Election 2008 discussion: Northfield City Council 4-yr At-Large – candidates and issues

Dana Graham Kris Vohs

Dana Graham and Kris Vohs are running for Northfield City Council, At-Large, a 4-year term. 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:

  • Dana Graham (none)
  • Kris Vohs (none)

Northfield.org (includes their answers to a dozen questions from citizens)

Northfield News:

Northfield East Side Neighborhood Association


  1. Griff Wigley said:

    Kris and Dana,

    Can you both comment on the plan for $880,000 of City Hall renovations?

    And has your thinking about this changed at all since the global financial meltdown has hit hard in the past month?

    October 22, 2008
  2. Dana Graham said:

    Thanks, Griff.
    I signed the petition against spending the money for renovations at City Hall. I have heard that there are some repairs that need to be done such as leaky windows. I would think that could fall under normal maintenance.
    There has been a lot of talk during this campaign about prioritizing our spending yet I don’t see any leadership on this issue. Kris, my opponent, voted for this issue when it came up during the summer, but now says that he was never for it. I would like to hear more from him on this matter.
    It seems to me that this was another staff driven issue that very few on the council questioned and therefore gets rubber stamped. We need leaders that will ask some tough questions and keep a tighter lid on spending and follow our prioritized plan.

    October 22, 2008
  3. Griff Wigley said:

    Welcome aboard, Dana.

    What are your top five, in order, Capital Improvement Plan projects?

    October 22, 2008
  4. Dana Graham said:

    The safety center, the library, the liquor store, ice arena, and city hall.
    Every one of these items bring along many questions. We need to have the discussions on these and other potential projects so that we can prioritize them and work them into the budgeting process.

    October 22, 2008
  5. Ross Currier said:

    Kris and Dana –

    Thinking of the Downtown Streetscape Investments,

    what will you do to help to assure that the projects at least acknowledge, if not reflect, the priorities of downtown property owners (the ultimate source of the money)


    do you support the continued (apparently every year) expenditure of hundreds of thousands of dollars on pavers?

    Thanks much,


    October 22, 2008
  6. Arlen Malecha said:

    Dana –

    You list amongst your top 5 capital improvement projects the ice arena. Why do you feel this should be a city project and not that of a private entity?

    (I am not saying I am against it, just looking for your reasoning.)

    October 22, 2008
  7. Dana Graham said:

    Hi Arlen.

    The ice arena is often brought up to me. Does it have the broad appeal to merit city funding? I want to have the discussion. If the city is involved with funding, can we find more time for general use?

    October 22, 2008
  8. Norman Butler said:

    Of the 5 capital projects above, the ice arena is the only one with broad regional appeal and which can attract many visitors to Northfield and its downtown…ie a good investment.

    October 23, 2008
  9. Griff Wigley said:


    My understanding is that Johnson Controls’ energy-saving agreement with the City involved their spending $1.3 million to upgrade the ice arena, with the City’s commitment on the arena limited to $70,000 and the Northfield Hockey Association committed to an annual $15,000. See this Nfld News article.

    Why isn’t this adequate for now?

    October 24, 2008
  10. Dana Graham said:


    This certainly should be enough for now. It is amazing what can happen when different groups get together and work toward a solution. That doesn’t mean that it’s perfect and the agreement with Johnson certainly has critics.

    October 24, 2008
  11. Matt Sewich said:

    The article linked to says:

    “The Northfield Hockey Association agreed on a contract with the city over the summer to help pay for the renovations. The NHA pays the city $15,000 per year over a 15-year period to cover all but $70,000 of the project. Most of That money can be raised with increased fees for usage from Carleton and St. Olaf, fees from the Northfield Skating School and advertising revenue.”

    So it appears the money is coming back from usage of the arena…which is how it works.

    As far as what we have as being “adequate”, it depends on what you want out of it. I’m sure what Mr. Butler (and what every restaurant/bar/hotel in Northfield) wants is to have hockey tournaments in town. Teams stay here, eat here, drink here, shop here, etc…

    While people may not think the ability to have hockey tournament is that big of a deal, it actually brings a lot of people and a lot of money into town.

    We can’t have tournaments over weekends with one sheet of ice, St. Olaf needs it at night over the weekends to have their games.

    Even without tournaments we have a need for two sheets, we have a lot of youth hockey players and it’s been great to have girls hockey gaining popularity, but when that got added into the demand it made one sheet of ice in town in way too much demand. I coach hockey and for the practices we have at the arena we have to split the ice with another team, I think we had the full sheet of ice to ourselves for one or two practices last year. Let’s compare that to youth baseball, youth soccer, youth basketball…they have “adequate” facilities to meet their demands. I know it’s a lot cheaper for these facilities, but we aren’t asking for a dozen indoor sheets of ice, we are asking for one more and hockey can bring a lot of money into the city.

    Also paying for the ice time helps pay back the investment, we pay for ice time…I don’t know if other sports are paying for field time, court time, etc… but the NHA, the colleges and others actually pay to use the ice.

    I also do agree that private funding should be sought to help fund this and it’s my understanding the NHA is working (or has been working) on that.

    I don’t think under these pressing times for the city that an arena should be priority #1, but I think it needs to stay in the mix as “a” priority.

    October 24, 2008
  12. Dana Graham said:

    You’re right, Matt. That’s the reason that I listed it at all. These projects need further discussion and should not be swept under the rug. People may not agree on the pecking order but lets keep up the conversation.

    October 24, 2008
  13. Matt Sewich said:


    Thanks for the reply.

    I appreciate you including the ice arena in your list and I think it is fair that it isn’t at the top of your list.

    I’d like to believe between the city, colleges and private funding/contributions we could come up with a quality solution to the ice arena problem in the future.

    October 24, 2008
  14. Tracy Davis said:

    Dana, Kris, I’m posing the same questions to the other council and mayoral candidates; if you’ve answered them in other contexts, please point me to that information:

    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?

    October 25, 2008
  15. Ross Currier said:

    Dana –

    You’ve ignored my question about stakeholder input for Downtown Streetscape Investments while answering everyone else’s questions…is there a reason for this behavior?

    Kris –

    What’s up with you?

    Thanks much,


    October 25, 2008
  16. David Ludescher said:

    Ross: It might be helpful for Dana and Kris for you to state what you see as the problem with the Downtown Streetscape expenditures.

    October 25, 2008
  17. kris vohs said:

    we have been in the current city hall for over 25 years. renovations should be considered. the current city hall does not represent the city we claim to be. how ever given the these economic times I do think this project should be put on hold. I also think from some of the information I have found that doing nothing could be a mistake for our community.

    October 27, 2008
  18. kris vohs said:

    I think the priority list is okay at this time .I have learned to be ready to change the priority as situations change, such as a large doner. this can be both good and bad as we learned at the NCRC. the cost to maintain any thing we do has to be a part of the consideration, or we get into operating budgets that are not sustainable.here again the economic timing is an issue. this is not the time to be raising taxes. the construction industry is crying for work so there may be some opportunities as well. these are hard times and exciting times . I do believe northfield has a bright future.

    October 27, 2008
  19. Ross Currier said:

    David –

    Thank you for suggesting that I work to clarify the question. There are, in fact, two issues in my post. In my mind, one is small and the other is big.

    The Small Issue is the pavers. Personally, and I am not speaking for anyone other than myself on this matter, I think the pavers are not a good use of limited financial resources. However, given the relative magnitude of the two issues, maybe it’s not really important whether or not Dana and Kris personally or politically support additional spending on pavers. Perhaps the pavers are just symbolic.

    The Big Issue, in my opinion, is stakeholder input on streetscape spending. Back in 2003 or 2004, when the pavers were first proposed, the decisions on streetscape spending were shaped by the Downtown Investment Group (DIG), composed of the Mayor, the two Downtown Councilors, and, perhaps in an advisory role, the City Administrator.

    When the current Mayor took office, the DIG was replaced by the Mayor’s Streetscape Task Force. The Task Force consists of downtown stakeholders: building owners, business owners, and organizational leaders. Although I personally may not always have the same opinions and/or priorities as the members of the Task Force, I believe that it’s a better approach to streetscape spending.

    Admittedly, there’s an even bigger issue, beyond the streetscape spending, and that would be the electing- citizen and elected-official communication. However, that topic is being thoroughly explored over in Ward 2. So, I’ll keep it more narrowly focused on this post.

    Dana and Kris, would you support continuing with the citizen-advisory approach to streetscape spending embodied in the existing Mayor’s Task Force?

    In addition, feel free to comment on citizen input to council decisions on capital (both TIF residual and bond-financed) spending.

    Thanks much,


    October 27, 2008
  20. Dana Graham said:

    Ross, thanks for your clarification and your patience. I was part of the original group along with Keith Covey and Jim Pokorney with Susan Hoyt advising. The funds for the initial upgrades surrounding Bridge Square were excess TIF funds. It was the hope that the committee would continue to exist after the elections of 2004 to have a better connection to downtown. I don’t have any problem with the current setup as long as there is good communication with elected officials. Obviously, if people feel as though they are being listened to, they will be more inclined to be active.

    October 27, 2008
  21. kris vohs said:

    ROSS, I think the downtown street pavers could be concrete to look like street pavers at far less expense. I have seen this method in another community. I strongly support the downtown businesses advisory group; they are the ones that pay the taxes. With the growing bicycle traffic in the downtown area, I believe we need to add more bike racks to our streetscape designs. All our advisory groups are important. Citizens input should not be any less important than the advisory groups.

    October 27, 2008
  22. kris vohs said:

    TRACY, I have worked on many things that are just starting to take shape. I’ve been heavily involved in the City’s Comp Plan to reflect our community’s green sustainable approach, especially the environmental and land development sections in the Comp Plan. I’m looking forward to implementing the Comp Plan along with the Energy Task Force’s recommendations. I am interested in our green business concept and I believe I have the background to help us get a green sustainable business park. I am the representative to ICLEI (International Cities Leading Environmental Iniatives). The energy task force report and recommendations will be on their next international newsletter. We must be doing something right! These and all our sustainable efforts should help our community to cut costs in these economic times.

    The HRA (Housing Redevelopment Authority) is working on a development with green sustainable initiatives and covenants. I would like to be able to see this to completion. I am the HRA liaison.

    I am passionate about our downtown. Any event that brings people downtown, whether local residents or tourists, I would support. I was part of the group that worked with Channel 2 (with Elise Marcum-Johns) to put together a program about Northfield that aired on Channel 2.

    I am involved with the Mayor’s Drug and Task Force and through this group I am getting more connected to our youth. We have amazing youth in our community – no surprise. I believe we under-utilize this age group. I am continuing to look for more ways to involve them.

    I am very interested in what is going on in Dakota County in relation to BRT (Bus Rapid Transit ) . I was at a BRT workshop on behalf of our community, trying to make connections to their rapid transit system. We have the contacts to continue to pursue transit connections to the metro area.

    The above is just a short list of some of the things I am working on.

    October 27, 2008
  23. Dana Graham said:

    Tracy, obviously, this is a question that we have been asked and have answered many times in this campaign. We have published responses on two sites right now: Northfield.org and Northfieldnews.com. I won’t just repeat everything there but will try to add to it.
    Since the primary, I have been going door to door campaigning. I’ve been listening to the concerns of people. What I hear is many of the same things that people on this site have said. Why can’t they get along? What’s going to happen as far as taxes? But, by far, the thing I hear the most is: where’s the leadership? This is where I think I can really help. I do have the experience, having been on the council before. I have a strong business background and have been in leadership and management positions for almost thirty years. We are going to have several new members on the next council. I believe that I can help them “ramp up” and make them feel comfortable so that we, as a group, are able to get our city government going again. I learned many things when I was on the council and probably have learned at least as much since leaving and observing.
    Public service is a passion for me. I want my kids to see the value in volunteering and serving. I grew up in that type of environment. My mother was a state legislator for 17 years in Vermont and one of the first women elected. I know that I can make a difference.

    My vision for Northfield is one that has a vibrant downtown where shoppers, retailers, diners, and people searching for arts and history and other forms of entertainment come to. A city that will be an attractive option for businesses and job growth. A place that is affordable for all and that is able to offer wonderful parks and activities for our youth. Where the relationship between our colleges and our businesses and city hall is strong and there is collaberation on issues that will make us all better.

    October 27, 2008
  24. Griff Wigley said:

    Citizens, feel free to keep asking questions of the 4 year at-large candidates and/or discussing the candidates and issues among yourselves.

    Only five days left till the election!

    October 30, 2008
  25. Dana Graham said:

    I have sent Kris Vohs a congratulatory note on winning the election. Though we will go through the recount procedure, I really don’t expect the results to be different. As I said to him, with so many new faces on the council, he has an opportunity to be the leader I think he can be and, I’m confident that he will grab that opportunity. This was a great race and I have met so many nice people that I, otherwise, would not have met. My thanks to all who care enough about our great city to be engaged.
    Also, my heartfelt congratulations to Mary, Erica, Rhonda, and Betsy. They are all wonderful additions to the council. I offer my help to them in any way that I can. The future is bright.
    For me, this is so long, for now.

    November 5, 2008

Leave a Reply