I’m “Blogger of the Week”

Over on Locally Grown, I’ve been named Blogger of the Week! Thanks to Griff, Ross and Tracy.

I feel slightly uncomfortable being named Blogger of the Week since I think of myself as a weak blogger.   I’m afraid I don’t want to share my personal life with the world, so I limit what I’m willing to write about myself and especially my family since I want to limit the extent to which they are hostages to my political life.  This is probably why you will hear more about my dogs than my daughter.

Then there’s my other tendency to want to write long philosophical posts which are not bloggy by their very nature.

However, if Locally Grown’s recognition directs a few more eyeballs over here, I hope readers will offer some feedback and direction so this blog can be useful.

What’s up next week for the Council

Next week is a busy week for the Council –

Monday, January 26 there is NIMS training at 6 pm before the Council Meeting/Worksession.  What, you may ask, is NIMS?  NIMS stands for National Incident Management System and it is a FEMA (Federal Emergency Management Agency) program “provides a consistent nationwide template to establish Federal, State, tribal and local governments and private sector and nongovernmental organizations to work together effectively and efficiently to prepare for, prevent, respond to and recover from domestic incidents, regardless of cause, size or complexity, including acts of catastrophic terrorism.  NIMS benefits include a unified approach to incident management; standard command and management structures; and emphasis on preparedness, mutual aid and resource management.”    As elected officials, Council members must recieve training to be able to respond to these emergencies.

Monday, January 26: Council Meeting and Worksession.   Council agendas and packets are available on the City website each week as well as at the Northfield Public Library for those who prefer not to access them on-line.    The highlights of the meeting portion are a request by Carleton College to amend the Land Development Regulations to allow wind turbines and selecting a task force and creating a work plan for a new Safety Center.  The work shession includes a discussion with the Library Board about their goals including the library expansion, more budget disucssions and additional information about how we’ll proceed with the City Administrator position.

Wednesday, January 28: Intergovernmental meeting.  These quarterly meetings with Rice and Dakota Counties, Dundas and the 4 townships surrounding Northfield address issues of common interest and concern.  This meeting will begin at 7 pm at the Greenvale Township hall.

Thursday, January 29: The Council will have a closed meeting to consider proposals regarding the liquor store.

The complete city calendar is here.

Other events which might be of interest: The Northfield Union of Youth is holding a 15th anniversary open house at the Key 303 South Water St, from 5-8 pm.

Other observances which have no relevance for the City Council and may be of no interest to anyone:

  • January 26 is Wayne Gretzky’s birthday.  Happy 48th Wayne!
  • January 29 is Kansas Day.  Kansas became a state on January 29, 1861.  Happy Birthday Kansas! (I went to high school in Leavenworth, Kansas…)

How much parking is enough?

The Northfield Zoning Board of Appeals/Planning Commission had two applications from Northfield Hospital (yes, that means one city entity reviews the plans of another) on their Tuesday agenda.  The Zoning Board of Appeals, which reviews requests for variances and other quasi-judicial matters, was asked to grant a variance to allow a greater number of parking spaces for the Center for Sports Medicine and Rehabilitation, a unit of the hospital, which is building an expansion on its site at 1308 Jefferson Road.

Most of the time, we think about parking when we are in our cars looking for somewhere to park (usually as close to our destination as possible especially on days like today when the temperature is well below zero).

I’ve been thinking about parking regulations as the city rewrites its land development ordinances and the matter on Tuesday exposed a few bugs in the system.   Northfield, like most everywhere else, requires a certain number of parking spaces depending on the land use.  If you own a home, you must have 2 parking spaces, in case you wondered.

Or, if you’re building a medical clinic you’re required to build 1 space per 250 s.f. of floor space and may build up to 10% more than that number.  For the CSMR that magic number is 76., but the CSMR wanted 96.

The CSMR attempted a kind of bait and switch claiming that 5 spaces per 1,000 s.f. was typical in the industry rather than the 4 per 1,000 Northfield allows and then they added Northfield’s 10% buffer on top of that.  The ZBA approved the 5 per 1,000 without the 10% or 87 spaces.

Right decision?   I think it was a reasonable one, but perhaps we can make future decisions easier and better.

Specific parking regulations provide guidance for citizen planners, city staff, developers and elected officials who may not be experts in the medical clinic field (or any other business) and wouldn’t otherwise know what an appropriate number of parking spaces should be.

On the other hand, large parking lots are aesthetically unappealing, create large areas of impervious surface creating surface water management issues, and spread out businesses and other uses making it difficult to have a walkable, bikeable environment.    When we allow parking lots for large stores like Target based on the number of cars which need to park Christmas Eve at 3 p.m. we end up with parking lots which are never full the other 364 days of the year and just taking up space.  When we require small businesses provide more parking than they need, it costs them money which they may not have or could at least spend more productively.  If the city decides to build a parking structure downtown (which is the one area of the city where no parking must be provided by the developer/business owner), then taxpayers will learn that parking is not free.

On another hand, when businesses come in and say that they need a specific number based on their business model or knowledge of their customers or patient turnover should the regulations allow flexibility for this expertise?  When I was on the ZBA,  we allowed a reduction in the required number of spaces for the Community Resource Bank building based on their data that most of their business was conducted via their drivethrough lanes.   The current ZBA was thinking along these lines onTuesday and asked for data to support the CSMR’s need for additional parking, but felt it could not grant the full variance without documentation.

As we attempt to revise the parking requirements, I’d like to build this kind of flexibility based on documented need into the system, as well as ensure our requirements are well-designed to encourage non-motorized transportation and transit, limit or manage impervious surface, and make use of on-street parking, too.  The new regulations aren’t there yet…

Out of the starting gate

Bravo to new Mayor Mary Rossing for a fine first Council meeting, conducted with grace and good humor.     I hope I and the other Council members help you do your job well and build confidence in Northfield government

Constant vigilance

Constant vigilance!
Constant vigilance!

I’m glad the Northfield News is keeping tabs on us new Council members in Keeping Their Campaign Promises? because I think we all said we wanted greater transparency, accountability and integrity in Northfield government.

Still, the new Council has met as a group only twice.  My goals for the Council are largely process goals – helping the Council make fair, consistent and sustainable decisions which use City resources wisely and I find it hard to imagine how the success of these goals can be measured so soon.

Not that we haven’t started on them.  Following up on our Council retreat of January 2, Rhonda Pownell, Jon Dennison and I are meeting in the coming week to flesh out a decision-making process for the Council which will help the Council seek public input consistently (and at an early enough point in the process where it can have an impact), ensure consistency with our long-range planning documents, allow us to measure our success, and explain our decisions to you, the public.

I hope you and the News will also be patient as we build our decision-making framework.  Rather than ask whether we are keeping our campaign promises in January – a question which begs for a yes or no answer – it would be more helpful if you stay engaged, keep giving us suggestions for the kind of input you’d like to have and the outcomes you’de like to see, and help us move towards effective government incrementally.

Great (shared) expectations

I do have great expectations for the new Council, although perhaps not quite of Dickensian proportions, after our shared expectations retreat on Friday, January 2.

The incoming Council plus Interim City Administrator Joel Walinski met for 6 hours and discussed our expectations for the Council and especially how we could and would make decisions effectively and consistently while relying on our planning documents like the Comprehensive Plan.   For those looking for a change on the Council, I think you’ll get it.    We’ve been assigned homework to continue to develop our decision-making process (Joel Walinski, Rhonda Pownell, Jon Denison and me) as well as how we will work with public input including boards and commissions (Erika Zweifel, Jim Pokorney and Kris Vohs).

We did not discuss any specific issues nor dwell on past problems – truly we’re looking for ways to make government work better, more transparently, more responsively, and making the best use of your dollars and your input.    Some of this will depend on your continued input to make sure we stay on track and our good intentions and great expectations are realized.

Happy New Year & preview of coming attractions

I took a break from blogging after the election and have been doing my homework offline to get ready for the new year and taking my seat on the City Council.

Here’s a quick look at current and upcoming events and issues:

December 18: Gov. Pawlenty announced the “unallotments” of local government aid (usally known as LGA).  Northfield had been expecting a payment of $1,445,500 in local government aid on December 26; Gov. Pawlenty reduced this amount by $355,263.

December 29: “Old” Council will hold a special meeting at 5 p.m. to amend the 2008 budget to accommodate the reduction in LGA by using reserves.

January 2: Incoming council retreat.

January 5: First regular Council meeting of 2009.  New Councilmembers and Mayor are sworn in…

Don’t stop at this trailer, keep watching for the feature presentation…

Many thanks

I’m excited about being part of a very different Northfield City Council in 2009 – more women,  younger representatives with many connections in the Northfield community, a wide range of skills and expertise and, especially, a deep commitment to making the Council work hard and work well.

But this would not have been possible without Ward 2’s voters and their support – many thanks for your confidence in me.  I’ll work hard to earn that trust and to stay in touch with you. Thanks also to my opponent Jerry Friedman for a good race; please stay involved in Northfield’s public life!

I couldn’t have run for Council without the encouragement of many, the work of some, and the love of a few.  Many thanks to you all.  Northfield is a town worth working for and I’m looking forward to working hard for you in the next four years.

Does your vote count?

Yes.

Millions of votes will be cast in the presidential election and your one little vote may seem insignificant.  In local elections, though, here are three ways your vote really counts:

  • The margin of victory can be a very few number of votes. When I ran for County Commissioner 2 years ago, I lost the election to Galen Malecha by 9 votes (Bill Rossman won the 1997 mayoral election over Galen Malecha by the same margin).
  • Your vote is counted accurately. Since I lost that county race by such a small margin — 10 votes initially–  I requested a recount (as provided for in state statute).   Attending the recount down in Faribault was illuminating – the citizen election judges plus city and county staff who did the counting were professional and meticulous, ballots were secured, and the process was both precise and efficient.  When it came to the counting, the ballot counting machines are highly accurate with only one questionable ballot which changed the count from 10 to 9.
  • Keep on voting. The biggest surprise in the recount was that there were more undervotes (where the voter did not mark any choice for County Commission) than there were votes for either me or my opponent.  As a candidate for Ward 2, I worry that voters will vote for national and state offices, then vote for mayor but maybe not keep going down the ballot to vote in this very local race.   If you’re reading this, you’re engaged in local issues and will most likely vote in all the local races.  I hope most other voters do too.
My husband, Justin London, and friend, Margit Johnson watch the recount action.
My husband, Justin London, and friend, Margit Johnson watch the recount action.

More election happenings

(Still) On-line right now:

Northfield Citizens Online has started its Election 2008 Forum.  You can read about my positions and background then ask your own questions via e-mail.  Candidates’ responses will be posted, then you can ask more questions…and so on.

Northfield East Side Neighborhood Association (NESNA) Local Candidate Forum was held October 12, but candidate answers are online (.pdf file)

Locally Grown has started its election discussions including Ward 2.  You can search also Locally Grown for my comments on quite a few issues and probably find my appearance on the Locally Grown Podcast about annexation.

League of Women Voters and Northfield News hosted a forum for all candidates on October 30; if you didn’t go to the forum or watch on NTV, you can view it online.