Who’s running for mayor and City Council?

City-of-Northfield-MNAt last night’s City Council meeting (Nfld News story here), 3rd Ward Council Erica Zweifel announced her intent to file for re-election.

Two weeks ago, Nfld News reporter Suzy Rook mentioned some filing-related rumors, one of which was squelched by Councilor Betsey Buckheit, i.e., that she’s not considering a run for Rice County commissioner.

Other Council seats expiring this year:

  • Mayor (currently Mary Rossing)
  • 2nd Ward (currently Betsey Buckheit)
  • At-Large (currently Ivan Imm)

The City’s Candidate Filing page says that the “filing period for Northfield Council positions will begin on Tuesday, May 22 at 8:00 am and continue through Tuesday, June 5 at 5:00 pm in the City Clerk’s office. The filing fee is $5.00.”


  1. I was glad to hear Erica Zweifel is running again. She’s done an excellent job and has advocated well for her ward.

    I’m eager to see some filings for mayor.

    May 17, 2012
  2. Tom Kotula said:

    Despite rumors you may have heard to the contrary, I have not thrown my hat into the ring.

    May 18, 2012
  3. Griff Wigley said:

    Councilor Betsey Buckheit just filed to run for mayor. She sent out this email:

    Good morning, media folks!

    I just returned from City Hall where I filed to run for Mayor. Here’s a little information, but there’s much more background at http://betseybuckheit.com/ of course. Looking forward to working with you all as election season progresses.

    Betsey Buckheit

    I’m running for Mayor because I can provide clear vision and strong leadership for Northfield’s long-term success, especially:

    * Budget and planning. Like all cities, Northfield is struggling to balance its budget while maintaining service levels and limiting tax increases. We moved to a two year budget cycle, improved our capital planning, and reduced our reliance on local government aid. As Mayor, I will lead the Council to restructure our budget in the following ways:

    * Sustainable development. Northfield’s long term economic success will require maximizing our existing infrastructure, improving our connectivity, and providing the best return on public investment for Northfield.

    * Collaboration. Collaboration is more important than ever to reduce costs and stretch our limited resources. Partnering with the schools, arts organizations, colleges, and others will help Northfield grow and flourish.

    * Consistency. Northfield has made real progress in the last 4 years on better budgeting, infrastructure planning and cost management, and economic development. Right now, Northfield needs a mayor with experience to build on what has been accomplished.

    * Transparency. City government works for the public. As Mayor I will ensure that residents have the most accessible and complete information about our actions and the costs of our choices.

    About Me:

    I am 51 years old, and I have lived in Northfield since 1989. I attended Swarthmore College, Syracuse University, and the University of MN Law School. I have served on Northfield’s Library Board, Planning Commission, Non-Motorized Transportation Task Force, Charter Commission, Northfield Soccer Association Board, Complete Streets Task Force, Save Our Post Office group, Hospital Strategic Future Task Force, and I am currently the Ward 2 representative on the Northfield City Council. I have been a Humphrey Institute Public Policy Fellow and I have participated in the Blandin Community Leadership Program. My husband Justin London teaches at Carleton College and our daughter Elizabeth is a junior at Northfield High School.

    May 22, 2012
  4. WOO! Go Betsey!

    As the Ward 2 rep, she has indeed worked for exactly these sorts of things, and was extremely helpful when I was trying to get a bit of paperwork untangled. So, yeah, looks like my vote is clear.

    May 22, 2012
  5. David Beimers said:

    The Northfield News has a story saying that Suzie Nakasian is also planning to run for mayor.

    May 22, 2012
  6. Jane McWilliams said:

    And at the work session tonight, Mary Rossing announced that she is NOT running for reelection.

    May 22, 2012
  7. Griff Wigley said:

    Last Friday’s Nfld News: Gasior announces another run for Northfield council

    A MOM Brands (Malt-O-Meal) engineer who ran for City Council in 2008, has decided to make another run. Joe Gasior said today that he’s filed for the at-large seat now held by Ivan Imm. Gasior, who came in second to now Councilor Rhonda Pownell in the 2008 special election, last year applied for the seat Imm was appointed to.

    May 31, 2012
  8. kiffi summa said:

    as to how few have filed… maybe it has to do with no one wanting to get embroiled in the ever ongoing saga of a new Public Safety Center, the ‘abandoned’ 530 Acre annexation for a Biz Park, and an ongoing stressed relationship with our ‘caretakers’/the firefighters…

    Is that possible?
    Are these now seen as virtually unsolvable problems, given the length of time they’ve been ongoing?

    May 31, 2012
  9. john george said:

    Not to mention the criticisms leveled by small enclaves of vociferous citizens. To rephrase an old saying, you can please part of the public most of the time, but you can’t please all the public any of the time.

    June 1, 2012
  10. Griff Wigley said:

    What happens if no one files for 2nd Ward? The new Council appoints someone in January?

    Likewise, the 1st Ward if Suzie Nakasian wins as mayor?

    June 3, 2012
  11. Griff Wigley said:

    According to the City Clerk of Northfield here:

    * Charter Commission Chair Frank Balster has filed for 2nd Ward.

    * Former City Councilor Dana Graham has filed for mayor

    * Note that Councilor Suzie Nakasian is not listed.

    According to the Nfld News here:

    current At-large councilor Rhonda Pownell has filed for mayor this morning.

    June 5, 2012
  12. Griff Wigley said:


    Former City Councilor David DeLong has filed for the second ward seat.

    And just under the wire:

    Councilor Suzie Nakasian, in an email to the News this morning, said, “This all took a bit longer than I expected, but I am pleased to let you know that my papers are now in (City Clerk) Deb Little’s hands and with that my candidacy is official.

    June 5, 2012
  13. Griff Wigley said:

    And it continued right to the end:

    With little more than an hour and a half in the filing period, Councilor Betsey Buckheit withdrew from the mayoral race and filed for the at-large seat.

    Brian Ims, who serves as a Northfield fire fighter, has filed for mayor.

    Wade Schulz and Paul Reiland filed for the Second Ward seat.

    June 5, 2012
  14. Griff Wigley said:

    The summary from Deb Little, City Clerk:


    Dana Graham
    Rhonda Pownell
    Suzie Nakasian
    Brian Ims

    Council Member At-Large

    David Ludescher
    Joe Gasior
    Betsey Buckheit

    Council Member Second Ward

    Frank Balster
    David DeLong
    Paul Reiland
    Wade Schulz

    Council Member Third Ward

    Erica Zweifel
    Jon Denison

    June 5, 2012
  15. David Ludescher said:


    Betsey’s post says that she is running for mayor and not at-large.

    June 6, 2012
  16. I am running at-large, David. I initially filed for mayor, but made a strategic decision yesterday to change races.

    June 6, 2012
  17. Griff Wigley said:

    The Nfld News is reporting that Suzie Nakasian sent them an email announcing her withdrawal from the Mayor’s race: Northfield mayor’s race down to two

    I am writing to announce that I am withdrawing from the race for the office of mayor of Northfield. Since entering the race, it has unfortunately become clear to me that the added responsibilities of the mayor’s role would be more than I can manage well at this point in my personal and family life.

    On account of election procedures, my name will appear on the primary ballot, but I am no longer running for office.

    I look forward to continued work on behalf of the community and to contributing to work of the Council in my current role as Ward 1 council member.

    Suzie Nakasian

    July 13, 2012
  18. Griff Wigley said:

    I love that KYMN blog post headline: “Nakasian is out, Body found in burnt out vehicle.”

    Plus, it made me look up burnt vs burned.

    July 17, 2012
  19. kiffi summa said:

    Griff: Could you please do a more extensive explanatory article on the implications, as explained by the City Clerk, of the possible ramifications of Councilor Nakasian’s withdrawal from the Mayoral race?

    A few years ago we had a fourth ward situation like this,with one candidate going in and out of the race for that seat, and it caused considerable confusion , and possibly messed up the vote totals… well, did mess them up if I’m remembering correctly, because many people voted for a ballot name that had withdrawn.

    I think this may be a very close race when down to two candidates, and I don’t think it should ‘turn’ on a mistaken perception of who is running.

    By the way.. I personally am very sorry that Ms. Nakasian decided to withdraw.

    July 19, 2012
  20. Griff Wigley said:

    AARRGGHH! According to this blog post on Northfield.org, there’s a LWV candidate forum at City Hall tonight, 6-8 pm., right in the middle of Taste of Northfield. Something failed at the LWV’s Department of Planning Department.

    July 26, 2012
  21. Paul Zorn said:

    Yesterday’s Northfield News had a piece with questions for the three candidates for the at-large position on the City Council. I recommend the piece to LGNers attention, cluttered on-screen layout (not the candidates’ fault!) notwithstanding. It’s a fine thing, IMO, that three thoughtful and generous citizens are willing to step forward for what David Ludescher describes as a “tough thankless job”. Thanks, all.

    At least two of the three candidates post here regularly; it would be interesting to have all three “present” for questions. For example, here’s a question for David.

    The article quotes you thus:

    As a councilperson, I will try to always use the word “value” and never use the word “investment” when I talk about spending your money.

    Is the quote accurate? If so, what’s wrong with “investment”? As a taxpayer I hope that you would indeed, if elected, “spend my money” in ways that constitute good “investments”.

    July 26, 2012
  22. David Ludescher said:


    I hear the word “investment” used to describe Northfield’s own version of pork-barrels projects. In my opinion, on one side of the equation is the cost; on the other side is the benefits. “Value” better describes what we are looking for when we spend money.

    For example, the city spent $250,000.00 to build 600 feet of bike path. It is easy to call that expenditure an “investment” in Northfield’s future. But, I think the better analysis is that it is a poor value. What else could we have spent that money on? Did we get value for our dollar? Calling something an investment” usually ends the conversation.

    For example, when I opposed building that 600 feet (for the price proposed), I had people ask me, “Don’t you believe in the need for bike paths?”. That question doesn’t probe the deeper issue of whether it was worth the money.

    July 26, 2012
  23. Paul Zorn said:


    I get that you don’t like the bike path, and I’m guessing you don’t like other expenditures that you regard as bad investments or, for that matter, bad value for money.

    What I don’t get is why you use “investment” to mean “bad investment” and “value” to mean “good value”. These seem to me highly idiosyncratic uses of language, and quite unlikely to be understood in discourse. For most of us, “investments” can be wise or foolish, but in the best cases represent prudent planning for the future. Should city councils not aim for these things?

    July 26, 2012
  24. David Ludescher said:


    It is not that I don’t like the bike path; I don’t like the bike path at the price we paid.

    What really irritated me, and led me to quit the Streetscape Committee is that we had no objective criteria to measure expenditures. Every decision came down to a vote on personal preferences for spending (someone else’s money).

    I suggested four objective criteria be used for every project in the Streetscape spending:
    1. What is the cost to accomplish the same objective in another manner?
    2. What is the internal rate of return, measured as a dollar amount?
    3. What else could the money be spent on within the Streetscape Commitee?
    4. What else could the taxing entities do with the money if it were returned to them?

    After a while, whenever I heard the word “investment” I knew that we were going to be financing someone’s pork barrel project. For this reason, I would ban the use of the word “investment”. It adds nothing to a discussion of what government should spend its money on.

    What are your thoughts on how to develop objective criteria for government spending?

    July 27, 2012
  25. Curt Benson said:

    David, I agree with you about the word “investment” in regards to government spending. The other term I’d ban is “forgivable loan”. A forgivable loan is not a loan, it is a gift. I think it is OK for governmental agencies to help out private entities at times, but let’s not be slippery about it.

    July 27, 2012
  26. kiffi summa said:

    Curt… you digress with the “forgivable loan” comment … but it’s a good digression , because they are sometimes surrounded by ‘slipperyness’.

    “forgivable loans” are awarded with contingencies, i.e. number of employees increased within a certain time frame, or some criteria to be met.
    They become outright gifts when those criteria are not met and yet the loan is not called in, or extension after extension is awarded.
    It is virtually impossible to be fair if there are criteria that have been determined to be the standard that must be met, and that is revised, and revised, and revised…

    Then “slippery” is a good word to apply…

    Not too big a digression, come to think of it, as it has to do with ‘value’ received from an ‘investment’ !

    July 27, 2012
  27. Paul Zorn said:


    Understood, your beef is not that the bike path itself is a Bad Thing, but that, in your view, it’s a bad investment, or gives bad value, or whatever. I’m not sure either way about the quality of the investment, but — either way — I appreciate your instinct to cast a cold and (to the extent possible) calculating eye on any proposed investment or value proposition, regardless of nomenclature. Such hard and thankless calls are exactly what we [don’t but arguably should] pay city councillors the big bucks for making.

    Your characterization of “every” Streetscape vote as reducing simply to “personal preference” seems harsh; do you really mean “every”? Still, I agree completely that tough questions should be asked about any investment, and those you propose sound reasonable.

    “Objective” answers to objective questions are great. They should be sought, when they exist, and help to inform decision-making. But not all good questions are “objective” in the narrow sense, and even “objective” questions may be hard or impossible to answer with numerical confidence.

    For instance, how would you judge “the internal return, measured in dollars” for a bike path, a city park, a streetlight, a human rights investigation, or a new Northfield cop? How confident could you be of any numerical answer proposed? Should councillors always vote against “spending other people’s money” on such things?

    July 27, 2012
  28. Paul Zorn said:

    Curt, David,

    Nobody I know supports bad investments or “slippery” loan practices. (I guess crooks might support such things, but I don’t know any.) And, indisputably, words like “investment” and “forgivable loan” and “value” are often twisted or misused in political contexts. Orwell had a lot to say about such things.

    What baffles me is the remedy you seem to advocate. Eschewing good words like “investment” and “forgivable loan” while accepting equally twistable ones, like “value”, seems to me a slippery slope to confusion, and thence to linguistic perdition. Why not just use good words carefully, and diss the politicians who don’t? They, not the words, are to blame.

    July 27, 2012
  29. kiffi summa said:

    Paul: you are so right: “They, not the words, are to blame.”

    But there is a curious thing that happens: people are hesitant to differ with the opinions of their elected officials to their faces, so they speak behind their backs in obtuse language, or say one thing in a ‘dissdent’ group meeting, but another in the televised public meeting.

    What’s the remedy for this?

    Citizens being able to disagree without being called “stupid”, or told they’re not being ‘team players’ (whose team?) and having the elected officials discuss the community conversations which differ with the opinions of those officials… one way would be to discuss, with a measure of seriousness and respect, the issues brought up at a Public Hearing, rather than just acting as if that whole PH process was an unpleasant required step they have to ‘wait out’, and then voting right following the PH with having had no discussion … i.e., minds made up.

    July 27, 2012
  30. David Ludescher said:


    Let me address both of your comments here.

    Yes, I did mean every Streetscape decision was decided on personal preference. We had no decision-making tree. The only criteria for a project to pass was a majority vote.

    When there is government spending, there is always at least one objective measurement – cost. So, Cost = B1 + B2 + B3 etc. where B is the benefit alleged. If it turns out that the benefit is too intangible to measure accurately, then perhaps the intangible benefit is really 0, not the arbitrary number invented by the proponent.

    The reason that I hate the word “investment” is that announcing that a project is an investment is almost always a conversation-stopper. If someone states that a project is an “investment”, they never say “bad investment”. And, if one tries to counter that it is a “bad investment” (as I did with the bike path), the response is almost always met with, “That is your opinion.”. If everything is a matter of opinion, how can or should a government official make rational spending decisions?

    My preference would be to use the clinical term, spending, to describe government spending. We don’t gain anything from Orwellian terms, like “investment”. We aren’t “investing” $250,000.00 in a bike path, we are spending $250,000.00 on a bike path. What will be our actual return on investment? 0.0 %.

    I don’t have a good solution to rating the subjective returns on spending. But, it seems to me that the most prudent approach is to place the burden upon the project proponent, and to force he/she/it to compare it to other spending.

    July 27, 2012
  31. kiffi summa said:

    David: I realize you are running for office, and want to expound on your fiscal policy, and that’s good, but hasn’t the spending of the SSTF been dissected (some might say ‘ad nauseam’) on an earlier thread?
    Back to the City Council race, the withdrawal of Councilor Nakasian from the Mayor’s race being too late to have her name removed from the primary ballot needs to have more publicity… many people think Ms. Nakasian is still running for that seat, and more will be confused when they see her name on the primary ballot.

    Should the many people who intended to vote for her see her name on that primary ballot, and still being confused cast their vote for her, and if those votes tally up to take one of the top two places, then one of the ‘still in the race’ candidates will be disenfranchised.
    This is a real problem.

    What is the legal remedy for this situation? Can there be notices at each polling place?

    July 28, 2012
  32. norman butler said:

    One of the reasons the Cow is not featuring the Mayoral race is that people might ask “Why isn’t the Cow’s ‘Question Time” not doing the Mayoral Race?” which will lead to an informed response. And your suggestion is a good one, Kiffi…plus when the ballot papers are handed out the officials could simply say “Please be advised, Suzie Nakasian is no longer in the race for Mayor”.

    July 28, 2012
  33. Paul Zorn said:


    You say:

    … every Streetscape decision was decided on personal preference. We had no decision-making tree. The only criteria for a project to pass was a majority vote.

    Isn’t every individual’s vote ultimately an expression of “personal preference”? Is your complaint with the voting method (majority rule vs instant runoff vs …)? Or do you feel that deciders arrived at their “personal preferences” hastily or cavalierly?

    And this:

    When there is government spending, there is always at least one objective measurement — cost. … If it turns out that the benefit is too intangible to measure accurately, then perhaps the intangible benefit is really 0, not the arbitrary number invented by the proponent.

    Sure, every project has a cost (estimate) number attached, and that’s an essential decision-making input. Yes, benefits can be harder to quantify, and proponents are likely to aim high. But to value such benefits at $0 (just another number, after all) makes even less sense to me than taking proposers’ optimistic estimates at face value. Is there nothing in between?

    “Investment” is no more an Orwellian term than “good”, “evil”, “preference”, or “value” (which you recommend elsewhere). All of these words can be used in dodgy ways, but the fault is with the dodging, not with the words.

    July 28, 2012
  34. David Ludescher said:


    My objection to the voting was that I didn’t know the measurements for deciding. I voted against almost all of the projects because I couldn’t see value. We could have painted a stripe on Water St. – just like we have on 5th Street – and saved $250,000.00 (less the cost of striping).

    When I started the valuation process, I started at $0.00 because that is the assumed value until another number is proven. I try to remember that I am spending someone else’s money so I am in a fiduciary capacity.

    What really burned me is to have someone proclaim, “But, it is an investment.” That is how we get and GOT local pork-barrel projects.

    So, yes, I would still ban the word “investment”. In today’s world, and especially in Northfield politics it is a dodging word.

    Let me give you today’s example – the proposed new police station. For $7.2 million, what are we getting in terms of service improvement? We haven’t even tried to define the service improvement.

    Yet, we charge ahead spending money like the government has an unlimited supply, and without regard to what else we could be buying for the same money. We have no decision matrix, and thus no way to decide if the decision is a good decision or a bad decision.

    July 28, 2012
  35. David Ludescher said:


    I am running for Council primarily because of the Safety Center issue, not to expound on any particular fiscal policy. However, if elected, I would not follow the same “anything goes” fiscal policy. And, I would make a special effort to hear the voices of the business community, which pays substantial property taxes, but doesn’t get to vote.

    July 28, 2012
  36. Paul Zorn said:


    OK, I guess we’ll just have to agree to disagree on what “investment” means, even as we agree that wasting money—by any name—is a Bad Thing.

    As a math guy I’m very keen on matrices; they can be useful determinants in decision-making, except in some singular cases. How, specifically, would you use matrices?

    July 28, 2012
  37. David Ludescher said:


    I would start by identifying the variables in spending decisions.

    On one side of the equation is always the expense or cost. On the other side of the equation, I would start by identifying the objective monetary variables, the objective non-monetary variables, and the subjective variables.

    For the Streetscape, it would have been easy because the pool of money was finite. Each project could have been compared to the other S-C projects. We could have developed as many variables as there were projects to ensure that each variable had a definite relationship to every other variable. Given that cost is a constant, all projects could have been broken down into a fixed constant.

    Thus, $10,000.00 = 25 feet of bike path = 10 benches downtown = 3 streetlights, etc. The matrices could be developed from there.

    While I don’t have enough math background to do precise calculations, I could envision someone setting up the matrices to assist us. On a more simple level, the matrices are simply columns which have a weight attached to each “benefit”.

    What we did instead of looked at each project in isolation. As a result, cost was never a significant factor in the decision process.

    P.S. Agree to disagree? What does that mean?

    July 28, 2012
  38. Paul Zorn said:


    You asked what “agree to disagree” means. Nothing mysterious (unless I misunderstand the question): For you, “investment” comes with a built-in negative connotation; for me, not. Neither of us seems likely to change his mind.


    July 28, 2012
  39. David Ludescher said:


    Let me try another approach: The reason that I don’t like the word “investment” is because investment is a conclusion, not a premise. It is such an abused term in political conversation that I don’t intend to use it in my campaign nor allow others to use it in their conversations with me. I think it will make for more honest conversation.

    Your point about “value” is well-taken. It would be better to simply refer to government “spending”. Spending is a more neutral and accurate term to describe what government does. Northfield spent $250,000.00 on a bike trail is a fact.

    July 29, 2012
  40. kiffi summa said:

    David: You said: ” And, I would make a special effort to hear the voices of the business community, which pays substantial property taxes, but doesn’t get to vote.”

    well, the ‘business community’ does get to vote if they live here, and I think that is why one often hears the ‘business community’ having negative feelings about the cost of a project, but what I have seen over and over is that the Chamber, for instance, will have a forum, people will express very negative POVs, and then come to the Council , either at a meeting or a Public Hearing, and say “we love the project, BUT…” and the ‘BUT’ is so weak that the Council only hears the first part.

    But also, however much the Council states the importance of the DT, the discussion never factors in, to any meaningful degree. the financial impacts of some major decisions on an already financially fragile DT.

    And you are correct about this also: “We haven’t even tried to define the service improvement.” (comment # 23/2, re the new police facility)
    The improvements that are needed for the police to function more securely/efficiently in their process have been discussed since the beginning, but how do these provide increased public service in relation to the cost?

    Is it necessary to build a facility of that cost, which does not address the major needs of the fire department? I don’t think so, and I certainly don’t agree the cost has gone down; the $$ number has gone down from 10.4 million to 7.28 million, but the 10.4 was a new combined facility.

    But I see it as hopeless; the Council say they listen to voices that disagree, but they do not…either in public or in private conversations … because they do not answer the questions asked. They also say they have a huge constituency that are saying just ‘get’er done’… but those people have not come in the reported droves to the open mic, so?

    It is also true, IMO, that both sides have their heels dug in , but I will say the ‘dissidents’ less so because they truly say just give us a defined project for both police and fire, that is at a cost the taxpayers can tolerate, and its a go!

    **** No one is ever going to know for certain that this is a project the majority of the taxpayers can agree paying for without a public vote. ****

    To my mind, it would be a BIG show of maturity if the Council would say we will put this on the ballot in November (they have until mid August to decide to do that) and let the people show, by a majority vote, that they support this project … as proposed … or not.

    July 29, 2012
  41. Paul Zorn said:


    Fair enough … we don’t have to agree on all points linguistic.

    And I sincerely appreciate, and share, your view that all expenditures should be scrutinized, and that”investments” and “value” propositions should be skeptically scrutinized, ideally in some regular, defensible, perhaps matrix-oriented way. When numerical “metrics” are available, they should be used.

    I’m on this tear only partly as a language nerd/bore/scold. (Guilty, your honor.) More important is that, IMO, deciding which proposed public expenditures really are good values/investments, and which are not, is one of the most important (and hard … and thankless …) things a public official (e.g., on city council) has to do. As a voter, I want to know how a candidate would think about such decisions. Which expenditures are wise? Which are foolish? Which offer good value? Which are good investments?

    Skepticism about unsupported claims is entirely good. To “forbid” any reference to a central term in such debates seems … peculiar, and much likelier to obfuscate than to promote these rightfully important debates.

    July 29, 2012
  42. David Ludescher said:


    One of the problems I faced on the Streetscape Committee was how to start a discussion about spending projects. In my opinion, if people would not have used the word “investment” we could have had much better discussions because people would have been forced to define investment.

    I just think that “investment” is an Orwellian term in Northfield politics. I am willing to sacrifice linguistic purity for political honesty.

    July 29, 2012
  43. kiffi summa said:

    Thanks to Paul and David for a great discussion on the expending of monies…

    I would like to see such thoughtful discussions at the council level; discussions which explore intellectual principles as the basis for policy development.

    July 29, 2012
  44. Paul Zorn said:


    Agreed, buying political honesty at the price of linguistic purity would be a good value/investment/expenditure (though perhaps I should ask you to attach dollar signs … .)

    My concern is that the price you’re paying is not purity of linguistics but clarity of discourse. You could pay less and get the same thing by demanding that people use “investment” clearly, not that they avoid it entirely.

    This discussion (not the city council …) reminds me a bit of an old Monty Python sketch, in which shoppers were forbidden to say “mattress” and forced to say “dog kennel” instead. Confusion resulted.

    July 29, 2012
  45. Jeff Ondich said:

    Much as I enjoy a good debate about words, especially when it includes linear algebra jokes on the sly (23.2.1), I am more interested in how to address David’s concerns about decision process. Estimating costs is, for many projects, pretty straightforward. But I think David is right to want a similar measure for benefits or value or ROI (ahem).

    But what’s the methodology? It would be great to have some kind of rubric to enable us to assign a “value to the community” for one streetlight, one bench, one concrete outdoor chess table, etc. Then, for example, if the “2 bench project” provides the same value as the “2 chess table” project but the benches cost twice as much, maybe we should do the chess table project instead.

    This gets tricky and requires good judgement regardless of how it’s implemented. You could end up with dozens of chess tables and no benches if you are too literal about applying a value-measurement methodology. You might also never take any risks (e.g. build a nice riverfront in anticipation of its getting well used by the Cow and the Saturday market and dog-walkers and anglers and visitors, etc.). Also, a project like 600 feet of bike path is going to have a very different value per foot if, say, it’s the last 600 feet connecting Faribault to Cannon Falls than if it doesn’t really connect anything to anything. So you have to have flexibility in the system somehow.

    This isn’t a new problem. Smart people somewhere have undoubtedly developed systems for providing local decision-makers with high-quality cost-benefit analysis data for public projects. Do any of the people in the LG community have experience with such systems? I think it would be worth some research, and I may give it a shot when I find some free times.

    David, I really support your call for analysis of both costs and benefits of proposed projects. If you can give us a plausible plan for how you will measure the benefits of projects, you’ll get my vote. That said, saying the value of a project is $0 until proven otherwise is not, in my mind, a satisfactory valuation method. In fact, I suspect that measuring the value in dollars is not going to work very well, though I may be wrong about that.

    July 29, 2012
  46. David Ludescher said:


    In my experience in Northfield politics, when someone announces that the spending was an investment, he/she always means that it is a good investment and that his/her mind cannot be changed. It is a signal to me that the conversation cannot progress. That is why I suggested that term value.

    However, now, after this discussion, I would suggest that we stick to the term spending or expenditure.

    July 30, 2012
  47. David Ludescher said:


    Thanks for chiming in.

    For me, the decision-making matrix for a government official starts with a number of assumptions:
    1. I should be more prudent in spending someone else’s money than I am in spending my own money.
    2. The burden of proving the worth or value of the spending is upon the one requesting the spending. (The person should have their own matrices showing worth.)
    3. If the person/entity requesting has something personally invested in the project, then the project has value to that person/entity.
    4. Expenditures for basic human needs, such as water and sewer have the highest priority. Next in line are community services such as police, fire, roads, etc. Lowest in priority are expenditures for services that we can live without – bike paths, riverwalks, etc. Lowest priority expenditures should only be undertaken if the other priorities have been (reasonably) met.
    5. Expenditures serving the neediest take the highest priority.

    Regarding setting valuations at $0.00 – when the value is unknown, the safest approach for a prudent spender is to set the value at the lowest known value. For example, with the bike path – it has some value because you can now ride your bike next to the river as opposed to riding it on the street. I would submit that this value is very low. The easiest way to measure it estimate what a willing bike rider would pay to ride on the bike path rather than in the street. Multiply that by the number of bike riders and subtract the cost of maintenance, and you get the ongoing value.

    July 30, 2012

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