9 guys apply for vacant City Council seat. What’s known about them? What are their pros and cons?

These are the citizens who’ve applied for the City Council seat to soon be vacated by At-Large Councilor Kris Vohs:

  • City of NorthfieldThomas Bisel
  • David DeLong
  • Jon Denison
  • Joe Gasior
  • Charles Michael Hayes
  • Ivan Imms
  • David Ludescher
  • Don McGee
  • Sean Daniel Hayford O’Leary

I’ll try to contact the applicants and ask them to copy/paste the info that they submitted in the application packet into a comment attached to this blog post, specifically their replies to:

Please summarize why you are interested in the appointment

Please list your education, training and/or experience that is relevant to the appointment

No, we don’t get to vote. The Council interviews the applicants and then chooses. (I don’t know how they do it exactly. I checked the Code/Charter here but it didn’t have details. Anyone?)

But an online discussion about/with the applicants might be helpful to members of the City Council when it comes time for them to make a decision.


  1. Griff Wigley said:

    Nfld News says here:

    Both McGee and Gasior ran for council in 2008. McGee lost to Erica Zweifel for the Ward 3 spot; Gasior fell to Rhonda Pownell for an at-large seat.

    DeLong, Denison and Ludescher are former city councilors.

    Hayford O’Leary, a senior at St. Olaf College, was a member of the now defunct Northfield Non-Motorized Transportation Task Force.

    Imm currently serves on the Planning Commission; Bisel owns Fit to Be TRI’d in downtown.

    November 30, 2011
  2. Griff, this is what I submitted:

    Please summarize why you are interested in the appointment

    There are approximately 5000 students between St. Olaf and Carleton — a full quarter of Northfield’s population and nearly a third of voting-age citizens. To my knowledge, there has never been a college student on the City Council. The colleges represent not only a major part of our population, but a core part of Northfield’s identity. The vitality of our City is of equal importance to students as any other citizens, and in fact, the Council decides many matters that especially affect students, from the Rental Ordinance several years ago to this year’s Social Host Ordinance. College students need to have some voice on the City Council; the short length of Councilor Vohs’s remaining term makes it an ideal appointment for a student.

    I grew up in Bridgewater Township, just south of Northfield. I have been involved in City issues since high school, particularly issues related to nonmotorized transportation. Working as a local web designer, I’ve gotten to know dozens of small-business owners, from Riverview Drive to Division Street. I care deeply about the City of Northfield and am prepared to serve on the City Council.

    Please list your education, training and/or experience that is relevant to the appointment

    I am currently a senior at St. Olaf, with majors in Norwegian and Environmental Studies. My high school diploma is from Northfield School of Arts and Technology. Of particular relevance to this appointment, I completed a semester program in Urban Design in Copenhagen in 2010.

    At ARTech, I served on student-faculty committees for student wellness and the school’s mission and vision. At the same time, I began working on City issues, serving on the public library’s planning committee from 2006-2008, and the Nonmotorized Transportation Task Force from 2007 until its dissolution in 2009. I am currently participating in the Grassroots Transit Initiative and am involved with a citizen group to promote Complete Streets in Northfield.

    I had nothing to disclose on non-homestead property or business relations with the City. Submitted contact information, should anyone desire it:
    Sean Hayford Oleary
    1011 1/2 St Olaf Ave W

    If you’re unable to get a given candidate to post (I realize not everyone is as web-addicted as I am), the forms are of course public data: I’m sure Deb Little would provide you the statements promptly.

    December 1, 2011
  3. Madelyn Hartke said:

    Would someone please post a description of the Council’s selection process? On what, specifically, will they base their decision?

    December 1, 2011
  4. David Ludescher said:


    The application packet didn’t provide any indication of what the Council wanted in a councilor nor the process to decide how the person is appointed.

    So, my interest is based more upon what I think the Council needs.
    First, the Council needs someone who can deal with the (apparent) rancor on the City Council. This person has to be able to deal with the problems that caused a long-time veteran to quit.
    Second, the Council desperately needs a business person to lend balance to the policies.
    Third, I am also a downtown business person who can represent a substantial “at-large” constituency which has almost no voice on the Council.
    Fourth, my law office, me included, have a long history of public service. I am past president of the Northfield Arts Guild, Northfield Lions, and Northfield Area Chamber of Commerce. I was involved with the NDDC at its formation and I still try to stay connected. I have been an assistant chess coach at Northfield for the last 20 years.
    Fifth, I am willing to make sure that my involvement in every Council meeting ends by 9:45. From my past experience on the Council, council persons start the meeting tired from a long day at work. The quality of the decisions decreases as time goes on.

    December 1, 2011
  5. kiffi summa said:

    Madelyn… It has been stated by at least one councilor that the appointee should be someone who , in their estimation, will “work well with them”.

    I’ll just leave that comment to speak for itself…

    December 1, 2011
  6. kiffi summa said:

    David: every council meeting now ends at 10 PM unless a majority agrees to continue past that time.
    You will have an opportunity to vote not to continue.

    December 1, 2011
  7. David DeLong said:

    Here is what I put on my application. It took me quite awhile to decide to turn it in, because while it is only a year or less commitment (resigning if asked after the fall general election). I don’t see the appointment as a place holder position. I see the vacancy as an opportunity not to change the world or Council dynamics but help provide historical context and use what my mom called “independent skepticism” to help the Council carry on with the business of the City.

    Please summarize why you are interested in the appointment

    Many people give back to their community in many different ways, I’ve chosen to be involved in city government. Starting as an observer, participant, and ultimately an elected official, my desire has been to use my knowledge and experience to assist in the governing of my community.

    Please list your education, training and/or experience that is relevant to the appointment

    Serving two terms on the council I understand the demands of elective office. I’ve developed a thick skin.
    I served with three Mayors and numerous city council persons all of whom had “unique personalities” including myself. Institutional memory – I’ve been around for quite awhile, when I served on the EDA it had no levy. I understand that every motion or resolution will effect someone and government accounting is a whole different beast.

    December 1, 2011
  8. Mary Rossing said:

    In response to Madelyn’s question, this is the process which the Council agreed on after a discussion on Tuesday night:

    Each of the nine applicants will interviewed on Monday evening December 5th beginning at 6pm. The interviews will be open to the public and held in the council chambers at City Hall. We will have a maximum of 15 minutes with each individual with the order being determined by lot.

    The Council is asking each of the candidates to come prepared with a one minute opening statement, presumably telling us about themselves and their reasons for wanting to serve their community in this way. The Council will then have an opportunity to ask individual questions as time allows.

    After the 9 interviews are completed the Council will deliberate and then attempt to narrow the field with a straw pole. Hopefully this will determine where there is some common ground and then we can discuss the merits of the top candidates. Of course we would hope that there is consensus, but ultimately the decision will come to a motion and a vote. This discussion and decision may happen on Monday, but due to the number of candidates it may be postponed until the Council meeting the next evening, Tuesday, December 6.

    The Council also discussed having specific predetermined criteria that could inform our decision, such as whether or not the candidates were planning on running for a Council seat in 2012. It was decided that no such criteria would be applied, but that all candidates would be equally considered for the position.

    Hope this helps. I would add that everyone was extremely pleased at the number and the quality of the candidates that want to join the Council. Thank you to all of them for stepping up and offering their talents!

    December 1, 2011
  9. Phil Poyner said:

    “So tell me,” says the smiling interviewer, “what’s your biggest weakness?”

    “Well, if anything it’s that I’m a workaholic…heck, sometimes I even forget to eat!”

    What do you mean, “It’s not that kind of interview”? 😉

    December 1, 2011
  10. Griff Wigley said:

    Mayor, thanks for chiming in. How does the Council straw poll work exactly? For example, do you each write the names of your top 2 or 3 applicants on a piece of paper and then tally up the totals to see who the leading candidates are? Or is it done verbally?

    December 1, 2011
  11. Griff Wigley said:

    Sean/David L/David D, thanks for your quick replies.

    David L, you wrote:

    the application packet didn’t provide any indication of what the Council wanted in a councilor…

    That’s an important point, though it’s difficult for me to envision how they could have done that, other than with platitudes, eg “we want someone who’s hard working, ethical, smart, good looking, blah blah blah…”

    What makes this an interesting process is that you guys have to figure out how to sell yourselves to them, not the citizens. And even more interesting, you might have to consider what you will say that would appeal to a majority.

    December 1, 2011
  12. Griff Wigley said:

    To those reading along here who are NOT applicants:

    If you were on the Council, what questions would you ask of:

    * all the applicants?
    * specific applicants?

    I’ll go first. If I was a councilor, I would ask all the applicants:

    “In what areas do you think we, as a council, have sucked the most this past year and in what areas have we rocked?”

    December 1, 2011
  13. Griff Wigley said:

    I’ve sent emails to those applicants we’ve not yet heard from:

    Thomas Bisel
    Jon Denison
    Joe Gasior
    Ivan Imms
    Don McGee

    Does anyone have contact info for Charles Michael Hayes? If so, contact me.

    December 1, 2011
  14. Randy Jennings said:

    It’s not that difficult to imagine what the council might have suggested as relevant criteria: a new member who brings needed skills and characteristics that will complement, not duplicate, those of the current members.

    Below is a list I sent to Mayor Rossing earlier this evening to share with the council. The selection criteria might include:

    A private sector job. Right now only two of six council members are employed, both by the colleges. Only the mayor has significant prior experience as a business owner (a “job creator” in the current parlance).

    No connection to the colleges. Of the employed council members, one works at Carleton and one at St. Olaf; of the under- or unemployed council members, two have spouses employed by Carleton and two are St. Olaf graduates. (In fairness, I, too, am a faculty spouse, and I love living in a two-college community, but six-out-of-six council members seems just a tad unhealthy. All gown and no town.)

    Prior experience managing. No current council member seems to have any meaningful experience managing anything. A new member with some managerial skills might help focus the council’s work, lead to better direction of and delegation to staff, and lead to a more productive council.

    Plain speaking. ‘Nuff said.

    Humility. Someone who understands that he or she isn’t necessarily the smartest person in the room and who, in fact, would prefer not to be.

    No agenda for re-engineering the community. The current council has sufficient advocates for more bike lanes, sustainability, strong towns, complete streets and subsidies for downtown property owners.

    An interest in expanding employment or attracting businesses. Those issues don’t seem to be on the current council’s agenda.

    There are other criteria that might prove useful, like another male to better balance the genders (I guess we’ll get that one no matter what…) or someone who speaks Spanish.

    I don’t know most of the individuals who have stepped forward, so I can’t say if any or all would meet these criteria.

    Of course, a person who meets the criteria above would likely not meet the council’s primary criteria, which Kiffi references above: “will work well with us.”

    December 1, 2011
  15. Griff Wigley said:

    Thanks for posting that, Randy. Good fodder for discussion here and I think helpful for the councilors to consider, whether or not they agree with all your items.

    December 1, 2011
  16. Griff Wigley said:

    I’m trying to decide whether it would be constructive/helpful for councilors to ask applicants how-would-you-vote type questions.

    For example, David L, you’ve been quite vocal in your opposition to the current plan for a new Safety Center. Jon Denison’s support for it is well-known. But the other 7 applicants’ positions might not be known by the Council. Should they ask?

    The Safety Center might not be the best example since it’s already been decided.

    December 1, 2011
  17. kiffi summa said:

    let’s face it; this is a bizarro situation to be in for both applicants and councilors: first of all, seven elected people picking one unelected person to work with them for a year? If the seventh Councilor were elected, instead of appointed, they’d have to take whatever the electorate gave them.

    I think it is really wrongminded to have any criteria except who they think has the best allround knowledge and background, and can ‘hit the ground running’, without having to learn from scratch all the very complex issues now in front of the Council… Safety Center, Fire Department controversy, two sets of Charter amendment proposals (changing the form of government and a proposed ethics board, whew! ), reorganization of the EDA … the list could go on.

    No uninvolved first-timers that haven’t been participating on any level, or evidenced their watching of the Council; Council needs to be super practical; leave the emotions out of this one…

    December 1, 2011
  18. David Ludescher said:


    I think each council person needs to decide if they want a “yes-man”, a representative of the people, or someone to broaden the viewpoints.

    My thought was that I would get 15 minutes to tell the Council my vision of what the Council should be doing.

    December 2, 2011
  19. Tom Bisel said:

    I am not one who usually states my thoughts, positions and general POV, but since you asked me, here is why I am seeking to fill the open seat on the city council:

    I chose to apply for the opening seat on the city council because I feel that I have a skill set that will be beneficial to serving the public in this forum. I also feel that it is part of my civic duty to become more involved in city government as a member of this community. As a husband, father and small business owner the idea of adding another commitment to my plate is terrifying, but still I feel drawn to serve my community in this manner. I have always been a dive in head first kind of person, the opportunity to serve is there, so I dive. Thanks.

    December 2, 2011
  20. Griff Wigley said:

    David L, I think Ray Cox used a strategy similar to yours when he was an applicant to fill a vacancy on the Northfield School Board. (I’m not sure… I wasn’t there to hear it.)

    If so, it didn’t work. My perception was that the majority of the School Board didn’t want, as you say, “a representative of the people, or someone to broaden the viewpoints.”

    So maybe you should consider a less honest strategy? 😉

    December 2, 2011
  21. Griff Wigley said:

    Thanks for chiming in, Tom.

    I have to ask though. If you’re not one who usually states your “thoughts, positions and general POV,” then why would you apply for a council position, since that’s what the job involves most of the time?

    December 2, 2011
  22. Griff Wigley said:

    Kiffi, since I’m not a regular observer of Council meetings, which of the applicants would meet your criteria?

    the best allround knowledge and background, and can ‘hit the ground running’, without having to learn from scratch all the very complex issues now in front of the Council

    No uninvolved first-timers that haven’t been participating on any level, or evidenced their watching of the Council;

    December 2, 2011
  23. Griff Wigley said:


    I’m not sure a new councilor would have an opportunity to do ‘managing’ as you describe it. Isn’t that the job of the mayor and the city administrator?

    Prior experience managing. No current council member seems to have any meaningful experience managing anything. A new member with some managerial skills might help focus the council’s work, lead to better direction of and delegation to staff, and lead to a more productive council.

    December 2, 2011
  24. Tom Bisel said:

    I guess I should have written ‘I am not one to use the blogging forum to state my thoughts, positions and general POV.’ The fact that you called me on that is point enough as to why I don’t participate in forums. When I write I have an uncanny knack for leaving important words out.

    As to your point:

    I would disagree with you that, stating ones personal ‘thoughts, positions and general POV’ is what the job involves most of the time. It is more about listening, educating oneself to the issue/topic/project, understanding the pros/cons, realizing the impact such a small group of people have on the community as a whole and being humble to the fact that the job is serving the community.

    Thanks for helping to become a better writer.

    December 2, 2011
  25. kiffi summa said:

    hey, griff… I don’t have a vote, so guess what? I’m not going to !

    December 2, 2011
  26. Randy Jennings said:

    When I hope for more managerial experience in a new council member, it’s not about a task in the job description. You’re right: it’s the mayor’s and the city administrator’s jobs to herd these cats. I’m simply observing that the current members bring little or no managerial skill or experience to the table. I think they’d be a more effective body if they included more members with practical experience and a demonstrated passion for getting things done in the here and now.

    December 2, 2011
  27. David Ludescher said:


    I am not running to win. I am running to give the City Council an opportunity to appoint someone who will lend the Council some diversity.

    Randy is correct in his analysis in 7.1. The Council is stacked with a lot of people with connections to the colleges who have similar visions about what Northfield should look like.

    If diversity is a goal of the Council, I think I fit the bill. If not, I will still get 15 minutes before the Council to speak my piece. And, I intend to be as honest as the questions require.

    December 2, 2011
  28. Stephanie Henriksen said:

    I hope other candidates I may not know post something here over the weekend. Like Hayes and Gazior.

    December 2, 2011
  29. kiffi summa said:

    Randy brings up an interesting point in 7.4.1 with his desire for “managerial experience”…
    Is it really that, Randy? or is it practicality? or efficiency? What exactly is the quality you’re looking for?
    (Please don’t say it’s “strategic”; the most overused word at the Council !)

    *** I think that a Councilor is supposed to be a person who concerns her/himself with developing policy that guides decision making, and then remains true to that policy’s guiding principles when voting/ making decisions. ****

    Isn’t the managerial experience, the herding of cats (Randy again in 7.4.1) why we have a highly paid and benefitted Administrator, and Department Heads?
    Rather like designers and engineers… can’t function well without each other… one to inspire, the other to implement.
    ‘Practical’ may not be practical anymore; it may just be the formerly accepted MO.

    I want councilors that are not afraid to think in new ways, in order to find new solutions… too many of the old established ways of doing things aren’t working well. And in order to do that , they have to have some far ranging and adventuresome intellectual discussions.

    Be guided by Langston Hughes: “hold fast to dreams, for if dreams die, Life is a broken winged bird that cannot fly.”

    December 2, 2011
  30. Griff Wigley said:

    My email to those we’ve not yet heard from was short and sweet:

    Can you chime in on this blog post with your fellow council applicants?

    Ivan Imm replied:

    I’m sorry but I have to decline your invitation. I have some deadlines to meet for my grant writing contract. Thanks again for the invite.

    I replied to Ivan:

    Could you email me the content from your application to the City so I can post it?

    No reply yet.

    Don McGee replied:

    Thank you for asking. The information that you requested is on the city council web site.

    I replied to Don:

    I don’t see it, Don. What’s the web address of your info on the City’s website?

    If you can’t find it on the City site, can you email to me what you submitted?

    I just got an email address for Charlie Hayes, so I hope to hear from him soon.

    No response yet from Joe Gasior or Don Denison.

    December 2, 2011
  31. Griff Wigley said:

    Sean, what’s your reaction to the list of qualifications that Randy Jennings raised? You seem to come up short on all of them… except for plain speaking and humility, of course! 😉

    December 2, 2011
  32. Griff Wigley said:

    David D, I certainly agree that “institutional memory” is one of the strengths you’d bring to the Council. But given what’s on the Council’s plate right now, how would that be helpful to them?

    Also, ‘unique personality’ is a euphemism for what, exactly, when referring to yourself?

    December 2, 2011
  33. Charlie Hayes said:

    I’d like to introduce myself using Randy Jenning’s proposed criteria for an appointed council member.

    1. A private sector job. I work for Multek Flexible Circuits (formerly Sheldahl) as the senior operations manager for the Optical Materials business unit. All my work experience is in private sector industry, both for small, privately owned start-ups and large multi-national concerns.

    2. No connection to the colleges. I am an assistant scoutmaster with Boy Scout Troop 337, which is chartered by Carleton College. That’s my closest connection.

    3. Prior experience managing. At Multek I manage a group here in Northfield and I also manage the Multek touch panel assembly factory in Shenzhen, China (primary customer for Multek’s optical materials). I have been managing for about 20 years. I have lots of experience with budgets and P&L management.

    4. Plain speaking. That’s how I was raised.

    5. Humility. Managing in a technical environment is a perfect training ground for humility. I work with some very smart people; people that can teach me something new every day. And not just engineers and scientists. I have honed my own leadership and management skills learning from line supervisors and other managers.

    6. No agenda for re-engineering the community. I lived in Northfield, moved away when Sheldahl went bankrupt, then moved back when an opportunity to rejoin Sheldahl/Multek presented itself. I love this city. It doesn’t need to be re-engineered; it just needs to be run a little better.

    7. An interest in expanding employment or attracting businesses. When I first lived in Northfield, Sheldahl was one of the largest employers in town with about 800 employees. Multek has about 300 now. Northfield has grown by about 5,000 people since I first lived here but job growth has not kept pace, so tax revenues haven’t kept pace and the result is a strain on services. Having worked in industry my whole career, I understand very well what has happened to jobs in America and would like to see that trend reversed.

    A little more background on me:

    I am married to Tammy Hayes, who is the Nursing Division Administrator at the Northfield Hospital. We have two children at Northfield High School. Our oldest child graduated from Northfield High School and works in town.

    I am retired from the Air Force reserve. I started my military career as an enlisted member of the Air National Guard in Duluth, MN. After I got my college degree, I became an officer and F-4D weapon systems officer. I finished my career with the Air Force Reserve in Minneapolis as a C-130 navigator. I served in the war in Panama, the first Gulf War and the war in Bosnia.

    I have served on the Community Education Advisory Council. I am currently on the advisory council for the high school’s Project Lead the Way program and a mentor to the school’s robotics team. As previously mentioned, I’m an assistant scoutmaster with Troop 337.

    December 2, 2011
  34. (Griff, you asked the question, so I’m phrasing this to you, not Randy — though obviously, Randy, feel free to address any of this.)

    The list was rather striking. I do think I have a decent understanding of the workings of small businesses in Northfield, having worked with — as I noted in my application — a good number to create sites. I have been self-employed part time for years, and have hired two of my fellow students as subcontractors; it’s not exactly enough to label myself “a job creator,” but I do have familiarity in this area.

    That said, I don’t defend that as a qualification for council. In fact, I have been consistently impressed by our “under- or unemployed council members.” It’s absurd that that should be a qualification, when some of our most dedicated public servants don’t meet it.

    To address two others from the list:

    His notion of connection to the colleges is a bit odd. I met Patrick Ganey for the first time a couple of weeks ago, to talk about Complete Streets, and I’ve known Erica Zweifel for as long as she’s been on the council. I really respect them both, but I just have trouble accepting Randy’s notion that a development officer and a research assistant — or, for that matter, a mayor who graduated 25 years ago — have the same perspective as a current student. Not all relations to the colleges are identical. And in any case, I see no evidence that the Council has been overly concerned or distracted by the college bias Randy alleges.

    The last item from the list I’d like to address is the notion that we should favor people who don’t have an “agenda for re-engineering the community.” Every applicant will have an agenda. Some of the other applicants’ agendas may look different than mine, I’m sure, but they’re agendas all the same.

    December 2, 2011
  35. john george said:

    Griff- Re. Tom’s hosting a prayer meeting at his store, of what concern is that? Does David L’s membership at St Dominic’s chuch, and the Catholic church’s official stand on abortion and gay marriage, cause you any concern? What of the other 7 candidates? Is it important that they divulge their church affiliation? I really think this is a distraction from any of the candidates’ qualifications. As you found out in that thread, TN doesn’t have a political aganda, and Tom’s thoughta about it have no bearing on his qualifications, IMNSHO. I’m really disappointed you would bring it up. it is my understanding that we still do have freedom of religion in this country.

    December 2, 2011
  36. Randy Jennings said:

    I’m sure that any individual council member’s background would touch on the items in my list, as you did in describing your experience working with businesses and as a business person in your own right. Similarly, I don’t fault anyone for working for the colleges, being married to someone who works for the colleges, or attending or graduating from the colleges. But when everyone on the council shares that connection as a formative part of their backgrounds, it suggests to me an unhealthly ecosystem. It’s like monoculture farming.

    In terms of agendas, you’re right that no one would put up with the slings and arrows of public service without some sort of burning passion. My issue is with the re-engineering efforts of this particular group. Non-motorized transportation is a good example: it’s an issue on which you have been consistently vocal; it’s also an issue with sufficient advocates among the current council members. Other than stuffing the ballot box when non-motorized transportation issues come before the council, there’s no added value in including more of that expertise.

    Back when Rudy Guiliani was running for president, the joke was that every speech was a noun, a verb, and 9/11. In Northfield you can get the council’s attention by saying blah, blah, blah, bike path. That’s fine for people who can walk downtown, who have leisure time to bike and who don’t need to drive on our pot-holed roads to get to work. The other 99% (or so) would rather more attention be given to road repair.

    December 3, 2011
  37. kiffi summa said:

    Now that the applications are on the city website, in the packet for the Monday meeting, it is quite interesting to see how many of the applicants either directly or obliquely tell the Council that they need some functional correction in process, behavior, whatever…

    I wonder how that will go over?

    December 3, 2011
  38. Randy:
    In a town of about 15 000 people over age 18, if each college has almost a thousand employees and almost 5000 students between them, it seems perfectly natural that many — if not all — council members some connection to the colleges. That shouldn’t be a requirement, but it’s not a bad thing, either. I still don’t feel you’ve addressed my question on perspective, though. How is a development officer’s perspective on City issues (say, on the rental code) the same as a student’s?

    I just don’t think I agree at all that the Council has been overly interested in re-engineering for bikes and walkers. Look at the Council’s recent compromises on these issues:

    1. The TIGER grant proposal, rather than including on-grade crossings (which would inconvenience cars), burrows pedestrians under Highway 3. The proposal would require City funding, but only after substantial federal funding. By extending the Riverwalk, it would also benefit tourism interests of the downtown.

    2. Jefferson Road. A bike lane were added at negligible cost in a project mainly designed to improve the driving surface. A bike lane was not added in one direction because the Council wanted to continue to allow residents free public parking spaces, immediately in front of their house.

    3. Highway 3 bike trail. Discussed as part of the Jefferson project, it was cut to save money.

    So I’m not sure there’s a substantial obsession with nonmotorized transportation, and certainly not at the expensive of Northfield motorists. In any case, Cm. Vohs was reasonably supportive of nonmotorized concerns: why should we seek to change that balance in the middle of his term?

    December 3, 2011
  39. Charlie Hayes said:

    I’ve only attended a handful of council meetings but I’ll comment on what I’ve seen, even at the risk of it dooming my chances of getting selected.

    I teach the Citizenship in the Community merit badge for our Boy Scout troop and one of the requirements for the boys is to attend a city council meeting. What is quite striking (and is not lost on the boys) is the sniping and petty bickering. It appears that nothing of substance can get done in that environment.

    I’ve attended council meetings where some members were totally unprepared for the business on the agenda, even when project binders had been delivered to them well ahead of the meeting.

    The council represents the citizens of Northfield but I get the impression that representation is sometimes secondary to a personal agenda or to grinding an ax. It can’t be that way. The people expect more and absolutely deserve better.

    Can I change it? If a grown-up doesn’t choose to act like one, it is pretty tough for a stranger to change that behavior. I do consider myself to be a strong leader, formal and informal, and I prefer to lead by example. For those on the council truly interested in getting things done, they’ll find me an excellent and willing partner. Those that want to form alliances to push an agenda or play other political games will find that I don’t like to play that way.

    So, to answer Griff’s question: From my limited viewpoint, I would say the current council hasn’t rocked on anything of substance. The public bickering would fall in the “sucked the most” category.

    December 3, 2011
  40. Charlie Hayes said:

    I’ll comment on a couple of assumptions in Kiffi’s post.

    “…without having to learn from scratch all the very complex issues now in front of the Council.”

    Complexity is in the eyes of the beholder. This assumes that what is before the council is more complex than what ordinary citizens run into in the course of doing their jobs. I know no offense was meant but I find this mildly insulting, to be perfectly honest.

    It also assumes that each member of the current council, to a person, was uniquely qualified to hit the ground running and understand the complexity of issues they inherited. I don’t think that is the case.

    “No uninvolved first-timers that haven’t been participating on any level, or evidenced their watching of the Council…”

    Does every member of the current council have all the necessary skills and experience to make the council as effective and efficient as it can be? Many of the skills I use in my job as an operations manager (managing people, cost control, inventory management, budgets, P&L management, project management, captial projects, etc.) are skills that easily transfer and should be of some value to the council. I could be wrong, but discounting first timers leaves you with a talent pool that’s not very deep.

    December 3, 2011
  41. Griff Wigley said:

    Corey Butler wrote in a Nfld Patch article today titled Learn More About the Nine City Council Applicants:

    Candidates will wait in another room as each gets interviewed by the Council. The interviews are open to the public.

    The Council agreed by consensus to a straw poll with each Council member listing three names on paper to narrow down the field of candidates. This will be followed by a Council discussion of the top candidates.

    December 3, 2011
  42. Griff Wigley said:

    George, I agree, the weekly prayer gatherings are of no concern. I said that in my comment.

    I mentioned it only because Dan Clites makes note of the gathering at Tom’s store on his TN web page… that’s where I learned about it. And on that page is where Clites cites the city of Elk River, MN as the model and says that “we are blurring the lines between the sacred and the secular.”

    As I wrote in my blog post, the former Mayor of Elk River has written:

    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.

    I’m curious to know where Tom stands on that. It’s a philosophy that’s indicates how one goes about trying to govern in PUBLIC office.

    Back in Feb. in the discussion thread, only EDA member Jack Hoschouer disavowed himself of that philosophy. We never heard from Council member Rhonda Pownell or School Board member Jeff Quinnell. I disagree with you that “we learned that TN doesn’t have a political agenda.”

    So I think it’s a fair question for Tom and I hope someone on the Council asks him about it during his interview on Monday.

    December 3, 2011
  43. kiffi summa said:

    Ok… I’ll defend my comments in #10… which by the way, I meant only as personal opinion and certainly never meant to be even “mildly insulting”.

    I do believe that the issues before the Council are infinitely more complex than decisions made by others who are not in the realm of being elected public servants.
    I never had any problem making decisions in my various employment situations… and still did not , but found it much more complex to arrive at a satisfactory decision, when I was a city employee in Lake Forest, IL.
    I was the Head of Circulation at the Lake Forest Library, and therefore a public service employee.
    So many management decisions had two ‘sides’ which were sometimes at odds with each other; I had to represent my 30 or so employees, and I had to represent the citizens whose library it was… and this gets even more complicated when all the employees of the library/city are also residents/citizens.
    A lot of priorities to sort out…

    I see the Council having to sort priorities and lookjng for good solutions in the same way; satisfying their personal standards while fulfilling the laws and regulations of the city, and also representing the citizen electorate, i.e. the age old ethical dilemma of an elected official..
    Didn’t Benjamin Franklin and Abraham Lincoln both have something to say on this matter?

    My comment about “uninvolved first timers” does, of course, make the assumption that those who have been involved in various degrees with some city process are going to be more informed about that process.
    Given the number of applicants, nine (and from what I know of them maybe a deeper talent pool than often show up in an election) I think it is difficult to choose whom to appoint rather than elect, if you don’t want the person chosen to spend the first year learning on the job… as many councilors say they do.

    Again… a priority to be determined by each councilor… do I pick the person I feel will align with my principles, goals I’m trying to achieve? do I pick the person who seems to be most informed about current city issues? do I pick the person that provides a skill the council may be missing now, in my estimation?
    do I just pick a ‘vote’ to align with mine?

    There will be different motivations for councilors’ choices of whom to appoint; I think a year’s appointment raises a lot of different perspectives as opposed to an elected 4-year term.

    I apologize for having been perceived as being “mildly insulting”; I can assure you no offense was meant, as you yourself note…

    December 3, 2011
  44. john george said:

    Griff- A political agenda? Oh, really? Please refresh my memory- what is it?

    December 3, 2011
  45. randy jennings said:

    I’d expect a slight over-representation by college affiliated people (although if Nfld’s population is 20,000, including less than 5,000 students and the 1,000 or so college staff, many of whom do not, in fact, live in the community), then one might argue two or three representatives would be proportional. When I say “representative,” I don’t mean it literally, but more in terms of perspective and experience. On those dimensions, there isn’t much diversity on this council, the string of 4-3 votes on many issues notwithstanding. This isn’t a company town in the Peabody Coal sense, but when all council members derive their experience — and most, their livelihoods — from a single industry, it just isn’t healthy. As we’ve seen over the past couple of years.

    But to your question, I’d argue that the conformity in thinking among current council members is a problem that might be mitigated by adding someone with substantially different skills and experience.

    I don’t think you need worry too much about this. If the Vegas odds-makers were making book, they’d have you as the favorite. The rationale will be that it’ll be great to have an ambitious, articulate student who wants to serve his community, yadda, yadda (bike trail!). That’s all true, even if from my perspective the strengths and interests you bring are already well-represented on the council. I still tip my hat to you for stepping forward.

    December 3, 2011
  46. Griff Wigley said:

    John, sorry for the confusion. You wrote in your earlier comment:

    As you found out in that thread, TN doesn’t have a political agenda.

    I’m disagreeing with the phrase “As you found out in that thread…”

    I don’t think we found out either way, in part because we didn’t hear from Rhonda and Jeff.

    December 3, 2011
  47. Tom Bisel said:


    Your facts are correct. I do host a weekly prayer gathering at my store FIT to be TRI’d. It is a small group of individuals who have a genuine concern for our community. We all come from various denominational backgrounds and there is no agenda. It is simply a time to pray with others.

    My involvement with Transformation Northfield is simply to provide a gathering place for prayer.

    December 3, 2011
  48. john george said:

    Griff- Ok, I’ll bite. What is the significance of hearing from Rhonda and Jeff? Do the other 75 or so people (of whom I directly know) involved in TN not know what is going on? The whole idea of some hidden agenda with TN, if I am remembering correctly, relates back to comments made about the “prayer ladies” exposed for praying in Al Roder’s office conference room. I think they were made in the speech to the Council by the head of the Human Rights commission. There was no “hidden agenda” then and there is none now. It seems that there is an underlying suspicion in some segments of the Northfield populace that anyone who openly professes to be a Christian is somehow violating the adminition to pray in one’s closet (stay hidden, now, children!) if they become involved in local government. IMO, this is based upon erronious interpretation of the scripture and an irrational fear that God may indeed be real and come down and do something. What really bothers me is the vociferous opposition to and relentless suppression of the free exercise of faith in the community, especially government officials. Do you really think this is not evident? Do you really believe that we desire to establish some kind of a theocracy? Do you not think that we are cognizant of the historical failure of such endeavors? Just wondering.

    December 3, 2011
  49. Joe Gasior said:

    Thank you, Griff, for the opportunity to introduce myself to all of you who have been reading this blog. As the applications are now all out on the City’s website, I’d like to refer everyone to the packet to read all of them. As you can see in the packet, I kept my summary brief and general. Here’s a little about who I am and what makes up my background. I am 40 years old and have worked most of my professional career either managing projects or personnel and all of the business items such as budgets and timelines, etc. that go along with such a role. I am currently employed by Malt-O-Meal and am the electrical engineering department manager for MOM’s Northfield operations. My education consists of a bachelor’s degree in electrical engineering and a master’s degree in engineering management.

    However, my work history paints only part of the picture of who I am. On the personal side, I have been active for years in various volunteer roles, most of them involving child growth and development. Over the years, I have coached various teams on which my children were involved. I’ve sat on various boards and taskforces within my church in the past, but currently do not sit on any. With the Northfield School District, I served on DECA a few years ago and currently serve on an advisory committee for the high school’s Project Lead the Way program. I also sat on the Site and Facilities Committee for the YMCA, and was involved in the site selection for their future building. Currently, my main involvement is with the Boy Scouts, through which I’ve held various volunteer roles over the past ten years. The role I hold at the moment is as District Commissioner for the Rolling Hills District of the Northern Star Council based in St. Paul. The district consists of Rice, Scott and Le Sueur Counties. In this role, I direct the Commissioner staff which consists of 12 volunteers. Our focus is to provide support to the leaders of the 40 units (Cub Packs, Boy Scout Troops and Venturing Crews) in our district including, but not limited to, problem solving, conflict mediation and resolution.

    With respect to roles similar to what one might think of when they think of council, I am a former member of the Board of Education for St. Joseph’s School, a private school in Waite Park, MN. I was also a member of the Parks Board for Waite Park, prior to moving to Northfield in 2003.

    Finally, and most important to me, is my family. My wife Betsy and I have been married for 17 years. We have two sons; one is a sophomore at NHS and the other is in 7th grade at NMS. Betsy is a currently a nurse manager at a local clinic.

    December 4, 2011
  50. rob hardy said:

    This appointment is being made because Kris Vohs resigned, citing the dysfunctional nature of the council. Recently, he and the mayor and another councilor (Rhonda Pownell) have complained about the tone of council discussions. So let me be frank. If the current majority of the council wants someone like-minded to work with, it seems to me that they will choose someone like Sean. If they want some kind of balance of representation, they will choose someone like David. What we don’t seem to have figured out as a democracy (at either the national or the local level) is how to represent divergent viewpoints and still get things done. A parliamentary system, in which the “ruling party” carries out its own agenda, would be more effective than a system like ours which seems designed for gridlock and acrimony.

    So, candidates: If you’re chosen for the sake of balance, how do you work effectively with the bike-riding, buckthorn-pulling, non-small-business-owning, college-connected liberals? If you’re chosen because you ride a bike and have a connection to a college, etc., how do you work respectfully with the minority?

    I hope that Erica and Betsey and Patrick don’t unfriend me after this comment.

    December 4, 2011
  51. Erica Zweifel said:

    No worries Rob!

    December 4, 2011
  52. john george said:

    Rob- Great observations! Why didn’t you throw your name in the hat? Actually, you would be better to run in a regular election, especially for the councilor at large, since the whole populace of Northfield could support you.

    December 4, 2011
  53. Phil Poyner said:

    I’d make the question even simpler…”Are you able to disagree without being disagreeable? Please state examples.” When I make hiring decisions, I have no interest in hiring people that think like me…except when it comes a belief in the importance of the organizational mission. However, I do want to hire someone that can present their novel ideas in a way that gets their co-workers on board. Since I see that as a requisite skill in a leader, I don’t see why someone should aspire to a leadership position if they DON’T have that skill.

    Oh, and I admit to having chuckled a bit at the idea that a non-college connected candidate is what passes for “diversity” around here. Only in Northfield! 😉

    December 4, 2011
  54. kiffi summa said:

    Of course it is a problem to decide what is the most important consideration for this one year appointment., but I am convinced that it must be a balance of desired position on principles that each councilor holds ‘dear’, combined with as good a knowledge of the city’s workings as it is possible for a non-councilor to have.

    One must also consider the fact that being appointed for this year does give a ‘leg up’ to that person if they choose to run in next year’s election, so it should be a consideration of that person’s possible long term participation , also.
    definitely should not be just a popularity contest.

    A lot to weigh…

    December 4, 2011
  55. Charlie Hayes said:

    If I was a councilor, the question I would ask the applicants is, “If the decision was yours, who would you pick?”

    December 4, 2011
  56. Charlie Hayes said:

    Excellent comment.

    December 4, 2011
  57. Griff Wigley said:

    You’re welcome, Joe. Glad you chimed in. Can you say something about what you think the current council needs more of or less of?

    Or alternately, as I earlier wrote, in what areas do you think the council has sucked the most this past year and in what areas has it rocked?

    December 5, 2011
  58. Griff Wigley said:

    Charlie, thanks much for weighing in with your background, comments elsewhere, as well as this comment about the Council.

    It seems that you’d be better suited to be a member or leader of a task force (getting things done) than a member of a political body like the City Council where alliances (shifting or otherwise) and then voting for or against are almost always needed to get things done.

    Can you comment on this?

    December 5, 2011
  59. Griff Wigley said:

    Great idea, though maybe a slight refinement:

    If the decision was yours, which 3 candidates besides yourself would you pick and why?

    December 5, 2011
  60. Griff Wigley said:


    Again, I’ve got zero concerns about the prayer gatherings.

    I’m only interested to know whether your philosophy of governing (public policy problem-solving and decision-making you’d be doing on the Council) is in harmony with what we hear about the City of Elk River, MN since it’s often cited by TN’s leadership as a model for Northfield.

    December 5, 2011
  61. Griff Wigley said:


    Let’s put aside the ‘agenda’ discussion for now.

    The significance of hearing from Rhonda Pownell (city councilor) or Jeff Quinnell (school board member) is that they are currently the only TN members who hold elective public office.

    So HOW they go about making public decisions matters to me. If the former mayor of Elk River’s philosophy of governing is the model they follow, I’d like to know. If not, I’d like to have them state it publicly.

    December 5, 2011
  62. David Ludescher said:


    If I am chosen, I would hope that I am chosen for more than “balance” or “diversity”. I would hope that the councilors are genuinely interested in hearing from a part of Northfield that has very little representation.

    I am not concerned about the rancor on the Council. I work in rancorous environments all day long. What concerns me more about the current Council is that the public doesn’t understand what the rancor is about.

    December 5, 2011
  63. rob hardy said:

    I guess that’s really what I meant by “balance,” David. So, how would you describe the part of Northfield that you would represent? What are the main issues affecting that constituency, and what can the council do for that constituency that isn’t currently being done?

    December 5, 2011
  64. I am very curious about the perception of rancor on this council. What method have you used David to determine that such rancor exists?

    December 5, 2011
  65. David Ludescher said:


    Kris’s resignation, the newspaper articles, and the blog posting.

    December 5, 2011
  66. rob hardy said:

    “We’re not a team,” he [Vohs] said. “There’s no team dynamic.” Vohs “cited issues with…disrespectful behavior by council members” (Northfield News, 11/01/11). “The way meetings operate is ‘unhealthy,’ she [Rossing] said” (Northfield News, 10/21/11). So, I guess, the word “rancor” wasn’t used, but the word “disrespectful” and the word “unhealthy” sound pretty bad.

    December 5, 2011
  67. David Ludescher said:


    The big issue for the next year is going to be the Safety Center, and its effect on taxes. Along the same lines is fiscal discipline on spending for non-necessities.

    The last 3 years have been really tough times for many of Northfield’s businesses. Businesses want the Council to hold off on spending money unless it is necessary. When times are better, we can look at spending on bike paths and beautiful public buildings.

    I think that is hard to see if you are connected with the colleges which still have the ability to build a brand new science center or an arts center.

    December 5, 2011
  68. Tom Bisel said:

    Since I do not live in Elk River I am sorry to say I have no idea what the city government climate is there, or know what each individual councilor’s public agenda is. Regarding the quote you cited in your blog on TN about knowing what God wants or doesn’t want for a city, here is my position.

    My Faith plays a vital role in who I am and what I believe. I would of course pray for wisdom in decision making, but decisions are made by all parties discussing, compromising and really considering what is best for the city as a whole. As to having direct knowledge and authority of what God wants, I am afraid I have not been given the inside scoop of God’s plan.

    As for as my philosophy of governing, I believe I stated earlier in 11.1.1. Individuals in public service positions should be participating in listening, educating oneself to the issue/topic/project, understanding the pros/cons, realizing the impact such a small group of people have on the community as a whole and always keeping in mind that the job is serving the community.

    December 5, 2011
  69. Griff Wigley said:

    Thank you, Tom. That helps a great deal… and I’m glad to hear it!

    December 5, 2011

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