John Nephew

Maplewood City Council Policy & Politics


Monday, February 22, 2010

Longrie to Challenge Rep. McCollum

Former Maplewood mayor Diana Longrie has announced that she will be running as a Democrat against Congresswoman Betty McCollum. Apparently she and her friends, who have a long history of DFL-bashing, are taking their "MN OPERATION CHAOS" to a new level.

Two years ago they targeted Minnesota Rep. Leon Lillie. Longrie filed to be on the DFL primary ballot (even though she was still listed as an officer on the website of the local Republican party unit), while her long-time ally Bob Zick ran as an Independence Party candidate. As the only IP candidate on the ballot, Zick (who had previously run as a Republican) was able to receive a major party public subsidy payment, to the tune of $3,458.87 (as you can see on his 2008 campaign finance report). He used these public subsidy funds to produce and mail an oversize postcard for the September primary, even though he had no primary challenger of his own. The postcards attacked Lillie and encouraged people to vote against him in the DFL primary -- i.e., for Longrie.

Longrie was obliterated in her primary against Lillie, and there's no reason to suppose she'll do any better in a primary against a popular, competent incumbent congresswoman. It seems equally difficult to imagine she can hijack the 4th Congressional District DFL convention the way she did the local Independence Party last year. But it will be interesting to see what schemes she and her merry band of political misfits hatch in an effort to sow chaos and, if nothing else, attract viewers to their cable access TV shows.


Friday, February 19, 2010

Fuel Under Budget

Deputy Public Works Director Thompson reported to the city council this week that the city has locked in prices for gasoline and diesel for March through December of 2010. Including tax, we will pay $2.42 per gallon for gas and $2.30 per gallon for diesel. While not as good as the $1.87 (gas) and $2.04 (diesel) that we were able to get in 2009, these contract prices are lower than what the 2010 budget assumes. The result will be savings of about $20,000.

We'll see the actual contracts included for council approval on the consent agenda in March.

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Thursday, February 18, 2010

Bonding Bill Moves Forward

This is a somewhat belated update on the progress of the bonding bill, but Minnesota's House of Representatives passed the bonding bill on Monday, after the Senate did last week. In both chambers it had bipartisan support (though Republicans who supported it are apparently coming under attack from their own party). The bill now goes to conference committee to iron out differences between the two versions. Last I heard, the East Metro Regional Fire Training Facility was included in both versions, so it should make it out of conference. Whether it will survive the threatened vetoes from the governor, line item or otherwise, remains to be seen ...

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Wednesday, February 17, 2010

The Queen in Exile

On that goofy Bob Zick cable show last week, Zick referred to Diana Longrie as "the real mayor" and stated that he does not recognize Mayor Rossbach as anything more than "chairperson." I suppose that's cute, but I'm getting reports that at least one person seems to take it seriously — the former mayor herself. I've been told that she has been seen at meetings sporting a name tag that identifies her as Mayor of Maplewood. And a resident recently complained about an announcement that played on cable TV:
There was a spot on Channel 15 public access tonight [Feb. 15th], Diana Longrie had an “ad” or a spot that was about 30 seconds, encouraging citizens to join her in asking the State Auditor to audit Maplewood’s financial records. Her name and “Maplewood Mayor” were flashed on the screen...
What in the world is going on? Does she have a delusion that she is still the mayor, never mind that democratic process that took place last November? Does she so crave the attention and deference that she enjoyed while bearing the title, she's unable to let it go? Or is this a political ploy to confuse the electorate or somehow sway them as part of her campaign for the council seat in the special election?

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Thursday, February 11, 2010

The Bob Zick Comedy Hour

North Saint Paul resident Bob Zick is a regular at our council meetings, always looking to create footage of himself to show on his cable access TV show. At this past Monday's meeting, he promised that he would be showing the video shot by his camera people (primarily the former mayor's husband) at last week's city council retreat and the citizens forum. Wondering what clips he would find to take wildly out of context, I TiVo'd his show out of curiosity and skimmed through it.

As it turns out, he never did play any video from either the retreat or the citizens forum. He played lot of video, but it all seemed to be him talking to the city council at our last two meetings. You'd think that fresh footage (not available online on demand) would be more interesting to his audience. Then again, the retreat was a nine-hour meeting that didn't include Bob Zick talking, so perhaps there wasn't any footage of interest to his regular viewer(s).

I did get a chance to see many examples of how spectacularly uninformed, misinformed and mathematically illiterate Mr. Zick is. For example, he went on about “pre-agenda meetings,” which have not been in place as long as I've been on the council. Those were meetings held the Thursday before a regular council meeting. The mayor and council would review the packet with staff, ask questions, and give staff a couple of days to research answers for the Monday meeting if they didn't have them already.

He also declared that this year's city council was working in secrecy out of the public eye, because we decide things in workshops, which are not broadcast. Umm...except that all our council workshops have been broadcast as long as I've been on the council. If you missed them, because they tend to start at some time between 4:30 and 5:30, all of the workshops since the start of 2010 are or will be archived for online viewing on demand.

Mr. Zick likes to pull amazing numbers out of the air, and declare them to be well-established facts. At one point he announced that the council/staff retreat cost $30,000-40,000; another time he said $80,000. I think I heard him say one point that city employees are paid $80 per hour (that would be $166,400 per year, though state law caps local government salaries at about $145,000), and he then multiplied that figure by the months of staff time he imagines went into setting up the retreat. At one point he claimed that meals at the retreat were “catered” and cost $10,000.

Sounds lavish, doesn't it! You might be imagining some high society party with sterling silver canape forks and servants in black ties.

Well, I never saw the caterers. It looked to me like city staff just set out snacks, drinks (coffee, hot water for tea, a cooler of soda pop), disposable cups and plates, and take-out food from some local restaurants. For breakfast there were a few things of yogurt, some muffins, coffee, two half gallon cartons of juice (pour your own into a paper cup), and some sliced fruit like you might pick up at Cub or Rainbow. At noon we had boxed lunches from Panera. For dinner, some big aluminum trays of salad and pasta, and some Italian bread (not heated like that fancy garlic bread you might have heard of, just cold sliced bread with packets of butter to spread on it yourself) from an Italian restaurant were set out for the five councilmembers and eleven staff members.

It says a lot about Mr. Zick's financial acuity that he imagines this spread would cost $10,000. Let's average $3,333 per meal – maybe less for breakfast (smaller, since department heads didn't join the retreat until lunchtime), more for dinner (what with bread on the side and some fancy packets of optional crushed red peppers for culinary thrill-seekers). I'm going to say there were no more than twenty boxed lunches from Panera (which, let's remember, is located in the same building that Mr. Zick claims as his Maplewood address). Do the math, $3,333 ÷ 20...

So the next time you see Mr. Zick claiming to speak with authority on any topic whatsoever, just remember — this is a guy who convinced himself that a six-inch sandwich, cookie and chips in a cardboard box from Panera Bread costs $167. I don't know about you, but I wouldn't trust him to buy lunch unsupervised, let alone advise my local government on policy and operations.

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Tuesday, February 09, 2010

My Notes from the 2/5/10 Council-Management Retreat

On Friday, February 5th, a long overdue City Council-Management Team retreat was held all day at the fire station on Clarence Street. The purpose of the retreat was threefold: to set council direction and goals for the next 2-3 years, identify short-term priorities, and build trust and better ways of working between staff and council. While we await a written report from the retreat facilitator, I thought I'd briefly write up my own notes from the day.

In the morning, the city council reviewed the city's assets and obstacles. Using a list of goals assembled from questionnaires the council had filled out prior to the meeting, we discussed and ranked those goals. The following emerged as our top seven:
  1. Re-establish Maplewood's Reputation — restore trust and respect between the citizens, staff, and elected officials, restore a positive image with our residents, the media and other government entitites

  2. Good Government — Make city government transparent and accessible, and operate with an environment of efficiency and mutual respect. Welcome and encourage citizen involvement, but not let the city's path be dictated simply by the loudest and most persistent voices that show up at city meetings.

  3. Parks Department — Reorganize, re-establish, revitalize; possible joint venture with neighboring communities

  4. (tie) Environmental Planning — Further develop processes for “going green”; enhance and fund open space management; includes follow-up on Fish Creek commission recommendations

  1. (tie) Fiscal Responsibility — Manage the city's finances and financial planning effectively, with an eye to providing stability and maximum value in the long term for our residents

  1. Complete the infrastructure upgrade process

  2. Redevelopment

In the afternoon, city department heads joined the retreat. Each councilmember and staff member in the retreat was asked to identify ten short-term objectives or priorities. The following items were on the list of majorities of both group (three or more councilmembers, plus six or more of the eleven management team staff):
  • Maintain Quality Services
  • Integration of Parks and Recreation; Parks Funding
  • Economic Development
  • Investment in Redevelopment
  • In-depth survey of citizens
  • Investment in infrastructure
With nine hours of work and discussion, there was a lot more to it than these two lists, but this provides at least some idea of the areas of consensus that emerged from the retreat. It was time well spent, and I look forward to working with my fellow councilmembers and the staff in going forward to achieve these goals and objectives.

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Monday, February 08, 2010

Rossbach on Your Police Report

This month's Your Police Report, a cable TV program produced by the Maplewood Police Department, includes an interview with Maplewood's new mayor, Will Rossbach. This program is in the schedule of broadcasts on the city's cable channel 16 (for example, at 3:00 PM on Monday, Feb. 8th, if you want to program your DVR). You can also view the current episode of Your Police Report on the GTN website.

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Sunday, February 07, 2010

Fire Training Facility in Bonding Bill

We received some good news from the legislature late this past week: The bonding bills in both the House and Senate include the East Metro Fire Training Facility with the full $3 million requested by the city and our partners (which would be matched by $3 million in local contributions). I'm told that the Senate will be voting on the bonding bill this coming week, and the House the week after.

Unfortunately, the facility is not included in the governor's bill, which as the media has widely reported is considerably smaller than what the legislature proposes. I hope that Governor Pawlenty will recognize the importance of this proposed facility, and its value in terms of shared services, increasing government efficiency, as well as improving public safety.


Saturday, February 06, 2010

This Week's Review in Review

The Maplewood City Council gets a lot of ink in this week's Maplewood Review. You can read the articles online about Julie Wasiluk's temporary council appointment, the passing of the sign ordinance (minus two sections for further study and discussion), and the final passage of the amended recreational fire ordinance.

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Friday, February 05, 2010

Citizens Forum

Tomorrow (Saturday, Feb. 6th) is the monthly Citizens Forum in the Maplewood Room at City Hall from 10:00 AM to Noon. I will be hosting the event, and the featured department or theme is Community/Economic Development. City Manager Antonen will be on hand, as well as Dewey Konewko, the city's Director of Community and Parks Development. Everyone is welcome to attend, so please stop in for a cup of coffee, say hello, and share your thoughts on city-related matters!


Monday, February 01, 2010

Tuesday Caucuses

Tomorrow, February 2nd, is precinct caucus day for the major political parties in Minnesota. Caucuses are a great way to meet your neighbors and get involved in politics at the grassroots level.

You can get a primer about precinct caucuses on the League of Women Voters website, or the FAQ on the Minnesota Secretary of State's site. The Secretary of State also offers a caucus finder.

If you live in Maplewood, these are the caucus locations tomorrow night, depending on your political party of choice:

Constitution Party:
The Miracle Centre Church
125 21st Avenue S
South Saint Paul MN

Democratic-Farmer-Labor Party:
North High School
2520 E. 12th Avenue
North St Paul MN 55109

Green Party:
White Bear Lake City Hall, upstairs meeting room
4701 Highway 61
White Bear Lake MN 55110

Independence Party:
Mahtomedi District Center
1520 Mahtomedi Ave.
Mahtomedi MN 55115

In addition to the "in person" caucuses, the Independence Party is holding an online caucus (see their website for more information).

Republican Party:
For House District 55A (Maplewood Precincts 1-11):
John Glenn Middle School
1560 County Road B E
Maplewood MN 55109-3609

For House District 55B (Maplewood Precincts 12-16):
Tartan High School
828 Greenway Ave. N
Oakdale MN 55128

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