Crystal City Council Meeting Notes, December 17, 2013

I attended the Crystal City Council work session and council meeting on December 17, 2013.

Work Session

There were two items on the agenda for the work session.

The first was an update from the West Metro fire chief on how the department has been performing this year. Overall the department is expected to come in very close to their budget for the year. They are over budget in a few accounts, but under in others, which should balance out at the end of the year.  West Metro is also in the process of hiring two new full time employees. They expect to make job offers in the next week or so. This has been a transitional year for West Metro as they hired a new Chief this year.

The second item was an update on Joint Water Commissions projects, including a 2 year project to replace a water main. That work will begin next year and will mean that portions of County Road 9 in Robbinsdale and Crystal will be closed as the work moves forward over the next 2 years.

Council Meeting

I expected a relatively calm and non-controversial meeting based on the agenda, but I was wrong about that.

Apparently the Minneapolis based group Communities United Against Police Brutality is continuing their witch hunt in Crystal, and have decided that Council Member Julie Deshler and City Manager Anne Norris are their current targets.

I should note there is no allegation of any police brutality in Crystal. This all stems from the old axe they have to grind with the Police Chief. If you want the recap, start here and follow the links back.

CUAPB had two people present for open forum last night. One accused council member Deshler of an illegal conflict of interest. The other accused the city of having an illegal sweetheart contract with the city manager.


The complaint against Deshler stems from the fact that she works for a company that provides uniforms, and the Crystal Police Department purchases uniforms from that company.

They have no evidence of wrongdoing on the part of Deshler or the City, but then again, that is CUAPB’s MO. They throw out vague accusations based on half-truths and wild assumptions, and then just yell really loud about it.

Deshler’s employment at the uniform company pre-dates her election and has never been a secret (it is part of her official city bio). There is no contract requiring anyone in Crystal to purchase anything from Deshler’s employer.

Not content to impugn Deshler’s character merely by implying she is illegally pocketing taxpayer cash (or whatever their claim is), the CUAPB rep also claimed that Deshler is a racist, based on comments that someone allegedly overheard her say once, or something. It’s clear the kitchen sink approach is being employed here.

City Manager Contract

Next, a CUAPB rep from Minneapolis presented the council with her “analysis” of the City Manager’s contract.

The bottom line is that in the opinion of a non-resident of Crystal, who is neither a lawyer nor an elected official with responsibility and/or experience hiring city managers, the contract the city has with the city manager is a sweetheart deal and another sign of corruption.

She did explain that, as she sometimes shops in Crystal, she feels entitled to, and apparently qualified to, weigh in on the contract.

I don’t know if the city manager’s contract is unnecessarily tilted in her favor. There are a few provisions that make me lift an eyebrow. However, I haven’t done research into customary contracts for city managers. Without that comparison, it’s impossible to say whether the contract Crystal has with their manager is typical.

The CUAPB people didn’t perform that analysis either.  Instead they performed a half-baked comparison of the Crystal City Manager to the Mayor of Minneapolis, an utterly irrelevant comparison.

I would like to see the city council undertake a review of the manager’s contract in the future, as I believe that it is a good practice. All contracts should be reviewed periodically to ensure they are mutually beneficial and in line with current expectations.

I will encourage the mayor and the city council to review the city manager’s contract in detail before the next renewal period in 2015.

I do not, however, support this witch hunt of the Crystal city manager by people from outside the city and/or the relatives of city employees who are currently on a disciplinary process.


After the two women had accused a city council member of being a racist and a cheat, and then accused the city manager and city of entering into a sweetheart deal, Council Member Deshler attempted to read a statement clarifying some facts and rebutting the baseless allegations against her.

During this process the two woman (and a man that was with them) heckled Deshler and shouted things like “you lie!” at her.

I was sitting by them, and could not hear Deshler’s statement. I first asked them to be quiet. They said they would not be.

I then “shushed” them. They told me to “knock it off.”

I then pointedly told them to shut up, because I was trying to listen. At this point the police chief got up to calm things down, which was a good move. She asked everyone to be quiet.

Deshler continued her statement, until the Minneapolis resident shouted “you’re a liar and you’re looking at a lawsuit!” to which the man with her added “yeah that’s a libel!”

At this point the assistant police chief got up and informed the people that if they could not behave they would have to leave. They left a few minutes after Deshler finished her statement.

The (relatively) boring part

Now that the agitators were gone, the regular meeting could proceed. The council appointed two new members to the Parks & Recreation Commission, approved the two items that were forwarded by the planning commission, and authorized the issuance of bonds related to the Cavanagh Apartments Project (this was expected).

The meeting then adjourned.

Crystal Planning Commission Recap: December 2013

At the December 2013 meeting of the Crystal Planning Commission, there were two main items on the agenda:

  1. A Conditional Use Permit for a new child care center in the Crystal Gallery Mall
  2. Setback variances for a private property on Quail Ave

Conditional Use Permit- Child Care Center

The Crystal Gallery Mall is in the process of rejuvenating, and as a part of that process it has secured a child care center to be located on the side of the mall that was previously used for office space.

A conditional use permit is required for any child care centers in the C2 zone.

The owner was also requesting a variance to place the outdoor play area closer to the property line than is usually allowed. This is due to the unique shape of the property. A small part of the fence will be located 7 feet from the public sidewalk.

The only item we discussed was the fence on the play area. The owner presented a plan for a black chain link fence. We discussed whether this type of fence was adequate for both safety and atheistic reasons, but ultimately decided it was up to the property owner.

The CUP was passed unanimously.

Setback Variances

tumblr_inline_mxnzrvM12G1sp8lotThe second item we took up was a pair of setback variances for a private property on Quail Ave. A couple recently purchased the home there and are looking to put an addition on the house, and are considering a future addition to the garage.

The house is in a very strange part of Crystal, over by Twin Lake, right by the Twin Lake Shores walking path.

The land that is used for the walking path was originally supposed to be a road, so the houses face toward the lake / path.  Quail Ave was supposed to be an alley, so the garages face Quail.

The road was never built, and eventually Quail became the road, so there are a few houses that “face the wrong way” and have their garages in what could be considered their front yard.

The City Planner suggested that we take up the variances for the house and garage separately, which we did.

The variance for the house was non-controversial. There is a small bump-out on the house that is 3.5 feet from the property line, and the setback requirement is 5 feet.

The homeowners are not actually touching that part of the house- the variance is required because the property is technically legally nonconforming (“grandfathered in”). They are allowed to keep things as-is indefinitely, but once they do any work they are supposed to either bring the property into compliance or get a variance.

The variance for the house passed unanimously.

The garage variance was the cause of much more conversation.

The garages on this street are all located about 1 foot from the property line and the street, which was originally an alley.

The City Planner was recommending that we deny the variance request for the garage, which would mean that if the homeowner would ever wish to expand the garage, they would instead be forced to demolish it and move the wall 3 feet back from the street, and 3 feet from the neighboring property.

I visited the property before the meeting, and while I was there I noticed that this garage backs up to the garage next door. They are both the same distance from the street. There is a small gap between the two garages, as they both back up against the respective property lines.

I argued that we should allow the variance, because the homeowner replacing the existing structure in the same place would not “alter the essential character of the locality,” which is the legal standard used to make these decisions.

The homeowner addressed the commission and stated that he had discussed the project with his wife, and upon examining the structure they agree that the garage should be demolished and moved back 3 feet from the street. He requested that they be able to keep the north wall of the garage where it currently is.

We voted unanimously to continue the matter until the next meeting, at which time the city staff will present us with new findings based on the modified request.

Met Council

At the end of the meeting we reviewed the letter that the city sent to the Met Council, challenging their ridiculous projections for 2040.

Prepared and paid for by the Kolb for Crystal Committee, PO Box 28373, Crystal, MN 55428