Crystal City Council Meeting Recap – June 17, 2014

The Crystal City Council meeting on June 17 was a long one.  It didn’t adjourn until around 10:00 PM, meaning it lasted for about 3 hours.

The main point of contention was the topic of street maintenance, which I will get to later.  First, some of the easier stuff.

The council approved a full liquor license for Milton’s, which is a great neighborhood restaurant located in Ward 2. (Until tonight Milton’s could only serve wine and beer.)  The council also approved a conditional use permit to allow Milton’s to stay open until midnight on weekdays, which I voted in favor of on the Planning Commission. I spoke briefly in favor of the liquor license application at the meeting tonight. Milton’s is a great success story, and the type of business (and responsible business owners) that we should be trying to attract to Crystal.

The council approved the new sign for St. Raphael’s and the extended hours for MD Liquors that I voted for on the Planning Commission last week.  They also approved the package of variances for the new public works building that I voted against, and then voted to approve demolition of the structures on the construction site, and to approve advertising for construction bids for the new facility, so that project is moving along on an accelerated pace.

One kind of interesting vote during the meeting was to dissolve a joint powers agreement that was related to a bus transportation program that had been in existence for many years but was facing declining participation. The vendor eventually went out of business, so the program just kind of died and was officially killed off tonight.  So I guess there is at least one example out there of a government program actually shutting down!

But a few minutes earlier we saw an example of government at it’s worst when a sewer repair project came in significantly under budget (almost $75,000), and the first impulse of the staff was to find a new way to spend the savings instead of using them to offset another area or banking for an emergency.

Now for the major topic of the discussion- road maintenance.  While I was glad to see the council actually debating an issue in public, I could not be more disappointed in how this vote actually turned out.

As I mentioned after the last meeting, there have been some conversations on the council about financing road maintenance through the tax levy instead of through special assessments.  I said at the time that I do see merits to both approaches, and that I would like to see the topic discussed further.  Mayor Jim Adams has been making the point that since we are at the beginning of a new phase of maintenance we should be having thorough discussions about whether the approach we are using is the right one.

There has been a great deal of resistance to even discuss the matter, for reasons that I’m afraid are quite political. The three members of the council who are most resistant to even have a discussion on the topic also happen to be the three long-term incumbents who are up for re-election this fall.  Unfortunately it seems that these members of the council, including incumbent Joe Selton, are not interested in allowing a new mayor to have any type of perceived political win, even if that would be in the best interest of the residents.  We all know that politicians get a bad rap for putting their own interests before those of their constituents, unfortunately even local non-partisan offices are not immune to this type of behavior.

The item that was up for discussion tonight was whether to move forward with the first phase of a 20 year road maintenance project, or to delay action until the matter could be discussed. In an extremely disappointing move, 5 members of the council voted to go forward with the project, despite the fact that the funding mechanism has not yet been decided.  This is like walking into a car dealership to buy a car without giving any thought to how you’ll pay for it!

I thank Mayor Adams and Councilman Casey Peak for their vote to delay action until the matter could be discussed and resolved properly, and I wish more of their colleagues would have joined them.  Ultimately I believe that two  members of the council were swayed by (in my view inappropriate) scare tactics used by city staff in trying to convince them that even a short delay would mean “exponential” cost increases, so the measure passed 5-2.

Crystal Charter Commission Meeting Recap – June 2014 (Ranked Choice Voting)

The Crystal Charter Commission met to discuss Ranked Choice Voting in April of this year.  I attended that meeting and wrote about it here, and expressed my disappointment that only one side of the issue was presented. This time the commission invited a member of the Minneapolis Charter Commission, Devin Rice, to present the opposition side.

Commissioner Rice did a great job laying out the case against Ranked Choice Voting based on empirical data, not based on flashy videos or glossy handouts.

When Ranked Choice Voting was sold to Minneapolis, they used four arguments to sell the idea:

  1. RCV would save money
  2. RCV would increase voter turnout
  3. RCV would eliminate plurality winners
  4. RCV would promote minority representation

In all four cases, RCV has failed to deliver.  Elections in Minneapolis have been more expensive, turnout has not increased, many candidates still win with a plurality of the vote (including the most recently elected mayor), and the number of minorities in office has stayed the same.

In addition, Minneapolis has seen wide disenfranchisement of minority and lower income voters under this new system.

There is simply no reason for Crystal to adopt an expensive and confusing new method of voting, particularly one that disenfranchises minorities.  There is no upside.  As I have said before, RCV is a solution in search of a problem and I will remain opposed to the implementation of RCV in Crystal.

Here are four links to articles in the Star Tribune which lay out the data about RCV in Minneapolis:

Crystal Planning Commission Recap – June 2014

The Crystal Planning Commission met for the second time this year tonight.  We didn’t have anything on the agenda for February, March, April or May, which was kind of a bummer.  But we made up for it with a jam-packed agenda tonight.

I had the pleasure of voting to approve conditional use permits or variances for:

  • Milton’s, which will now be allowed to be open until midnight instead of 10PM on weeknights (and 1AM on New Year’s Eve)
  • MD Liquor’s, which will now allowed to be open until 10PM instead of 9PM
  • And St. Raphael’s Church, which will be getting a new monument sign along Bass Lake Road

All three actions require city council approval, but I don’t foresee any issues, as all were passed unanimously by the commission and without any public testimony.

The last item of the evening was to consider a series of actions related to the city’s new public works facility.  I have stated in the past that I agree that we are in need of a new facility, but I have serious concerns with both the process used to gain approval for the facility, and the overall cost of the building and land.  In my view the project is too expensive, and city staff has been a bit overzealous in how they went about pushing this project through the council.

At issue tonight were a package of variances, conditional use permits, and easement vacations related to the project. I spoke in opposition to the action we were being asked to take.  By the time these items were presented to the planning commission, the city had already spent several million dollars on this project, and in fact has begun demolition.  In my opinion the commission was being asked to rubber stamp the city’s actions.  There was no way that the city would derail this project at this stage, regardless of any objections that may have been raised by the commission.

I was not appointed to the commission to be a rubber stamp, so I voted against the package. I was joined by Commissioner Andrew Richter in voting no. The measure passed 7-2.

Several citizens and local business owners were in attendance to present concerns related to this project. I was glad to see the city staff and the project architect mostly responsive to citizen concerns, and I hope these considerations make their way into the final plans.

-Jeff Kolb

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