The race for Northfield Mayor: Graham vs. Pownell

Dana Graham Rhonda Pownell 
It’s one month till the election and the race for Northfield Mayor is between Dana Graham and Rhonda Pownell.

If you’re looking for an online venue to discuss the race with your fellow Northfielders, this is it.


  1. rob hardy said:

    I’m really interested in the mayoral race. I voted for Dana Graham in the primary, but now I’m tilting toward Rhonda Pownell. People whose opinion I value highly have urged me to vote for her, and no one has thus far come forward to convince me otherwise. At the Arts and Culture Commission’s “poetry parade” in August, she and Betsey and Patrick Ganey (who was also one of the poets) were the only councilors present. Although I hadn’t spoken to her in a couple of years, she remembered who I was, and seemed to be to be genuinely supportive of the poetry project (unlike some people, Griff). I’ve been impressed with what appears to be a sincere interest on her part in representing the entire city in a fair and thoughtful way. Would anyone like to try to convince me otherwise?

    October 15, 2012
  2. kiffi summa said:

    Rob: I am not in the business of trying to convince people how to vote, but I would like to suggest something to think about.

    If Councilor Pownell would be elected Mayor, then the current or new Council would have to appoint someone to fill the at-large seat she would vacate.

    Just something to consider in this race; if you favor Ms. Pownell’s style, then she will be on the Council, with one vote, the same as if she was the Mayor, and there will only be one appointed , rather than elected councilor, for one year. (There will have to be a special election for an elected 4th Ward rep a year from this November.)

    Do you want to have a council with two appointed, rather than elected, seats?

    October 15, 2012
  3. Griff Wigley said:

    I’m glad to see Rhonda is still posting to her blog which she started back in 2008. She’s still lousy at it, though.

    She also has a campaign Facebook page and has a campaign video:

    October 16, 2012
  4. Griff Wigley said:

    Anyone know if Dana Graham has a campaign website, Twitter feed or Facebook page? I can’t find anything. The Nfld Patch info page on him doesn’t indicate anything.

    October 16, 2012
  5. norman butler said:

    Question Time at The Cow this Thursday will split the forum into two separate one-hour sessions; 7pm til 8pm will feature the At-Large candidates followed by the Mayoral candidates from 8pm til 9pm. Ditto next Thursday for Wards 2 & 3. This will allow greater focus on the candidates and the issues and dispense with the usual time limits to responses. The forum will be broadcast on Channel 12 and we will know later today if they can be broadcast ‘live’.

    October 16, 2012
  6. Griff Wigley said:

    Rob, no worries, I won’t count Rhonda’s support of the sidewalk poetry project against her. Your school board candidacy however… 😉

    My hesitation about Rhonda as mayor is because of her affiliation with Transformation Northfield, which I blogged extensively about back in 2011: What is Transformation Northfield’s public agenda?

    Have I seen anything during her tenure as a councilor to heighten those concerns? She abstained on the marriage amendment vote recently and was the only council member to vote against the domestic partner registry ordinance this summer.

    But those votes aren’t enough in my mind to not vote for her. I’m still undecided.

    October 16, 2012
  7. Griff Wigley said:

    Dana Graham confirmed with me via email that he does NOT have a campaign website, Twitter feed or Facebook page.

    I just keep knocking on doors and answer phone calls and e-mails.

    That’s important to do, of course, but I guess he doesn’t understand the importance of leveraging himself in this online ocean that 90% of his constituents swim in these days. Which really is a big strike against him, IMHO, though not enough yet to not vote for him.

    October 16, 2012
  8. rob hardy said:

    The Election 2012 page has been updated to include local candidate profiles and questionnaires. We’ve also been linking to related material on Northfield Patch.

    October 16, 2012
  9. Griff Wigley said:

    Thanks, Rob. You might want to add the Chamber forum tomorrow morning for State and County candidates… 7:30 at the Community Resource Bank.

    October 16, 2012
  10. Griff Wigley said:

    Rob, I see links to candidate websites but I don’t see a section for links to their profiles/questionnaires.

    October 16, 2012
  11. rob hardy said:

    If there’s a link in parentheses that says “website” next to the candidate’s name, then the name itself is linked to the questionnaire page. I’ll be doing some clean-up later to make things clearer. I kind of rushed headlong into the formatting of the page, and it’s not quite consistent yet. I should also add that Nate published all of the candidate profiles and questionnaires. I have not worked on the school board candidate pages, and will not be going anywhere near them in my capacity as a editor!

    October 16, 2012
  12. rob hardy said:

    Griff: Maybe you overestimate the vastness of the “online ocean.” In 2008, I won your online LoGroNo straw poll, but lost the real election. Ellen Iverson knocked on doors and won. Jeff Quinnell, whose current website you and Sean have mocked, won a seat on the school board. Rhonda, who’s “lousy” at blogging, has been a successful candidate. I am so far the only school board candidate (in fact, the only candidate for any office) to offer to engage with voters here and on Patch. Will that make a difference, or will it just be a drop in the “online ocean”? We’ll see.

    October 18, 2012
  13. Griff Wigley said:

    Rob, good point. I should clarify: I’m not saying that Dana should have an online presence as a strategy to get elected. But by not using the online tools at all now before the election, it’s unlikely he’ll use them afterwards if he wins. And I think public engagement these days demands that public officials use online tools as one of several means to engage constituents effectively.

    October 18, 2012
  14. Dana Graham said:

    Griff, I disagree with your assessment. If elected, I will use whatever means necessary to communicate with the most citizens. You should come to the Cow tonight for the forum and I will be happy to answer that question publicly. Thanks.

    October 18, 2012
  15. David Ludescher said:


    That is how a debate should be run. It was lively, intimate, energetic, and substantive. Kudos to you and Steve Engler.

    October 19, 2012
  16. Griff Wigley said:

    Norman, I was only able to attend hour 2 of last night’s forum at the Cow. I thought there would be time for Q&A from the audience like the forum for the primaries you held. Was that deliberately eliminated?

    October 19, 2012
  17. Griff Wigley said:

    Dana, I was prepared to ask the question but alas, there was no Q&A.

    Your statement on mentions nothing about using online citizen engagement tools:

    2. If elected, what regular methods will you use to get input from the community?

    I will be very active and visible with city leaders. My style of leadership is one of good communication and inclusiveness. I will be a good communicator with each counselor individually, and as a group to get effective feedback. I want to have close working relationships with heads of the different organizations like the Seniors, the NDDC, the Chamber of Commerce, NEC, and many others.

    But the fact that you chimed in here bodes well. Let’s find a time to chat so I can give you my sermon about online citizen engagement. 😉

    October 19, 2012
  18. kiffi summa said:

    Frankly, Griff … it is rather foolish , IMO, to decide on who to vote for because of their use of electronic media… I would have thought the substance of their debate would be the deciding factor.

    I cannot vote for either of these mayoral candidates, and will not vote for either, so whoever ends up as Mayor, is on the shoulders of y’all… 🙂

    But let’s have an example of electronic media and content here, to make my point: Ms. Pownell has a campaign video, and to underline her stated goal of working with diverse community groups to find solutions, the video picture shows her working with a group of citizens at the Hideaway.
    Sounds OK, doesn’t it, and looks OK, doesn’t it?
    Just one problem; from the people present, it looks like these are her campaign committee members!
    Hardly an example of bringing diverse groups together to reach a solution.

    One can make all kinds of meaningless videos; just look at the EDA’s video which Ms. Pownell is so proud of… Didn’t Abe Lincoln, or was it Mark Twain, say something about “fooling all of the people some of the time” etc etc etc ?

    October 19, 2012
  19. norman butler said:

    I uninterrupted the first forum (Buckheit & Ledescher) to take comments from the audience but Victor was the only taker. So, I thought it best not to interrupt the flow again. However, next week with Wards 2 & 3 we will make room for a few minutes Q & A at the end of each forum.

    October 19, 2012
  20. David Roberts said:

    Kiffi is right about the appointments : I am seeking the 4th Ward seat not to be appointed but get my point across that we need elections I feel that te citizens of the 4th Ward know who they could vote for if there was an election and I Hope there is because I will respectfully take my name out and vote for ever steps up : However if there is a appointment I will aslo step aside since Mr.Gehring finished a strong second I feel that he should be appointed : I just needed to enter to hopefully to persuade the council we need an election : Thank-You to Democracy

    October 20, 2012
  21. I don’t consider use of electronic media mandatory, but it certainly improves my interest level — in general, I like to read about people before voting for them, for instance. Of course, that also requires that their site or whatever have the information I want. 🙂

    October 22, 2012
  22. Tim Clack said:

    I reviewed Dana’s Q&A at the Patch and watched the session at the Cow…One question I am specifically interested in hearing an answer from Dana on is, “Would you have used the type of financing the Council did for the Safety Center project, and would you ever use that type of financing in the future if you were elected Mayor, if so, for what reasons?”

    I recall the question being asked at the Cow, but I must have missed Dana’s answer, or he didn’t answer.

    Anyone know? or, does anyone know how to get the answer from Dana?

    October 23, 2012
  23. Griff Wigley said:

    Mayoral candidate Dana Graham added a comment here this morning but then asked me to remove it as he wants to “re-write it and post a better version later today.”

    I’ve complied.

    October 23, 2012
  24. kiffi summa said:

    I heard Dana Graham make this statement at the LWV Forum, last Saturday, and wondered how such a story could have gotten started, and what the origin of it was.

    From many years of Council observing, I knew there was no basis for it, but wondered if had gotten confused with the attack/ censure on David Koenig during that council period; and that attack was in my estimation entirely without basis , but based on personal animosity, and strong philosophical differences.
    David Koenig was a superlative councilperson, and I’m sure his resignation from the Council was a huge loss. (Especially as a proponent of using cost-benefit analysis for help in decision making; a process still not well implemented, if at all )

    But what really bothers me is the ‘traction’ rumors like this gain, and I believe it is partially due to the fact that no one will ever say who started the rumor, if they know, or where they heard it , and so it always remains in the realm of a mystery.

    I have previously said that I will not be able to vote for either of the Mayoral candidates, so this is not a plea for a vote for Dana Graham, but is a plea for calling out the source of the rumor, and especially if it came from the opposition’s campaign.

    This parallels the unprincipled damage done by anonymous political comments in any venue, a local newspaper, blog, etc.

    October 23, 2012
  25. Dana Graham said:

    I am running for Mayor of Northfield, striving for the opportunity to serve Northfielders with leadership, collaboration, and integrity. The primary role of city government can easily be undermined by needless distractions and issues caused by poor communication, a lack of transparency, and unfortunately, rumors. It has been my hope that this dynamic wouldn’t be present as Northfield prepares to welcome new public servants. Unfortunately, I am experiencing the result of what can only be described as misinformation and gossiping in an attempt to sway votes.

    A couple of weeks ago, it came to my attention that several citizens had been told that during my tenure on the Northfield City Council (2000-2004) I was censured by the council. I would like to publicly state that at no time during my term was I censured, nor was there any public or private discussion concerning such action. The Northfield City Clerk has reviewed meeting minutes and confirmed that there was no mention of it.

    My family and I have lived in Northfield for nearly 20 years; my wife attended St. Olaf; and two of my children started school here and are now in high school. We have met and know incredibly smart and talented people who care as much (if not more) about others as they do themselves, and I can tell you: There should be no place for this kind of disrespectful and hurtful behavior in Northfield.

    Thank you,

    Dana Graham

    October 23, 2012
  26. Dana Graham said:

    I am not a fan of certificates of participation. Even in this environment of low interest rates, they are still more expensive than other forms of financing. While it’s hard to say “never”, as long as the city is able to keep our credit rating high, there should not be a reason to use it again.

    October 23, 2012
  27. Griff Wigley said:

    Kiffi, I never said that I’m basing my decision on who to vote for by the extent to which they use electronic media. It’s one of many factors. But I am keenly interested in what elected officials believe and practice when it comes to citizen engagement, both F2F and online. Many are gung ho when they’re campaigning but pretty much stop once they’re elected.

    Dana Graham held many Ward meetings back when he was on the council. To me, that’s a bigger indicator of where he stands on citizen engagement than his not having a blog for his campaign.

    Rhonda Pownell has a reputation for showing up for a huge number of board and commission meetings and hanging around afterwards to talk to people. To me, that’s a bigger indicator of where she stands on citizen engagement than her being lousy at blogging.

    October 24, 2012
  28. kiffi summa said:

    Griff: I guess I took your “big strike against” remark as being fairly serious, especially considering your emphasis ( IMO, OVER emphasis) on electronic media , but I also understand that is your focus.

    No amount of electronic manipulation can substitute for the truth, as I point out in an earlier comment, and it is the responsibility of the electorate to go past the ‘sound bites’ whether electronic or not, to ascertain the truth of statements made.

    October 24, 2012
  29. Tim Clack said:

    Excuse me please for barging in on your discussion, but I feel compelled to comment on this quote by Griff

    “Rhonda Pownell has a reputation for showing up for a huge number of board and commission meetings and hanging around afterwards to talk to people. To me, that’s a bigger indicator of where she stands on citizen engagement”

    Have you seen the number of citizens that actually show up at board and commission meetings? If it’s anything like the pitiful number that show up at Council meetings, then this hardly qualifies as citizen engagement.

    In fact, I feel this is one of the biggest problems with current Council, they don’t engage citizens, rather they expect the citizens to come to them and when they do, they are quickly dismissed anyway…


    October 24, 2012
  30. I thought gossip was the fundamental motive force of small-town government?

    Seriously, though, that sorta sucks. I may be obliged to vote for you on the grounds that gossip is usually used to attack people I would otherwise like. 🙂

    October 25, 2012
  31. David Ludescher said:


    Just so we are clear. The reason the City Council opted for non-approved voter financing was to avoid the voters, not because we had a poor credit rating.

    There is one way to say “never”. That is to amend the Charter to provide that the Council does not have the authority to bind future councils and the taxpayers to any kind of debt without the debt being general obligation or capital improvement bonds.

    October 25, 2012
  32. Griff Wigley said:

    Tim, I was only pointing out the importance of listening as a characteristic in a councilor and that Rhonda seems to exhibit it.

    I do think that the current Council has pretty much failed in its 2010 Goal #2 “Develop and implement a plan for sustainable citizen communication.”

    So I think it’s fair to criticize all three councilor/candidates (Rhonda, Betsey and Erica) for that.

    October 25, 2012
  33. john george said:

    Peter- Perhaps you should consider the curvature of the Earth before you make your final decision. That and gossip have about the same weight in voting decisions, IMO.

    October 25, 2012
  34. Tim Clack said:

    Reply to 10.1.3

    Thanks Griff- Good info and I agree the 2010 goal #2 appears to be a miss for current council. As the number 2 priority of the council the resulting 21.875% completion rate would indeed be consider a failure IMO. To validate teh completion %, any idea when the document at the link was updated? I assume it is current. I also note that the lower level goal “face to face communication” shows it was never even started. A poor showing indeed.

    October 26, 2012
  35. Tim Clack said:


    I like the “outside the box” thinking on your part here. Amending the Charter is a great example of brainstorming ideas to drive improvements. That’s the kind of innovative thinking we need in our Council. Granted, all ideas may not come to fruition, but bottom line, it’s the level of effort you show to digging in and solving, rather than avoiding issues that will get you votes!

    October 26, 2012
  36. Tim Clack said:

    Alright, time to ask a few questions that have been on my mind for several days.

    Dana, during the Q&A Session at the Cow, you indicated that the financial company you work for handled selling the bonds related to the Safety Center Financing. If I am incorrect in this statement, please let me know, otherwise, here are the questions. Both questions assume you are elected Mayor.

    Should the Safety Center issue come to head again with a new Council wanting to back out of the US Bank lease arrangement, I assume this could reflect poorly on the company that sold the bonds to the investors. Would your obligation in this case be to the City of Northfield or to your Employer?

    What conflict of interest, real or perceived, would you be concerned about when voting to approve a new bonding item, if those bonds were also to be sold within the financial company you work for?

    October 26, 2012
  37. David Ludescher said:


    Thank you for the kind words. It is ironic that, in a democracy, having the right to vote is thinking outside the box.

    October 26, 2012
  38. Well, see. I often have insufficient data to make good judgements, at which point I fall back on heuristics.

    One of my heuristics is that opposing the apparent desires of people who are doing evil is usually a good bet. It’s not a sure thing, certainly, but it is usually pretty solid. If I know that people are spreading gossip about someone, usually that is a good indicator that the person has made the sorts of enemies that speak well of them.

    If the people who want Dana to lose the election are the sorts of people who spread malicious gossip to achieve their goals, that is a pretty good indicator that I do not want them to achieve their goals. It’s not perfect, but it’s better than no information at all.

    October 26, 2012
  39. Dana Graham said:


    My company, Edward Jones, is only one of several that buy “blocks” of highly rated municipal bonds. They then become available to all 11,000 advisors that work for them. There is no conflict of interest because I am not using my influence as mayor to get the bonds to my company.

    October 27, 2012