touchy for even the media at this point.

    August 7, 2007
  16. I just hope people can find a place to pray. Lord knows
    the city offices have had their share of assemblies from
    the church of the anti-something or other.


    August 7, 2007
  17. Tracy Davis said:

    Judy, it’s commendable that your concern led you to take action on this. But as I said in a previous comment, isn’t it really two separate issues?

    I agree with you that if this has in fact been done in secret, it should be brought out into the open. Thank you for doing that.

    And while your point about the residents of different faiths is well taken, I’m not sure an ecumenical prayer group is what this particular group of praying citizens had in mind – and there’s no problem with that. Prayer and meditation take different forms, and mean different things to different people, and I don’t think this group should be condemned for not being “inclusive”. If there are others with a burning desire to gather a group of people of different faiths at City Hall to pray during council meetings, let ’em.

    Since City Hall is open to the public during Council meetings, there’s nothing to prevent people from gathering on the premises to pray; the right to freedom of assembly would extend to any non-disruptive group of people, regardless of to whom or what they pray. But I don’t think that freedom extends to being given access to staff offices.

    Contrary to the common understanding of many, there’s nothing in the constitution or in legal precedent that prohibits people from praying in a piece of property owned by the government. There may be other issues, but separation of church and state isn’t one of them.

    August 7, 2007
  18. kiffi summa said:

    this is an example of how I see “it”: If i have a business, and I have 20 employees, and 5 of those employees are Muslims………one day, 1 of them comes to me and says”I need to pray several times during my work hours, use my prayer rug; how do you feel about that?”
    I say, “I understand, you have that right; go ahead.”
    Later, all 5 Muslim employees come to me and say, “We want to pray together, as a group; do you have a room where we can do that?”
    I would have to say, “No, I’m sorry, you may pray individually, in your work area or where you choose (probably with some practical restrictions) but I cannot give your group a room in which to gather and pray because then I would be giving a group “favored status”, and I don’t see that as equitable”.

    August 7, 2007
  19. David Ludescher said:

    Tracy’s post is fairly close to my understanding of the law. Mr. Roder’s actions appear to be an innocent lapse of judgment, which has now been corrected due to Ms. Dirks bringing this to his attention.

    I suspect that the “secrecy” was really privacy – i.e. Mr. Roder did not want to bring his private religious beliefs into the public sphere. Given the recent events, he may have been overly sensitive.

    August 7, 2007
  20. Griff Wigley said:

    I captured the 5 min. audio of City Administrator Al Roder’s and Noah Cashman’s comments to the Council about Judy’s remarks.

    See the Flash audio player in my blog post at the top.

    Mayor Lansing’s voice is heard initially for a few seconds, then Roder. At the 2:40 mark, Councilor Noah Cashman begins his critical remarks of Judy, with Scott Davis voicing support for Cashman’s comments right at the very end.

    August 8, 2007
  21. Josh Hinnenkamp said:

    First off, I am speaking as an individual here and not any organization that I represent. I would like to say that I think people are ducking the real issue. The how’s and what’s are important, but its the “why’s” and “what if’s” that matter here. It is my opinion that when we have things like this taking place, often more times than not there is an agenda taking place. Outrageous you might say. Well. Tell that to the president. If I were on City Council I would be very uncomfortable by this. Very. I wish someone from council would speak up on this matter. I think this needs to be stopped. Period.

    August 8, 2007
  22. Josh Hinnenkamp said:

    Perhaps I was a bit reactionary in my previous comment, so I will spell out the concern I have. If currently groups meet in private in City Hall it is only a matter of time they will be running for posts in our government (city council for instance). In a democracy it isn’t only about the people voting, but the people running. If this issue of secret prayer meetings makes you uncomfortable then keep an eye on it. Keep asking questions. Northfield is a smart town, but other smart towns have had “takeovers” at the city level. If you think I am being naive then do a little investigating. This needs repeating: keep an eye on this issue.

    August 8, 2007
  23. kiffi summa said:

    I doubt whether any of the councilmembers will commit themselves here, Josh.
    There has been a tremendous amount of adversity floating around the council chambers lately, and this kind of issue makes me people very uncomfortable because they don’t want to take the chance of being thought to be politically INcorrect.
    I do not really think, honestly, that the problem has been solved by moving the prayer ladies to an upstairs conference room in city hall. That option was always available from the beginning, whenever the beginning was.
    The appearance of secrecy bothers me.
    I would feel better, strange as it sounds, if this was going on, inaudibly, in the council chambers.
    But would that be illegal? it seems unclear from Councilperson Cashman’s statement that Griff recorded.
    I wish Maren Swanson had spoken at the end of the meeting; I think she should have.
    I have one more thought; I wish the prayer group would come forward, here, and speak about their goals. What is the goal of “Transformation Northfield” ?

    August 8, 2007
  24. John George said:

    My appologies to everyone for sharing my thoughts in the third person. I’ve never participated in a blog before, and my ignorance preceeds me. These are real concerns for me, though, Judy, and I wonder how you came about the realization that this group was meeting in City Hall? Also, did you approach Mr. Roder personally before you exposed this before the city council? Just wondering.

    August 8, 2007
  25. Griff Wigley said:

    We don’t know anyone’s real motivations, of course. But based on what I know thus far, I tend to agree with you, David.

    Barring other evidence, I’m inclined to take Al Roder at his word that his intent was to avoid offending anyone by having the group pray in his office. His actions at moving them to the conference room indicate to me that he realized it was a mistake.

    Judy, two questions:

    1. Since this group had come before the HRC last fall and given your rights-related arguments above, I’m wondering why you didn’t see this as an HRC-related issue, discuss it with your fellow Commission members, and address the Council with your HRC hat on?

    2. You wrote:

    I was afraid, frankly, that if I went to him privately before the Council meeting, he might prevent me from addressing the Council on this.

    Given that a working relationship with the City Administrator is important to have for a Commission chair, it seems to me that bringing it his attention first would’ve been a good idea. Yes, he probably would have tried to convince you to not bring it to the attention of the council but that’s understandable, especially if you convinced him that it was inappropriate for the group to be meeting in his office.

    It’s hard to tell from your remarks which was more important to you: stopping the practice or alerting the council. If your working relationship with Al was already strained beyond repair, then it would be easier for me to understand your decision to go to the council first. But if not, then it seems you’ve made it more difficult for you and the HRC in all future HRC matters that involve him AND the council, since at least two council members don’t like how you handled this.

    August 8, 2007
  26. Griff Wigley said:

    Kiffi, what’s the difference between a public park, the library conference room, council chambers or a conference room at city hall?

    It seems like those are all places where citizens can gather for non-business-related reasons. I just don’t see a problem with the prayer group meeting in a nearby public conference room.

    August 8, 2007
  27. David Schlosser said:

    I think another distinction needs to be made here…one that neither Noah Cashman nor Al Roder can seem to make (and thank you for the soundbite, Grif).
    Again, I’m a member of the Human Rights Commission. The distinction is that judy Dirks was NOT speaking as a Commissioner…she was speaking as a private citizen. It IS possible to wear two different hats and express concerns separately as the HRC Chair and as a private citizen.
    Judy did not tell any members of the Commission of her intent precisely because she WAS speaking only as a private citizen. She should not be criticized as an HRC Chair for bringing this to the council’s attention. If they are disappointed in her as a private citizen, that’s another issue.
    If Roder is so angry/disappointed Dirks criticized him in public without speaking with him privately about the matter first…why did he choose to criticize her AFTER she left the meeting, and made NO effort to discuss the issue with her before making his public remarks?
    One more point to Grif’s comment about public meeting spaces. I have no problem with a prayer group meeting in the conference room at City Hall during council meetings (though I certainly DO have an issue with them meeting in Roder’s office) as long as there is equal access for everyone. If a group of Muslims or Athiests or the Socialist Party wanted to meet in the City Hall conference room during a council meeting hours, would they be allowed? The answer had better be yes…otherwise, it reeks of “favored status.”
    Lastly, Al Roder has never, ever attended a Human Rights Commission meeting. Before he criticizes the entire Commission’s work by criticizing its Chair, he should come to one of our meetings and start to understand the work we do.

    August 8, 2007
  28. Griff Wigley said:

    David, I’m not 100% sure but I don’t think staff or council members are allowed to respond to what someone says at open mic. I do think the Mayor as moderator can ask someone to clarify or maybe ask another councilor or staff member something about whatever the citizen just said… I’m not sure. But the policy for open mic is designed for presentation, not discussion, far as I know.

    August 8, 2007
  29. David Ludescher said:

    I think that Judy did the right thing by pointing out the issue as an individual, instead of a Commission member. Her rationale for addressing the issues at the public mike were understandable; Al’s reaction was equally understandable.

    It may be a Commission issue if it turns out that private citizens cannot use City Hall for private meetings. But, the purpose of the meeting is irrelevant; Neo-nazis have as much right to meet without interference as Christians. As Tracy pointed out, the right to be protected is the right of assembly.

    August 8, 2007
  30. kiffi summa said:

    This gets really sticky, and into fine points of law, but it is correct that the “rights of assembly’ are mostly what’s addressed in this specific area……but then when you combine right of assembly, and”favored status” it gets a whole lot more complicated.
    Mr. Roder said that he allowed them to meet in his office so as to not offend anyone. Does that mean he didn’t want to offend the people gathered to pray, or did not want to offend whoever, who might have an issue with the judgement of allowing one group, secretly(???) but it was recognized that this was questionable at some level, if the word offensive even gets involved.
    Griff: re: post 26, I guess it goes more to intent of the law, as opposed to the actual words; if you read the MN Human Rights Act it seems to try to correct “top-down” power moves……….it’s very incomplete IMHO.
    and re: post 29, the council is in no way restricted from replying, or thanking, an open mic comment by a citizen. As a matter of the most common courtesy, it has always struck me as strange that they do not acknowledge a citizen-brought concern, or say they will look into a serious issue brought to them. Only very occasionally do they respond on either level.

    Once again, I would urge the prayer group to enter this conversation, for the sake of better understanding by all.

    August 8, 2007
  31. Griff, et al. –

    Catching up takes a lot of time these days!

    Griff, your comment concerned me — that “[T]he right to be protected is the right of assembly.” Always the contrarian, I disagree. The primary issue here is one of “religious establishment” — the state’s role in religion, which under the constitution is “hands off.” (You are correct in the sense that the right of assembly is a “right” and the prohibition of religious establishment isn’t a “right” it’s a prohibition). The big issue, the constitional issue here is whether the “state” (Northfield) is using its resources to establish/support/encourage a particular system of beliefs characterized as religious. It is a verified fact that this occurred for some time, and it appears this practice has been stopped in a staff office. I’ve organized a few meetings around town, and I don’t recall ever using city hall rooms for any purpose, a meeting of any group, and certainly not a private meeting. To my knowledge, city rooms are used for something sponsored and organized by the City, and wasn’t aware this is an option for groups generally. Is it?

    Indeed, anyone can gather, assemble, but the City should not provide them city property for their private religous gathering. They could continue to meet in the Council Chambers (were they not welcome there??), in the open hallways, out in the parking lot, etc., as the rest of us do! And their prayers could be said at open mic!

    It’s a legal problem for the city to be using providing offices, paid staff time, closed rooms, for this group. Where’s the concern from the Council about this? How can it get any weirder?

    Dirks was upfront about her concern and spoke appropriately and specifically at the public comment time at the beginning of the meeting. I applaud her courage to speak up about this. Roder’s comment near the end of the meeting “doesn’t sound very Christian” (as my mother would say).

    It seems to me that Northfield is caught up in an inability to directly address problems, and also a lack of a clear ethical code. Seems to me that it’s time to clean house, from staff, to attorney, council and mayor.

    OK, back to ear pain and a sick day…


    August 8, 2007
  32. Griff Wigley said:

    Carol, it wasn’t me who said that (I think both Dave and Tracy did) but I agree with them, again, because it’s just a public conference room that requires zero staff time/cleanup. It’s not “office space”.

    I don’t think it’s any different than the Nfld Public Schools currently allowing some of their rooms to be used for the Rejoice! church services on Sundays.

    Now take some drugs, take a nap, and get better!

    August 8, 2007
  33. David Ludescher said:

    Does anyone know the City’s policy regarding citizens’ use of City facilities? I would assume that it is open to anyone upon request, and perhaps a fee.

    August 8, 2007
  34. David Schlosser said:

    After much searching, I can find nothing listed on the city’s website regarding the use of city facilities for meetings or gatherings. There appears to be no formal policy.
    Perhaps that’s an area that should be addressed.

    To the contrary, the public schools have a very well laid out policy for the use of their facilities (see below).

    Facility Use

    School District Facilities
    Community groups, organizations and businesses are welcome to request the use of school district facilities. Permits are approved based on availability and the school district’s facility use policy and priority schedule.

    Persons requesting a permit must complete the request form, provide a $15 non-refundable application fee, and provide proof of liability insurance. Service fees for custodial, food service, and/or other personnel time may be charged.

    Community Use of School Facilities pdf document

    Facility Use Request Form pdf document

    Northfield Community Resource Center (NCRC)
    Persons or groups interested in reserving a room at the NCRC must submit an application form. Permits are approved based on availability and the NCRC facility use policy and priority schedule.

    NCRC Conditions of Use Policy & Application Form pdf document

    August 8, 2007
  35. Griff Wigley said:

    Dang, there’s that $85,000 city website letting us down again! Thanks for trying, David S.

    While I await a reply from Judy to my questions, I have to confess to doing something I think is similar to what I’m questioning her about, ie, my fake news report a while back about the Hospital board deciding to sell cigarettes at the gift shop. I think after the controversy died down, Hospital Admin Ken Bank said something to the effect of “If you feel strongly about the issue, why not just come and talk to the board about it?”

    I had to admit he had a good point, and I now regret the damage I did to whatever relationship I had with hospital board members. Guess I’d better try to do something about that.

    August 8, 2007
  36. kiffi summa said:

    Re: post #35……….. I have not recently heard of any space in City Hall being used for activities that are not linked with some city function, but I may just not know…….The conference room on the 2nd floor is not a PUBLIC conference room , to my knowledge, either. Considering the space crunch (usable space, see “Space Needs Analysis”document) I doubt that staff would consider that a space for public use.
    The use of public schools for other purposes, by organizations, is covered under MN Statute 123B.51, subd. 2….. It speaks of charges that MAY be assessed, but allows other uses that do not interfere with education, including “divine worship”.

    August 8, 2007
  37. Griff – This is like the logic questions on the LSAT. You’re engaging in conflatulence!

    Your having an issue and going public before taking it to the board is logically the converse of what Judy did. She had an issue and appropriately took it to the City’s “Board,” the City Council.

    The flip-side would be your taking your complaint to the employee who sold cigarettes at the Hospital, which would be a waste of time by going to the wrong end of the food chain.

    Issue –> Board – Hospital or City Council (what Judy did, appropriately, and what you didn’t do – jury out on appropriateness)
    Issue –> Employee – sales clerk or Roder (what neither of you did, appropriately)
    Issue –> Blog Post (what you’re saying Ken Bank said is inappropriate)

    August 8, 2007
  38. David Schlosser said:

    Sorry for the double post, but the first two entries of the Northfield public schools’ facilities usage regulations state that:
    1. The school district reserves the right to grant or deny permission for use of facilities in accordance with Federal Equal Access Laws.
    2. Authorization for use of school district facilities shall not be considered a Northfield Public School District endorsement or sponsorship of the activity taking place.

    If, indeed, the city allows groups to use its facilities, it should adopt a similar policy. Without such a policy (and maybe there is one, but it certainly is not easily found), the appearance of impropriety and “favored status” toward certain groups exists.

    August 8, 2007
  39. Griff Wigley said:

    The prayer group is connected with Harvest Evangelism, the same folks who brought founder and president Ed Silvoso to Northfield back in April for the annual prayer breakfast. See this Nfld News article Prayer Breakfast on May 3 will feature international speaker.

    I poked around the Harvestevan website and found this article about the Mayor of Elk River: Mayor uses her spiritual and civic authority to bless city

    Her testimonial seemed fine to me until I got to her final words in the last paragraph:

    We have also discovered that I have spiritual authority in the city as well as civic authority. I have stood, in the spirit, against things that I believe God does not want in my city, and I have also opened, in the spirit, the city gates to things that I believe God wants in the city. This has had powerful results. There is so much about being mayor of a growing city that is out of my control. And since I don’t want to operate under my control anyway, I easily give it over to the One who is all wisdom and power. It is so freeing to know that I can pray, let it go, be obedient to His will, and watch what He does.

    I always get nervous when leaders say they make decisions based what they think God wants or doesn’t want. (I’ll save my argument for another day.) So I poked around a bit more on the web, wondering if the citizens of Elk River have had concerns about this. It apparently was quite a controversy back in 2004, judging from the pro and con letters to the editor in the local paper:

    My concern here in Northfield would be if city hall staff, especially leaders like Al Roder or members of the city council, began operating with this mindset.

    August 8, 2007
  40. Anne Bretts said:

    Couple of factual clarifications and comments:
    Al Roder couldn’t respond to Judy Dirks’ statement when she made it — according to my reporter’s memory of routine council policy and confirmed today by City Clerk Deb Little. Such open mike periods are for comments on items not on the agenda. People may request items be placed on a later agenda or just make a statement. The rationale is that responding to comments could lead to a council discussion of items not on the agenda, which would be a violation of the open meeting law requiring advance notification of such discussions. Personnel items are never discussed at the council level in a public meeting unless all parties agree.
    Ms. Dirks could have submitted a letter to the council to be placed on the agenda for discussion or to be handled as a personnel item, which is the due process when charges are leveled against an employee. Making a public accusation at a time when the employee had no due process and no opportunity to respond hardly seems the approach of someone charged with protecting people’s human rights.
    Roder responded during his administrator open comment period at the end of the meeting. Same with the councilors. The comments were just that, indiviual comments and not a discussion. The fact that the meeting lasted for hours was unfortunate.
    As for use of the building, last summer and the radio station held a candidate forum in the council chambers. We just booked the room. No fee, no application. The library likewiae books rooms without application or fee, and the schedule there includes computer groups and many non-government groups. The nonmotorized task force meets at the library because we couldn’t fina a night to meet when City Hall was already open and in use. We understood the desire to minimize staff time for building supervision. My sense of it is that groups outside government are encouraged to meet at the library and in the schools. It seems a policy is in order.
    Finally, be careful of mixing the Elk River situation and this one. There is no evidence that Mr. Roder has done anything other than allow use of his office instead of a conference room during a time when the facility was open anyway, a mistake any first-year government major should have avoided. That issue should have been addressed a year ago or whenever it first happened.
    Mr. Roder, the city council, the mayor, the city attorney and Ms. Dirks all could have — and should have — resolved this with a simple conversation the very first time the issue came up.
    The idea that any of this could be kept secret in the current atmosphere of drama and gossip is just hilarious — or would be if it weren’t such an embarrassment to the city.
    This sounds less like a church-state crisis and more like a fight among cliques in a high school cafeteria.

    August 8, 2007
  41. Anne (et al.) – There have been times when I’ve commented at open mic when staff (Scott Neal at the time) would reply and others when council members did (often asking a question of staff) and it became a discussion of the point raised, and I’ve observed other commenters receiving replies too. That’s the only way to clarify and begin to address the issue raised and to direct the matter to the appropriate channels and parties.

    August 8, 2007
  42. Tracy,

    I agree with you that separation of church and state and the wisdom
    of allowing anyone unsupervised access to a public official’s office are two separate issues. Where Roder crossed over and mingled the two issues, however, is in allowing this to take place in his office presumably by his arrangement, this is preferential access and appears to have the official approval of government. The “of government” being the key phrase there.

    I agree also, Tracy, that people overestimate the strictures of the
    “establishment clause”, as Cashman puts it in the audio from the meeting. If they were meeting in a conference room all along and had gone through the same procedures for reserving that room as would any other group or individual, there is no conflict regarding church and state. Then, it’s a pretty clear freedom of assembly issue.

    However, the two issues are mingled by Roder’s actions in that there appears to have been a special arrangement, not readily available to the general public, to meet in his office. Roder is a government official, the office belongs to Northfield, not him.

    I wonder, for instance, would he have allowed a group of atheists to meet in his office during council meetings? Doubt it. That’s where we have an “establishment” – an official sanctioning of one religion.

    I’m willing to believe Roder was doing it, as Dave Ludescher suggests, out of privacy concerns, but that doesn’t excuse it. It
    most certainly appears to be a lapse of judgment, but, unbelievably, according to Roder’s rather bitter remarks recorded here, he made this same poor judgment for a whole year.

    Sadly, it wasn’t “corrected” until someone made a stink about it.
    That indicates to me that Roder, himself, really was unable to see the obvious problem in having this group meet unsupervised in his office. Or worse, he knew it was wrong and allowed the meetings to go on for a year as long as no one said anything about it. If the former, he exercised poor judgment; if the latter, he exercised belligerence.

    Why did he allow it to go on? Out of sympathy for the group’s goals? Personal connections to members of the group? Either, while
    personally laudable as an expression of his beliefs, does not grant
    him the authority to have others express his beliefs on his behalf in a privately arranged meeting space that isn’t available to the general public.

    Which brings up another issue: Cashman’s remarks were unbelievably
    uninformed. Isn’t he a lawyer? His lack of understanding of Dirks’remarks, and his willingness to go along with Roder’s intentional misdirection of Dirks’ comments (as if Dirks had spoken on behalf of the HRC when she clearly stated she did not) was galling.

    Cashman stated that Roder was merely expressing his personal beliefs. What? By proxy?

    If Roder wants to pray in his office, more power to him. But that
    same office is not Roder’s to assign privately arranged groups that
    seem to set up a government’s official establishment of one religion.

    The fact that other councilors appeared to know about this – Roder
    says that it wasn’t a secret – and did nothing is rather surprising.

    I suspect Cashman and Davis’ support for Roder on this matter may be more about maintaining a friendly working relationship. At least, I hope that’s the reason.

    I join Josh in suggesting that something more may be going on here.
    I catch the whiff of an agenda; mainly because the group’s “proximity” need. I understand that I can’t account for their beliefs; so I would ask the prayer group to account for theirs: Why do they need to be in City Hall at all? Why don’t their prayers “work” from elsewhere?

    I’m not trying to suggest that they can’t have an agenda.

    Obviously, the group is allowed to have an agenda. It just seems, now that many are curious, that the Christian thing to do would be to make any larger agenda known up front.

    Additionally, it was pathetic to hear Roder dismiss the HRC as he
    did. Roder got spanked by a private citizen speaking as a private citizen in a public meeting during the time of the meeting specifically left open for public comment, and his response?

    Point the finger back, stomp his foot, and say that his accuser and the public commission she leads are a bunch of poopyheads? Oh, please.

    Would he have similarly attempted to villify me had I been the one to step forward? If the public comment section of the meeting is not for public comments, what is it for?

    As a final word, I would expect a city administrator to have a much better understanding of the issues surrounding separation of church and state than Roder demonstrated here.

    August 8, 2007
  43. Anne Bretts said:

    Nicely said, Brendon. Eloquent, in fact. My comments weren’t intended to support Roder, just an expression of frustration with the use of drama and headlines to discuss issues that in other cities would be resolved in a civil manner — or avoided through clean policies, good communication and quick action when mistakes or violations happen.
    If the desired outcome is to solve the problem, the process used doesn’t seem to have been the most productive option.

    August 8, 2007
  44. David Ludescher said:

    If you change “Prayer Group” to “Three Citizens”, I think the controversy evaporates.

    If we have open access at the school, library, and NCRC, there is any reason not to have it at the City Hall?

    August 8, 2007
  45. David Schlosser said:

    Brendon, extremely well-stated. Thank you.
    I take exception to your quote that “this sounds less like a church-state crisis and more like a fight among cliques in a high school cafeteria.” The City Administrator allows a private group to meet in his city office unattended during council meeting time and that’s not an issue? That Roder saw no problem with that whatsoever as a City Administrator? Doesn’t the fact that Roder allowed them to meet there at least suggest the appearance of impropriety and “favored status” toward a certain group? Would he have allowed any other group equal access to meet in his office during this time? Do you know for a fact that Roder doesn’t have a hidden agenda with this group? I don’t know that he does, either, but it raises all kinds of red flags to me to allow this to occur–and for an Administrator to not even have an inkling that there’s anything wrong with it.
    I also think the link to the Elk River group is a natural one…they are both connected to Harvest Evangelism. So, while they might have different goals and objectives, it certainly makes sense to postulate that the objectives may be similar. So, no–don’t jump to conclusions…but don’t dismiss it either.
    As Carol already said, whether per policy or not, many councilors have and often do comment on and discuss open mic comments.
    And, lastly, just as you ask not to make the connection between Roder and the Elk River situation, I ask you not to make the connection between Dirk’s comments and her role as the HRC chair. She was speaking only as a private citizen, and how you can state that her comments (or the method in which she chose to approach them) reflect on her ability to “protect people’s human rights” is beyond me. Look at Judy’s 30+ years of service before you jump to that conclusion.
    I do agree with you that a policy for meetings in City Hall is in order.

    August 8, 2007
  46. David Ludescher said:

    Come on guys. Cut everyone a little slack. Letting three ladies with Bibles into your office to pray for you to get wisdom and guidance isn’t like getting your jollies with a 21 year old intern in the Oval Office.

    August 8, 2007
  47. Come on, David, like me, you’re a lawyer, an officer of the court sworn to uphold the constitution, that’s our oath. There’s a lot of law on the establishment clause that you were tested on too, so I presume you’re familiar with it. Rhetorical sidesteps about the frolicking 21 y.o. and narcissistic former grand pooh-bah don’t negate the constitutional problem right here in Northfield — one serious enough to wave a big red flag before this bull.

    August 8, 2007
  48. Anne Bretts said:

    David Ludescher,
    Talk about throwing gasoline on a fire! And I thought I was the troublemaker. I’ll ignore the Oval Office example but I agree with your point. This is a problem that never should have reached this level of righteous indignation and acrimony. A civil conversation among grown-ups was all it would have taken, if the point was to solve the problem.
    I guess the issue is what is the point of all this now? Is it to force Roder out of a job? (And maybe that is the righ outcome, I don’t presume to have enough evidence to know.) If the offense is that serious, make the case and get a decision. The city has too many pressing issues to spend more time on rumors and speculation. Is someone going to follow up with the city or are we just going to keep sparring here?
    David Schlosser, if this is indeed a church-state issue, then it seems the HRC should be involved. Why isn’t it?

    August 8, 2007
  49. kiffi summa said:

    Re: post 41…..if there is a restriction on responding to citizen’s comments at Open Mic,never in the 9 years I’ve been attending council meetings has it ever been stated, nor is it stated at the introduction to Open Mic on the Agenda.
    Perhaps Deb Little could clear this up with a citation here of the policy?
    I feel that everything is so screwed up at this point, that there needs to be constant clarification, so that everyone is on the same page, at least as to the facts, obviously not as to opinion.
    Different mayors, and councils, have handled open mic differently, some stone-facing, some thanking the commentator, sometimes a staff person has responded (I recall some belligerent responses during the Target time), and some thanking the citizen sometimes and others glaring. I.E. a wide variety of responses……….but I’d like to see the policy that was referred to in #41.

    August 8, 2007
  50. David Schlosser said:

    The HRC has met with this group already. See the minutes of our September 2006 meeting.
    Also, I’m not speaking as an HRC member here. I’m speaking as a private citizen, just as Judy Dirks did. We can wear two hats.
    Plus, I less than anyone am arguing that this is a church/state issue. My main point here is not to gloss over what the City Administrator did, and to point out that he made a tremendous error in judgment…and seems to feel like he did nothing wrong. The fact is, NO GROUP, whether religious, political, charitable, business, etc. should be allowed to use his office as a meeting room, unsupervised, during council meeting hours, or any other time. I argue for equal access. I would be just as unhappy if he allowed the Green party, or the Democratic party (and I’m a Democrat), or any group that might even appear to create a conflict of interest to meet unsupervised in his office. He opened the door…and it’s a mistake for him to randomly pick and choose which groups meet in his public office. The issue is equal access, and the appearance of favored status and impropriety that allowing this group to meet in his office has created.
    I don’t necessarily want Roder fired, though I think his judgment on a number of issues has been, at best, questionable. What I would like is for him to say “I made a mistake in judgment in allowing this group to meet in my office. I’m sorry, I take full responsibility, and it won’t happen again.” But, that seems beyond him.

    August 8, 2007
  51. Anne Bretts said:

    I didn’t ask Deb Little to quote the public comment policy verbatim, so her answer was just a statement that response by officials isn’t made. After googling many civic websites, the wording in Northfield is pretty consistant. People get three minutes to address issues not on the agenda. There generally is no formal statement saying officials and staff won’t comment, although at least one site indicated that people shouldn’t expect a response.
    The general practice in public bodies I have covered in both Indiana and Minnesota is that elected officials and staff answer routine questions, but don’t engage in discussion. Of course, people bend and stretch and break policy, and after two years in Northfield I understand that nothing here is routine.
    I’m not clear why there was no comment Monday, if only to say the matter would be referred to the city attorney for review. Perhaps with a room full of people, a huge agenda, the element of surprise and the recent personnel and publicity crises, no one knew quite what to say or who should say it. Not the perfect response, but a human one.
    Again, what’s the point now? This is like putting a puzzle together without a photo of the finished picture — and with half the pieces missing.
    Should there be a personnel action? Should the council ask the attorney for a policy review and opinion? Who needs to do what? I’ll help.
    Or is the point to just keep guessing what the big picture is?

    August 8, 2007
  52. David Ludescher said:

    Here’s the quick analysis of the constitutional issues: Al Roder can invite whomever he wants into his office at any time for any reason.

    Nevertheless, it was a lapse in judgment to allow anyone into his office unsupervised. While it is his office, most of the property and information is the City’s.

    It also has the appearance of impropriety because the group represents a particular religious segment. Had Mr. Roder actually been present while they were there, one could understand their presence as an attempt to influence the decisions of the city administrator. But, how is praying for him while he is at the meeting influencing government decisions? Heck, these ladies don’t even have a political agenda.

    Ms. Dirks was in the right to point out the problems with what Mr. Roder was permitting, and to ask him to be accountable. But, further investigation revealed that this was about as innocent of a mistake as they come.

    I suspect that Mr. Roder wouldn’t have been quite so defensive if he wasn’t being forced to defend himself against “criminal” accusations made by the police chief – accusations which appear on the surface to be nothing more than an attempt to divert attention away from the incredibly inadvisable press conference.

    Frankly, I hope the ladies’ prayers can still reach the city administrator (and the Mayor and City Council). Regardless of the fruitfulness of their acts, praying that our city leaders receive wisdom and courage is about as honorable a task as any volunteer could undertake.

    August 8, 2007
  53. kiffi summa said:

    post #53 says: “Heck, these ladies don’t even have a political agenda”…………..
    Well, maybe we’d know that if they would comment on what it is about Northfield they are trying to “transform”. That word has grown to have very political connections/intentions and I do not think it could be chosen without thought.
    There are lots of religious causes that have political ramifications, for instance the ongoing struggle between the Dalai Lama and the Chinese government; or to go way back…….Jewish tribes, Romans, and emerging Christians, Surely both those examples are political, as well as religious.
    I have often thought that all religious struggles are basically, at their core, political (power) as well as belief centered.
    Sorry if that offends anyone.

    August 8, 2007
  54. David DeLong said:

    During my on the council responses were not uncommom from counil or by staff at the request or direction of council. Deb Little was at very few meetings back then but not now with the departure of Karl Huber. At any regular meeting of the council could-transact any business within its power as long as it wasn’t something that required time notice- I don’t care who was in his office what bothers me most is information/non public data that may have been on Mr. Roder’s desk or computer? If you’ve been to a clinic lately you can’t even peek at the screen to see what’s available for your next appointment.

    August 8, 2007
  55. Christine Stanton said:

    It seems that there have been many lapses in judgement by city officials lately, or is it just me. Is all this as “unusual” as it seems?

    Somebody referred to the Northfield News as the Northfield “Enquirer” recently. Some of the news these past few months might fall into that category, yet, some of it really is not that “funny.” The sooner these issues get fairly and ethically resolved, the better I will feel.

    Come to think of it, much of the confusion seems to be between ethical and lawful reasoning. In other words, are the actions unethical, unlawful or both?

    August 8, 2007
  56. Griff Wigley said:

    Damn, another David. 😉 Good to have you join us, David… a former city councilor and a Woodley St. neighbor.

    Except now everyone has to keep the Davids straight:

    David L = David Ludescher
    David S = David Schlosser
    David D – David deLong

    Good thing Hvistendahl’s typing sucks. I’m not sure we could deal with 4!

    August 8, 2007
  57. Griff Wigley said:

    David L, I would agree (#53), that kind of prayer is honorable. But it’s pretty clear that it doesn’t stop there for some Harvest Evangelists, eg, the mayor of Elk River. When she says:

    I have stood, in the spirit, against things that I believe God does not want in my city, and I have also opened, in the spirit, the city gates to things that I believe God wants in the city.

    it’s easy to see how this can translate to public policy matters being handled in ways that many find objectionable, including 15 or so churches in Elk River who declined to join the “Pray Elk River” group.

    August 8, 2007
  58. Christine Stanton said:

    In case nobody has gone to the “Harvest Evangelism” link Griff posted, their mission is copied below. According to Griff, the women who meet to pray are associated with this organization/movement.

    “We are an inter-denominational ministry committed to the fulfillment of the Great Commission (Matthew 28:19,20). The Harvest team, led by founder and president Ed Silvoso, is dedicated to serving the entire Body of Christ around the globe while instilling vision for city, regional and nation-wide transformation. The Five Pivotal Paradigms for Nation Transformation, the Biblical principles of prayer evangelism (Luke 10: 1-9, I Timothy 2:1-8), marketplace transformation (Acts 2:17-21) and unity in the Body (John 13:35) form the core strategy for our efforts.

    All of our events, prototypes and projects are aligned to the Five Pivotal Paradigms for Nation Transformation and the Principles of Prayer Evangelism outlined below.

    We are called to disciple nations, not just individuals. (Matt. 28:18-20)
    The Marketplace, which is the heart of the nation, has been redeemed and now needs to be reclaimed. (Luke 19:10)
    Every Christian is a minister, and labor is worship. (1 Tim. 2:1-8; Acts 20:34-35)
    We are called to take the kingdom of God to where the gates of hell are for Jesus to build His Church. (Matt. 16:18)
    Nation transformation must be tangible and the premier social indicator is the elimination of systemic poverty. (Gal. 2:10)

    Bless: Speak peace to the people and the systems. (v. 5)
    Fellowship: Listen. (v. 7)
    Minister: Address the felt needs in the name of the Lord. (v. 9a)
    Proclaim: Let it be known that the kingdom of God is nearby. (v. 9b)

    To lift up Jesus in the entire nation (Jn. 12:32)
    For Satan to fall down and all his demons to become subject to the Church (Lk. 10:17ff; Mt. 16:18)
    So that the world that has already been redeemed will be reclaimed, and sinners will force their way into the kingdom of God. (Lk. 19:10; Lk. 16:16)”

    August 8, 2007
  59. David Ludescher said:

    Griff, it is true that some people think that God has provided them a mandate to affect public policy, and act inappropriately. But, that these Harvest Evangelists are acting inappropriately because they think that God has provided them a mandate is false. One need look no further than Martin Luther King to recognize that faith can provide wisdom and courage where power, law and reason all fail.

    These particular Harvest Evangelists are sincerely committed to helping in the best way that they know how – praying that (their) God will bestow kind blessings upon our city leaders, including Al Roder. That seems much more helpful than making unfounded and damaging allegations of widespread drug abuse, and then leaving the rest of the City to clean up the mess.

    August 8, 2007
  60. In response to Anne Bretts’ queries about the ends to which this “incident” should be brought. I am not of the belief that much needs to happen other than Roder acknowledging that many people, Christian or not, would see this as a preferential treatment of one religion by a government official.

    It’s befuddling to me how he takes obstinance and misdirection and projection as his answer to the issue. He is a municipal administrator in a top-level position; it is very reasonable to expect he would have a solid understanding of legal issues raised by his actions. Failing that understanding, he has access to a city attorney that he could question about the matter.

    How about: “Oh yeah, I see your point.” That would be nice to hear.

    I disagree that Roder has the right to allow anyone to meet in his office (especially when he is not there, especially for a whole year’s worth of meetings); because I don’t believe it is an option offered to just anyone or just any group. Therefore, it looks like favorable treatment of a religion by the government.

    Obviously, in scope, this is a small incident, but the principle is huge – it’s a bedrock principle of Americam freedom. I know in daily practice, law is often about the degree of infraction, but, at its source, isn’t all law about the “principle of the thing”?

    Policy needs to be written or, if already written, reviewed and clarified for city officials.

    It’s worth noting that, although this group was just three women at this meeting, they obviously represent a much larger organization.

    While many of that group’s goals seem laudable, as a non-Christian, I’d rather not have my government officals promoting (however oddly, secretly or ineffectually) an organization that seems to want entire nations to transform to Christianity, or, at least, to have all government decisions guided by divine hands. I prefer – and this is just my ideal preference – that those decisions be guided by reason and the facts at hand. I just prefer religious diversity and objective decision-making.

    And, before anyone shoots down that idea, I understand fully that people often make decisions based on personal beliefs that they would not make if guided only by reason or fact. I know I do.

    Only Spock doesn’t, right?

    August 8, 2007
  61. David Ludescher,

    It’s worth remembering that Martin Luther King’s nonviolent protests were actually based on sound reasoning for how to turn public opinion against an unjust system. It’s also important to note that MLK was not a government official.

    And, yes, obviously, praying for people is much better than the Smith – heroin issue; although I don’t think anyone has claimed it was worse.

    August 8, 2007
  62. Meant to respond to this earlier, but forgot.

    David Ludescher said:

    “Come on guys. Cut everyone a little slack. Letting three ladies with Bibles into your office to pray for you to get wisdom and guidance isn’t like getting your jollies with a 21 year old intern in the Oval Office.”

    This is not only a red herring; it’s a dead herring.

    The organization that these three women belong to certainly seems to have a political agenda.

    If I were given the choice between what their organization seems to want – let’s call it “One World Religion” – and illicit oral sex, well…

    (clears his throat a few times, signs off…)

    August 9, 2007
  63. john george said:

    Golly, folks! This whole thing reminds me a little bit of the four blind men who happened upon an elephant. One blind man felt his trunk, and said,”The elephant is like a snake.” The second blind man happened upon a leg, and said,”The elephant is like a tree.” The third blind man happened upon the elephant’s side, and said,”No. The elephant is like a wall.” The fourth blind man found the tail and said,”No, you’re all wrong. The elephant is like a rope.” The point here is that each man was responding to his perception of what he felt. None of them could grasp the whole elephant because of their limited perspective. Now please don’t take my comments to infer that anyone is blind! It seems to me that everyone sharing here has a good point, but it is not the complete perspective. I don’t think I have it, either, but I would urge the council to take a look at these issues raised and come up with an action plan. I think they have (or at least should have) the overall perspective of how the city government should operate. Are there unclear or undefined policies? Then take a look at them and clear them up. Have staff members transgressed clearly defined policies? Then correct them or discipline them. These are all issues that can be resolved if all the parties can come to agreement. Can we grow from this experience? I would surely hope so. Is there a place for everyone in this town no matter what or how they believe? I would hope that, also. Will these types of mistakes be made in the future? I would say most likely yes. We are, after all, falible creatures, and we can only proceed according to the limited perspective we have at any given time. That is one of the reasons we are a nation of laws. That being the case, can we pick up and go on from here? I think we surely will, and hopefully with an open respect for our fellow citizens. Reconciliation is possible as long as everyone involved wants to be reconciled. And that is something I, for one, am praying for (although, I will not divulge where I intend to do that. Ha! Ha!)
    Anne, you remember my humor!

    August 9, 2007
  64. Anne Bretts said:

    So good to see (read) you here! Welcome to the discussion.
    I was just thinking about the elephant story myself.

    Is there any evidence at all that Mr. Roder invited these women in or denied anyone use of any room in City Hall? Is there any proof that Mr. Roder or these women have the same agenda as the people in Elk River? After an entire year, surely one of these crazed zealots would have let slip their plans for world domination.
    Proof is a good thing. I mean, I was Catholic for many years, and you can Google a lot of crap about the church right now, but that doesn’t mean I supported pedophilia. (Although I still share a fondness for incense and communion wafers.)
    Let’s face it, Billy Graham and Jimmy Swaggart and Ghandi and John Travolta together haven’t had much impact on our collective odds of salvation. I think as long as the most popular television shows are professional wrestling, the sex lives of celebrities and non-celebrities and people hitting and kicking balls while observers drink beer, the ladies in Mr. Roder’s office have a ways to go before transforming a few Northfielders, let alone a whole country.
    I’m just saying, we still have time to get a policy review and save the city from the threat of silent prayer. Heck, we can hire a consultant, hold some vision sessions and bore the ladies until they run screaming from the building.
    I’m not minimizing the importance of church-state principles, I’m just concerned that Northfield seems to have a pattern of turning disagreements into major crises and then moving on, leaving reputations trashed and relationships strained without really resolving anything.
    Perhaps this time we should just lift the tent flap and see whether this is an elephant or not.

    August 9, 2007
  65. kiffi summa said:

    Wait and see is a good strategy; I wish the city council, if they knew of this on top of all the other “issues that have recently arisen” had not been so quick to pick sides.
    But I also see nothing wrong in talking through a problem as you’re trying to understand it.
    If the city is being prayed for in all these different places around the community (City Hall, Division St. , Community Nat’l./Resource? Bank, the various churches involved) , well, I think the efficacy of such action seems to be in question………looks like we’re going the other way!

    August 9, 2007
  66. Anne, David (Ludescher – officer of the court), City Council members, City Attorney, and some others — From your comments, I think you are minimizing the importance of the City’s role here regarding religion, as has Roder in his oppositional response to a legitimate, measured and specific challenge. The city’s role thus far has been one of sanctioning and encouragement with use of city facilities, rather than a “hands off” neutral role. This needs the full light of day, and I hope that the press, eager as they were to put the spotlight on the “heroin” debacle, will be covering this.

    David Ludescher — from your comments, in at least one statement yesterday (“These particular Harvest Evangelists are sincerely committed to helping in the best way that they know how – praying that (their) God will bestow kind blessings upon our city leaders, including Al Roder”) you seemed to be speaking for the praying ladies — and I wonder on what authority and whether you’re representing them in this? If not, I urge caution in stating conclusions about their intent. If so, disclosure would be good. From the website link provided by Griff, the intent of the larger group is an agenda that isn’t clear and it concerns me. Is it helpful? Is it benign? What is the purpose and goal?

    August 9, 2007
  67. Anne Bretts said:

    Ah, Carol, I believe we all are at the same tent, but perhaps David and I are holding the tusks and you are holding the ‘rope.’ Same issue, same concerns, different sense of unpleasantness and urgency.

    August 9, 2007
  68. Christine Stanton said:

    John: Well put.

    Brendon: You mention the red herring falacy. What about the straw man? There seems to be much of that false logic going on too, whether said or unsaid. If we are going to use reason, we need to be sure that we use sound reasoning. It would be great to see someone taking on the role of the “logic police” (for lack of a better term) in this discussion. Maybe you could help fill that role. 🙂

    August 9, 2007
  69. David Schlosser said:

    Can’t we all, though, at minimum, agree that Al Roder made a mistake in judgment in allowing this group to meet (unsupervised) in his office?
    Whether an innocent mistake or an intentional lapse in judgment, whether the group has actual “favored status” and influence or the mere perception of that status/influence exists because of their access…didn’t he make a mistake in judgment?
    And shouldn’t he admit his misttake? Perhaps apologize? My respect for Roder would increase drastically if he just would admit that he made a mistake and assures us that it won’t happen again. I don’t care as much to hear his reasons for allowing this–just admit it was a mistake!
    Why is it so hard for public officials or politicians to say “I made a mistake?”
    Sorry. Perhaps that’s just my issue with public (whether elected or not) officials. My respect for any public official grows when they’re willing to admit a mistake.
    At minimum, I hope this discussion at least points out the need for a policy on public meeting space in City Hall.

    August 9, 2007
  70. David Schlosser said:

    Hmmm…”intentional lapse in judgment” doesn’t seem to make sense, does it? Change to “intentional choice”…

    August 9, 2007
  71. David Ludescher said:

    Let’s approach this issue from Griff’s orginal conclusion and follow up question (which, in my opinion was dead on.)

    Griff said that it seemed to be a judgment error for Roder to allow these women to pray in his office, especially unsupervised. But, he couldn’t see problem allowing them to meet (pray) in some other city office.

    Griff then asked if he was missing something.

    My response: Griff you didn’t miss anything.

    The fact that the women were praying goes to the level of discipline that should be exerted over Roder to correct potential future lapses of judgment. I would argue that no discipline is necessary. Not only did Roder self-correct the behavior, but the activity being allowed was personal, not governmental. Furthermore, the behavior in which they were engaged was, at worst, useless, and at best, extremely valuable.

    August 9, 2007
  72. David Ludescher said:

    David S. beat me to the punch. Well-stated.

    The follow-up questions are: should he apologize for anything besides letting people into his office unsupervised and should he be disciplined by the City Council in some manner?

    The implication of most of the discussion is that the apology needs to run deeper than just admitting that letting people into his office unsupervised was a mistake.

    August 9, 2007
  73. David Schlosser said:

    David L:

    I would add this to Griff’s first statement:
    But, he couldn’t see a problem allowing them to meet (pray) in some other city office…”provided that any other group has the same opportunity for access.”

    And, honestly, I don’t think it matters if the women were praying or meeting as a bookgroup or meeting as a knitting club. No one group should have special access to his office to meet (unsupervised). Period. It matters not whether the activity was personal or governmental.

    He doesn’t need to be disciplined, as far as I’m concerned. He DOES need to insure that, from now on, either every group has access to meet unsupervised in his office, or that no group has that access.
    And, of course, I will hold out for the “I made a mistake” admission…

    August 9, 2007
  74. Anne Bretts said:

    I asked for a copy of any existing policy on use of space at City Hall, and the library, while I was at it. (The schools and NCRC have policies in place.) I also asked the process for reviewing or updating the policy. When I get that information, I’ll share it. I’ll be happy to make a request for a policy review if it’s needed.

    August 9, 2007
  75. victor summa said:

    David S –

    Allowing an “I made a mistake” statement; without knowing the extent, if any, of the city administrator’s association with the Transform Northfield group’s agenda, is cutting too much slack. Would that change the picture? Let’s look at that for whatever ‘s there.

    What out cry might we expect if a Council person (elected) advocated for the same privileges for members of his religious institution… and hide that from the public for over a year.

    Beyond that, the Council’s blind eye to Roder’s personal blast directed to Ms Dirks surely must be cause for concern from most of the LG readers. Are they picking sides? Appears so.

    EXAMPLE: In pursuit of vital business needs, Lee Lansing may have pushed the envelope of impropriety. I’d say as a defense, his two pronged role (part time Mayor – full time struggling business man in a flagging economic environment) mitigates his role in the liquor store debacle, as we know it.

    Their doesn’t appear to be any slack cutting from the council or the press on that. Inasmuch as the State Auditor might now get this Roder issue to consider in its survey of Northfield’s governance practices, perhaps we should wait for that shoe to fall.

    Meanwhile, continue the dialogue of Northfield’s official position on this issue. I don’t think it’s a question of use of city hall space – it’s about use of power, naively or, perhaps to achieve ones personal agenda.

    Would GW’s mea culpa on Iraq make that okay?

    Maybe it’s better that they (officials) don’t easily admit mistakes. Employing that kind of “simple out” we loose all our momentum in pursuit of better governance… at least in Nice Minnesota.


    August 9, 2007
  76. David Schlosser said:

    Good comments, Victor. perhaps I am cutting him too much slack in only asking for an “I made a mistake” statement.
    Anne, I’m with you if you need/want help in requesting a policy review for meeting space in city hall.

    August 9, 2007
  77. Griff Wigley said:

    Victor and Anne,

    I’ve temporarily removed two of your recent posts (one each) because they don’t adhere to our Guidelines

    Can you try again? I’ve saved the text of your posts in case you need it. You both have valuable stuff to add to the conversation.

    August 9, 2007
  78. David Ludescher said:

    David S. and Judy: Northfield appears well-served by having such thoughtful individuals on the Human Rights Commission. It is commendable that you both clarified that you speaking as individuals, and not as Human Rights Commission members. I trust that you both agree that this issue falls fall short of a genuine human rights concern.

    August 9, 2007
  79. Anne Bretts said:

    Thanks, David S., I’ll keep you posted. It seems if someone had taken the 60 seconds required to make this request a year ago, we could have avoided this whole situation. The important thing now is to get past all the rhetoric, get a solution and focus on the far more serious matters at hand.
    IMHO, the mayor’s situation needs to be a separate discussion thread, since the alleged conflict of interest offenses are far different and shouldn’t be confused with this situation.

    August 9, 2007
  80. Anne Bretts said:

    Sorry for the humor misfire, it wasn’t worth the time it took to explain it. Happy to keep the discussion on track!

    August 9, 2007
  81. BruceWMorlan said:

    The question that we all seem to be ducking and that is (IMNSHO) the most important question, which is why are we using different criteria for evaluating this situation because this unescorted group was praying? We have danced around the issue by (obliquely) thanking them for the efforts on our (city’s) behalf and by refering to all the good things the religious community has done for Western civilization. For all we know, this prayer group may have been praying for some pretty innocuous things, though recent events in city governance might suggest that someone is ticked off at Northfield. Hmmm, cause and effect anybody? Of course not.

    Remove religion from the equation and the question is trivial. (1) Do not permit unescorted access to a private office. (2) Do permit non-invasive uses, meaning no paintball clubs, chemistry clubs or snake-handlers, but quilting, dungeons and dragons and prayer groups (of any sort)) are fine. The usual safety and security filters apply to all.

    Now, if we believe that prayer is invasive (that is, has a chance of influencing the outcomes), then we have the right and duty to ask if it is a fair and allowable means of changing government process and outcome? We must ask ourselves, is truly effective, change-inducing prayer in the same category as (say) planting chemical bombs or hiring less intangible “muscle” (“Knee-cappers, Inc) to help convince our elected officials to do something?

    We appear to be relatively indifferent to this attempt to modify events (whether influencing outcomes or methods). I am curious, are we indifferent because we do not believe it will work anyway? Or are we indifferent because we think these efforts will be effective but we agree with the outcome (since we are all part of that old-fashoned old-testament religious group)?

    One argument is very consistent with our beliefs about freedom as expressed in the first amendment and is consistent with the documents that trace the foundations of our government, e.g., as expressed in Jefferson’s famous “wall of separation letter“. The other argument is consistent with a less gracious and more troubling view that says that we have a god-given right to be the way we are.

    August 9, 2007
  82. I am really wondering what is the difference between someone
    asking a city official for a new sidewalk, and someone asking
    G(g)od for a new sidewalk. Either way, they are probably not
    going to get one. 🙂


    August 9, 2007
  83. David Ludescher said:

    Judy did a fairly good job of identifying the possible problem. There is a problem if the religious expression can be “attributed to a government official”. The Supreme Court’s words generally involve the terms “excessive governmental entanglement”. At that point, the First Amendment is implicated.

    Judy’s concerns in this area have been more than adequately addressed. There was no government action. This was quite clearly a personal action by Roder and these women. It just happened on public property.

    August 9, 2007
  84. Anne Bretts said:

    As I suspected and indicated earlier, there is no formal policy on the use of City Hall, which explains why this particular situation fell through the bureaucratic cracks.
    City Clerk Deb Little explains that City Hall is mostly used for city and county agencies and boards and government-related activities. When other groups ask, she generally refers them to the library or NCRC.
    She didn’t discuss this case, but it seems that the prayer ladies could sit in the council chambers, or in the hallway outside Mr. Roder’s door, where there is television and extra chairs for overflow crowds.
    My guess is that in order to make room for the often large crowds of people at meetings and to keep from making non-praying people uncomfortable, Mr. Roder offered to let the ladies sit in his office within plain site of the council chambers, rather than having them in a meeting room in a part of the building where there was no security. My guess is that it was assumed there would not be throngs of people vying for prayer space and that this group would run out of steam or eventually meet elsewhere. In that case, there were many other issues facing the city, so there was no reason to get into a policy debate over opening up all the rooms at City Hall or banning any use other than sitting in a meeting, a policy that would tie the hands of the city in allowing the League of Women Voters to tape a meeting or let a student group meet in a mock UN, etc.
    No good deed goes unpunished, so this judgment call proved a bad one.
    Now there will need to be a policy that either allows rental or free use of rooms when government agencies are meeting and the building is open, or a ban of any use other than use by said agencies while they are meeting. That means the ladies still will be able to pray in the council chambers or the hallway during meetings.
    In the end, that’s a difference of about 30 feet from where they were praying, but the difference undoubtedly represents a victory for homeland security and the Constitution and my freedom to sleep through meetings.
    Now that the American way of life is safe, I think I’ll have some apple pie now and call Mom.
    Just kidding, but as I said at the beginning, a 20-minute conversation a year ago could have resolved this whole thing, exactly as it will be resolved now.

    August 9, 2007
  85. john george said:

    I really don’t try to sneak my comments in late at night. It is just that I don’t get home from work until about 10:00 pm and it takes me a while to catch up on all the newest entries. Anne, I think you made a great observation of human nature. You said, and I only partially quote,”…people feel a need to make others agree with them.” If we take a close look at this, isn’t this an underlying characteristic of everything that has been said, from Ms. Dirks initial presentation to the council to every reaction for or against it? I think we need to be transparent about this. If this is correct, then is it wrong to do so? I don’t think so. We all want to feel like we have allies and are not drifting along through life alone.
    Another aspect of Anne’s observation is the need “to make” others agree. I can choose to agree with someone or I can choose to disagree with someone. I do have the right and freedom to make that choice. If someone tries “to make” me agree with them, they will meet resistance. I feel that some of the legal references made and other opinions could be interpreted as having this intent, but I don’t think the the legal experts actually have that agenda (and I didn’t write down which entries leave me with this impression. Sorry.) I choose to give you all the benefit of the doubt and not accuse you of this.
    Another thing we need to regognize about this blog is that it is a forum to communicate with a number of people with whom we do not have regular contact. We really aren’t going to resolve this issue in this blog. We really don’t have authority to do so, anyway. Our authority rests in the rights to petition and to vote. I really respect the observations of the people who have been involved in city government. I feel they have a weight of experience that I certainly do not.
    When it comes to segregating out one group, as it appears has happened to the three ladies involved, and telling them (or any other poor person or group who would so choose to do this) you can only do this a certain way, then I have a problem with that. I still haven’t heard from anyone any evidence of sedition or illegal activity. I think it was David S. who appropriately judged this activity as, at worst, ineffective, and at best very helpful.
    That being said, I think there is some wisdom in not allowing our actions to open us up to accusation. This is the greatest fault in Mr. Roder’s and the three ladies’ activities. I would also ask why a simple appology is not sufficient? Can we be productive in this without having to be punitive? Are Mr. Roder and these ladies trying to force their “agenda” on all the rest of us by praying in City hall? I just don’t see this. There seems to be so much fear being expressed of the right wing Christans taking over. Why is that?

    August 10, 2007
  86. john george said:

    Bright. I think there is more hope in asking God for something than asking the government! Ha! Ha!

    August 10, 2007
  87. John George said:

    “There seems to be so much fear being expressed of the right wing Christans taking over. Why is that?”

    Probably because of the significant inroads they have made on the national political scene over the last three decades.

    I believe you probably feel I’m one of those expressing that “fear” in this forum. I would call it wariness, not fear.

    I want to make it clear, while I do hold out suspicions about the vague goals expressed by their larger organization, I do NOT find the behavior or (my perceptions of) this small group’s intentions to be objectionable. I do believe the behavior is ineffectual, but that’s just my religious opinion.

    Additionally, I do not believe this to be a “significant entanglement” by government, as David L. put it. (Emphasis on “significant”.) In fact, I’m at a loss as to what advantage could be gained by using Mr. Roder’s office over another more equitably available public space.

    However, we are not dealing with intentions or effectiveness or overall degree of entanglement, we are dealing with a principle, and a principle that is a cornerstone of freedom in this country.

    That’s why I’m concerned.

    It is not disputed by Mr. Roder that he allowed this to take place for a year, and the fact is this was and is a religious group. If it had been a non-religious group, it still would have constituted government approval of special access, but it would not have crossed over into the very sensitive area of church-state sponsorship.

    Yes, this is small as an incident, but it is gigantic as a principle. I know law, in practice, is often predicated on degree of wrong, but, to make it more concrete, stealing a penny from the till is still stealing; because you wouldn’t want one million people coming through and “just” stealing one penny each.

    Yes, this could have been handled in a 20-minute conversation, but it was not. Mr. Roder bears the responsibility for failing to hold that 20-minute conversation; so he needs to be held accountable.

    Yes, there are more important issues in Northfield; that doesn’t mean this is somehow lacking in importance.

    I worry that attempts to diminish the significance of something like this open the door for further breaking down that wall in Northfield governance. I especially worry about that after hearing councilor Cashman’s odd and uninformed defense of Mr. Roder’s actions.

    I am not out for Mr. Roder’s head; for all I know, he may do all other aspects of his job extremely well. However, even great people make mistakes, and this is a mistake about an extremely important tenet of American democracy.

    Personally, I wish Mr. Roder would sincerely apologize for the mistake and apologize for the rather childish manner in which he responded to Dirks’ concern – by trying to lump her concern as a private citizen into her leadership of a volunteer citizen commission.

    Mr. Roder bears professional responsibility for addressing any concerns he may have with the HRC directly; not for lashing out at the commission as a means of attacking the credibility of its leader – especially when that leader was speaking as a private citizen and not as the HRC’s leader.

    August 10, 2007
  88. john george said:

    Brendon- I agree with you whole heartedly. One of the things that had made this country great, I believe, is our establishment on law and not some dictator’s whim. Unfortunatly, I am seeing that adherance to law beginning to crumble. Just try driving the speed limit on highway 3 from 5th street to Greenvale as an example.
    What we do with infractions seems to be a question here. Are we guilty only if we get caught? Is the sign along the side of the road still the law if there is not a policeman around to enforce it?

    As you know in law, there are degrees of punitive measures that are supposed to fit the crime. Life imprisonment would probably be effective as a deterant to speeding, but is it appropriate? I have not heard of anyone caught in adultery being stoned in this country, as it was recently reported to have happened in another country. In the case with Al Roder and the use of his office, there does not appear to be clear guidelines in the city code to cover this, even though the occurance appears to be a lack of common sense. I think it was Samuel Clemmens who once said that the only problem with common sense is that it isn’t too common anymore. I would like to see the council establish some clear guidelines so that we the public can know what to expect. It seems unjust to accuse and punish someone when the code is not clear.

    August 10, 2007
  89. John George said:

    “I would like to see the council establish some clear guidelines so that we the public can know what to expect. It seems unjust to accuse and punish someone when the code is not clear.”

    I agree. Guidelines would be helpful on the local level. Again, I’m not really calling for Mr. Roder to be punished. An apology would be nice. It would be professional. It diminishes my respect for Mr. Roder not to hear it, but I’m not going to scream if it doesn’t happen.

    Regarding a code for Northfield: In the larger sense, I would think Mr. Roder would have acted in accordance with the “national code” on this issue: avoiding that entanglement of government and religion in the first place. To that extent, that part of any possible future code should be implicit – an over-arching, “global” principle.

    Much like how city charters don’t have to enumerate freedom of speech as a right for residents; because that right is already guaranteed by the U.S. Constitution.

    August 10, 2007
  90. Josh Hinnenkamp said:

    You have heard the expression “Who will police the police?” Well who will pray for the prayerful? I propose that a group should get together every Monday City Council Meeting to pray for the Harvest Evangelists to help them make the right prayers. After all, who knows what they are praying for? If we’re all praying for each others prayers…

    August 10, 2007
  91. kiffi summa said:

    Brendon, re; post #88 IMHO or IMNSHO (as Bruce Morlan says) …….You get 10, count them, 10 BINGOS!

    August 10, 2007
  92. john george said:

    Isn’t technology great? I can be 250 miles away, and you still have to listen to me! (Ha! Ha!)As far as an apology and/or whatever on Mr. Roder’s part, I think this probably needs to be done in the same setting as the original accusation. That was done at a city council meeting, and, unless I’ve missed something, there has not been a city council meeting since this whole thing started. Does anyone know if Mr. Roder is going to respond or not respond to this in the next council meeting? I would think that there has been some internal discussion on this matter between the council and the administrator. After all, he is an employee of the city. I’m not convinced that the news media is the proper place for the initial response to occur. Sorry, guys, if I come across as diminishing your importance in the town.

    It seems that there has been a lot of speculation about intents and hidden agendas. Just because there have been “inroads” by conservative Christian groups in the past, does that mean they are going to happen here? I would like to offer my own convictions on this. I feel I cannot have any Godly effect my environment unless God decides to move. I don’t believe that any ammount of cajoling, petitioning or frenzy on my part is going to get God to move unless He wants to. I believe my responsibility is to find out what He wants to do and align my actions accordingly. I do believe in a daily, intimate relationship and fellowship with God. Now I don’t presume everyone involved in this discussion will agree with or necessarily understand this approach, but I’m not ashamed to state where I am coming from. Nor do I believe there is any way I could force this upon any of you, although I would be excited if any of you came upon this on your own. I also believe there is room to make a mistake and correct that mistake. I once read that a mistake is evidence that someone tried to do something.

    I think we need to allow the council and Mr. Roder a chance to address this and respond to it in the format of a council meeting. Until that happens, we only have speculation as to what and how that response will be. Judy, and others, my problem with the position that this prayer was intentionally done secretively and covertly is, I feel, speculation on your part. I’m sorry you do not have a relationship with the administrator that allows you a place to approach him about this, but I do not feel there is criteria in your original piece, nor in any of the expressions on this blog, to support this conclusion. There have been expressions that this is how it has been perceived by some, but facts prove or disprove our perceptions. I don’t believe we have all the facts, yet.

    I’m really excited to see what is going to transpire in the next council meeting. I might even try to make it to one.

    August 11, 2007
  93. While I am all for separation of church and state, and being no
    great major thinker, I ask this question in earnest…what is the
    difference between lobbyists courting elected officials for their various causes, let us use the Chemical Manufacterers Association lobbyists as an example, and a representative of a church, let’s use the Church of Good Hope for an example that I just made up, asking for the elected officials to use their best wisdom while allocating
    money for the good of the country? Both groups have something they want. Both come into the govt. offices in DC to influence the Congress and House of Representatives. Are both groups wrong?
    Is there a better way to do the business of governing?

    Ringo Paul aka Bright
    I apologize, John, I just couldn’t help it. If I ever meet you,
    I’ll apologize in person, tho something tells me, you have heard
    this funniness before now. Now I will go and read the NF Snooze
    online, thanks to Mr. Scooper…and myself who suggested this to the NF Snooze a couple of years ago.

    August 11, 2007
  94. Bright, you asked

    what is the difference between lobbyists courting elected officials for their various causes, let us use the Chemical Manufacterers Association lobbyists as an example, and a representative of a church, let’s use the Church of Good Hope for an example that I just made up, asking for the elected officials to use their best wisdom while allocating money for the good of the country?

    Well, I would hope that when the CMA (Chem. Manu. Assoc.) showed up they would bring their peer-reviewed scientific analyses that proved their point in a validatable manner. Then their (honest broker) opposition would show up with their peer-reviewed analyses, and the government official (and here is where the miracle occurs) balances the evidence and makes decisions based on that meta-analysis.

    When the CGH (Church of Good Hope) shows up they bring their mythology, refer to un-reviewed statements as facts and suggest that these insights are valid (and here is where the miracle occurs) because of their source. When their opposition shows up they refer to their mythology (which may be a different interpretation of the same writings) and present their un-substantiated statements as facts and suggest that their insights are valid (and here is their miracle occurs) because of their source.

    The former approach is tested and validated by a process (science) that has brought us proven medical advances, a greatly improved standard of living (I attribute sewer treatment, which is still a suspected novelty in some parts of the world, to science and the understanding of disease propogation it developed), the internal combustion engine (uh-oh) and world-class pollution (oops).

    The latter approach is untestable (faith) and can never be tested. It has brought us such things as an end to slavery, a better emphasis on helping the downtrodden, the Middle East (uh-oh) and millenia of death and mayhem (oops).

    My point (such as it is)?

    Each has its place, both belong at the table as long as they remember their place. Unfortunately for the second (which often teaches thngs like “spare the rod and spoil the child“), it is often at odds with the former (which studies in-home violence and tells us that it is a bad thing (Caught between Common Sense and Science: The Cornell Child Study Clubs, 1925-45). But when a faith-based mythology tells us a story that makes us better stewards of ourselves and our lives, well, sometimes a pleasant parable is much easier to learn from than a statistics-filled journal article. For me, in the end, I pick my parables based on their being valid interpretations of the science (when possible). Then I try to use the parables and metaphors to better communicate my points.

    August 11, 2007
  95. I hear you Bruce, and although I would like to agree, there is this one rub that bugs me, and that is the fact, and I know you like facts, that often, mighty science is factually wrong. And factually,
    mighty science also comes out of the corner swinging like it’s
    a heavy weight champ when really it’s just a welterweight weakling with it’s theories that are be updated as new facts come to fore.
    Even gravity is theoretical pet, and, I am told, is being challenged daily by credible scientists. I think we can take a few uppercuts here without hitting the mat.

    Furthermore, both science and religion have in common their ability to update theories and beliefs as new information is discovered.
    Though it may take religion a certain while longer to make the shift.

    And let me confess that I am not a religious person, I tend to be
    a individual that looks to God or whatever I call it that day,
    as an anchor or set of wings as I might need or delight in.
    And although I wear a cross around my neck, it is mostly to let people know, and to remind me, that there is more to life than we see with our eyes, or figure out with our minds. That is my personal belief and I am going for it!


    August 11, 2007
  96. john george said:

    Bright. No offense taken on the Beatle reference, and, yes, I’ve heard most of them. No, you don’t have to appologize! I enjoy good humor. We could use a little more of that in the world right now.

    August 12, 2007
  97. Bright, you say that mighty science might be wrong. But science, by its very nature, assumes it is wrong until it has enough evidence to think otherwise. And that evidence is reviewed constantly and the “truth” is tested to confirm whether the truths are sufficient to permit taking actions based on them. And when those truths are found wanting, science does not fall back on to its dogma, but rather modifies its dogma to reflect the new truths. Science, done properly, understands and practices more humility that the most sainted of our religious icons. Science is the very embodiment of the sentiment expressed by Cromwell:

    “I beseech you, in the bowels of Christ, think it possible you may be mistaken.”Oliver Cromwell
    English general & politician (1599 – 1658)

    Blind certitude is a dangerous thing, and as some are finally getting the courage to express, we can no longer stand by and watch as people who’s truths are not subject to test and revision define the agenda. The stakes are simply too high.

    August 12, 2007
  98. Okay, Bruce, I see what you are saying; it’s not good to be too certain of what passes as knowledge, cuz we are all full of cocoa puffs. I have also seen it said that religion is the glue that holds societies together, and that much good has come from religious ideals, it’s not all blood and al gore…kidding, I’m kidding, to paraphrase Bill Maher, and subsequent other

    Wouldest thou havest science hold societies together? No, says I, 🙂 (sorry about the pirate accent) for science only observes and holds nothing for nonscientific types to upwardly reach. Science itself holds up no ideals, yet some practioners of science strive to immortalize life, to act as if they are the creators magnifique as they make life and death decisions possible with their atom bombs, nuclear warheads, clones, dna, stem cell research, and related applications, etc.

    What I am feebly attempting to say is that neither religion nor science may be to blame for our woes, but that it is our own feeble interpretations, our misrepresentations, as well as our oh, so human nature to use whatever tool is in our box to further our own aims, while not keeping true either to ourselves or to the tool itself, ie religion and/or science.

    Bruce wrote:
    Blind certitude is a dangerous thing, and as some are finally getting the courage to express, we can no longer stand by and watch as people who’s truths are not subject to test and revision define the agenda. The stakes are simply too high.

    And I reply that science cops a plea to responsibility for whatever comes up over and over again, because the members
    of that group don’t have a set of defining rules to live up to, besides peer review, or do they?

    So what criteria do we use to define the agenda? Shall we rely solely on the behest of great men who lived a couple of hundred years ago, and a couple of million inventions ago, or maybe you have another suggestion for us.

    both science and religion offer to and take away something from us. Its a yin/yang thing, as every issue or subject has it’s pros and cons. If all were weighed properly over long enough time, the positives and the negatives would balance out exactly. The only way around that is to do or say nothing, simply rise above the fray and let it all play out as it should and will.


    August 12, 2007
  99. Ross Currier said:

    Many, many years ago, when I was attending Sunday School at Westminster Presbyterian Church in Alexandria, Virginia, I heard something that has stuck with me all my life. It is the following quote:

    “In Germany they first came for the Communists, and I didn’t speak up because I wasn’t a Communist. Then they came for the Jews, and I didn’t speak up because I wasn’t a Jew. Then they came for the trade unionists, and I didn’t speak up because I wasn’t a trade unionist. Then they came for the Catholics, and I didn’t speak up because I was a Protestant. Then they came for me–and by that time no one was left to speak up.”

    Martin Niemoller (1892 – 1984)

    Although quite powerful, I don’t think that the piece is historically accurate. I think that the first group that they “came for” in Germany was the Gays.

    August 13, 2007
  100. kiffi summa said:

    Is “rise above the fray, and let it all play out as it should and will”………is that what the rest of the world has done in Darfur?

    To me that implies that there is a “divine plan” to which we, as the “ants on the planet”, are all subject/victim……… I’d rather not be the victim of a plan.

    I’d rather struggle through my own plan, gaining what knowledge I can, and using it, along the way.

    August 13, 2007
  101. Anne Bretts said:

    Back to the issue of a policy on the use of rooms, which seems to be the real issue after all.
    It seems that it would be simple to say that the Council Chambers (which has televesion cabability), would be available at a fee whenever the council or other bodies are not meeting (Monday through Friday). The fee would cover any supervision/maintenance. (This would allow candidate forums, League of Women Voters civic programs, as well as church functions when the council is not meeting.)
    All other use of the building would be limited to government bodies on official business. People are allowed to sit in the council chambers or in the limited space available in the hallway outside the council chambers. As always, people who disrupt meetings will be removed.
    Employees should not allow their offices be used for non-government purposes or meetings.
    Non-government parties should be referred to the library and NCRC, which have adequate meeting space.
    Three paragraphs…pretty simple. Please suggest any tweaks.

    August 13, 2007
  102. Griff Wigley said:

    Brendon wrote in #88:

    In fact, I’m at a loss as to what advantage could be gained by using Mr. Roder’s office over another more equitably available public space.

    Al’s reason: “…in order to avoid offending anybody I granted use of my office…”

    I’ve not talked with Al about this, but that argument doesn’t make sense to me. Who would’ve been offended by them meeting in the hallway or conference room?

    Councilor Noah Cashman’s remarks about how Catholic politicians in the 50s and 60s were unfairly held in suspicion by the public creates the perception that he knows Al Roder to be involved with the Harvest Evangelist group. That would then makes sense as the real reason Al granted them access to his office, ie, he believes both in their mission and one of their strategies, group prayer in proximity to public leaders.

    If that’s true, I think Al should acknowledge it, apologize, and then we can all move on.

    Judy, I hope you’re still reading along… ‘twould be great to have your reply to my questions in #25 above.

    August 13, 2007
  103. David Schlosser said:

    Thank you. I think you have hit all points. I think the school district policy is a good one to go by, and include some of the disclaimers they do…especially the ones I noted in post #40.
    I agree. Al should acknowledge, apologize, and then we can move on. Unfortunately, he doesn’t seem the type that will do that. Unfortunate…I would respect him much more if he would do so.
    Best post yet is #88!

    August 13, 2007
  104. kiffi summa said:

    Cosidering the fact that the city’s Space Needs Analysis, done last winter, stated that the City hall was larger than needed in ACTUAL square footage but quite short on USABLE space, I would think that nothing but city-related business should go on there, until such time there was dedicated public meeting room space, aside from the council chambers.
    And, indeed, that has seemed to be the accepted practice. The League of Women Voters stopped having candidate forums there some years ago. Often if you have to attend a meeting at City Hall, the room is rescheduled to another, as new needs arise.
    Referrals to other spaces in town would definitely be helpful. LWV has compiled a list of all the meeting spaces in town, contact numbers, fees, other basic info. I had thought a copy/copies of that list was placed at city hall; that was the intention; may not have happened yet.

    Griff: Mr. Roder’s statement does seem to indicate that he realized someone might have been offended; as I inquired previously, who? Those who were seeking a prayer space or those who might not find it appropriate?
    The city council needs to discuss this, in a public meeting, to clear the air. It IS public policy.

    I think the council should also deal with redefining the response/no response at Open Mic. I am very disturbed by having negative comments made about a citizen who brings a concern to the Open Mic. The most common courtesy would say that the person should not be attacked after they have left. Staff is employed by the council to implement the needs of the citizens, and the council is elected to represent the citizens. City Halls , their staffs, and their elected officials, do not spring up unbidden from corn fields; they exist because a citizenry grows to need them, to function efficiently. They cannot view themselves as autonomous, or disconnected from the citizens.

    August 13, 2007
  105. Anne Bretts said:

    The reason for including public use of the Council Chambers is the capacity for taping events for cable access. If there is another free facility for that, then limiting City Hall use to government activities seems to make sense.
    I agree that there should be no response to remarks in the public comments section at council meetings except to answer routine questions (informing a speaker about a meeting on the topic raised, or setting the topic raised for a future meeting).
    I agree that speakers should not be attacked, but I also feel speakers should not make surprise attacks on officials or staff, but should simply raise an issue and ask to have it put on a future agenda for open discussion.
    And finally, given the hostile and suspicious treatment of the Harvest group among the writers here, I can see how they might be worried about offending people and seek quiet space, not out of secrecy, but out of consideration.
    Again, it seems opponents can’t have it both ways…either Al Roder and the prayer ladies are forcing religion on people or keeping it secret. I don’t think they can do both at the same tiem.
    To me, this situation is like a group of meat-eaters dining in a private office because they don’t want to make the otherwise all-vegetarian group in the main dining hall uncomfortable. There may be no provision for eating in an office, but there was no attempt to convert the vegetarians, confront them or hide from them.

    August 13, 2007
  106. kiffi, don’t look now, but all of us were born and all of us are going to die…looks like a plan to me, at least in


    August 13, 2007
  107. kiffi summa said:

    Griff: Anne brings up a valid point for a new thread: the television taping capability of the council chambers. Then, of course, comes the Realm of Northfield TV , community Cable Access, and the worthwhile role that entity could play in informing the community at this time.
    But definitely a new thread; don’t mean to clog up this one….what do you think, Griff?

    August 13, 2007
  108. Anne Bretts said:

    The city tapes council meetings…so what more should it do. Cable access is just that, access. If you want a government show, you have to create one…There is no one there to do it, as far as I know.

    If we’re suggesting new threads, I’d love to see a discusison of the Woodley improvements. That was and is a far bigger issue for the city than the prayer debate, with millions at stake and really interesting philosophical differences over bike lanes versus trails, the wisdom of turn lanes, and potential traffic routes through and around the southern part of the city…(full disclosure, I’m on the nonmotorized transportation task force and we are finding this a challenging issue, given new safety info on bike lanes and other factors). Neighbors see it as a neighborhood street, but it’s a county highway, so the tension is real and has merit on all sides.
    Lots to debate, and little time before the city needs to adopt a plan.

    August 13, 2007
  109. To my knowledge, anyone can get a camera and tape anything for public access. Stephanie has done that a number of times, and so has Hilary. That’s how the LWV stuff gets filmed (DVDed?). I think that is the point of public access — the public takes the initiative to provide programming, as it should!! That’s yet another example the need for people to take initiative, each of us standing up, getting involved.

    August 13, 2007
  110. One of the things that still bothers me is that people seem to be
    more afraid of religious input than other types of organized input.
    Bruce says its the frightening idea of using myths to back up the religious input. Then he seems to admit that science is not relying on pure fact either. And we all know that big business is often and probably guiltier than either science or religion for relying on less than reliable information. Yet, we don’t get all
    choked up whenever these other entities come out to play. What is religion doing that is more dangerous than the others?

    Still another aspect is that perhaps our forefathers are the most
    oppressive tone in the tune with their overbearingly difficult
    rule between church and state. Why do we continue to adhere to
    some of the old laws in view of our more civil society?

    Can anyone clear this notion of mine up before we close the door on this topic?

    I have a suggestion as well, if some topics do bleed over, it could be sent over to a new area to be continued where any intrested person can join in at any time, yet not be sent offline or shut down completely. It’s like a cool third solution.


    August 13, 2007
  111. kiffi summa said:

    “old laws”……….. might you be referring to the Constitution of the United States of America?

    August 13, 2007
  112. Yes, kiffi, and until this very day I had no reason to suspect myself of wanting to re-review the Constitution of the US, and the reason I didn’t use those precise words is because it invokes a huge sense of awe and wonder and fear, which in turn causes everyone to freeze up.
    Whereas I am thinking what may be needed now is more lie freeing up,
    when every little movement causes such knee jerk reactions, as valid as they might turn out to be.


    August 13, 2007
  113. Paul Zorn said:

    Is this a great town or what?

    You go out of town or stop listening for a few days. Look up, and we bloggers are all over religion, government, the Constitution, science and religion, and God (oops …) knows what else — and all in the same thread!

    I’ve got plenty of opinions on this one, but they (and their opposites) have all been hashed and re-hashed, so I’ll save it up for another time.

    Just one suggestion: In a spirit of fairness, how about a rotation of City Hall prayer rooms for different faiths, month by month, each given equal time to support or exhort the Council at short range? I might join the agnostics’ group. Or maybe not. I just can’t decide.

    August 13, 2007
  114. David Ludescher said:

    To those who are requesting an apology from the City Administrator:

    To whom should he apologize, and for what should he apologize? Further, if he refuses or neglects to apologize, should there be a consequence?

    Under the analysis in Post #105 (Griff) if Mr. Roder allowed access because he believes in the Harvest Evangelists mission, then he should apologize. If he doesn’t believe in their mission, but still allowed access, should he apologize? Because we have no right to ask him what his religious affiliations are, we will never know if an apology is due.

    I think a better analysis is that an apology is in order for allowing ANYONE access to his office unsupervised. In fact, it would be a good policy for every City employee to never allow anyone, even family, in his or her office unsupervised. Roder basically said that he realized that it was a bad idea (I don’t think he said he was sorry) after it was brought to his attention.

    Second, I think that an apology is in order to Ms. Dirks if Mr. Roder is a Christian. After all, Christians are supposed to turn the other cheek. But, as a matter of fairness, Roder has every right to respond to allegations of wrongdoing made by a private citizen in a public forum.

    We need to cut Roder a little slack. He is new at the job, the police chief just created a major public relations mess for the City, and then made criminal allegations against him, about which Roder cannot know or even talk. He probably worked a long day, and was a little testy at the end of the day. He didn’t have time to prepare written remarks, nor conduct research, like Ms. Dirks did.

    I just don’t see either church/state issues nor “equal access” issues implicated. The solution reached appears to be the best solution (even better than having three praying ladies take up chairs in the City Council chamber).

    August 13, 2007
  115. john george said:

    Back to the basics, folks. Judy, when you first addressed the council, why did you even feel it necessary to mention that you were the chair of the NHRC? I don’t think you were informing them of anything they already didn’t know. Why didn’t you just introduce yourself as a concerned Northfield citizen? Did you want to give more weight to your concerns?
    Al, why did you allow this accusation to get under your skin? I think I would have reacted very similarly had I been on the recieving end, being the reactionary type that I am. But I think there is a higher level of expectations placed upon your office. I am just a private citizen, and I can react to things as I please as long as I am not libelous.
    Judy, why did you refer to this as a “secret” and “covert” activity without giving any specific evidence for this conclusion? When you presented it this way, did you realize the inflamitory results these words would have, given the divisive attitudes that are running through the country right now? For that matter, Al, in light of where our current society is, did the effects of your decision a year (?) ago cross your mind when you made it?
    Did I miss anything here? After all that has been said and done, these are still my concerns about the whole episode. Perhaps we are not as tolerant of a society as we think we are. I think all the parties involved in this could extend an olive branch. Perhaps we will see some new greenery at the next council meeting.

    August 13, 2007
  116. Griff Wigley said:

    David L. wrote:

    Roder basically said that he realized that it was a bad idea (I don’t think he said he was sorry) after it was brought to his attention.

    No, he didn’t say is was a bad idea, David. He just said “it’s been taken care of.”

    Maybe ‘apologize’ isn’t the word I’m looking for. How about a simple acknowledgment of an error in judgment?

    I’ll cut Al some slack. I think under those circumstances where he was mad, I can understand why he wouldn’t say he erred. And I don’t think he owes the community an apology, either. I just think if I were a Councilor, I’d appreciate a “I goofed” at the next opportunity.

    August 13, 2007
  117. Griff Wigley said:

    Kiffi and Anne, I’ve noted your suggestions re: blog posts for Woodley St. and public access TV. They’re in my queue but it might not happen this week unless Ross or Tracy wants to take a stab at them.

    August 13, 2007
  118. john george said:

    I reread my entry and realized I did miss something, perhaps my most important postulate. Since many of us Christians embrace our Christainity as a life we live 24/7/365, and not just something we do on Sat. night or Sun. morning or some other one or two hour period of the week, do we have a freedom to practice our lives in the whole market place, including government? I don’t think the Constitution prevents us from doing that. Why is secularism (which is a set of beliefs) allowed to dominate government without being challenged?

    August 14, 2007
  119. David Ludescher said:

    I also prefer “acknowledge an error in judgment” to “apology”. Perhaps even acknowledging that it was a bad idea would be a step in the right direction. (I think that moving the ladies was basically an acknowledgment that it was a bad idea. Nevertheless, Griff’s statement is more accurate.)

    August 14, 2007
  120. Anne Bretts said:

    Hi, John, that’s an interesting dilemma. For me, it goes back to my dietary analogy. It’s fine that you’re a vegetarian, but if you are an elected official or staff at City Hall, you shouldn’t be in the business of setting out vegetarian, or meat, or gluten-free snacks for a meeting, or trying to concoct a buffet that pleases all, accommodates all allergies, keeps kosher and doesn’t encourage obesity.
    City Hall isn’t a restaurant. It’s purpose is government, not food. People should eat before or after a meeting there. Of course, sucking quietly on a mint might be as OK as praying silently. Gum starts you down a slippery slope of loud chewing and bubble-blowing and the next thing you know people are breaking out chips and crunching and spilling crumbs and you end up with people whipping out a George Foreman and grilling hot dogs and upsetting the vegetarians. It’s just better to stop at mints and let people have tailgate parties in the parking lot if they want.
    Given those parameters, having an employee or official let you bring some mints into a private office because you don’t want to upset the folks on a diet probably doesn’t knock the Constitution off its foundation, but it’s just not a good idea.
    Of course, coffee is always allowed and encouraged everywhere. This is Minnesota, after all.

    August 14, 2007
  121. kiffi summa said:

    I was at the council work session last night; I assumed the two ladies sitting in back were the “prayer group”; unless they are the world’s best multi-taskers, they appeared to be engrossed in the council action, rather than doing any “heavy-duty” praying.
    They stayed to the end……. maybe there are two converts , to watching the city council in process!

    August 14, 2007
  122. Anne Bretts said:

    Well, I was at a 7 p.m. planning commission meeting in Eden Prairie last night, with just three items on the agenda. By 11:45, I was the person in the back row praying — for it to be over! I remember now why I don’t cover government on a regular basis, and why we’re not in danger of religion taking over at city hall. I could barely stand it, and it was my job. I admire the tenacity of the prayer ladies, but I can’t imagine silent public prayer at City Hall will replace Monday Night Football.

    August 14, 2007
  123. David Schlosser said:

    David L, I’m with Griff on this one. Personally, I don’t feel an “apology” from Al is in order, but he should at minimum acknowledge that it was an error in judgment. I would also be a little more forgiving if this was a one-time occurence…but considering that this group has been meeting in his office for over a year, I think an admission of error is certainly in order. As I have stated before, I would respect him a whole lot more, but he strikes me as the type who won’t admit that he made a mistake. All he has said is that the situation has been taken care of.
    I have a real problem with the NORTHFIELD NEWS’ editorial on Saturday as well, stating the Judy Dirks’ should have handled the situation through the HRC rather than as a private citizen.
    They stated “At the same time it could be asked why Judy Dirks addressed the issue as a private citizen at this time, in such a public manner. Why didn’t she deal directly with the city months ago in her role with the Human Rights Commission, where she serves with Police Chief Gary Smith?”
    Because Judy Dirks is a member of the HRC, is she then not entitled to bring up an issue as a private citizen? Does every issue she is concerned about mildly connected to human rights have to go through the commission just because she’s a member? If another private citizen not connected to the HRC
    had brought this issue up in front of the council, the fact that they “should have handled it through the HRC” would not have been mentioned. The News Opinion piece criticizes her for bringing this issue up as a private citizen. That’s just ridiculous.
    The Northfield Transformation Team has been discussed at HRC meetings in the past. Judy’s choice was to go public wqith this issue as a private citizen. She has that right, and as a fellow HRC member, I support that.
    Judy chose to speak on this issue at a public meeting during an open mic time open to ALL citizens. Rather than criticizing her, she should be commended. Had she only discussed this quietly, with Roder, there (most likely) would have been no action taken to ensure that this doesn’t happen again. As a part of the public record and now with community involvement, something will get done.
    And why did the news put in the last few words that state “…where she serves with Police Chief Gary Smith.”? Seems an obvious attempt to tie Judy in with Gary in an “anti-Al Roder” camp. Hmmmm….

    August 14, 2007
  124. Margit Johnson said:

    In response to Kiffi’s Aug. 13 comment:

    “LWV has compiled a list of all the meeting spaces in town, contact numbers, fees, other basic info. I had thought a copy/copies of that list was placed at city hall; that was the intention; may not have happened yet.”

    Just a factual note to add to this incredibly long thread. Yes, the Northfield League of Women Voters has compiled a list of meeting places in town. The list on been at this site – – for many months.

    Use and enjoy!

    Moving from facts to aspirations – perhaps the Northfield LWV could recruit the praying citizens to also serve as LWV observers of the City Council. The LWV has had difficulty filling that important citizen volunteer position of late. We need someone to keep an eye on City Council proceedings, as LWV does the Planning Commission, Rice County Board of Commissioners, Hospital Board, etc. (see Observers’ reports at Anyone? Anyone?

    Margit Johnson

    August 14, 2007
  125. John George said:

    “I don’t think the Constitution prevents us from doing that. Why is secularism (which is a set of beliefs) allowed to dominate government without being challenged?”

    It’s challenged all the time.

    Religious people are everywhere in government. Religious ideas and ideals are everywhere in government. They are allowed to be, as they should be.

    Additionally, religious and faith-based groups and individuals of all stripes are allowed to lobby government for whatever laws, handouts or favors they want, as they should be. They are not shut out of government.

    What can’t happen, and where I disagree with David L. and a couple others here, is government providing access to a religious or faith-based group that they would not grant under equal terms to all other legitimate groups.

    That is a state sponsorship of religion.

    In a small, ineffective way, that is what Roder did – for a whole year. However, no matter the insignificance or ineffectiveness of such sponsorship, it remains a sponsorship. While such actions as Roder’s will not shake our Constitution, vigilance is vital, even in small cases. All politics is local.

    As for Roder apologizing, I think I handled that in my post #88. He should be held to a higher standard than Ms. Dirks in this matter. He is a public official. While the “attack” – a rather harsh interpretation of Ms. Dirks’ measured remarks – apparently came out of nowhere, he must answer for conduct that crossed the line: both sponsoring the group’s meetings, and his junior high comments aimed at discrediting Ms. Dirks and the HRC.

    Whether it’s an apology or admission of a mistake is not that important. I just expect that someone in Roder’s professional position would both be able to understand and acknowledge the mistake. If he doesn’t, then I take it that he may not have any understanding of where this crossed the line, which is troubling and opens the way for further steps over the line.

    Roder didn’t just happen into his job. He can’t claim to be surprised when someone brings up something he doesn’t like in a public forum. He must be accountable; a failure to publicly acknowledge, at least, how this could be perceived as wrong by others (the weak, political form of apology) seems like an inability to understand his accountability.

    I’m not holding my breath for an apology or an acknowledgment, but I would hope he could be a big boy about this, not so petulant.

    Please remember that the Constitutional concept disallowing government establishment of any particular religion is meant to both keep religion out of government AND government out of religion.

    I believe some of you who seem to see no real harm in Roder’s actions may have your vision colored by your own religious views. Would you be similarly nonchalant if this had been a Hindu group? Wiccan? Jewish? Islamic?

    Roder could be a supporter and/or member of any religion, remember. I’m guessing more of you would be citing the Constitution and the antiestablishment principle if there had been three practicing Animists praying in his office.

    Let’s not be so quick to disavow the significance of the principle involved simply because we may be sympathetic to the religious views being expressed.

    August 14, 2007
  126. Brendon wrote:
    What can’t happen, and where I disagree with David L. and a couple others here, is government providing access to a religious or faith-based group that they would not grant under equal terms to all other legitimate groups.

    I don’t see where Al Roder has or would refuse any other group access to the space in question.


    August 14, 2007
  127. David Schlosser said:


    Do you have evidence of that? “I don’t see where Al Roder has or would refuse any other group access to the space in question” isn’t enough. Unless we know for a fact that he would allow any religious group to meet in his office, then just an opinion isn’t enough.

    August 14, 2007
  128. Nope, I am guilty of having no evidence. I gave my opinion as a reaction to someone else also having no evidence of AR’s other possible oversights, or error in judgements regarding the use of the space in question, as far as I know.

    So then, how do you get conclusive evidence of something not done if it was in fact, not done?


    August 14, 2007
  129. john george said:

    Brendon said,” government providing access to a religious or faith-based group that they would not grant under equal terms to all other legitimate groups.”
    As in law, charges must be backed up with evidence to establish guilt. I ask the same thing a number of others ask- where is the evidence? It would appear, from some of the charges in opinions expressed here, that if a person is a Christian, and that person expresses or does something in the government, that person is guilty until proven innocent.
    As far as we Christians making any headway in governmental affairs, my observation is that we are beaten down with this disestablishment doctorine. There have been some opinions expressed on a national level about our new representative trying to force his Islamic views off on us. It appears to me that the same people telling me that no, indeed, he could not do this, are the same ones telling me to keep my mouth shut about my Christian ideals. I just have a problem with, what appears to, to be a double standard.

    August 14, 2007
  130. David Schlosser said:

    So you just trust Al Roder and take him at his word? Not good enough, even if you just “doubt” he was doing anything wrong.
    Look, he might have allowed this group to use his office because he has ties with them…and he might have just done it because he wanted to allow them a place to meet with no ties to them whatsoever. No one knows the complete answer, but that’s not the only issue here.
    The issue I’m referring to is one that has been rehashed and rehashed here before. No one religious group should be allowed to meet in his office unless every religious group is allowed to meet there. He made an error in judgment in allowing this group to meet in his office. Period. The appearance of favored status certainly exists, whether it was intentional or not; steps need to be taken to ensure that this doesn’t happen again.

    August 14, 2007
  131. John George said:
    “As in law, charges must be backed up with evidence to establish guilt. I ask the same thing a number of others ask- where is the evidence? It would appear, from some of the charges in opinions expressed here, that if a person is a Christian, and that person expresses or does something in the government, that person is guilty until proven innocent.”


    I can’t determine Roder’s “guilt”. I am not a judge or jury. I am a private citizen. I am allowed to make accusations of infractions, just as you are allowed to feel that Christians are, somehow, singled out for persecution in government.

    Besides, Roder confessed that he did this for a year, and there is no evidence of anyone else being granted access to meet in his office under his auspices, with his explicit sanction and sponsorship. Nor is there any evidence of him making it clear to the public that this access was granted to all.

    Additionally, John George said:
    “As far as we Christians making any headway in governmental affairs, my observation is that we are beaten down with this disestablishment doctrine.”


    “This disestablishment doctrine” is a founding principle of America. The country, as you know it, would not exist without it. I can’t for the life of me imagine how Christians are “beaten down” in America.

    The government must protect against the establishment of any one religion.

    Are you advocating for a religious government? Christian? Which sect? Which church?

    What if you want to convert to Judaism? Or simply switch churches? Would you like to have to get government permission to become a person from a secondary sect of Christianity?

    Because Christianity, as the country’s dominant religion, can’t set the agenda for all things governmental does not equate to being beaten down.

    In fact, I would argue that American government, throughout history, has been successful in taking many great Christian principles and implementing them in a non-sectarian manner across the country. In most ways, America is and always has been a Christian nation, but government, while borrowing liberally from Christian ideals, has to avoid adopting Christian dogma at the expense of allowing the expressions of others.

    August 14, 2007
  132. Anne Bretts said:

    David S.
    Just playing devil’s advocate here for a minute, since we have bedeviled Mr. Roder so much. And I’m raising this not as an accusation but out of real curiosity.
    There are several problems with Ms. Dirks’ behavior – problems that ironically leave her in the same quandary as Mr. Roder:
    Ms. Dirks isn’t on the park board acting as a private citizen. Unfair access to City Hall should be an HRC issue, so why wouldn’t Ms. Dirks take this to her commission? If she did, why didn’t the HRC bring the issue to the council? If she did and the HRC declined to take action, she had an obligation to say she had been turned down by the HRC and why.
    Ms. Dirks could have checked and in just five minutes found there was no policy on use of offices, which is the real issue here – an issue that should be addressed by HRC and council.
    If Ms. Dirks saw this alleged impropriety, she had a responsibility as HRC head to report it immediately, not wait a year and handle it as a private citizen. The timing of the complaint, in the midst of a perceived or real dispute between Mr. Roder and Chief Smith, creates an unfortunate impression I’m sure she didn’t intend.
    Again the issue is that there seems to be a lack of policy on the use of City Hall. The problem isn’t just Mr. Roder, but the complicity of the entire government in not dealing with this for a year. Mr. Roder owes an apology only if the issue is raised and processed and he is found to have violated policy. He doesn’t owe Ms. Dirks or us an apology based on our opinions of his behavior. I would guess that since there is no policy, even a formal complaint would be laughed out a mediator’s office, much less a court.
    Ms. Dirks could have raised the policy issue and asked to have it put on the council’s agenda, instead of raising a personnel issue in a public venue, an inappropriate first step in the personnel discipline process. Mr. Roder is, after all, not an elected official but an employee.
    Ironically, by handling things the way she did, Ms. Dirks ended up in the same position at Mr. Roder, blurring the lines between her personal and civic roles and creating an impression she never intended.
    Bottom line, for all our high-minded conversation here, 95 percent of the citizens in town see this as a time-wasting distraction and petty office politics under the guise of a constitutional fight. If the point was a simple apology why was the tactic used one that would create a public embarrassment, undermine someone’s reputation and authority and probably lead to a resignation?
    IMHO, it is time for the council to stand together and create some decorum, due process, dignity and compassion at city hall.
    Good to see all the differences of opinion here, however. Great and thoughtful and challenging conversation.

    August 14, 2007
  133. john george said:

    Very well put, Anne.
    Brendon- you said,”…and there is no evidence of anyone else being granted access to meet in his office under his auspices, with his explicit sanction and sponsorship. Nor is there any evidence of him making it clear to the public that this access was granted to all.”

    I would indicate that there was no evidence any other group being denied use of his office, or city hall, or whatever other government property you would want to pull in as an example. It would seem that if a property is owned and maintained by the public, there would be an implied freedom of use of that property unless some official policy denies or regulates that use. As Anne said, there is no official policy for the use of city property. And I don’t believe the Constitution was established to micro-manage the affairs of private citizens. It is a foundation for local governments to establish fair and legal policies.

    As far as other groups seeking a place at city hall, I am not aware of any other group seeking to do this. If what has transpired here is indicative of a reaction to that desire, I’m pretty sure they would not want to ask, anyway. That this group of people would even risk public threat and ridicule to practice their convictions in the market place is, I think, commendable.

    August 14, 2007
  134. Anne – I don’t think the devil needs any more advocates! Judy Dirks is not the problem here — bringing it to the Council is the appropriate thing to do (again, Griff’s analogy of Bank’s recommending he bring his hospital complaint to the Hospital Board) The problem is Al Roder’s dissing of the Constitution, a secondary problem is that of the Council and City Attorney not dealing with that problem. At the very least, Roder needs to be directed to get an “open to the public” crash course in Constitutional law and the state’s role and non-role in religion — and make the City Attorney do the homework necessary and teach the course!!! Were I on the Council I’d post haste make a motion that Roder and council members embark on an educational adventure. Given the comments and the Council’s unwillingness to acknowledge and address the Constitutional problem, I doubt it would have the votes. Which is why we need more Judys in this world. Thank you, Judy, for standing up.

    August 14, 2007
  135. Anne Bretts said:

    I made it very clear that I’m not attacking Judy; I’m sure she’s a very fine person. I’m curious about the role of the HRC, of policy and responsibility and employee due process.
    This is exactly my point, that people here are making this about Judy and Al and Gary and Lee and their motives and guilt and not about policy and procedure.

    August 14, 2007
  136. David Schlosser said:

    Anne, we could debate all day whether or not each of us thinks Judy handled this appropriately from our personal points of view.
    My feeling is that she did…I think this NEEDED to be discussed in a public venue, and a larger group of people needed to know what was going on. Perhaps more difficult for Mr. Roder to handle, but honestly, shouldn’t he have known better? Judy didn’t feel confident that this type of situation wouldn’t happen again if discussed privately. You might argue she should give him the benefit on that, but this way, it’s part of public record and we know something will be done. It’s called holding a public official responsible for his actions…whether it’s in public or not. It was a public open mic, and I don’t think she needs to apologize for using that venue.
    I see you and the Northfield News saying the exact same thing. Somehow, because Judy Dirks is on the Northfield Human Rights Commission, she had this “obligation” to bring this up in that venue first. Why can’t she speak as a private citizen? If any other private citizen brings up this issue at the council meeting, the fact that they “should have” brought it up to the Common first wouldn’t even be discussed. Why did it HAVE to be discussed with the HRC first?
    Fact is, there were more than just human rights issues going on here…the policy on the use of city hall offices is less a human rights issue and more a legal one…something that the HRC has no power to change. Perhaps influence, but no ability to change it. If there are more than HRC issues involved here…something I think we need to acknowledge…why did she have to bring it to the HRC first?
    I also know that Judy has not known about this situation for over a year, as you allege. Other councilors told her that this group had been meeting for that long in Roder’s office–she only learned of this recently. Given that other councilors knew this was going on for a year, Judy, I think, felt that this had to be brought out into the public or the council wouldn’t act on it.
    My two cents.

    August 14, 2007
  137. Thank you Mr. Schlosser for keeping the focus on the issue at hand. Judy Dirks has a right and a moral obligation to speak publicly to the entity responsible — it’s the City of Northfield, the City Council, which is responsible for the actions of its “agents,” and it’s the City of Northfield on the liability hook for constitutional violations!

    Griff — is League of Minnesota Cities watching this discussion? I’m wondering their take on this.

    August 14, 2007
  138. kiffi summa said:

    Does anyone care about the appropriateness of a citizen being criticized, (especially after they’ve left the scene) when they have brought a citizen concern to the open mic?
    Most people are nervous, at the least, about speaking at open mic anyway; do you think anyone will want to, after this?
    And let’s not bring up open mic policy again, it’s been commented on many times here, and in practice is all over the place.
    My point is just that who is the “city” functioning for?
    Should people become hesitant about speaking to the council?

    August 14, 2007
  139. Well put, Kiffi. I’m amending my motion above to include some education for Roder, the Council, and the world, on 1st Amendment, freedom of speech specifically.

    August 14, 2007
  140. Judy Dirks said:

    I have been out of town visiting my parents, so I have not had time to respond to your questions. In response to your comments/questions in #25, I did not see this as a Human Rights issue, but as a legal or government issue when a special,exclusive group is meeting secretly in the City Administrator’s office without him present, and with the group apparently having full access to anything in his office. If this was to be determined to be a human rights issue, I would have had to call a special meeting, making that meeting a public notice ahead of time, and the HRC would have to discuss the issue and decide if it actually was a human rights issue and what to do about it. Since I firmly believe it is not currently a human rights issue at this time, I did not want to take the time to go through all that. I felt it was more important to bring this to the public’s attention and that of the council very soon since I believed that someone had told Mr. Roder of my concerns.

    The HRC invited the Transformation Team prayer group to meet with us over a year ago when a resident filed a complaint stating that this prayer group wanted employers to have time during the workday for employees to gather and pray. The HRC felt that this might make non-Christian employees feel pressured to join in or risk losing their jobs. On that basis, this was then a human rights issue and we discussed that concern with this prayer group.

    The prayer group, meeting secretly and exclusively in a government official’s office in the City Hall, is a legal / government issue, and one that I felt the entire community of Northfield needed to be made aware of. I had become aware of this approximately 2 or 3 months ago when someone mentioned it to me. I started observing men (occasionally) and women (not just women)going into Roder’s office and staying there while he was in the Council Chambers at the City Council meeting. Some of my neighbors saw the same thing. We were at several Council meetings because of personal interest in the rental ordinance and some hoped-for changes in that. That is when I observed this prayer group often going into Roder’s office during council meetings. Therefore, I addressed the prayer issue as a Northfield resident, but since the Council also knows me as a member of the HRC, I had to make it very clear that I was not speaking as the Chair/member of the HRC. If the Council decided to give this prayer group access to another space in the City Hall, and it was only this particular group given access, then it could become a human rights issue because other faith denominations or religions should have the same opportunity for access.

    The 2nd issue you asked me to address is why I did not go to Mr. Roder first. I wanted to address the entire council, city administrator, mayor…and the general public of Northfield at one time regarding this matter, or I was concerned that the city council wouldn’t act on it. I personally felt that if I had gone to Roder in private, he might just tell me that he would handle it…and then do it just as he did that night, move the prayer group upstairs the very night I spoke to the Council, and not tell anyone about it until I brought it up in my presentation. That was the FIRST time, to my knowledge, that they were moved out of his office and that was because he had been alerted by someone that I very possibly was going to address this issue in my talk at the open mic. I wanted to both stop the practice and alert the council. The HRC has never had a “working relationship” per se with Mr. Roder; he has never attended any of our meetings except to briefly introduce himself for a few minutes at a meeting when he first was hired by the City. HRC members are appointed by the Mayor. The City Administrator and the Council are not particularly involved with the HRC even though we are considered to be a Commission of the City government.

    August 14, 2007
  141. I wrote:

    “I believe some of you who seem to see no real harm in Roder’s actions may have your vision colored by your own religious views. Would you be similarly nonchalant if this had been a Hindu group? Wiccan? Jewish? Islamic?

    Roder could be a supporter and/or member of any religion, remember. I’m guessing more of you would be citing the Constitution and the antiestablishment principle if there had been three practicing Animists praying in his office.

    Let’s not be so quick to disavow the significance of the principle involved simply because we may be sympathetic to the religious views being expressed.”

    To which John George replied:
    “As far as other groups seeking a place at city hall, I am not aware of any other group seeking to do this. If what has transpired here is indicative of a reaction to that desire, I’m pretty sure they would not want to ask, anyway.”


    I realize my question was hypothetical; I, too, am not aware of any other group seeking this access. But, you have neatly sidestepped the hypothetical question. I believe it still needs to be entertained, because it examines the crux of the issue.

    I know how I would respond if Roder were allowing Muslims or Hindus or whomever the same access he granted this group: I would respond the same way.

    Meaning this is not about hostility toward or any judgment on Christianity, this is about government establishment of religion, period. Roder’s actions leave the city very vulnerable.


    Let’s entertain another hypothetical: A group of Muslims calls Roder seeking access to his office to pray for the City Council when Roder isn’t using the office – could be any time after the work day is done, not just during Council meetings. They believe their prayers will be better answered by Allah if they have proximity to city leaders or city leadership environs.

    How does Roder respond?

    If “yes”, which would seem more fair because of his other actions, then we start having to think about his office as a public meeting space, which it is not. As with allowing the Transformation group in there, we have security issues and scheduling issues to determine.

    If “no”, now we have favorable access granted to one religious group over another. Whoops.

    Obviously, the Constitution was not intended to micromanage the daily operations of local government. However, this is still a “framework”, constitutional issue. Many of the biggest decisions in US jurisprudence regarding constitutional rights have arisen from what seemed like routine everyday activities, from small cases at the local level that bubbled up through the appeals process to end up in the Supreme Court.

    Yes, this is a small thing that happened; yes, everything could have been solved with a few sentences in a handbook guiding the way; again, having said that, the principle remains enormous.

    Roder should apologize or at least acknowledge the error in judgment. He is the highest employee of Northfield’s government; it’s reasonable to expect that church-state separation issues would be a standard part of his knowledge bank.

    If he truly thinks this was not an error in judgment, I’m not going to lose sleep over it – I harbor no nightmare scenarios of an ecclesiastical takeover at the city level. I will, however, question his ability to lead in a fair way.

    August 14, 2007
  142. David Henson said:

    Roder has created an unequal opportunity for one religious group to use city facilities … and by the sounds of it one he belongs to or wishes to appease. The idea that this is a simple private meeting when it 1) occurs on city property 2) in an area not available to all citizens 3) at the exact time government is in session is just silly. If these people want to pray in the hallway, in the council chamber (silently), central park or any public area with equal accessibility then there is no problem. I have an idea that has work well for many years : how about at a church.

    August 14, 2007
  143. Anne Bretts said:

    I know you directed your comments to John, but as one of those people who isn’t upset about this, I’d like to clarify why. I agree with you wholeheartedly that the underlying issue is crucial, I just feel the situation in question is not as serious as others see it. I am not threatened by the ladies praying or by the thought of Muslims or Buddhists praying in a small office or even Billy Graham at the White House (I’m sure you didn’t mean it, but it was kind of a demeaning assumption that we are OK with this because the people praying are white Christians, as though we don’t understand what we’re saying.)
    I am more concerned about ‘under God’ in the pledge of allegiance and the 10 Commandment monuments (erected to promote a movie) on public property and prayers said by the people running a meeting or opening Senate sessions. After years of frustration with these issues, I find a simple room use policy a delightfully doable victory for church/state separation.
    I really appreciate Ms. Dirks and Kiffi and Carol and David S. sharing your experiences and feelings on this. I am sad that you have lived here far longer than I and feel so threatened. (And I have no doubt you are relating your feelings and experiences truthfully.)
    I have had such a different experience with City Hall. Over the past year or more I have personal and professional reasons to deal with many people there and all have been unfailingly friendly, professional and polite. They have responded to e-mails and phone calls immediately and have answered all my questions graciously.
    If fact, since we all had speculated so much I decided to call Mr. Roder. He was quite polite. I am happy to note that a room use policy is being developed. I didn’t ask who was doing it or when it will come to the council, but I will keep an eye on this and see how it all turns out.
    Bottom line: I disagree with Mr. Roder’s actions but see no dark intent. I disagree with Ms. Dirks process, but support her principles. After hearing all sides I can see how things ended up where they are.
    I will not pray but just hope that the wise and thoughtful people on all sides of this can share a beer at DJJD — and that the resolution of this won’t involve singing Kumbaya. (Not for religious reasons, just cuz I really, really don’t like it.)

    August 14, 2007
  144. kiffi summa said:

    Let me be clear, Anne: there is no way I feel “threatened”.
    I am saddened and disappointed that our senior staff has shown such a lapse in judgement.
    I am also saddened and disappointed that both staff and council members would speak so critically of a citizen exercising their right to come and speak at open mic.
    I am saddened, disappointed and depressed about the adversarial relationships that seem to exist between multiple factions of our city government, in various combinations.
    I see a long road ahead; after all , resolving”the Goodhue Matter” and the involvement of the state Auditor will make it difficult for this to be a productive time in the civic process of this community.
    And I have no problem saying that I am also a bit angry with all the parties involved who have gotten into such a snarl of secrecy, in part because as I see it, they have not had the courage to discuss issues in public.
    I think we deserve better from our employed staff, and our elected representatives.
    I think the whole lot of them should say to the citizens, ” we really messed up, we’re sorry, and we’re going to try to move forward and do a better job for the community” , because this community is STILL at a turning point.

    August 14, 2007
  145. Anne Bretts said:
    “(I’m sure you didn’t mean it, but it was kind of a demeaning assumption that we are OK with this because the people praying are white Christians, as though we don’t understand what we’re saying.)”


    First, I never brought up race.

    Additionally, I believe you do understand what you’re saying, and I believe others understand what they’re saying, AND yet one of the reasons some people have tried to downplay the significance of this is precisely because it was a Christian group involved.

    I, like Kiffi and others (I’m assuming), don’t feel “threatened”.

    You don’t have to feel threatened to act on principle.

    You don’t have to feel that there is dark intent (again, I don’t feel that either) to act on principle.

    And you don’t have to be sliding to realize when you are looking at a slippery slope.

    August 14, 2007
  146. Anne Bretts said:

    I have written this three times, losing two versions to errant keystrokes.
    Here goes…OK, threatened was not my favorite word, but an inadequate attempt to describe the sense I got from people saying they didn’t feel comfortable dealing with Al Roder. And I had meant to edit out the word white (it felt like you were calling me racist because the religions you chose were predominantly non-Caucasian. When I went back and read it again I realized you were just calling me biased about religion). And you use the word downplaying, as though I refuse to give this issue the importance due it. I have been careful not to say you are blowing things out of proportion……

    Yikes, this is just what I was trying to avoid. So…I APOLOGIZE. I apologize sincerely for anything I said to offend anyone.

    Communication is a tough thing. I have learned a lot about the participants in this thread, and I really appreciate the diversity of opinions.
    My feeling is that we disagree to some extent on some issues and agree on some others. Pretty much where we started. Even in Daytona, they quit after 500 laps on the same circular track.

    August 14, 2007
  147. john george said:

    Brendon- I didn’t realize you were presenting a hypothetical statement when you said, “…and there is no evidence of anyone else being granted access to meet in his office under his auspices, with his explicit sanction and sponsorship. Nor is there any evidence of him making it clear to the public that this access was granted to all.” It seemed pretty black and white to me, but I apologize for misreading you on this. I still say that there has not been any evidence presented to support your hypothetical question.

    As far as your principle goes, there is nothing written in the Constitution about separation of church and state. This concept comes from a letter written by Thomas Jefferson to a pastor who was concerned about the government establishing a state church. It seems that this concept is being applied contemporarily in such a way as to separate religion from government. The Constitution does say that government is not to pass any law limiting the free exercise of religion. By interpreting the Constitution as you propose, isn’t this limiting the free exercise thereof? I really don’t think I am sidestepping an issue here. I’m only pointing out that there can be differences of interpretation and application.

    You did say this, “In fact, I would argue that American government, throughout history, has been successful in taking many great Christian principles and implementing them in a non-sectarian manner…” I don’t understand what you are getting at here. It appears to me that you are trying to have your cake and eat it, too. Separate the church but adopt their principles. If separation of church and state is to be literally enforced, why were these principles adopted? Could it be that Godly men who understood these things as universal truths had the audacity to put them into law? And, did they pray about it with a few friends on gevernment property? I can only speculate on this, but it does seem plausible. Sorry if I am missing something here.

    August 15, 2007
  148. John,

    My hypothetical question, which remains unanswered had nothing to do with actual evidence that Roder excluded anyone, that’s why it’s hypothetical. My hypothetical question was, in it’s original form which I have subsequently restated:

    “I believe some of you who seem to see no real harm in Roder’s actions may have your vision colored by your own religious views. Would you be similarly nonchalant if this had been a Hindu group? Wiccan? Jewish? Islamic?”

    That’s the hypothetical that I believe you sidestepped by saying that you didn’t think any of those groups would ask for permission to use Roder’s office given the reception this Christian group received.

    Again, I ask: “What if…” Because it brings to light the very difficult position in which Roder’s actions put the city, as I briefly outlined in my post #144.

    John, you stated: “As far as your principle goes, there is nothing written in the Constitution about separation of church and state.”

    I must say, given the text of the First Amendment is as follows: “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.” I must disagree.

    Courts have generally interpreted this, in my grossly simplified understanding, to mean that government action cannot establish one religion over another.

    Regarding the Christian principles inherent in American government. I say, great! They have served us well and will continue to do so, but I’d rather not have to be a Christian to receive the benefits of this democracy. The Constitution guarantees that I don’t have to be.

    Establishment of religion is not about where legislators get their inspiration; it’s about establishing state-sponsorship of a religion. Government being unable to prohibit the free exercise of religion is about you or me being able to practice as we see fit outside of government sponsorship and (here’s the kicker) control.

    To use your metaphor of having your cake and eating it too: Judeo-Christian ideals are part of the ingredients, so are Plato and Aristotle (from ancient, polytheistic Greece)and many others from other religious traditions. Thankfully, we all get to eat from that cake, not just those who share those religions that inspired America’s founding and its laws.


    There is no need to apologize. I didn’t agree with you inserting race into the admittedly complicated equation I was trying to calculate, but I wasn’t trying to call you or anyone else a racist.

    My point was only that we are all colored by what we know, and most of the people commenting here are probably most familiar with Christianity; so it may be easier to consider Roder’s actions harmless because it was a Christian group involved.

    I am biased in my own ways, of course. We all are. I was merely trying to caution that the situation may not seem so innocuous to some (and I was not trying to single you out by any means) had the religion been different. As you correctly pointed out, our response should be the same regardless of the religion involved. You stated that you would be similarly calm regardless of the religion because of the scale of the problem; whereas I would be similarly exercised by it regardless of religion.

    I think that’s our only fundamental difference in this debate.

    Incidentally, the gray areas you mentioned: U.S. Senate prayer, “Under God” in the pledge that school children are told they have to say, etc… get me going too. It always feels like we are on the slippery slope already, which is probably why, when something like this happens locally, I am much quicker to speak out against it.

    August 15, 2007
  149. First of all, there will be no controlling or stopping the fact that prayer may and will be continued in every corner of every office of every building in Northfield, and every other town in America. So the slope is not only slippery, it’s a boogie board in a u tube with a moebus strip loop.

    Second of all, I refer you back to ‘first of all’.



    August 15, 2007
  150. Yes, Bright, people are allowed to pray in their offices all they want, provided they are doing their actual work adequately – I’ll leave that up to their employers to decide. Even government employees are allowed to pray at work, provided, I would guess, they are not interfering with their duties or being obtrusive. However, government is not allowed to sponsor that prayer in any official capacity.

    Fundamental difference here being the private expression of religious views as opposed to government entanglement (sponsorship, establishment, whatever) of one religion over any other. That’s the slippery slope.

    August 15, 2007
  151. I understand that the fundamental difference, govt entanglement and private expression. Yet, the fact remains that people can pray with or without govt, with or without churches, with or without laws or policies or suggestions.

    I posted #152 in part because although I know it’s not the intention of the Constitution, the Jefferson letter to his pastor or anyone else, it feels a lot like religious oppression to live in this country at this time. Everywhere you go, religion is a taboo subject. For years, the press has been exposing priests as pedifiles, even though many other religious and non religious men
    are, and have been given a pass by the press for eons. This is an activity that has been going on since before there was ever was Christianity. Yet, it was never mentioned publicly.

    Even online, any mention of religion will get you booted off many e-groups, no questions asked. And yet, religion will endure,
    prayer will continue, and I will bask in the fact that I can
    feel the difference between a place where prayer has taken place and a place that prayer has forsaken.

    no questions asked. We are only supposed to speak of weather,
    food and pets.

    August 15, 2007
  152. Holly Cairns said:

    Wow. Just once this summer I want to read that Northfield’s city admin is a fine fellow and Northfield govn’t is looking great.

    There have been a number of American leaders who support/demand secularity. This is not a new argument.

    Even local pastors probably wouldn’t have a prayer group meet in their office if they weren’t there.

    Bureaucrats– is there accountability?

    Regarding equal access: it’s not just nice religious groups that can ask for equal access. Does that include Al’s office, now?

    August 15, 2007
  153. Anne Bretts said:

    Glad we got that straightened out. Yes, our only difference is in the level of concern we attach to this particular incident, not the concern we have for the underlying issue.
    As for the Christian/Jewish/Wiccan reference, I understood the possible biases involved, which was why I used the vegetarian/meat eater analogy. I have covered religion as a reporter, and in my business the Constitution is pretty important. I don’t think the pledge and other issues I mentioned are gray areas at all, by the way, just politically intractable. I was just encouraged here that everyone sees the problem (at some level) and is working on a quick and relatively simple solution.
    Hey, maybe we should do a salon on this; we’re overdue for one…although this is getting a bit stale. Perhaps the topic of how to coordinate YMCA/library/hockey/arts building projects would be a more social — and fresher — topic. Hmmm….let me get my calendar…and maybe Griff can add it to his pile of topics for new threads.

    August 15, 2007
  154. David Ludescher said:

    Holly: Northfield’s City Administrator is a fine fellow and Northfield’s government is looking great.

    I say that in sincerity. The accusations by the Police Chief are unknown; the Mayor stepped down to promote his son’s land; and the three ladies are praying for our elected officials to be given strength and wisdom. These are not important practical problems, even if they represent important principles.

    I would say that Northfield’s reputation as anti-business, and now heroin-filled, are much more important to our collective welfare.

    August 15, 2007
  155. Paul Zorn said:

    I find this discussion at once fascinating and dull (not so dull that I don’t follow it, admittedly). The interesting stuff for me is about the proper place of religion (any religion, not just Christianity) in public life and government, and what this means for us here in Northfield. I’m less interested in the minute particulars of what happened around the City Council and Al Roder’s office that fateful night. Letting *any* group — Boy Scouts, a prayer group, even a book club, … — use one’s office repeatedly during Council meetings strikes me as questionable judgment, and the religious and hence predictably sensitive nature of such use should probably have raised the caution flag even higher. But on the Richter scale I’d put this particular incident pretty low, and I see no latter-day Savanarola waiting in the wings. Anyone who does might take comfort in the fact that the Florentines tired of Savanarola in just a few years, and burned him in the same square used earlier for the Bonfire of the Vanities.

    Re public/governmental religion (in which I’m passionately interested, but hope to restrain myself …), just one quick thought about the sense in which our country and government are linked to “Christian” principles and ideals.

    Our government has, as Brendon wrote, “… been successful in taking many great Christian principles and implementing them in a non-sectarian manner across the country. … government, while borrowing liberally from Christian ideals, has to avoid adopting Christian dogma at the expense of allowing the expressions of others.”

    I agree fully with this caution, but would add something to it. The big principles (liberty, equality, dignity of individuals … ) that inform our system of government and of which we’re properly proud may be consistent with “Christian principles” and “Christian ideals”, but they are not uniquely or even (IMO) distinctively
    Christian. Hinduism, Judaism, Islam, and other religions (and fully secular traditions, for that matter) all espouse similar ideals, and so it is hard to argue that Christianity deserves any special *governmental* status.

    August 15, 2007
  156. Anne Bretts said:

    Thanks, Paul, for pulling us out of the mire of minutiae and into this much more interesting and light-filled big picture view. Very nice points.
    (Yeah, that’s really all I have to say.)

    August 15, 2007
  157. Well, while I agree with much of what you say, Paul, I must take issue with

    The big principles (liberty, equality, dignity of individuals … ) that inform our system of government and of which we’re properly proud may be consistent with “Christian principles” and “Christian ideals”, but they are not uniquely or even (IMO) distinctively Christian. Hinduism, Judaism, Islam, and other religions (and fully secular traditions, for that matter) all espouse similar ideals …

    I do not see evidence of this in many of the religions you list. Most, for example, clearly separate us into believers and un-believers. Many are clearly hierarchical. Many are very much not into liberty, at least as I understand it. In my youth, I would have been more forgiving of their foibles, but long decades of religion-based wars and killings has tempered my good will. However, I will concede that most of these religions, when practiced by people schooled in the liberalism of the West, have embraced most, if not all of these ideals and will attempt to pass them on to their followers. But the “West” only represents perhaps 1B people at best, and only a fraction of those are truly schooled in the liberalism needed to provide the buffering needed. That leaves 5+B whose ability to embrace “liberty, equality, dignity” may be severely compromised by their fundamentalist beliefs. Richard Dawkins, Sam Harris and others have begun the dangerous dialogs necessary to bring the light of reason to bear on the role that our myths play in setting the agenda for our planet. Bill Moyers, by way of contrast, in his series “The Power of Myth”, only seemed to celebrate the myth and the power it has, without questioning the wisdom of using those myths as the foundations for guiding our lives. I, personally, think that the myths are essential as teaching tools, but without real in-depth understanding behind them, they can be very misleading.

    August 15, 2007
  158. john george said:

    Brendon- Your hypothetical question,”I believe some of you who seem to see no real harm in Roder’s actions may have your vision colored by your own religious views. Would you be similarly nonchalant if this had been a Hindu group? Wiccan? Jewish? Islamic?”, which I confess I missed in all the falderall, I answered in my post #64, “Is there a place for everyone in this town no matter what or how they believe? I would hope that, also.” I am not threatened by any of the other religions you listed. I am secure enough in my convictions to answer, to the best of my ability, any questions posed by any of them. I would reiterate, we are talking about beliefs and convictions. If anyone does not believe what I do, they have every right to do so, and that is not a threat to me, either.
    While we are on beliefs, the two articles Griff pointed out in today’s paper are, I believe, excellent examples of the two opposing perspectives driving this discussion. Either you believe that open prayer and Christian principles are a threat to freedom and government as we know it, or you believe that they are foundational. So, anyone taking up an asault on your belief is viewed as a threat. One thing about religions is that each one is mutually exclusive of the others. If they were not, adherance to one would be pointless, or at least on the same par as belonging to a country club. (Par? Golf? It’s really late!)
    Back to the issue of government and it’s interaction with religion. I do believe that neutral, inclusive guidelines can be adopted that bring order to the people who are involved in our society. Two problems with this in respect to our post-modern thinking is that someone’s feelings are bound to be hurt, and all things cannot be of equal validity (the new definition of tolerance). That is why I stated in an earlier post that it is imperative that we remain a nation of laws and not be driven by some dictator’s whim. With that restated, we need the council to establish guidlines for public use of the city hall that do not violate constitutional gaurantees of freedom of religious expression.

    August 15, 2007
  159. Paul Zorn said:

    Interesting post (#161), Bruce. I think we agree that fundamentalisms of all types (including the Christian variety) can be dangerous unless tempered by reason, experience, education, etc., and that the Western liberal tradition at its best can help in this regard.

    But I don’t see Western liberalism as the only defense, any more than Christianity is the only source of admirable ideals for society and government. Buddhism, for instance, is what it is not because of any civilizing influence from Western liberalism.

    My main point, in any case, is not to advocate for or against particular religions. IMO the bad features you cite (hierarchical organization, authoritarianism, division into believers and unbelievers) coexist with much better things (e..g, golden rules) among adherents of all the religions I know about, and I see little point in comparing religions’ good/bad balance sheets. Least of all should government do this.

    August 15, 2007
  160. Fascinating, well-argued discussion. As a former lawyer, I am intrigued to see this debate play out along the familiar lines of many of the First Amendment cases I read as a law student. My view is that the constitution compels us to be vigilant on this issue: that it is not enough to say, “Oh, no one meant any harm by it,” (or, “They meant only good by it,”). We must take seriously the issues of equal access and the appearance of official preference or approval. People working for government, or praying in government offices, in the United States should absolutely expect to be questioned and accountable on an issue like this. While Ms. Dirks has ruffled some — in my view — overly sensitive feathers, I commend her for raising the issue and am disappointed to learn of the personal nature of some of the response.

    On the issue of allowing any group to have unsupervised access to the office of a government official: When Ms. Soule says in her commentary in the News on Wednesday that it is offensive that anyone would suspect them of snooping while in Mr. Roder’s office, she is taking the unfortunate step of construing defense of an important general principle into a personalized attack against her group’s honesty, which it has never been. I don’t think anyone suspects them of snooping or even of being tempted to snoop. However, surely they must see that the standard has to be not what their group’s behavior is, but examining whether it is sound policy to allow any group such access. It is not, of course, their fault if Mr. Roder offered them the space without their having asked for it, and they are probably very naturally mortified to find themselves in the center of such a controversy. However, choosing to pursue group prayer in a government building does put one at risk of being noticed and commented upon, at the very least.

    August 16, 2007
  161. Holly Cairns said:

    David said:

    The accusations by the Police Chief are unknown; the Mayor stepped down to promote his son’s land; and the three ladies are praying for our elected officials to be given strength and wisdom. These are not important practical problems, even if they represent important principles.

    Thank you for being positive– I hope you are right about “these” not being practical problems.

    David said (#157):

    I would say that Northfield’s reputation as anti-business, and now heroin-filled, are much more important to our collective welfare.

    Northfield: Anti-business? Are you talking about taxation rates, or “big box” shopping, or what did you mean?

    Heroin: Hopefully we made things better as a result of discussion/action. Would you have rather kept things quiet?

    August 16, 2007
  162. Bruce, I think more modern wars are fought over such things as natural resources and rescue efforts than are fought over religion. I would also warn again against blaming any religion for what it’s followers do in the name of it.

    Here’s an accompanying issue that has bothered me for a few days now;
    why are public records being stored near the entrance to city hall
    in an unlocked office in I am presuming an unlocked file. Are those records indeed for public perusal or are they to be kept private until some permission to access is given?


    August 16, 2007
  163. David Ludescher said:

    The intent of my last posting (#157) was to put the recent City happenings in perspective of the broader issues facing the community. The three happenings that I mentioned seem to be much ado about nothing (or very little).

    Regarding Holly’s questions about Northfield’s reputation as “anti-business” and “heroin-filled”, I will try to find those threads in the blogosphere.

    August 16, 2007
  164. Holly Cairns said:

    David said

    Regarding Holly’s questions about Northfield’s reputation as “anti-business” and “heroin-filled”, I will try to find those threads in the blogosphere.

    Just to clarify, I’m asking about your statements that Northfield is “anti-business” and “heroin-filled.” I didn’t suggest that Northfield was any of those things, myself (and I don’t believe Northfield is either of those two things)… but the previous blogging will be an interesting read, so, thanks for the links.

    August 16, 2007
  165. Griff Wigley said:

    Penny wrote:

    While Ms. Dirks has ruffled some — in my view — overly sensitive feathers, I commend her for raising the issue and am disappointed to learn of the personal nature of some of the response.

    Penny, can you (or anyone else) be specific about what the ‘personal’ stuff is you’ve heard? I’ve heard strong criticisms of what Judy did but I don’t remember any remarks that could be characterized as unfairly personal.

    August 16, 2007
  166. I have no additional information beyond what’s been said here and in the paper. It appeared that her motives had been questioned and other critical comments had been made after she had left the meeting. I consider that personal, as it does not address the merits of her complaint but rather the means by which she made it public and some implied other agenda. I’m sorry if I implied anything that wasn’t the case; I may have inferred too much from what I read.

    August 16, 2007
  167. Griff Wigley said:

    Thx, Penny.

    Another thought:

    If Al Roder was a Muslim or a Jew and he let Muslims or Jews in his office to pray during council meetings, I’m wondering what the response of the Council members and the rest of the community would have been.

    I’m guessing the outcry would have been much stronger, that the praying would never have gone on for a year, and there would have been a strong push to fire him, if not from the council, then from a vocal segment among some Christians in town.

    So I think the response thus far among those who’ve been critical of Al on this issue has been pretty measured. Nobody’s calling for him to resign or be fired, even assuming (which I don’t know for sure) that he’s a member of the Harvest Evangelist group.

    August 16, 2007
  168. Anne Bretts said:

    Griff, we drove these laps earlier. I don’t have the energy to cite the numbers, but we did the hypothetical Jew/Muslim/Wiccan scanario about 30 or 40 posts back, I think. And the answer is no, this doesn’t have anything to do with the people being Christians. Would it be less upsetting to you if they weren’t evangelicals?
    There are two sides to this, basically. One group sees human error compounded by a makeshift building layout that lacks a lobby/reception area and adequate conference room space and a small-town informality that happily hasn’t had to adjust to anti-terror security measures and formal building use policies.
    The second group is rightfully concerned about what it sees as an inappropriate effort to support a religious function. Group 2 seems to see more intentional misbehavior than group 1. Group 1 totally supports the principles of Group 2, but is uncomfortable with the approach used in this situation.
    In either case, the solution is a sensible room use policy, which is the one thing we haven’t really discussed.
    You seem to think if we in the first group were just better informed or smarter, we’d agree with you. We must be blind, or Christian evangelists, not to see your truth. If they were Muslims, boy, we’d be angry. Well, no. I understand and appreciate the position of group 2, I just respectfully don’t share it. It seems the lack of a public outcry despite broad public coverage, means that quite a few people are in group 1.
    The people in group 2 have had their say and after listening, the people in Group 1 disagree. We’re ok with the disagreement. This is what free speech is all about.
    To put this in perspective, we all are horrified by the idea of a kid bringing a gun into a school, and all schools have strong policies against that. Just a dozen years ago, most small rural schools had no policy because kids brought guns to school all the time, to work on them in shop class, use them in speech class to demonstrate cleaning a weapon, or to take them out hunting or target shooting after class. There was no intent to endanger students, it was just a shift in policy that had to be made.
    This really is a pretty small town, which means people come and go without metal detectors or identification badges and sit in people’s offices. Not good, but not necessarily deliberate subversion of the Consitution, according to Group 1. Group 2 disagrees. That’s cool.
    Thanks to Judy Dirks for pointing out the need for a policy, though some of use would have liked to see her use a different approach. What’s done is done. Let’s get a policy and move on.

    August 16, 2007
  169. David Ludescher said:

    In response to Griff’s hypothetical fact situation: I would venture to guess that Roder would have the same number of critics – just on different sides. I would also guess that both the prosecution and the defense of Roder would have been more vigorous.

    Keith Ellison swearing in on the Koran is my empirical evidence.

    August 16, 2007
  170. kiffi summa said:

    This is not about “sensible room use policy” . I cannot imagine that any “sensible” person would think they could expect to enter, or occupy, any city dept head’s office , especially the mayor or city administrator’s office, except for a scheduled meeting or by invitation. It goes beyond the acknowledged rules of propriety.
    This is not about any kind of room use policy; this is about religion, and the possibility of conferring favored status on a group, and everyone’s just afraid to say that .And, how can it not be about secretive behavior? If it was not, then why did the “prayer ladies ” not just engage in their activities in the PUBLIC space in the building, while a PUBLIC meeting was ongoing? And if there was a proximate need to be in the building where the council meeting was occurring to pray for the city, council, etc., then why not be in the closest proximity, i.e. the council chambers?
    I too, am tired of going around the same laps/track.

    August 16, 2007
  171. john george said:

    Griff said, “… even assuming (which I don’t know for sure) that he’s a member of the Harvest Evangelist group.” Now why did you throw that into the mix without first verifying it? It seems there has been too much conjecture and assumption thrown out as support for further suspicions in this stream of discourse. I don’t think we need anymore. Besides, what if Al is a member of Harvest Evangelists? Does that disqualify him from public service? You admit that you don’t know for sure, so why did you even bring it up? It seems there has been to much assumption and not enough research in this whole thing.

    David L. refered to Keith Ellingson’s swearing in on a Koran in his post #174 (is that the correct number?) This wasn’t just a little event, here. It is the first time it has been done in American history, to my knowlege. So a precedent has now been set that a person can choose whatever text he desires to be sworn in on. Does anyone remember the court scene from the movie, “Fried Green Tomatoes”? The preacher wanted to be sworn in on his own Bible, which was, on the inside, a copy of “Moby Dick”. This allowed him, in his own eyes, to prevaricate. The prop we use is of little importance if we do not keep the vow we make. It is the promise of truthfulness, in this case, that was sidestepped. Thus, Keith’s vow is not to the Koran but to the American people, and Minnesotans, specifically.

    As far as to how we Christians would have reacted to an Islamic, or Wiccan, or whatever group praying here, I think you will get about as many reactions as individuals you talk to. I personally would be ashamed if they beat me to the punch. The interesting thing is that I have not heard from any of the other religions. If they were banging at the door for equal access, I think there would be precedent to look at this from a point of religious preference. Since they are not, and I only hear hypothetical scenarios, I don’t believe there is evidence to make that accusation (re.: research).

    My greatest concern for us as citizens is that we become so uptight trying to be sensitive and non-offensive to anyone that we stay home and hide behind closed draperies. After all, this is supposed to be a free country. The question is, for whom is it free? Is it possibly not for public officials? (Yes, I know. Freedom entails reasponsibility.)

    August 16, 2007
  172. john george said:

    Anne- Only 325 laps to go!

    August 16, 2007
  173. Anne Bretts said:

    I think that with all the incidents of violence and theft in government buildings across the country, the police department would have done a security check of City Hall (and every other city facility) years ago and made sure there were policies on securing offices and meeting spaces. After all, an angry domestic partner, disgruntled citizen or crazed drug addict with a gun could do almost as much damage as three women praying.
    (My husband just took a job in a public building in Minneapolis and was told to lock his office door every time he went down the hall to get a cup of coffee.)
    And after googling human rights commissions from the U.N. to local communities, I find that protection of religious freedom is one of their key duties. So I’m wondering why the Human Rights Commission doesn’t do regular reviews of all City Hall policies to make sure every single part of city operations was safe from a challenge just like the one Ms. Dirks brought up.
    I would think the City Attorney should do a regular review of city policies to make sure they would hold up to a legal challenge.
    So how many other policies are leaving the city open to litigation or safety issues?
    We can only operate on legal grounds. There is no policy so there is no violation. A discrimination charge would require evidence of discrimination, and such a complaint would have to be filed by someone who asked to use a room and was denied and who would have standing.
    We can go on and on pointing fingers. The administrator was wrong, but so were a lot of other really good and dedicated people.

    August 17, 2007
  174. David Schlosser said:


    The reason that the HRC doesn’t “do regular reviews of all City Hall policies to make sure every single part of city operations was safe from a challenge just like the one Ms. Dirks brought up” is because that’s not one of the group’s charges. If the council were to ask us to do that, we certainly would, but that’s never been a mandate for the HRC.
    I think people have this mistaken perception that the HRC has much more authority than we really do. Simply put, we’re a community resource. We respond to citizens who feel that their human rights have been violated, and refer them to city or county resources that may help them. We have absolutely zero authority to set any sort of policy for the city, and reviewing city policy has never been one of our charges. We are charged with educating the community about human rights, we advise the council on human rights issues, and we do amiable mediation with the public for human rights issues. We don’t make decisions for the city.

    August 17, 2007
  175. Anne Bretts said:

    Good point, but it also seems that the individuals on the Human Rights Commission could bring this larger scope to the attention of the council and offer to do such reviews and make recommendations, which of course, would be up to the council to enact. I can’t imagine the council turning down an offer to prevent exactly the situation we are in now. Maybe given the obvious need, the role of the HRC should be reviewed and expanded.
    Again, this isn’t finger-pointing, but an effort to determine how we can avoid future problems.

    August 17, 2007
  176. OK, once more with feeling. This is not a “human rights” issue, it is a “government impermissibly supporting religion” issue. Judy Dirks was correct in bringing the matter directly to the council because that is the entity in charge of city policy, and again, as Ken Bank pointed out to Griff, you have to go to the right end of the horse.

    August 17, 2007
  177. David Ludescher said:

    David S.: By what criteria does the Human Rights Commission determine if there has been a “human rights” violation? Given that the HRC was commissioned by the City Council, does that mean the City Council has the authority to tell you what is a human rights violation? If not, who does? If the majority of the City Council believe that Judy committed a human rights violation against Al Roder, does that decision stand?

    August 17, 2007
  178. “… Judy Dirks committed a human rights violation against Al Roder…” OH MY DOG! What a concept.

    This is starting to remind me of a case I had up in Fungus Falls, where a truckdriver from a big local company was driving behind my client ran her off the road when, as she was turning right, he speeded up, went around on her left and then made a vast right around her and slammed on the brakes, trapped her with his truck in that right hand turn. He jumped out, ran over to her little pickup, punched her hard in the side of the head, and then took off. She reported it, and the cops charged her with assault! It took three years to turn it around, get her charges dropped, have him charged criminally, and get a nominal civil settlement out of him and trucking company.

    What’s wrong with this Northfield picture? The state is impermissibly using state resources to support religious activities, a religious purpose. Will this take a couple years and a lawsuit as well?

    August 17, 2007
  179. victor summa said:

    Dare I say Amen’ to Ms Overland’s rant!

    ” OH MY DOG! What a concept. How do you spell relief? GOD”

    Now, will some one write in detail about the real issue here, Staff and Council process?

    Otherwise, I pray, put your pens away!

    August 17, 2007
  180. David Schlosser said:

    “If the majority of the City Council believe that Judy committed a human rights violation against Al Roder, does that decision stand?” Are you actually saying that by using a public open mic forum, Judy committed a human rights violation by criticizing Roder, or are you just using that as an example of what the council might think? I sincerely hope it’s just an example…
    All we can do is bring issues to the city council’s attention, and let the commission’s feelings be known. Certainly, if there’s a violation of the MN Human Rights Act, we’ll let the council know. But any “official” action taken on our recommendations has to be done by the council.

    August 17, 2007
  181. Recently, I have heard that French teenagers think of the United States as a particularly litigious society. My heart broke in two.

    Whatever has happened to our humanity?


    August 17, 2007
  182. David Ludescher said:

    David S.: I was musing as to whether there is a Northfield legislative body with the authority to conclusively decide this matter and, if necessary, exert authority. If it is the City Council, and at least two councilors are or were very supportive of Roder, then isn’t it fairly well settled?

    August 17, 2007
  183. kiffi summa said:

    Re:187……… well, then , no, it isn’t necessarily settled. Because two councilors comments are not a majority vote of the council,on a legislatively stated issue, and has there never been a council decision, even majority vote or unanimous that you disagreed with? and isn’t it your right to hold a different opinion?
    I agree that on a legislated issue, a voted-on resolution of the council, their majority vote will become the rule; however it is certainly possible that some, or even a majority of the people will think they are wrong.
    And from the comments I’ve heard on the streets,many, many people think it was wrong of staff and council to criticize/attack (however you want to characterize it) a citizen who comes to the open mic with a serious concern, regardless of how many people may agree with that comment.

    August 17, 2007
  184. In response to #182, Carol’s offering of the telling of her case.
    First of all, we do not hear the trucker’s side of this story at all, but it brings to mind the fact that trucks are very heavy vehicles, particularly when they are pulling a full load, and they are very difficult to stop quickly.

    I am going to write a few letters as an education campaign, and hope to get it in the driver’s license books that no vehicle should pull in front of a truck without allowing ample distance.

    Thanks for the inspiration, Carol!


    August 17, 2007
  185. FYI, I’m a truckdriver of 12 years and over a million miles (nice big Petercars and KWs), plus dispatcher and Safety Director, and I know a few things about trucks (see “Northland v. Bennett” – my implied lease case, new law in MN back in 1994). The truckdriver, who was tailgating my client and then recklessly speeded up and took a right turn around her as she took a right turn and then trapped her and hit her, was found by the court to be liable.

    But who cares… it’s the analogy here that’s important… sigh… the issue here isn’t Judy Dirks’ behavior, though some seem to be trying to turn that around on her, as the cop (friend of the trucking company owner) did with my client. The issue is impermissible government support of religious activity.

    August 17, 2007
  186. Don’t worry,Carol, the analogy was not lost on me. I did and do still however wonder why the woman was initially charged when it
    seemed pretty obvious that she was a victim, if not one of two.

    So, why don’t you take this opportunity to tell us approx how far and how long it takes for an 18 wheeler to stop at highway speeds?
    I’m sure Griff will give you a pass in the name of safety.


    August 17, 2007
  187. Griff Wigley said:

    The separation of church and state is a lie from the devil?

    I continue to be concerned about this issue because I don’t think the Harvest Evangelism folks have been forthcoming about their intentions. This isn’t a simple issue of three ladies asking to pray in City Hall and the city admin makes an error in judgment in allowing them to use his office, so now we need a clear policy about office use and equal access.

    I spent a couple of hours reading articles and websites tonight. One common theme to many of the stories is that these people take action based on their obedience to Jesus Christ who talks to them and tells them what to do. Another, though less prevalent, is that Jesus blesses those who follow his directives with material abundance.

    The author of the book, The Elk River Story is a regional VP for Harvest. On the web page promoting the book and inside the testimonials pages at the front of the book is this quote:

    The Elk River Story is a great book! I am particularly drawn to the idea that the church is supposed to be a resource to our public officials. The idea that there should be separation between church and state is a lie from the devil. Ask the Police Chief in Elk River how he caught the drug dealers in his city-he caught them when the church prayed. Ask the Superintendent of Schools how he got a referendum passed to refurbish the schools-the referendum passed when the church prayed. Yes, we have to stop listening to the lie. Like the Riverview Bank in Otsego, our institutions need to be centered on the phrase-In God We Trust! – Larry Ihle, Farmington, Minnesota (Business Owner and CEO, Dexterity dental Arts)

    I only read the downloadable chapter, not the book, but the fact that they use this quote as a testimonial is alarming. It’s not just the “… separation of church and state is a lie from the devil” but the examples of how their intercessionary prayers in the public sphere are evidently documented in the book. The women I spoke to during the Council meeting assured me they weren’t praying for any specific outcomes on the Council agenda and I believe them. But it’s pretty clear that Harvest does have public policy agendas in some cases, and that those agendas are sometimes based on what their followers discern to be directives from Jesus.

    So until Northfield Transformation becomes a lot more transparent about both their intentions and their strategies, I think it’s important that this issue remain on our civic radar.
    Update: 6:15 am: In today’s Northfield News: Council reveals issues for investigation. “8. Has there been a violation by city officials or employees of the proper separation of church and state?”

    August 18, 2007
  188. David Henson said:

    A dubious notion is being repeated throughout this thread as dogma.

    That our nation was founded on Christian ideals:

    The structure of our government most closely resembles structures developed by native American tribes who didn’t have a Christian bone in their bodies. Even the inspirational ideals of Rousseau, Voltaire, Locke were developed after they had “salons” with native Americans visiting Europe. And European “Christian” governments would have liked to, and often did, lock these men up.

    “In God we Trust” is not the same as “Jesus is Lord” as some would seem to prefer written on our currency. If anything this statement was a slap in the face to European powers who’s authority was vested in special relationships as spokesmen for God and Jesus Christ.

    Let’s remember that these words from the Declaration of independence were so blasphemous as to bring Christan nations to war:

    “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. — That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed,”

    “In God We Trust” is really a tribute to the change from the old equation:

    God – Agents of God – Mankind

    to the new equation:

    God – Mankind ( or for governing purposes on Earth just Mankind )

    Some founders were of the Thomas Jefferson ilk – he liked to quote Voltaire “I will not stop until the last king is hung by the entrails of the last priest” – not the type of enlightenment one expects to hear in church then or now.

    Other founders were more tempered like James Madison:
    “Religion and government will both exist in greater purity, the less they are mixed together.”

    The notion that our country was founded on secular ideals is more accurate.

    August 18, 2007
  189. David Ludescher said:

    Griff: You seemed to have shifted from your original statement that compared these ladies to praying for peace on Bridge Square.

    Re: Transparency: Harvest Evangelism and Transformation Northfield has been very transparent. I recall that Lee Lansing was at one of the meetings and that he even wrote an editorial on the topic. Ed Silvoso, who I understand is the founder of Harvest Evangelism, was the keynote speaker at the Northfield Prayer Breakfast, where there were at least 250 attendees. Helen Medin has been circulating the Elk River Story for over a year (I’ve read it.) Rick Haren (sp?) has been to Northfield numerous times talking about the Elk River Story. Lastly, according to David S., Northfield Transformation even had a short Inquisition at the Human Rights Commission. What additional transparencies do you think are needed?

    Transformation Northfield’s theology may strike you and many others as irrational and politically naive. But beyond a sensible room use policy and the appearance of impropriety, of what relevance is it that individuals in Transformation Northfield may think that Jesus is commanding them to pray for Northfield city leaders? I am having difficulty discerning the relevance of their beliefs to the discussion at hand.

    By saying that we need to keep them on our “civic radar” were you implying that they are a political faction to watch, similar to Chamber of Commerce advocates, non-motorized transportation advocates, arts advocates, or other groups trying to promote their own specific political agendas?

    August 18, 2007
  190. #193, very nicely put, David L.

    More than anything, the thing that frightens me is the sense of
    too much authority over our very thoughts and where we are allowed have these thoughts. If that’s American, well, it’s not my idea of
    a free America.


    August 18, 2007
  191. Anne Bretts said:

    David L.
    I wrote a piece but you said it so well, I’ll just agree.
    Fear doesn’t equal fact.

    August 18, 2007
  192. Bright, you commented that the turbulence we are seeing over Roder’s association with this particular special interest group seems un-American because it would put limits on where and when he could express his first amendment rights. As a “lifer” from the military I have to point out that public servants are often denied the protection of the Constitution at work precisely because we are defending the Constitution. The military officer gives up a lot of freedoms while defending freedom (interestingly, the enlisted are given more latitude).

    The military is perhaps not the best career choice for someone bent on the vigorous exercise of civil liberties. As countless drill sergeants have informed their new recruits, “We’re here to defend democracy–not to practice it.” [emphasis added]

    The Limits of Free Speech in the Military: Can Public Expressions of Discontent by U.S. Troops in Iraq Be Punished?
    By DEAN G. FALVY Note that Western republics and democracies have long histories of the military expressing opinions, but we try to separate the two roles. MacArthur being fired comes to mind, but ancient history (especially the Greeks and Romans, from where the basics of our Republic derive) is full of examples as well.

    Now, Roder et al may not be “defending democracy”, and we certainly don’t want to silence whistle blowers (who rely on 1st amendment freedoms), but we also don’t want our public servants bringing their personal (religion, attitudes towards minorities, etc.) , political (Dem, Rep, Green) or financial (bribes, etc.) biases into the office with them. And we rightly will strike down with great vengeance and furious anger those who would attempt to poison and destroy our control of those public servants.

    August 18, 2007
  193. Bruce, I am glad you pointed out that govt gives little latitude for expression to the defenders of freedom. It’s just more of the same yin yang thing that peremeates all we see. But, it doesn’t make me feel any better about the oppressive environment around here. I basically don’t want to see people’s thoughts being squelched and bogged down in this webbed spiral of can’ts and don’ts.

    I appreciate living in an area where I can feel fairly safe physically, and I appreciate that it is precisely because people
    are hardened to new people, new ideas and open exchanges of real
    expression that this safe haven exists, but there are hidden dangers, as well.

    That last sentence of yours though, where did you pick that bit of
    nastiness up? US Consititution?

    That, and let me say, it’s all a very sticky wicket.


    August 18, 2007
  194. kiffi summa said:

    Is it possible that Bruce’s last sentence (post #196) comes in response to the attitude seemingly expressed in these quotes from the Rejoice website?:
    “We are committed to fostering a radical dependence upon the Holy Spirit in the lives of leaders, and other congregations.”
    “We are committed to equipping and coaching dangerous people who are willing to be dangerous in what they ask of God, and risk-taking in what they attempt for HIM.”
    “To live on the radical edge with God, kicking at the darkness until it bleeds daylight so that the least, the last, and the lost are touched by the love of God and the people of God unto their destiny as world-changers.”
    These three quotes are straight off the Rejoice website, and their are no words or phrases left out in these sentences.
    To me, these do not appear to be statements that reflect the goals of a peaceful, harmonious, and tolerant society.
    If you then click on the link to what they say is their parent website , ARC (Alliance of Renewal Churches) you will find the ARC Mission: “Our mission is to encourage, equip and coach leaders and congregations to be a safe place for dangerous people- people who are potent for the purposes of God and a threat to the dominion of our enemy”
    Am I mistaken that this is NOT a peaceable statement? Who is perceived as “the dominion of our enemy”?
    MY feeling is that are enough dangerous people in the world without adding to them those who believe they have a direct commandment from God to “Kick through the darkness until it bleeds daylight”.
    Those “dangerous people” can live however they choose; I don’t want my daylight to “bleed”.

    August 18, 2007
  195. Sorry about the last sentence, it was a paraphrase of a line from “Pulp Fiction”, that paraphrase moving out of the realm of the lord and into the realm of the patriots whose blood, according to Thomas Jefferson, must spill with the blood of tyrants to sustain the tree of freedom. Perhaps they felt a little more passionately back then about the importance of eternal vigilance against the tyrannies we face still today. I was feeling a bit too poetic, I guess.

    August 18, 2007
  196. Anne Bretts wrote: “Fear doesn’t equal fact.”

    Once again, Anne, you are over-aggressively contextualizing what others have said. You’ve claimed that people were feeling “threatened”, and now, you’re claiming “fear” on the part of those who are wondering what this group is about.

    Based on the publication Griff cites they appear to be about misattributing positive municipal outcomes to the power of their prayers. Ho-hum. Heard it all before on the 700 Club.

    Concern and curiousity are not “fear.”

    Again, again, again: this is not about theology, beliefs, intentions, etc…, this is about government action which appears to violate the establishment clause (however ineffectually) of the U.S. Constitution.

    Fear does not equal fact; I agree, but neither does a lack of concern exonerate wrong actions.

    Bright (and a couple others), this is not about freedom of religious expression. No one is saying that this group can’t pray. Most of us are even pointing out that they should be allowed to pray on government property, provided the government or agents of that government are not granting access that would not be granted to all other religious groups on equal terms.

    The city hall may not be the best place to do that praying until the city gets a policy in place that covers their butts on this very sticky issue.

    An individual’s office may never be the best place for that, because it is not etablished as open to all, no matter what Mr. Roder’s personal, open-door policy is on that. It’s of the public, but it is not a public meeting room.

    David Henson,
    Thanks for the correction on some of my statements about Christianity’s role in the establishment of American government. In my defense, I was making the point to someone who had stated that Christianity was not allowed in government, and I wanted to point out that nothing stops public officials from practising their own religious ideals in the drafting of laws, etc… Indeed, Christianity was part of the founding, but, as you correctly pointed out, and I only briefly alluded to, there were a large number of other belief systems, philosophies, etc… at play.

    I’m very interested if Roder’s actions are the basis of the city council asking for the state auditor’s assessment:

    “8. Has there been a violation by city officials or employees of the proper separation of church and state?”

    If this is the central issue behind that request, then it seems that a number of city councilors are concerned about it. Plus, they must have known about it before drafting the report (in other words, before Ms. Dirks made this public).

    If that’s the case, why did they not do anything about it earlier? Are they afraid of confronting Roder? Why did councilors let this continue for a year?

    August 18, 2007
  197. Anne Bretts said:

    I find it fascinating and concerning that we are repeating the same arguments on this topic when the threads covering the potential of huge misdeeds at City Hall and the future of the liquor store and the very real transportation issues around Woodley reconstruction languish.
    200 laps are enough for me, unless we get off this loop and find some new ground to cover.

    August 18, 2007
  198. Ross Currier said:

    While some commentators have stopped at the question of a city employee making city property available to a particular religious sect, and a few people have suggested that this recent incident is only an additional chapter in a larger story about another city exporting their religious beliefs to our community through local proxies, most Northfielders have chosen to focus on the biggest picture topic of separation of Church and State. It was therefore of interest to me that today’s Sunday Magazine of the New York Times, that widely acknowledged bastion of Liberal Democracy, featured a cover story on the history of this current topic, The Great Separation.

    The author, Mark Lilla, argues that the separation between Church and State is not only a relatively new idea, but one that didn’t take hold beyond the limited geography of Northern Europe and North America.

    In the parts of the West where this idea had taken hold, it was fairly widely believed that there were mutual benefits: the State was spared from doctrinal decisions and the Church was freed from political interference. However, in the East the idea was never even seriously considered.

    Lilla goes on to characterize the Separation as an experiment, a test that continues but is not necessarily permanent. He considers the fact that although in America we have an unmatched variety of faiths yet there is general agreement that our political issues are settled within the boundaries of the Constitution to be a miracle.

    He then discusses Weimar Germany and contemporary Islam with the history of Western states after the Great Separation. His concluding argument is that there is a third path for religions in a secular state besides complacent liberalism and revolutionary messianism, that of the constructive renovator. He cites Calvin and Luther as examples. They used theological reinterpretations to facilitate temporal existence while demanding a renewed commitment to faith.

    For those bored with scheduling suggestions for City Hall or unconcerned about zealots’ conspiracies for our community, The Politics of God may prove to be timely and fascinating reading.

    August 19, 2007
  199. Griff Wigley said:

    Thanks for that, Ross. I’ve edited your post to include a permalink to the NYT article.

    David L (#193) my perception is that most if not all the efforts of Transformation Northfield to date have been focused on the expression of faith in the workplace for owners/employees. That was the focus of Silvoso’s appearance, judging from the Nfld News coverage. And ‘workplace’ was the focus of the group’s appearance before the HRC last fall.

    This city hall issue seems different to me. True, praying for an public policy outcome can be seen as no different than the lobbying than other groups do.

    But it COULD become a case where their focus is affecting public policy in ways that aren’t available to everyone else who tries to affect public policy, eg, praying in a city leader’s office for specific outcome, especially if that leader is part of the same group.

    A pastor in Elk River expressed her concerns about the mayor there, “… that she is using her secular office to further a religious agenda.”

    I don’t know if that’s true but at least the mayor of Elk River is up front about her agenda, so others who have concerns can be appropriately vigilant. I’d feel better about this whole issue if our city leadership would do the same… hence, my wish for more transparency.

    August 19, 2007
  200. David Ludescher said:

    Asking Al Roder to reveal his religious affliation (or connection to Transformation Northfield) seem dead on square with the constitutional prohibition of requiring any religious test for public office.

    Moreover, these ladies appeared fairly candid about their agenda – they were silently praying that our city leaders receive wisdom and strength. Even if you object to their method, it is difficult to object to their motive.

    While is is possible that Transformation Northfield’s relationship to Al Roder could affect policy, there are plenty of examples of advocacy groups in Northfield ACTUALLY affecting policy. These are the groups of which we must maintain a special vigilance lest their individual preferences alter public policy to the detriment of the rest of the town.

    August 20, 2007
  201. Ross Currier said:


    “there are plenty of examples of advocacy groups in Northfield ACTUALLY affecting policy. These are the groups of which we must maintain a special vigilance lest their individual preferences alter public policy to the detriment of the rest of the town.”

    I assume that you’re talking about the Chamber of Commerce…



    August 20, 2007
  202. john george said:

    Kiffi- You said, “Am I mistaken that this is NOT a peaceable statement? Who is perceived as “the dominion of our enemy”?
    MY feeling is that are enough dangerous people in the world without adding to them those who believe they have a direct commandment from God to “Kick through the darkness until it bleeds daylight”.
    I don’t think you have an understanding of the principles involved here, and that is ok if you haven’t been exposed to them. If you compare adherants to Christianity to certain ones of Islam who are blowing up themselves and everyone around them, then living “dangerously” would certainly be a threat to you. Please let me explain my take on this. I am not a member of Rejoice, but I know many of the people there, and I talked to Pastor Dan about my opinion before expressing it in my post.
    It is written that,”… our (Crhistian’s) weapons of warfare are not carnal (relying on natural strength, wisdom or gunpowder) but they are mighty through God (His strength and wisdom), to the tearing down of stongholds (areas in people’s lives that are under the influence of anti-God beliefs).” It is also written, “Do not be overcome with evil but overcome evil with good.” Also, it is written that “…everyone who would live Godly in Christ Jesus shall suffer persecution.” The only person in danger here is the believer who wants to follow God, not just silently and privately, but openly and demonstratively. I think this is pretty evident in the reactions from many people against Al Roder, Helen, Jan, and Laurie.
    As far as “kicking in the darkness”, this is not done politically or physically, but it is accomplished through living our faith openly. Just as many gay people have come out of the closet and said, “I will live this way openly and there is nothing you can do about it,” so are many Christians doing the same thing. If gay people are not a threat to you, then why should we be? Perhaps there is something to be afraid of, if you are not open to God and refuse to allow Him into your life when you are given the opportunity. Perhaps He does exist and is involved in the affairs of men. Perhaps He does really love us and is not wanting to bring the hammer down on us, but is longsuffering, not willing that any should perish. Perhaps He does listen to the prayers of His people and responds to them.
    I am reminded of the account in the book of Acts about the Senate(the Jewish leadership council) and their concern about the early Christians coming out in the open. The Senate wanted to silence the new converts. A man in the council, Gamaliel, had this wisdom. He reminded them of other groups that had risen up and then disipated, and that how this group might do the same. He then said, “…and stay away from these men and let them alone, for if this plan or action be of men, it will be overthrown, but if it is of God, you will not be able to overthrow them, or else you may even be found fighting against God.” The outcome of this doesn’t matter if you believe there is a God or not, if He is involved in the affairs of men, or if we have heard from Him. He will move in spite of us, but he is looking for people to stand in the gap (intercede) for others.
    I would refer back to my original post. Who are any of you to tell me where or how to pray, as long as I do it respectfully and not threateninglty? And I would also point out, it is not illegal for any of us Christians to have “an agenda” to bring positive change to our society, be it on the personal, city, state, or national level.
    Now, let us see what kind of policy our council is going to put into place for the equitable use of city hall.

    August 20, 2007
  203. David Ludescher said:

    The Chamber is an excellent example of a special interest advocacy group which is trying to affect public policy (although the Chamber is quite transparent in its efforts). But, would anyone think about calling the Chamber of Commerce before the Human Rights Commission? How much more transparent can they be?

    August 20, 2007
  204. kiffi summa said:

    to post #207:
    Thank you for the re-iteration of Bible quotes, but since I was brought up in the Methodist faith, baptized and confirmed therein, and , as a matter of fact, when I was a child had a three-year attendance pin for never missing bible class, (even with measles, mumps, chickenpox) ……….. none of this that you quote is new to me.

    I do not feel threatened by “Christians”, Rejoice church, praying ladies, or anyone who is civil, thoughtful, and peaceful toward other human beings,without passing judgement on them for their sexual orientation, or their need to control the physical or mental health of their bodies.

    I asked whether the statements I quoted seemed those of a community of people which is committed to a peaceful, harmonius, and tolerant society……….You chose not to answer that question; instead lecturing me with bible verses.

    And I do not need to ask anyone’s permission or confirmation to speak my mind; I have a strong core. Please do not presume anything about my spiritual beliefs; I do not display them on a website.

    August 20, 2007
  205. john george said:

    From post 207- I certainly did not want to offend you in my post, but I didn’t interpret your comments on the Rejoice website to communicate that you have an understanding of where they are comming from. From my perspective, with the understanding I have, their website does not imply a result other than a peaceful society. I don’t know you personally at all, so I can only respond to what you tell me on this site. Perhaps Anne Bretts was right in her earlier post. We may spend too much time trying to convert everyone else to our way of thinking rather than coming to agreement on policies and proceeding onward. You are certainly free to follow God in the understanding you have of Him, and I bless you in that endeavor.

    August 20, 2007
  206. john george said:

    From post 207, again- I didn’t respond to your comment about not needing anyone’s permission or confirmation to speak your mind. No, you certainly do not. But since I am not a part of Rejoice, I don’t feel I have any place to represent their beliefs on this site or respond to comments made about them on this site without first communicating with them.

    August 20, 2007
  207. Griff Wigley said:

    David L./Ross, I’m all for groups trying to affect public policy/civic affairs. Even religious groups.

    I’ve been whining about the LACK of engagement by Northfield area ministers on the heroin issue. As far as I know, only one minister has shown up for the public meetings on the issue. Have any of them preached about it? I don’t know, but it seems to me that they’d have an interest in bringing their perspective to the public problem-solving process since chemical addiction/recovery is so inextricably linked to our spiritual selves.

    But those in a public policy leadership position have to be extra careful about their personal religious beliefs in that public policy process. I could be wrong, but from the little I’ve read, both Barack Obama and Mitt Romney have apparently handled this pretty well as current office holders as well as candidates.

    August 21, 2007
  208. Just to briefly tie up one loose end I created, I found this stopping distance to speed calcultor for the question of how far will a truck travel after breaking. It’s a very complicated formula, but just to give a reference, it takes a car going 55 mph, more than 250 ft to stop under I presume normal dry flat conditions including reaction time. See #189 and #190 above.


    August 21, 2007
  209. David Ludescher said:

    Griff wrote that, “But, those in a public policy leadership position have to be extra careful about their personal religious beliefs in that public policy process”. That is not only accurate, but it also holds true for “personal secular beliefs”.

    Al Roder’s job is to do what he is directed to do by the City Council. He also needs to counsel the Council when they are making poor choices. His personal opinions, whether on his belief in God, or his beliefs on non-motorized transportation, are not what he is getting paid for.

    I just don’t see how allowing the ladies to pray in his office has spilled over into his job. We would have the exact same problem if Al had let the Chamber of Commerce hold a meeting in his office during City Council meetings. It looks bad; it would look like he is favoring the Chamber; but, it would have no effect upon his job performance.

    August 21, 2007
  210. Although I like what you are saying, David L, I don’t think people can really divorce themselves from at least long held beliefs. And I don’t think people really hire people and say, Okay you’re on, but you have to leave that 33-1/3 % of your thinking behind. It’s not black and white that way, it’s grey, very grey. And what if they
    could, wouldn’t they be leaving behind part of what makes them who they are in truth? And if the employer doesn’t want the whole employee, he better find someone with no prior affiliations…I have
    a 12 year old nephew who needs a job! 🙂

    As for Mitt Romney, he never married more than once, so he can divorce himself easily from the religious belief of it, as he never practiced it and he can prove that. Had he been married numerous
    times at once, he wouldn’t even be considered…no divorcing himself from that I’m pretty sure.

    I won’t even address Obama’s issues until he finishes flipping.


    August 21, 2007
  211. David L – Here’s a quote: “I just don’t see how allowing the ladies to pray in his office has spilled over into his job. We would have the exact same problem if Al had let the Chamber of Commerce hold a meeting in his office during City Council meetings. It looks bad; it would look like he is favoring the Chamber; but, it would have no effect upon his job performance.” It’s NOT exactly the same. You know that. The Chamber is a registered lobbying entity, and literally have business being in Roder’s office when he’s there. You’re once again glossing over/side stepping/weaseling around/ignoring/diverting (??) the gov’t support of religious activity/group with state resources. As an attorney you know or should know that there is a Constitutional difference between state dealings with lobbyists (also only appropriate when city employee is present) and religious entities. Once again, you’re an “officer of the court” bound to uphold the Constitution — instead this is obscuring it, conflating issues — more conflatulence! … sigh… I will continue to repeat this refrain each time this discussion goes down this path.

    August 21, 2007
  212. Anne Bretts said:

    OK, just checking here…
    The city is working on a room/office use policy.
    There was no policy in place to violate.
    There is no evidence any group has been refused meeting space.
    There is no evidence any other religious group has even sought meeting space.
    There is no evidence the city even tracks the purpose for using meeting space or how rooms actually are used.
    There is no evidence Mr. Roder joined the women in prayer.
    There is no evidence Mr. Roder announced or put signs up announcing the women were meeting in his office.
    There is no evidence Mr. Roder encouraged anyone to join him or the women in prayer.
    There is no evidence the women lobbied or prayed for any particular outcome on any issue.
    There is no evidence anyone had complained to Mr. Roder or anyone else about the use of the space until the July council meetings.
    As soon as the situation was mentioned, the ladies were moved.
    There is no evidence any files, papers or data were seen or used.
    Ms. Dirks never brought up the issue to Mr. Roder.
    Ms. Dirks never attempted to file a complaint or file a request to the council to bring this up as an agenda item.
    No one attempted to interfere with Ms. Dirks’ right to speak to the council.

    If there are more facts, great. But strip away all the undeniable potential problems and the misdeeds of other congregations and individuals in other cities, and it appears that City Hall is secure, the Constitution is intact and the incident is over.

    All that remains are two issues: whether Mr. Roder is disciplined (a closed personnel matter) or whether anyone or any group or the citizenry at large is owed an apology by anyone else. Since forcing anyone to apologize pretty much negates the effect of the apology, it seems the discussion now is how to develop ways beyond a room policy to deal with separation of church and state in all areas of city government. Perhaps some of the writers here who are most concerned about the potential for future incidents might like to explore the policies of other cities and make suggestions here about how we can prevent problems, rather than end up speculating on the causes or dealing with the consequences of them.

    August 21, 2007
  213. Just in time, Anne, I was going to suggest a little flexibility
    intrerpreting the separation of church and state issue.


    August 21, 2007
  214. kiffi summa said:

    A mostly accurate list , Anne. One obvious correction: Mr. Roder was “tipped off” by someone before Ms. Dirks spoke, because he left the council chambers before the meeting started, went into his office, held the door for the ladies to exit, and led them upstairs.

    Then when he spoke at the end of the meeting, I believe his saying the matter had been resolved, did not sound like resolved immediately before the meeting, but taken care of some time previously. I may certainly be wrong in my interpretation; that’s just what it sounded like to me.

    But , aside from the details…… the final line “Ho HUm……so what!” ?????????? I s that what you’re saying.? In other words we should not seek to ever right past wrongs? And then each time a new “wrong” occurs, we say , “so what”?

    Last night the “ladies” called their “Creator God” into prayer, at the open mic. I wonder how it would be received if I read a chapter from Sam Harris at the open mic….and then that could just go on and on ’til it became a venue for wasting the city council’s time with uncity -related business. Or do the business of the city and prayer have a relationship?

    August 21, 2007
  215. john george said:

    Anne- Phew!! Thanks for one more lap!

    Bright- post #213. I would suppose the stopping distance of a truck after “breaking” would depend how many pieces it broke into. Ha, ha! (Blasted English language! SO many things sound alike! Just ask my Costa Rican son-in-law.)

    Kiffi- Does city business and prayer have a relationship? Yes, unless one wants to separate church completely from our society. We Christians who belive this way are, after all, part of the city. Isn’t this part of being tolerant?

    August 21, 2007
  216. Anne Bretts said:

    Kiffi, I have always believed you to be an amazingly bright and principled woman, with a lot of wisdom and a kind heart. I have been careful not to portray your posts as “blowing the issue out of proportion.” It would be great if we could assume everyone is speaking with integrity and good intent.
    My feeling isn’t that the incident is ho-hum. There’s just a difference between righting a past wrong and beating a dead horse. I just feel that after 200 some posts where a few facts are stewed in speculation, nitpicking, blame and inuendo, here we are a month later with no real answer when people decide to use the open mic section of the meeting to pray…
    Perhaps the Human Rights Commission should have a larger mission, or there should be some other person or agency assigned to tackle this issue. But we don’t know. By holding on tenaciously to the room issue, and whether Al should apologize to Judy or Judy should have told Al or whether Al moved the people because he wanted to solve the problem or because he was tipped off, we missed the bigger picture and the more noble challenge.
    So my question is whether the point of these discussions is to seek common ground, improve communications and bring friends and neighbors together to have some fun and look for ways to make Northfield better, or whether they are just a way for Minnesota Nice folks to have a venue for venting their meanness toward each other in ways that wouldn’t be acceptable in person. Maybe it’s a kind of online paintball…so we all just keep shooting and get tougher armor and goggles…
    I admit, I love sharp humor. And there is a certain fun in the gotcha of catching someone in an errant word or imprecise phrase, but this is beginning to be the adult equivalent of kids passing (texting) mean notes about each other in class.
    It seems the people at City Hall, as messed up and impotent as many of you see them to be, aren’t an embarrassment to the city but a reflection of it…
    Back to the issue I raised. An apology from Roder wouldn’t have kept the women in their seats last night, but perhaps a good policy might.
    So as I asked many, many posts ago…are there any suggestions for a fair policy for the future?
    Perhaps open mic comments should be limited to topics under city control but not on the agenda. That would eliminate God’s business, UFO investigations and resolutions to end the War in Iraq, all interesting debates but not germaine to the city’s charter. (That’s it, we can refer this all to the charter commission!)

    August 21, 2007
  217. Johhnie G., that’s eeezee for you to say! #219.

    Fair policy for the future…I don’t think one that works perfectly is possible. There will always be someone who calls foul.

    Do unto others as you would have them do unto you. How about that?


    August 21, 2007
  218. john george said:

    Bright- Great response. Please forgive me for having some fun at your expense. If you only knew how badly (I was going to use pourly, but I was afraid I might use it porely. Yes, that certainly was poor of me) I type and how dexlisic I am on a keyboard, you could have gereat humor with me! I would enjoy it along with you.

    Johhnie G.

    August 21, 2007
  219. kiffi summa said:

    Anne, long post, much horse beating, but in the end a great idea! But I fear the Charter commission has got a lot on their plate right now, and in the end it is always the council’s decision…..unless of course, they can’t come to a unanimous decision, and then it goes to a public vote, entire community.

    If you could go to the open mic, and ask the council to have a big ole fat discussion of the issue, at a work session, and they actually did have that discussion….I would not only thank you, I would buy you some B.McElrath chocolates! And chocolate gets no finer than that (if you’ve taken the local challenge).

    The only thing is……it might take longer than the new rental code ordinance did…..and I am getting very old.

    August 21, 2007
  220. john george said:

    Here is some grist for you legal wonks regarding separation of church and state. If this is something we must adhere to strictly, where is the cutoff for governmental involvement in church affairs? For instance, in the recent past, there has been much ado about the pedophilia within the Catholic church heirarchy. Those priests involved in this have been brought before government courts and prosecuted using government laws and thrown into government funded jails. If there is to be a separation of church and state, where does this enter in here? Are churches allowed to deal with this through their own channels? And if they do, is this considered complicity in the criome? Does the separation gate only swing one way?

    Now, before everyone gets their dander up, I certainly do not condone this type of immoral behavior, and I personally believe these perpetrators should be brought to account. My question is, if churches are liable before the court (a government branch) for their misdeeds, do they have a place for representation in the government and input into the laws enacted by it? And can members of the churches be part of government and petition the government for this very purpose? Surely, there is some type of precedent out there.

    August 21, 2007
  221. Ross Currier said:


    Actually, the Chamber of Commerce asked for and received a private, behind closed doors, unrecorded meeting with city staff about the Comprehensive Plan revision process. Wearing my Planning Commission hat, I am still uncomfortable about this one exotic cult receiving preferential treatment not extended to any other group in town. We’ll never know if there were prayers, the burning of sacred herbs, or the ritual slaughter of a chicken involved.

    Putting on my NDDC hat now, I think that it is always clear to anyone and everyone when the Knights of the Downtown are lobbying on an issue or pursuing a heroic quest. We’re noisy, not shy, and, for better or worse, pretty much in-your-face not behind-your-back. We never try to hide our beliefs, practices, or objectives behind closed doors.

    Personally, I believe that when a group, let’s say the Chamber, speaks up at a public meeting or publishes their views in the paper, their actions are admirable and should be setting a standard for all groups, business, political, or religious, in the community which seek to influence the decision-making process. Conversely, I believe that when a group tries to avoid publicly sharing their views or goals and works only behind closed doors, their motives are, in my mind, highly questionable and their actions, at least in my definition of a democracy, should be criticized if not condemned.

    Thank you for speaking up at public meetings and publishing your views in writing,


    August 21, 2007
  222. john george said:

    Ross- Exotic cult?? I thought a person had to dress wierdly, pierce various parts of one’s anatomy, live off the land somewhere, and share one another’s respective spouses to fit this discription? Also, they usually don’t pay their taxes and withdraw from society in general. Too bad Helen and Jan don’t live up to your expectations.

    Maybe you should reread post #217, or do you have some heretofore untold facts regarding what went on?

    You also said, in post #227, “…I believe that when a group tries to avoid publicly sharing their views or goals and works only behind closed doors, their motives are, in my mind, highly questionable and their actions, at least in my definition of a democracy, should be criticized if not condemned.” It seems that this group has an open web site, has been before the NHRC, and is daily accessable to anyone. Would you have the same reaction to them if they had brought a drum into city hall, circled it, pounded out a rythm and chanted during the council meetings? It seems you keep assailing them without cause.

    August 21, 2007
  223. Griff Wigley said:

    Anne, I’m insulted. You wrote:

    this is beginning to be the adult equivalent of kids passing (texting) mean notes about each other in class. It seems the people at City Hall, as messed up and impotent as many of you see them to be, aren’t an embarrassment to the city but a reflection of it

    I don’t like your put-down. This is not a task-force that needs to come to some resolution or action plan. It’s primarily a place for pleasurable conversation, a way to get informed. If it’s gone on too long for you, it doesn’t mean it has for everyone else. Just unsubscribe from the alerts or just ignore it.

    If you had a salon at your house and at the end of a 3-hour discussion, I said what you said to the participants, I think you’d be insulted and would not want to have me back.

    Your content contributions here and on many other topics are usually valuable but comments like this are a major detriment to the conversational climate we’re trying to foster here. It’s not perfect, but it’s working reasonably well.

    August 22, 2007
  224. Anne Bretts said:

    Point taken. Humble apology submitted. Draft/5-hour hold policy on comments enacted to deal with frustration. Unsubscribed. No salon planned.

    August 22, 2007
  225. kiffi summa said:

    Brilliant commentary, Ross. (#227) This one was of the most brillantly aligned, and eloquently stated arguments I’ve seen. Write a book!

    And to john george, re # 225: IMHO, you’re mixing concepts of ideology and concepts of crime, in your quest for “the door” to swing both ways.

    In this country, you are not allowed to commit a crime based on your personal ( even if institutionalized ) belief system.
    Example: it is not allowable to practice ritualistic torture of animals or people as an expression of your religious beliefs.

    Having said that, I ask why does our gov’t. allow prisoner renditions to other countries, or for that matter establish our own Gulag/Guantanamo?

    I think the answer is that most laws will be bent if there is no challenge by those who respect “the rule of law”.

    August 22, 2007
  226. See:

    I think you will find here that, and I am no lawyer, but I have two cousins who are, grin, if there is a religious belief, and the three ladies, I am told, said the proximity of prayer to the prayed for is an important part of their belief, and the state must prove compelling interest for overriding their religious practise. Again, I am not a lawyer, but it looks like something worth looking at.


    August 22, 2007
  227. You’re right, Bright, you’re not a lawyer, nor, I believe, are the others confusing/distracting first amendment “establishment of religion” issues with first amendment “prohibiting free exercise thereof” issues. It’s a pain to wade through these repeated conflations, and I’m getting cranky about it. Please do some homework. For a rough explanation, just google “establishment of religion” and you’ve got the issue at hand. Then, if you don’t understand the distinction between that and freedom to practice religion, google “religion” and “prohibiting free exercise thereof” and compare. If you want tutoring, it can be had for a fee. I’m struggling between the need to clarify and the need to retain my sanity through hitting the “delete” at so many off point statements/arguments.

    GJ is conflating, as Kiffi noted, criminal behavior/law and establishment of religion (though there are times I’d argue establishment of religion is indeed criminal).

    As for David, Esq.’s conflation of lobbying with establishment, saying it’s “exactly” the same, well, I’ve already addressed that one.

    Somebody pass around the Bean-O, it’s getting a bit thick in here! And I’ll go back to nailing Excelsior Energy on their ex parte contact.

    August 22, 2007
  228. I should have said, “Thank God I am not a lawyer!”
    Carol, your tone is indicative of your stance, which sounds very harsh and belittling of anyone else’s view. I don’t recall requesting your input at all, and don’t much care how guilty you are trying to make us all feel that you are offering your opinion.
    These issues have gone back and forth over the years as different
    people come into power with different points of view. That’s all it is.

    Furthermore, if you would like me to follow your points via online research, at least provide the URLs to which you refer…cuz I am not going on a fishing expedition to help you prove your points.


    August 22, 2007
  229. And I say, Bright, “Thank Dog I am a lawyer.” “Establishment of religion” is a very different constitutional animal than “freedom of religion.” Please note that was not my first post pointing out the many conflations of “establishment clause” with “freedom of religion” issues, and in the prior two I did some explaining and urged people to do homework. Uninformed confusion does not serve the discussion and just gets it offtrack. With google, it takes what, 3.5 seconds to type in “religion establishment Constitution” and a couple minutes to scan some pages to get a feel for it (hours or a lifetime only if you really want to dig in). It’s very easy in this technoage. This is the Constitution, for Dog’s sake! It’s important! It’s something every citizen should have a handle on.

    Freedoms come with responsibilities. Freedom of speech engenders the responsibility of education and duty to speak out!

    Perhaps locallygrown could sponsor a short series on Constitutional Law, bring in some experts and have at it? And set up an after hours boxing ring to “discuss” the finer points? How ’bout it Griff?

    August 22, 2007
  230. I think it’s a great idea to have an expert or two come in on this, good suggestion, Carol. However,as Griff says in #228, this is primarily a place for pleasurable conversation, and although what you say is true, that these are serious issues and that Americans should understand the US Constitution, it is also great to hear what others
    viewpoints are. This is not confusing the issues as you claim, as we will never come to certain agreement and action here. I certainly hope not anyway.

    In the meantime, my own humble opinion, perhaps based too much in idealism, is that laws of the Constitution were meant to hold together this land in peace and harmony, not to divide and conquer, but to promote thoughtful discourse.


    August 22, 2007
  231. David Ludescher said:

    “Establishment and free exercise were correlative and coexistent ideas, representing only different facets of the single great fundamental freedom”. Supreme Court Justice Rutledge in 1947.

    Both Al Roder and Transformation Northfield have the constitutional right to be free from government inquiries into their religious practices unless it implicates a compelling governmental interest.

    August 22, 2007
  232. Christine Stanton said:

    David said #237 “…unless it implicates a compelling governmental interest.” That is a good point. So, what are we so worried about? What is the harm? Granted, they are not in Roder’s office, which I think has been solved. Is there an issue if what David said is the case? Is there anything the prayer ladies are doing that “implicates a compelling governmental interest”?

    I would like to hear from anyone who can answer that last question for me. Believe it or not, I have been following all 237 posts on this topic. Whew! That last question seems to be the one we have not addressed directly.

    Also, Roder’s actions were probably “politically incorrect” but were they more than that based on the information we have?

    August 22, 2007
  233. Griff Wigley said:

    David L, what you wrote helps:

    Both Al Roder and Transformation Northfield have the constitutional right to be free from government inquiries into their religious practices unless it implicates a compelling governmental interest.

    I don’t see any reason for a gov’t inquiry, and evidently neither does the council since they struck it from the ‘list of 14’ items to ask the auditor to look into. So I’ll just keep a teeny bit of my radar tuned for anything to be concerned about just in case…

    Hold on. My radar is picking up a blip…

    August 22, 2007
  234. Griff Wigley said:

    Kiffi wrote:

    Last night the ‘ladies’ called their ‘Creator God’ into prayer, at the open mic.

    Holy Moly! I didn’t attend or see it on NTV but this is nuts.

    I don’t know what the City Charter says about open mic but prayer ain’t what it’s for IMHO. Can I use open mic to tell jokes, read my poetry, do a puppet show, sing while playing air guitar? Even tho I’m fabulous at all of those, I think not.

    I’m guessing Mayor Lansing was caught off guard by this, as it’s probably never happened before. If they attempt to do it again, he should stop it immediately.

    But it does makes me wonder if someone on the Council or city staff knew about it ahead of time.

    No, it’s not worthy of a gov’t investigation but I think I’ll keep my radar lit.

    August 22, 2007
  235. Anne Bretts said:

    I don’t believe the auditor’s office would deal with church/state issues. They are accountants who make sure the books are balanced. It makes sense for them to review the TIF District books and annual reports (which they do routinely, compiling lots of interesting info.)
    The prayer issue questions probably would go to the Attorney General.
    I have googled many cities in Minnesota and most, sadly, are as vague as Northfield about their open mic policies. The League of Minnesota Cities probably has a sample policy for all these incidents, but there aren’t any on their website.
    It would seem, as I noted earlier, that it might be simple just to change the policy slightly (or put one in writing) to say that comments can be on an item not on the agenda but under the authority of the council.

    August 22, 2007
  236. john george said:

    Brother. We can’t pray secretly, as we might have a hidden agenda and appear to be a cult, and now we can’t pray openly, as some people find that offensive. Is that what I’m hearing?

    August 22, 2007
  237. David Ludescher said:

    I suppose as long as the issue was on the agenda as being a possibility of City discussion, they have as much right as anyone else to get up and speak. Without an open mike policy, I don’t see how Mayor Lansing can stop it. Then, it would be content based speech suppression.

    An open mike policy is long overdue. I spent two hours one night at the Council meeting listening to people complain that they didn’t like to live next to college kids.

    August 23, 2007
  238. John George said:
    “Brother. We can’t pray secretly, as we might have a hidden agenda and appear to be a cult, and now we can’t pray openly, as some people find that offensive. Is that what I’m hearing?”


    Again, you are mixing expression with government entanglement / sponsorship / implicated involvement in that expression. This is NOT about free expression, but rather as David L. points out (although in trying to defend the group and Roder) this is about implication of a compelling government interest.

    I would say Roder sponsoring / allowing this to go on for a year represents a compelling government interest. Absent that, then I would say he was creating and recreating for a year a big error in judgment. What sort of top-level municipal professional doesn’t see the easy implication / entanglement / sponsorship difficulties inherent in allowing a group of one religion to pray in a space that I can’t imagine the city or any other group would ever consider an open meeting space?

    How many times do I and others have to write that the group has a right to pray in the city hall as long as government isn’t sponsoring them or denying other groups the same public access?

    It feels to me that you want to see that as some sort of persecution or unjust suppression of Christianity, as your exasperated tone implies. It’s not.

    In fact, you could go down to city hall today with a couple like-minded individuals, sit down and pray. Provided you are not disrupting anything, you have that right. That’s free expression. Asking the city hall to stay open longer, requesting recliners for your group, etc… and having those requests granted by government would probably cross the line of governmental entanglement.

    Do we take this to the Supreme Court? Not necessary. A simple policy for use of meeting space and the open mic would suffice in both cases being discussed here.

    August 23, 2007
  239. Not speaking for John, but I can understand his sentiment based on what people here have expressed, not on what the Constitution says.


    August 23, 2007
  240. Bright,

    I can too. Some comments have unfairly labeled the prayer itself, or the prayer group, as wrong.

    I think most of the contributors, however, have been careful to separate the two issues of religious expression and government sponsorship of that expression.

    I get frustrated with what I feel is an attempt to paint any opposition to this year-long “incident” as some sort of diabolical suppression of religious freedom.

    I think that’s an easy trick to demonize those with whom you might disagree. I would prefer that the disagreement remain rooted in the actual arguments being made.

    Truth be told, I have great differences with religion in general. Most people who know me, or who read my blog, know that. However, I have been trying very hard to keep my opposition to this issue embedded in the very real constitutional issues and principles involved.

    Even though I disagree with this religious group and pretty much all other religious groups on religious grounds, they have a right to practice in private and public venues, provided they are not being sponsored by the government.

    I will defend their right to practice their religion precisely because, if the government can outlaw one religion, the same government can turn around and mandate another religion.

    August 23, 2007
  241. Anne Bretts said:

    OK, I’m confused. At the meeting the other night, were the women actually praying, or talking about praying in City Hall? If they were talking about praying, then they have as much right as Ms. Dirks to speak. If the issue was on the agenda, however, they should have spoken to that item at the appropriate time. If they were praying to their Creator God, than the policy change would have allowed the council to rule them out of compliance.

    August 23, 2007
  242. kiffi summa said:

    Two of the “prayer ladies” spoke about their intentions, and reasons for wanting to pray in City hall, and their lack of desire to disturb anyone. That’s generalized, paraphrased; I don’t have direct quotes.

    One of the ladies then invoked her “Creator God” in prayer. I call that actively praying; many others, who bowed their heads, must have felt that was the case.

    There was no response from the council.

    August 23, 2007
  243. Brendon and all,

    I too have problems with following organized religion, and I also will defend everyone’s right to be free, as long as it doens’t injure another. But, I think that people made up rules for this
    conversation and didn’t let everyone know about them til later.
    I’m only sticking to the Locally Grown rules until I can’t, and then I’ll leave the vacinity, or get kicked off, whichever comes first.

    While it is good to stay close to the letter of the law, it is also important to see what the perceptions are regarding it. Empirical evidence and intuition often arrive at the same place at the same time, each by it’s own path.

    And I might add, there’s often more than a bit of salt in the pepper and pepper in the salt.


    August 23, 2007
  244. john george said:

    Bright- You did well in understanding my frustration. I have read many opinions expressed on this blog, but no one, and I mean no one, has given me any evidence to back up their opinions of what happened for a year. I agree with the Constitutional Separation argument, because that has allowed us to live civilly with one another. What I don’t agree with is the baseless accusations that continue to come out in this discussion. Even Ms. Dierks’, in her presentation, did not give any evidence of impropriety. She only raised questions as to whether it happened or not.

    Just when I thought things were getting down to the real need, a clear policy for use of city hall defined by the city council, which appears to be glaringly absent, Ross comes along with his post #227, refering to, “…exotic cult receiving preferential treatment…”. Good grief!

    I have no problem with your desire to separate state and religion. I wholeheartedly agree with you that each and every religion, however “exotic”, must have the same access to our governing authorities. But no one has come up with any shred of evidence that any religion has been denied access in this case. And no one has given any evidence that this “exotic cult” was given any preferential treatment over any other religion, in spite of everyone’s perceptions of what appears to be inappropriate (I would not call it unconstitutional) actions. That is the dead horse that is being beaten.

    Now, before we all drown in delirium, does anyone have any idea when the council is going to come up with some policies that will actually allow the city government to operate without having to look over their shoulder to duck or take aim at anyone behind them? That is all I’ve been asking for all along.

    August 23, 2007
  245. kiffi summa said:

    Might it be that no other group has been denied access because no other group has PRESUMED that it might be APPROPRIATE to ask for a room in city hall in which to pray?

    There are some societal rules which don’t need a specific policy to govern each action because we understand the framework of our society.

    Can’t we give this poor “horse”, at least, a break …….and agree that there will be no basic agreement here on the underlying issues.? Some people think their beliefs have a right to “transform” others; some people believe in choice.

    August 24, 2007
  246. David Ludescher said:

    John #250: I understood Ross’s reference to an “exotic cult” (#226) to be a reference to the Chamber of Commerce getting “unequal access” to City staff, and not to Transformation Northfield. It was good-natured humor bred of our familarity.

    The room policy is necessary to clarify the “access” issue. In addition, Transformation Northfield has now made open mike an issue. Griff’s point is well-taken. Do we really want Griff to be singing at the City Council meetings?

    It might not be worthy of another post but maybe until things settle down a little bit, open mike should be abandoned or put at the end of the meeting. (Summas might be the only ones with enough tenacity to stay to the end; so open mike might be real short, er…uhm… shorter.)

    August 24, 2007
  247. Anne Bretts said:

    Kiffi, so what you’re saying is, “We agree to disagree; we’re right and you’re wrong.” And then you summarize the differences in a way that lays down a new challenge.
    Perhaps we can just agree to disagree, respect the views of all…..and let it go at that.

    August 24, 2007
  248. john george said:

    David- Thanks for the clarification to the “exotic cult”. Thats the problem with inside jokes. You have to be inside to get them. I know I am guilty of using that venue too often. My kids used to tell me ( and still do, for that matter) that most people don’t know what I’m talking about when I go there. I guess being a “Chamber” could infer some type of secret inner location.

    Amen to the room use and open mike policy!

    As far as Griff singing at the mike, I would opine that his singing may be better than some of the things we were subjected to at the last council meeting, but I would trust your judgement on that.

    Kiffe- That thought on presumption is excellent and well taken. I guess that anyone who would take a position to change the status quo is opening themselves up to suspicion and criticism. Being in the public service as long as you folks have, I’m sure you have a collection of experiences to demonstrate that.

    As far as a basic agreement between people, you are 100% correct. I would hope that there is room for all positions to express themselves without fear of recrimination. Time is a very good test of ideas.

    August 24, 2007
  249. kiffi summa said:

    Anne as Brendon often says, you are interpreting what I said; I think he actually says “over conceptualizing”…………..

    August 24, 2007
  250. Kiffi,

    I used the pretentious phrase “over-aggressively contextualizing”…

    What was I thinking? There’s probably a more Mark Twain manner of saying the same thing…

    August 24, 2007
  251. Anne Bretts said:

    Kiffi, you’re smart, principled…and you have a sense of humor.
    You’re telling me I have a right to my own opinion even while you are deciding how I must contextualize your comments in order to make that opinion.
    I will go back to agreeing to disagree and respecting all points of view. And of course, you will need to have the last word…so have at it, with my utmost respect.

    August 24, 2007
  252. David Ludescher said:

    We have reached quite a few agreements, and I hope that City Hall is still paying attention:

    1. City Hall offices should not be used by anyone not on staff unsupervised.
    2. If someone wants to use City Hall space, availability should exist for everyone.
    3. If groups or individuals have political agendas, they should make those agendas known.
    4. If someone has a concern with an issue at City Hall, he or she should be encouraged try to approach City staff to make the concern known so that it can be addressed without a public display.
    5. Personal religious beliefs have no place in establishing public policy.
    6. Public policy should not try to control personal religious beliefs.

    Lastly, I think that we all agree that a couple of “I’m sorry”‘s, “I made a mistake”, “I wasn’t thinking clearly”, and “I wish I had done it differently” would go a long way to helping us live with our inevitable differences of opinions.

    August 24, 2007
  253. Anne Bretts said:

    Thanks, David, for steering this back to the issue. Nice summary. We all do agree on so much, might be good to stay focused on that.

    August 24, 2007
  254. kiffi summa said:

    This is why, IMHO, it is sometimes necessary to ” have the last word”……………

    If WE had not, we’d all be English!

    August 24, 2007
  255. I Am part English and nobody’s last word is going to change that.

    If I put myslef in Al Roder’s place, and a group came to me, whom I believed was trustworthy, I would give them access to my office because I do not want to deny them access, I trust them, and there is no policy or law stating otherwise.

    What does AR have to apologize for? The open access has been there, prolly long before Al came on board.

    Now, in a reactive state, people are suddenly concerned. Where was everyone when the actual policy should have been laid forth?

    Unless there was an actual breach of policy or law, I don’t require
    any apologies or admittance of possible perceived wrongdoing from anybody.


    August 24, 2007
  256. Griff Wigley said:

    David L, I agree with Anne — I think you nailed it nicely in #258:

    We have reached quite a few agreements, and I hope that City Hall is still paying attention…

    Maybe someone here should carry that to the next open mic!

    As for this:

    Do we really want Griff to be singing at the City Council meetings?

    Sister Mary Francis, my 8th-grade teacher, would’ve answered that vociferously in the negative. She made a point one time of gently asking a row of us boys to not sing quite so loudly at Mass… something about being a little more meek and mild.

    August 24, 2007
  257. john george said:

    Griff- Hopefully, your voice has matured some since you were in the 8th. grade. I once heard a teacher express this sentiment, “All kids leaving the 6th. grade should be locked up for a couple years until they get over it.” I still say your singing might be better than some of the things we were subjected to at the last council meeting. I also heard someone opine once that when a kid’s arm pits and breath start smelling, you know you are in for trouble. It could possibly be argued that some people never outgrow this stage.

    Bright- Thank you for your post #262. I wholeheartedly agree.

    August 24, 2007
  258. kiffi summa said:

    O.K. All you guys who have been saying forever that we need to have a policy for the use of city hall property………..I’ve been waiting for you to discover that we do have guidance on these issues, as we do on most, and that those guidelines are in the city code.

    It seems that some staff at city hall are not too familiar with that doc, either, or Anne would have gotten some references in her Phone calls to city hall.

    Please read: Northfield City Code: Sec.2-126 (b) Use of public property
    and Sec.2-126 (c) Obligations to resident

    I fully expect you will argue as to the interpretation of the Code Have at it……………

    August 26, 2007
  259. Anne Bretts said:

    Thank you, Kiffi. How thoughtful of you to do the research on this. Since you’ve found the information and it appears even City Hall folks didn’t realize it was there, perhaps you could link, quote or at least summarize the information, especially since you feel it is important. I’m sure your many friends here would appreciate that gesture. Or perhaps you can ask Griff to add the info.

    August 26, 2007
  260. Griff Wigley said:

    Thx, Kiffi. Here’s the code from this page:

    Sec. 2-126. Fair and equal treatment.

    (b) Use of public property. No public official shall request or permit the use of city-owned vehicles, equipment, materials, or property for personal convenience or profit, except when such services are available to the public generally or are provided as municipal policy or by employment contract for the use of such public official.

    (c) Obligations to resident. No public official shall grant any special consideration, treatment, or advantage to any resident beyond that which is available to every resident.

    August 26, 2007
  261. Griff Wigley said:

    As for open mic, here’s what I found in the Code for the City Charter:

    Section 4.3. Rules of Procedure and Quorum.

    The council shall determine its own rules and order of business. A majority of all council members shall constitute a quorum to do business, but a smaller number may adjourn from one meeting to the next. The council may by ordinance provide a means by which a minority may compel the attendance of absent members.
    (Ord. No. 739, § 4.3, 11-6-2000)

    Section 4.4. Hearing of the Public.

    At each regular meeting of the council a time shall be set aside for the hearing of citizens.
    (Ord. No. 545, § 4.4, 1-2-1990; Ord. No. 739, § 4.4, 11-6-2000)

    August 26, 2007
  262. Hey, Kiffi! First of all, I am about to realize I cannot believe anything I read or hear around here or anywhere for that matter.
    Second of all, I think you are right. I could leave it there, but
    I will say what I think you are right about…you could argue this one from here to Bemidji…especially that bit about “personal convenience” as it applies to the three prayer ladies. I guess I’d be on the side of it being sort of inconvenient for them.


    August 26, 2007
  263. Anne Bretts said:

    Thanks again for the fast work. It seems the City Hall folks weren’t so far off the mark, since this doesn’t really clarify which spaces are open to public use and what constitutes public use, etc. Guess the policies still needs to be reviewed, clarified, and posted where all can see.
    But good news Griff, looks like your open mic concert is on! Hey, perhaps a karaoke night is just the incentive the council needs to get both policies resolved and restore some harmony!

    August 26, 2007
  264. On second thought, I think I might be on the other side. I need to see some legal precedent. Duh.


    August 26, 2007
  265. john george said:

    Bright- Here is some legal precedent-

    “Despite clear admonitions from the Supreme Court, some school districts, municipal governments, and courts continue to adopt facilities use policies that allow broad access by the community and yet singularly exclude “religious uses.” Almost invariably, such policies are also justified by the mistaken notion that permitting such uses would violate the Establishment Clause. In actuality, this practice proceeds from the fundamentally flawed premise that the government can define the boundaries of a limited public forum along expressly religious lines. This premise cannot be reconciled with basic principles of Free Speech.”

    This is a summary of Supreme Court decision 121 S. Ct. 2093.

    Griff- You started this blog 08/06. Today is 08/26. So it has taken us 20 days to dig this policy out? Hmmmmmm. Must be some indication of its importance. After reading this, I still do see justification for most of the accusations that have been expressed on this site. I think Bright expressed it well in her post (Blast it! I forgot to write doen the number! I liked to have never fournd it as it is!) “So then, how do you get conclusive evidence of something not done if it was in fact, not done?”

    August 26, 2007
  266. Anne Bretts said:

    John, as I understand it, the issue isn’t that people want religious uses banned from City Hall (though some may) but that they had the feeling that one religious group was getting favored treatment, which would not be OK.
    Again, it seems that a better room use policy will handle it. As for the open mic, it does seem appropriate to limit comments to items that are within the jurisdiction of the council. That means anything from talks on global warming to Griff’s singing debut, could be eliminated. Prayer wouldn’t be banned because it’s an expression of religion, but because it isn’t something requiring council discussion or action or acknowledgment.
    Happily the council moves slowly enough that Griff may have time for a concert before the rules change.

    August 26, 2007
  267. kiffi summa said:

    Wouldn’t you know it – written proof of wrong doing and Anne says it’s inconclusive – Now comes John George, with another expected remark…

    “Griff: it has taken us 20 days to dig this policy out? Hmmmmmm. Must be some indication of its importance. “

    Actually JG it didn’t take 20 days – but some of us wanted to see if perchance the great digger might “dig” it up and if so, would he ackowledge its existance. Now that the diggings’ done you call it unimportant. Sort of what we thought… you took the low road. Must be a bible verse covering that – I’ll ask round.

    As to Anne’s misguided comments…

    She said: “seems the City Hall folks weren’t so far off the mark, since this doesn’t really clarify which spaces are open to public use and what constitutes public use, etc. Guess the policies still needs to be reviewed, clarified, and posted where all can see.

    I’m sure miss anne would be happy to wordsmith any text on this subject being offered by legal counsul for incorporation into the city’s code.

    Anne, your confused read of the code, or determination to be right – are what seem far off the mark. The code doesn’t deal with WHO may use public spaces [but, I’ll deal with that later] What it does, is state in clear terms, guidelines for staff’s NOT using public property inappropriately. That’sall!

    Of the recent flap… not too egregious an act on its surface… had it not been for the futile attempt at coverup. Why so deceptive? Is there a back story here? Only the most naive would conclude that Al never thought it might be questionable. C’mon! Any bets on if he asked, if he been denied?

    City Code: Sec. 2-126 (b) Use of public property deals with the prohibitions of using public property for personal use by any member of the staff, NOT… what public property is covered or what offices might be fair game for campers or squatters or friends of certain staff persons.

    As to Public Space… and its USE by citizens for any purpose other than a casual walk down the hall to conduct business with the city… there’s no need for a policy voted on by the City Council.

    Civil conduct dictates a visitor’s actions on pubic or private property.

    In fact, demonstrations are allowed in the state capital ‘s rotunda – on the capital steps, or on the capital grounds, when there are no KEEP OFF THE GRASS signs posted… and these rules do not require more than defacto policy.

    I contend what’s good enough for the State Capital building is good enough for our city hall.

    Anne Bretts and John George and others who have been crying for policy are either missing the point… or, are using this device to deflect any discussion that the City Administrator operated outside appropriate boundaries.

    As to the violation of those boundaries of official conduct… to me, these include:

    1) Privately and secretly allowing members of his church or an associate church group use of his office.

    2) Failure to inform the Council of the prayers presence for some nine months … saying, there was no concern voiced [sic] it must be no problem…

    3) Proclaimed the issue to be resolved… when in reality his so called resolution [moving the prayer group to another location] occurred just mere minutes before Ms Dirks went to the open Mic.

    4) Attempts to turn the focus of Dirks’ remarks back on her and contending a serious failure of the Boards and Commissions process a blood red herring.

    For my money, the Boards and Commissions are representatives of the citizens… advising the Council… delving more deeply into many issues than the Council might be able to devote time to. Additionally, Boards and Commissions are served by the staff, who’s principle role with them is more that of provider of background information than guiding hands… certainly not publicly accusing them of improper conduct. If anyone is positioned to make such a charge, it would be the Mayor and or some concerned Council member… but hopefully only after there was strong evidence of such improper conduct.

    I’m disappointed in Mr. Roder’s handling of this situation, and this blog’s repeated use of the “no policy” defense. Mr. Roder’s religious affiliation is of no concern to me nor should it be of anyone’s, providing he keeps his official status separate from any religious observance. I’m particular dissatisfied with the unsettling disturbance of these and other ongoing rifts in the governing process especially when there is so much heavy lifting necessary right now in City Hall.

    One might ask, will the Budget be addressed legally, on time as required by statute? The rebuilding of east Woodley has chewed up three meetings and may only be decided later this week (week of Aug. 26) at a special meeting. Citizens are still crying “foul” over the Rental Ordinance, which may come back for further explanation and another Public Hearing. There’s the embattled Chief of Police v the City Administrator – Council v the Mayor on Liquor Store issues… Points of Order improperly invoked… confidential materials leaked to the Newspaper… leaked confidential materials received by the Newspaper… Accusations by one Council Person to another inferring that some don’t read the packet. Attempts at forced feeding by staff of library expansion plans to the Planning Commission for inclusion in the Comprehensive Plan, and on this thread, for some weeks now there’s been too much diversion of effort because of the issue of Church and state violations… and this after Tracy commented on August 7… in comment #2

    “Hmmm….. I don’t see any problem here, or any church/state issues, unless the City Administrator allows this group to meet for prayer, but not Buddhists or Muslims or what have you.”

    I wonder, 270 or so comments later, if Tracy no longer sees an issue?

    Judy Dirks had no need to “tip off “ the City Administrator of her dissatisfaction or her intent to voice it. There seemed to be no attempt by him to maintain an arm’s length” approach to his special interests

    And, it doesn’t appear that such an arms length approach is what the Elk River parent church espouses… nor the Transform Northfield – or Rejoice Northfield – both of which seem to me to be entangled in this unseemly involvement with our City government.

    There’s no “missing policy“ issue here. There’s only misleading rhetoric from 2 or 3 die hard protectors of this willful church group.

    Take heart, we did manage to purchase a new toro lawnmower with not too much controversy.

    August 27, 2007
  268. victor summa said:

    Opps! Slipped up again – I comment so infrequently that I often forget to change the name – I’m sure you can tell from the tone of this latest comment, #273, that it’s mine not kiffi’s


    August 27, 2007
  269. kiffi summa said:

    The spool stands tall and empty.

    The tangled skein lies on the ground between us; you on one side, we on the other.

    Pull on any loop and the knots get tighter.

    It will not resolve…………….

    “Chart Na”

    August 27, 2007
  270. Anne Bretts said:

    Ah, but therein lies the challenge. Standing on opposite sides and pulling against each other does tighten the knots. Only when both sides agree to loosen their grip and work together thoughtfully can the knots be undone.
    You might also say a bridge only works if it reaches both sides. And a jumprope needs both ends held if a friend is to be able to jump in the middle. Some see this thread as boxing match, with the goal to bloody each other until one falls over in surrender. I prefer to see it as a friendly game of catch, with room for everyone to join in and have a little fun.

    August 27, 2007
  271. After reading Victor’s post #273, I began to wonder again if there isn’t something else behind all of this. In Chicago, we all know the story of another Al, who was convicted of tax evasion, mostly because he couldn’t be caught for any of his crimes.

    Just wondering, because all I know is what I have read here.


    August 27, 2007
  272. David Ludescher said:

    Griff: Regarding post #262, did you have any volunteers in mind?

    August 27, 2007
  273. Need to add “alleged” before the word “crimes” in #277 regarding
    Al Capone.


    August 27, 2007
  274. john george said:

    Kiffe- Re. my comment about the use policy, I’m sorry I did not make my thought clear. It was a litle sarcasm directed at city officials for appearing to not know about it, per Anne’s research. I’m sorry I tried to make a point by going through the back door. It evidently failed. I think the policy IS important. The other thing I would ask you, Kiffe, is, if you knew about this all along, why did you not share it in an earlier post? Is there another “secret agenda” going on here?

    I also think the policy is clear. What I don’t think is clear is the accusation that there was a violation of the policy. This quote from the policy, “… (use of) for personal convenience or profit, except when such services are available to the public generally…” makes that clear. It would appear that the intent of this policy is to allow use of city property as long as there is not denial of use to any specific group. I have asked for evidence of a violation of this phrase and have been given nothing. Just because you were not aware of this going on does not mean that others were not and that the prayer was being done secretly and covertly.

    According to the Supreme Court decision I cited, it is apparent that denial of use cannot be done because of religious content of that use. It seems that you are denying the existence of this ruling in your rush to accuse AR, the council, and Transformation Northfield of a violation of the separation clause. I would even postulate that denying use of this property because of religious content is a violation of the civil rights of anyone or group who wishes to use it in this manner.

    Anne, your opinion of use of the open mike at council meetings is a good one. I think there is common sense alone to warrant limitation of the mike to opinions on city business, and I don’t think there is any violation of rights for the city council to set these guidelines, unless there is some other legal precedent to rule otherwise. I know that in saying this, I will probably never get a chance to hear Griff sing publicly. I was even thinking of he and Victor doing a duet!

    August 27, 2007
  275. Anne Bretts said:

    Bright, be careful about basing your conclusions only on what you read here. As Griff points out frequently, this isn’t a news site, but a discussion thread. The discussions are long on opinion and speculation but short on facts. That’s not bad, it’s just the way it is.
    For example it took nearly a month and nearly 300 posts just to get the policy stated, not that it helped much.
    I’ve stated my views before, so I won’t repeat them. But I’ll add one practical consideration.
    I just find it hard to believe a man of Mr. Roder’s age would take a new job and relocate his family and so quickly launch an effort to establish a city-government-based religion, putting his career and finances and reputation at risk. It just doesn’t make sense. Those may be the actions of someone so entrenched in his job and his role in the community that he takes his power for granted, not the deliberate actions of someone trying to pay bills, save for retirement, survive the politics of an election cycle and new council and deal with a list of contentious government issues.
    I can understand that he didn’t look at the space use policy, but maybe that’s something that should be part of orientation for new councilors, commissioners and staff. (I guess this is the reason all those annoying signs are posted around public buildings to explain what seems obvious).
    When added to everything else I’ve read and researched and seen myself, that reality just helps me lean toward mistake instead of malevolence.
    BTW, I’m not trying to prove my point, just explaining it. Feel free to disagree. After all, opinions are like navels and noses, we all have’em, but they don’t all have to match for them to work.

    August 27, 2007
  276. Anne – I’ve seen for myself, commented on, written about and sued the City (with failure and success both) regarding their violations of state law and their own ordinances, so I expect them to be unaware at times. I’ve also dealt with other administrators and have been amazed at their behavior. Given my experience with other administrators, I wouldn’t be so quick to presume he knows the laws governing cities, or how things “should” be handled culturally — as I understand it, he’s not from here. What’s Roder’s history? What’s his record in dealing with similar or similarly contentious issues?
    As an aside, I saw in the STrib recently that Scott Neal, former Nfld. City Administrator, has proposed slashing Eden Prairie’s housing budget. Many in this wealthy city are very upset at his proposal and he’s got a fight on his hands. Roder’s in the midst of a hornet’s nest here. What does Roder’s track record say about his judgment and ability to handle conflict and stand up to intimidation and influence?

    August 27, 2007
  277. Griff Wigley said:

    David L, no, I didn’t have a volunteer in mind to carry your summary to open mic. But now that you mention it, I think you’d be perfect!

    August 29, 2007
  278. Anne Bretts said:

    John, looks like you and the prayer ladies are in the finest tradition of Northfield. I was listening to MPR today as two historians discussed the state’s 150th birthday. When the moderator asked why so many hundreds of thousands of people came to such a cold place so long ago, (there was an astronomical increase in just a few years) one of the historians pointed to John North, saying that he and many others came here with the main goal of changing the world by the ‘transformation of people through religion.’
    No kidding. Doesn’t change anything in the current discussion, so we don’t need to start over, and I don’t need a whole history lesson. It was
    just a very interesting comment.

    August 29, 2007
  279. john george said:

    Anne- Plenty of history for me! Thanks for sharing that tidbit.

    Bright- Re. “a carnation”. With all the “retro” styles in vogue right now, does this mean a reimergence of the flower children?

    August 29, 2007
  280. Johnny G-very funny. But, yes, you are right, the flower children
    came back, but this time they are flour children, they grow organic corn jokes.

    August 30, 2007
  281. kiffi summa said:

    Griff: as I said ” Chart Na” …………it’s the only reasonable response.

    Isn’t this one over yet??????????

    August 30, 2007
  282. john george said:

    Bright- Organic corn jokes? Hmmmmm. At least you didn’t call me a flake. Remember, I’ve got Ethyl Knoll on my side!

    August 31, 2007
  283. Griff Wigley said:

    In today’s Nfld News: Charter Commission rebukes council for criticizing Dirks

    Criticism from city officials, directed at Northfielder Judy Dirks, isn’t sitting well with members of the Charter Commission. The remarks, made after Dirks addressed the council Aug. 6 regarding prayer group meetings held in the city administrator’s office, were out of line, the commission said Tuesday. In a resolution to be sent to the city council, it noted the city’s charter guarantees the right to speak as a private citizen.

    September 22, 2007
  284. Ross Currier said:

    My thanks to the Charter Commission for affirming the right of Northfield citizens to express their opinions.

    This relatively obscure group of citizens is performing an important role in protecting our basic freedoms as Americans.

    September 22, 2007
  285. David Ludescher said:

    Are council members being rebuked for exercising their right of free speech?

    September 23, 2007
  286. victor summa said:

    David L. asks :

    “Are council members being rebuked for exercising their right of free speech?”

    The elected officials have certain privileges – and certain responsibilities. Amendments (changes) to the Charter are initiated via precise process as spelled out in the Charter.

    While individual citizens may speak to any Board or Commission regarding any concern they might have… I doubt that you’ll find precedent for individual members of the Council flexing the muscle of their seat and going directly to the Charter Comm in session, and asking for changes.

    Changes to the Charter are initiated two ways as I understand… one by vote and request then of the Council… and: 2) by the Charter on their own initiative.

    Undue pressure from even an uninformed Council persons such as Jon Denison is likely out of order – and in fact might be (should be?) subject to the Council’s rebuke… talking about rebuking!

    September 23, 2007
  287. Anne Bretts said:

    My goodness, so much rebuking…Issue after issue the discussion here turns to attacks and rebukes. It’s no wonder that so many local elections fail to draw enough candidates to even have a contest. Who would want to endure the constant criticism and character assassination that seems to surround those working and volunteering inside City Hall.
    If Ms. Dirks and the mayor can speak as private citizens, then Mr. Denison should be able to do the same. If Mr. Dennison was speaking as a councilor and not as a private citizen and if he made a formal request for a change in the charter, then it would the proper thing to rule the request out of order and the charitable thing to do to explain to him his error and suggest the proper process. Yes, he should have sought some advice from some wise elder before he made the move. (I shall avoid the temptation to suggest he could not find one.) But no, democracy is not being toppled from its foundations because a newcomer used an innapropriate gesture to deal with an appropriate concern.
    I find it hard to believe Mr. Denison would be interested in undermining his colleagues or pressuring anyone, though I can easily believe he would be frustrated enough to explore any option for ending the current dysfunction.
    As for the charter commission action, I went back and listened to the comments at the end of the council meeting where Ms. Dirks spoke. No one questioned her right to speak as an individual. People expressed disappointment that she chose the open mike as her first step in trying to resolve a problem that was resolved as soon as it was mentioned. Again, the concern was the choice of public attack and rebuke rather than simple inquiry and comment and collaboration and conflict resolution.
    That lack of civility seems the really disturbing pattern right now, and the obstacle to dealing with the many problems on the city’s plate.
    It seems to me that if you want someone fired, get the grounds and have him fired. If he’s an elected official, run against him, or organize his constituents to sit down and talk to him about his actions.
    It just seems a little more respect and compassion wouldn’t hurt. We’ve tried the attack and rebuke approach and in the words of Dr. Phil “How’s that working for you?”
    We are not talking about brutal government death squads torturing people for speaking out against tyranny. We are talking about our friends and neighbors trying to earn a living or serve the public, discussing the order in which to put things on an agenda and which chairs in which room are appropriate for thinking kind thoughts.
    It just seems a little global perspective is in order.

    September 23, 2007
  288. victor summa said:

    A little explanation seems in order. Crossed threads!

    When David Ludescher commented on the Charter Commission’s action and “rebuking ” the council… I jumped to the conclusion that both Ross and David’s remarks were speaking about the yet untold part of the recent Charter Comm gathering. What’s that? Well, while the News evidently was there to report on the controversial rebuke of Judy Dirks (Council’s freedom of speech?) hence their rebuke of the Council… It (the News) did not mention Councilor Denison’s visit to the Charter the same meeting… to request separate actions from the Charter Comm. 1) changing the Charter to exclude the Mayor from his/her role in the setting of the CC agenda. 2) protesting the four fifths requirement that temporarily derailed the Woodley project (evidently unaware that this was a statutory requirement – thus NF’s Charter has no standing)… so, my remarks, while confusing, were really directed at Denison’s action… but not intended by David’s remarks to be an issue.

    What’s sort of curious here is the recent rash of council and staff upheavals and missteps… as these have been addressed on LG seem to have so many crossed threads, that my confusion is perhaps not without some understanding. My mistake – but relevance to the actions reported here is obvious.

    September 23, 2007
  289. Anne Bretts said:

    As soon as I hit send, I realized that I was guilty of using the same mean-spirited criticism as I was condemning. Gosh, these glass houses are hard to maintain.
    I realize that the people on this site are good people who want the best for Northfield. But we also are, for many people, their only view of how residents speak to and about each other.
    I am not so much angry as frustrated and disappointed that a town with so much potential and so many talents can get so twisted up in personalities and details that there is precious little focus on goals and accomplishments and moving the conversation forward.
    I read through the old threads here and see the same complaints over and over. I just wish we could present a more open and welcoming tone and focus more on how to solve problems than on whose fault they are.

    September 23, 2007
  290. kiffi summa said:

    Anne is correct that these discussion threads are very repetitive, especially one this long.

    But, Anne, I think one reason is that there is no response from a “change agent”………i.e. when the “prayer ladies” are asked, in all sincerity, to comment on their goals, that request is ignored.
    That response from them may have cleared some misgivings.

    The lack of response to the disruption of the community process, from the council, who for three months has been saying, “just wait. we can’t talk about it”, has also caused discomfort on the community level. And yet, more and more complicating facets keep erupting.

    It is amazing to me that the council, in this small town, where most of them know many people, cannot find a way to speak humanely and within legality to their community; they are cognizant of the disruption they have caused. But they have not been able to find it within themselves,,,,,,,singularly or collectively…….. to ease the problems.

    Is this why “don’t talk about religion or politics” became such a common cautionary phrase?

    September 24, 2007
  291. Griff Wigley said:

    According to today’s Nfld News, Mayor Lee Lansing has sent a letter of apology to Judy Dirks: Council reflects on criticism of Dirks

    I find it odd that neither City Administrator Al Roder nor Councilors Noah Cashman and Scott Davis made any comment at Monday’s meeting about this. Do they agree they erred? Do they plan to personally apologize? If I were on the Council, I’d have asked for some public discussion, ie, “Scott, Noah, Al, what’s your take on this?” I can understand, given the state of affairs, why it didn’t happen but the apparent lack of transparency on this is troubling to me.

    Judy Dirks has a letter to the editor in today’s paper, too:

    The dozens of supportive phone calls, letters and personal comments that I have received all helped to heal the hurt I felt after being unfairly criticized by the city administrator and two councilmen after I spoke at the open microphone at the Aug. 6 City Council meeting.

    October 20, 2007
  292. Ross Currier said:

    Griff –

    Although the Charter Commission stated quite clearly that it thought Judy was owed an apology, I sure didn’t hear one…just a bunch of statements about it being an “unfortunate situation” or something like that…vagueness.

    I’m glad that Mayor Lansing sent an official letter of apology.

    – Ross

    October 20, 2007
  293. Griff Wigley said:

    Councilor Scott Davis, could you comment here?

    October 20, 2007
  294. victor summa said:

    Councilor Scott Davis, don’t comment here. Can-o-worms!

    While I’d appreciate comments in response to the Charter “rebuke” – If I were on the council I’d not comment on this blog.

    Perhaps on my blog or to the Newspaper’s request… but best… at the council, from the dais.

    October 20, 2007
  295. Griff Wigley said:

    On our podcast yesterday, Councilor Scott Davis discussed Judy Dirks’ and the council’s handling of the ‘prayer’ issue. It starts at the 18:45 mark.

    October 25, 2007

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