John Nephew

Maplewood City Council Policy & Politics


Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Last Night's LWV Debate

Last night the League of Women Voters hosted a candidate forum at the Maplewood Community Center, with all four candidates for Maplewood City Council in attendance. The debate was broadcast live, and also recorded for later rebroadcast.

Each candidate was given the two minutes each for opening and closing statements, and in between answered questions submitted by the audience, with 1 1/2 minutes for each question. Here are the remarks I prepared for my opening and closing statements.

Opening Statement

Good evening. My name is John Nephew, and I'm running for Maplewood City Council. I'd like to thank all of you for attending this forum, and the League of Women Voters for hosting it.

Since you may not know me, I should begin with a quick biography. I grew up in Duluth, and graduated from Carleton College in 1991. I majored in Philosophy with a Concentration in Medieval Studies. I started writing professionally in high school, and used my freelance writing and editing to pay my way through college. Before graduating college I began my publishing company, Atlas Games, which I still run today. Michelle and I were married in 2000, and we moved to our home in Maplewood in 2001.

Creating and running my own business has given me a diverse range of skills. In particular, I would highlight my experience with communication, negotiation, customer service, and finance. These skills directly apply to the responsibilities of a city councilperson.

Most importantly, running my company has honed my ability to acquire new skills, to absorb and analyze information quickly, and react to changing circumstances. I believe that these traits are what best suit me to serve on the city council.

The success I have enjoyed in life also has been motivation for public service. As a small business owner who built a company from scratch into something that can support my family, I take pride in the success of my company. But I also realize that I can't claim all the credit. I wouldn't be where I am without the support of family, teachers, mentors, and many more – even competitors, who challenge us always to do better. And I couldn't be here without the opportunity that America gives each of us to achieve our own potential.

I am at a point in my life where I want to give something back, to ensure that the opportunities that I have enjoyed are available to others now and in the future. That's why I offer myself as a candidate for city council, and ask for your vote so that I have the chance to use my talents for our common good.

Closing Statement

My campaign has had three central themes.

The first is fiscal responsibility. As a business owner, I am well acquainted with financial planning and analysis, and I think it's important that we take a long-term view for the city's budget, rather than swinging from one extreme to another year to year.

My second theme is good government. We need to approach policy decisions by defining a problem, exploring the possible solutions, and building consensus as we make policy decisions. We need to respect and value the professional staff of the city and the talented and diverse volunteers who serve on citizen boards and commissions.

My third theme is pride in Maplewood. We've been in the news a lot over the past 18 months, and most of the coverage hasn't been flattering. While there have been unpleasant truths behind the headlines, we Maplewood residents understand a deeper truth about our community: that Maplewood really is a great place to live. Let's come together to fix our problems and reclaim the pride Maplewood so well deserves.

This is a very important year for our city. I urge all residents to go to the polls on November 6th, and I ask that you give me your vote and the opportunity to serve.

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Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Campaign Lit: "Shortchanged"

Here's another example of our campaign literature. This is a joint piece from my campaign and Will Rossbach's, highlighting our mutual concerns about last year's budget/reorganization and its fallout.


Monday, October 29, 2007

A Thank You to Volunteers

I wanted to post a quick "thank you" to the dozens of volunteers who turned out this past Saturday to help with the Rossbach/Nephew joint city-wide lit drop. The event surpassed our expectations -- I think something near 8,000 pieces of literature went out to Maplewood doorways, to judge from how little we had left at the end of the day. I had numerous positive conversations with voters along my South Leg routes, and similar reports came back from volunteers all over the city. Many thanks to Scott and Julie for letting us base operations in their home, and being so hospitable!


Saturday, October 27, 2007

LWV Debate on Tuesday

This coming Tuesday, October 30th, the League of Women Voters is sponsoring a candidate forum at 7 PM. It appears from a blurb in the Pioneer Press that the venue has been changed to be the Maplewood Community Center, 2100 White Bear Ave.


Friday, October 26, 2007

Campaign Lit: "Puzzled"

Michelle and I have had fun designing campaign literature for this election. Here's the first full-color mailer we did, before the primary. (Click on the images for enlarged views.)


Thursday, October 25, 2007

Lillie News Voters' Guide

The Maplewood Review's voters' guide for the general election is now online. Besides giving candidates an opportunity to update or correct their biographical information, the Review also asked us three new questions.

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Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Volunteer Opportunity

This coming weekend, we are planning a joint Nephew/Rossbach "lit drop," delivering campaign literature to voters. If you're interested in helping Will and me get elected, and getting out for some crisp autumn air and exercise at the same time, send me an e-mail!

Speaking of crisp autumn air -- I was up early this morning, and took the opportunity for some autumn sunrise photography. It was chilly, but beautiful.


Thursday, October 18, 2007

2006 Financials

While the present council majority and their city manager have devoted so much time to their political-strategy-related policy initiatives, such as conservation easements, we see them neglect the day-to-day basics of the city.

For example, it appears that Maplewood still has not filed its 2006 financial reports, which were due to the State Auditor on June 30th. The Auditor's office has written to Mayor Longrie asking for the long overdue reports, and stated that there will be a penalty if we do not file the overdue documents by October 31st.


Wednesday, October 17, 2007

A Long Overdue Conversation

It's about time.

Monday night, at a council/manager workshop, the city council majority finally allowed a discussion of a wider range of options for the protection of Maplewood parks and open space -- a discussion that Will Rossbach has been requesting for months. The packet prepared for the meeting by city staff includes various alternatives, their pros and cons, and their costs.

This is a meeting that should have happened months ago. The city manager and council majority invested a lot of time and thousands of taxpayer dollars in one option (the most expensive one), and advocated its use across the board, before even looking at what other options might be out there. The entire saga of conservation easements has demonstrated the flawed approach to decision-making that is typical of this council majority, putting their personal and political agendas ahead of the public good.

Let's take a trip down memory lane.

The first mention I can find of conservation easements was a column attributed to Erik Hjelle in the September 2006 city newsletter: "The council is also researching the steps necessary for conservation easements on open space." (Can anyone point me to an agenda item or meeting minutes where the council discussed easements in an open meeting before this date or directed staff to research them?)

In the February issue Mayor Diana Longrie then wrote, "The council's Conservation Easement initiative is moving forward." Rebecca Cave had a column in the same issue, and promoted the upcoming conservation easements workshop, writing, "Anyone interested in learning more about how the City Council plans to protect our City Open Spaces permanently should come to this meeting." Again, before the council had actually looked at this issue in the workshop or taken any votes, as far as I can tell, Cave describes it as the "plan" that the Council will enact.

Cave and Longrie also mailed invitations, apparently with their own funds, to residents living near parks and neighborhood preserves.

At last, on April 9th, the council held a workshop on the topic. (You can read my detailed notes from the meeting.) At that time the direction Copeland seemed to be taking, without any formal vote or directive from the council, was to place easements on all of the city's parks and open space. When the representative of the Minnesota Land Trust suggested that doing that would take at least a year, Copeland narrowed the focus to just the neighborhood preserves, to have something that could be enacted on a shorter timetable (coincidentally, a timetable prior to the elections).

After laying all this groundwork, it came as no surprise when Rebecca Cave made conservation easements a centerpiece of her campaign ("THEY ARE NOT FOR SALE!"), along with spurious claims that her opponents want to sell the city's parks and neighborhood preserves.

Since the April workshop, the mayor has continued to promote conservation easements -- effectively campaigning for Cave -- in the taxpayer-funded city newsletter, in August and October. Ms. Cave did as well (in June). I don't know if they actually did it, but they at least planned for the city to produce a cable TV program promoting the idea as well.

(Let's keep in mind that, while keeping the drumbeat for conservation easements going, they also eliminated our Parks & Recreation Department and their city manager proposed a 72.8% cut in capital funding to parks.)

After more than a year of building up this campaign for conservation easements, linking it to Rebecca Cave, and stonewalling Will Rossbach, the council majority finally gave in to Rossbach's request for a public discussion of alternatives.

What do we find at the end of the discussion? Well, apparently conservation easements are not suitable for all of the Neighborhood Preserves; many of these alternatives cost little or nothing to put in place; and the protection provided by the other alternatives is actually more appropriate to many of the pieces of land at issue.

It sure seemed to me like at the end of the meeting both Mayor Longrie and Councilmember Cave were more or less agreeing with the position Councilmember Rossbach took all along -- that conservation easements might be appropriate for some neighborhood preserves, but probably not for all, and it was important to apply the right tools for each situation -- and they were claiming that this is what they really intended all along.

What to make of this? Like I said, it strikes me as another example of this council's bad policy process.

I suspect this all began with a political goal, to create a campaign issue for Rebecca Cave and manufacture a controversy. In order to put Rossbach on the record in opposition, it appears they needed to promote as extreme a version as possible at the beginning. Then, when Rossbach predictably stood up for common sense and reason and the not-so-crazy idea of looking at the alternatives before committing a lot of money to a specific course of action, they misrepresented his concerns to portray him as wanting to sell the city's open space. The campaign for easements had two key aspects: one was riling up fear and anger in neighborhoods (making people believe their neighborhood preserves and parks are threatened); the other was presenting Cave as essential to the only possible solution, with her commitment to conservation easements. In this way, the entire conservation easements "issue" has put the interests of the city behind the self-interested political agenda of the council majority.

As the high cost of actually enacting easements has become more apparent, as have the city's budgetary woes, the importance of actually putting the easements in place has waned for the council majority. But to my mind, the whole exercise (including the use of a lot of taxpayer dollars along the way) was a political gambit from the outset. I'm not even sure how much attention the council majority will have for the issue, once the election is past.

A better way, I believe, would have been to have an explanation of the problem that needs fixing, and a survey of the alternatives that might solve it, at the beginning. Explore the options, build consensus as you move forward, and settle on a course of action that has broad support and political investment, and public confidence that the best available option was chosen out in the open and the light of day. Building this kind of cooperative political will is not only a less-divisive way to govern, but it also makes for stronger and more-enduring policies. That's what Maplewood needs for a better future.

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Monday, October 15, 2007

Who Wants to Develop Open Space?

In each neighborhood of Maplewood, it appears that candidates Rokke and Cave are distributing a customized joint flyer that identifies a nearby park or neighborhood preserve as needing "saving."

The flyers say that the "#1 issue of concern" from meeting with homeowners in that neighborhood was how to save public parks and open space. (This is funny to me, because after talking to people in every neighborhood of Maplewood, I'm pretty confident in saying that the #1 issue of concern to residents is, "When can we get rid of that mayor?")

It says the problem is "how to stop developers from smooth talking your city council into selling your Parks and Open Spaces for building condos or apartments." The flyer also says "The crucial thing that our opponents want to 'Preserve' - is the ability to sell to developers at the simple will of the city council!"

What is ironic about this is the fact that, as far as I am aware, only one candidate has suggested the possible desirability of selling public open space -- and that would be Delray Rokke, one of the people producing and distributing this flyer.

Take a look at the candidate profile that Rocky completed for the Lillie News, presumably before he decided to team up with Rebecca, turn 180°, and dump his own positions in favor of her campaign's talking points. In response to the question, "What does the city need to do to preserve Maplewood’s parks and open spaces? Do you think conservation easements should play a role?" Rocky wrote:

We need to let the voters decide again whether they still support the city controlling large quantities of undeveloped, non-park land. We need to let residents know how much this costs in additional taxes per household. We should consider some additional safe, attractive and affordable senior housing so that more young families may move into many neighborhoods to enjoy the parks. Conservation easements should be considered on a case by case basis—not encouraged.

Am I reading this wrong? It sounds like he was saying that some neighborhood preserves (the "large quantities of undeveloped, non-park land") might better be developed with senior housing.

Perhaps he misspoke? Well, at the Chamber of Commerce debate on August 30th, Rocky again suggested that the neighborhood preserves needed "development" to make them more useful and accessible (I think he meant trails and amenities); then he went on to say that some should maybe have parking lots built on them! (I guess that would keep them "open.") Listen for yourself (228 kB MP3).

He also seemed strongly opposed to conservation easements in the candidate profile; this was the impression I had from a conversation I had with Rocky in August, too. Now, he apparently has decided that conservation easements are not only OK, but a centerpiece of his campaign.

I have wondered how Rebecca and Rocky could team up, since on Rebecca's core campaign issue (at least, what she says is the most important issue), Rocky was the one candidate who held the most extreme opposite view. I guess it makes me wonder how important it really is to either of them.

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Thursday, October 11, 2007

Signs Available Again

Nephew for City Council lawn signs are back in stock! I thought we had printed plenty in August, but it turns out there was more demand than expected -- plus we needed to replace ones that had gone missing.

Speaking of purloined signs, I was pleased that one carload of sign thieves was recently caught by the police. It was a group four 17- and 18-year-olds who had driving around stealing signs, smashing pumpkins, stealing other things from yards and so on. The police found them with 19 lawn signs in all, including ones from all four Maplewood candidates, as well as real estate signs and even some political signs from neighboring communities.

If you would like a lawn sign, please send an e-mail to Michelle, and she'll make the arrangements to get one installed in your yard!


Saturday, October 06, 2007

Endorsed by SPAAR

I'm very pleased to share the news that I have been endorsed by the REALTOR® Issues Fund Committee, the political action committee of the St. Paul Area Association of REALTORS.

In the letter I received today, Government Affairs Director Patrick Ruble wrote, "Your understanding of the issues facing Maplewood, commitment to fiscal responsibility and desire for a transparent city government were critical factors in the committee's decision. We look forward to your success in the November general election."

The letter also noted that answers to the SPAAR's questionnaire are posted on their website, and that they "will be directing our members to this website to learn more about your positions on matters that REALTORS® care about." (If you're only interested in my answers, I have my completed questionnaire archived as a PDF you can download.)

I'm very proud to have this endorsement, and I am also pleased that this is another endorsement that Will Rossbach and I have both received. To me, this further demonstrates how it is apparent to concerned voters and stakeholders all across the political spectrum that both Will and I need to be victorious in November in order to put Maplewood on the right track.

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Wednesday, October 03, 2007

When Postcards Attack

It has come to my attention that anonymous postcards have been mailed to some voters, attacking my fellow candidate Will Rossbach. Some of these postcards say "Vote for Democrats John Nephew and Delray Rokke." Some repeat the familiar slogan of another candidate, "Our City is NOT FOR SALE!" (though I'm not aware of any candidate who thinks it is or should be).

I don't know if anyone takes the cards seriously. Just in case there is the slightest doubt, let three facts be clear.

First, I support Will Rossbach in his bid for re-election. I came to this decision by seeing him in action on the city council, and concluded from observation that he stands up for common sense and the good of Maplewood, even though that too often leaves him in the minority.

Second, while this is a non-partisan race, there are two endorsed Democrats -- I am one, and Will Rossbach is the other -- though we both are proud to have broad-based, bipartisan support. (One reason the postcard sender is anonymous is that it is illegal, under Minnesota statute 211B.02, to falsely imply that a party has endorsed a candidate.)

Third, I had nothing to do with this mailer, and I certainly would never have anything to do with lies and misrepresentations being made about Will's record and his goals.

On the contrary, I am working more closely with Will in the general election campaign. We share a common concern about the direction our city has taken, and we have been endorsed by most of the same organizations and leaders. To fix Maplewood's problems, we both must win, since our opponents have aligned themselves with each other. Voters will have a clear choice between, in effect, two slates of candidates on election day.

Who produced the postcards? I don't know, but I suspect it came from individuals who wish to sow confusion, to keep the choice on election day from being clear. That's what makes sense if you need only one of your two favored candidates to win, and if you would benefit from making voters cynical, discouraged, confused, and unlikely to turn out on election day.


Monday, October 01, 2007

ACORN Questionnaire

Today I have another endorsement screening questionnaire to share with readers. This one was for ACORN. While ACORN did not endorse me, I appreciated the opportunity to meet with them, hear their concerns, and respond to their questions.


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