John Nephew

Maplewood City Council Policy & Politics


Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Candidate Filings

After a long two-week filing period with no one but the two incumbents (that would be Marv Koppen and me), several challengers went to city hall to file for office before today's 5 PM deadline.

You can see the list of candidates on the city website.  As I write this, there's about 15 minutes before filing closes, so more names may join the six currently there.  Since there are more than four candidates, there will be an August primary (unless two or more candidates withdraw within the next two days, which I'd bet is unlikely).


Saturday, May 28, 2011

Llanas Council Presentation on Bullying

At this past Monday's council meeting, my colleague, Councilmember Jim Llanas, shared a presentation on the topic of bullying.  He began by reading an e-mail he had received from one of our young constituents, a high school junior, discussing his experience in a local school.  While Jim's starting point was the experience of kids in our schools, he reflected too on the example set by adults in our community, and particularly in the context of city government.  The video, which I've uploaded to YouTube, is well worth watching:


Friday, May 27, 2011

Spotlight on Council Goals

Mayor Rossbach and I hosted the quarterly Citizens Forum at the start of May. City Manager Antonen used the occasion to record this month's episode of Spotlight on Maplewood, interviewing us on the topic of city council goals set at our annual retreat back in February. Spotlight plays on the government access cable TV channel, but it's also available now as streaming video from Vimeo:

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Thursday, May 26, 2011

Return of the Carp Study

Last year I wrote about a workshop presentation we received from the Ramsey-Washington Metro Watershed District, which included mention of their carp study in the Phalen chain of lakes. GTN TV (the government programming channel of the local cable commission) has produced a neat short documentary about the winter harvest in this ongoing study. And these days GTN has been uploading their original programs to Vimeo, so even if you don't have cable or know broadcast times, you can watch it on the internet:

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Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Stealing from Sick Children

The Maplewood Police Department issued this press release today:

On May 15, 2011 Maplewood Police responded to a theft at Super America, 1750 White Bear Avenue. Taken in the theft was an approximately 12” tall plastic donation jar containing donations for the Children’s Miracle Network. The purpose of the donation jar was clearly displayed on it.

The theft, which was captured on store surveillance video, showed the suspect to be a 5’10” to 6’ white male with short hair and a mustache. At the time of the theft the suspect was wearing a black baseball cap, dark jacket and pants (probably blue jeans). Two clips from the surveillance video are attached.

The exact amount of money in the jar is unknown, but the jar appeared to be nearly full. It is presumed the value of loss does not exceed an amount which would move the crime beyond the misdemeanor level, and considering simple theft is not exactly rare, normally such a crime would not be distributed to media representatives. However, the video is pretty good and may lead to a citizen to identifying the suspect. An added factor is that while theft reports aren’t uncommon, it seems to take a pretty pathetic individual to steal a Children’s Miracle Network donation jar, and that just did not set well at all with the officer who responded to the business.

Citizens with information about the theft are asked to, during office hours, contact Maplewood Police at 651-249-2600 and outside office hours through the Ramsey County Emergency Communications Center at 651-767-0640.

Media inquires may be directed to me at 651-249-2603 or via e-mail at

Dave Kvam, Deputy Chief
Maplewood Police Department

Here are the surveillance videos:

If you can identify this charity-robbing loser, please do let the police know.

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Tuesday, May 24, 2011

My Growing Collection of Trash Bills

About a month ago, I put out a call for examples of peoples' trash bills.  Many thanks to the dozens of folks who have responded so far.

As of this moment, I have scanned/redacted most but not all of the bills I've received, blacking out names and personally identifiable information.  As I get them done, I'm loading them onto a publicly-readable directory on my web server as individual image files.  You can go there and take a look at all the individual bills.  When I have multiple bills from the same household, I have added letters to distinguish them (e.g., "41a" and "41b" are bills for the same customer in two different time periods).  The multiple bills let us see changes in pricing over time, or special services (e.g., one bill may include a once-yearly charge for yard waste).

I intend to do some summarizing and analysis, but I figured there's no harm in sharing the raw information as I collect it in the meantime.  Do note that in some cases there are special circumstances -- for example, Invoice #6 is a resident who is part of a self-organized neighborhood, who bargained for a lower price with a single hauler to serve all the households in their area -- which may not be apparent.  In other cases a rate may reflect an introductory price for a new customer.  I've gotten a couple of example bills from townhome associations.

I'm still looking for more bills, especially since I have not yet gotten examples from every licensed hauler that works in our city.  So if you're willing to help, please do send me a photo or scan of a recent bill if you haven't already.  Thanks!


Thursday, May 19, 2011

Campaign Contributions

After the 2007 election, as the focus of my blog changed from campaigning to governing, we removed the "donate" button.  It will be reappearing in the near future, as we'll need to reorient this website to campaign mode again, now that I'm a candidate once more.

In the meantime, here's a direct link to the contribution form.  It includes the information I need to gather from donors, and allows you to contribute through PayPal with your credit card.

If you prefer to contribute by check, there's also a handy PDF contribution form that you can print and use.


Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Filing for Re-election

This morning I went down to City Hall with my inner circle of campaign advisors (pictured with me below, as I sign my Affadavit of Candidacy) and paid my five dollars to file as a candidate for re-election to the Maplewood City Council.

I thought long and hard about whether to run. I've really enjoyed serving on the city council, and I'm proud of my accomplishments and of working with some great council colleagues and city staff to get Maplewood back on course. Still, it's daunting to add "re-election campaign" to my to-do list, along with actually serving as a councilmember, running my business, and trying to keep up with two very energetic toddlers.

My decision was made easier by the many people who contacted me by phone, letter, and e-mail, and encouraged me to run again. You've persuaded me that I'm up to the challenge of running a winning campaign -- especially because I'll have your support and help to do it. Thank you.

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Monday, May 16, 2011

Star Tribune on Police Department Space

This past weekend's Star Tribune included an article about the study now underway to look at space needed for our police department and how to address the current overcrowded facilities.

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Saturday, May 14, 2011

Planning Phase in the Review

This past week's Maplewood Review includes an article about the planning phase now underway for organized collection/trash system study process.

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Friday, May 13, 2011

The New Metro Waste Plan

Last month the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency commissioner signed the new Metropolitan Solid Waste Management Policy Plan 2010-2030.  I haven't made time to read it all yet, but I wanted to highlight this section of the web page containing the documents:

Within the last 10 years, municipal solid waste generation in the twin cities metropolitan area grew by 8 percent and recycling has not increased enough to keep up with generation. In addition, the use of resource recovery capacity declined by 15 percent while land disposal increased by 15 percent. Further, many materials that are discarded as waste contain toxic components that threaten public health and the environment. If the region is to move beyond these trends, fundamental change is necessary.

Our City Council has identified economics as the top goal in studying organized collection and examining Maplewood's current waste hauling system.  The economics are intertwined with these environmental concerns -- an inability to reduce the volume of trash that we generate means that we will continue to shift costs on our children and grandchildren, whose inheritance will include managing the landfills that we dump in today, just as we continue to spend hundreds of millions of taxpayer dollars dealing with the dumps of the past.

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Thursday, May 12, 2011

Human Rights Commission Essay/Art Contest

The Maplewood Human Rights Commission is holding an art/essay contest for elementary, middle school, and high school students in Maplewood, Oakdale, and North St. Paul.  You can find details on the Maplewood website.


One Lawn at a Time

I'm not usually one to link to a story in the Home & Garden section, but here's one to check out in the Star Tribune, talking about rethinking urban lawns and starting with the example of Maplewood's "Extreme Green Makeover" winners and their redesigned, ecologically friendly landscape.

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Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Smaller Containers

At the quarterly Citizens Forum this past weekend, one audience member voiced her frustration that even her current 30 gallon rubbish bin is much larger than she needs, as a senior citizen who generates little waste and recycles as much as she can. 

Few residents may realize it, but the current Maplewood garbage hauler licensing ordinance requires (Ordinance 771, Chapter 16, Article II, Sec. 16-33) that "each hauler shall provide services for amounts less than thirty (30) gallons at a price below what it charges for collection and disposal services for thirty-gallon volumes."

Of course, as I found in looking at trash rate reporting, just because it's the law doesn't mean it's the practice.  Three of Maplewood's haulers report with their rates that a less-than-30-gallon option is "Not Available," four say to "Call in" if you want to know what it costs, and a single hauler reports a price of $4.50 per month (though we can't tell what volume that is).

But anyone who finds that 30 gallons is simply more throwing-away-capacity than they need should certainly call up their hauler, cite the city law that requires a smaller service option, and ask for rates and details.


Tuesday, May 10, 2011

2011 Bond Rating

At last night's council meeting, we approved the sale of bonds for various 2011 construction projects. Last year our bond rating was upgraded, and I was pleased to see that we maintained that high rating this year.  (Last year Standard & Poor's rated us "AA+," and this year it's Moody's rating us with their equivalent rank, "Aa1".)  Only one rung of the credit quality ladder is higher.

The bond sale had a combined true interest rate of 3.1805%.  In comparison, last year we issued "Build America Bonds" (something made possible by the stimulus bill), which after rebate were comparable to an interest rate of 3.0222%.  In 2009, our bonds were at approximately 3.4%.

It's worth noting that the 2011 bonding has a longer duration of 20 years versus our usual 15 years.  This is related to the 20-year assessment schedule for the Shores project in Gladstone.  As is usually the case, a lot of our bonding is tied to specific obligations of individual property owners through special assessments; as those assessments are paid over time, those payments rather than taxes from the city at large will be used to repay the bonds.

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Monday, May 09, 2011

Is This Happening in Other Cities?

As I discussed in my council presentation on April 25th, some Maplewood residents are paying higher rates than the haulers report to the City of Maplewood. Many other cities with open hauling systems have licensing ordinances that, like ours, require haulers to report their current rates to the city. One can't help but wonder if residents of those cities, too, are being charged more than the reported rates.

While I'm of course focusing on Maplewood, I have had a few conversations with residents of other cities, and have found that we're not alone. I did a little research, and here's what I've found out about the situation other cities that are at least in part in Ramsey County. The Ramsey County cities not listed - Blaine, Little Canada, North St. Paul, Vadnais Heights, White Bear Lake, White Bear Township - all have organized collection.

Arden Hills

Arden Hills ordinance requires that haulers report their rates to the city as part of their licensing process.  Arden Hills City Code, Chapter 6, Section 660.06, Subd. 1 states, "All occupied properties shall arrange for the collection of garbage, refuse, or other mixed waste thereof with a licensed refuse collector and shall pay the collector an amount not to exceed the collector's scheduled rates, as approved by the Council."  However, they do not make a list of the reported rates available on their web page.  Arden Hills has either four or five licensed haulers (they say four, but their web page lists five).

Falcon Heights

The Falcon Heights City Code, Chapter 14, Article VIII, Sec. 14-277, states, "All refuse haulers shall: ... File with the city clerk a schedule of proposed rates to be charged during the licensing period. Every licensee shall provide 14 days' written notification to the city and the licensee's customers of any change in rates to be implemented during the licensing period."

I have not found a copy of the rates on their website; it may be that a resident would have to submit a data practices request to obtain the rates reported to the city by the eight licensed haulers.

Gem Lake

As far as I can tell, Gem Lake does not require licensed haulers to report their rates.  I was also unable to locate any list of their licensed haulers on the Gem Lake website.


Four haulers are licensed for residential service in Lauderdale.  Their Garbage and Refuse Ordinance specifies (Title IV, Chapter 2, Section 4-2-11) that the haulers' annual license application include the "proposed charges for the hauling" and a "description of the kind of services to be rendered."  It does not appear that they compile the reported rates in one place for residents to see.

Mounds View

Chapter 603 of the Mounds View city code governs garbage hauling.  It includes (603.06, Subd. 1 (e)): "When the [trash hauler license] application is submitted, the applicant shall file with the Clerk-Administrator a schedule of proposed rates to be charged during the licensed period.  Every licensee shall provide thirty (30) days' prior written notification to the City and the licensee's customers of any change in rates to be implemented during the licensed period."

Five haulers are listed as licensed for residential pickup in Mounds View.  I can't find any list of the rates submitted by the licensees.

New Brighton

According to the New Brighton City Code (Chapter 11, Article II, Section Sec. 11-34), garbage hauler license applicants "shall specify on the application a schedule of proposed rates to be charged during the license period. In the case of service to residences, a minimum of three rate levels for regular service shall be provided. These rates will be based on volume. The licensee shall provide fourteen calendar days prior written notification to the City and to the licensee's customers of any rate changes to be made during the license period." The New Brighton web page lists four haulers licensed for residential service in their city, but I could not find any list of reported rates.

North Oaks

I was unable to locate a trash licensing ordinance or code section on the North Oaks website.  Apparently they have open hauling of trash, but organized recycling collection..  North Oaks is an unusual community because it is covered both by a city government and by a city-wide homeowners' association, and none of its streets are public.


The Roseville City Code (Chapter 402, section 402.04(E)) requires that "Before a solid waste hauler license shall be issued, the applicant shall file a schedule of rates to be charged during the licensing period for which the application is made. Every licensee shall provide written notification to the City and the licensee's customers at least 60 days in advance of any change in rates to be implemented during the license period. (Ord. 1097, 8-12-91)

You can see the rates reported to the city of Roseville on their website.  I've obtained the bill of a friend in Roseville who uses one of their local haulers, and see that his family is being charged a 31% higher base rate than what is reported to the city (plus a fuel surcharge).  The same hauler is licensed to serve Maplewood, though I have not yet obtained an example of their Maplewood invoices.

Saint Anthony

City Code § 111.216 (D) states, "When the application is submitted, the applicant must file with the City Manager a schedule of proposed rates to be charged during the licensed period. Every licensee must provide 14-days’ prior written notification to the city and the licensee’s customers of any change in rates to be implemented during the licensed period."  I can find no list of current rates on the city website, but there appear to be effectively just three licensed residential haulers, and a fourth that only does construction dumpsters.

Saint Paul

Chapter 357 of the Saint Paul City Code regulates solid waste.  According to 357.05(c),

Each licensee shall submit to the inspector a schedule of advertised charges in connection with his operation or service at the time of the application for license.


Charges shall not be changed except by submitting a revised schedule of charges to the inspector no more than ten (10) days after the effective date of the changes. The inspector shall report the revised charges to the department of public works within thirty (30) days of the effective date of the changes. Any licensee who shall charge or change his charges contrary to the above procedure shall be required to appear before the city council for consideration of revocation of his license.

The Saint Paul website lists seventeen licensed haulers. I have not been able to find a list of their licensed haulers' reported rates.  I'd be curious to know if anyone has been hauled in front of their council due to unreported changes in charges.


Section 703 of the Shoreview City Code covers waste haulers. Licensed haulers are required to report rates to the city as part of a license application (per 703.030 [E] and [G]), and as an ongoing condition of licensing (703.090 [C]) "shall notify the City of changes in service rate structures thirty (30) days prior to the institution of such change and shall notify customers at least twenty (20) days prior to the institution of such change." The Shoreview website has a list of licensed haulers (four of whom serve regular residential customers), but I haven't located any list of reported rates.

Spring Lake Park

Looking at Title V, Chapter 51 of the Spring Lake Park Code, which concerns solid waste and hauler licensing, does not appear to include any rate reporting requirement.


The vast majority of open hauling cities in Ramsey County do require licensed haulers to report their residential hauling rates to the city.  However, as far as I can tell, only two cities -- Maplewood and Roseville -- make a list of those reported rates available on their websites for their residents to access easily.  In the case of both of those cities, I've found residents paying substantially higher rates than what's posted on the city websites.


Sunday, May 08, 2011

A Tree-Mendous Owl

Yesterday afternoon there was a fun family event at the Maplewood Nature Center: the "Tree-Mendous Celebration," with demonstrations and exhibits on topics such as tree planting and pruning, crafts for kids, the Emerald Ash Borer, musicians, and rides in a tree-trimming bucket.  I especially liked the raptors -- here's a picture of the Barred Owl being shown to the crowd.  I think I heard one of these outside our window on a recent evening.

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Saturday, May 07, 2011

Yesterday's First Working Group Meeting

The first meeting of the trash working group yesterday finished early. We discussed the general process moving forward, and then heard some detailed information about hauler hardware, in particular automated pickup and the question of truck axle weights.

The consensus of the working group was that we did not wish to see an organized collection plan mandate specific equipment. Automated machinery can be more efficient (and sharply reduce workman's comp expenses), but haulers should be able to price that into their proposals as they see fit, whether they have fully automated pickup or not, as best suits their individual business plans. Automated pickup may be able to accomplish things such as weight-based pricing (by actually tracking the weight of trash as its picked up from each house). The technology exists, but that does not appear to be commercially feasible or generally available at the present time, so it's not something that could be a realistic requirement in the RFP being developed.

On the question of axle weights, we generally agreed that this was also an area where we did not want to be overly specific, except to say that trucks would be expected to comply with applicable weight limits that already exist in the law.

Something I was especially pleased to learn was that the process envisions not only development of a general plan of organization, but actually having hauler proposals in hand before the City Council makes the final decision on whether or not to organize.  This will make it possible to compare a very specific proposed arrangement, including prices for residents for various service levels, with the current arrangement.


Friday, May 06, 2011

Trash Working Group Meets Today

The first meeting of the trash hauling working group will be at City Hall today, from 1 PM to 3 PM.  City staff has told us that the meeting will be broadcast on the city's cable channel and also streamed on the internet.

Here's the link for whatever is streaming live; if it's nothing at the moment, you'll just get a "not found" error.

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Christeen Stone on MN 2020

One of Maplewood's most politically active residents is Christeen Stone. She is featured in two recent online videos produced by the group Minnesota 2020, discussing senior citizen health issues and the current legislative session.  You can view both videos on YouTube:


Thursday, May 05, 2011

This Week's Review Roundup

This week's Maplewood Review includes a couple of city-related articles I'd like to call attention to.

"Maplewood's insurance deductible drops to norm" covers the recent LMCIT decision to restore normal coverage terms to Maplewood, something I'd say is an important sign of the progress we've made as a city during my time in office.

"Bergeron memorial dedicated in Maplewood" describes last Sunday's dedication of the Fallen Officer Memorial, and includes some very nice photographs by the Review's staff photographer, Linda Baumeister.

Lastly, though it's from an earlier issue, I wanted to call attention to the announcement of an essay contest from the Maplewood Human Rights Commission. Share the word with any elementary, middle school, and high school students you know!

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Wednesday, May 04, 2011

Citizens' Forum on Saturday

This coming Saturday, May 7th, I will be co-hosting the quarterly Citizens' Forum with Mayor Rossbach.  This time it's being held at Ecumen Lakeview Commons (1200 Lakewood Drive North, at the corner of Lakewood and Maryland), starting at 10 AM. It usually runs until about noon.  The topic this time is the city council's goals, set at our February retreat, but as usual I expect there will also be some open Q&A on whatever topics are of interest to the attendees.

More information can be found on the city website.


Tuesday, May 03, 2011

House Republican Redistricting Plan and Maplewood

If you're a political junkie, you're probably aware that the House Republican majority has issued their proposal for legislative redistricting.

Their map is pretty ugly for Maplewood.  Right now, our city has two representatives (Lillie in House District 55A, Slawik in House District 55B) and one Senator (Wiger for Senate District 55).  The Republican proposal would carve up Maplewood across three senate districts (41, 42 and 67) and four house districts (41B, 42A, 67A, and 67B) with little respect for our existing precinct boundaries.

For example, I see that my precinct (Maplewood Precinct 3) would be split between House Districts 41B and 42A. I would have both a different representative and a different senator than our neighbors across the street.  We would also have to redraw our Maplewood precinct boundaries, including a precinct that would have to have a long and ungainly finger extended between County Road B and Highway 36, one or two city blocks wide, to include the portions of current Precincts 2 and 3 that are carved away to the new District 42A.  Those residents would have to drive somewhere east of Highway 61 to vote.

(I'm guessing that state law would require our precincts to line up within legislative districts.  Otherwise these precincts would need to have two sets of ballots printed, and election judges would have to carefully check that each voter is given the correct ballot based on the location of their house.  Needless to say, this increases delays at the polls, the chances of errors, and the cost to our city for running elections.  I think it does happen in some cases where a single precinct includes two school districts, however.)

As best as I can tell, these are the people who would represent Maplewood under this map:

House District 41B: Rep. Mindy Greiling (DFL-Roseville, what is now District 54A) would find herself in a district that includes Maplewood Precinct 1, and most of Precincts 2 and 3.

House District 42A: Rep. Bev Scalze (DFL-Little Canada) would find herself in a district that includes Maplewood Precincts 4 through 10, and slivers of Precincts 2 and 3.

House District 67A: East side Rep. Tim Mahoney (DFL-Saint Paul) would have Precincts 11, 12, and a portion of Precinct 13 added to his district.

House District 67B: Current Reps. Nora Slawik (DFL-Maplewood) and Sheldon Johnson (DFL-St Paul) would live in the same redrawn district, which would include part of Precinct 13 plus all of 14, 15, and 16.

Senate District 41: Sen. John Marty's (DFL-Roseville) redrawn boundaries would include Maplewood Precinct 1 and most of Precincts 2 and 3.

Senate District 42: Sen. Chuck Wiger's (DFL-Maplewood) home is in this district, and he currently represents our entire city.  He would lose his current constituents in southern and western Maplewood, and gain Little Canada and Vadnais Heights.  His Maplewood precincts would be all of 4-10, plus slices of 2 and 3.

Senate District 67: Sen. John Harrington (DFL-Saint Paul) represents the current District 67, which would shift to include all of Maplewood Precincts 11-16 in the South Leg.  But the district is also gerrymandered to include the city of Newport, which is home to fellow Sen. Katie Sieben (DFL-Newport) of current District 57.

What's ironic is that redistricting is in theory supposed to try and line up with municipal boundaries when possible, and the City of Maplewood has a population awfully close to the ideal population for a single house district.  It's hard not to see partisan motives in this carving up of our city (and it seems like the conventional wisdom is that the whole state map offered by House Republicans is pretty much veto bait), especially in the South Leg districts where the lines are redrawn to pit urban and suburban DFL incumbents against each other.

Where Your Garbage Goes

Ramsey County Public Health has a PDF of PowerPoint slides on the topic of "Where does your garbage go?"  It includes explanations of some terms that are used in discussions of trash issues.


Monday, May 02, 2011

"Maplewood Ghost Town" - Tomorrow at the Library

C.P. of the Maplewood Area Historical Society passed along word of a presentation at the Maplewood Library tomorrow evening:

Did you know Maplewood once had a thriving industrial centre, with 2 railroads and a depot? Tuesday, May 3, at 7:00 PM , at Maplewood Library, a History Speaks program by Pete Boulay, our local historian, and author of his book titled The Lost City of Gladstone, will address the rise and fall of this industrial centre. Ramsey County Libraries and Maplewood Area Historical Society are sponsoring this event.

For more information on this and similar events, visit the Maplewood Area Historical society web page.


False Rate Reporting's Impact on Rate Comparisons

My investigation of trash bills and discovery that some residents are being charged a lot more than the rates reported to this city suggests to me that we need to, at a minimum, make some changes to the city's existing ordinance and how it is enforced.

It also means something relevant to our study of organized collection.  Remember all those rate comparisons I was doing, with the graphs comparing Maplewood rates with those of various Metro cities with organized hauling?  The numbers I used for Maplewood were the base rates reported by the haulers -- rates that are in question, now that I have compared them to some actual bills paid by Maplewood residents.  And that's not even considering the tacked-on "environmental" fees and fuel surcharges (which, as far as I have found so far, don't get added to bills in organized cities).

I remember one gentleman who testified on March 28th said that a couple of bucks a month is trivial and not worth giving up personal choice of hauler.  But now we're looking at residents paying hundreds of dollars more per year -- compared to what their hauler tells the city is their rate.  And what they'd pay in an organized collection city today is even lower.


Sunday, May 01, 2011

Fallen Officer Memorial Unveiled

At 1 PM this afternoon, a ceremony was held at City Hall to unveil the Maplewood Police Memorial on the first anniversary of the murder of Sgt. Joe Bergeron. Here are a couple of snapshots I took.  (Click on an image to see it larger.)

The beautiful, somber memorial was funded with donations -- including donated materials and labor, contributions of unused vacation time by city employees, and many contributions from businesses and individuals in our community (for example, at last weekend's very successful fundraiser).

To paraphrase Chief Thomalla's remarks, we can hope that it is forever known as the Bergeron Memorial, that its polished granite need never be adorned by another fallen officer's bronze image.

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