John Nephew

Maplewood City Council Policy & Politics


Saturday, October 30, 2010

Judicial Candidates

The Minnesota Independent has an article worth reading on the topic of judicial races.  A pattern I've noticed in the past seems to hold true: With the exception of open seats, where there is no incumbent, the challengers in judicial races are usually fringe ideologues.  This year is no exception, with a number of candidates (many of which have run before) who want to politicize the judiciary, make the Constitution subordinate to their personal or sectarian interpretation of the Bible, etc.

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Thursday, October 28, 2010

The Recycling Puzzle

We've heard from a lot of folks who oppose organized collection in Maplewood.

I should say, organized trash collection.  Maplewood long had organized collection of recyclables.  Each household currently pays $6.35 per quarter (it's on your water utility bill) for curbside recycling pickup.  Our current recycling contract expires at the end of 2010, so this would be a perfect time to abandon organized recycling collection and switch to an open recycling pickup system.  Just like trash, we could require by ordinance that every household contract with a recycling hauler, and it would be up to the individuals to hire the hauler of their choice at the best price they can find.  But no one has proposed doing this, as far as I'm aware.

Here are some example statements against organized trash collection, cut and pasted from e-mails I've received:
"This is not only anti-free market it also creates a monopoly."

"If there is only one hauler, and I'm not satisfied wth their service or their charges increase, I am stuck with NO choice."

"Let's let everyone have a choice in this. If the streets are used by a few more trucks, that's okay too - I'll pay more in taxes for the roads rather than give up my choice in trash hauling."

"My costs have dropped due to competition and my vendor(Tennis Sanitation) has done an excellent job."

"First let me tell all of you that I am very able to still decide on whom to hire,and the monthly cost.When hasw government been able to cut the cost of any thing NEVER please do just the simple job the people voted you to do,and let the people hire who they want and the monthly cost of that service."


"It takes away our right to chose and it also is running small bussiness out of bussiness."
Every one of these statements could be made in opposition to organized recycling as well.  It's just a different bin with a different kind of trash in it, right?

Tennis Sanitation spoke at the October 4th hearing in opposition to "government managed" trash hauling, but why didn't they tell us that we should abandon organized recycling collection as we considered their bid for that "government managed" contract at the meeting a week before?

Everyone in Maplewood has direct experience with organized recycling collection.  If organized hauling is terrible, you'd think it would be a slam-dunk to illustrate all the arguments against it with examples from the recycling system that everyone is personally familiar with.

So why isn't that happening?


Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Environmental Assistance Grant

Earlier this year, Maplewood updated its stormwater ordinance.  One change was to ban the use of coal tar sealants.

An item on this week's consent agenda (item G14), which passed without any fanfare, was to authorize city staff to submit an Environmental Assistance Grant application.  Because we adopted the coal tar ban in our ordinance, we are eligible to apply for a grant of up to $100,000 to help manage stormwater sediments contaminated with polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs).  The total funding for these grants is limited, and I don't know how many cities have taken the steps to be eligible or how much competition there will be for the available dollars.  Also, I should note that we are not certain that we will apply for the grant this year; it depends on the results of tests being done on Wicklander's Pond in the city hall campus, and whether those results indicate high PAH levels in its sediment.

We're sure to see more on the topic of stormwater pond dredging and management in the coming years.  We've made massive investments in stormwater management in recent years, responding to federal and state clean water mandates.  Just as roads start to need reinvestment in repairs and rebuilding when they reach a certain age, so too will we begin to face expenses related to the aging of our stormwater management infrastructure.

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Friday, October 22, 2010

Star Tribune endorses Choi, Bostrom

I was pleased to hear that the Star Tribune chose to endorse two local candidates whom I enthusiastically support: Matt Bostrom for Ramsey County Sheriff and John Choi for Ramsey County Attorney.  The endorsing editorial is well worth reading, since it does a good job of describing the strengths of these two fine candidates and why they are the best choices in their races.  Check it out if you haven't already.

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Thursday, October 21, 2010

LMC Webinar: Q&A with Dayton

Last week I linked to the League of Minnesota Cities online Q&A with Independence Party gubernatorial candidate Tom Horner.  As I mentioned at the time, DFL candidate Mark Dayton had indicated that he would participate in that format as well, and that event is now available online as well.

On a related note, the LMC has similar webinars scheduled with the candidates for State Auditor, DFL incumbent Rebecca Otto and Republican nominee Pat Anderson.

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Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Pioneer Press Endorsements for Maplewood Legislators

The Pioneer Press has announced its endorsements for Senate District 55, House District 55A and House District 55B, the districts that cover the city of Maplewood.  Congratulations to endorsees Chuck Wiger, Leon Lillie, and Nora Slawik.  I am proud to support all three of them as well.

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Thursday, October 14, 2010

Trash Talk in the Review

This week's Maplewood Review is online, and includes an article by Cory Streeter, the new reporter on the Maplewood beat, about last week's special meeting about organized collection.

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Tuesday, October 12, 2010

LMC Webinar: Q&A with Horner

The League of Minnesota Cities is doing something interesting this election season: hosting online Q&As with gubernatorial candidates, to give city officials a chance to ask them city-related questions.  This seems like a good idea, not only to have a chance to learn where the candidates stand on issues of concern to cities in Minnesota, but to let the candidates know what issues concern us local elected officials when it comes to our relationship with the state government.

A recording of the first one, with Independence Party candidate Tom Horner, is online now.  (I should note, I had trouble trying to listen to it with Firefox on a PC -- it would jump ahead at random times -- but it works fine with Internet Explorer and Windows Media Player.  I haven't tried getting at it with Mac or Linux yet, but those platforms may have similar issues.)

Democratic candidate Mark Dayton has agreed to participate as well, but no date has been set, while Republican Tom Emmer's campaign has unfortunately declined to participate.

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Friday, October 08, 2010

Upcoming Debates

I saw a couple of fliers at City Hall this week about upcoming debates sponsored by the Roseville-Maplewood-Falcon Heights League of Women Voters.

District 622 School Board Debate: School Board Room, District Education Center, 2520 12th Ave E, North St Paul, at 7 PM on Tuesday, October 12th

Senate District 55 and House Districts 55A and 55B: Maplewood City Council Chambers, City Hall, 1830 County Road B East, at 6:30 PM on October 28th

The fliers state that both forums will be broadcast on cable, in case you are unable to attend in person.

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Wednesday, October 06, 2010

ISD 622 Candidate Profiles

If you live in the North St. Paul-Maplewood-Oakdale school district (which is most of Maplewood, though not the part where I live; we're in the Roseville district over here), you may be interested in the today's Pioneer Press.  It includes the profiles of the candidates running for the three school board seats on the ballot for District 622 this fall.

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Monday, October 04, 2010

FAQ Viewing Alternative

A couple of folks have told me they had problems with the inline document of the "John's Trash FAQ" that I posted last week.  If it gives you troubles, you may find it easier to go to the Google Docs page where it's hosted (here's the direct link).  That page also allows you to download the file to your desktop if you wish.


Slippery Slopes

Some people are dead-set against any organized collection in any scenario. Even if it costs more, they feel that the ability to choose and the preservation of what they see as a free market is worth it. Often, these same comments are followed by a “what next?” and some speculation about the iceberg of government interference in private lives that organized trash collection is only the tip of.

Well, that slippery slope can slide the other way too. If we can't even consider organized hauling -- which 72% of the cities in the United States have, and you can't blame on Obama or anything else recent when cities like Minneapolis have had organized collection since 1902, making it hard to argue that it's somehow "un-American" -- then I suppose the next step after squelching any of that talk would be to roll back other things that are handled by government on a local/regional basis, like sanitary sewer.

Wouldn't a truly free market approach be to remove the government sewers, or brick them up, and leave people to contract with private vendors to install any of the various individual sewage treatment systems that are available through many different suppliers, servicing companies, and technologies?

That would be a big mess, though, in more ways than one! To me, the savings of having a central sewage treatment plant and all the benefits of a publicly owned sanitary sewer system far outweigh any choice I gave up when I decided to live in a city with sewer, rather than the outer suburbs or rural areas where I could choose (and pay more for) my own method for disposal of such waste. I just can't see that trash hauling is that much different in principle -- if it makes economic sense, and saves the average resident money and time, I'm willing to consider it. Just as I'll sign a long-term contract for a service if the discount is good enough, I'm willing to give up the ability to choose my own trash hauler if it saves enough money and the service is the same.

I think a basic purpose of local government is to represent us as a group of citizens on the local level in precisely the things like water, sewer, waste removal, and roads that make the existence of a city as we know it possible.  If other means of attaining the goal work better, that's great; I have no love of government involvement for its own sake.  (In some areas, it does make more economic sense to have individual sewage treatment rather than sanitary sewer infrastructure.)  But I won't accept that the whole discussion is off-limits for ideological reasons.


Saturday, October 02, 2010

Today's Tom Sawyer

A letter to the editor that I wrote appears in this past week's Maplewood Review, on the topic of Monday's special meeting.

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Friday, October 01, 2010

What About Snowbirds?

I received an e-mail with a question that I've also gotten from a couple of other folks:

I have read your FAQ sheet and have a question.

We are snowbirds and are away from our home in Maplewood for 4 1/2 months. We leave end of November and return home 1st part of April. Under our current plan we can suspend our trash service and are not billed.

If this plan goes through would we be billed for the period of time we are out of the state?? I could not find any reference to this issue. I am sure we are not the only snowbirds in Maplewood.

I haven't asked how other cities do it, but it seems to me you should be able to suspend service when you're out of town (or in similar situations, if say a house is unoccupied while up for sale or rent), without being billed. A plan should be able to include that in the service terms spelled out in a request for proposals.


Can the Little Guys Compete?

Responding to my FAQ, a resident writes:
Your references were all accurate, but I have to challenge an inference made that the small companies who are not members of the NSWMA do not agree with that organization's stance. I verified with Tennis that they had indeed sent a message to all their customers stating their concerns before being contacted by NSWMA, at which point they agreed to work together.

The resident is referring to this card:

She is absolutely correct that a hauler may agree with NSWMA while not being member.  Conversely, being a member does not mean that a hauler agree with all the positions that its trade association takes.

But it may be worth pointing out that on Monday, when the topic was his low bid on the Maplewood recycling contract, Mr. Tennis gave us a different account of his ability to compete with the big haulers -- he told us about the competitive advantages he has as a small, local, family-owned business with a lean operation and low overhead:

I hope residents are at least as skeptical of statements and intentions of their trash haulers as they are of their city council.


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