Betsey Buckheit and Jerold Friedman are running for Northfield City Council, Ward 2. We’ve invited them to interact online with us (the LoGroNo Triumvirate) here in the message thread attached to this blog post for the next few days.
And then we’ll invite you, the citizens of Northfield, to also chime in over the next ten days or so.
Here are some links to find out more about the candidates:
Candidate web sites:
Northfield.org (includes their answers to a dozen questions from citizens)
Northfield East Side Neighborhood Association
[…] Council Ward 2 […]
Jerry and Betsey,
Northfield probably has more civic-oriented online participation per capita than anywhere in the state and maybe the western hemisphere. 😉
Yet no one on the current council nor any city staff in a leadership position has a blog, and they rarely take advantage of opportunities to interact with citizens on Northfield.org or here on Locally Grown.
Both of you have launched blogs in conjunction with your campaigns. Both of you have been active participants here on Locally Grown. But the vast majority of politicians don’t keep blogging once they win, and few take the time to engage citizens in online venues like this.
I’d like to hear your views about using online tools to both bring more transparency to one’s role as Councilor as well as to increase citizen engagement.
See my comment on the UCC forum thread.
Transparency and responsiveness in local government are crucial. The Council should keep looking for ways to improve communication to and from citizens using as many media as possible. Certainly online tools are increasingly important tools in the toolbox, though all online tools are not equal.
I’ll keep blogging if elected, although I don’t know quite how I’ll structure this. I’m not a natural blogger, I’m a policy person. It takes me a long time to write short, engaging posts. So I’d like to use my blog to help people understand issues facing the council beyond the black/white distinctions without boring them to death with long posts. I’d really like it if my blog could generate discussion.
Blogging, whether on my own blog or commenting here on Locally Grown, is also a challenge. The interaction is good, especially learning what other people think about city issues. Yet they blur the line between personal and official (I know there’s been much discussion here on Locally Grown about which hat – especially Ross’s hats – are being worn at what time) which is both a bug and a feature, simultaneously, and I’ll just have to negotiate that tension one post at a time.
Beyond blogging, though, I’d like to work toward making as much city information as accessible and searchable as possible.
One complaint I hear when campaigning (and in many threads here on LG) is that decisions are made behind closed doors and the information/rationale/actors are not made public or only introduced after the fact. I’d like to see City Hall become something more like a library where staff help citizens find what they need online or any other form.
[…] Grown has started its election discussions including Ward 2. You can search also Locally Grown for my comments on quite a few issues and probably find my […]
Government officials are held accountable to more laws than non-officials, and policy making officials get another set of laws to abide by. For example, “sunshine” laws that seek to illuminate government communications, like the federal Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) and state equivalents, can oblige an official to turn over all communications in any form on a certain subject. For simplicity’s sake, officials may restrain themselves to communicate only in a few ways, such as their government e-mail account and handwritten letters, so if they are expected to turn over their communications dozens of e-mail accounts and several blogs don’t have to be sorted through.
That doesn’t mean that officials can’t maintain a presence on a few, select sites.
If elected, I already intend to keep an active Ward 2 web page/blog on the City’s web site where Ward 2 residents and I can openly discuss the ward’s issues.
Because of the role that Locally Grown Northfield plays in our community, I intend to keep a presence here as well. Depending on the subject, I might add a disclaimer about what is my *personal* opinion and what is my *official* opinion, the difference being that my official opinion is always affected by my constituents’ expressed opinions.
I am committed to keeping my constituents involved in our ward’s issues, and keeping them informed about the reasons for my decisions before and after voting is a necessary component. Therefore, at a minimum, I’ll be quite active on Ward 2’s blog. Depending on the topic, I’ll be active with Locally Grown as well.
Just so everyone is clear, I’m wearing my New Britain Rock Cats hat right now.
Betsey and Jerold, Griff has raised one side of the elected official-electing citizen communication, that from officials to citizens, I would like to explore the other side.
There has been much discussion the past eighteen months about citizen input to elected officials. Complaints about citizens not raising concerns until the eleventh (and a half) hour and complaints about city staff’s open houses being nothing more than window-dressing abound. Some praise the making comments at the open mic as democracy in action, others criticize it as a waste of our officials’ time. Suggestions of new possibilities, such as town hall meetings, are greeted with a mixture of open-mindedness and derision.
Political debate has always been a part of Northfield. As Clifford Clark noted in his excellent essay “Evolution of a Community”, one of John North’s earliest actions was to found the town’s first civic organization, the Northfield Lyceum Society, with the purpose of “establishing a Reading Room, Circulating Library, and Debating Society”.
If the sharing of civic opinions has always been, currently is, and will continue to be characteristic of Northfield, what method of communication from citizens to elected officials would you recommend to be the most appropriate and productive?
The usual means that citizens can talk with their elected officials must remain. Whether that’s the open mic, writing, calling, or talking with me for a moment when I am shopping at Just Food, part of the job of being an official is to be accessible to one’s constituents.
Through my planned Ward 2 web page, I intend to develop a mass e-mailing system where I can invite my constituents’ feedback on important and controversial issues (I’ll send postcards or find another economical means to invite feedback from those without e-mail). By developing a rapport as an easy person to write to, I hope that everyone would feel comfortable writing to me privately.
Beyond the usual means is fundamentally up to you, the citizen, to become involved. I can sponsor Ward 2 meetings, but I need you to attend. If a neighborhood wants a park created so their children have a safe place to play, the neighbors can create an ad hoc committee to further that goal. Formal special interest groups, like the Northfield East Side Neighborhood Association, can form and hold meetings. I would want to be part of the meetings when possible, but nonetheless the meetings’ resolutions can be presented to me as a means to keep me informed of citizen needs.
I will be responsive to the usual methods of contacting one’s elected officials. When citizens go beyond the usual methods, I’ll do my part to work with them and make sure it’s a success. I would like to see my constituents discussing issues among themselves and including me in the discussions as they see fit.
Betsy and Jerold,
Looking at your platforms I really don’t see any obvious differences.
Could both of you give me three reasons what makes you different from the other?
Why should I vote for Betsy over Jerold and vice versa?
Peter: Thank you for such a probative question.
Betsey and I haven’t had any real conversation nor have I seen her dossier. What I perceive as our differences may not true. That said:
1. I have a lot of volunteering and political organizing experience. When I was 15, I volunteered for a U.S. presidential election, making phone calls and stuffing envelopes. While I wasn’t particularly political then, the volunteering spirit took hold. Since then, I have volunteered for several campaigns among many genres, all of a progressive nature (protecting the environment, civil rights, labor, and animals), even as recently as spending an evening volunteering at the Northfield DFL office for the 2008 election.
I have been a National Lawyers Guild legal observer in several of their projects. Legal observers are trained witnesses who attend demonstrations and keep a watchful eye in order to protect the demonstrators. I have been a legal observer at many demonstrations, including May Day, anti-war, union strikes, farmers fighting the loss of their land to developers, and native Americans protesting their burial grounds being disturbed by developers. At the May Day protest, I later volunteered as a legal assistant for a journalist who was caught up in a mass arrest. I have helped other demonstrators who were cited by police in order to oppress them, from traffic citations to misdemeanors.
Based on what little I know of Betsey, I have volunteered more, and spent more time working with people who are on the streets, demanding change.
2. I have served on the board of directors of the National Lawyers Guild, Los Angeles Chapter, and the Animal Care Foundation in Hawaii. Being a director for a nonprofit corporation is analogous to being a council member for a city. As a director, I have legislative and policy making experience. Based on what little I know of Betsy, her work with Northfield has given her advisory — not policy — experience.
3. I am an ardent supporter of the environment and civil rights. I recently remembered a certificate I received in grade school, commending my work at the S.E.L.F. (Student Environmental Learning Facility) and awarding me with the title of “Super Environmentalist”. Throughout my life I have tried to stay on the cutting edge of environmentalism. This isn’t easy to measure, but as two examples, I bought a hybrid car in 2000 when they were first offered, and I have an all electric moped. There are certainly more environmental modes of transportation (especially bicycling and walking), but I offer these two as examples of my commitment to our environment. Of course I reduce, reuse and recycle. I love our Just Food Co-op. I do what I can in big and small ways to help preserve our ecosystem.
If elected, I’ll endeavor to legislate more environmental protections for Northfield. I’d like all bags to be 100% biodegradable, because recyclable plastic bags are sometimes still thrown in the trash. I’ll work with the county to include Styrofoam, as presently we aren’t able to recycle them in the single stream bins. There are several simple things that can be done to help keep our city, country, and planet clean. Northfield can catch up to other trail blazing cities, and inspire other cities to join.
My work in civil rights also reveals where my heart is. I want to work with people and for their interests. I am not swayed by businesses or other special interests who want to trample the rights of the people. While I don’t see any particular civil rights problem in Northfield, it’s important that you and other residents understand what I think about the relationship among people, businesses and government. I put my trust in people, as I’d want my elected officials to put their trust in me.
Based on what little I know of Betsey, she doesn’t have as deep a passion for the environment nor civil rights as I do.
Again, I don’t know much about my opponent and I definitely have no interest in telling falsehoods about her. I hope that if I am wrong in my observations, above, that she’ll take the opportunity to correct the record.
Adding to my spirit of volunteering, I am working part-time with Northfield’s Youth Enrichment League. For three hours each week, I teach chess to some of our community’s grade schoolers. Three hours per week is not enough incentive to work for the money, but working with the children is a great incentive. I was the beneficiary of a big brother when I was young. In the same way, teaching chess to kids is a way that I can “pay it forward” to another generation.
Nice hat, Ross.
Jerold covered the ways constituents can communicate with their Council rep from open mic to phone to email to talking on the street, as well as the bloggish options.
But I read your question Ross as asking something more like “what can people do to influence city government?”
Individuals can be heard in all the ways noted and I’ll try to listen and take notes, but organization is powerful. Groups like NESNA have come together to use email to share information about issues which affect their east side neighborhood and get people to Council meetings to speak at the open mic and public hearings. At the Planning Commission, when the whole neighborhood turns out to speak about a project, the impact is greater and it is hard not to listen.
Using the city’s own boards and commissions more effectively is a goal of mine. Talented people are needed to join these groups and they can help the city’s outreach efforts, too.
Thanks for the question, Peter.
Jerold’s comments about my background are almost entirely mistaken. Since he answered first, let me define myself in contrast:
Volunteering is what I do for a living. I am a licensed attorney, but at this time my choice is to do a variety of volunteer work and home school my daughter part time.
The distinction is that all my volunteering is local; aside from Jerold’s chess volunteering, none of his work involves Northfield.
My service has not been national campaigns, large-scale demonstrations nor other high profile issues. Rather I have served on Northfield’s boards and commissions starting with the Library Board, moving to the Planning Commission, Non-Motorized Transportation Task Force, and currently the Charter Commission. As well, I’m on the board of the Northfield Soccer Association and have volunteered in school and at church. My roots in Northfield are deep and my knowledge of city government is not by abstract analogy like Jerold’s, but by direct participation.
Jerold is also mistaken that my experience is merely advisory. While the Planning Commission is advisory to the Council, I have been involved with drafting Northfield’s Comprehensive Plan, Transportation Plan, and land use regulations – all fundamental Northfield policy documents. And my frustration with the role of advisory boards is one reason I am running for council – I can identify needed policy changes and work to implement them.
I also care about our environment. I don’t own a hybrid car, rather I try to bicycle and walk and served on the Non Motorized Transportation Task Force to help Northfield be as pedestrian and bicycle friendly a community as possible.
Beyond my personal habits, however, my focus has been on helping Northfield adopt land use policies which conserve land by developing compactly, include innovative regulations for managing stormwater and other impacts, and for assessing the impact of development before it happens.
Our new, almost adopted Comprehensive Plan is a big step in the right direction and I have high hopes for the land use regulations which will give the plan some teeth (these are still under development).
The new, again almost adopted, Transportation Plan is another step forward for Northfield. It consciously adopts a “Complete Streets” policy to encourage walking, bicycling and transit. The Plan won’t happen by itself and I want to serve on Council to make sure the recommendations in this plan are on the agenda and are implemented.
To sum up my Peter:
Northfield has invested time, money and citizen input in its Comprehensive Plan, Transportation Plan, Park Plan. I know these plans because I have participated in the process of creating them and I want to be on Council to carry them out effectively.
My passion is good government for Northfield.
This means I want Northfield to have the best tools available such as its Plans, Charter, and ordinances – I’ve already worked hard in this area.
Northfield needs the voices of its citizens. I’ve served on boards and commissions. I know the frustration of being ignored or dismissed by Council; I know how board members make themselves experts in land use, environmental issues, housing, or economic development; I want these groups to have a stronger voice in Northfield’s government.
Northfield needs sustainable government. This means environmental sustainability, but also long-term fiscal responsibility. The long term plans I’ve noted can help us plan our investing in Northfield for the long term. Plus, we need to be creative in finding ways to conserve energy, staff and money as we face hard economic times.
I want the Council to be an effective, efficient and accessible body which uses its tools well, listens to its residents individually and on its boards and commissions, and keeps continually evaluating its performance to do a better job.
Contrary to Betsey’s position, I don’t necessarily urge people to join organizations such as NESNA, or Northfield’s various commissions, in order to have greater access to or influence on city council. Some people are comfortable joining and others just want to send an e-mail and trust that their elected official will read it.
The proper role of these organizations is to focus the people who are interested in a subject to take some form of action, which may be to recommend an action for city council. The organizations’ role is not to better influence city council.
These organizations play a valuable role in voicing concerns to the city council, but individuals play an equally valuable role. I would never want a constituent to think it’s futile communicating to me because he or she has a different opinion than those organizations.
The only right way to influence city government is with a well thought and articulated opinion. If city commissions, neighborhood organizations, or individuals have such opinions, I’m eager to hear them all.
Peter: Now I understand why you said that you didn’t see any substantial difference between Betsey’s and my platforms.
Still in the spirit of distinguishing our positions, here is my last observation…
Betsey has volunteered in Northfield longer than I have. I make a point to volunteer, and now that Northfield is my home, I am looking to volunteer here in meaningful ways. That may be the most apparent difference. Betsey will market herself as having intimate knowledge of Northfield, and I’ll market myself as having a fresh “outside” perspective along with an immense capacity to learn.
I don’t have any other observations at this time for more contrast between us. I gave it my best shot but I barely know my opponent. There are two fora on Oct. 22 and one on Oct. 30, so there should be more material soon for contrasting us if you can wait a few days!
Betsey and Jerold –
Thank you for your answers to my question. I think that you both assume I have rather high expectations of influencing policy decisions. Believe me, after serving for over five years on the Planning Commission, I do not.
Perhaps some of my question pertains to a minimal level of courtesy to be expected from Councilors to Citizens. I have often watched a Citizen make a statement only to be greeted by absolute silence by the Councilors. I would hope that at the very least the Councilors could muster a “Thank you, Mr. Covey”. I know that some have argued that more substantial responses such as “Good points, Mr. Covey, I will include them in my decision-making process” or “To be honest, Mr. Covey, I must disagree with your analysis on this issue”, might take too much time, however, a simple acknowledgment of the Citizen’s statement would seem to me to be the bare minimum of respectful behavior essential for effective government.
On the other end of the spectrum, there have been numerous instances of a Councilor attacking a Citizen for expressing his or her views. It would be difficult to see this reaction as strengthening the ideal of democracy, much less an open local government process. I would urge to contact Judy Dirks, Alex Beeby and Lee Runzheimer directly to hear more about their experiences and learn from them.
I guess that there may be a number of more finely-grained questions to my original inquiry. I am assuming that a Citizen should take his or her concerns directly to their Elected Representative, not City Staff, do you agree?
There are probably more than one category of concerns. There is the concern related to an issue scheduled to be discussed at a Council meeting, a concern that might be unique to the Citizen’s personal situation and not yet on the City’s “agenda”, and a concern that would be part of the bigger picture or longer time-line and probably requires some further analysis or discussion before being ready for an “agenda”. If I’ve adequately addressed potential categories of concerns, do you prefer different modes of pursuing these different categories of concerns?
Finally, you’ve both acknowledged and expressed at least some support for direct contact, either through phone, mail or face-to-face at the grocery store, or speaking at a meeting, often characterized as “the open mic”, or some kind of intentional widespread input gathering such as a ward meeting. Do you think that we have the necessary Citizen-Councilor communication channels already in place or do we need new systems to strengthen local government?
Thanks again for your participation in this discussion.
Ross, I’ll get back down to the human contact level.
Like you, I’ve witnessed a variety of Council reactions to open mic participants from no reaction at all to anger. Early in my Planning Commission service with hot button issues like the CUB development, I felt the heat of a few Council attacks and I learned that lashing back is not only ineffective but undermines working relationships. I think I have learned from that experience that public service requires calm, civility, and verbal restraint.
What should happen:
Any person who takes the time and effort to speak at a Council meeting deserves the respect and acknowledgment of the Council: “Thank you, Mr. Currier” would be a bare minimum. Having a staff person follow up immediately to ensure your concern was properly noted would be good and, if an answer was requested, you should get one – perhaps not at the Council meeting, but very soon. Maybe your Ward representative should have the task of getting back to you.
I am not convinced that any one method of communication works for all categories of question, so I would like to see multiple ways for residents to get the help they need. I hope constituents will feel comfortable bringing questions directly to me by phone, email, website, grocery store buttonholing, etc. If people ask me a question, I’ll try to figure out the answer, who knows the answer, or how to proceed.
Residents should be able to call City Hall for answers or help. City staff have the advantage of being in the office during business hours while my schedule is more, well, unscheduled. Staff need to be able to listen to questions, give answers when possible, and/or ensure that the issue reaches the Council or Council member. City staff and the city website should be great resources – easy to ask/navigate.
People should also be able to contact me directly. Some questions may be better handled by city staff, and I’ll be happy to direct folks to the right department/person if they call me first. Others may need asking the Mayor to put something on the agenda. Ask, and I’ll try to find the appropriate response.
As a Council member, I’m willing to keep trying new strategies for access and communications. Griff has observed that no current Council member blogs; I’ve said I’ll keep that up. Ward meetings are a traditional means and you, Ross, wondered about town hall meetings on this site recently – both are good to organize regularly.
Overall goal: Work for multiple avenues of communication and respond quickly to any citizen concern, even just to say “I heard you” or “I don’t know the answer, but I’ll try to find out.”
Maybe commenters on this thread would like to weigh in on what they think would work:
I appreciate all the concern over public access to government officials, but I can see some limitations. I don’t think it’s practical to expect part-time politicians to do all their work and monitor and respond to comments on the Northfield News, Northfield.org, Locally Grown, their ward sites, the radio station, the League of Women Voters, NDDC and whatever other sites post a story or question.
There are legal issues as well. I know that when I was on the Nonmotorized Transportation Task Force, we were not allowed to have online discussions among our members between meetings for fear that we would violate the spirit of the open meeting law. Even if we e-mailed in a round-robin fashion, it seemed too much like a serial phone discussion, which can be a violation.
Most communications had to go through the chairman and staff person to maintain a record of them. It was very frustrating, but I understand the concern.
If a quorum of the council participated here, it could be construed as an illegal meeting, in that the entire population wasn’t notified of the discussion and didn’t have a chance to participate.
There is an argument that commenting in a number of places advances community discussion, but there’s also an advantage to having a limited number of open, public access points where all members of the public can come together and can review all comments in one place — and have a public record of them.
Perhaps the answer is to have a place on the city hall site where the officials can maintain their blogs, and where each issue under consideration can include all the documentation and a place for each councilor or board member to post a comment or position statement. It also could include a place for public comments and questions.
I’m not trying to preclude discussions on many sites by members of the community. Still, there is a reason why there are open meeting laws, which require public business to be discussed at set times in public venues. That ensures that all the public has a chance to be part of the discussion.
Jerold and Betsy,
My questions aren’t “trick questions”, but since I am new here in town and don’t know anybody I want to understand what everybody stands for.
For the past two years living here all I experienced from the city is chaos, lawsuits and other questionable issues.
Given that our country (and city) head in to some difficult times I think it is more important then ever to elect the right people. Especially at this level since their actions or inaction’s have a much more profound impact on our lives.
So I am very sorry if my questioning come across as aggressive, partisan or probative.
One of you will be representing me in city council and since I live here, I have a great interest on your general philosophy.
Both of you have given extensive statements on the environment, transparency and open government.
The tough issues facing us, will be budgets, infrastructure, taxation an attracting businesses.
I would really like to hear more on those issues.
I have asked the mayoral candidates similar questions.
1) What is your definition of a ” green business”? What criteria will we use to define them?
2) What is your specific plan in balancing out the tax base between residential and business?
3) How much money will we spend on infrastructure and what are your priorities for these?
4) How will we address projected budget short falls in combination with a slowing economy?
Ross: Objectively speaking, a minimal level of courtesy is silence. It’s outrageous that “there have been several instances of a Councilor attacking a Citizen for expressing his or her views.” Such treatment of the public from government officials is not my understanding of what makes America dignified and special among nations. If I was the citizen being attacked, I’d resent that government official and I’d scorn the other officials who sat in tacit agreement. Building a community demands that the authorities do not act like petty dictators.
At the Contented Cow’s first mayoral forum, I had a conversation about a citizen who exceeded her two minutes at the mic, so she was informed that she had to stop talking. In compliance, she stood in silent protest instead. The city council had her arrested. I don’t assume that the version of the story I heard was entirely accurate, but it certainly represents the opinions that some Northfield residents have about city council.
That is why I wrote that the minimum courtesy by authorities is silence. Otherwise, I agree with you, something more should be said. Saying “thank you” in some manner after an open mic presentation may not be uttered every time by every councilor, but I hope that among a mayor and six councilors, that one of them can say something appreciating the citizen’s interest in addressing the council and trying to improve life for everyone in Northfield. It’s not easy for a lot of people to speak publicly, or speak to authorities. The council must go out of its way to ensure that citizens are not scared away from participating.
The council exists to serve to Northfield’s population. A hostile council or councilor has already broken this responsibility. I don’t demand that the city council be stoic. On the contrary, members should be expressive, but never mean or nasty.
This is especially important for how the council should address citizens who are upset. The council should be the voice of reason, the voice of moderation, and the voice of a cohesive Northfield. It is probably too idealized to claim that in the next four years citizens will never be upset, so assuming that it will happen again, a courteous or at least receptive council will help solve problems, not exacerbate them.
There is no circumstance that I would attack, verbally or otherwise, citizens exercising their rights to free speech and petitioning the government. I want more citizens to feel more comfortable talking to government. I want more citizens to participate in government. The whole idea of having community is to believe that among many people, we can solve all of the issues that confront us because of our diverse ideas and skills. The city council plays a leadership role in this community and should never have to be reminded that leaders do not attack their people.
Your second question, about whether citizens should contact council or staff, depends entirely on context. If the matter relates to policy, city or ward issues, the mayor or council is the appropriate contact. If the matter relates to a discrete issue entirely resolvable by city staff, like delaying payment of a water bill, then the citizen should contact city staff. If in doubt, the citizen should contact whom ever makes more intuitive sense, and the councilor or staff person can direct the citizen to the appropriate person if needed.
Your third question, about whether there are enough channels for citizens to talk to councilors, depends on context of course but also depends on the councilor. Besides prospective city council meetings, I am always easy to reach by e-mail, sometimes by phone, and if the citizen has similar shopping habits, then I am easy to reach at the market. If councilors are easy to reach in at least one way, we don’t need other systems to be developed. If councilors are insulated, then either the insulation needs to be removed or a new means to reach them should be developed.
Anne: I am grateful that you share your experience on the Nonmotorized Transportation Task Force as it relates to being accessible to members of our community. I won’t pretend to be able to keep current with all the groups that seek comment from public officials, but I’ll keep current with a select few.
In the last twenty years, I’ve worked for several student newspapers. I was a writer for “The Generic Alternative” from U.C. Irvine, editor and writer for “The Focus” from Irvine Valley College, and editor and writer for “The Brief” from the University of West Los Angeles. It’s my understanding of a public official’s responsibility, as a citizen and as an amateur journalist, is to be involved in the media’s efforts to report on government, especially policy makers. Thus, I will go out of my way to talk with the “Northfield News” and, as I said previously, Locally Grown, because it provides the same function. I’ll be responsive to non-media organizations as best I can.
There are many laws that cast a long shadow because they are not widely understood. Laws against loitering are an easy example. While loitering can be described as being idle, being idle is not a crime. A sign at a gas station that says “Loitering is Prohibited” does not prevent you from spending your day watching people buy over-priced gasoline (see http://www.ci.minneapolis.mn.us/police/crime-reporting/loitering.asp).
I suspect that the Open Meeting Law is similarly misunderstood, though admittedly I have plenty to read about it before I can comment definitively. I liken Locally Grown’s discussions to chance meetings at a social event. If I am at next year’s graduation ceremony of either college, and someone starts discussing city policy with me, then another joins in, then another, the spirit of the Open Meeting Law is not thwarted. As you explained, the problem is when a quorum of city council (4+ members) is in conversation about city business. You are right that we need to be aware of the law, but like loitering often being misinterpreted as prohibiting idleness, I think that it is too restrictive to interpret the Open Meeting Law in a way that forbids local officials from participating in community blog discussions.
The city council can be proactive by working to resolve the matter. Perhaps the city council will agree that one member would be assigned to Locally Grown so there is never a quorum. Suffice to say, city council needs to be involved in community discussions, and Locally Grown is an effective medium to do so. If elected, I’ll work with the city attorney and city council to find a solution.
Peter: Please send us probative questions. Anything less will not help anyone decide whom to vote for. Your questions do not come across as aggressive whatsoever, and I don’t think that you should shy away from partisan questions so long as they relate to city policy or business.
1. “What is your definition of a ‘green business’? What criteria will we use to define them?”
The term “green business” continues to evolve so my answer today may be different than in four years. The term is oriented toward identifying businesses that cause less net harm to our ecosystem than average businesses. Measuring “less net harm” is of course subject to debate.
The method I’d use to define green businesses is to look at (1) how it treats the land it occupies, (2) the materials and energy used to build and maintain the business, such as utilities, (3) the materials and energy it consumes to be marketable, such as a tire company selling virgin or recycled tire rubber, (4) its programs to reduce, reuse, and recycle its materials and energy, and (5) any land, water or air pollution it creates.
A business that does better than average in any one or more of these can be called some shade of green. A truly green business would try to excel in all five categories.
2. “What is your specific plan in balancing out the tax base between residential and business?”
I have talked to many residents and business owners, and most have said that property taxes are too high, measured by the high rate of increase over recent years. Even if tax rates are fair, all levels of government should be shrewd in their budgets to keep taxes at sustainable minimums. Therefore, first I would want to work with city council to make whatever changes we can to reduce our tax demands on our residents and businesses.
Beyond that, I want Northfield to stop residential development and instead work on attracting new businesses and supporting existing businesses. Therefore, I’ll work with the city council and Economic Development Authority to simplify city bureaucracy, to protect the city’s rural and undeveloped land, and to attract businesses. As I responded to Northfield.org, I am generally against giving special incentives to new businesses because it might end up hurting us in the long run. If incentives are specifically recommended by the EDA and agreeable to the city council, I might agree to special incentives.
I’ll work with the city council to develop relationships with other cities and businesses, such as to cross-promote Northfield’s interests with theirs. Intercity transportation should be improved so our city is more economical to reach, thus increasing our businesses’ employee selection and giving our residents a wider selection of employers. Locally, I’ll work with businesses and organizations, notably the Chamber of Commerce, to achieve common goals, especially to attract diverse businesses. We need more selection of some things, like restaurants, but we don’t need another university.
3. “How much money will we spend on infrastructure and what are your priorities for these?”
I can’t comment on how much money to spend, because that’s answered only by the best competitive bid.
My sole priority on the first day of office is infrastructure concerns that relate to safety. Of course, this includes the Safety Center and any buildings, streets, etc., identified as in need of repair.
Otherwise, I would like to see the library expanded, parking improved (perhaps with a downtown parking structure), more neighborhood parks so children have near-by places to play, and many other things. These priorities are limited to economic restrictions (present and forecast) and the innovation of the city council and EDA. I’ll work with the city council, staff, residents and business owners to set priorities.
4. “How will we address projected budget short falls in combination with a slowing economy?”
This is largely addressed above.
Generally, everything should be reviewed for cost efficiency. I am against being cheap today if it means spending more money later, so the rule I follow is to look at the return on our investment. I learned long ago that Europe uses asphalt that is twice as expensive as what the U.S. uses but it lasts five times longer. In this way, I’d rather pay twice as much on any project if the return will be five times greater.
The city should share its costs with other interested parties. While I am presently opposed to building more homes, if we agree to have more homes built, I will want the developers to partially or entirely pay for an upgrade to our sewage treatment plant. Perhaps Dundas and other surrounding communities could help pay for the library expansion since they benefit from it. Finding other interested parties to help share costs takes time, but such partnerships are well worth it.
There may be grants and other unusual funding available depending on the project.
Otherwise, safety concerns always come first. Projects that can be delayed should be. And we should be willing to spend money, as necessary, with the return on investment philosophy. Actor Larry Hagman was recently reported as converting his avocado farm to solar power, reducing his annual electric bill from $40,000 to $13. Northfield should constantly find ways like that to make itself lean, of course without compromising the needs of its citizens.
Jerold, I appreciate the idea of having one councilor assigned as a liaison with each interactive group to answer basic questions on issues. I do believe that public discussion by a quorum of a public body should be limited to City Hall, where the discussions and comments can be documented and all members of the public have equal access. The solution is to expand City Hall services to have an interactive version of listening sessions, with advance notification and the ability to maintain records of results. This could help augment the open mic sessions of meetings and allow people to be heard.
Sites like Locally Grown and Northfield News and Northfield.org could link to the listening discussions and carry on their own discussions, of course.
Anne, you’re right about the open meeting law issues and it is increasingly easy to run afoul of these regulations with electronic communications whether e-mail or blogs like this.
As a policy question, it becomes something of a Catch-22. If we are trying to use new media to be more open and accessible, why is it we get caught by the laws intended to ensure that government process is open?
As a practical matter, the new Council could draft its own policy regarding blogs and email with the public which could give us some guidelines.
Thanks, too, for your comment that part-time Council reps can’t do it all. If elected, I’d like to keep looking for effective ways to give and get information, but I can’t do everything all the time nor can any other Council member.
Betsey, I have been thinking about this more, and the problem with the News and Locally Grown and other sites is that there is no guarantee online discussions will be preserved, and because the institutions are private, there is no guarantee that the records will remain public.
I think the answer is some version of the one I stated earlier, where councilors keep official blogs and e-mail accounts through the city, which are open to the public to review. Public comment areas can be maintained. In effect, you have a virtual version of City Hall, publicly monitored and preserved as public record as you do with paper documents now.
For example, an online system would allow people on the nonmotorized task force to receive information and make routine comments to each other without having to convene a formal meeting, because the discussion would be public. Votes and public hearings would still be part of the physical meeting structure.
As a citizen, I don’t want to have to go through a dozen sites to follow a public issue. Just look at how many sites and questionnaires and forums are involved in this election. It’s great to get lots of people involved, but over the years it would be very cumbersome for any citizen to follow an issue.
I’m not trying to minimize LGN or the News, just address the public record issue. There would be no problem with other sites linking to the City Hall discussion, expanding on it, and forwarding questions from their discussions to the public site.
Peter, tough questions are part of the job and I enjoy vigorous discussion.
I don’t have a clear definition of “green business”–this is a rapidly evolving area and I’m not going to try to hit a moving target. I’m more interested in encouraging all businesses (as well as city government) to become greener by conserving energy, building sustainably, and improving transit and non-motorized transportation.
“Balancing the tax base” is a hot topic, but I’m looking more broadly than just adjusting the proportion paid by commercial vs. residential properties.
I chaired the Planning Commission when much of the southern part of Ward 2 was planned (at the time, master plans extending south to CSAH 81 were reviewed although not all this property could be annexed at once), approved and constructed plus another 80 acres at the north edge of the city.
The PC asked: “Is this too much residential development?” The answer from the Council at the time was “We need the tax base” and Council approved all the residential development despite PC recommendations. Economic conditions have slowed/stopped the build-out for the time being.
My point in giving this history is not to say that the PC was right and the Council wrong back in 2001-2002. Rather, I look at the impact of the growth of Ward 2.
Pluses: increased tax base, well-laid out neighborhoods with pretty good street connections within the area, natural areas and trails, mix of single family and multi-family homes.
Minuses: increased cost of city services (there is much debate over whether residential development costs communities more in providing services than it receives in increased taxes – see here, or here), strain on the transportation network (especially near the Jefferson Parkway/TH 246 intersection), trickle down effects on older neighborhoods from the abundance of new homes.
When it comes to considering how/where to increase the commercial tax base, I understand the benefit of increasing tax base (the cost of government is divided up among more taxpayers so we each pay less). However, I have big questions about the current NW Territory business park initiative in terms of the costs to the city to develop “shovel ready” land, the unanswered questions about the transportation connections, the environmental issues, and the incentives the city might give to attract business. The new Comprehensive Plan is also quite clear that this is not the desired type of development.
For any development the city is paying for, I want to see detailed impact analysis. I’m not in favor of many incentives because I believe it creates a “race to the bottom” pitting communities against each other to bid for industry. This may be good for an individual business, but it is not good business for the city.
Northfield should work on multiple fronts and not focus exclusively on balancing tax base including
Peter, “how much?” can’t be answered effectively at this time, there are too many variables. At a candidate information session last night, we heard from Katy Gehler-Hess, the City Engineer, about the Pavement Management Plan. Her presentation included a chart showing how our current level of spending on street repair/reconstruction will lead to declining pavement quality over the next 10 years. Even for this very basic infrastructure need, Northfield is struggling to keep up.
I would like to be able to spend more on transportation and infrastructure, but the ability to do so will depend on the overall budget, materials costs, and Council willingness.
Safety and efficient delivery of services must be the first priority for improvements.
My other goal is to ensure Northfield makes good investments for the long term – it may cost more right now to increase spending on repairing streets (to continue my example), but regular maintenance will likely save money in the long run because streets will last longer.
I’m running out of steam here, but the basic strategy is simple (although individual decisions may be very difficult). Northfield’s Council will need to explore where it can save money through conservation and efficiency and considering reducing or eliminating services, projects, or staff. On the revenue side, the Council and staff should review fees, investments, use of grant income, and working to increase state aid. This will need to be a continuous process of assessment and action, not one time cuts.
Yes, Anne, I agree that the public record is crucial and any blog I’d write as a Council person, I’d want to be on the City site, not “just mine.”
While on the Planning Commission, I had informal conversations with staff and others about “what would happen if we had a public, on-line Planning Commission discussion forum? ” My interest at the time was maximizing meeting discussion time by allowing PC members to bounce ideas off each other informally but publicly in the 2 weeks between meetings. I’d call the feedback I got “somewhat interested, but not passionate.” Perhaps the time is ripe now.
I’d also like to see the City website search capabilities improved to make it easier to search Council and board minutes as well as any other new types of public discussion.
Anne: It could go either way. The Ward 2 web page on the city’s web site could have a link to a Locally Grown thread and vice versa.
I agree that for simplicity’s sake, limiting discussion to a few arenas make sense. Nonetheless, if a citizen makes a discovery request of the City, the citizen still has to check non-city sources, such as the newspapers, radio broadcasts, etc. Is it better to make it simpler for the occasional requesting citizen, or is it better for public officials to be relatively unrestrained when talking to the community via popular blogs? I’d rather have the public official being involved.
Your remaining issue asks the duty of a private web site owner to keep a record of its discussions. I don’t know the answer to this, though I’d want to equate it to newspapers and other media. What is their duty? I’ll seek an answer to this and post what I find later today.
Peter: Those are good questions, but I’m surprised you didn’t ask how the candidates stand on crazy lawsuits. After all, as you said,
Both of the candidates have legal training, and one, Jerold Friedman, has a history of what some would consider eccentric legal actions. My favorite is his case against Kaiser. He had a temp job there, but when they hired him full-time, he apparently had a change of heart. Instead of just stealing Post-it notes, though, or going out for lunch and never coming back, he invented his own religion and then sued the company for not accommodating it enough. You can read about the religion here:
and the outcome of the case here:
Can we expect more high jinks at city hall?
I did came across the same story when I googled him, but never made the connection.
I would like to hear his side of the story.
Interesting reading. I learned a fair bit about the legal definitions of “religious beliefs,” and I was suprised to learn that they are more complicated than I would’ve guessed.
The heart of the case seems to be this: Kaiser insisted on Jerold being vacinated against Mumps as a prerequisite of promotion to full-time employment. As a strict, ethical vegan Jerold is opposed to beig vaccinated with Mumps vaccine, presumably because the vaccine’s development/production is animal-related (the Appeals Court decision didn’t seem to address this, so I’m guessing at his motives here). He sought redress from the courts to void this requirement, and give protection to his decision to refuse the vaccine, on the premise that he held his beliefs in Veganism on a par with a religious belief. Ultimately, the appeals court did not agree.
Even though he did not prevail in the courts, I would call that a man of principles, not “high jinks.”
Scott: Relating to the “common courtesy” topic raised by Ross, it’s courteous first to talk with someone about their history, to be able to present it to others in an unbiased fashion. I recognize that as a candidate for public office, I don’t have much control over what people say…
My case against Kaiser rested on their demand that I take the MMR vaccine after I was offered the job, despite my having worked there for 8 months as a computer technician in a pharmaceutical warehouse with no foreseeable exposure to at-risk patients. The vaccine requirement was arbitrary for this and other reasons. California law requires that employers try to “reasonably accommodate” employees’ religious views. Federal and California law define religion not as a set of theistic beliefs — as you believe — but as a sincerely held set of moral beliefs (there are many cases that support this). I have a deep commitment to nonviolence that is pervasive throughout my life. The MMR vaccine uses animal products, and that use of animals is contrary to my commitment to nonviolence. I brought the lawsuit because I was a dedicated employee whom they rescinded a job offer because of my deeply held moral values, and that’s against California law. I can tell you or anyone more about this if you’re curious.
You left out another high profile lawsuit of mine, where I was a co-plaintiff against Adidas. Adidas had been violating California’s state endangered species law for over 20 years, and law enforcement refused to do anything about it. So I sued Adidas to make them stop.
I hope that these two cases show that I am an advocate of the people. The lawsuits were against oppressive and arbitrary business policies and corporate crime. I have volunteered as a legal assistant on several other cases, such as one I’ve mentioned repeatedly, defending a journalist after being caught up in a mass arrest. If you consider these high jinks, I ask that you reconsider your definition.
Part of legal training is understanding the limitations of the courts. Lawsuits are always a last resort. They are expensive, exhausting, and have an uncertain result. One benefit of Betsey’s and my legal training is that we will be more prepared to avoid bringing the city into litigation. Also, we can supplement the city attorney’s point-of-view. Having a law degree does not mean that the person wants to sue everyone.
Patrick: Well, I’m not sure what a “man of high jinks” is, exactly, but I don’t think I ever called anyone that. I do think it’s reasonable to wonder how much lawsuits like this would cost the city, though.
Patrick and Scott: The federal rule on religion within the context of employment is stated in paragraph 55 of the First Amended Complaint:
“The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Guidelines on discrimination because of religion, §1605.1 provides in relevant part that the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission will ‘define religious practices to include moral or ethical beliefs as to what is right or wrong which are sincerely held with the strength of traditional religious views.'”
Trying to answer your question, “it’s reasonable to wonder how much lawsuits like this would cost the city”, I could not force the city to sue anyone, as that requires the city council’s approval. I could save the city from being sued if my sensitivity to civil rights prevails in council discussions. If Patrick doesn’t mind me capitalizing on his compliment, I hope that you would want council members with a track record of being principled.
Peter: I could write volumes more about the experience but, believe it or not, I am trying to be brief. If you have any questions, please ask.
Scott – your original comment about Jerold’s history came off as really mean-spirited, and my first thought was to wonder if you’d actually ever met him. Have you? Just curious.
That said, I think the ensuing dialog has been very interesting, so even though I don’t care for the way in which you brought it up, I’m glad you did.
Tracy: Yes, I ran into Jerold and Patrick at the Hideaway a couple of weeks ago, and we discussed, inter alia, a couple of Jerold’s legal cases. So, in the interest of full disclosure, they know or should know that my comments are just for fun.
Jerold mentioned at the time a case involving athletic shoes made out of kangaroo hide. It’s probably the Adidas case he mentions above, although I was unaware that the kangaroo was an endangered species in California.
And Jerold, the concern in Northfield has more to do with city officials suing each other. There was the Lansing lawsuit, and the $25,000 the council voted to give Al Roder was so that he won’t (they hope) come back and sue the city.
Tracy, this stuff may sound negative to you, but for those still hoping to see Northfield written up in Chuck Shepherd’s column, News of the Weird, it may be the change we need!
Re-reading my post (#30, October 21, 2008 at 11:12 am), I should clarify that I worked as a *temporary* employee for 8 months and there was no MMR vaccine requirement. They loved my work, offered me a permanent job, but then the policy kicked in because their requirement applies only to *permanent* employees, as if one’s employment status makes them more or less susceptible to the mumps. This was one reason why Kaiser’s policy was arbitrary.
It was around this time that I decided to become a civil rights lawyer.
I sense a double standard here with regard to Scott’s comments. Scott cited a real case involving Jerold which is a matter of public record. The case speaks for itself.
Tracy: When you and Ross brought up some crazy rumor about “hush money” on live radio, how was that OK, and what Scott did “mean-spirited”?
Scott: In 1975, Californians protected kangaroos in its penal code § 653o (that’s the letter “O”, not zero). Rather than petition the government to de-list kangaroos, Adidas has been selling kangaroo skin since 1985 to the best of my information. Endangered species laws are meaningless if corporations can ignore them and law enforcement won’t enforce them. My co-plaintiff and I won our case at the California Supreme Court, but by that time, Adidas successfully lobbied to have the law changed.
I can’t tell by your “just for fun” posts if you’d rather let businesses have the right to force employees to take vaccines and terminate them if they refuse, or if you’d rather let corporations break the law with impunity until citizens take them to court. I don’t understand why you called the former lawsuit “eccentric”, or why you’d insinuate that Betsy or I would be prone to sue city council members because we have a legal education. Maybe I just don’t understand your humor.
David, you’re confusing tone and content. I didn’t object at all to Scott’s bringing up the issues, just in the way he did it.
Yes, that Sunday a couple weeks back was a busy one. I met Jerold and his fiance Natalie for the first time, and re-met Scott Oney (having met briefly in the past). Then it was off to the candidates’ forum.
Jerold: Thanks for the update on kangaroos in California. You raised one point that I’d like to clarify:
I never meant to imply that Betsy would be prone to sue anybody, on the council or otherwise. I’ve been aware of her for years, and she’s never done anything that would make me suspect that. As for the first part of your question, I don’t want to get in trouble with Tracy again, so I’d rather not say. And as David said, the case is a matter of public record, if anyone is curious. (There’s a link to it in my first post of the day.)
I agree, people should read the articles you linked to. The thing is, I’ve now read a fair bit of them, and they don’t say what you claim they say.
Patrick: Well, then, keep reading. They say all that and more, and the stuff gets even funnier.
For example, Kaiser, for whatever reason, wants its new hires to take a TB test. But Jerold was affronted by this. Here’s how the court opinion sums it up:
“Battery” is a legal term that covers getting beat up, punched, or pounded. “Emotional distress” means pretty much what it says. The judges went over the whole argument with a fine-tooth comb, and although they didn’t say anything mean or sarcastic, in the end they didn’t buy it.
But was Kaiser being unreasonable? Jerold, you apparently think so. As you said yesterday,
At first glance, the policy may seem arbitrary. But, especially in this day and age, a company’s responsibility to its employees is different, and greater, than its responsibilities would be to someone contracting to provide a temporary service. So Kaiser may have had a good reason for the policy.
I know from speaking with you that you are opposed to frequenting a certain establishment (or establishments) in town, because you disagree with / are unhappy with the owner or owners on some principle or another.
Why do you find it so hard to believe that Jerold wasn’t opposed to vaccination for a similar, principled reason?
I hardly know Jerold (I’ve met him just once, as you have), but he is not the first vegan I have ever met. Vegans, in case you don’t know, are opposed to harm to all animals. They not only don’t eat meat, they are opposed to the use/consumption of all animal products. In essence, it’s the “do no harm” principle taken to a logical end.
(More information on Veganism can be found here:
But you don’t just disagree with his principle, or the legal efforts to protect it. Instead, you claim that
…which is not supported by the documents you cite.
You go on to say
…which is also not supported by the documents you cite.
And you assert:
I didn’t find any evidence that Jerold “invented his own religion” in the documents you cite.
Based on the Time survey data cited at Wikipedia, approximately 600,000 Americans consider themselves to be vegans.
As the plaintiff in that case ten years ago (and not the lawyer for the case – or even a lawyer yet), Jerold attempted to secure for them the same right to opt out of vaccination that is offered to people of various religious faiths when their beliefs are in conflict with an employer-mandated vaccination requirement.
If you read the documents you cite, you will see that the plaintiffs’ assertion in that case was that
In the end, the courts did not accept that vegans hold their belief “with the strength of traditional religious views.” However, my past experience with vegans suggests that many of them care far more about veganism as a central organizing principle of their lives than do many christians in the observance of their faith. Therefore, it seems a valid case to have made.
Scott: Again I remind you that talking with me about your concerns would have been the more courteous approach, and would have informed you about some of the things that you find confusing. Admittedly, many people will find them confusing, so I don’t fault you for asking the questions. But before you make mean-spirited posts or insinuations, you really should have talked with me first.
There are three available TB tests, the injection, sputum, and chest x-rays. I was told from the manager of the Drug Research Dept. that the TB test was suitable for vegetarians so I took it. I later discovered that he was wrong. Had he done his work, I would have chosen another test. Anyone who wants drug researchers to be responsible for their work should understand why I sued.
“Battery” covers a much larger range than “beat up, punched or pounded.” It covers any harmful or offensive touching, including being spit on, having your dinner plate pulled from your hands, or being injected with an offensive substance.
You misunderstand why Kaiser’s policy was arbitrary. They did not require temporary employees to be vaccinated, only permanent employees and a few other categories, like visiting doctors or medical students. Scott, if their policy was not arbitrary, why would a temporary and permanent employee not be treated the same way for the same job? If Kaiser’s goal was to protect their patients from being exposed to mumps, what makes a permanent employee a greater risk than a temporary employee? Also, remember that I worked on computers in a pharmaceutical warehouse. I never had contact with patients, only administrative pharmacists.
My role as a conscientious citizen is first to understand people whom I may not understand, and not to speak from ignorance, then say it was just for fun, then continue to speak from ignorance. If you were running for public office, I would have first spoken to you personally, then carried our conversation into the public if I still had reservations. Whether you vote for me or not, I recommend that you consider whether it’s more important to provoke controversy or to dig for the truth.
Patrick: While in law school, my Constitutional Law professor announced in class that my case against Kaiser was “an absolute winner”.
You might be surprised to learn that during the Vietnam War, there were two cases where atheists sought religious exemption from fighting because of their profound commitment to nonviolence. The U.S. Supreme Court agreed with them, that despite being atheists, their commitment to nonviolence was so sincere that it was religious to them. In another case, a native American sued after he was fired from his construction job, for refusing to dig into the earth. He prevailed. A Catholic sued after he was fired from his engineering job when he refused to be transferred to a nuclear power plant. Despite nuclear power not being mentioned in Catholic tenets, he was passionately against it. He prevailed. In each case, the court decided that businesses should not terminate employees unless religious conflicts cannot be reasonably accommodated. Should a Catholic bus driver be fired if he doesn’t want to hand out abortion flyers as part of a city’s program? Should a Hindu gardener be forced to wear leather gloves and boots?
The California Court of Appeal disagreed with the California Supreme Court’s opinions as well as the U.S. Supreme Court’s when it ruled against me. They took a court opinion from the Pennsylvania area instead. If you want to know what is eccentric about my case, consider a lower court ignoring judicial mandates to follow upper courts’ decisions.
Jerold: I think that Scott’s point is well-taken. If you are going to represent thousands of people in your ward, you will need to represent the view of the majority of the people in your ward. Right now, the City doesn’t need people who start lawsuits, but people who know how to settle them.
David, even more than people who know how to settle lawsuits, we need people who can avoid them in the first place.
Jerold, I think many people might think your lawsuits put you out on the fringe. You may have support in the kangaroo community, but unless ACORN finds a way to get them to the polls, I think you’re out of luck.
David: Thank you for bringing that up. As you may remember, I was the only candidate at this morning’s Chamber of Commerce forum who said that my constituents’ opinions are influential on my official opinion. I have said in several venues, such as my web site, that if a clear majority of my constituents agree on an issue after a full exposé of the facts, that I would surely vote the same way. In the example you give, if I don’t want to settle but my constituents clearly do, and they understand the issues, then their is also my vote.
From your question, I infer that you think lawsuits should be settled. I think that it is wrong for a public official to prefer settlement or non-settlement. Every case must be evaluated for its merit and its chances of success. Public officials need to look at the immediate costs of prosecuting or defending lawsuits, and any precedent (either case law or public memory) that it may set. If Northfield has a reputation for settling lawsuits, we will be sued more often. If Northfield has a reputation of fighting lawsuits where Northfield is surely liable, we will waste the taxpayer’s money.
Holding Kaiser accountable for violating California labor law and holding Adidas accountable for violating California criminal law were in the best interests of the people. This is where I disagree with Scott’s insinuation. I hope that, as an attorney, you understand that.
Betsey and Jerry,
Can you both comment on the plan for $880,000 of City Hall renovations?
What are your top five, in order, Capital Improvement Plan projects?
And has your thinking about this changed at all since the global financial meltdown has hit hard in the past month?
Jerold: In a representative democracy, the constituents’ opinions ARE your opinions, unless there is a compelling reason otherwise. And, yes, you were the only one of the ward candidates who seemed to grasp that ward candidates are supposed to act in the best interests of their WARD, not the CITY.
Curt: You’re on target. Most people will view the lawsuits as fringe. If that’s how they’re viewed, I’d want to remind them that we enjoy a relatively peaceful democracy today because of fringe people. Think about the evolution of women’s rights, homosexual rights, and civil rights. Before these were popular, they were fringe.
I think of fringe politicians too. The first who comes to mind is Nelson Mandela. Tom Hayden is a successful California politician who was once in the famous anti-Vietnam-War Chicago 8 trial. Representative Dennis Kucinich is vegan and wants us to have a Dept. of Peace as well as a Dept. of Defense.
Admittedly there is also a “bad” fringe. My point is that fringe is neither good nor bad. The underlying issues need to be examined.
I filed both lawsuits with some reservation. I knew how the public would perceive them but in good conscience, I moved forward. Around the time of the Kaiser lawsuit, I heard of some high school biology students who wanted to be excused from collecting insects and sticking needles through them to display in a glass box. The students won their petition. That Halloween, the biology teachers all dressed up as insects with needles through them, mocking the students. I don’t expect the teachers to agree with the students, but they didn’t need to humiliate them. I did not expect Kaiser to put anyone at risk on my behalf, but no one was put at risk and then they took my job away.
In the same way, with Adidas, a corporation had been violating criminal law for 20 years and law enforcement refused to act. Is it fringe for a citizen to use the courts to make corporations obey the law? Does that question depend on which law is being broken?
I am egalitarian to a fault. I want employers to respect a minimum standard for how they treat employees. I want corporations to respect the law. I wish that some didn’t consider those fringe.
Griff: I am against renovating City Hall until our economic prospects are better. I hear that it needs maintenance, and that’s important, but not renovation. For the time being, Northfield should spend money only where necessary, such as for safety concerns, and where there would be a return-on-investment, such as making things more efficient. I don’t think that renovating City Hall would bring a return on our investment, so it must wait.
The Safety Center is my only definite priority. As I said at today’s Chamber of Commerce forum, I don’t want to hear that students died in a fire because Northfield doesn’t have garage space for a high-rise-ladder fire truck. The Safety Center has several other problems that need to be fixed now.
I favor the library expansion because I favor education, because it’s an economic draw for nearby businesses, and because they can get private funding to supplement the city. We might be able to get a $10 million expansion for $5 million, and whatever public funds are spent will be returned to the city, not to mention Northfield having the best library in the area.
We have several infrastructure needs, such as road improvement and repair, utility improvements, and other maintenance that actually fits under the Capital Improvement umbrella. As many of these relate to public safety and city efficiency, they are a priority.
I like the relatively inexpensive projects that bring entertainment to Northfield, especially the youth. The skateboard park and the ice arena will be well spent investments.
Finally, we should finish the annexation for light industrial development. I place this last because it might be done before the next administration, and if it isn’t, it means that it still has unresolved controversies. We can’t finish the annexation until we are politically and legally completely satisfied with the arrangement.
I’ll add a sixth — I am very interested in Northfield becoming a high speed internet provider. I have some reservations because I think municipalities should not compete with traditionally private businesses. However, the internet is becoming a utility, and of course cities ought to provide utilities.
The “global financial meltdown” has not affected my priorities. Safety and efficiency projects are always good investments. Projects that bring a return on the investment are always good. Small projects that bring good will to the community may not be essential, but if there are the funds and desire, I think they should move forward.
Anne: Back in my post #27, I said
It appears that every web site has either no policy of keeping its data or its policy does not relate to any laws. For example, I didn’t find Locally Grown’s policy on retaining data.
Assuming the worst, that posts are deleted regularly, I still liken blogs to newspapers. What is said in a newspaper is in the public forum but it’s not part of the official public record.
There are countless possibilities for a public official to write or speak that are never recorded, stored or archived. It would be awkward to prevent public officials from speaking at an event because there isn’t a city archivist there to record and store the speech. In the same way, I don’t think that it’s fair to the public to suggest that public officials shouldn’t participate on LG.
I’m not saying that we can’t solve your concern, but my research concludes that there isn’t a duty for private web sites to keep its blog-style data. (There are exceptions that don’t apply to LG.) So I didn’t find a related legal obstacle to city officials keeping a presence here.
Jerold, that was my point, that there is no obligation to preserve the conversations, and so no public record. There’s a great media law attorney for the Minnesota Newspaper Association who would be a wonderful speaker for a discussion on these public access issues and how they have been affected by online communications. He has been involved for 20 or 30 years and is an expert.
I’m not saying public officials are banned from participating in online discussions, but you have to think of the online world in the same terms as the physical world. It’s fine for a councilor to speak at Rotary and answer questions on an issue. It’s not fine for a quorum of councilors to discuss the issue with the Rotary members when others aren’t invited to participate.
Our councilors have been scrupulous in adhering to the laws, from what I know. Even when they were attending each other’s ward meetings, they would make sure that they never had a quorum in the room.
The whole point of the open meeting law was to prevent councilors and other officials from holding coffee shop meetings and bar meetings and meetings with the Chamber of Commerce board, where they and their friends would discuss policy outside the public record.
It also was designed to prevent telephone meetings, where councilors had conference calls or round-robin calls to decide an issue before a public meeting. Believe me, I have been in many meetings in many cities where it was clear the people on the dais knew exactly what they were going to do before the gavel brought the meeting to order.
So the same concerns are being raised now with online discussions. A big part of the Troopergate scandal and other investigations of public officials are about e-mail discussions of important public issues outside the public record, on private e-mail accounts.
Again, I’m not saying public officials are barred from the News or Locally Grown. There is no harm in councilors participating. The problem comes when a quorum of the council participates in a single thread, debating an issue with a particular constituency outside the public record.
If there is a controversial issue, the public has a right to have any conversation among a quorum of officials take place on the record “at City Hall,” whether it is in the City Council chambers or the council section of the City Hall site.
There is nothing that would prevent Locally Grown from linking to such discussions and expanding on them.
Anne: Who is the attorney? Can you send his or her contact information to me?
I wish that the Open Meeting law applied to corporations as well. It might solve some problems if corporate directors were held to a higher standard.
David: Representative Democracy (RD)…”The representatives form more than one independent ruling body (for an election period) charged with the responsibility of acting in the people’s interest, but not as their proxy representatives; that is, not necessarily always according to their wishes, but with enough authority to exercise swift and resolute initiative in the face of changing circumstances.” (wikepedia)
I think you are in error to say that the constituents opinions ARE your opinions. I refer you to the definition above and also ask in your opinion which constituent’s or constituents’ opinions are, indeed, your opinions in your definition of RD.
And though the elected rep may represent the Ward, he/she must act in the best interest of the whole community not just the ward. Fundamentals here David.
RD is about delegation of authority by constituents to a person who will represent them in the elected body, but not necessarily represent their opinions to the elected body.
BTW, have you seen the Chamber of Commerce’s TV attack ads on Al Franken. I thought the Chamber was a non-partisan body. Is it instead a club for republicans? Not that there is anything wrong with that; its just that it should be a bit more open about it when touting for membership or complaining that we are all not members..
Norman: Your definition is more precise than mine. Nevertheless, the Ward Rep is responsible for representing the interests and opinions of his/her constituents. In that sense, the opinions of the constituents are the rep’s opinion. A ward rep represents the interests of the entire city to the extent that he/she must work with all the other interests for the betterment of the entire community.
A civil rights leader might be appropriate if the ward constituents were being oppressed or not properly represented.
If the Chamber forum is any indication, I am concerned that both Betsey and Jerold are not espousing views of the Second Ward, but views much more consistent with the First Ward.
Regarding the Chamber ads, the Northfield Area Chamber of Commerce is a non-partisan organization. We are prohibited by law from endorsing any candidate. We have considered forming a Political Action Committee which would permit endorsements, but have not done so. Part of the reason is related to not wanting to create ill will among our members and the electorate. If candidates for public office in Northfield started to seek endorsements of various groups, we might have to reconsider our position.
I listened to the podcast about local elections. I’m happy that Ward 2 wins the techno-literacy award, of course, and I’ve heard your criticism Griff and I’ll will try to engage Jerry directly and not just the question-asker (you in this case).
Hi Jerry, let’s get on to the city hall issue.
Norm and David: I’ll restate my view (or definition) of “representative democracy”. Voters should vote for the candidate who best represents their interests + One person, one vote = Representative Democracy.
The pitfall here is tyranny by the majority. In a jurisdiction with 51% Hatfields and 49% McCoys, the Hatfields will always win the election and the McCoys will always suffer.
So I don’t think it’s right to say that a candidate is supposed to *share* the values of his or her constituents, because the Hatfield candidate will always be elected to the peril of the McCoys. Instead, the candidate needs to *represent* the interests of the Ward, even if they don’t share them.
Therefore, contrary to David, I don’t think it matters if the candidate is ultra-partisan “A” and 99% of the voters are ultra-partisan “B”. Candidates are expected, they have a duty, to represent the voters’ interests.
I should vote contrary to Ward 2’s expressed desires only on matters of dire consequences, assuming the constituents choose the dire option. Otherwise, I will work with my constituents, city council and staff, and others as appropriate, to discover what is in Ward 2’s best interests. If there is a clear Ward 2 majority on an issue after a full exposé of the facts, I’ll vote in accordance with the majority. If there is no clear majority, I’ll use my best judgment.
Norm raises the possibility that the Wards will disagree on issues. What if Ward 3 does not want an industrial complex on the annexed land but the other wards want it there? Should the Ward 3 councilor vote for Ward 3’s interests or the community’s? If Ward 1, 2 and 4 vote Yes and Ward 3 votes No, the mayor and at-large councilors will determine the outcome, not Ward 3’s vote. Therefore, the ward councilors should vote for their ward even if it hurts the community, because the whole council will vote for the community’s best interests.
Although again, if the matter has dire consequences, the ward councilor needs to vote based on the issue even if their ward disagrees. All councilors should vote against building a nuclear waste depository in any ward in order to bring in immense federal funding to the community.
Yesterday, I had a discussion with some voters about the merits of the Ward system. Now I am starting to like it. It forces candidates to be connected to local constituents. What if all of Northfield’s candidates were from one small area? They could unintentionally harm the rest of the city because they might be out-of-touch with other neighborhoods. The ward system guarantees that every area is represented; it guarantees that Northfield’s subdivisions will be represented at City Hall. This reflects federalism, having voters represented by state-biased members of Congress, and the members working with their constituents and other states for the country’s best interests.
At the Chamber forum yesterday, all the candidates were asked to rank a list of projects (in 30 seconds or less, I believe – certainly no more than 45 second – David Ludescher was ruthless with the time limits) so we should be getting good at this.
Unlike Jerold, I have more than one priority and I’m also interested in knowing what Jerold (and everyone else) thinks “priority” means because the projects on the list are not all at the same level of development, do not all require the same level of investment, not the same type of project and other distinctions which may affect which gets done first.
Public safety comes first which pushes the Safety Center to the top. This means “fast-tracking” this project since there are still many blanks to be filled in: is there state funding (see the Northfield News mention), MNDot is involved with the current site and the Woodley/Highway 3 proposed/possible site, and the facility itself is still barely in the conceptual phases.
I put the library a firm second and because the Library Board has been working steadily and diligently toward expanding for years (it was already a topic of discussion 10 years ago when I was on the Library Board) including focus groups, feasibility studies, and conceptual plans, I would like to see the process continue to move forward steadily.
I’m pro-education, too, Jerold, and an oft-uttered phrase of my mother was “Books are our friends!” but there are more reasons to want to improve the library including:
City Hall is not a project at all yet for me. Yes, City Hall – a former elementary school – is not efficient for staff, for energy use, or for citizens. Yes, it needs maintenance. But the city must decide what the long-term plan is for City Hall before spending $880,000 (or more, as Ross contends) for renovation.
Jerold, you didn’t mention the Liquor Store in your post, but it needs immediate attention to avoid those OSHA fines. The question of whether the city should be in the liquor business at all has been raised on LoGroNo, but not at the Council level. Jerold noted his preference was that the city not be in the liquor business (was that at the Cow forum?) and I concur. Personal preference aside, I would like the “no store” option to be presented (and analyzed as to costs/benefits) along with the “fix the current store” and “build a bigger better store” options.
Small plug for the skate park – this is a small, pretty self-contained project which has some private money and some of the best youth organization I’ve seen – I’d like to see this one accomplished soon.
Infrastructure maintenance and repair might top my list altogether. Keeping our streets and the stuff underneath them in good repair saves money in the long run even if seems expensive on a yearly basis.
Jerold, I disagree on two points.
High speed internet is (or should be) considered a utility, but I’m not convinced the city should be the provider (we don’t, for instance, provide electricity – although we could charge a franchise fee). I’d be interested to know why you think the city should take this on.
As Ross well knows, I have deep reservations about the annexation in the NW territories including location, obfuscation about costs, environmental questions, transportation problems, and whether this project actually accomplish what it is supposed to, i.e. increase tax base. Having chaired the Planning Commission during the residential boom and asked “is this too much residential development compared to our commercial tax base” and understanding the lack of industrial land available for development I get the motivation for this project, but I’m not sure this is sufficient.
Betsey and everyone:
We agree that the Safety Center is our first priority. We can’t dawdle with police and fire services. By the time we assume office, any remaining obstacles in the process need to be resolved without delay.
Generally speaking, I don’t think that government should provide retail services, and I don’t think that the government should be involved in the liquor business. If the city council or Ward 2 does not agree with me, then because of OSHA’s warnings and the store’s increased revenue potential, I would move the liquor store to share first priority with the Safety Center. Otherwise, I’ll be happy to close the liquor store and open the field to private liquor entrepreneurs. I’m informed that municipal or private liquor stores will provide Northfield with about the same revenue.
Any maintenance that relates to safety shares first priority.
We agree on the library, although if a clear majority of Ward 2 disagrees with us, I’ll vote along with Ward 2.
Any maintenance or development that will save Northfield money in the long run is a high priority, as the budget allows. For example, upgrading our utility billing hardware and software will pay for itself and continue to save Northfield money.
We agree on City Hall.
Earlier, I said that I don’t think government should provide retail services, and the internet presently is a retail service. Despite that, I am interested in Northfield becoming an internet provider mostly because, according to Northfield’s IT department, Northfield’s few internet providers have no intention on improving service here, and for Northfield to grow economically we need to be able to meet business demands for top class internet service.
If the internet can be fairly classified as a utility and not retail, then I have no principled conflict with a city providing access to the internet. Rather, I think that the internet is in transition to becoming a utility.
Because of our economic needs, the internet providers’ refusal to develop here, and because the internet is in transition to a utility, I am very interested in Northfield providing this service. If it’s feasible, Northfield wins in three ways: we will attract new businesses with superior internet service, we collect revenue for this service, and residents will have the option of paying a good rate for superior service as well.
All things considered, I think the annexation for light industrial development is important for Northfield. Like the Safety Center, there are remaining serious issues that need to be resolved. This doesn’t move the annexation down my list of priorities. It simply keeps it as a top priority with unresolved issues. It may be that some issues are unsolvable so we abandon the annexation. Perhaps its annexation price will be too steep for our speculated return on the investment. Perhaps undiscovered costs will make us change our mind, such as it possibly being too expensive to upgrade our roads in order to support the needs of the light industry. Because the potential benefit to Northfield is great, the annexation must be a high priority. Let the remaining annexation issues determine its fate, rather than reducing its priority because it has problems.
I’m posing the same questions to the other council and mayoral candidates; I believe you’ve both answered these above by implication if not directly, but could you summarize your answers in a paragraph?
1. Why do you want this position?
2. What is your personal vision, passion, or hot-button issue as it relates to Northfield and public service here?
Tracy: A paragraph for each…
1. I would like to become a City Council Member because of my desire to help Northfield, my new home, to be a leader among cities in its respect of its people, its land, water and air, and how it governs generally. Sometimes, I liken it to jury service because most people don’t want to serve on a jury, yet most people complain when juries return seemingly wrong verdicts. I take a different approach. I would want to serve on a jury (and I have) to do my best for the community. I want to serve in City Council also to do my best for this community. For most of my adult life, I have been politically active. I believe in civil service. I believe in making one’s home better through work, sometimes hard work.
2. My personal vision, passion, and hot-button issues are blended into the above paragraph. The government needs to respect its people: civil rights. The government needs to protect our ecosystem: environment. The government needs to manage the city for everyone’s benefit: infrastructure.
I’ve been holding back so Betsey can answer some of the posed questions but things have been quiet here… so I’m posting the questions presented by the Chamber of Commerce at last week’s forum, along with my answers. (Remember, our answers were limited to 45 sec., so I added some content below.)
Q1. How will you prioritize and support “infill and redevelopment” projects along with “new development” projects?
Q2. What changes should the city establish that would improve the local business climate, encourage more business growth and development, and provide more property taxes and jobs for Northfield?
A1&2. Overall, we should target businesses that fit well in Northfield. We don’t want more universities, we could use more restaurants. The City Council should lead the EDA and partner with the Chamber’s members and non-member businesses to guarantee that the city is responding to business sensibilities.
Otherwise, I always prefer infill/redevelopment to new development unless, under the circumstances, new development is our only option. Also, the city needs to streamline its various business processes to make it easier to conduct business in Northfield, and review its policies to ensure that they’re appropriately business-friendly. This includes ensuring our ordinances are business friendly as well as our staff’s “customer service” skills.
Q1. What more could the city council and staff do to ensure that Northfiled will obtain upgrades to Highway 19 west to I-35 as soon as possible?
Q2. What are your local transportation priorities?
A1&2. For county and/or state funding for the highway improvement, the city just needs a clear understanding of what is expected of us and then be diligent to fulfill the expectations.
Regarding priorities, reviewing unsafe roads and intersections comes first, then expanding intercity mass transit, then the upgrades to the highway. If Northfield wants to attract industrial businesses, we will need an airport, seaport or a better highway for them to send their goods. Obviously the highway upgrade is the best option.
Q1. Can the Chamber count on your support of its tourism initiatives and the continuation of the total local lodging tax to the CVB, a department of the Chamber?
Q2. How can the city assist with enhancing local tourism initiatives?
A1&2. Personally, I have been a computer programmer for the Anaheim Area Visitor and Convention Bureau. From my work with each of its departments, I know how essential its role is in its city, hence the Chamber’s role in Northfield. Therefore, I am inclined to support the Chamber in all of its resolutions unless my constituents are expressly opposed. My position is that you are the business experts, not me. Of course I’ll decide on a resolution-by-resolution basis, and nonetheless, I will work hard to make all parties (Chamber members and non-members, residents, and city council) find common ground for everyone’s benefit.
The most important fund raising activity for businesses is advertising. So we need to work constantly on strategic advertising. For example, the city should work to cooperate and cross-promote with other businesses and cities.
Q1. Prioritize the building/renovation of the following city facilities (your first one being the most important): ice arena, liquor store, safety center, city hall, library, skateboard park.
Q2. What expenditures should be cut from the budget, and what new expenditure would you be willing to support?
A1&2. Safety first, so Safety Center #1. Economy second, so Library, Ice Arena, Skateboard Park #2. I would rather the liquor store be privatized. If my constituents or the city council disagrees, then the Liquor Store is #2 as it brings revenue, or call it #1.5 because of OSHA’s looming fines. City Hall is last.
I’m not prepared to cut anything from the budget. The talk of cutting attorneys’ fees and consultants’ fees sounds appealing, but there may be need for them. So I am in favor of reducing these fees, but not necessarily eliminating them. The rest of the budget should be organized and prioritized for safety first, investing in efficiency second, listening to constituent needs third, and business owners fourth. This is not to say that I can only do one at a time, but when forced to be selective, that’s my method.
Finally, Northfield should seek to attract a balanced economy. Presently, we are bursting with residential land and lacking in industry. As our economy shifts, we should always work toward keeping it balanced.
Jerold the liquor store net profits are around $150-$200k per year, depending on the year. The tax or fee the city can charge a private liquor store is, and I am going from memory is about $2500-$3500 annually. And they will pay property tax, but I don’t think it would add up to $150k.
Scott: When I spoke with Finance Director McBride, she said the projected revenue to the city between a private and municipal store was “not much”. If we increase the size of muni liquor, profits are expected to increase. If we permit several private liquor stores, city revenue would increase as well. Leaning on McBride’s assessment, there is no compelling financial incentive to keep a municipal liquor store.
Add to that the debt that the city will incur renovating or replacing its building, and the balance sheets should favor privatization.
Finances aside, I greatly dislike the government being involved in retail. In my opinion, the government is supposed to protect the health, welfare and safety of the people, not sell stuff for profit.
I also find a conflict in government when it sells a drug out of one hand and runs programs to reduce the abuse of the drug out of the other.
As stated, I’ll represent my constituents on this. Their vote is my vote, but I think that it should be privatized.
Sorry to be holding things up here folks, but (for those of us who aren’t Griff, anyway) there is more to do than read and write LoGroNo.
Tracy, I’m not sure your two questions are separable, so here’s my take on them – tell me if I’ve gone off in the wrong direction.
I am running for Council AT ALL because I would like to help Northfield make decisions which are fiscally sustainable, environmentally low-impact, and based on our long term planning documents. Having served on various boards and commissions, I want to harness the talent of Northfielders who serve on these bodies and find more substantive ways to include these voices in decision-making.
I would like to be the Ward 2 representative in particular to be able to focus on increasing communication to and from residents in my home ward and because there are city issues in Ward 2 which are critical right now including safety near our schools (Ward 2 “owns” 3/4 of the Jefferson Parkway/246 intersection, for instance) and city facilities (NCRC and Safety Center sit in Ward 2).
My vision is this: Northfield’s Council will work productively as a group, provide clear policy direction to city staff, and responsive, effective service to its people. The City will be a thriving and distinct city which makes steady progress towards its long term goals (see the Comp Plan, etc) and is a regional leader. I want to be part of making this happen and believe I’ve got experience and skills to play a strong role in the process.
That’s 3 paragraphs, Tracy so I’m over the limit, but did I mention that I think being involved with local government is just a lot of fun? I love being able to talk to my neighbors about what’s happening right here (indeed City Hall is in Ward 2, too), help explain issues and decisions, and think together how we can build Northfield into an even better community.
Jerold: At tonight’s City Council work session, I asked Ms. McBride the question regarding the revenue differences between a municipal liquor store and a private one. A city our size could conceivably host two liquor stores that would bring in an annual license fee of $450.00-$500.00 each and property tax up to 20k annually total… 180k less than our current income.
I think she may have meant that the projected revenue to the city, of a private liquor store, would be “not much”. Hope this helps clarify.
Scott: Thanks for clarifying. That makes sense.
Last week, I was interviewed on KYMN radio with host, Jeff Johnson. I just added the interview to my web site!
The VCR buttons (play, stop, pause, etc.) didn’t appear in my FireFox browser until I moved my cursor over where they should be, so you might have to do the same with yours to make them appear.
Since you’re using LoGroNo to direct readers to your website Jerold, I will, too. I’ve been trying to post some current news and issues on my blog lately.
Jeff Johnson of KYMN has been interviewing all the candidates (he may be the best informed voter in Northfield) so I hope LoGroNo readers have been able to catch some of them as they make up their minds.
Citizens, feel free to keep asking questions of the Ward 2 candidates and/or discussing the candidates and issues among yourselves.
Only five days left till the election!
I’ve been thinking about “Coffee with your Councilperson” as a regular (weekly? bi-weekly?) opportunity to talk with me.
I like the idea of Ward 2 meetings but I’d probably use them either for specific controversial issues, or have them quarterly.
Would “Coffee with your Councilperson” be something you’d participate in from time to time?
Jerold- “Coffee with your Councilperson”. Has a nice ring to it. I think it would be “grounds” for a lot of grass roots input. I will participate if you scheduled it when I could come, but for heaven’s sake, don’t try to schedule it around my screwy schedule.
Coffee with your Councilperson is a good idea, Jerry – and not only because I’m in favor of coffee, generally speaking. But could we be brewing up trouble by having coffee in Ward 1 and 4 coffee houses? Such disputes would be groundless, of course, but we could avoid them by having Ice Cream with your Councilperson at the Ward 2 Cocoa Bean.
OK, got those puns out of my system, but have perhaps revealed my secret ambition to take Dixon Bond’s place as council punster.
On more serious matters, though few are more serious than coffee for me, today’s Northfield News on-line has a few quotes from candidates from the LWV/News forum (you can watch it on-line) which I hope LoGroNo readers will take as very small hints of what both Jerry and I think rather than full statements of our positions. We both said much more at the forum and elsewhere.
Betsey: I’m sad that you think ideas for being more accessible to our constituents isn’t more serious than our 20 minutes at the League of Women Voters/Northfield News forum. Yes, the Q&A at the forum is important, but so are ideas about how to represent Ward 2. I keep hearing from Ward 2 residents that they want their council person to be accessible!
Phone calls, e-mails, even blogs are nice but meeting in person is better. Ward 2 meetings are a great idea but they cannot be sustained weekly or bi-weekly.
I’m thinking of selecting six or more morning restaurants/coffee shops and assigning each to a month. Then weekly or more likely bi-weekly, I’ll be at the month’s restaurant and all Ward 2 constituents are welcome to join me in a casual atmosphere to talk about anything. I’ll publish the schedule on the city’s web site and the Northfield News (and here, if there’s a spot for it). Then, as the months pass, I’ll select new places and advertise them.
If this turns out to be popular for Ward 2, I hope that other council people join with their own select restaurants.
After all the complaints of accessibility and lack of transparency, I think reaching out to our constituents in such a manner is important. There will even be the fringe benefit of giving our city’s restaurants some free promotions.
My sense of governance is to keep finding ways to inspire our constituents to be involved. I take this very seriously.
You misunderstand me, Jerry. My coffee humor obviously fell flat, but I think having regular “office hours” at local coffee houses or other restaurants is a great idea and agree that face to face contact is indispensable.
We’ve talked about organizing face to face meetings, but I’d also like to put in a plug for the random encounters. Once of the advantages of being involved in multiple ways in the community is that I get questions and input about city government on the soccer field, at church, and at school events as well as through deliberate campaigning or city meetings.
My position has always been to keep working with many media and in multiple ways to stay in touch with constituents.
Betsey: Sorry if I misunderstood your humor. Because I have heard so many complaints about the inaccessibility of council members, I take the issue seriously.
Random encounters are good, especially if your constituents have similar habits. I’d worry about relying too much on random encounters because my constituents may not shop at Just Food, and your constituents may not go to your church.
Being available in the usual ways (phone, e-mail, postal mail, open mic), having Ward meetings on specific issues, and publishing a schedule of where to meet me for informal discussions, seems very accessible especially for a city our size.
I take the accessibility problem very seriously, too. So I must object (again) to your overgeneralization of my comments.
Nowhere did I say I would “rely” on chance encounters because, of course, they are just that, chance encounters. But I do believe that accessibility can only be enhanced by broad community participation and I have learned much from each group I’ve been part of in Northfield.
Nowhere did I say I would not be “available in the usual ways.”
Indeed I’ve been thinking about this issue for longer than the headlines of the last week/year because it’s not a new problem – at least as long as the election 4 years ago residents have complained that City Hall’s doors are closed and city business seems to happen behind them.
Accessibility and transparency in city government are not limited to the personal availability of the Council, but can also be improved through Northfield’s procedures for publicizing projects, by how it responds to input at public hearings and other meetings, by its boards and commissions, and by how the Council directs staff.
Which gets back to my fundamental position: Accessibility, responsiveness and transparency are issues which must be addressed in multiple ways and many media. There’s no one method or policy which will fix it, but elected officials must continually assess how the City is doing and continually look for ways to improve.
I’m prepared to work on all these, as well as reaching out to Ward 2 residents specifically.
Congratulations to Betsey Buckheit.
I like seeing that Betsey’s involvement in Northfield’s volunteer government has earned her a seat at city council. Betsey has been honorable with me when our campaigns intersected, despite one’s natural desire to the contrary. If for no other reason, this is why I trust that Betsey will bring to the council an illuminated work ethic and a commitment to the public trust. Along with the other successful candidates, she will help create a clean break from the apparent problems of the last administration. Working with the people of Northfield, the council is now in the best position to bring prosperity to our great city.
Congrats to Jerold for leaping into Northfield city politics so soon after arriving in town; it’s a great place to invest time and effort.
Jerry, I hope this will just be your first leap and we’ll be seeing you and hearing your voice often. I’m quite certain (and happy) you won’t be a passive constituent. Thanks for a good race!
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