EDA talks about trust between elected officials and paid staff

A discussion about the role of Northfield’s City Council versus the city’s paid staff in decision-making emerged during the Economic Development Authority meeting on Thursday morning.

The topic came up when the board members addressed the process of building a new municipal liquor store to replace the old one on Fifth Street.

“This is a political hot potato,” Steve Engler, who joined the development authority in September, said after the meeting. “I was trying to clarify who was making decisions.”

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration has told the city the liquor store cannot continue to operate without significant renovation. Facing an ultimatum, the council decided in August that constructing a new store would probably be more cost-effective than making repairs. So, it asked city staff to issue a request for proposals for a new store.

In the past, controversy surrounded the decision to build anew when Mayor Lee Lansing allegedly attempted to convince the council to approve construction at a location that could have resulted in his financial benefit.

“You said this is politically charged; it shouldn’t be, it’s a liquor store,” James Pokorney, city councilor, told Engler at the meeting.

Pokorney added later that the decision might have been political at one time if the mayor had indeed done something inappropriate, but it should not be any longer.

Joel Walinski, interim city administrator, told the members of the development authority about the status of the decision to build a new liquor store. The city’s request for proposals brought in seven responses that could fit the requirements City Council set for the new store. They are still not available for public viewing.

Walinski said the Economic Development Authority’s Infill Committee, a group of city staff, the Northfield Enterprise Center and Donnelly Development will help assign points to each of the proposals that fall within the council’s requirements. The proposals with the most points would be more highly recommended. (Walinski, Brian O’Connell, community development director, and Steve DeLong, liquor store manager, would form the group of city staff).

Engler said he was unsure if it is best to keep the proposals secret from the public while the different groups review them. He also was uncertain if the City Council should take recommendations from staff when perhaps all council needs is a little more basic information about the proposals.

“Aren’t you elected to decide certain things?” Engler asked Pokorney.

Pokorney said City Council has reviewed liquor store proposals in the past but made no decision because the elected officials needed further professional assistance to feel comfortable making the right choice. He said he believed the liquor store presents an opportunity for City Council to benefit from trusting the recommendations of city staff.

“There are people who say ‘We can’t let the staff decide, they’ve got some kind of devious reasoning,'” Pokorney said after the meeting. “I’m tired of it. What we’re asking staff to do is a supportive effort, not a legislative effort. It’s what we hire them to do.”

Following the meeting, Walinski said the proposals would present City Council with a wide range of options. Some of them would allow Northfield to buy undeveloped or developed land and/or buildings and some offered to lease land or buildings. The scoring groups will rate the proposals based on cash flow opportunities and pedestrian access, among other criteria.

Update 11/14 3 p.m.: This afternoon, I made some grammatical changes to the story above.

Update 11/17 12 p.m.: This is a document showing the score sheet for the proposals (PDF).

This is the email from Mr. Walinski, which contained the score sheet attachment:

“Hello Bonnie –

I’ve attached the Liq. Store RFP Document as requested. I’ve also provided you with the Scoring Sheet we will be using to rate the proposals that were submitted. This document was previously provided to the EDA and all interested parties attending the Pre-Submission conference on October 22, 2008.

In answer to your question on the discussion at the EDA Meeting on Thursday, this was the second time this item had been discussed at a EDA Board meeting, the initial discussion was to see if there was interest from the EDA to participate ( October 23, 2008 Item 8.b). The discussion on Thursday was to provide an update on the process, reconfirm the role of the EDA Infill Committee, and make members aware of the timeline.

Regarding your other questions concerning the liquor store, the liquor store questions and planning has been ongoing for at least four years. The Council, residents through public comments, and consultants have had multiple discussions on should the City run a municipal liquor store and at this time the consensus of the council is yes – primarily for the added revenue to the general fund and funding support to support the taskforce working on the prevention of Youth Drug and Alcohol. Another reason given is the City is more in control of the sale of alcohol to minors and advertising of alcohol to minors by having a “muni”. If you need more information on this I would suggest reviewing the tapes of multiple council meetings and work sessions where this item was discussed.

In regards to using the existing store location, making the required improvements and completing the deferred maintenance, this is the base position from which the proposals submitted will be will be judged. We do have good information of the cash flow and business model at the existing site and fairly good estimates of improvements needed and costs. One of the items we will be reviewing is comparing cash flow models and costs of a new location with the existing site. The benefit of moving through an RFP process is that we now have better numbers for what a new store development, purchase of property, or leasing a location would cost given the proposal submissions This should help staff make a recommendation as per the council request. Ultimately more specific information should help the Council and general public to make an informed decision.

Hope this helps –

Joel”

78 Comments

  1. Tracy Davis said:

    Bonnie, I haven’t been following this. Can you provide background on why this is coming before the EDA, and/or why it hadn’t before now?

    November 13, 2008
  2. Peter Waskiw said:

    Again, great reporting Bonnie.

    Finally, this “hot potato” is being readdressed. Lets hope the ethical issues within the hot potato get resolved before decisions are made. It really sounds like Steve Engler is getting to the issues. Well done Steve, I expect.

    November 13, 2008
  3. kiffi summa said:

    Bonnie: I am puzzled by the statement “which could be more cost effective than making repairs, according to the council’s decision” re: the OSHA violations. Obviously not a cost benefit analysis position.
    There are two corrections that have been stated by OSHA, as far as I’ve heard in public discussion: 1. an electric panel that needs to be moved, and 2. a passage conflict with a stairway and a conveyer belt. I recall the cost to correct these two items to be between $150,000 and $200,000, obviously insignificant compared to the approx. 3 million estimated for a new store. I think there is also a needed roof replacement, but if that was not done at the time of the hailstorm, then it must have been put off on purpose, i.e. expecting a new store.

    Since the current store is a prime location, the building has significant value, and the repairs should be done to maximize the sale of the building for the city, regardless of whether a new site is picked.

    I am surprised at J. Pokorney’s statements about this no longer being a “political” issue. I don’t think there are many citizens who have forgotten the anguish of the last two years, much of it generated around this issue.

    The lack of information on the possible sites is also difficult; let’s hope one of the sites is not 618 Division … that would be beyond any concept of irony… advancing into the theatre of the absurd!

    Thanks again for a very good report; it will be interesting to compare to that of the NFNEWS. Generally, I think you’ve done an exceptional job of bringing the issues involved in a story to the public attention, for their contemplation.

    November 14, 2008
  4. Thanks Tracy, Peter and Kiffi,

    I’ve called Mr. Walinski to ask why the EDA discussed the liquor store yesterday and why the City Council make its decision to build a new liquor store instead of making repairs or getting out of the liquor business. I’m also checking on OSHA’s cost of repairs figure.

    November 14, 2008
  5. Peter Waskiw said:

    Bonnie,
    Are the “requirements” for the new store available for public review despite the seven responses to the RFP not available at this point? When were the “requirements” developed and by whom?

    November 14, 2008
  6. David Koenig said:

    “The are still not available for public viewing. ”

    “… he was unsure if it is best to keep the proposals secret from the public while the different groups review them.”

    This is fundamentally wrong!

    These documents should be in the public domain as soon as the deadline for submission has passed. The public should be able to comment on each one and the extent to which taxpayer dollars are at risk, or will benefit someone directly should be fully transparent.

    November 14, 2008
  7. Peter Waskiw said:

    Some interesting minimum requirements from the RFP:

    – Property location on or within one quarter mile of State Trunk Highway 3 or State Trunk Highway 19, and so situated in the sole discretion of the city to be in plain view of drive-by traffic.

    – Property is located in an area which is currently or proposed to be zoned C1 or C2 in the City of Northfield zoning code or located in a area zoned C3 within one quarter mile of an area zoned C1 or C2.

    What do people think of these?

    Some interesting competitive requirements in the RFP:
    – Preference will be given to sites that are highly visible, attract drive by traffic, have site access not obstructed by other buildings, grades, or natural barriers.

    – Preference will be given to sites located near other complimentary businesses, other retail operations on adjacent property, and a grocery store located within ¼ mile.

    What do people think of these?

    November 14, 2008
  8. Anne Bretts said:

    Are there minimum building size requirements, minimum parking requirements and other criteria?
    The locations seem pretty obvious.
    It just seems that under the circumstances, the current council should table the discussion until the new mayor and council are seated. The decision shouldn’t be political, but sadly, there is no way to get around the controversy until a new mayor is in place.

    November 14, 2008
  9. kiffisumma said:

    First of all, I totally agree with David Koenig’s POV.

    This ‘project’ has morphed a bit since it was at the council, and the council in frustration, saying they had not been able to accomplish a successful plan(J. Pokorney’s comment) turned it over to the Staff.

    The council had three or four criteria,one of which was that the new location must be in the Downtown, which they defined as C-1 or C-2. ***There wasn’t wording about the distance from hwys 3/19; that must have appeared after the staff took the project over, i.e. in the RFP, but I am certain that wording was not in the council original criteria.

    So… would not a BIG question be: if the criteria were set by the council, and the criteria are now different then when the council publicly discussed them, several times, when did the criteria change and how was approval of that change given by council?

    There is no way this is not going to be an ongoing ‘mess’, and if it is being pushed through in December before the new council gets sworn in … given that most of them said it was not a priority expense now … then I hope they (new council) remember that they can undo anything this council does.
    BUT … here we get into that very political numbers game of : if the old council, the three men, vote as a bloc, as they have been wont to do, then it will only take one of the new councilors voting with them to achieve a winning vote.

    Where is the League of Women Voters when you need them ? with their strong positions on the use of cost benefit analyses, and best management practices for gov’t ?

    Good Luck to the ‘newbies’; they’re going to start off with a platter full!

    November 14, 2008
  10. Patrick Enders said:

    Kiffi wrote,

    if the old council, the three men, vote as a bloc, as they have been wont to do, then it will only take one of the new councilors voting with them to achieve a winning vote.

    Another way of presenting that would be to say, “The three continuing members of the Council appear to be in agreement on the issue, and it may be possible to reach a final agreement on the liquor store soon.”

    Personally, I look forward to the day when the liquor store issue is finally settled.

    November 14, 2008
  11. Peter Waskiw said:

    It would seem that the RFP minimum requirements are not really minimums at all. They are written so widenly a semi can be driven through them. If C1 and C2 were the intended locations, then the criteria really undermines this intent. It practically says you can go anywhere just as long you fit the competitive requirements. Not knowing the lead up, it would seem we are opening up the location to fit highway passby traffic. Was this the intent of the City Council & EDA? Did the City Council & EDA view the criteria before being made public in the RFP?

    Has City staff been approached lately by individuals to make their property available?

    November 15, 2008
  12. Steve Rholl said:

    I wonder how many of the citizens in Northfield will “speak up”, if after the complicated scoring and voting by selection committee members ends, we are told the the “best place” for the new liquor store is the Just Foods co-op site? Political issue? “Hot potato”?

    November 15, 2008
  13. Peter Waskiw said:

    Patrick,
    It would be very wise for the City Council to make a public policy decision that will:

    1. Involve a decision to buy land and build a new store.
    2. Allow a public referendum for these decisions.
    3. Create public financing for such a decision.

    I for one would like to have a say one whether my taxes dollars will go towards buying private or public land and to build a new store.

    This issue has such bad publicity and terrible twist and turns, that City residents need to be involved in decisions to bring closure once and for good.

    November 15, 2008
  14. Anne Bretts said:

    Under the circumstances, with just six weeks left in this administration, it would make sense for the council to table this and let the new council make the decision. Sadly, there is no way to untangle this decision from the mayor’s legal problems and the politics of the last four years. For example, what if the current owners of the vacant hardware store make a proposal. Should they be eliminated from consideration? And if they were, would they then sue?
    The new council needs the freedom of a clean slate. Yes, the decision has dragged on, but it shouldn’t take long for the new council to reach a decision. At this point, there probably is no decision that will be popular. I think I’d ask the Lakeville council and staff for advice. They really know how to run their business successfully and they’ve gone through the relocation and building process. Perhaps they’d do a neighborly critique of the proposals here.

    November 15, 2008
  15. Patrick Enders said:

    Peter,
    This seems to be exactly the kind of thing that should be decided by our elected representatives. Most of the candidates took some position in describing their capital improvement priorities during the campaign period, and we have elected them to make these decisions for us.

    Looking at today’s Nfld News (print edition), the plan for your point #3 is: “the project… will be constructed using bond revenue repaid with liquor store profits.”

    Steve,
    My understanding is that the city has solicited offers from various landowners who have offered their land to the city for a liquor store site. If the co-op site is one of the proposals, it would only be because the owner of the building has proposed it.

    November 15, 2008
  16. kiffi summa said:

    Hear, Hear ! Peter!
    There is simply no way that this issue can NOT be a political or hot potato issue.

    There have been lawsuits against councilors by mayor, intense power struggles between staff and elected officials, reputations lost/destroyed, information hidden, alluded to or misdirected… The issue of the liquor store has been one of the central foci of the drama , accusation, and extreme losses of trust over the last two years.

    It would be an extreme case of denial to say that this can now be resolved in any ‘normal’ manner; it will take extraordinary openness, transparency, and process which is beyond ANY reproach to come to a satisfactory conclusion. Pushing it through this council will only exacerbate the bad feelings about process that are already there.

    Repair the darn building, and let the whole situation calm down, settle out , and wait out community angst and economic climate; then look at it in a couple of years with a different cast of characters.

    Who is pushing so hard for this to happen NOW (decision in Dec?) when we have a new council coming on board, most of whom said the liquor store was not a priority for them?

    Don’t start the new group out with the biggest mess of the recent past.

    November 15, 2008
  17. Peter Waskiw said:

    Patrick,
    Yes, decided by the City Council, but with the support of the general public through a referendum. How many people want their taxes $ spent on a property and possible new building for a liquor store?

    Whether the bonds are paid back by the store profits does not matter, it is still City of Northfield money, not specifically the liquor store. Perhaps the profits should go towards paying bonds for a new library or addition, or some other worthy community asset higher up on the CIP priority list. This liquor store issue has two many twists to be swepted under the carpet so quickly. I would like a broad policy approach to this issue.

    November 15, 2008
  18. David Koenig said:

    Peter W uses ‘public’ six times in his post above. Amen!

    The last use is as part of the word ‘publicity’. Can this council possibly be so tone deaf and oblivious to the publicity around the last process they used on the liquor store? Is their understaning of how it has undermined confidence in them and in Northfield so complete that they would engage in bad process all over again?

    I was stunned when they continued to consider the Mayor’s property the first time because it was so obviously inappropriate to do so. I cannot believe they would repeat their horrendous process by keeping all of the proposals non-public except for the single one staff decides is best.

    Is this reality?

    Someone please tell me that there is a public disclosure, somewhere, of all proposals so that the public can comment in advance and not just on the one proposal pre-ordained by the staff. If it is only after the choices have been narrowed to one, then public input is moot.

    David L has argued on other discussions that there is too much public input and deciding issues like this is what council members have been elected to do. Frankly, if this is the process they have chosen to follow on this project, I have zero confidence in their ability to discern the best proposal.

    This issue should only be handled by the new council, who have been given a statement of faith by the voters….and only after public input on all of the options.

    November 15, 2008
  19. Jane McWilliams said:

    I’m confused. According to another News article, Finance Director Kathleen McBride has warned against bonding for the HRA Spring Creek Commons during the economic downturn. Yet, there doesn’t seem to be similar caution about bonding for a new liquor store.

    Am I missing something? Is there a difference in the kind of bonds for the two projects?

    The HRA has decided to defer developing the Commons in favor of using a grant and other money toward a foreclosure program. Why couldn’t the council defer a decision on replacing the liquor store and use the ($120,000 in 2007) profits to upgrade to meet OSSIA requirements?

    November 15, 2008
  20. Peter Waskiw said:

    Jane,
    The City Council could use the current profits from the liquor store to meet OSHA requirements for the existing building. There is more in play here. Obviously, some lobbying is going on, but at whose expense? Are we back at the ethical issues…again.

    November 15, 2008
  21. kiffi summa said:

    Jane: I had noticed the same article in the paper re: the finance directors advice about bonding during an poor economic climate.
    This is one of my problems not just with the city hall information but the News’s reporting. i.e., you would think that conflict in bonding advice would generate an editorial comment. Aside from the main point … however another reason why people are often confused.

    I like David K’s level of … may I say ‘outrage’ … David? I’ll ask again, who is pushing this stupidity at this time?

    It doesn’t seem like Mr. Walinski’s style; he has appeared to be very sensible. Are there councilors who just cannot understand how this liquor store issue has damaged this community? And you can’t lay that ALL at the Mayor’s feet;if there were inappropriate behaviors the council needed to get it in the open at the time they occurred, instead of ID’ing the 600 Division property as their preferred site for close to two years.

    What kind of lack of understanding of the community do these current councilors have that they would make this all such a convoluted issue again, and then exacerbate it by trying to push it through before the new councilors are seated?

    November 16, 2008
  22. kiffi summa said:

    Just one further comment: The article in the Saturday NFNews was by-lined by Suzanne Rook, but she was not the reporter who was there, as I understand; it was Ariel Emery who was there.
    So now we have ‘reporters’ writing articles about meetings they did not witness, with no accreditation to information gathered by another reporter?

    The article also says” The News requested a list of the proposed sites, but hadn’t yet received the listing”. Well … if they do receive the list and the public doesn’t, then is that infamous leak from city hall to the paper ‘dripping’ again?

    November 16, 2008
  23. Peter Waskiw said:

    As David mentions above, there is something very wrong here. The proposals should be available to the public once the closing date has passed. Perhaps there were errors or omissions on them, I did notice the waivers etc. I wonder if they were all valid based on the submittal criteria in the RFP.

    November 16, 2008
  24. Ross Currier said:

    Bonnie –

    I’m wondering about your description of the Councilor’s statement regarding the role of the Staff in the decision-making process.

    As I recall, at least at one point, there were, I think, four criteria, for evaluating potential sites for the liquor store.

    If, as it is rumored, there are eight sites being considered for a new liquor store, then I would think that what the Councilor was saying was that the Staff has been directed to rank the eight sites by their “score” on the four criteria and present this ranking to the Council.

    The Council could then vote to move forward on the top-ranked site, or argue that other factors were more important in the decision-making process, or move and vote in favor of relocating the liquor store on top of the Ames Mill where it would be as visible as Malt-O-Meal’s Christmas Tree.

    Personally, and I am speaking entirely for myself and not for any group existing, planned, or imagined, I think the liquor store decision-making process reflects the bass-ackwards approach apparently favored by some leaders in our community.

    More specifically, if the decision is being made based on the financial anaylsis for a new liquor store that I saw at Council meeting approximately eighteen months ago, I am absolutely certain that the new liquor will end up losing money instead of making money.

    I hope that if the incoming Council is given the opportunity to make the decision on this potential project, they will not take the approach to this process of children choosing between eight sweets in a candy store but will rather run, and repeatedly vet, at least three scenarios of cost-benefit analyses for their preferred economic model of a new liquor store before spending any more money on site search consultants.

    Doubling the size of the hen house for the goose that lays the golden egg has always struck me as a questionable concept.

    – Ross

    November 17, 2008
  25. Randy Jennings said:

    Griff,

    To get broader perspective on citizens’ opinions, how about adding two more choices to your straw poll:

    * Do the OSHA-required renovations to the current store and continue operating at that location

    * Exit the liquor business altogether

    November 17, 2008
  26. Tracy Davis said:

    Who came up with the criteria for the RFP? I don’t believe all the details were in the criteria the last few times around.

    I share Peter W.’s concerns expressed in his comment #8, especially the visible/drive-by criteria. I would hope that any new municipal buildings in Northfield would reflect best practices in site planning and design; emphasizing a building that is “visible” to traffic on a state highway going 50mph presupposes a type and scale of building and signage which probably would not.

    November 17, 2008
  27. Patrick Enders said:

    Tracy, could you define what ‘best practices’ would be in this context? Thanks.

    November 17, 2008
  28. The following is an e-mail Mr. Walinski sent me over the weekend that might answer some questions:

    Hello Bonnie –

    I’ve attached the Liq. Store RFP Document as requested. I’ve also provided you with the Scoring Sheet we will be using to rate the proposals that were submitted. This document was previously provided to the EDA and all interested parties attending the Pre-Submission conference on October 22, 2008.

    In answer to your question on the discussion at the EDA Meeting on Thursday, this was the second time this item had been discussed at a EDA Board meeting, the initial discussion was to see if there was interest from the EDA to participate ( October 23, 2008 Item 8.b). The discussion on Thursday was to provide an update on the process, reconfirm the role of the EDA Infill Committee, and make members aware of the timeline.

    Regarding your other questions concerning the liquor store, the liquor store questions and planning has been ongoing for at least four years. The Council, residents through public comments, and consultants have had multiple discussions on should the City run a municipal liquor store and at this time the consensus of the council is yes – primarily for the added revenue to the general fund and funding support to support the taskforce working on the prevention of Youth Drug and Alcohol. Another reason given is the City is more in control of the sale of alcohol to minors and advertising of alcohol to minors by having a “muni”. If you need more information on this I would suggest reviewing the tapes of multiple council meetings and work sessions where this item was discussed.

    In regards to using the existing store location, making the required improvements and completing the deferred maintenance, this is the base position from which the proposals submitted will be will be judged. We do have good information of the cash flow and business model at the existing site and fairly good estimates of improvements needed and costs. One of the items we will be reviewing is comparing cash flow models and costs of a new location with the existing site. The benefit of moving through an RFP process is that we now have better numbers for what a new store development, purchase of property, or leasing a location would cost given the proposal submissions This should help staff make a recommendation as per the council request. Ultimately more specific information should help the Council and general public to make an informed decision.

    Hope this helps –

    Joel

    November 17, 2008
  29. I attached a link to a copy of the RPF score sheet at the bottom of the original story.

    November 17, 2008
  30. Maybe I can get someone from the City Council to talk a little bit about the liquor store criteria before tonight’s meeting begins.

    Oh, and Ross-the staff and elected officials will be involved in the scoring process.

    November 17, 2008
  31. kiffi summa said:

    I just looked at the score sheet for the submitted properties, as linked to by Bonnie… (thank you Bonnie)
    What the ho-tel is going on?
    1. The EDA was told the sites were privileged information; see various comments above…
    2. It appears that 618 Division is one of the sites from the NDDC (developer NOT the downtown organization) ownership.
    3. Given the complexity of the score sheet with reference to things like environmental issues/pollution, etc there is no way this sheet could be completed without hours of information discovery and discussion.
    4. , 5., 6., 7., &8 …. there is little point in laying out all the additional flaws in this process; ie the evaluating of “developer capability” that is a total unknown to anyone filling out the score sheet.

    This is the biggest embarrassment to the city’s process yet … All the controversy about this liquor store, and its site and possible conflicts, and the council’s inability to deal with it in any productive manner resulting finally in Councilor Pokorney’s ‘throwing up his hands’ and turning it over to staff to resolve…

    If there weren’t so many tragedies involved it would be a joke; it IS a farce… ( by definition): A Ridiculous Sham.

    November 17, 2008
  32. Dan Freeman said:

    After reviewing all the comments from the past several months I now believe that this is the perfect time for the City to get out of the liquor business. We have seen this council self destruct under the weight of this debate. Now, the debate begins anew with the same old script of mistrust. Isn’t it time to bring in a business that needs to make money in order to survive and let them provide this area with alcoholic beverages?
    In my experience, private enterprise beats governmental entities every time when it comes to running a business. Here is where we need to find out what ‘best practices’ dictate in bringing in a new liquor business to Northfield. What kind of money would they pay to secure an on-sale liquor license? In addition to paying for an annual license a private business like a liquor store would have to pay real estate taxes and that should also be taken into account.
    Finally, is it worth $125 of income per year when you consider all the time this has taken and rancor that this has produced? Lets get out of the Booze Biz and concentrate on building a better city for all of our citizens.

    November 17, 2008
  33. David Koenig said:

    Thanks Bonnie!

    Joel W says the public can make a more informed decision. Does that mean that the public will see all proposals or just the one they deem the best?

    If it is just one, what ‘decision’ will be public be more informed to make?

    November 17, 2008
  34. David Koenig said:

    Dan,

    I agree! And the city can still earn a revenue stream by restricting the number of licenses and capturing a percentage of sales as the license fee (unless this is somehow prohibited by law).

    If the math is done well, which Joel W seems to say they can do, the City should be able to figure out what % of revenues would need to be charged to make at least as much as if the City ran the store using present volumes.

    It frees the City from having to do capital maintenance, from OSHA problems, from any potential liabilities in selling a controlled substance (the City may be exempt from liability) and could free staff for other work of the city government.

    The City can control the consumption of alcohol by rigorous checking and enforcement of local laws.

    Don’t get me wrong, I love the City Staff at the liquor store. They are very helpful and very friendly. I think they do a great job. But, if the issue is about providing $ to the general fund and controlling alcohol consumption, this can be done without the City owning and maintaining the physical plant (store).

    November 17, 2008
  35. David Ludescher said:

    Bonnie: Am I right in reading the scoring system to conclude that only 20% of the scoring is on revenue projections, and 20% on the costs?

    Is there any factor that gives weight to downtown locations over more productive Highway 3 or 19 locations?

    November 17, 2008
  36. Jane McWilliams said:

    We heard at the council meeting tonight that they will get a recommendation at their December 8 meeting. If the word isn’t out already, check the council’s agenda on the city web site late the week before to see what the staff has prepared following the rating routine.

    If people have concerns about the process, it doesn’t do much good to confine comments to this thread! Go to the meeting and tell them what you think!

    November 17, 2008
  37. Dave Geist said:

    Thank you Dan Freeman and David Koenig for your comments and questions about whether the city should be in the liquor business anyway. I don’t think it should be, but at least the city could do an honest cost benefit analysis to compare public vs. private sales as David suggests. Continuing on a path only because that is the way things have always been done is never a good idea.

    November 18, 2008
  38. David Ludescher said:

    Although it may affect the City’s decision to choose our office site, it would also be wise for the City to conduct a cost/benefit analysis to see how much it will cost to have the liquor store downtown versus other sites.

    November 18, 2008
  39. Tracy Davis said:

    Patrick (#29) this is a bit of thread drift and “best practices” is an enormous topic, but if you’re interested, here’s a place to start.

    November 18, 2008
  40. David Ludescher said:

    Tracy: Best practices? How about just buiding the liquor store where it will make the most money?

    November 18, 2008
  41. Jim Haas said:

    Dan Freeman is right. Time for the city to get out of the liquor store business.

    November 18, 2008
  42. Griff Wigley said:

    It’s time for a game of Guess the Locations!

    These are pretty obvious:

    Q-Block Partners = Q-Block
    Mendota Homes = The Crossing
    New Division Development Corp: = old Lansing Hardware

    But these four?

    Northfield Development (Reese-Schmidt)
    A.K. Kayoum
    Virginia Gleason
    Daryl Knutson

    November 18, 2008
  43. kiffi summa said:

    Griff: the other locations:
    1.NF development may be the corner which is ‘kitty-korner’ from the existing Muni, although there were problems expressed before with the size, as being too small , and the DNR would not allow the existing building to be torn down and rebuilt next to the River, because of new regulations. This site includes the parking lot between the corner building and Just Food, which rents their location from NF Development.
    2. A.K. Khayoum is the owner of the grey building on the west side of hwy 3, at 3rd street, where the Three Pines gift shop, Cof C, etc are located. AK was the owner of the former Byzantine Restaurant.
    3. Virginia Gleason property is the only one I don’t know.
    4. Daryl Knutson’s property is the yellow/brown buildings on Water street which were the original Nf Hospital. I think the cross street is Eighth. This property was offered for consideration to the city before this formal RFP process, as were some of the others.

    The City Attorney said again last night that the process had to be a closed session at all levels, because there would be “offers and counter offers”; however I’m not sure that there are “offers and counter offers” in these RFPs.

    I would still like to know what entity is pushing for this decision to be made before the New council is seated. I still have to believe, until it is proven otherwise, that for whoever the ‘motivator’ is .. the ‘motivation’ is the lack of interest expressed by the majority of the newly elected council members.

    November 18, 2008
  44. David Koenig said:

    A.K? Wow!

    A.K. was the former owner of the Byzantine. A business owner who has been missed from the local scene.

    November 18, 2008
  45. Peter Waskiw said:

    Despite the negotiations being closed to the public, which is correct, the submitted proposals should be available to the public as of the closing date. It is pure nonsense they are not made available. This is another mistake in the process and needs to be rectified asap.

    November 18, 2008
  46. Griff Wigley said:

    Randy (comment #27), those are good suggestions for additions to the straw poll. But I can’t really change it once people start voting. So I’ll keep those in mind for an upcoming one.

    There have been over 100 votes tallied thus far.

    https://locallygrownnorthfield.org/post/6643/

    November 19, 2008
  47. Tracy Davis said:

    David L., I had three immediate responses to your question #42. Take your pick:

    Response #1: Because that isn’t the only criterion that was listed by the City Council in the RFP

    Response #2: Easy. City staff can simply adjust the projected revenues so that they’re highest for the location they favor.

    Response #3: You know for sure where that is?

    November 19, 2008
  48. kiffi summa said:

    I wonder if anyone in City Hall, either Staff or Council is paying attention to the opinion poll here, on the subject of the liquor store.

    There have been comments on the NFNews website that this is the ‘Liberal’ website; I’ll reserve my characterization of the News’s site lest the Trolls come out from under the Bridge even more often than they do.

    But seriously, do the elected officials and the staff care about public opinion on this liquor store issue?
    How responsive are elected officials supposed to be to the desires of the community?
    Why is every request for some cost benefit analyses (from several viewpoints: financial/ROI, location, etc.) ignored completely?

    And, now, since the whole evaluation process was disrupted yesterday by the city attorney’s concerns, how will this process move forward with EDA input?

    November 19, 2008
  49. Griff Wigley said:

    Kiffi, our straw polls are for having fun and generating interest in discussing a topic, not for policymakers to consider when deliberating before a decision.

    November 19, 2008
  50. Patrick Enders said:

    While the straw polls on this website are fun, there is no reason to believe that they represent the consensus opinion(s) of Northfielders in general.

    There is in fact recent evidence that the results of LGN straw polls do not accurately reflect the opinions of actual Northfield voters:

    * Lynn Vincent (38%, 29 Votes)
    * Victor Summa (26%, 20 Votes)
    * Joe Gasior (23%, 18 Votes)
    * Rhonda Pownell (13%, 10 Votes)

    https://locallygrownnorthfield.org/post/6328/

    November 19, 2008
  51. Patrick Enders said:

    kiffi wrote,

    4. Daryl Knutson’s property is the yellow/brown buildings on Water street which were the original Nf Hospital. I think the cross street is Eighth. This property was offered for consideration to the city before this formal RFP process, as were some of the others.

    They can’t tear down those buildings, as I have an unrealistic pipe dream that we will someday live in the original Northfield Hospital. (Of course, it’d have to be cheap, and also not in serious disrepair. I did say in was a pipe dream.)

    November 19, 2008
  52. David Ludescher said:

    Tracy: If the City is not going to maximize profits, then it should get out of the business. This isn’t a public amenity; it is a business.

    November 19, 2008
  53. City officials canceled a 3 p.m. meeting of Northfield’s infill committee on Tuesday. Committee members would have discussed the liquor store proposals. Joel Walinski, interim city administrator, said the city’s attorney, Maren Swanson, determined two of the committee members might present a conflict of interest because of their involvement in some of the proposed sites. Those members are Rick Estenson, vice president of business development at First National Bank of Northfield, and Marty Benson. Estenson, spokesman for the Economic Development Authority, did not return a phone call or email message about the matter on Tuesday. Walinski said elected officials and staff would figure out how to move forward during Thursday’s meeting of the Economic Development Authority at 7 a.m.

    November 19, 2008
  54. Peter Waskiw said:

    Come on City….get it together. After years of allegations and counter allegations of ethic misconduct leading to possible criminal charges, you still carry on with unethical decisions by having, at least to this point, people connected to existing proposals involved in selecting the final proposal. Enough is enough. The whole RFP process should cease immediately as conflict of interests has stamped this process from head to toe.

    November 19, 2008
  55. Peter,

    This is my own personal thought on the matter, which I came up with after discussing the issue with a few people in the city: In a small town, sometimes it can be hard to avoid some conflict of interest. As long as all of the information is out in the open, and the conflict does not appear to be that great, could it be OK to proceed?

    November 19, 2008
  56. Peter Waskiw said:

    Bonnie,
    The information is not out in the open. The proposals are not available to the public. There is a perception of a conflict of interest.

    Under the current allegations against the mayor and possible others by implication on this very issue, conflict of interest and ethical issues are at the heart of this very matter. If Northfield was such a small town, why was the Lansing issue even raised?

    November 19, 2008
  57. Peter Waskiw said:

    The original heading of this thread directed our attention to the role of Northfield’s City Council versus the city staff in decision-making.

    It would seem that for efficiency sake, some City Council members directed staff to finish this thing before the new City Council members took office. Apparently these same City Council members lacked the wisdom to do so months or even years ago when the warning signs were given. Perhaps, a bright light shined upon them and they were inspired to build a new liquor store, a corner stone for economic development…..What crap, this whole thing stinks of personal vendettas and dirty politics.

    Some City Council members and City Staff should have known better given their involvement over the Lansing issues. However, they continue to progress this thing as if people have forgotten. I am afraid that people I have spoken to have not forgotten and are now more suspect of conflict of interest issues and City staff manipulation of the facts for their own political ends.

    As mentioned earlier, this issue has such bad publicity and terrible twist and turns, that City residents need to be involved in decisions to bring closure once and for good. If the City does not correct its course of action now, they will repeat the same mistakes again and again.

    November 20, 2008
  58. […] We discussed the newly approved comprehensive plan with which she has a long history. But most of our time was spent on — you guessed it! – the municipal liquor store and the current controversies surrounding it. See the ongoing liquor store discussion here. […]

    November 20, 2008
  59. I see your point Peter.

    Here is Minnesota State Law that I think might apply to this matter:

    https://www.revisor.leg.state.mn.us/statutes/?id=13.599

    “13.599 GRANTS.

    Subd. 3.Responses to request for proposals.

    (a) Responses submitted by a grantee are private or nonpublic until the responses are opened. Once the responses are opened, the name and address of the grantee and the amount requested is public. All other data in a response is private or nonpublic data until completion of the evaluation process. After a granting agency has completed the evaluation process, all remaining data in the responses is public with the exception of trade secret data as defined and classified in section 13.37. A statement by a grantee that the response is copyrighted or otherwise protected does not prevent public access to the response.

    (b) If all responses are rejected prior to completion of the evaluation process, all data, other than that made public at the opening, remain private or nonpublic until a resolicitation of proposals results in completion of the evaluation process or a determination is made to abandon the grant. If the rejection occurs after the completion of the evaluation process, the data remain public. If a resolicitation of proposals does not occur within one year of the grant opening date, the remaining data become public.
    Subd. 4.Evaluation data.

    (a) Data created or maintained by a granting agency as part of the evaluation process referred to in this section are protected nonpublic data until completion of the evaluation process at which time the data are public with the exception of trade secret data as defined and classified in section 13.37.

    (b) If a granting agency asks individuals outside the granting agency to assist with the evaluation of the responses, the granting agency may share not public data in the responses with those individuals. The individuals participating in the evaluation may not further disseminate the not public data they review.”

    November 20, 2008
  60. P.S. I found that law through an online search. I’m wondering whether that law applies to construction proposals. It seems like it might only deal with monetary grants.

    November 20, 2008
  61. Ross Currier said:

    I had a beverage the other night with a retired farmer and an active businesswoman. We discussed the liquor store RFP process and the City’s apparent unwillingness to share information with the taxpayers.

    Admittedly, what do any of the three of us know about economic development? However, we sketched out a process for the liquor store (although this is not an indication of support for building a new liquor store) site selection process that seemed to produce very limited concerns about the public release of private information.

    First, the City would send out their specifications for a site for a new liquor store to property owners. We thought it would, in its most simple form, consist of something like XX,XXX square feet for the building and YY spaces for parking.

    Next, interested property owners would respond with some documentation that they had the necessary square feet and spaces. They would also indicate a willingness to enter into a process with the City.

    Third, Staff could rank the responding sites according to the four (at least according to our information) criteria for site evaluation. This ranking would be presented to the decision-making elected officials.

    Finally, initial “negotiations” with the owners of the, let’s say, three most favored sites. Although we may not know anything about economic development, all three of us thought that negotiating with just one option was a bad idea.

    We couldn’t see any reason to withhold information from the taxpaying public for the first three steps of this process. It was only in the fourth step, where the information would likely include cost or rent per square foot or build-out allowances, that there was information that might need to be private…at least until it was actually time to consider signing a binding contract.

    But, one more time, what do the three of us know? I would be interested to hear others’ thoughts about the proposed process and when it was appropriate not to release information to the public.

    November 21, 2008
  62. This just in from Walinski’s Friday memo:

    With interest in the 7 submitted Requests for Proposals, I’ve asked the City Attorney to provide some information on the release of data pertaining to these RFP’s. There is clear law in the data practices act, which the City must follow and makes most of the RFP proposal data nonpublic until the evaluation process is complete because of the City potentially negotiating for the purchase of property. This classification is mandatory; the city cannot waive this classification. Our City Attorney provided a summary of the relevant provisions of Minn. Stat. Sec. 13.591, Business Data:

    1. All data in the responses is nonpublic until the responses are opened.
    2. Once the responses are opened, the names of the responders are read and become public.
    3. All other data in the responses is nonpublic until completion of the evaluation process.
    4. “Completion of the evaluation process” means that the city has completed negotiating a contract with the selected vendor.
    5. After that point, all remaining data submitted by all responders are public with the exception of “trade secret data” as defined and classified in section 13.37. However, all responders to this RFP were asked to sign a consent for release of response data, so there should not be any concern about releasing the data after a contract is finalized, except for any financial statements submitted to the city under separate confidential cover (this exception appears in the consent for release of response data).
    6. If all responses are rejected prior to completion of the evaluation process, all data other than the names of the responders remains nonpublic until a resolicitation of the RFP results in completion of the evaluation process, or a determination is made to abandon the purchase.
    7. If the rejection occurs after the completion of the evaluation process, the data remain public.
    8. If a resolicitation of proposals does not occur within 1 year of the proposal opening date, the remaining data become public.
    9. Data created or maintained by the city as part of the selection or evaluation process are protected nonpublic data until completion of the selection or completion of the evaluation process, at which time the data are public except for any “trade secret data” (there should be none in this case because of the consent for release signed by the responders, except that financial statements may remain confidential).

    We will also require that those that participate in the review and evaluation of the process not share the information with others not involved in the process until that information becomes public.”

    November 21, 2008
  63. Peter Waskiw said:

    Again, the City is trying the red herring. It’s not the first time the City has read the law incorrectly or with a certain bias.

    The only information that Statute states as nonpublic relates to “financial information about the business”.

    It is clearly understandable that a proposals “financial information” stay confidential until a decision is made, as counter claims or additional offers could subvert the negotiations.

    However, all other information in the proposals should be made available to the public which is not financially sensitive information. As with previous data practices requests the City has seen, sensitive information was redacted or removed.

    In fact, how much of the scoring sheet process uses the financial information versus all the other information in making a decision.

    November 21, 2008
  64. Griff Wigley said:

    Peter, it seems to me that the Minn. Statute. Sec. 13.591 is clear: Other than knowing the names, “All other data in the responses is nonpublic until completion of the evaluation process.”

    However, I’m trying to imagine how the negotiations are compromised if the public knows the basic info in each proposal, ie, location, dollar amount, selling points from the developer’s point of view, etc.

    November 22, 2008
  65. Peter Waskiw said:

    Griff,

    You raise an interesting question and it speaks to the intent behind the RFP process. Not knowing all the reasons, as information from the City is very limited; it would seem the RFP process, combined with the real conflict of interests, makes this process very confusing and questionable.

    The intent in 13.591 relates to privacy requirements for business data submitted through the RFP process under Subd.3 (b). Seeing the City is using MS 13.591 as a defense, I am now wondering the real intent behind the RFP process.

    The written intent in the RFP states: “The City of Northfield is seeking proposals for the purchase or lease of property for a new municipal liquor store location”.

    However, MN 13.591 is in the context of “business requesting financial assistance or a benefit financed by public funds”. In using MS 13.591, is the City saying they are partnering with a property owner to build the Muni? Is the City seeking to outsource the Muni or part of the operations? This would seem the case; however this intent is not clear in the RFP.

    But let finish with public or nonpublic information. In asking for proposals, the City has included a “Consent for Release of Response of Data” and cited MS 13.08. The City includes this statement:

    ___________________________________, on behalf of ______________________,
    hereby consents to the release of its development proposal in response to the
    ___________________________________ Request for Proposals and waives any claims it may have under Minnesota Statutes Section 13.08 against the City of Northfield for making such information public. The foregoing consent and waiver does not extend to financial statements submitted under separate confidential cover. Such information provided under separate cover may be public data, but will be treated by the City consistent with Minnesota Statutes Chapter 13.

    This statement says it all.

    November 22, 2008
  66. Griff Wigley said:

    Wow. You’re apparently right, Peter. Let me highlight the paragraph with some snips to make it clearer:

    [respondent] hereby consents to the release of its development proposal… and waives any claims it may have under Minnesota Statutes Section 13.08 against the City of Northfield for making such information public.

    That paragraph is in Appendix A, page 8 of the RFP.

     So the City seemingly CAN release all the proposals, minus any private business financial data.

    November 23, 2008
  67. Peter Waskiw said:

    Griff,

    It could be argued that as “the foregoing consent and waiver does not extend to financial statements submitted under a separate confidential cover”, than any part of a proposal WITHOUT a “separate confidential cover”, whether it is finance related or not, is public data. By implication, if FINANCIAL STATEMENTS are not under a “separate confidential cover”, than it is NOT sensitive data.

    If the City wants to impose the letter of the law towards the general public during all other general business, than they bloody well need to be consistent.

    I would argue the process is so compromised it should cease immediately. Perhaps an independent committee made up of residents with no connection to the City Government or future submitters should make a recommendation to the City Council before anymore City money is spent without accountability.

    I volunteer my services to the City for free, and agree to be held accountable for any conflict of interest….if any.

    November 23, 2008
  68. Scott Davis said:

    Peter and Griff:
    I think that the “release” the RFP respondents signed was put in place as a result of the last liquor store proposal process when the council voted to release the tapes of the closed door session and the Mayor objected, he felt it contained confidential information not meant to be released to the public. It’s (signed release document) intent is to allow the release of the content of the RFP’s at the conclusion of the process, not during.

    Hope that helps clarify the issue.

    November 24, 2008
  69. David Koenig said:

    Scott…thanks for your perspective.

    “At the conclusion of the process” leaves what window for public input to your decision? I assume that you have a place to accept such before you vote on anything or before the selection is all but done?

    November 24, 2008
  70. Katie Waskiw said:

    I think it is strange that with all that has been going on, that the city would want to put its citizens at ease and follow the statute just as it is stated. I don’t think we should have to feel like we have to doubt check the statutes ourselves because information was left out again. Where is the list of bidders with the bid amounts that are supposed to be public information? Could someone point me in the direction for the link? I for one have little to no trust in this process or city staff or council for that matter. I am left feeling like something is being hidden again. I think what Northfield needs right now is a big taste of transparency. I sure don’t feel comfortable with the city deciding to spend anymore of taxpayer money until they will do things more clear.

    I don’t think the city should be making any decisions about a new liquor store right now! We don’t even have a permanent city administrator and our new council members aren’t sworn in. Why is there such a rush? It just seems to make an uneasy situation even worse.

    November 24, 2008
  71. Griff Wigley said:

    Scott, thanks much for chiming in.

    It makes sense that the City is protecting itself for the release of any information that might be considered private at the end of the process.

    But that doesn’t mean the City can’t release basic proposal information now, does it?

    I don’t understand how this would harm either those submitting proposals or the City to release the basic info of the proposals now. I do understand that once negotiations begin with one or more parties, that that process needs to be private until the end.

    November 25, 2008
  72. Peter Waskiw said:

    Scott,
    If all the information will be available anyway at the end of the decision, no release is required as MN 13.591 applies. Did proposal submitters know that MN 13.591 was being used despite the release? If so, how did they know?

    Yer sure, MN 13 is cited in the RFP, but big ditty, there are so many provisions in MN 13 that any could apply. No where in the RFP is MN 13.591 mentioned. So from a transparency and accountability perspective, the general public did not know the process would be closed and are effectively locked out from seeing the information.

    Did the City Council know this process would be closed to the public? If I was a City Council member and I did not know, I would seriously question how much control I really had over the process. If a City Council did know, I would seriously question their integrity and commitment to the residents of Northfield.

    The real problem Scott is the manner in which this has been run through the City without any thought for public input. For some to say we have had public input for the last several years is telling a joke. We have had cat fights between factions and just because some had their feelings hurt, the residents of Northfield are now being punished.

    You can stop others from pushing this through so quickly. Just because some have spent the last two years frustrated over this process, does not mean that Northfield residents need to suffer from a lack of transparency and accountability for apparent gain of efficiency.

    November 25, 2008