John Nephew

Maplewood City Council Policy & Politics


Monday, November 30, 2009

Fish Creek Survey

The Fish Creek Greenway Ad-Hoc Commission currently has a survey on the city's website, seeking public input about the greenway, how it's used now by residents, how it might be used in the future, and how people feel about things like spending money on conservation. If you are a resident of Maplewood or even a neighboring community, I'd strongly encourage you to fill out the survey. Even if you don't know how to get to Fish Creek, your input can still help (and there's even a "not sure where it is" option to answer the question, "How often do you visit Fish Creek or the Ramsey County Fish Creek open space?")

Please take a couple of minutes to fill out the survey today.

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Thursday, November 26, 2009

How the Mayor Stole Christmas

A Maplewood resident reacts to Mayor Longrie's final newsletter editorial:

John! I just started reading Diana's piece in the newsletter and realized if anyone is letting their children look at it she's talking about how [redacted] isn't real!! AHHHH, what an awful way for your kids to find out...from the mayor.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Turkey Pardon Day

Watch the pardon of the turkey named Courage, live at 10:28 central time:

(h/t Talking Points Memo)


Tax Proposal Comparisons

The packet for our November 23rd workshop included a spreadsheet of the proposed 2010 levy increases in numerous metro cities. At the meeting, Finance Director Bob Mittet gave us an expanded version of that document with the proposed levies of more nearby communities.

Here's a summary of our immediate neighbors:

North Saint Paul19.54%
Vadnais Heights17.38%
Saint Paul6%
Little Canada4.98%
White Bear Lake2.40%

State-wide, the average proposed property tax increase for cities is 5.4%, according to a press release from Minnesota Revenue. Because the levy limit for 2010 is 0.8%, almost all of the property tax increases are special levies to make up for the state money taken away by Governor Pawlenty's unallotments of Local Government Aid and Market Value Homestead Credit.

At a 5% proposed levy increase, Maplewood is below the state average. This was true for the 2009 levy as well; our final increase was 2.1%, versus 4.3% average among all the cities in the state.


Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Health Care Reform: Minnesota

Health care isn't a city matter per se, but it certainly affects Maplewood as an employer as well as all of our residents and businesses. At last week's LMC regional meeting, the state demographer told us how the aging population and rising health care costs will overwhelm the state's budget in coming decades if nothing changes. While there is a robust debate about the final shape of health care reform, there seems to be overwhelming agreement that reform is needed. When Sen. Franken was visiting, health care reform was a topic that came up as a priority in the eyes of local officials.

For those following the debate, an informative resource is now available on, the informational website created by the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services: a state-by-state breakdown of the challenges of healthcare in each individual state, and what reform would do to address those issues.

The page on Minnesota, for example, tells us that our state has 519,000 uninsured residents, resulting in $1.3 billion per year in uncompensated care. To account for the write-off of uncollectable accounts, health care providers have to charge more to everyone who does have insurance or the ability to pay. For another example, Minnesota physicians spend about 2.5 million hours and $1.2 billion just dealing with the bureaucracy and paperwork of health insurance.

Friday, November 20, 2009

Wetland Ordinance Article

This week's Maplewood Review includes an article about the first reading (or I suppose I should say, the latest first reading, given how many times this item has come back before the city council for additional discussion and revision) of our updated wetland ordinance. The article also describes Erik Hjelle's outburst that occurred during the wetland discussion.

After this agenda item, the council took a break, during which Mr. Hjelle gathered up his things and left city hall and the remainder of the meeting.

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Thursday, November 19, 2009

Fire Training Facility Presentation

At the Tuesday, November 17, Planning Commission meeting, Maplewood Fire Chief Steve Lukin gave an informational presentation about the planned East Metro Regional Fire Training Facility.

As I wrote earlier this week, we're hoping that the state 2010 bonding bill will include this important project.

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Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Community Access Preservation Act

I submitted an item for the Monday, November 23rd, meeting agenda, asking the city council to pass a resolution in support of the Community Access Preservation Act. This is a bill that is vital to preserving public, educational, and government programming on local cable channels -- for example, the broadcast of meetings from city hall. A similar resolution was approved last week by the Ramsey/Washington Counties Suburban Cable Commission.

I've uploaded my agenda report, which includes the bill itself and explanations of its content.


Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Senate Bonding Tour Photos

Yesterday the Minnesota Senate bonding committee visited the planned site of the East Metro Fire Training Facility. Last Tuesday, Nov. 10th, there was a similar visit from the House bonding committee. Fire departments from as close as Oakdale and North Saint Paul and as far away as Marine on St. Croix, as well as representatives of Century College (which has a firefighter training program), were on hand to show their support. The bonding request is for $3 million, which would be matched by $3 million in local contributions. Besides providing much-needed public safety training facilities, the plan also helps the environment as it involves remediation of contamination on the site (funded through an expected grant from Ramsey County's clean-up fund), improved and expanded wetland buffers, and more. A joint powers agreement is being developed for the operation and maintenance of the facility.

Here was the scene as I drove in at around 9:30 AM. Even more fire trucks from more departments continued to arrive, up until the scheduled 10:00 arrival of the state senators.

Councilmember and Maplewood pay-per-call firefighter Erik Hjelle took several buckets of state elected officials up for a bird's-eye view of the site.

Before the senators moved on to the next stop on their itinerary, everyone gathered for a group photo.

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Sunday, November 15, 2009

Al Franken at City Hall

This afternoon Maplewood was honored to host a well-attended meeting of Senator Al Franken with city, county and state representatives of Maplewood, Oakdale, North St. Paul and South St. Paul. It was an opportunity for the local elected officials to tell Sen. Franken about the issues our communities are facing and propose ways the federal government might help. An elected official from each city gave a brief presentation about their cities' issues and priorities, as did state Reps. Slawik, Hansen, and Lillie, and Ramsey County Commissioner Reinhardt. There were some responses from Sen. Franken, leavened with the usual wry sense of humor, but he was clearly there above all to listen.

This is the latest in a series of these gatherings, where Senator Franken has brought together the leaders of several neighboring communities to listen to their concerns and ideas. The event also introduced us to the senator's local staff.

Thanks to our city staff, who not only helped coordinate the event but came in to work on a Sunday to make it happen.

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Thursday, November 12, 2009

Post-Election Finger-Pointing

It sounds like there's been a search for scapegoats among the supporters of some losing candidates in last week's election. It didn't take long for the blame to be laid at two pairs of feet clad in big steel-toed firefighter boots: those of candidate Dave Hafner (for promoting the write-in candidacies of Smart and Rokke) and, in the background behind him, outgoing councilmember Erik Hjelle.

Check out this image, brought to my attention by a friend who spotted it on North Saint Paul resident Bob Zick's cable access TV show the night after the election.

Zick had been attacking Mr. Hafner for "going back on his word" by not supporting Longrie and Cave and having the audacity to criticize ("disparage") the incumbent mayor, etc. Then he welcomed a caller with uncomplimentary remarks about Mr. Hafner's abilities as a firefighter/EMT. The phrase "Hjelle torpedos election" started appearing on the screen, as you can see circled in the framegrab above.

Given his history with both of them, one might have wondered, in the fracturing of the Longrie-Hjelle alliance, which side Mr. Zick would come down on. I guess he decided to stick with the failed politician who is hinting at running for office again, rather than the one who's taking his ball and going home.

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Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Special Election Discussion

In last week's election, sitting councilmember Will Rossbach won the race for mayor. This will mean a special election in 2010. Numerous residents have asked me about the mechanics of this, so I brought it up at Monday's council meeting. Here is the discussion:

To summarize:
  • When Rossbach takes the oath of office as Mayor, it creates a vacancy in his council seat.
  • Since more than 6 months remain in Rossbach's council term, the 2005 ordinance requires that we hold a special election.
  • There is some flexibility as to when exactly to hold the special election.
  • The earliest it could be held is about 90 days after the vacancy is declared, in order to comply with all the relevant state laws (notice, filing periods, etc.).
  • If we combine the special election with another election (such as the state primary), we can save the $26,000 we otherwise would have to spend on a stand-alone special election.
  • Regardless of when the special election is held, the ordinance requires the council to appoint a person to fill the vacancy until the winner of the special election is sworn in, just as happened in 2005.
From what I've read and a recent conversation with a legislator, it sounds like it is very likely that the primary date will be moved up from September to August. This change was in the elections reform bill that was passed and vetoed last session, but it was not itself a controversial provision. (Besides having bipartisan support, it will be needed in order to comply with pending changes in federal election law.) The idea of moving it forward is to protect the voting rights of Minnesotans overseas, especially the deployed members of our military. General election ballots obviously can't be printed and mailed until the primary results are finalized (sometimes including a recount, as in one of the judicial primaries last year).

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Tuesday, November 10, 2009

"New direction - for now"

I see that a new article about the Maplewood elections, "Maplewood government headed in new direction — for now," is on the Minnesota Independent this morning. Reporter Paul Demko has been keeping an eye on Maplewood ever since writing the March 2007 City Pages cover story, "Welcome to Maplewood."

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Saturday, November 07, 2009

What Could Have Been

What might have happened if Will Rossbach and I had not won in 2007 and changed the balance of power on the Maplewood City Council?

Take a look at the City of Greenfield for an object lesson. This past summer the League of Minnesota Cities Insurance Trust imposed special conditions on their insurance renewal, in response to a high level of losses and a perception that their mayor and city council were continuing on a path that was likely to bring more lawsuits.

Those conditions were comparable to the ones imposed on Maplewood in 2008, after the wave of costly lawsuits under Greg Copeland's management in 2006-2007. When the LMCIT imposed its conditions on our renewal, Maplewood had already taken steps in the right direction -- with the 2007 election results, the dismissal of Mr. Copeland, the start of a process for hiring a permanent, professional city manager, and so forth. As one would expect, those changes have since corresponded to a sharp drop in lawsuits and losses.

Greenfield has proven to be less cooperative. Without getting into all of the soap opera details, the result is that the LMCIT has chosen to cancel Greenfield's insurance coverage altogether, as reported by the Star Tribune and the South Crow River News, in order to protect the other member cities. If I understand it correctly, the LMCIT gave notice of across-the-board cancellation effective in 30 days. The board is then willing to offer a new coverage package limited to personal injury and property damage claims. Other types of lawsuits (e.g., employment, defamation, land use) that may occur will be at the full expense of Greenfield's taxpapers, both for the legal defense fees and the ultimate costs of any settlements or judgements.

For a city with a population under 3,000 and a tax levy under $1.3 million, such expenses could have a large and costly impact on taxpayers. The city might look to private insurers for coverage, but it is likely to be very expensive and in some cases (such as land use defense) my understanding is that no private insurers even sell such coverage.

I will be interested to see if the LMCIT's harsh decision results in any changes in the way Greenfield's elected officials govern, or if it will be left to the voters in their next elections.

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Friday, November 06, 2009

Article about Even Year Elections

The publishing cycle of the local weekly newspaper, the Maplewood Review, means that this week's issue doesn't include the election results (though their web page does have the story). What it does have related to Maplewood politics is an article about even-year elections, a topic that I brought up at the October 26 council meeting.

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Thursday, November 05, 2009

2009 Election Results Spreadsheet

For those who are curious about the precinct-level details, you can find a spreadsheet of the election results on the city web page. (I've also archived it on this website, in case the city page is moved at some point in the future.) The tally includes total write-in votes, but does not break them down by who they were for, which requires manual counting. We should have that complete information when we canvass the results of the election at our regular council meeting on Monday.


Wednesday, November 04, 2009

More Election Coverage: Maplewood Review

The weekly Maplewood Review put a story on their website about the Maplewood elections earlier today.

Longrie is quoted as saying, "I might be throwing in my hat here in the next couple of months," which sounds like she might be a candidate in the special election that will be held to fill Rossbach's current council seat until the end of its term. So voters who expressed their disapproval of her in the 2007 defeat of her city council allies, the 2008 obliteration of her primary challenge to State Rep. Lillie, and now the 2009 repudiation of her reelection campaign, may be given yet another chance to vote against her in 2010.

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Media Roundup, Post-Election

Some quick day-after-the-election media links:

Pioneer Press, "Maplewood voters oust Mayor Diana Longrie after a contentious term"

Star Tribune, "Six suburbs elect new mayors; councils also see fresh faces"

Minnesota Independent, "Rossbach wins Maplewood mayoral contest"

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Tuesday, November 03, 2009

Victory for Rossbach, Juenemann, Llanas

I'm home from an election night gathering, where we saw Will Rossbach win the race for mayor by a huge margin, Kathy Juenemann retain her seat on the city council for a third term, and Jim Llanas win the seat that Erik Hjelle will be leaving in January.

While it soon seemed clear that Juenemann would hold her seat, the race for the second council seat was a nail-biter. The first precincts to report were ones where Dave Hafner, who ultimately finished third in a field of four, did well. But three of the last four precincts to report — P3, P6 and P7 — were ones where Llanas' primary vote totals were around three times Hafner's. As those precincts came in the tide turned, and the end result was a solid win for Llanas.

Here are the total votes as reported by Ramsey County, for mayor:

Write-in Votes5819.67%

and for council:

JAMES LLANAS280124.77%
DAVE HAFNER264823.42%
REBECCA CAVE236820.94%
Write-in Votes4684.14%

Here's something striking: incumbent mayor Diana Longrie received fewer votes than any of the four candidates on the ballot for City Council.

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2009 Election Result Links

As I post this, the polls have just closed. Now it's just a matter of waiting for the results to be tallied and reported.

If you'll be at a computer this evening, the place to watch results as they come in is the Ramsey County Elections web page for 2009 election results. This will be updated with new totals as the precincts report. (There's also a link to the Ramsey County page from the top of the Maplewood website's elections page.)

On the Minnesota Secretary of State website, you can also find election results. If the past is a guide, this information will not be as up-to-date as the county page, but will have more details when it does appear (such as precinct-level totals).

If you have cable TV and live in Maplewood, I've heard that the city's Channel 16 will also be showing election results. (Right now my TV screen tells me that it's about to rebroadcast the 10/26 council workshop, so maybe that's not going to happen after all, or at least not in real time.)

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Election Day 2009

Today is Election Day. Have you voted yet?

If you don't know where to vote, visit the Ramsey County Precinct Finder to identify your polling location. The same page will show you your precinct's sample ballot.

Are you not registered to vote? In order to vote, you must be:
  • 18 years of age or older;
  • A United States citizen; and
  • Have lived in Minnesota for at least 20 days by Election Day.
If you are eligible to vote, you can register today at your polling location. The Secretary of State's website has information on how to do this, including a list of documents that you may use to verify your residence.

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I've made no secret of my own choices on this ballot — Rossbach for Mayor, Juenemann and Llanas for City Council. All three represent common sense and a strong commitment to the common good. In my time on the council, I've had policy disagreements and voting differences with both Rossbach and Juenemann, but I know that we disagree in good faith while sharing a commitment to the good of our city. The same will be true of Jim Llanas.

Maplewood needs to move past the failed leadership of Diana Longrie, whose position as mayor has given her a platform to perpetuate divisiveness and dysfunction in our city even while the election of 2007 removed a lot of her ability to do damage. While she and her partisans try to distract you with lies about Will wanting to take away your fire pit and other silliness, remember how much she has cost our city — the hiring of her utterly unqualified crony, Greg Copeland, as city manager; the unnecessarily large (10.2%) tax increase of 2007; the excessive and avoidable lawsuits that nearly left us uninsurable; the use of the city newsletter for electioneering; her sabotage of our legislators' bill to fund conservation in Fish Creek; her promotion of the conservation easements gimmick while eliminating the Parks & Recreation Department; and so much more.

After losing reelection in 2007, Rebecca Cave vanished from sight. Now she's on the ballot again. While she seems to have put some distance between herself and Longrie, she can't escape the legacy of the 2006-2007 period and all the city problems created by her being the third vote on so many issues with Longrie and Hjelle — appointing Greg Copeland, passing the 2007 budget with its 10.2% tax increase and its staff reorganization with illegal retaliatory firings, land use decisions that led to costly lawsuits, etc. She may have the political sense not to link herself publicly to Longrie during this campaign, but is there any reason to think she would govern differently than she did in the past?

Dave Hafner tries to portray himself as being apart from Maplewood's political divisions, but his record shows a rabid partisan for Erik Hjelle, Rebecca Cave, and Diana Longrie, as seen in his letters to the editor, visitor presentations, and other public statements from before he was a candidate. He even had public praise for the 10.2% levy increase of 2007. Given how he overrreacts to issues on the campaign trail, voters might question if he has the temperament to handle the criticism and even personal attacks that we routinely receive on the city council. I think of Hafner as being like Erik Hjelle, but without the refined diplomatic skills.

The 2007 election was a major step in returning Maplewood to normalcy, but there's much more to be done. Today we need to continue the changes of 2007 by electing Will Rossbach as our new mayor, returning Kathy Juenemann to the council, and bringing Jim Llanas on board. Do your part by voting, and remind your friends and neighbors to vote. Help rebuild a Maplewood we can all be proud of.

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