Audio: Fireworks at the Special City Council meeting

I used my digital voice recorder to capture the audio while watching last night’s NTV’s showing of the Wed. night special city council meeting (agenda PDF photo is from earlier this year).

Northfield City Council

(The audio throughout the meeting was crappy so don’t blame me and my home electronics. Remind me to blog separately about why, after spending tens of thousands of dollars on council chambers technology, we can’t get good audio. AAARRRGGGHHH!)

Click play to listen. 1 hour 36 minutes. Or download the MP3.

LWV Observer Jane McWilliams has blogged her report of the meeting, so be sure to read that before commenting here.

Regarding the logistics of the meeting, Jane noted:

Two resolutions were distributed at the meeting (and not prior to that time, as far as the League observer was able to determine), as well as an unsigned memo attached to the curriculum vitae of Richard F. Fursman. The observer commented during the public comments that it was unfortunate for both the public and the members of the council that the materials hadn’t been made available prior to the meeting. It made consideration of the very difficult issues more difficult.

Listen to Jane’s comments at the 8 min 20 sec mark. I agree with her. The City had 3 full days to get the resolutions on the meeting’s web page. And they’re still not there. Roger Knutson, the special counsel at the meeting, didn’t even bring a copy of Roder’s employment contract to the meeting. Shouldn’t he have been prepared?

After the Council accepted his resignation, City Administrator Al Roder read a statement (13 min 30 sec mark) blasting Mayor Lee Lansing for his treatment of Roder during his tenure. He then asked that the Council pay him 6 months severance along with $6,200 of attorney fees beyond the $7,500 that they agreed to pay. Jane wrote:

Before the council began their discussion, Roder spoke frankly about the conflicts he had had with Mayor Lansing, who, Roder said, asked him to resign in March 2007. On the basis of that request, Roder said he is due severance pay at his departure. He asserted he had been subject to abusive treatment by Lansing. He said his desire is to move on with his career. He said his ability to negotiate salary advancement in a new position has been eroded by allegations, and that he is making a lateral move at a financial cost to himself and his family.

After council discussion, the public was allowed to comment (listen at the 42 min. mark). Charter Commission members Bill Beck and Victor Summa (speaking as citizens) both blasted the Council (among other things) for their willingness to even consider paying Roder severance. Beck threatened to file a lawsuit. Councilor Davis tangled with Beck, arguing that severance was not on the agenda.

During the final public comment period:

  • Don McGee spoke at the 1 hr 12 min mark
  • Former councilor Dixon Bond spoke at the 1 hr 14 min mark
  • Jane McWilliams spoke at the 1 hr 16 min mark
  • Victor Summa spoke at the 1 hr 18 min mark
  • Kiffi Summa spoke at the 1 hr 20 min mark

During the final wrap-up comments:

  • Councilor Davis took issue with McGee’s criticism that the Council needed a good job description for City Admin, blasting Lansing indirectly. He also took issue with Jane McWilliams (and others) about how the meeting was scheduled (1 hr 24 min mark).
  • Councilor Denison defended the rationale for calling the meeting and how it was handled (1 hr 28 min mark) and blasted Kiffi Summa for her ongoing criticisms of him.
  • Councilor Pokorney commented that he’d love to write a book about the whole experience (1 hr 31 min mark).


  1. Tracy Davis said:

    Wow. I hope to listen to the whole audio over the weekend so I can comment in a more informed manner.

    However, one point really does gripe me. Even being married to a lawyer, I don’t understand how Mr. Roder could rack up so much in legal fees “related to the Goodhue County investigation” when he hasn’t been charged with anything. As a citizen, I’d like to see the hourly billing his attorney is submitting for “monitoring the investigation”. I don’t doubt that the attorney has spent the time he’s billing for; I simply question the actual necessity of doing so. And at what rate. Not enough accountability here, folks, and I certainly oppose giving a blank check for any future bills.

    July 4, 2008
  2. Job description, Griff. Lots of references to it; any chance of taking a gander at it? Here?

    July 4, 2008
  3. kiffi summa said:

    Tracy: Griff has already complained about the audio in his initial comment; it is important to note that it was also difficult “in (on?) the flesh”, so to speak.
    There was feedback all evening; thankfully not as much as on Griff’s tape.
    That sentence was interesting, as I look back at it: I was referring to the electronic audio feedback, but there was also another kind of feedback.

    Since last fall, maybe encouraged by “the Judy Dirks incident”, the council has been responding after comments citizens make on agenda items. (this is interesting because it is nearly impossible to get a response to a more general Open Mic comment). Usually the council has their discussion before the citizen agenda item comments, so when they come back afterwards with a contrary argumentative response it feels like they MUST get the last word.

    They HAVE the last word , it’s called THE VOTE !

    Councilperson Pokorney made comments about the necessity of citizens and councilors, “both sides of the line” I think he said, informing the other;
    That the responsibility of the transfer of information goes in both directions, and it is the public’s responsibility to convince them.

    In that council chambers, it seems that the more powerful winds blow across “the line” from the East… and they are “convinced” to support their staff, rather than listen to the positions of their citizens …

    July 4, 2008
  4. Griff Wigley said:

    Tracy, as for the attorney fees, I’d agree. WTF! Suzi Rook wrote in her article:

    So far, the city has paid $9,568 to the attorney. Bills for another $6,200 are pending. Roder said city attorney Maren Swanson approves the bills and forwards them to the finance director for payment. Thursday Swanson said she approved bills up to $7,500. Bills over that, she said, she did not authorize. The city’s finance director, Kathleen McBride, who approves such payments, could not be reached for comment.

    Roder’s attorney, David Lillehaug, has billed for $15,768. What’s his likely hourly fee? $300/hr? That’s 50 hours of work at that rate and no one from Goodhue County has even talked to Roder yet.

    July 5, 2008
  5. kiffi summa said:

    There is a very basic question here: if an employee is , in his/her mind, being inappropriately treated in his/her job, that matter must be bought to the employer.

    The public’s business must be done in the public, with some personnel issues exempted, but although there was MUCH talk of inter-office stress, it was not brought openly to the employer of the Administrator, i.e. the council.

    If you were to look at this whole last year as a David Mamet play, you would be looking for the motivations of the characters.

    For almost two years the council went along , identifying the 600 block property as their most preferred for the liquor store; at one meeting in Feb/Mar Mr. Roder warned them off the hardware store, saying Maren Swanson had said it would be a conflict. But the Tires Plus property remained on the table being discussed. Then (May/June) the closed meetings occur, and the big Heroin press conference (July) and maybe most importantly … Police Chief Smith filing a criminal investigation against the Administrator.

    Was that filing of a criminal investigation “the turning point”?

    THEN the whole focus begins to be on the actions of the Mayor, and all the relationships publicly begin to deteriorate. What do many people do when attention is focussed on their mistakes?; Often claim their actions were really inescapable because someone else had been pressuring them, or somehow causing them to make the bad choices. And of course, in that situation, the one trying to escape scrutiny tries to gather as much support as possible … and is sometimes successful.

    There is no way that Mr. Roder should be paid a severance, in my mind; he sought and procured another job, and in a community he thinks is superior. Where is the proof of his employment capability being impaired?
    That is the claim he made last Wednesday night to justify his requests.

    Look at the outcomes for these two men (Mayor and Administrator) that were locked in a struggle … Who do you think has, at least so far, experienced a better outcome?

    July 5, 2008
  6. kiffi summa said:

    As a small but literary diversion from the question of Mr. Roder’s severance pay, and legal fees … would you care to play “Rate the Insults”?

    One of the latest on the NFNews website refers to “termites”: that may have hit a new low (no pun intended), for those who disagree with some municipal activities.

    However, I think the most truly creative, even inventive, is one that was quickly pulled from LG by the moderator: “malevolent poke-noses” !

    How Jonathan Swiftian ! Even if you haven’t read “Gulliver’s Travels ” since 8th grade, you would have to admit it conjures up some pretty vivid images. Definitely the winner!

    July 5, 2008
  7. Curt Benson said:

    errrr, Thanks Kiffi. I’m pretty sure I stole “poke-noses” from PJ O’Rourke, who probably stole it from HL Mencken.

    When it comes to invective, Mencken is hard to beat. He called the American people the most “sniveling, poltroonish, ignominious mob of serfs and goose-steppers ever gathered under one flag in Christendom since the end of the Middle Ages.”

    July 6, 2008
  8. Julie Bixby said:

    It is ludicrous that the council would even consider giving severance pay to Mr. Roder. Have the other recently fired employees received 6 months severance pay? I really want to know. Mr Roder found another job and has insulted this community publicly.
    As for the attorney’s fees, how do any of us know what is really going on? Call me cynical but what about possible “refunds” from Mr. Roder’s attorney to Mr. Roder? Could happen. He would leave this city laughing at all of us.
    Considering the financial state of Northfield it seems very irresponsible for the council to agree to (allow this community to) continue to pay his attorney’s fees.
    It is appalling that any of the council think it is appropriate to berate the citizens who elected them for having an opinion and stating it.
    I have one other experience with a council meeting in another city and that was 3 years ago in Edina.
    There were many citizens there to speak about a wall that was going to be built along hwy 100. These people were going to face assessments in a large amount. Each person who wanted to speak was allowed to. There were no bells going off, no timers…
    Each person was given ample time to state the fact that this would cause them real financial hardship. The council listened attentively. At one point this elderly gentleman got up, this was his second time, and he was out of turn, but not one person said anything to him. They respected him and he spoke again. I was so impressed! At the end, when it came to a vote only one council member was still in favor the wall, he stated that after hearing the view points of the other members he changed his mind and voted, along with the others not to erect the wall.
    I had been at Northfield council meetings before the one in Edina and the contrast was evident.
    It is very sad that Northfield’s city government has fallen so short.
    I am in no way criticizing any individuals. My criticism is with the whole and how they do not work together, perhaps, partially because of personality.
    What I say to that is get over it! There is a job to do and that is to serve this community not win arguments and battles!

    July 6, 2008
  9. Arlen Malecha said:

    Mr. Roder, of his own free will, opted to look for new employment elsewhere. Does that entitle him to a severance package? Not in my mind. I honestly do not know enough about the the broo-ha-ha to comment on that one.

    Further, I do not thing the City should wait until after the election to start their search for a new Administrator. Sure the pool of likely candidates will be smaller due to all the goings on in Northfield this past year, but why wait?

    Some feel the “new” Council should get to select the new Adminstrator. Are we going to allow each new Council to select the Administrator of their choosing? Councils don’t get to cherry-pick their candidates each time aroud they work with the staff that is place. There is too much on the City’s plate to wait six or nine months to hire a new Administrator.

    July 6, 2008
  10. john george said:

    Juliw B.- “What I say to that is get over it! There is a job to do and that is to serve this community not win arguments and battles!” Pragmatism?! Now that is a revolutionary concept. Let’s see, did I see your name in the pool of candidates anywhere? If not would you consider it? You’d have my vote, for sure!

    You do raise a good point in your comment, though. What if some people refuse to “get over it”? What do we do then? Do we have legal mechanisms in place in our city charter to override vocal minorities? I did a quick Google search referencing city council disagreements, and came up with over 50 pages of references to articles over the last few years concerning various disagreements in city coubcil meetings from all over Minnesota, so it appears that we do not have a monopoly on city government problems. I certainly did not read every article, so I’m sure there are references to problems not necessarily involving problems within city council personell, per se. But it seems reasonable to me that as a city grows, there are going to be more instances of disagreements. It is too bad that some people do not seem to be able to divorce their emotional lives from their public service. Passion for a cause is one thing, but I think we have seen passions overflow here to the point that our city government is close to being paralyzed. Does anyone else think it is time for this to end? What I am looking for in a candidate for city manager is a peacemaker, someone who can separate the emotions of an issue from what needs to get done.

    July 6, 2008
  11. Barb Kuhlman said:

    Some CEO’s do leave their companies with a “golden parachute,” and some incompetent employees who are asked to leave a job end up with more severance than they earned or deserved, just to get rid of them. But most people I’ve known who’ve gotten severance pay have gotten it because their job or position was eliminated or they were asked to leave. The idea that someone who willingly sought out another job should be entitled to severance pay, of any amount, doesn’t pass the smell test.

    July 6, 2008
  12. William Siemers said:

    It is not ‘ludicrous’ for the council to consider severance…maybe it would be to award it…but what is the problem with considering it? Here is the quote from the LWV’s site concerning council reaction to Roder’s request for severance at the meeting:

    “Pokorney said that the severance issue is a serious matter and that tonight is not the time for the council to determine whether they should pay it.

    Knutson (counsel for the city) said because there is no separation agreement for action tonight, it is premature for the council to take action. If Roder has been discharged, it could trigger 6 months’ salary in severance pay. Knutson offered to draft a separation agreement, along with a confidential letter explaining his rationale for the council to have by Wednesday of next week. He recommended that the matter be taken up in an open meeting, and if the council has questions about his letter, to contact him.”

    For that the council, in the later public comment period, is berated for “considering” severance and threatened with a law suit if they grant it! And bloggers here seem to joyfully jump on the band wagon.

    Roder raised issues (loss of leverage in negotiating salary for a new position and the appearance of a lateral move on his C.V.) that may, or may not, be valid. Personally I think severance is unwarranted, but I am not an expert in employment law. But I do know that if a problem exists with an employee, it is not a bad idea to consult such an expert before making a decision. Perhaps that was what the council had in mind.

    July 7, 2008
  13. Barb Kuhlman said:

    What do people in the private sector do when they have a boss or co-worker who contributes to a “hostile work environment?” For the most part, if attempts within the work place to solve problems don’t work, people learn to live with it or get out. They may even ask themselves, “What part of this is my responsibility?” As we all know, it’s not just the actions of another person, but our reaction to those actions, which contribute to our misery. It’s fine for the council to “consider” severance pay, with the consultation of an employment law specialist. However, it seems that if the council is going to take into consideration the actions of the mayor, they must also take into consideration Mr. Roder’s actions. Until the Goodhue County investigation results are revealed, we won’t know whether Mr. Roder is an innocent victim of Mayor Lansing.

    July 7, 2008
  14. Jane Moline said:

    Mr. Roder claims he was “effectively terminated” because the mayor asked him to leave. Since that happened more than 6 months ago, Mr. Roder has received more than 6 months of “effectively severance pay” while he was seeking other employment.

    Mr. Roder knew that the mayor did not have the ability to fire him but claims that there is an “effective termination?”

    Mr. Roder’s legal fees are excessive considering he has never been charged or even interviewed by investigators–the city should not be giving him a blank check.

    City council Jon Dennison very specifically signalled that he was very much in favor of paying severance to Roder in his comments. Citizens have every reason to be concerned that the city council is leaning toward paying that severance and wanted their opposition noted. Their comments were appropriate. Just because they were impassioned does not make them wrong.

    City council Jim Pokorny claims that Al Roder has been accused of wrong-doing but never any specifics. Are the citizens just rabble-rousers who don’t like Al Roder personally?

    As one example, I cannot believe that the city council would continue to defend their and Roder’s decision to hire a Bolten & Menk engineer to supervise city work considering the ongoing work that Bolten & Menk does for the city–just because it is legal does not mean it is right. Roder should have advised the city not to enter that quagmire and he made a professional mistake in failing to do so. The mistake cost the city thousands of dollars in fees for an attorney to give them a report. I am sure you can find other examples of mistakes that Roder made–(and that the city council has made)–why can’t they admit their mistakes?

    When the mayor asked for advice from the attorney at the meeting regarding, I think, how to do a resolution, the attorney refused to give any advice, simply stating that either way is legal.

    The city should seek legal counsel that gives counsel, not just telling them what they can do legally, but what is advisable to do.

    July 7, 2008
  15. Tracy Davis said:

    Jane, I was with you all along until the last paragraph.

    There’s a fine line between the City Attorney giving legal advice when asked, vs. advising on policy. I believe the first is a legitimate function and the second, according to state statute, is not. But again, it’s a fine line.

    July 7, 2008
  16. Steve Rholl said:

    I was at the special meeting Wednesday night (I have been at every Council meeting since January) and something was said that bothered me. Major Lansing asked Mr. Roder if any of his legal fees (almost $16000) were connected to the Everett report and Mr. Roder answered “yes”. Because I missed the Everett report presentation to the Council, can someone please tell me (I do not need a lengthy discussion here) if the Everett report involved the criminal investigation of Mr. Roder by Goodhue County in any way?

    July 7, 2008
  17. Paul Fried said:

    I agree with Jane about the city hiring Bolten & Menk to supervise while Bolten & Menk was doing work for the city. As others have noted, while this may have been legal, it was very unwise of the city to handle it this way.

    And Jane and Tracy, the confusion about the role of the city attorney points to a larger problem. If the city attorney is right to claim only that it would be legal to do something one way or the other, then there is a large confusion of expectations between the council and the city attorney. Too often, the council seems to ask the city attorney questions, expecting advise on what would be the best, wisest way to go, and instead, they get minimalist answers regarding what would be legal. Instead of the city attorney saying, “I think this would be better,” the city attorney seems to get out of having to do much work besides sitting at council meetings and saying it’s legal either way.

    We know that there are well-written laws, and poorly written laws. We know that the rental ordinance was, in hindsight (and perhaps to some, in foresight) poorly written and poorly conceived. A city attorney who plays a more active role in some ways would be helpful, and could still come within state statute.

    I came up against a similar problem a year or two ago when I petitioned the city council and Mayor Lansing to make some changes to the candidate sign ordinances. State law requires certain things of candidate signs (when they can be posted, when taken down, whether they can be posted at all at certain businesses, etc.). City ordinance is very different, and at times, simply conflicts with state law, which trumps city ordinance.

    At the time I presented the concern to the council, former Mayor Covey spoke after me in favor of making changes before the 2008 presidential election. A number of city counselors approached me and expressed support, and Covey and one counselor claimed that they unknowingly violated state statute by posting signs at businesses. Another elected city official violated state statute when last elected, and I spoke with him about it as well.

    The city attorney looked at my concerns, not with an eye for how to make city sign ordinances helpful and not misleading or contradictory to state statue, but instead, seemed to look at the ordinances with a lawyer’s eye, asking only the question, “If left as currently written, is there any possible way to leave the thing and rationalize that it’s still legal and might not conflict with state statute?” She figured there was some possible interpretation of city code that might not conflict with state sign statute, so she claimed there was no need to revise city sign ordinance.

    In spite of support and interest from a number of counselors, and in light of other crises in city government, the issue was dropped.

    If you have a highly paid employee whose approach to their work is to try to figure out the way to do the least work possible, you might question the dedication of such an employee, and wonder if the organization would benefit from a more dedicated employee who could put more effort into the job.

    If there is a communication problem regarding expectations of the city attorney, the city attorney should be sensitive to this, and when asked advise that seems to go beyond what is allowed by statute, it would be good of her to remind the council about the limitations of her advice. But I would bet that statute allows her to go well beyond the limits of some of her advice, and that she could do more than simply give advice that allows her to do as little as possible in many situations.

    July 7, 2008
  18. David DeLong said:

    Steve R. – the Everett final report contains a special “limitations on scope” disclaimer that said:

    “As I began this investigation, the Googhue County Attorney’s Office also began reviewing the allegations and evidence to determine whether to conduct a criminal investigation. I met periodically with representatives of the County Attorney’s Office and Sheriff’s Office to ensure my efforts would not impede their ability to fully investigate matters they deemed potentially criminal in nature. Communications continued throughout the course of my work. The County Attorney’s Office and Sheriff’s Office asked me not to take action on certain issues and allegations pending the outcome of their criminal review.”

    July 7, 2008
  19. William Siemers said:

    Jane M…I have no objection to citizens speaking their mind about the severance. In this case, the level of disdain, seemed rather high in relation to the council’s decision to be advised and consider the matter.

    I guess it is an indication of the highly charged, if not highly politicized, nature of citizen involvement in city government. A flurry of ‘impassioned’ opinion about something that might be done before it is considered. And why the rush to judgment? Will the citizens’ lawsuit go forward if the legal advice indicates that Roder deserves, or might deserve, severance? Has anyone considered that maybe he got legal advice before making the request?

    My point is…Why jump down their collective throats before they have done their job?

    July 8, 2008
  20. Anne Bretts said:

    William, you have nailed the problem nicely. It isn’t disturbing that there are different opinions on an issue, but it is disturbing when the unelected voices demand angrily that the elected officials should not even discuss an item on which they have issued their opinion on behalf of “the public.”
    Discussion is a good thing. Discussion by elected officials is part of their job. The elected officials have every reason to give as much weight to Roder’s requests as they do to the sometimes crazy ideas brought to them by individuals. They are polite to everyone, consider everything and come to a conclusion. Seems like a good process. They should no more insult Roder than anyone else.
    And you people who think you speak for the public have your opportunity to prove it right now. Run for office. The vast majority you say you represent should be happy to give you the power you seek so loudly. If you lose, then live with your role as a minority voice. If you won’t run, live with your role as individuals speaking for yourselves.

    July 8, 2008
  21. Griff Wigley said:

    Norman, here’s the Northfield city administrator job description (PDF). I got it courtesy of Elizabeth Wheeler at City Hall. She wrote:

    As in all departures, before the City recruits the next person, the job description is reviewed by the manager (in this case the City Council) and HR to ensure the essential responsibilities of the position are reflective of the present and future job responsibilities.

    July 10, 2008
  22. Tracy Davis said:

    I’ve said this before, but wouldn’t NOW be a good time to review the City Charter vis-a-vis the mayor/administrator relationship, to see if clarifications or changes are warranted? The only times we’ve done this in the past were when there were particular personalities involved in those positions. With the mayoral election in the fall, and City Administrator TBD, it would seem like a good opportunity to consider the issue without it defaulting to which personality wins the Mr./Ms. Congeniality award.

    July 10, 2008
  23. Patrick Enders said:

    I think a good time to revise the Charter might be immediately after the election.

    One concern about rushing to charter revision is that the mayor-administrator balance is a Big Principle, and something that needs to be decided through a broader civic dialogue.

    Some say this was already put to the vote, and then that vote was violated. However, that was a while ago and well before my time here – and clearly, that process did not make things clear.

    While we are considering areas of the Charter that need revision, I see two areas that have gotten us into trouble recently:
    1) Mayor vs. Administrator, and figuring out who really is in charge, and
    2) ‘Conflict of Interest’ could be more carefully enumerated.

    July 10, 2008
  24. Patrick Enders said:

    I guess one could also add:
    3) Mayor vs. Council
    There was the discussion back in January which suggested that the Mayor had an absolute veto over any actions of the Council.

    July 10, 2008
  25. We all agree that the Charter needs revising, the issue seems to be timing; for me that is asap and before either is recruited or elected so that the new Administrator and the new Mayor know what they are faced with.

    July 10, 2008
  26. Anne Bretts said:

    I guess I don’t understand these controversies at all. This is like a group of people trying to develop a new alphabet when there’s a perfectly good one available.
    Board appointments, agenda setting, veto power, all these things are so basic to government that I can’t remember the last time I heard of a city fighting over them. They aren’t even charter issues.
    Perhaps the city should ask the League of Minnesota Cities or some other organization to review Northfield’s processes and point out where the problems are. Of course, there are always people who won’t accept an outside opinion.
    A local group could do the same thing. Maybe there’s a political science class at one of the colleges or a committee of former mayors and councilors that will tackle it.
    It would be interesting to find out that the directions are just fine, but the people using them just don’t know how to read the alphabet, so to speak.

    July 10, 2008
  27. kiffi summa said:

    Tracy: Yes, of course it would be good to clarify the Mayor/Administrator’s roles in the Charter, and i think that commission is probably discussing whether or not that should be done. A problem is that their task is difficult, requires very correct language , and they just don’t move that fast, because of their thoroughness.

    I believe it is correct to say that if there were any major changes to the charter in the Mayor/Admin structure, it would end up going to all the citizens, as a referendum, as it did before.

    But there is a further problem : for months the council has been pushing the mayor to go outside the Charter’s very clearly proscribed process for appointments to the Boards and Commissions. The council has asked the
    Mayor to do all sorts of things which would involve the council more in the process, rather than just voting yes or no on the Mayor’s suggested applicants. They have even suggested a public discussion of the Mayor’s rationale of why he did NOT appoint a particular person.

    If the council has a problem with how that appointment process works, then instead of making a time-wasting contentious issue out of it, repeatedly, they need to bring their suggested change for the process to the Charter commission.

    Bottom line: there IS a Charter specified process; follow it or seek to change it procedurally … not through power plays of 6-1.

    July 10, 2008
  28. Tracy Davis said:

    My comment about the charter was aimed specifically at our weird hybrid “weak mayor” system.

    I believe our attempt at a compromise, which is what the current charter reflects, has not worked well for the City and needs to be revisited. At this point I don’t have a strong opinion about whether we want a strong mayor system or a council-manager system (the other two options that are predominant in other MN cities).

    I don’t believe that the current system is working in the best interest of the citizens.

    July 10, 2008
  29. David Koenig said:

    Being limited to just 500 words, I tried to give a quick compare/contrast of the pros and cons of a Strong Mayor vs. Council-Manager government in the Nfld News just before the holiday.

    You can click here to read it.

    July 11, 2008
  30. Anne Bretts said:

    Tracy, it seems that if the current system doesn’t work, it might be wise to create a list of key questions and survey the many people here who have had to work under it and get some solid data the charter commission can use to make any adjustments. Making new rules without clear data on how the old rules are faulty seems a waste of valuable resources.
    On appointments, I must be missing something. I don’t see that the mayor has ultimate authority in appointments, just ultimate responsibility to bring the council a suitable nomination. The mayor makes appointments and the council approves — or rejects — them. If the council were required to approve the mayor’s choice, there would be no need for a vote at all.
    I don’t think it’s going outside the charter to expect that the mayor would use the kind of orderly process most cities use, where the board in question gathers nominations, does interviews and presents three names to the mayor, who chooses one and makes a nomination to the council. It’s a cooperative, respectful, transparent process and pretty routine.
    I’m also trying to understand the idea of a majority vote of the council being a power play. Under this thinking a split vote is contentious and the only vote that is acceptable is a rubber stamp majority backing the mayor. It’s an interesting philosophy, but not what checks and balances are designed to produce.
    I think a 6-1 vote is a strong, unified signal that the mayor should use his diplomatic and leadership skills to find a way to work with the boards and the council and win their support instead of merely demanding it.

    July 11, 2008
  31. kiffi summa said:

    The point has been made that if there is an “alphabet”, use it: Northfield City Charter,Section 3.2 (second sentence) “The Mayor shall appoint the members of the advisory boards and commissions subject to confirmation by a majority vote of the council”.

    That’s it, in total , A to Z. The rest of that paragraph refers to the policy recommendations made by advisory boards to the council.

    It would appear that the council does not know the “alphabet”, and would rather make power plays than ask for the Charter Commission to “spell it out”.

    July 11, 2008
  32. Tracy Davis said:

    Anne, both your suggestion in the first paragraph and your opinions in the rest (comment #32 above) indicate to me that you either haven’t read the charter, haven’t attended charter commission meetings, or haven’t followed the history of this issue, or all three.

    July 11, 2008
  33. Anne Bretts said:

    Tracy, perhaps you can point to the section of the charter I missed. In Section 3.2 it says, “The mayor shall appoint the members of advisory boards and commissions subject to confirmation by a majority vote of the council.”
    This seems to be the same check and balance that lets presidential appointments languish because the president chooses a person who will never be confirmed by the Senate.
    I have followed these issues for the three years I have lived here. I find the Northfield approach — or maybe its the execution — quite unusual, to say the least, when compared with the dozens of other cities I am familiar with.
    I think the issues in Northfield are less structural than a reflection of the personalities involved in the execution. I find it hard to believe that the charter commission would hold the same level of outrage at the council if Jon Denison were the mayor in the same situation.
    As for my suggestions, it seems that if the charter itself doesn’t work, asking for feedback from the people who have used the system might help more than having the people who created the structure just keep working on it.
    But then again, this is Northfield.

    July 11, 2008
  34. David Koenig said:


    In #32 above you say “the kind of orderly process most cities use, where the board in question gathers nominations, does interviews and presents three names to the mayor, who chooses one and makes a nomination to the council”.

    I actually think that is bad governance.

    The Mayor is supposed to be getting advice from these committees and should be the one choosing new nominees. S/he may ask for input from the other committee members on what talents they need in a new appointee, but the advisory boards should not be suggesting to the Mayor the name of the person to appoint. That process has the potential to generate insularity.

    Members of the committee might suggest names to the Mayor, but that in no way should imply that the Mayor has to choose from their list.

    It is particularly important in cases like the Hospital Board where the City, as owner, should independently be appointing Board members without any say from the CEO of the Hospital. Again, members of the Hospital Board might suggest possible nominees, but they should not expect to have a say in who the Mayor selects and the Hospital CEO should have no say.

    You are correct that the Council should have a vote of approval, or perhaps even better, a super-majority veto right, about nominees.

    July 11, 2008
  35. Anne Bretts said:

    David, good point. Of course, the mayor can reject any or all nominees from the boards and commissions. And I suppose some cities have a nominating committee to help plow through all the applications.
    My point was that there should be an open and transparent process, not just one person acting in isolation. That would seem to create the same insularity that worries you.

    July 11, 2008
  36. kiffi summa said:

    David K. : your point about “insularity” or as the last Mayor put it, “inbred” is exactly the reason the current Charter direction assures fresh faces and diverse opinions, IF IF IF there is not a power struggle going on.

    Most of this tension is about the EDA ‘s single nomination, the process by which that nomination came forward (by two members of the recently created nominating committee, and with no input, and no vote of the complete EDA board), the fact that the two council members who are on the EDA are very adamant about using a process other than specified, and the fact that they are not considering a major conflict of interest in who they (EDA) is suggesting.

    There’s nothing the matter with the council having an up or down vote; the problem is with the underlying dynamics . A 6-1 vote can be either close to complete agreement, or a power play … I think you had some experience with that, David.

    These problems have not existed, with previous councils demanding public explanations … My Gosh! this is a town where people often don’t want to speak publicly; how would they react to being spoken ABOUT publicly … this is a further exacerbation of “get the Mayor”, and the amount of disruption, and waste of time, it is causing is inexcusable.

    July 11, 2008
  37. Currently, what is open and transparent is the increasing state of deterioration of our Council, highlighted most emphatically (and appallingly and embarrassingly to paraphrase Victor) last Monday night over the appointment (or not) to the EDA of a former State senator, businessman-farmer, experienced legislator, willing and more-than-able gentleman, lifetime local resident…and a very nice man to boot.

    The mayor nominated him (and named him) extolled his qualities and asked for the Council’s approval. The Council rejected him because…well, maybe because of the (all together now) process but probably because he was the Mayor’s nominee…but not before the Member for Ward One said that the former senators qualifications “don’t look strong for the EDA”, questioned the relevance of a farming background and if the EDA has any agricultural needs and that he was “looking for economic development experience not government liaison”. Dreadful.

    July 11, 2008
  38. Scott Davis said:

    Kiffi (and Victor) I would like to respond to your comments above, which are a repeat of the accusations that Victor delivered on Monday. Specifically the comments refer to:

    “Most of this tension is about the EDA ’s single nomination, the process by which that nomination came forward (by two members of the recently created nominating committee, and with no input, and no vote of the complete EDA board).

    I was at the meeting with Rick Estenson and Marty Benson when we reviewed the (4) four applications in the file. How could you claim that there were only two when there were three and neither of you were at the meeting?

    Next part of the accusation refers to the claim that the full EDA did not even get a chance to provide input or vote on the selection.

    I’ll refer you to the minutes of the May 8th meeting where the EDA reviewed the recommendation, discussed it and voted on it. Please note the numerous references to your comments Victor:

    EDA Vacancy
    Walinski noted that the Executive Committee met regarding the filling of the EDA Vacancy. They reviewed the current applications of record.
    Estenson noted that there were four applications: Jerry Anderson, Larry Werner, Fred Rogers, Ollie Byrum. The Executive Committee recommended Fred Rogers based on their knowledge of him and on his desire to serve the EDA. The other three candidates were not known as well by the members of the Executive Board but the applications indicated they could offer value to the EDA position. They could not recommend another person unless they had the opportunity to interview them if the Mayor wishes them to do so.
    Summa questioned the value of having a Vice President of one of the colleges on the Board. He was concerned that the position should be given to someone who has a broader interest in the entire City and not just for the College or a specific project. He also questioned why there was not a second person selected to be recommended. He felt the Executive Committee should have selected two candidates based on their written applications.
    Davis noted that the reason they looked at Rogers was that one of the goals of the EDA is to look at the college connections in order to bring businesses to the City and retain the students from the Colleges.
    Estenson noted that Rogers indicated in his application that he was interested in the EDA and Estenson did not believe it was because of his connection to Carleton College.
    Northfield Economic Development Authority APPROVED: 05/22/08
    Meeting Minutes – May 8, 2008
    City Hall Council Chambers
    Page 2 of 5
    S:\Community Development\ECONOMIC DEVELOPMENT DIVISION\Minutes – EDA\2008\5-08-08EDA.DOC
    Benson noted that Anderson has lived in Northfield all his life and has knowledge of development that could benefit the EDA as well.
    Summa did not feel the EDA should be taking on this role of recommending members to the EDA to the Mayor.
    A motion was made by Van Wylen and seconded by Davis that based on the Executive Committee’s knowledge and reasons given for applying, they recommend that the Mayor consider Fred Rogers as the EDA’s first choice; however, because they did not have the time to speak to the other candidates, if the Mayor wishes them to take the this time, they would submit a second choice. Yes votes:Benson, Davis, Van Wylen, Pokorney, and Estenson. No vote by Summa. Motion carried.

    Victor, I would ask that you apologize to the council and to the public for your erroneous statements.

    July 11, 2008
  39. William Siemers said:

    I’m inclined to believe that local government would be functioning better if the mayor had, or would, resign. How many former council members and mayors agreed: Nineteen, as I recall.

    July 11, 2008
  40. kiffi summa said:

    Scott: As you may. or may not have noticed, Victor has not been writing on LG for some time. Any comments here are mine and mine alone.

    The meeting minutes that you quote so extensively are after the initial go-round, I believe, and reflect a later discussion. The minutes accurately reflect that the committee did not interview all the candidates. Presumably they were all “interested on being on the EDA” or they would not have applied. Isn’t it, therefor, rather foolish to validate a choice by that simply expressed interest? (I fully understand that the qualifications of the single candidate submitted by the EDA are not limited to simple “interest”; I am speaking to your point).

    I am “interested” in having a 1955 white Morgan with a leather strap on the hood, and spoke wheels; It’s not necessarily going to happen.

    When the single name was first submitted, that recommendation, one name only, was not passed by the entire EDA board by the nominating committee.

    Is it not true that one of the four applicants you speak of (May 8 mtg.) was not interviewed at all, because no one “knew” him? Time could have been made to interview them all. The Mayor was criticized last Monday for not giving them all exactly EQUAL time, by another councilperson. (See tape/disc of July 7, 2008 Council meeting) who also made a very denigrating statement about the applicant.

    This “fight” has been what I would call a “cause celebre” of yours for 6-9 months. It has exacerbated conflict and wasted much time, in my opinion. There is a process for the selection of the members of the Boards and Commissions, i.e., the second sentence of Section 3.2 of the Charter.
    Rather than saying there is NO process, if you insist on a different process, why not suggest it to the Charter Commission? You have tried to establish a process for which there is no basis, but the council’s will.

    You do not like it when you think the Mayor acts unilaterally; why is it then
    acceptable for any council member to do so? The Mayor asked you, on Monday, if he had done the three or four additional steps you had requested of him, and you said “Yes” to each. What he did not do was bring the candidate you, and the EDA, wanted.

    You, and other councilors by falling in step, have sought to establish a public discussion of applicants’ qualifications, and why they were or were NOT chosen. This is totally inappropriate , and can only be deeply embarrassing to those who have volunteered and then found themselves caught in a political struggle. Vote them up or down; that is your right, but do not impose rules of your own making.

    I owe you no apology that I can see at this point, and am sincerely disturbed by the situation the council has created for willing volunteers; and for that I apologize, for NF’s elected representatives, to those who have been injured by this unseemly lack of following the established protocol.

    July 12, 2008
  41. William S: Even if the current mayor resigns now, the situation he is leaving will re-emerge with the new Mayor, unless the new Mayor is ‘weak’ in the normal sense of the word and is content to remain so. I repeat that the problem with our government is systemic/structural and must be resolved before the end of this year if the new Council has any chance of functioning well and can only be resolved by the Charter Commission paying particular attention to the Strong Mayor/City Manager issue and by clarifying the rules about commission appointments and conflict of interest.

    Why anyone would design a ‘weak anyone’ decision-making structure is beyond me. That is exactly what the Charter Commission did a few years ago and its time that they take responsibility and sort out this nonsense once and for all.

    July 12, 2008
  42. Jon Denison said:

    Kiffi wrote:

    When the single name was first submitted, that recommendation, one name only, was not passed by the entire EDA board by the nominating committee.

    The EDA minutes reflect:

    A motion was made by Van Wylen and seconded by Davis that based on the Executive Committee’s knowledge and reasons given for applying, they recommend that the Mayor consider Fred Rogers as the EDA’s first choice; however, because they did not have the time to speak to the other candidates, if the Mayor wishes them to take the this time, they would submit a second choice. Yes votes:Benson, Davis, Van Wylen, Pokorney, and Estenson. No vote by Summa. Motion carried.

    Where’s the disconnect?

    July 12, 2008
  43. kiffi summa said:

    Jon: Here are the disconnects:
    1. I said the FIRST time( not the 5.8.meeting) that the EDA suggested the single applicant named it was not by a full nominating committee and was not passed by the entire EDA board.
    2. the EDA, by their own rules and statements offers the Mayor two suggestions, NOT a single “first choice”.
    3. On the agenda, for the 5.8 minutes that you quote, the vacancy applicant recommendation is listed as a President’s report, not a resolution item; therefore a “vote” is meaningless, as it is not tied to a legislative action.

    Those are specific; this is a general criticism of the process: Since one of the persons that the EDA “did not have time to interview” submitted their application on the 28th 0f December , 2007 … it looks like the EDA was , in the terminology you used, “fishing”, rather than interviewing all the candidates with equal time, which is what C. Pokorney criticized/questioned the Mayor about.

    This is another general criticism: from the by-laws of the NF EDA, Sect2- Membership. The Board shall consist of … and two commissioners who are members of the NF City Council appointed by the Mayor on an ANNUAL basis. (emphasis mine)

    And that is a BIG disconnect!

    July 12, 2008
  44. Scott Neal said:

    For what’s it worth, I’d like to share how we accomplish this important task at the City of Eden Prairie.

    We start commissioner recruitment in November. Recruitment continues through December and January. Recruitment is done through a public marketing campaign and a couple of Open Houses where citizens can come in and chat with existing commission members and staff liaisons in order to learn about the particular commission missions, meeting times, work plans, etc.

    Citizens can apply to be considered by the Council for appointment to a commission by completing an online (or paper) application form. The form asks them for a brief resume and to complete a couple of questions about what they interested in and why they are interested in being on a commission.

    In early February there is a deadline for citizens to apply to serve on a commission. After that deadline, all applications are copied (or pdf’ed), bundled and then distributed to Council Members in order to prepare Council Members for the commissioner applicant interviews. All five Members of the Council participate in all commissioner interviews.

    The interviews occur in early March. We do it over two nights of, roughly 6-9pm. The Council agrees to use a set of standard questions. They interview all applicants for a commission in advance. For example, this year we had two openings on our Conservation Commission. We interviewed four applicants simultaneously for those two openings.

    At the end of the interview, the Council deliberated about the strengths of the sitting Conservation Commission members and the strengths of the applicants. Then the Mayor proposed which two candidates he would nominate. The Council talked about it and agreed to accept the Mayor’s nominations, which were formally approved by the Council, in about five minutes, in late March, along with appointments to our other eight sitting commissions.

    Our system works well. Information is shared with all Council Members equally throughout the process. The process rewards merit among the applicant pool because the best candidates are rising to the top in a public process. And, the Council makes its judgment free of the insularity risk that David Koenig rightly raises as a potential concern.

    For what it’s worth…

    July 13, 2008
  45. Griff Wigley said:

    I like that confirmation process, Scott.

    Anyone know what it would take to adopt it here?

    July 13, 2008
  46. Jon Denison said:

    A charter change could be necessary to make such a process “set in stone”. Eden Prarie is a statutory city, not a charter city, so that makes it somewhat easier to make and effect changes.

    But, all it would take is a cooperative mayor and council that want to move things forward in the best interests of the city as a whole. An important question to ask any and all candidates for office (mayoral and council) is what they would do to make the board and commission nomination procedure more respectful to the applicants, more transparent for the citizens, and more productive for the boards and commissions.

    Just my two cents.

    July 13, 2008
  47. Julie Bixby said:

    Jon, I do agree that the applicants deserve respect.

    I watched the council meeting on dvd when the Mayor recommended Steve Engler be appointed to the EDA. It seems odd to me that the council took so much time to question the Mayor on how much time he took interviewing each applicant. It seemed (IMHO) that the council didn’t want to vote yes to the Mayor’s selection because they wanted someone else. So it seemed that there was no thought into the qualifications that this applicant has.
    I thought it very sad and embarrassing that one councilor expressed direct insult to the applicant.
    How could our city council get to this point? The council doesn’t like the Mayor and that is very evident. Even with all the animosity, the council should still show the Mayor respect as an elected official just as they are and deserve in return. It seems to be a struggle of power with the goal being to win. It is clearly a two sided council with all the councilors against the Mayor Can anything be accomplished with this kind of atmosphere? How sad for Northfield. There is hope for the future with the elections because how could anything be worse than what we have now?

    July 14, 2008
  48. kiffi summa said:

    Strangely enough, what should constitute “fireworks” often doesn’t generate the slightest buzz.

    Last night a councilor stated that although he liked the idea of the liquor store at the Crossing, and the problems might not be insurmountable, it wasn’t a good choice because: The council has identified that site as their preferred choice for the Safety Center ! (didn’t put that in quotes because it may have a slight word variation)

    Awaken! o ye residents of the Crossing! because you surely will be awakened regularly, and constantly, if the Safety Center were located there.

    Personally I must believe that this was a GROSS overstatement by this councilperson, as I have never heard it publicly discussed, and it seems most improbable considering MNDOT’s concerns about the traffic issues at that site, right-in and right-out only turns, traffic stacking capacity on the second street bridge, etc.

    The citizenry is so numbed by the fireworks that it takes the falling of a star to cause even a slight shift in the axis of NF’s world.

    July 15, 2008
  49. Griff Wigley said:

    Kiffi, which councilor made that remark?

    I did hear the consultant say that Mendota Homes had indicated they’d be willing to sell one of their two parcels (currently planned for restaurants) to the city for the liquor store.

    July 15, 2008
  50. Anne Bretts said:

    How much would it cost to lease the existing space for the liquor store for a few years? A lease might make the site more attractive and boost the retail image of downtown during the economic downturn. It also might give the city time to determine a long-term solution, either by getting out of the liquor business or building a permanent space.

    July 15, 2008
  51. Scott Davis said:

    Kiffi – I was at the meeting last night, and you have taken parts of conversations and created a new version of what happened.

    Kris Vohs spoke of our continued conversations with MnDOT regarding the Crossings site and regarding the MnDOT property at Hwy 3 and Woodley, which is our preferred site for the Safety Center.

    The entire council as aware that the Crossings is not zoned for the safety center use and have NEVER discussed this location as a possible safety center site.

    July 15, 2008
  52. kiffi summa said:

    Scott: I am fully aware that the Crossing has never been discussed as a site for the safety center; that is precisely why it was very bizarre to hear it brought into the mix. It occurred within the liquor store discussion:

    Right after C. Pokorney asked Steve deLong to speak, Jon Denison commented that sites other than the Crossing also had problems and he would like to hear more about the Crossing. Then C. Vohs commented; then C. Nelson commented re: condos, our responsibilities to residents, another lawsuit.Mr. Roder then commented that office or retail was the original plan for that corner of the Crossing.You (Scott) then said that direction for staff was needed, and Mike Berg (Donnelley consultant), and re: the Q block, you were surprised they were not interested. Mike Berg then commented on making sure all properties met the council’s criteria. You (Scott) then asked Mr. Roder for comment, which he did. Mayor then asked Mike Berg if people were still submitting properties. Mr. Berg then said no one further, except the Crossing. Mr. Berg said they(Crossing ) didn’t call us; we were made aware of it, and talked with the property owner. C. Denison then made a comment on it being difficult to get the parties on the Qblock together; then commented about needing to resolve the issues with the Crossing, MNDOT, and the Safety Center.

    Since that entire conversation centered on the liquor store being possibly sited on the Crossing property, are you saying that the Safety Center comment was just thrown in there as a total off topic non-sequiter? C. Denison is usually very focussed in his comments.

    I will watch the tape to review the conversation; in the meantime it is certainly possible that we ALL make mistakes.

    However, Scott, I am surprised that you would suggest that I totally fabricated a conversation. You can see from the above that my notes are quite thorough. If I made a mistake , it was certainly not with the intention of manufacturing a conversation.

    July 16, 2008
  53. Scott Davis said:

    Kiffi – fabricate would be putting words in my mouth – reporting something very matter-of-factly, when it was never said is maybe more accurate. This could be an isolated situation, where you mistakenly heard something, but when I combine it with your most recent erroneous comments about the facts regarding the EDA’s recommendation process I am troubled by your apparent lack of concern for the facts. You said in #38:

    “Most of this tension is about the EDA ’s single nomination, the process by which that nomination came forward (by two members of the recently created nominating committee, and with no input, and no vote of the complete EDA board),”

    That is a simply a lie. You tried to cover it up in #45 when you say:

    “Jon: Here are the disconnects:
    1. I said the FIRST time( not the 5.8.meeting) that the EDA suggested the single applicant named it was not by a full nominating committee and was not passed by the entire EDA board.”

    Similar to the Mayor, you speak in generalities and circles, with no facts to back up your comments. You don’t refer to the specific meeting that the alleged issues occurred you just say when they DID NOT occur. You reference the agenda which is printed BEFORE the meeting, but not the actual minutes where the report turned into a discussion and a motion, in which your own husband attended, commented and voted on.

    There is no way to spin your comments and get the real truth out of them regarding the above. Sure small parts of the truth are there… just not in the correct order and just the parts that seem to serve your goals.

    As the co-captain the the small, but oh so vocal,

    Mayor Good, and Anybody Who Disagrees is Wrong Club,

    your mighty efforts to overrule the pesky facts and common sense is wearing thin… at least for me and the majority of the community.

    July 16, 2008
  54. kiffi summa said:

    Scott: After reviewing a disc of the 7.14 council meeting, regarding the portion of the work session discussing liquor store sites and the specific problems with the Crossing site:

    YES … I made a mistake with reference to what I thought I heard.

    NO … I most certainly did not do it intentionally.

    Because of the “tone” of your post #55, I find it futile to take the time to explain how I made the mistake re: proposed use of the Crossing site.

    July 18, 2008
  55. Griff Wigley said:

    Kiffi/Scott, I’m glad to see the exchanges on these issues but the ‘tone’ has been problematic in some of your recent posts. Maybe it’s a carryover from some of the sharp exchanges at the Council meetings/open mic, but it’s important to go overboard on the civility here, checking what each other meant/intended, rather than assuming and firing off retorts.

    July 18, 2008
  56. John George said:

    Griff- Time to pass out the white flags again!?

    July 18, 2008
  57. Barb Kuhlman said:

    Griff, it appears to me your civility comment to Kiffi and Scott should have been addressed to Scott alone. Kiffi has remained civil in spite of the sarcasm directed at her by Scott.

    July 19, 2008
  58. Julie Bixby said:

    Barb, I couldn’t agree more!

    Shame on any elected official who feels it is appropriate to call a citizen a liar before the facts/intentions/presumptions/motives/perceptions are known!

    Wow, it does continue to get worse and oh so much more embarrassing for Northfield.

    Wouldn’t it be more beneficial for the Northfield city government to find solutions/explanations… to concerns of citizens rather than to impute bad motives to them?

    July 19, 2008

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