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John Nephew

Maplewood City Council Policy & Politics


A Citizen's Questionnaire

Over the course of this campaign, I've been posting questionnaires I've filled out for various groups (you should be able to find them under the endorsements link; look for entries with "questionnaire" in the title), and there are more on the way. Typically those questionnaires focus on the particular interests of a group (labor, business, etc.).

A lot of my actual campaign time is spent at peoples' doors and on the phone, listening to residents' individual concerns, which don't always get raised by the interest groups and media. One couple I spoke with took the time to send me a thoughtful e-mail with a list of questions and concerns. With their permission I wanted to post it here (names and address redacted), along with my responses, as examples of the kinds of questions we candidates hear out on there on the campaign trail.

First, their concerns and questions:

1. Graffiti – There has been an increased amount of graffiti in our community and for Maplewood to promote ourselves as a great place to live and work, this needs to change. First impressions are lasting and Maplewood as well as the Twin Cities area needs to take a pro-active role in preventing and prosecuting those that area caught vandalizing public property.

2. Crime & Education – Increase Police and civic involvement with our young residents in Maplewood. There should be City outreach programs in the schools and volunteer opportunities for students to be a part of and to make our community better.

3. Driver – Maplewood needs to increase enforcement of speed limits on Maplewood streets. Driver behavior has changed to “me first” and if you are a biker, walker, runner, adult, or child, one’s safety on the roads needs to be protected. I live on a busy street, as do you, and there is at least once a day that I hear the irresponsible driver racing their car down the road and not respecting residents who live in the area. I have asked the City of Maplewood Police Department on four different occassions to post a mobile speed advisory sign on County Road B to remind drivers of their speed; it has yet to happen. County Road B is not the only street with drivers not respecting others using the road.

4. Speed Limit - Decrease the speed on County Road B. Maplewood has jurisdiction of County Road B between Edgerton and Arcade and I would like to request the speed be reduced from 35mph to 30 mph in this area. Note the speed on Roselawn (30mph) and it carries more vehicles and is a thru-street. The stretch of County Road B has intersections, site distant challenges and residential driveways with a “T” intersection at Arcade and a speed of 30 mph is more fitting. Have you noticed Arcade is posted at 30 mph as well? Increased Police presence and speed traps would help drivers be more aware of there speed and the safety of others.

5. Taxes – Personally, I would be willing to pay higher taxes if there were results in items #1-#4 that resulted in a positive impact to Maplewood and improved our community.

6. Council - The City Council is supposed to represent the residents of Maplewood. We as residents are responsible for the current state of the City and Council; we elected them. I have watched too many interactions between Council members and City staff that are unprofessional and embarrassing to me as a tax payer in Maplewood. I would like to see a Council that works cohesively to make Maplewood a better City not posturing to make themselves look better. Have we forgotten that we are talking City Government and the focus should be what’s best for the City and not individual Council members or their own political aspirations? I also want a Council that works together to hire quality staff that can take care of daily business and relies on their staff’s abilities. We have lost quality staff over the last few years and it is unfortunate to the Community but truly the result of the current Council. Lastly, I would recommend Council meetings be efficient and be limited to 11PM. There should be no new business started after 11PM; if active items are being discussed they should be postponed to another meeting for further discussion.

Here are my responses:

1. Grafitti: I could be mis-remembering this, but I think someone told me that the city has not been as prompt this year at removing grafitti from city parks. It may be that the incidence is the same rate as before, but the recent elimination of the Parks & Recreation Department has meant that some tasks have slipped to a lower priority. I've heard complaints from other citizens about a whole range of park maintenance-related issues; for example, parents who have started going an hour early to games and bringing their own chalk, etc., to mark fields for their childrens' summer sports leagues. We need to reestablish the position of Parks & Recreation Director, and make sure we are taking proper care of these facilities.

2. Crime & Education: You have good suggestions. On the police side, Maplewood has had some problems with being short-staffed, and the situation was not helped when the city council eliminated the Deputy Police Chief at the end of last year, even as we were in the process of hiring more officers. There are a variety of volunteer opportunities for all ages -- I participated in a clean-up day at Joy Park earlier this year, and I know the latest city newsletter mentions upcoming projects for clearing buckthorn from city parks, for example. I'm sure more can be done to publicize these events and recruit more volunteers, and perhaps coordinate with the local schools. I should add the caution, though, that I think the city will have some higher priority basics to attend to -- continuing the unfortunate trend we began last year, it seems that we are woefully behind on our 2008 budget process, for example -- and the city council in January 2008 will have a full plate dealing with the most urgent issues the present regime has created.

3 & 4 - Driving & Speed Limit: As I look out my window and watch cars zip by while I'm typing this, I fully understand what you mean about the traffic on County Road B. Michelle and I enjoy taking walks around the neighborhood, as you and [your wife] do, so we too are sensitive about the safety issues. I used to bike to work, and know how little attention drivers typically pay to bicyclists; one time I almost ran into the side of a mini-van that turned right in front of me, without apparently being aware that I was even there. If I were a yard further ahead I might have been killed. Being not far from the stop sign at Edgerton, we get to "enjoy" the throaty sounds of fast-accelerating cars at all hours. I'd love to see one of those speed advisory signs, even on a temporary basis like I've seen on Larpenteur recently — there are a couple between home and my workplace in St. Paul that I pass every day, and they always make me check if I'm creeping up a little too fast.

While I share your concerns, I don't want to make any big promises, for two reasons. The first is that this is a county road, so I don't believe the city is actually able to change the speed limit. This may explain the difference between B and Arcade.

Second is the issue of police availability. I have fairly often seen police cars passing our house on County Road B, so I do actually think our street gets more police presence than a lot of areas of Maplewood I've visited. The squad cars are equipped with radar that lets them measure the speed of oncoming traffic while they are driving. But the reality is that traffic stops usually take lower priority than other police duties. I did a ride-along in a police car a couple of weeks ago, and it was a very informative experience. We did pull over a couple of speeders in various parts of the city, and stopped a few times to create a "speed trap.". But more of the officer's time was spent responding to more serious crimes, such as a domestic assault in the Gladstone neighborhood, a man at St John's Hospital who had been stabbed, and a group of teens and one adult who were breaking into cars and stealing stereos, speakers, GPS systems, etc., down near Stillwater Road. Perhaps with the new officers added to the force this year, there will be more opportunities for traffic enforcement city-wide. Certainly that's something that, as a council member, I would encourage our police force to do.

5. Taxes: I am interested in holding taxes down, but not at the expense of safety and quality of life. And I also think that prudent investments pay off -- safer roads mean fewer accidents, which means lower cost of insurance community-wide. Investments in our quality of life mean a more attractive community, higher property values, etc.

6. Council: What you say here is so aligned with my own thoughts, I should have you writing my campaign literature!

Each neighborhood has unique issues, as this list of questions shows, and my city-wide door-knocking has given me a great chance to learn about them. Often I find citizens with the same concerns that have motivated me to run. I don't know the answers to all the questions I get asked -- but that's one of the reasons the campaigning process is important to good government, to get out there and listen to voters, to find out what are the important things to the community that we candidates haven't even thought of before.


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