Denison, Iowa

DenisonIowa.jpgOkeh, I finally got around to reading “Denison, Iowa”, by Pulitzer Prize-winning author Dale Maharidge. The following is a “book report”, a sad substitute for my vision of “the book club at the bar” with David Ludescher.

There are many possible story lines that I could cull and feature from the book. There’s the difference in the rainfall between east and west Iowa and its impact on the regional economies, the spiritual awakening of the Plains Indians that was manifested in the Ghost Dance and culminated in the massacre at Wounded Knee, the impact of the opening of a Walmart on family-owned businesses in Denison, the discussion about arts and economic development surrounding the Donna Reed Festival, and, my favorite tangent, the national debate over the tariff between the free market Democrats and protectionist Republicans that was settled by the election of 1892.

In fact, if one were to identify the primary thread or dominant theme in this complex weaving of the many potential story lines in a small town in the midwest, it would most likely be the discrimination that the Latino immigrants faced. However, that’s not the story that I’m going to share in this blog post.

Rather, of greatest interest to me is how a handful of people can make the major decisions for a community and the apparently limited amount of citizen input that is required to validate those decisions as legitimate.

There were three major civic projects that moved from concept to implementation during the period covered by the book. They were the downtown streetscape project, the location and creation of a community center, and the remodeling of Der Denison Herold building.

Denison, a town of about 8,000 in western Iowa, was suffering from a number of familiar woes: the changes in the agricultural economy, the loss of jobs to overseas competitors, and the shifting of purchasing from local retailers to the big boxes. Each of these woes contributed, at least in part, to the visible outcome: increasing business vacancies on main street. To some degree, each one of the three projects was originally intended to strengthen the economic vitality of what they call “Uptown” in Denison.

The Mayor appeared to be the champion of the streetscape plan. It was one of a number of ideas that had come out the process known as the 2020 Executive Committee Plan and he seemed determined to make it happen. At least according to the author of the book, many downtown business owners thought that the money would be better spent on the insides and outsides of downtown buildings or programs providing financial support to existing, expanding or entrepreneurial businesses.

The concept for the community center was a little harder to follow. It started out as a gathering place in downtown, then morphed into a conference center, and finally ended up as a combination banquet facility and golf club. The financial structure was set by the city’s leaders to be $1.5 million in private donations and $1 million in public tax dollars. One downtown booster worked hard to get the community center located in the historic Germania Opera House, for an estimated cost of $500,000. He was swimming against the current, however, the Building Official, in a conversation with the City Administrator, said about the efforts to save another historic building (Der Denison Herold), “If you want my opinion, a bulldozer should have been used on it”.

Although a smaller project, Der Denison Herold is at the center of the discrimination story. The Latino contractor was the low bidder for the construction work. However, a contractor with close ties to the group pushing the conference center golf club offered to do the work on the Herold building for material costs only, thus undercutting the Latino contractor. In another fascinating twist to this tale, the contractor also proposed donating the value of this free labor to the golf club project.

One of the citizens asking the toughest questions about these projects was a local entrepreneur and community booster, Dick Knowles. He started out by running the newspaper and eventually bought it. He came up with a plan to keep more of the agricultural money in the town and raised money to start up the first packing plant in town. He also lured the U. S. Department of Labor to locate Job Corps in Denison.

Dick Knowles accused the Mayor and City Administrator of not being willing to tell the whole story up front and changing things as they went along. According to the book, one city official called Knowles and his supporters “Dickheads”.

The questions that people were asking included who had come up with the cost estimates, where the community center should be located for maximum economic benefit, why the current plans didn’t tie to previous recommendations, and how the operating assumptions for the banquet facility were created. According to the author, the Mayor and City Administrator dismissed the people asking the questions as “negatives” who were against everything.

The streetscape project was undertaken, and only half completed before the city ran out of money. The conference center and golf club were built across the river and four miles away from the downtown. After a guest column in the local newspaper and a quiet call to the federal government (at least according to the book), the Latino contractor finally won the bid for the remodeling of Der Denison Herold building.

When these projects were first conceptualized, Denison had no municipal debt. The community had a pay-as-you-go mentality rooted in the conservative culture. By the time the projects were finished, the town was only about $1 million below its debt cap. If these projects don’t produce the desired economic stimulus, the city has few additional options.

One can certainly admire the efforts of a small group of people trying to make something happen in a cautious, conservative community. If I had gotten the feeling that the majority of citizens supported the decisions of their leaders on these projects, taking the financial risks to pursue them might have seemed right. However, the book left you with a sense that a handful of people were betting with taxpayers’ money on horses that looked to many folks to be lame.

The Mayor and the Council were voted out of office and the City Administrator moved on to bigger and better things.


  1. victor summa said:

    ROSS AND THE MAHARIDGE BOOK – some relevance

    Kiffi discovered the Maharidge book late in August, googling the Newspaper in Denison, curious what she’d read of that town’s experience with Council and Staff.

    NOTE: Denison is the former employer of our City Manager.

    Determined to get to the root of Northfield’s problems and thinking a good source should be the Denison newspaper possibly reading about the town’s earlier experiences with Al Roder, we started our quest. Denison has a city government structure similar to Northfield’s, including a mayor and city council and yes, as Ross points out a building official… all the necessaries for a Shakespearean comedy or tragedy… you decide.

    Ross did not add names to roles. I’ll touch on that so you’re all somewhat oriented.

    You’ll recall Ross did mention Dick Knowles. Kiffi and I visited him in Denison over DJJD week – actually we visited Denison with the intentions of scouring the paper’s archives and contacted Knowles, the former owner of the paper. He was interested in or quest and helped us gain some insight into the pattern that’s playing nightly now in Northfield.

    I should hasten to say, this pattern is not unique (my opinion) to Staff carryovers from Dennison to Northfield… It is in fact a pattern of community development (more my opinion) in the 21st century and the last 50 years of the last century too – when city staff are getting overeducated and under inspired with the potential for doing the right thing, when the bombastic thing… might look better on their resume. Now that’s just my opinion!

    Knowles both welcomed us and gave us a variety of tours and insights… and set up some meetings from characters in the Maharidge book. After spending much of the first day in their Carnegie Library viewing past editions of the Bulletin and Review, we met Luis Navar, the builder Ross mentioned. Luis, a youngish U.S. citizen immigrated from Mexico via California… found Denison a number of years back and settled there because of packing industry jobs. Now a small time developer, Knowles will tell you and Maharidge certainly alluded to it; Luis was the victim of the “Rig-a-deal”.

    There’s, more about that in the closing chapters of Maharidge’s book

    The Denison saga is interesting reading in its own right – but the crossovers to Northfield and the current plethora of discontent here is by far the more interesting and important thread to connect to our dilemma.

    I must digress to explain to you my theory of top level staff and their goals… whether working in a Denison or a Northfield. One word. Motivation.

    A paragraph or two back I made the remark: when the bombastic thing might look better on their resume.

    Few would challenge that Northfield has many idyllic qualities. To paraphrase: “Denison Iowa is no Northfield Minnesota”.

    Still it is a pleasant community with a downtown of some note, smallish, quaint and middle American – no visible tragic background… although Maharidge will tell you of the bigotry that ran like rivulets of dark water down the main streets in years past.

    Odd as it might sound with third world migration to the U. S. today, German immigrants were playing the Hispanic’s and other’s minority roles in those days.

    So, today… as saner idealists attempt to reorganize America with an emphasis on “sustainability” you might say Denison is not too bad a place to settle and become the 100K a year City Manager, kick back and live in lovely rural Iowa, watching the fields grow green and the community prosper slowly… even in hard times… if development is pursued with patience.

    There’s the rub!

    No midtown Manhattan… even a far distance from Chicago’s Loop… or Pittsburgh’s Golden Triangle… but compared to DT Baghdad (I frequently compare situations to Baghdad when I want to point out how we have it here or there… if for example “there” is Denison) I guess my point is, make something of what you’ve got – don’t scowl away your life looking for greener pastures.

    We were talking about Staff – and our own Al Roder, of whom Dick Knowles remarked to us: “Don’t let him do to your town what he did to ours.” The people I met in Denison feel they dodged a bullet. To be fair they also think some bullets took a toll in Denison before Al moved north. Sounds scary, but before I go too far I welcome your read of Denison Iowa the Book… begging the question: How do I feel about opening this can? Its contents sure appear to be wormy.

    A couple of weeks ago Kiffi and I confided in Ross – shared a photocopy of the last chapter of Maharidge’s book with him, hence is POSTING. We’ve passed out a few copies to others, but were reluctant to link Northfield’s Al with Denison’s, and wanted to verify things before the book was outed locally.

    Nonetheless, as the drama plays out – regardless of what I see or hear -I’m always going to view Roder’s action here as part of a metaphoric centerfold of the book.

    In his posting, Ross didn’t make any of the connections alluded to here – I suspect he was reluctant to take such a sensitive step. But without the context of the cast of characters “Our Town Denison and Our Town Northfield doesn’t come full circle.

    Denison’s current Mayor was quite open in a brief conversation we had with him. Working on a building project in his backyard, he and a friend sort of did that small town thing with a smile and in a vernacular that made you feel the sincerity of their remarks. Details can be gory – perhaps not necessary.

    A point might be made now with some subtlety: Our story, which is not the Denison story, needs a good ending. Denison’s Mayor Mahrt will tell you their good ending came only with Al’s new job in Northfield… and Dick Knowles will warn you: “what happened to us might happen to you!”

    To be fair, one individual whom we shared a library reference room table with, curious about our pouring over the old editions, asked the obvious question: “What you guys looking for?” My guarded response was… Oh, we’re researching for details to verify the background in a book about Denison written by Dale Maharidge…..

    The ”Individual” responded: “Well… if you want that story, you should go up to Northfield Mn and talk with our former City Manager… Al Roder. The Newspaper won’t tell you the real facts”.

    I nodded… saying: Northfield MN, Okay… and dismissed the advice with no further comment. Later, Knowles confirmed that a lot of Denison knew we were there… reading the paper… but we were never aware of being followed by men in dark sedans!

    Of “our” Roder, we can sit in denial on the propriety of Prayer service in his office or we can say this is not acceptable. We can question the Council’s weighing in, with either a remark of support or in silence. We can wonder what efforts will be made to build a library somewhere out of the downtown – and compare that possibility with the new Convention Center in Denison, miles from the glitter and swank of their Main Street… and we can hope Lee Lansing and Al Roder work it all out – and that Northfield benefits from this struggle to right itself and retain its character.

    Still, our Council continues to be a mystery, and unfortunately, seldom is the subject of citizen concern… unless its your sidewalk, your street, or your neighborhood’s rental unit.

    Otherwise there’s little more than an occasional blog.

    I’m at 1000 plus words here and there’s so much more to compare. Maybe the LG Book Club should read the book – then all join in.

    I’m sure some of our erudite citizens will rip the text apart… some well see it as a smoking gun, and some will see nothing. For me it was an affirmation of my instinct.

    Read it and we’ll talk some more.


    October 10, 2007
  2. Ross Currier said:

    Victor –

    I think you assume too much.

    My purpose in sharing my book report was to present a sort of allegory, using generic characters (The Mayor, The City Administrator, and The Concerned Citizen) and events (Downtown Revitalization, Municipal Building Projects, and Public Bidding) to illustrate ideas of citizen participation and principles of local democracy.

    I thought sharing such trivial details as people’s names and exact dates would distract from my intended objective. The only name I mentioned, Dick Knowles, was necessary to capture the dismissal of citizens who asked too many questions as “Dickheads”.

    I think the big question for us right now is: are citizens who ask too many questions in Northfield called “Vicheads”?

    – Ross

    October 10, 2007
  3. Jane McWilliams said:

    In his excellent summary of the book, Ross noted:

    “Rather, of greatest interest to me is how a handful of people can make the major decisions for a community and the apparently limited amount of citizen input that is required to validate those decisions as legitimate.”

    I took this to be the key to his review. And, I think Ross’s spin is a
    cautionary tale . . . and raises the question:

    Just who is in charge at city hall (here in River City)?

    October 10, 2007
  4. Christine Stanton said:

    Until Victor piped up, I thought maybe I was wrong about Roder’s connection with Denison, Iowa. The reviews of the book on Amazon were intriguing, not only because of Roder’s involvement, but also the immigrant tensions. Sorry, River City Books, I ordered it on Amazon. (I wonder if River City Books will get a run on this one. :))

    October 10, 2007
  5. Christine Stanton said:

    I just checked this website to remind myself what our city administrator does.

    Am I imagining it or has the copy on this site changed? I thought it used to say that the city administrator AND the mayor were involved in the task of preparing agendas and minutes for the council meetings. Now, there is no mention of the mayor. Hmmm….

    October 10, 2007
  6. Lisa Guidry said:


    I am disappointed in your comment to Victor. I am not a Vichead, but a concerned citizen that refuses to sit back and watch our town be ripped apart .

    Victor is not the only person seeking truth, and taking road trips. I believe Al Roder has alot of explaining to do. He continues to say I don’t know anything about this criminal investigation, and I don’t believe him.

    He says he is a christian, so why isn’t the town being impacted by his presence for positive changes ? The people I talked to said they were glad when the devil left their town.

    I applaud Victor & Kiffi for being concerned about Northfield, and doing their part to preserve our community.

    October 11, 2007
  7. Anne Bretts said:

    I don’t think the town is being ripped apart, although there certainly is enough drama to make it seem so. And continuing the drama is a lot easier than taking responsibility for solving problems. (Although I appreciate that Brendon is working very hard in his drama, but I think that’s called legitimate theater, as opposed to the theater of the absurd that is politics.)
    It seems to me that if there have been so many administrators who have been so unsatisfactory, it is time for the charter to be changed to create a full-time paid elected mayor and clerk system. It is a way to prevent all the incompetent, evil, power-hungry professionals from coming to Northfield to get rich and establish their political and economic fiefdoms.
    Seriously, there seems to be no interest here in having an administrator, so why keep up the pretense that there is? My very tiny hometown in Indiana, about the size of Northfield, had a paid mayor and clerk and it worked very well for the people there. Many small – and large – communities operate this way.
    Of course, if people vote for a local mayor and clerk and then are unhappy, they would be in a pickle in terms of finding a scapegoat. Of course, there is always the newspaper to blame.

    October 11, 2007
  8. kiffi summa said:

    Christine, check the NF Library first, they have owned the book for some time; And please try to support our local bookstores which are so super service oriented. (Thanks for the commercial time!)

    I’d like to make it very clear that our trip to Iowa was to see if people in that town felt the book was accurate in its portrayal of the local govt process, as that was an underlying but not the predominant theme of the book.
    The impact of a few people making decisions for the community is what we have as a city, and actually as a country, decided works for us. And that is precisely why it is so crucially important that the people in whom we have placed that burden of trust are acting FOR us. To me, that is also precisely why it is so infuriating when we have to deal with months of secrecy, innuendo , and adversarial behavior within the city council. Saying “wait and see; we can’t talk about it now” only holds with me for a very short time; and it has been months. Call me impatient, but I think a community deserves more explanation from it’s elected representatives. Enough hiding behind “legality” restraints; there’s always a legal way to give some information.

    I take it as a given that NF is the size town that will always be a “jumping -off” place for top staff; what I feel the council must do is not get involved in what I call “play ground” personality struggles; certainly not to the extant that it has been doing so obviously. All these not-so-behind-the-scenes moves of going to the Charter commission, leaking things to the newspaper,adversarial behavior at council meetings, etc etc, should not be tolerated by the community.

    I think I said it elsewhere on this blog, but when people who are ordinarily not actively involved start holding meetings in their homes, on the theme of “What’s wrong with our city” … well, then the council has a lot of explaining to do, and not in a closed meeting!

    October 11, 2007
  9. Christine Stanton said:

    Kiffi: I knew I would get reprimanded for that one.

    I never thought I was that interested in government and politics, but the current state of affairs, both locally and nationally, has heightened my attention. It makes me wish I would have paid more attention in Mr. Margulies’ (sp?) class in high school! 🙂

    October 11, 2007
  10. Jerry Bilek said:

    Kiffi said:
    “Christine, check the NF Library first, they have owned the book for some time; And please try to support our local bookstores which are so super service oriented. (Thanks for the commercial time!)”

    thank you Kiffi.

    I have some copies coming for less than the lowest amazon price. my annual tax bill is in the tens of thousands of dollars to support our schools, fire etc. amazon…

    I hate to change the subject, has anyone seen the Northfield news poll. I think it reflects the citizen view of downtown. Less than 40% of the respondents shop downtown for books. I would guess the same is true for clothing and other goods. Ouch.

    I guess I was wrong yesterday, when I said “People still crave human interaction,” Bilek said. “This is something that the Internet can’t give.”

    maybe I am destined for extinction.

    October 11, 2007
  11. Ross Currier said:

    Jerry –

    If your independent bookstore is destined for extinction, let’s have a Dance of the Dinosaurs at the Armory…perhaps in January or February, when the cabin fever is getting fierce.

    – Ross

    October 11, 2007
  12. kiffi summa said:

    Replies: definitely not a “reprimand”,Christine… just a commercial, as I said.
    And to Jerry: It’s entrepreneurial spirits such as yours that help keep our downtown going… and who worries about that stupid poll at the NFNews; how easy is it to pack that opinion?
    And last to Ross: we’re not going to let our independent retailers go extinct, so no need for a Dinosaur Dance, and this dinosaur is too old to dance anyway …

    We’re going to win this one, but we all need to get to those council meetings and not be hesitant in telling them what our concerns are. Going back to the referendum just a few years ago, I feel safe in saying once again, that this community wants to keep its agenda in the hands of its elected officials, not its paid staff. We fully appreciate the staff’s professional expertise, but we want it put to use in implementing the policy that is set by those we ELECT to work for us.

    Virtually every thread here, has an element of the mess at city hall; when will they get around to taking these concerns seriously? Maybe LG should put up a poll, and then the lurkers could vote, if not comment … come on, citizen journalist-Griff, devise an on-line poll that is better than the newspaper’s.

    October 11, 2007
  13. Christine Stanton said:

    Suggestion to Ross- How about if the next time you write a “book report” you plug where in town we can get it. To tell you the truth, I figured either the Library would not have it or it would be out.

    From prevoious experience, River City Books has not had specific books I am looking for. So, unless I am just browsing for something that catches my eye, I do not go there. Frankly, I did not even think to check Monkey See Monkey Read. I will try them out in the future.

    I DO try to shop Northfield, but sometimes I know they will not have what I am looking for. In this case, I have learned something. (And it is not only that I should not be public about it if I buy someting out of town. YIKES!) 🙂

    October 11, 2007
  14. Ross Currier said:


    I got my copy from a guy wearing dark glasses who handed it to me in a parking lot…literally. However, I think there are now at least a dozen copies circulating in town right now. Sooner or later, one will probably end up in one of our local, independently owned bookstores:

    I have found that the local bookstores, and the local record store, can usually get me something just as fast as ordering it on-line and, as Kiffi noted, without the shipping costs.

    Thanks for thinking “Shop Local First”.


    October 11, 2007
  15. Jane McWilliams said:


    RE: Availability of books: I’ve found that River City can get me any book I request within days – and without postage! I order by phone . . . and when they call to say it has arrived I pick it up at my convenience. No doubt Monkey Reads provides the same service.

    Who needs Amazon?

    October 11, 2007
  16. Christine Stanton said:

    Okay, okay everyone. I am adding Bookfellows, Monkey Reads, and River City Books to my bookmarks. It looks like Bookfellows and Monkey Reads allow you to have them search for books by entering it online. River City Books might have the same option, but I have not looked that close. The River City Books site does have reviews that I found helpful.

    Is there anywhere that lists all the local ecommerce sites?

    October 11, 2007
  17. Jerry Bilek said:

    I think the poll results, while unscientific, are accurate. The number I heard at an NDDC meeting was 60% of locals do not shop downtown.

    October 11, 2007
  18. John George said:

    Ross’s comment here, “Rather, of greatest interest to me is how a handful of people can make the major decisions for a community and the apparently limited amount of citizen input that is required to validate those decisions as legitimate,” sounds like reality in most political situations. SO, how do we get the right handful of people involved that will satisfy everyone? It isn’t going to happen, folks. I think it is evident from this blog that there is a lot of disatisfaction in the main contributors, but do they represent the whole town? I think not.

    Lisa, you stated this, “He says he is a christian, so why isn’t the town being impacted by his presence for positive changes ?” This seems like a double standard to all that has been expressed here about the separation of church and state. Also, how do you know that what is happening in the city right now is NOT positive change? How do you define positive change, and what do you look for as evidence of it? Just wondering, here. I have a different world view than most on this site, and I have not read enough of your thoughts to understand what you base your opinions on.

    I was just wondering, Victor, why you would drive all the way to Denison, IA, to read a bunch of newspapers in search of “facts”. I don’t mean to be offensive, here, but I don’t think newspaper articles are a very good souce of that. They are a very good cource of someone’s interpretation of facts, but I guess you have much more faith in their accuracy than I do.

    The other thought I wonder about is why there is so much faith being put in this book. It was written by a man who disagreed with Al Roder. How do we know that his position is unbiased and correct? Because he was a newspaper editor? Give me a break! It’s like all the complaining I hear about Norm Coleman voting with the Republicans. Do they really expect him to vote as a Democrat?

    October 12, 2007
  19. kiffi summa said:

    The author of “Denison, Iowa” is Dale Maharidge. Mr. Maharidge won a Pulitzer Prize in the early 1990s, he taught at Stanford University for ten years, and is now on the faculty of the School of Journalism at Columbia University in New York. A resume which inspires confidence…
    When he went to Denison to live for a year, to write a book about the re-invigoration of small towns by their newly arrived immigrant populations, he had no idea that the actions of a city administrator and council would figure so heavily in his story. Indeed only the last few chapters of the book are focussed on those actions.
    The reason to go to that town was to be sure , as much as possible, that the report of the book was accurate, as to events that occurred. It IS possible, when reading back through newspapers, to chronicle events, and leave out any editorial “take” on the subject.
    It was also helpful to speak with various persons who have roles in the book to see if they felt their actions and opinions to be accurately portrayed.

    It was important to try to verify facts, and not perpetuate what might be perceived as gossip.

    October 13, 2007
  20. Lisa Guidry said:

    John George,

    Al Roder is the one that forgot about separation of church, and state. Since you seem to have everything figured out ,tell me what positive changes have come from Al Roder’s presence.

    I suggest you read Galations 5:22-26, and I’m sure you are familiar with the passages.

    I have only seen strife, provoking others, rudeness to other citizen’s that don’t agree with him,and dishonesty.

    October 13, 2007
  21. Ross Currier said:

    Wow, there seem to be substantial tangents of competitive book sellers and rival bible thumpers resulting from my post. Although interesting along the lines of Wounded Knee and the presidential election of 1892, I’d like to try to bring the discussion back to democracy in a small midwestern town.

    I really did think of it as an allegory, peopled by familiar characters and common events. I had been hauling the book around with me for some time and had, in fact, been discouraged by several of my advisors about posting my report. When I realized that there were at least 12 copies of the book floating around Northfield, I thought I might be able to start a discussion that focused on the issues instead of the personalities.

    For me, the central theme really is how a handful of people can make the major decisions for a community and the apparently limited amount of citizen input that is required to validate those decisions as legitimate. I’ve watched the same story unfold in Northfield at least a dozen times over the past five years and I see the prologues for even more dramatic tales being written right now.

    I think most of us would agree that although democracy isn’t perfect, it’s better than the alternative. None of the three projects in Denison covered by the book happened without a majority vote by the city council. I guess it’s how those projects go from somebody’s idea to an action item on the council agenda that is worth further investigation.

    There needs to be a balance between the free discussion of pure concepts between a handful of individuals, some who have power that has come to them through either election by citizens or hiring by the elected, and the implementation of those concepts that have become decisions, authorized by the elected and carried out by the hired. In my opinion, it is the amount of citizen input to the process between the initial discussion of the concept and the decision by the elected to implement that determines the validity of the democracy.

    I got the impression that most of the decisions in the book were actually made when three to five elected and hired leaders were driving around in an SUV. The author pictures the public sessions on projects between leaders and citizens as kind of a “here’s what we’re doing, ain’t it great” presentation rather than a true two-way sharing of ideas and opinions. I realize that this is the author’s perspective, however, I wish I could say that I’d never had this type of experience here in Northfield.

    No doubt about it, citizen’s opinions are the messy and inconvenient part of democracy. However, we’re taught in school that it’s our government and we’re supposed to have a hand in directing it.

    It would appear that in Northfield we believe that this directing means more than going to the polls and voting. We elect leaders to do much of the work but we expect to offer regular input, particularly before key decisions are made.

    Again, in my opinion, that means that leaders should present their concepts, even if all the details are worked out, and get some reaction to it. Too often, instead of being asked to give input from the earliest stages, we get a PowerPoint presentation that tells us that the train is leaving the station and we’re either on it or will be left behind.

    That approach doesn’t seem to be supported by Northfielders.

    October 13, 2007
  22. Christine Stanton said:

    Ross: What is the criteria for whether something requires a citizen vote?

    October 13, 2007
  23. Christine Stanton said:

    That was a dumb queston. I just found the city code, which I have never read or seen. (I do not think I am in the minority on that fact.) Trying to muddle through it, I realized that my question is not an easy one to answer. However, anyone who is more familiar with it is more than welcome to assist me in my education by breaking it down. As an “involved” citizen, I guess I should add it to my reading material.

    Griff: Have you ever thought of having a town meeting blog? For instance, once a week you could have a topic and invite a city official(s) to join in. Maybe you could start out with a portion of the city code. I would be a great educational opportuniity for us “regular” citizens. We have many retired persons in our community. Maybe some of them who have experience or education on the topic could be invited to join in as well. 🙂

    October 13, 2007
  24. kiffi summa said:

    Ross: I very much appreciate your basic theme of the “few deciding for the many”… but when is it time for the “many” to speak to the “few” about the perceived messy dynamics of our city hall?

    The letter from Transformation Northfield, in today’s paper, which is in response to Ron Linde’s letter last week, suggests that maybe the time is upon us.

    People who have lived in Northfield far longer than I say that the Charismatic lutherans have always been here and everyone has just gone about their business, worshiping as they please, with respect for each others choices. I fervently wish that could continue.

    Now it would seem , with the introduction of prayer into the city administrator’s office, that there has been an improper support, favoritism, however you’d like to put it, of a personal religious preference into the fabric of city government.

    If the letter’s statements are factual, How is it proper for all of our elected officials to be praying, with a select group? Did it happen once? Does it happen regularly? Is it a matter of embarrassment to the council members because the administrator has introduced a preference? Do they just not know to handle a potentially embarrassing situation? Are they afraid of violating the Human Rights Act? Since this attested to praying has not occurred in public, where did it occur? One by one? In a group? A group of how many?

    Do you see how complicated this gets, and in some instances, how impossible it is to leave the actions of an individual out of the commentary, given the influential role of that individual? We are, by your thesis, talking about the dynamics of a local government.

    If one’s personal religious preference is allowed to make choices which then influence the dynamics and interactions of a city council, I say it is the height of Arrogance on the part of that person, and the height of irresponsibility on the part of a city council which allows it to happen.

    Power struggles of this nature are not to be tolerated in a government such as ours.

    October 13, 2007
  25. Lisa Guidry said:


    Thank you for calling me a bible thumper, according to Matt. 5:11 I’m blessed by that statement.

    As far as the letter to the editor regarding the transformation of Northfield praying for all the council & city officials they should take heed to 1Timothy 5:22. It is not wise to just let anyone pray over you, because they can transfer spirits on you that over ride your free will. That is called witchcraft prayers, so you should check out Toxic Faith!!!

    I have had people from that group prophesy over me who said who my mate was going to be, and he was a child molester.

    Enough said!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

    October 13, 2007
  26. Lisa Guidry said:

    By the way I was also told that the child molester was my cross to carry. Jesus already carried my cross, so I suggested that they marry him, and carry the cross.

    October 13, 2007
  27. John George said:

    Lisa- My condolences to you on your experiences in your past. I have had some similar things happen to me, but God is still on the throne, and I (nor any of my contemporaries) am not He!

    As far as your reference to Eph. 5, I’m not sure how this corresponds to my questions. I have been walking out that passage for a number of years. You can ask my wife about that. Regarding separation of church and state, the general intent seemingly expressed on this blog is the separation of church FROM state, especially any church who would have the audacity to say that the Bible is true as written and that God is involved in the everyday affairs of people’s lives.

    Back to Ross’s theme about the “few deciding for the many”, this has been the pattern of government on all levels from national to local since the Civil Rights movement. Gay rights, abortion rights, mobility impaired access rights, barred owl rights and tree frog rights activists have been driving our legislative processes for a couple decades. I’m don’t think we can say this is right or wrong, it is just what is happening now. Our government form is, after all, a representative form, not classical democracy. The greatest problem that arrises out of this pattern is when there are disagreements between the minorities. This is what is going on right now, and I think it is enevitible that it will happen. It is just human nature playing out.

    The only way I can see to make any progress is for differing factions to stop accusing oneanother and, as Anne Bretts so eloquently stated in another stream, stop trying to convert everyone to our own way of thinking. IF we are going to be a people of tolerance, then we have to start doing just that. We must remain a nation of laws, as there must be a standard to judge behaviors. When we start changing these laws out of inconvenience or someone’s dissatisfaction with a particular law, then we risk societal chaos and anarchy.

    Hopefully, as everyone remains civil and respectful, this setting can acheive just that- understanding and agreement. This is just a modern day format for the discussion of ideas that used to be done face to face.

    Kiffi- As far as worshiping as we please, I have been doing that in our little church for close to 20 years, and no one has broken down the doors to force me to worship their way. Neither I nor any of my fellow parrishoners have staged any raiding parties on any other church, either. I have been involved in cooperative services and projects with other churches of like convictions, and there are great relationships being built between these individual bodies. If this is a threat to someone, then I’m sorry, as I’m not aware of it.

    As far as individual efforts to serve in the secular setting, this is something that is going to happen, but it will not have an effect without His involvement in it. My hope is not in my own strength (thankfully!).

    October 13, 2007
  28. Christine Stanton said:

    Kiffi: Your post #24 poses the question of Roder being a “cult” type leader. I would hope that those who prayed/pray with members of the Transformation Northfield did so by their own chosing. Frankly, I do not have a problem with that. It should be up to them to choose whether or not to pray. The issue of allowing people to pray in Roder’s office off the council chambers is another issue.

    For those who have not read the letter Kiffi is referring to:

    This is Ron Linde’s letter:

    Ron says,”I call on the mayor and the city administrator to demonstrate their leadership in a unified effort to regain the respect of a growing number of people in the community that have become mistrustful of your efforts on behalf of the community.”

    I say DITTO! And I would include the City Council as well.

    October 14, 2007
  29. kiffi summa said:

    Christine: I certainly did not mean to infer”cult” behavior; sorry if it sounded like that.
    What I meant to express was the ‘mischief” of allowing religious issues to come into city govt, and that combined with influence, and divisiveness, and power struggles, make a very toxic mix.

    October 14, 2007
  30. Lisa Guidry said:

    John George,

    I suggest you read post #18 & 20 again. We were discussing Al Roder not you.

    October 14, 2007
  31. Anne Bretts said:

    Just to follow up on the concept of a few people speaking for the many…the comments in this blog (including mine) reflect the few people who post them and not necessarily the majority in town. The fact that the council isn’t agreeing with the writers here doesn’t automatically mean the council is wrong or ignoring the majority. By definition, they were elected by the majority, while we aren’t.
    The fact that writers here say everyone they know is talking about this just reflects the fact that we tend to choose friends who agree with us. It’s just human nature.
    I have dealt with Al Roder on numerous occasions on various issues and have found him to be polite, responsive and extremely professional.
    On the issue of prayer in his office, this was discussed extensively on a previous thread, but many of us accept the explanation that he had no intention of promoting a faith and moved the group to a different space within minutes of being told one person viewed it as inappropriate.
    (The dual arguments that he was keeping this secret and yet establishing a public faith still are hard to reconcile.)
    The councilors have no motive to ignore their constituents, given the need for re-election and the desire to maintain their local friendships and relationships and avoid constant phone calls of complaint. So perhaps the councilors are reflecting the wishes of the majority, or the lack of a majority behind any one position. If their constituents are split, they may be trying to find some middle ground that just keeps turning into quicksand.
    As for the impact of a prayer group…There is no way to ‘force’ a councilor to pray with one church or its members. This church is in the minority in town and has no national denomination behind it (there are charismatic factions in many mainstream denominations). Locally all of its competitors seem to be doing just fine. I see no shuttered churches, no unemployed ministers, no choirs reduced to singing karaoke in local bars because their congregations have been forced to pray with the Transformation group.
    I didn’t go to Dennison, but I have talked to many people in the region who have followed Northfield’s politics for many years. They believe that
    if Roder leaves tomorrow, the bickering will continue and someone else will be made the scapegoat. I tend to agree.
    Chief Smith has been on leave three months now and there still are no reliable numbers on the drug issue, no coordinated plan, no method for monitoring progress, no leadership. There is just an endless rewind of the tape of a single press conference as though replaying a Beatles song backwards to find a hidden meaning.
    Maybe for the next field trip we can all rent a bus and head to Roswell.

    October 14, 2007
  32. Curt Benson said:

    Anne, I think your take on this is too gloomy. Many groups, such as the HCI, The Key, The Mayor’s Task Force, the school district and others have taken leadership roles and good things are starting to happen. I think that because the actions are really just starting, the community is not as aware of them as they could be. Here’s a few things that I know of. Other actions are in the planning phase.

    Two local physicians have been trained to administer bupenorphrine(sp?) in Northfield. Until now, recovering addicts have had to travel to the Twin Cities weekly to get this drug which is very useful in reducing cravings, making recovery easier.

    The school system is working on making its alcohol/chemical abuse education programs more effective. For example, next week, young people in recovery will be speaking in the high school’s health classes. They are from the “Know the Truth” group.

    The school system doubled the hours of Sara Shippy, who provides them with chemical dependency treatment services.

    The ZAP program (which was in place prior to this summer’s drug crisis) has been used locally and has been publicized.

    There will be a community meeting at the middle school October 30th titled “After the headlines”. It is meant for the whole community, not just those involved with the schools. It will have Carol Falkowski for a keynote speaker and several other “breakout” sessions with other speakers. The HCI is going to pass out information on this meeting at the conferences scheduled at the high school Monday and Tuesday. So I’m sure more details will be forthcoming.

    I think one big piece that is missing is getting new leadership for the Northfield Police department. Anne, as you say, the chief has been out for three months. Now it seems as if his health problems will prevent his return for maybe another three months, maybe longer. Is it reasonable to have a police department without a chief for six or more months in a city with a big drug problem?

    I have a hard time imagining the Smith’s return will be smooth. After all, he’s trying to put his boss behind bars. (I have no way to know if Smith’s charges are justified.) He’s surely alienated his staff even more now that he’s publicly blaming them for some of the more embarrassing elements of his press conference.

    October 14, 2007
  33. Anne Bretts said:

    Great news, Curt. It would be wonderful if the leaders of the groups involved would do a press conference and outline the plans and announce a date for a follow-up report, then attach the information to the city, school and other websites so people can track the progress and keep track of ways they can get involved along the way. And maybe you can keep us posted here, so the good news can travel as far as the bad news.
    For the record, press conferences aren’t inherently good or bad, they just are the most efficient way of dealing with multiple media sources at one time, particularly when they require video and audio.
    As for the police chief situation, it would seem that the interim chief could follow the lead set by the chief, with better numbers, — or take on a leadership role of his own. There are plenty of people who could take the leadership role…a detective, the head of HCI. There are so many ways to keep things going if the town works together.
    And I’m not gloomy at all…I feel that most of the town isn’t the least bit interested in the politics at City Hall. So many wonderful things are happening in the city; people just aren’t waiting for politicians to get it done.

    October 14, 2007
  34. Curt Benson said:

    Oops, It might be the PCN (Parent’s Communication Network) not the HCI (Healthy community initiative) passing out info at conferences. In any case, someone will be getting the word out. When info becomes available on the web, I’ll try to link to it.

    October 14, 2007
  35. John George said:

    Lisa- In your post #20, you began addressing Al Roder. Then you inserted this second paragraph, “I suggest you read Galations 5:22-26, and I’m sure you are familiar with the passages.” This is separate from the first paragraph, and since you addressed the post to me, I assumed this was meant for me, not Al Roder. I thought it was an answer to the questions I addressed to you in my post #18. Sorry, I misunderstood you. The scriptures really didn’t make sense to me anyway as an answer to my questions.

    Anne- Keep up the good job of research!! And don’t be cowed down by accusations of “negativity.” (I think you recall our common experiences with that!) Sometimes, the truth isn’t necessarily pretty.

    October 14, 2007
  36. kiffi summa said:

    Thanks, Curt, for your report on all the progress/ beginnings of some positive work on some areas of the “drug problem” Not sure you got the proper credit for that report.
    Once again threads have braided themselves together; this , and the last several, should be on another thread.
    I hope the middle school meeting has a huge community turnout; good to keep the initial energy going.

    October 14, 2007
  37. Anne Bretts said:

    So good to have you in the group.
    I’m not worried about being called negative, although I just got off the plane and I admit I’m a little impatient. After a week working in a place where running water and electricity are luxuries and public transportation is a pickup truck with six people hanging on in the open bed in back, the problems here are pretty insignificant. I’m worried about finding hearing aids for an orphan who is incredibly smart but has no chance at a decent life without them — and little chance even with them. I’m worried that all the people who love Americans now will see the disparities and indifference and will turn on us with a vengeance. I’m worried about whether my actions will match my beliefs now that I’m back in my easy and blessed life.
    I’m not worried about Northfield, which will muddle on just fine whether or not the liquor store is on Division Street or the skaters have new ice.
    The fact is that a new City Hall and maintenance facility matter only to the few dozen people who work there. Not many more can name the city administrator, much less evaluate his job performance.
    This blog is the cyber equivalent of locals sparring over a beer after work or coffee at Blue Monday. It’s all friendly conversation, and that’s fine. The advantage is you can drop in and out anytime and catch up — and you never have to pick up the tab.
    So let’s have another cup of java and get back to Iowa history…or maybe you can just fill me in later.

    October 14, 2007
  38. Anne Bretts said:

    Wow, John — and everyone — sorry for the serious turn there. A little jet lag. Of course local issues are important to the people in this group, and that’s where this discussion should stay.

    October 14, 2007
  39. kiffi summa said:

    Anne: Why on earth would you apologize for a really great and impassioned piece of writing that is straight from the heart of your recent experience?

    October 15, 2007
  40. John George said:

    Anne- I’m with Kiffe on that (Katie, bar the door!). It is really great to get outside this country and see how people in other counties live. It certainly does put thing in proper perspective. Knowing you as a person of good words AND good actions, I know you will not let it rest until you’ve done all you can for that hearing impaired child. Good luck!

    October 15, 2007
  41. Anne Bretts said:

    Thanks, John and Kiffi. It’s just easy to be that guy in the first pew, telling God how he’s glad he’s not like the ordinary folks. I am just like everyone else. And I’m worried that if the people of South America and the other have-nots get as angry as the folks in the Middle East, building a fence won’t even begin to solve our problems. I can tell you, if I had been told I had to stay in Ecuador the rest of my life, I’d have been hiking across the border illegally in a heartbeat.
    My point was that this is a local issues blog and so we need to keep the focus.
    So back to the few speaking for the many…I believe the many chose the few last November. If you believe you are in the many, elect someone new, bring a petition on a project or pack the meeting and speak in numbers.
    The council has responded to public comments in the Woodley project and other issues. It’s just that with many people with strong opinions on all sides, it’s hard to blame the council for being torn. Perhaps they reflect the splits among the community at large.

    October 15, 2007
  42. Lisa Guidry said:

    Hi Anne,

    As a former missionary I understand how what we experience here is nothing compared to what people experience in other countries.

    I am still very active with the 7 countries I’ve lived in. I make monthly contributions to the orphanages that I served at. How much money do you need for the hearing aides for that child? I have had 6 ear surgeries, and scheduled for #7. I am grateful that I have options.

    October 15, 2007
  43. Anne Bretts said:

    How kind of you. And I am awed by your experiences. This is only my second trip, so I’m still a rookie. There are many people in town who do great work here and around the world. Mayo Clinic does remarkable work in Ecuador, and other medical people do too. When we were arriving, we passed a medical group that had done 200 surgeries in a week.
    Perhaps we should set up a separate web page or discussion thread on all the great efforts here and then people can see which they would like to support and which trips they would like to join. I don’t want to hijack this thread, but it would be great to share stories and opportunities. The college students might want to join in as well. (Hint, hint, Griff).
    Very quickly, we have been promised that Leandro is going to have his hearing tested to see what he needs. I’ll keep you posted. There also are three other children with visible eye problems who are supposed to be tested. Fortunately, I went with a group led by a nurse at Mayo Clinic and she will return with a medical group in February, so I’m sure this will happen.
    The next trip I think we will bring sheets and books. The children sleep on thin, bare mattresses, which get very dirty. And while they love to read, they have no books or flash cards or games to help them.
    Well, back to local stuff. I’ll let you know if I can get a volunteers site or blog started.
    And best of luck with #7. If you need any help at all, just ask and I’m there.

    October 15, 2007
  44. Lisa Guidry said:


    Please keep me posted. I have alot of wealthy people that could contribute to the needs. Please let me know how much money is needed, and I can start to get contributions.

    October 15, 2007
  45. Anne Bretts said:

    I have e-mailed the group leaders and will keep you informed. You can reach me at and we can continue this off-line. Thanks so much! What a nice reminder of all the good that is in this town.

    October 15, 2007
  46. Christine Stanton said:

    Anne: A volunteer blog/website would be great! I wonder if 5th Bridge (a Northfield volunteer effort) would be interested coordinationg with Locally Grown on something like that. I would be interested in helping to get something like that started. 🙂

    October 15, 2007
  47. Anne Bretts said:

    Yes, I was thinking 5th Bridge would be the logical choice. There are Rotary people who have done lots of volunteer projects, and some churches have had mission trips, and the colleges have community and world service projects. We need to think about this…Maybe we need some of us to sit down and brainstorm…Anyone else interested?
    (Sorry, Griff, but this is a nice break from the usual stuff)

    October 15, 2007
  48. Griff Wigley said:

    Just getting caught up here after 2 weeks!

    * Christine (#5), I check the internet archives and that web page on Al Roder re: setting agendas hasn’t changed since it was first indexed in Feb. 2006.

    * Kiffi (#12), I think devising a city hall online straw poll is a great idea but I’m a little too busy at the moment; but any citizen can create a freebie straw poll (10 question limit) at SurveyMonkey and I’d consider linking to it here on LG:

    * Lisa (#20, just a reminder about our no-sarcasm rule

    * Christine (#23), I used to set up and moderate “community issue forums”; I’d like to do more but they’re pretty time-consuming. See

    * Anne (#43), I like the idea but I think it would be best to do it on with 5th Bridge since they’ve had a partnership

    October 15, 2007
  49. Anne Bretts said:

    Griff, I understand your position and I think that’s a long-term solution, but with so many contributors here involved in various projects, it might help to have a thread just to identify the people who could be involved in setting up the longer-term site.
    I’ll respect your decision, of course. And I’ll keep working on other options.
    Thanks for considering it.

    October 15, 2007
  50. Anne Bretts said:

    Griff, in the short term, people can just contact me through my e-mail address and I’ll start building the network.
    And maybe you can drag this thread back to Iowa 🙂 Thanks.

    October 15, 2007
  51. Griff Wigley said:

    Yes, back to Iowa and the moral of the story from the book and Ross’ original post.

    My take: the need to continually foster citizen engagement in governance-related issues can’t be left to government institutions. Once you’re elected or hired by government, citizen engagement more often than not seems to add to your workload and make your job more difficult.

    So there’s a natural disincentive on the part of public officials to increase/improve the quality of citizen engagement. It has to come from local non-profits, local media, local educational institutions, or other sources.

    What organizations in the Northfield area have ‘citizen engagement’ in public affairs as part of their mission statement? LWV? NCO? Public library?

    October 15, 2007
  52. kiffi summa said:

    Sorry, Griff I hear what you’re saying but I don’t buy it. The ONLY reason that city hall is even there is that a bunch of people decided that there were enough of them to form a city government,rather than trying to do everything by committee, themselves.
    Since I rather like the image, I’ll say it again …City Halls do not spring up, unbidden, from cornfields.
    The ONLY reason for their existence, and the jobs of the staffs who work in them, is to provide in an organized way, the services that the citizens of that unit of govt have decided they require, or desire.
    That is in no way meant to demean the value of the work those staffers do.
    Done well it is the most practical delivery of necessary functions to/for the public good; done poorly, or without sufficient public involvement, it makes a mockery of a system of elected representatives, together with professional staff who implement the policy decisions of those who are elected.
    The incentive to keep the controls in the hands of the people, must come from those people/citizens …not from other institutions.
    I know from watching John Wayne movies when I was young; it’s much easier to control that team of horses if you keep a firm grip on the reins, than to try to regain control after they’ve bolted and “run wild”.

    October 16, 2007
  53. Anne Bretts said:

    Kiffi, I agree with your point that any kind of public employees can work together so well that over time they tend to see the public as a nuisance. But it doesn’t have to be that way.
    Griff, I agree with you. The strongest communities I’ve seen have a mayor who works closely with the Chamber of Commerce, School District and usually the Rotary or Lions or other civic groups. They create a strong network for discussing issues and giving input to the council and the groups follow up after decisions are made. There usually is some kind of “Forward Northfield” or “Northfield 2010” or some other catchy name given to the group to create solidarity. The city staff takes its direction from the community discussion and leadership.
    I don’t mean to be cruel, but the mayor here seems to be focused on his own business concerns and is invisible when it comes to broader leadership issues. Decisions seem to be made or proposed in a vacuum. The pool, the liquor store, the library, city hall, safety center all have been discussed as separate “crises” instead of part of a long-term building strategy.
    And where has the mayor been in the heroin discussion? He has a task force on drugs, yet he hasn’t taken any public leadership role, especially since the chief went on leave. The chief’s loss shouldn’t have been a crisis. The fact that a department head was leading on this instead of the mayor and council shows the need for the elected officials to do their jobs and represent the public.
    It seems the mayor — and the council — need to step up to the plate and lead. If they do, the staff will have the direction needed to keep them from “running wild.”

    October 16, 2007
  54. kiffi summa said:

    Anne: I did not make the point that you credit to me; Griff did in his previous post. I do not believe it is reasonable to have employees of the city in an adversarial position with the citizens, ever.
    IMHO,I think you’re wrong in your understanding of the dynamics at city hall, between mayor, council, and city administrator.
    Have you viewed the 7.23 07. city council tape, or happened to have seen that meeting on cable or in person? There is no venue for functionality existing in that room at that time. Now admittedly, I may be putting too much blame on a specific situation, because of having watched too much of the background dynamics, for months.
    You cannot put the blame for all this solely in one place, but you can name the number one problem, I think …personality and turf power struggles.

    It’s far from clear; what do you make of it when a resident goes to the podium and says he has been trying to get questions answered on bidding of city contracts, letting of those contracts, fulfilling of those contracts and he has gotten no answers. The mayor asks the city administrator, and he says the questions have been answered , in full. The mayor then asks the resident if that is so. The resident says he is in total disagreement with the city administrator’s statement. What happens then, in the context of a council meeting? Does the mayor say , “Someone is not speaking factually; we need to come to some conclusion here, after several of these public challenges.” I guess if I was Mayor (large laughter here) I would say to the city Administrator, “We are right next to your office. Would you consider getting copies of your letters answering this citizens claims, and bringing them to the chamber. ” If I had confidence in my staff, that would not be embarrassing them; it would be clearing them of the accusation.
    That did NOT happen; all accusations, on both sides , stand… and the public continues to wonder.
    As long as the council has taken sides, as strongly as they did at that 7.23 meeting, there is no way for the mayor to act with either support , or clarity.

    The citizens are the losers; the dynamics appear to be a lot like those in Denison, IA, to me.

    October 16, 2007
  55. Anne Bretts said:

    Kiffi, I understand the dynamics, but I’m confused by your example. Is your point that the mayor failed to do his job by failing to ask for the documentation? And exactly how did the council take sides?
    Please clarify.

    October 16, 2007
  56. kiffi summa said:

    The example of last night’s meeting was not that the mayor did NOT do his job ; he went farther most would have in asking his staff to respond, so I think he was doing his job. Could he have gone farther? the issue is still unclear as to who is accurate, the citizen or the city administrator.

    I can’t explain again the whole taking of sides from my viewpoint; it’s in a lot of other posts, and very obvious in the council meeting I cited. Watch it and see what you think…

    October 16, 2007
  57. kiffi summa said:

    Here’s an update from the folks in Denison, Iowa as to the current events in their city:
    They are having a council discussion of whether to dismiss their city administrator, because he has too little/no city money to work with, and therefor, cannot accomplish anything. Obviously his salary would also be saved.
    Why no money? It is alleged that the city overspent on large projects during the previous administration. One such project had unfulfilled pledges and in-kind donations resulting in the city having to take larger loans, bonds than initially projected, as well as the committed TIF. That facility, a city owned convention center, seems to have many of the problems our NCRC had( no functional operations budget established at the initial phase) and now the convention center is becoming more of a drag on city finances, as it cannot sustain its operations and debt.
    Another large project in Denison, was their downtown streetscape project, the 3rd phase of which has not been able to be completed, because of lack of city funds.
    These large building projects, which are not financially sound in their conception, are great for resumes, and bad for city finances, IMHO.

    November 1, 2007
  58. Christine Stanton said:

    One of the things in this book that stood out to me was how the writer saw the repercussions of history still reverberating years later. These were not he financial repercussions Kiffi refers to above but the personal ones that affect relationships. One historical reference he uses is the persecution of German Americans in the community during WWII. It would be very interesting to study Northfield and its history from this sort of perspective.

    November 1, 2007
  59. Stephanie Henriksen said:

    Reviewing the various posts on this topic (the book on Dennison, IA), I see that Northfield City Administrator Al Roder’s name pops up now and again.

    As we all know, the functioning of city govt relies to a large extent on the skills of the city administrator. Jerry Anderson, a former mayor, has expressed that in a letter to editor in Saturday paper. He goes so far as to suggest that Roder resign. What does anybody make of that?

    November 5, 2007
  60. John George said:

    Stephanie- Re #59, I reckon Jerry Anderson has as much right to his opinion as anyone else, and just as much right to express it. There has been a lot of opinion expressed here and in other news media about how there are people in government leadership who do not have the support of the majority. It seems this situation is not new and has been around throughout much of the history of this country, but we haven’t gone under yet. (No, I don’t have fast statistics on this.) I would remind everyone that Bill Clinton was elected president on only 42% of the votes cast, so one could say that 58% of the people did not want him to be president. Al Roder was hired by an elected government body, and is not subject to, and in my opinion, should not be subject to, political pressures.

    November 5, 2007
  61. Lisa Guidry said:


    Initially Al Roder had only one vote (which was the Mayor’s), and when the wanted candidate declined is when Al Roder got the job. They should have gone back to finding someone else instead of settling for Al Roder.

    November 5, 2007
  62. John George said:

    Lisa- Are you saying that all the political upheaval in this town is being caused by an employee, and not a political person? That seems strange. The thesis of the Dennison book is just that, and, somehow, it just seems a little too simplistic. What we are experiencing is small town politics happening in a town that is growing larger very quickly. It is really easy to put the blame on the new kid on the block and never address the underlying problems, some of which, it appears, have been festering for a number of years. I don’t hear council members expressing disagreement with the city administrator. What I hear are council members expressing disagreement with the mayor and general confusion in working with one another. See my post #13 under the “charter being to blame” stream.

    It could be that the first candidate could see trouble coming and opted out of it (just my speculation here) and Al Roder chose to take the job on in spite of this. I haven’t talked to him, but I wonder if he is having second thoughts about making a commitment here? I would opine that hind site is always 20/20, but we need to recognize the situation we are in and begin to work our way out of it. I’m not convinced that replacing everyone in the whole city government will solve our problems.

    November 5, 2007
  63. kiffi summa said:

    The thesis of the book, “Denison, Iowa”, is the possible revitalization of failing small towns by the immigrant populations who find opportunity there; and how democracy cannot work for that newly engaged population if the political process is perverted to operate behind the scenes, for others personal gains.


    November 6, 2007
  64. kiffi summa said:

    John George says, post #62 : “I’m not convinced that replacing everyone in the whole city government will solve our problems” …
    Well, I’m not either … there is a major staff problem ,also. But, John,
    do you , like Anne, think some members of the public are the problem, i.e. Anne has said that the public that speaks is not THE public …

    Then which “public” is to be listened to, the one that does not bother to come and express their opinion, and therefore remains the silent (minority/majority?) but CORRECT public?

    There are respected people in Denison, Iowa who caution, “…if you don’t speak up, your town will end up with the same problems as our town…”

    November 6, 2007
  65. John George said:

    Kiffi- I’m not quite sure how to respond to your post #64. It appears that you are saying that to solve the “problem”, there must be someone to point a finger at and “blame” for the problem. Am I correct in my analysis?

    My personal opinion is that there has been too much finger pointing and blaming going on, especially on this site. I’m assuming the comments expressed here are a carry over from daily discussions between people in town. If I’m wrong on that point, I certainly want correction. My perspective of the “problem” is that it surrounds communication and agreement. There have always been disagreements and differences of opinions in any city, but people have been able to get past those points and agree on goals and procedures for the common good. This characteristic is what I see as lacking in the political climate in town right now. To say that one part of the public is the “CORRECT” part is to imply that some other parts are incorrect. This attitude is divisive and what I see as a hinderance to progress. Intead of discussing issues civily and coming to agreement on them, it seems we are getting more polarized. This is my greatest concern.

    As far as other people speaking up, I wonder if many are afraid to? I supose there are those who are passive and really don’t give a hoot, but I suspect (hope) they are a minority. I also wonder how many are privately encouraging their councilors and trusting them to do the job they were elected to do? Not everyone wants the lime light, but they are just as committed to the city as those who speak publicly. I believe there are winds of change blowing across Northfield. To some, these are a threat. To others, they are a breath of fresh air. And, the prayer continues to be offered up for the city.

    November 7, 2007
  66. kiffi summa said:

    John:problems do not spring up unbidden from cornfields, any more than city halls do … there are problems within our governmental community,in city hall, and since we are governed by people, and regulated by their “staff”, yes, that is where the problems lie.
    You said: “people have been able to get past those points and agree on goals and procedures for the common good” …
    That is precisely what needs to happen; but first “they” must agree that “they” have a problem, and judging from recent council meetings, “they” have no recognition of the problem, except for focussing blame on one person, when there is more than one person creating the negative dynamics.

    November 7, 2007
  67. Jane McWilliams said:

    Don’t you think, Kiffi, that by agreeing to a retreat, the council is tacitly acknowledging they have “a problem” or even, some problems? I’m keeping my fingers crossed that they select someone who can help them identify what the reasons are for their lack of comity and coherence and that some coping mechanisms are agreed to. How about you?

    November 7, 2007
  68. kiffi summa said:

    Given the firm positions that were spoken/taken by councilors that I have formerly thought of as thoughtful, and I now hear speaking inflexibly…and I am speaking in reference especially to remarks made by C. Davis …I will need to see some results. At this point , having carefully listened to what has been said, and carefully watched what has been done, I am not hopeful of these very entrenched personal conflict positions being changed.
    I sincerely hope I am 100% wrong, and that everything is hunky-dory after the retreat … but at the NOV 1. meeting , Arnie Nelson is the only one who alluded to the intractibility of positions when he said, ” what are we going to do, shoot the Mayor”?
    I heard that to be, “Is there no way we can ever position ourselves differently, and move forward”?
    At this point, I need to have it proven that “the fox won’t eat the chickens”;
    I’ve seen too many foxes acting like foxes.

    November 7, 2007
  69. Lisa Guidry said:

    I suggest everyone should read the new post by Jaci Smith on the Northfield News blog. She states that the city supposedly solicited 5 companies to bid on the audio/visual contract, but the one that she talked to said they never heard about the project or that they were solicited. She will continue to try to reach the other 4 companies.

    November 10, 2007

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