Attorney and Parks board member David Hvistendahl: 3-minute mashup of trash-talking Northfield City Hall

David Hvistendahl David Hvistendahl David Hvistendahl David Hvistendahl Roger Schroder and David Hvistendahl
While listening to archived Law Review radio shows on KYMN recently, I noticed that Attorney David Hvistendahl, a member of the Northfield Park & Rec Advisory Board (PRAB), was particularly disparaging of the Northfield City Council, Northfield City Administrator Tim Madigan, and Northfield Safety Center Director and Police Chief Mark Taylor.

Here is a compilation of some of these remarks, all rolled together into a single 3-minute audio clip.

If you have trouble with the above audio player, try playing and/or downloading this MP3.


  1. Griff Wigley said:

    I should note that I like the fact that David is a commentator with strong opinions. I am, too.

    But I think his insulting hyperbole (trash-talk) is a detriment to civic problem-solving and I think it’s out of line for a member of the Parks Board to speak this way about his fellow public officials, both elected and staff.

    March 11, 2012
  2. Griff, I listened to the clips this morning. I agree that the comments where critical in nature, but I’m interested to know if your opinion on what he is saying. Do you think is words are baseless and off-point, or does Mr. Hvistendahl make some accurate (albeit critical) comments. Maybe you, or others, could frame your comments on these 2 points:

    1. Is the city council effective in decision-making?
    2. Does Northfield have a number of professional administrators who make decisions and then leave the community in 2-4 years?

    March 11, 2012
  3. Griff Wigley said:

    Brenton, since the Council members are elected, I think it’s kind of pointless to decry their decision-making effectiveness. If they vote 4-3 on an issue, that’s not effective decision-making. It’s just a decision based on our political system. The Council as a body has to make do with the members that the citizenry sends them. Sometimes that results in a group that can act as a team but mostly that doesn’t happen so they have to do the best they can. David Hvistendahl ran for mayor in 2008. If he’d been elected, I doubt very much that the council would have been become a smooth, effective decision-making team.

    As for Northfield’s string of short-term city administrators, it’s a non-issue as far as I’m concerned. Being effective is what matters, and a public official who serves us well for 2-4 years is better than one who coasts for 20.

    March 11, 2012
  4. Griff Wigley said:

    Many Northfielders would agree that the insulting hyperbole often used by Rush Limbaugh, Glenn Beck and others on their radio shows is poisonous to civil discourse. When David Hvistendahl does it, it’s no different.

    And I think his fellow Parks and Rec Board members should tell him to knock it off or resign. It ultimately hurts their effectiveness to work with the staff and city council.

    March 11, 2012
  5. kiffi summa said:

    I had heard some of this comment from David’s radio show, and I thought it was over the line at the time because he just lays it out there, and does not often make a case for his opinion by giving examples to flesh out the criticism.

    But David’s style is well known, and that’s what makes him such an interesting although divisive personality, IMO, because you sometimes have to just love that he’s said ‘IT’ when you agree with him!

    But as far as suggesting that he should resign from the PRAB because of his outspokenness… no way. That implies we must have only those that walk a certain defined line on citizen committees.

    I have been at several park board meetings since David has been on that board, and his manner is tempered to suit the occasion, and he has the background to be a well informed member… opinionated, but aren’t we all?

    March 12, 2012
  6. Neil Lutsky said:

    A couple of points:

    I thought Dave’s comments were ill-advised and thoughtless. Our mayor and council representatives work damn hard, and they care about the City. They deserve more respectful treatment. Of course, it’s always appropriate to call into question particular decisions or the lack thereof, but that’s what the discussion should address.

    I was particularly concerned about the claims about our City Administrators. Certainly in this day and age a City Administrator needs to be a professional. We are fortunate in Northfield to have an Administrator who knows the town well and could not reasonably be labeled an itinerant. Tim Madigan served Faribault for 20 or so years. He’s doing a great job for Northfield. Dave’s comments were simply unfettered by careful grounding and due consideration in these regards.

    All of that said, I disagree with Griff’s suggestion that it was inappropriate for a member of the PRAB to speak as Dave did. He’s entitled to voice his opinions. As long as he meets his responsibilities to the PRAB (which he has–and I speak as someone who enjoys working on the PRAB with him), it shouldn’t matter what he does or says elsewhere.

    March 12, 2012
  7. Jane Moline said:

    David Hvistendahl is a lot of things but Rush Limbaugh! NOT!

    March 12, 2012
  8. Actually, I think the issue of over-professionalization is a legitimate point from Dave’s excerpts here. It’s not to say we should just hire Joe Citizen, but as a smaller city, it is a real issue to just be another wrung on somebody’s career ladder. Of course, they may be competent, but somebody with local dedication and connection would be preferable. This applies to many others positions beyond City Administrator as well. Neither the previous nor current City Administrator even live/d in the City of Northfield. The previous city engineer did not, either.

    I also agree with Neil: board and commission members are perfectly free to speak ill of the City Council that appointed them. I don’t agree with many of Dave’s complaints — and even if they were fair, they’re not terribly helpful. But, Griff: I think it’s wrong to call for somebody’s resignation because they speak out against a higher City authority (particularly done on a private radio show, completely out of the context of his PRAB position)

    March 12, 2012
  9. To be clear: I don’t believe the itinerant administrator issue applies to Madigan. He may not live in Northfield, but, as Neil notes, he has longstanding ties to Faribault and to the area. The general issue is still a real one for staff, however.

    March 12, 2012
  10. Adam Elg said:

    I have to agree with Neil, David’s comments are ill-advised and in my opinion make zero contribution to civil dialogue. In my experience and in this case having listened to the content, David make no case for particular solutions or advocates any point of view that advances positive change. Instead he insults and discounts others. Quite plainly, David pontificates but advances few solutions. Griff, to your point, I agree, It’s doubtful that the council would have become a smooth, effective decision-making team had Mr. Hvistendahl been elected Mayor in 2008. As to the questions of Nortfield’s city councils abilities? “What’s new?”

    March 12, 2012
  11. john george said:

    Griff- I think your reference above to “civil discourse” is maybe well expressed in this example from Webster’s on-line definition of civility-

    after the usual civilities, the parents and the principal had a serious talk about the boy

    I am all for civil discourse, but sometimes trying to sustain a level of decorum does not lead to good decision making. It would seem that unresolved personal conflicts contribute more to dysfunction than the level of civility. We don’t need to revert to the wild west days of shooting those we disagree with, nor do we need the theatrics of physical altercations breaking out in the city council meetings. What we need, IMO, is a level of ability within our leaders to recognize the difference between personal agendas and the betterment of the community as a whole. That being said, it takes a level of honesty and humility to be able to work through these matters. The general direction of our country over the last couple decades has seemed to triumph minority rights at the expense of everyone else rather than the commitment to the betterment of society as a whole at the cost of personal liberties. Unfortunately, Northfield is not immune to this trend. As a famous person once said somthing like this

    ask not what your country can do for you, but rahter, what can you do for your country

    March 12, 2012
  12. Griff Wigley said:

    Jane, I’m just saying that when it comes to using insulting hyperbole, David does exactly what Rush Limbaugh does. Or, if you prefer a liberal who does it too, Bill Maher.

    March 13, 2012
  13. Griff Wigley said:

    Neil/Sean, if David was aiming his insulting hyperbole at Pres. Obama or Gov. Dayton or the MN legislature, for example, it would have no bearing on his work with the PRAB. But he’s aiming his invective at the city leaders who work directly with the PRAB and who are key to implementing PRAB recommendations: Council members, City Administrator Tim Madigan, and Public Safety Director/Police Chief Mark Taylor.

    See the comment by Madigan attached to this KYMN blog post:

    For the past 15 plus years I have worked successfully with Dave Hvistendahl on a number of issues and projects, so I was dismayed to hear his negative personal comments about me and Mark Taylor on the radio show. I realize the introduction to the show states that the radio program is for entertainment purposes; still, it was an inappropriate way to create a public discussion on a sensitive Northfield issue.

    Dave has the right to express himself however he wishes, but I question if this is really the style of civic engagement that the Northfield community expects from community leaders.

    Human relationships matter when it comes to getting things done. And HOW one talks about the people you work with is part of that. Emphasis on HOW, not WHAT. David knows HOW to criticize people in a way that they can hear. He just chooses not to do it in this case.

    March 13, 2012
  14. Curt Benson said:

    I love the “Law Review” and listen to it every week. It’s always entertaining, and sometimes informative.

    The pattern I hear is that when David and his cohost from his firm (usually Kim Decker or Britt Ackerman) have a guest, they play it straight. They’re skilled interviewers and I’ve learned a lot from these shows. Examples are their interviews with the new director of Rice County Community Corrections and the new City Attorney.

    When there are no outside guests, the sarcasm is unchecked. David goes over the top. The pattern is this: David’s female cohost sycophantically lobs up rhetorical softballs, and then marvels at his brilliant, scathing responses. It’s retrograde, but entertaining.

    The thing that seriously does bug me, is that David doesn’t always disclose that he is representing someone on one side of the issue he is discussing. Sometimes, he discloses his interests, but he should always disclose this information.

    I also wonder that when he’s using his full blown sarcasm in regards to a specific issue (ie the Fire Department Roadmap) , ie saying that the council is using some very strong drugs and is completely ignorant–is he speaking for for his client, the Fire Department Chief? Or is it this his own personal opinion?

    March 13, 2012
  15. Jane Moline said:

    Bill Maher does not riff like Rush, either, Perhaps we should say how you, Griff went after the volunteer firemen when you found out that for the last hundred years they have received some pay (scandal!) and that they are actually not a professional deparment with lots of aministrative help, but you want to make all kinds of unfounded speculation about what that means.

    March 13, 2012
  16. Griff Wigley said:


    David referenced your clever comment (“David’s female cohost sycophantically lobs up rhetorical softballs, and then marvels at his brilliant, scathing responses. It’s retrograde, but entertaining.”) at the end of the show.

    March 22, 2012
  17. Griff Wigley said:

    I’m guessing Hvisty would like this commentary by Bill Maher in yesterday’s NY Times: Please Stop Apologizing

    I don’t want to live in a country where no one ever says anything that offends anyone. That’s why we have Canada. That’s not us. If we sand down our rough edges and drain all the color, emotion and spontaneity out of our discourse, we’ll end up with political candidates who never say anything but the safest, blandest, emptiest, most unctuous focus-grouped platitudes and cant. In other words, we’ll get Mitt Romney.

    March 22, 2012

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