End game

October may seem a bit early for the end game, but the Council has two months (or about 4 meetings + 4 worksessions) to finalize the 2010 budget and the 2010-2014 CIP in addition to dealing with whatever routine business comes before the Council and not so routine issues like the Land Development Code.    The chess metaphor may not be completely apt as I’m not sure quite what winning looks like in local government terms or even if there are two obvious opponents.  However, we don’t have too many pieces left on the board to play with, we do need to think strategically, and I’ll be the first to admit that stupid sacrifices have been made along the way which limit our choices now.

On Monday, October 5 (get the agenda and packet here), we have a closed meeting @ 6:30 pm to consider the purchase/sale of the MNDoT owned property at the corner of Highway 3 and 2nd Street – part of The Crossings project and then @ 7:00 the public session begins, followed by a worksession devoted to budget/CIP issues.

You can read the packet yourselves (and you should), but here are a couple of questions I have –

Park Fund questions:

  • On the consent agenda:  Item 6 “Approve Yaggy Colby contract amendment for Mill Towns Trail contract” – the contract amendment in question is to pay for “construction observation” for the Peggy Prowe bridge and other projects which City staff are either not certified to provide (the bridge) or not able to provide due to staffing changes (the other projects).  This need to amend the contract doesn’t bother me, but the $190, 456.65 cost of the contract changes is to be paid from the park fund…
  • On the regular agenda: Item 8 covers requests from Highland Bank related to the Crossings project including having the City pick up $100,000 (from the Park Fund or Capital Reserve Fund) to pay for riverfront improvements including extending the river walk north.  The city could be reimbursed for these expenditures somewhere down the line depending on progress made on part 2 of the project…
  • What’s the impact on the Park Fund? We’ve shifted $125,000 from the property tax levy from the Park Fund to the General Fund to help with the current budget shortfalls created by the LGA unallotment .   What’s left?  What’s the long term impact to the Park Fund if we spend this money now?
  • Where’s the policy discussion? Just call me Jiminy Cricket, the Council’s policy conscience, but shouldn’t we at least ask whether these proposed expenditures are in line with our overall park plans and policies?
  • Carts before horses: oh, and we’re talking about park priorities on our CIP discussion during the worksession following the regular meeting.  This is the result of my previous chirping about park policy in relation to the skateboard park and I’m glad we’ll be having the discussion, but it will be somewhat more difficult if we’ve just acted to spend $300,000 of park fund money.

Worksessionthe money talk continues.  Two departments (IT and the HRA) will present their budget proposals and the CIP discussion continues including the aforementioned park priority discussion and prioritizing the big projects – that would be the Safety Center and the Library.

2 thoughts on “End game

  1. In reply to your concern about the use of Park Board Funds, I believe this is a Major Issue: first, this is a policy decision; it has no place on the consent agenda. Second, without a discussion or even a heads up to the Park Board, it has no place on the consent agenda. Third, it reveals a decision (policy) made by the staff, not the Council, and therefor has no place on the consent agenda. Fourth, without going further, I think it’s clear that enough procedural issues have been raised to illustrate that an item like this has no place on the consent agenda.

    The misuse of the consent agenda is a procedural issue of great concern. This particular instance would indicate an abdication of both fiscal and policy making responsibility by the council, and their willingness to let the staff usurp the role of governance.

    I understand how sincerely you fight-for-the-right principle on this sort of issue; therefor my complaint is obviously not with you. The three returning councilors have often demonstrated that they will not question the staff, Mss Zweifel and Pownell have occasionally done so, but not on ‘big’ issues, and the Mayor has been quoted as saying her “job is to protect staff”!

    Since public opinion does not seem to ‘weigh in’ heavily, how can your principled analysis of issues like this be supported?

    • Thanks, Kiffi. You’ve packed a lot into your comments, so I’ll try and respond to the issues in turn:

      1. Consent agenda: I’m not going to call it “misuse” of the consent agenda yet, but I as I learn how to do the job, I have been becoming more and more concerned about what issues are placed there and why. The temptation is to accept the consent agenda as it’s printed because there are enough significant issues on the regular agenda to more than occupy my attention – this is not the best strategy, I’m finding. This City Council job is somewhat like juggling chainsaws – there are big issues and procedural issues and random issues and any one of them could plummet and amputate a limb or two.

      2. The Park Fund – the engineering contract for the Mill Towns Trail bridge is an obligation we’ve known we’ll have to fulfill – the park fund makes sense here (but I asked questions about this park fund expense and the proposed expense for the Crossings before the meeting and was satisfied that the Trail expense was predicted and reasonable – hence I left it on the consent agenda).

      3. Parks, generally – I was encouraged that the Council was in agreement that we should go back to the negotiating table with Highland Bank/Mendota Homes about moving the Crossings project along, rather than taking the staff recommendation to spend park money at this point. We’ve lobbed park priorities back to the park board with some guidelines about using the park plan and making recommendations for using the small (about $300,000) pot of park money as effectively as possible.

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