City Council Meeting Recap – August 19, 2014

I attended the Crystal city council meeting and first work session on August 12, 2014.

The first work session was rather uneventful- the city presented some of the bids for the new Public Works facility, but didn’t have final costs calculated yet.  Bids apparently came in under what they were expecting, but since that has been a moving target, that’s really not saying much.  I continue to wonder how a garage can cost $8- $10 million dollars, and continue to have concerns about how this project has been handled from start to finish.  I’ll remind everyone again that we don’t yet know (unless it was decided at the budget meeting yesterday) how we will pay for this project, which seems irresponsible to me.  Instead of setting a budget and figuring out what we could afford, we worked backwards and decided what we wanted, and decided to worry about how much it will cost later.

After that the council members gave their liaison updates.  Each council member is the liaison to one or more committees or commissions and they periodically update other members on what is going on in those groups.

The council meeting was next and this was the first time in the newly remodeled council chambers. I was underwhelmed. The cost for this project was $200,000.  It does look fancy, but I’m really not convinced after seeing the results that this was money well spent. I actually think it’s harder to see what is going on from the audience than under the old setup.  Maybe it will grow on me, but the cost sure does seem excessive.

Hennepin County Sheriff Rich Stanek kicked off the meeting with a presentation on what’s going on in the Sheriff’s department.

Next, the council recognized a number of members of the police department:

  • Reserve Captain Michelle Brenna, who is retiring from the Police Reserves
  • Lieutenant Dave Oyaas, who is retiring from the Police Department
  • The Crystal Police Explorers, who received a number of awards at a national competition recently

We had a new appointee to the Human Rights Commission, a new appointee to the Employee Review Board, and a transfer of a liquor license to a new owner.

The council also voted on the Planning Commission’s recommendation to approve a variance for the sign for Liquor Liquidators, which I wrote about here.  The measure passed.

After the council meeting there was a second work session to discuss pending litigation, which was closed to the public under attorney client privilege.

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 City Council Meeting Recap – June 3, 2014

I attended the Crystal City Council work session and meeting on June 3 2014.

The big topic of conversation at the work session was how to finance future road construction projects.  In most cities in Minnesota, road construction and maintenance is paid for in the city’s regular budget, as part of the property taxes that the citizens pay.  In Crystal, we use special assessments for major construction projects.  Roads are rebuilt in phases over a period of about 20 years.  Some members of the council, including the mayor, are interested in discussing changing the way we finance these projects, for a variety of reasons.

If we were to change the way we finance projects, everyone in the city would see a tax increase now, but we would no longer be hitting our residents with very large special assessments every few years.  The total amount paid by residents over time would actually decrease, as we would not be paying interest on the funds.

There are very few topics where you will find me on the fence, but this is one of them.  I believe that both sides have good arguments and I see merits to both approaches.  As I am out speaking with residents over the next few months I will be asking for your feedback on this topic.

During the council meeting the city’s financial auditor presented the results of the annual financial audit, which were good.  The best rating an auditor can give is called “unmodified opinion” which the city earned again this year.

The council approved a liquor license for the new owner of Red Dragon Liquors, and also approved a number of permits related to Crystal Frolics, which starts on July 24.

The meeting then adjourned.

-Jeff Kolb



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