John Nephew

Maplewood City Council Policy & Politics


Thursday, July 28, 2011

League of Women Voters Questionnaire

The League of Women Voters invited city council candidates to fill out a questionnaire to help voters in this year's election. Two of the five candidates responded, and the answers can now be seen on the website.

Here's how to get there: Select Minnesota from the pull-down menu under "On Your Ballot", and press the "Go" button. Then, under "Build My Ballot," fill in your address, and click the "Go" button. Press "Confirm" on the next screen. This takes you to a screen that lists the five candidates. You can click on individual candidates, or compare two side by side.

Or, if you like, you can just read the questions and my answers below:

Why are you seeking this office?
In my four years on the City Council, I believe I've made a real difference in restoring good government, fiscal responsibility and a positive reputation for the City of Maplewood. We've recruited a professional city manager, halted the growth in the city's debt, improved our bond rating, maintained city services in spite of the loss of promised funds from the state, restored normal insurance coverage, and won awards for our collaboration with other local governments.

To be honest, it's not a very fun time to be a local elected official. Budgets are tight, many of our residents and businesses are facing economic hardship, and decisions are often tough choices among unpleasant alternatives. I believe my knowledge and talents, and my willingness to work hard to understand the issues, will help Maplewood navigate the rough seas ahead. I want to make sure that the Maplewood my daughters grow up in is the beautiful, thriving, safe community that attracted us to live here.

What are your ideas to increase city revenues and/or decrease city expenses?
I think the most promising path to both is through partnerships with other local governments. Maplewood's joint recreation programming agreement with North Saint Paul is a good example; it's preserving and enhancing recreation options for residents of both cities, and saving us both money. We recently signed an agreement with Roseville to allow each of our Information Technology departments to do work for the other city as needed, allowing us both to maximize the efficient use of our existing resources. I worked on the Cable Commission's New Technology Committee to bring streaming video to member cities. Now all of Maplewood's city meetings are available on the internet, at a lower cost than we would pay doing it alone.

Agreements like these require trust and confidence. Like any business or individual, a local government would rather work with a respected and stable entity, not one that is constantly in the headlines for “dysfunction,” internal conflict, and needless litigation.

What are you views on organized trash collection in Maplewood?
I have been closely involved in Maplewood's study of trash collection. While many people assume that organizing hauling means higher costs, I've discovered the opposite is generally true. Potential benefits of organized trash collection include savings to residents, reducing air and noise pollution, and reducing the wear on city streets, while ensuring equal or superior service options. These benefits must be weighed against the value of choice for households. Some residents have told me that there is no limit to how much more they will pay in order to preserve their choice. For most of us, I think there's a tipping point where savings are worth more than the value of being able to change haulers at will.

As a member of the Trash Hauling Working Group, I helped develop the Request for Proposals, inviting haulers to propose plans to serve Maplewood residents under a contractual arrangement. This will give us specific alternatives to compare to the current system.

What are your views on the upkeep and ways to pay for water and sewer infrastructure?
Maplewood recently completed a study of our water system. Most of our city's households are served by Saint Paul Regional Water Services, which has a capital plan based on their entire system, which includes for example 100+-year-old water mains in Saint Paul. SPRWS doesn't always want to replace mains when Maplewood is reconstructing streets, because other pipes in their system are considered higher priority. If a main then breaks, our new street has to be torn up in order to get at it, at much greater expense and structural harm to the road, reducing its life. In order to avoid this situation, Maplewood has been paying for the replacement of aged cast iron water main while streets are excavated, funding this with a surcharge on water bills. The surcharge has not been enough to cover the main replacements. My hope is that we can work with SPRWS to modify the policies for Maplewood water main replacement. It seems likely that some increase in the water surcharge will be necessary.


Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Subway in the Community Center

I wanted to flag another article in last week's Maplewood Review, about the plan we approved to lease space in the community center for a Subway franchise, replacing the current snack bar.  It seems like a great way to improve the selection of snacks and meals available to Community Center members (and anyone else who comes in off the street), and help the city's bottom line.  We will receive rent and also a percentage of sales.

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Monday, July 25, 2011

A Preview of Tonight's CUP Issue

Based on the turnout at the public hearing in front of the planning commission, and the e-mails and phone calls I've received, the most contentious item on our meeting agenda tonight will undoubtedly be Item J3. This item concerns a conditional use permit (CUP) application for a South Metro Human Services residential mental health care facility to be located in the former Ethan Allen building, NW of the intersection of Hwy 36 and Hwy 61.

A considerable number of neighbors are very agitated by the proposal, and testified at the planning commission and in correspondence to the city that the permit should be denied because of the negative impact they believe it would have on their neighborhood. The planning commission voted to recommend approval, but it was a 4-3 vote with the minority wanting to see additional information related to some CUP criteria (in particular the one about not hurting property values).

In case you're following along at home when we discuss this, let me give you some information about the decision that will be in front of the council, and how we'll need to evaluate the CUP application.

First of all, legally, if the applicant satisfies the standards and complies with reasonable conditions that may be set by the city, they're entitled to the conditional use permit.  This is what's known as a "quasi-judicial" decision.

It's also important to understand that our city ordinances can't override state and federal law. When it comes to residential facilities, there are specific state and federal laws designed to protect the disabled (including people with mental illness) from discrimination, including the Fair Housing Act and the Americans with Disabilities Act. If criteria for evaluating a CUP application would have the effect of being discriminatory, they are not valid as grounds for rejecting an application.*

Under state law, we also can't set any conditions for this facility that are more restrictive than what we would apply to a facility that housed or served individuals who are not disabled, unless the requirements are designed to protect the residents of the facility.**

Given that there are facilities nearby that provide a short-term place to live (the motel), and overnight medical treatment (the sleep center just across the highway), and based on the testimony at the planning commission and the e-mails I've received on this topic, I'm hard pressed to find any argument against the proposed use that isn't ultimately based on a desire of some neighbors not to have mentally ill persons in/near their neighborhood.

The "depreciates property values" argument boils down to what one letter from a neighbor, included in the packet, stated bluntly: "We would never have chosen this location [to buy a house] if there were a mental health residential facility within .3 miles of our home." The assertion is that people (including this neighbor) don't want to live near the mentally ill, so a lack of buyers will drive down property values.  Even if true (which does not appear to be the case), the argument is discriminatory on the face of it, and thus can't legally be used to deny a CUP.

I found an interesting document online, called "Fair Housing Law: Zoning and Land Use Issues." In discussing how Fair Housing Act cases have been looked at by the courts, this passage is especially worth reading:

To prove discriminatory intent under the FHA, the plaintiff need only show that the plaintiff’s disability was one factor considered by the defendant in making a land use or zoning decision. The plaintiff’s handicap need not be the sole basis for the defendant’s discriminatory actions. Further, a plaintiff need not demonstrate that the defendant harbors personal animosity, ill will, or a malicious desire to discriminate. Intentional discrimination includes actions motivated by stereotypes, prejudice, unfounded fears, misperceptions, paternalistic attitudes and a desire to respond to certain neighborhood and community concerns.
Denying this applicant's conditional use permit on account of some neighbors' fear or dislike of disabled persons (including the mentally ill) would be both illegal and unjust.

*See 42 U.S.C. § 3615: "any law of a State, a political subdivision, or other such jurisdiction that purports to require or permit any action that would be a discriminatory housing practice under this subchapter shall to that extent be invalid."
**See Minnesota Statutes 245A.11. As quoted in the staff report for Monday's meeting, Subdivision 3 of the law includes this language: "A town, municipal, or county zoning authority may require a conditional use or special use permit to assure proper maintenance and operation of a residential program. Conditions imposed on the residential program must not be more restrictive than those imposed on other conditional uses or special uses of residential property in the same zones, unless the additional conditions are necessary to protect the health and safety of the persons being served by the program."

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Saturday, July 23, 2011

Trash RFP

This week's Maplewood Review includes an article about Maplewood's request for proposals for organized trash collection.

Also this week, on Thursday, there was a pre-proposal meeting, where the city staff and consultant walked potential proposers through the RFP and took questions.  Two members of the trash hauling working group (Dale Trippler and yours truly) attended as well.  In some cases the questions could be answered with simple clarifications, in some others there were some changes made to the RFP that will be included in formal addenda.

There was a good turnout of haulers.  I counted at least five current residential haulers in Maplewood, and numerous other metro area haulers who either do not currently operate in Maplewood or only serve commercial accounts here at present.

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Friday, July 22, 2011

Chickens in the Star Tribune

I missed this when it first appeared, but came across it yesterday: the Star Tribune published an article about the recently-passed chicken ordinance.

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Thursday, July 21, 2011

Lawn Signs Going Up

My campaign has started putting up lawn signs. (I know it feels early, but do you realize the primary is less than three weeks away?) If you would like one in your yard, just send me a quick e-mail and we'll add you to the installation list!


Wednesday, July 20, 2011

East Metro Fire Safety Training Center in Bonding Bill

Some great news for public safety in the East Metro came out of the bonding bill passed in the special session last night.  Section 12, Subd. 3, includes:

Subd. 3.East Metro Fire Safety Training

16.28For a grant to the city of Maplewood
16.29to acquire land, prepare a site including
16.30environmental work, predesign, design, and
16.31construct the East Metro Regional Public
16.32Safety Training Facility in Ramsey County,
16.33within the city of Maplewood.

Many thanks and congratulations to chief authors Leon Lillie and Chuck Wiger for their hard work on this, as well as Nora Slawik and other supportive legislators (I hear through the grapevine that Rep. Hausman and Sen. Langseth were especially helpful), and of course, Governor Dayton.  And of course we can't fail to mention Chief Lukin for championing this, the many other East Metro fire chiefs and departments who supported it, the city staff who helped develop the plan and move it forward, and Ramsey County (particularly Commissioner Reinhardt) for supporting the plan and contributing environmental clean-up funds.

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Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Supportive LTE

Local resident Christeen Stone wrote a very nice letter to the editor of the Maplewood Review that appeared in last week's issue.  Thanks, Christeen!

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Saturday, July 16, 2011


Today's news is the rainfall of the last 24 hours, which has been at the "100 year event" level in Maplewood and many other parts of Minnesota.  The central part of Maplewood seems to have been hardest hit -- an e-mail from staff reports "the heaviest rainfall appears to have fallen in an area from Stillwater Road on the south; TH 61 on the west, Century on the east and County Road C on the north."  The pond by City Hall has overflowed into the community center parking lot; there is a report that lightning may have struck City Hall.  The rainfall has overtaxed the capacity of our storm sewer system, resulting in a lot of water on roads, parking lots, and flooding in what sounds like a pretty large number of homes.

Cars have been caught by the waters in some places and stalled (including Highway 36 near English and also on McKnight under Highway 36 in North Saint Paul, where water was reportedly up to the car windows).  If you see a police/fire barricade out on the roads, take it seriously and don't be one of the folks who drove around it, only to stall out in the flooded road beyond.

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Thursday, July 14, 2011

Trash Working Group Meetings

Earlier this week, the Maplewood City Council approved the RFP (request for proposals) for city-contracted trash service for release, after a few final changes and corrections.  When it's released, the haulers interested in serving some or all of Maplewood under a possible organized collection plan will have the chance to draft their proposals for submission.

The RFP was developed over the course of the meetings of the Trash Hauling Working Group.  If you're really into the details, you can watch all the meetings online on the city website; they're filed under "City Council Workshops" on the city's streaming video page.

Here are direct links to video of the five meetings:


Wednesday, July 13, 2011

A Personal Endorsement

I've made some updates to my list of personal endorsements. One supporter made some comments that, with his permission, I wanted to share:


Please consider this email my personal public support of your candidacy for the Maplewood City Council.

I am providing this support for a couple noteworthy reasons. First and foremost, you look at each issue put before the council thoroughly and critically. I have not always agreed with your conclusions, but I appreciate your effort to consider all sides of the issues put in front of you. I also support your candidacy because of your fair and respectful treatment of citizens who disagree with you.

I look forward to your continued critical examination of the issues that impact every citizen, business and visitor in Maplewood.


Mark Jenkins
Maplewood Resident

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Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Resolution Opposing Stadium Sales Tax

One of the agenda items at last night's city council meeting was a resolution regarding the proposed Ramsey County sales tax for funding a Vikings stadium on the Twin Cities Army Ammunition Plant site in Arden Hills.

At our previous council meeting, I had a council presentation on the topic of the stadium and the Stillwater Bridge, as examples of two issues that were not matters over which the council had any control, but which had significant impact on the residents and businesses of Maplewood. For that reason, I suggested that we should consider taking official positions on these matters.

As it happens, just a couple of days later the Mayor and City Council President of Saint Paul circulated sample resolutions in opposition to the stadium sales tax to the mayors and councils of Ramsey County suburbs. A few days later, one of the county commissioners promoting the tax circulated another sample resolution in favor of the plan for stadium funding.

So last night we considered both resolutions. In advance of the meeting I had revised the Saint Paul-supplied resolution, to add a couple things I thought were important and to make it specific to Maplewood. My revised resolution passed unanimously.

The text of the resolution is as follows:

Resolution opposing the imposition of a ½ cent sales tax in Ramsey County for the construction of a Vikings Stadium in Arden Hills

WHEREAS, the Maplewood City Council recognizes the social and economic value of the Minnesota Vikings Football team to the State of Minnesota; and,

WHEREAS, to preserve the Minnesota Vikings as a valuable State amenity, the Maplewood City Council understands the desire to find a solution to the Vikings’ stated interest in developing a new stadium; and,

WHEREAS, a proposal has been put forth by the Minnesota Vikings and the Ramsey County Board of Commissioners to construct a new stadium in Arden Hills on the site of the former Twin Cities Army Ammunitions Plant (TCAAP); and,

WHEREAS, to finance the construction of this facility, the Ramsey County Board has proposed the imposition of a ½ cent sales tax collected in Ramsey County in an amount sufficient to generate $350 million; and,

WHEREAS, it has been proposed that the taxpayers of Ramsey County be denied the right to vote for or against a stadium-funding sales tax increase in a referendum; and,

WHEREAS, Maplewood retailers face competition from nearby counties that would have lower sales tax rates if this stadium tax were approved, as well as internet retailers who often do not collect sales taxes at all; and,

WHEREAS, a higher local sales tax rate may make Maplewood commercial properties less attractive than those in neighboring counties, potentially hurting property values in an already difficult real estate market and increasing the relative tax burden on residential properties; and,

WHEREAS, the City of Maplewood, even while losing all Market Value Homestead Credit payments from the State of Minnesota, has sought both to minimize the growth of taxes on our residents and to maintain the funding of basic municipal functions; and,

WHEREAS, it is unfair and inequitable for the residents and businesses of Maplewood to be asked to bear a disproportionate financial burden for the construction of a State-wide and region-wide amenity, particularly when the benefit to taxpayers is tangential at best;

NOW THEREFORE, BE IT RESOLVED, that the Maplewood City Council opposes the imposition of a ½ cent sales tax in Ramsey County to support the construction of a Vikings stadium in Arden Hills; and,

BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED, that the Maplewood City Council encourages the Governor, the Legislature, the Ramsey County Board, the Minnesota Vikings and other interested parties to consider options for constructing a stadium that minimize risk to the taxpayers, limit the level of public subsidy (particularly for the host community), and promote a fair, multi-jurisdictional participation for a State-wide amenity.


Monday, July 11, 2011

Absentee Voting: Primary 2011

Last year the legislature moved the election calendar so that primaries are in early August rather than September. The primary date of August 9th may conflict with some folks' summer plans. Of course, absentee voting is available -- and in fact, it's underway already.

If you need to vote absentee this year, instructions are on the city website. You can download and print a ballot application from the city website; be sure to mail it at least four business days ahead of the election. You can also vote in person at City Hall (1830 County Road B East), from 8 AM to 4:30 PM.


Sunday, July 10, 2011

Can I Count on Your Support?

This isn't a rhetorical question!

The basic process of an election campaign goes like this:
  1. Identify likely voters.
  2. Sift those voters among those who have made up their mind (whether to support you or your opponent), and those who are undecided and persuadable.
  3. Try to persuade the undecided to support you.
  4. When the election arrives, remind your supporters to turn out and vote.
These days, the first point is relatively easy, thanks to the database of voters that candidates can get from the Minnesota Secretary of State.  It lists registered voters in your city, and their voting history (which elections they've voted in, not of course who they voted for).  Past voting history is a pretty good indicator of who is likely to vote in future elections.

Now we're in the sifting phase, when I need to identify where the voters stand.  If they have made up their mind, whether for or against me, I do not want to put resources into sending them campaign material, leaving them phone messages, etc.  If they are supporters, I just need to remind them right before the election that I need them to vote.  If they oppose my re-election, I'd just as well not annoy them with any more contact from my campaign.

So my question in the header of this post is very sincere: If you are a Maplewood voter, I'd like to know whether or not you support me.  Feel free to drop me a line and let me know either way!

(Note that if you've requested a sign, made a campaign contribution, or asked to be on my public list of supporters, I already have you identified as a supporter in my database.)


Saturday, July 09, 2011

Ramsey County League Trash Presentation

Last month I was invited to join a panel speaking to the Ramsey County League of Local Governments on the topic of trash hauling.  Joining me on the panel were Mark Sather and Wally Wysopal, the city managers of White Bear Lake and North Saint Paul, both cities that have organized trash collection systems.  I prepared a slide presentation (which you can view on Google Docs), updating and expanding on some of the material I brought to my April 25th city council presentation.

The Maplewood/Ramsey County Review published an article about the meeting this past week.

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Friday, July 08, 2011

Chicken Ordinance

The latest Maplewood Review includes an article on Maplewood's new chicken ordinance.  The ordinance passed first reading at our last meeting, and is due for a second reading on Monday.

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