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.

Back to the State Fair, sort of

I got an email a few days ago from Transit for Livable Communities because I’d signed up to receive updates when I visited their booth at the Minnesota State Fair.   TLC is a Twin Cities organization which is more than transit; it’s a non-profit organization working for “balanced transportation system that encourages transit, walking, bicycling, and thoughtful development.”

I joined the Non-Motorized Transportation Task Force because I was interested in making walking and bicycling part of Northfield’s transportation planning and development; the new Transportation Plan is a move in the right direction if the Council works to implement its recommendations.

TLC does most of its work in the metro area, but Northfield can still benefit from their work.  TLC’s Resources page provides links to many reports and other info on transportation issues with a slant toward transit and non-motorized transportation, of course.  Check it out.

Front page news

Extra! extra! Read all about it on the front page of the News. Suzanne Rook has a story about women in Northfield politics in today’s issue.

From L: me, Mary Rossing (mayoral candidate), Erica Zweifel (3rd Ward candidate) and Dixon Bond (Council member)

I rarely think of myself as a “woman candidate” instead of simply a “candidate” and would prefer voters consider my experience and the personal qualities I’ve worked hard to develop instead of the accidental one of being female…but one of the reasons I have the luxury of doing this is because of the women of my mother’s generation like Elaine Thurston, Jane McWilliams, Molly Woehrlin who worked so hard to break gender barriers.  My mother died when I was 19, so I am particularly grateful for the wealth of role models here in Northfield.  I’m also interested and curious about the large number of women who decided to run for office this year.

Great Neighborhoods and the NDDC

Last night, the NDDC hosted their Annual Partnership Celebration at the Grand featuring a presentation by Jay Walljasper, author of The Great Neighborhood Book.  This is a book which has been recommended to me repeatedly but which I haven’t read quite yet.

I’d call Mr. Walljasper’s approach “low tech, bottom up community development” aimed at regular community members, not government officials, city planners, or other experts – although there is much officialdom could take away from last night’s presentation.

Besides official policy documents like the Comprehensive Plan and Council initiatives for improving neighborhoods, there are small steps you can take (and the Council can follow) to help make your Ward 2 neighborhood better.

Mr. Walljasper called dogs an indicator species for the neighborhood environment.  As the owner of 2 large dogs, I like this idea.   What do dogs need?  Places to walk, places to hang out (dogs can hang out together in the dog park in Ward 4), safe streets,  things to watch (things to sniff…).

But back to the Comp Plan and city action…Northfield has been working toward some of these small ideas in its big plan.  I’m a big supporter of the form-based Comp Plan which takes the street (and its sidewalks, public spaces, and how buildings are oriented to the street) as fundamental to making Northfield a place people want to live, work, play, walk and walk their dogs.

Walk to School Day

Wednesday, October 8 was International Walk to School Day and Northfield’s second year to participate.  True, some kids walk (and bicycle) to school every day, but they’re the minority.  So, events like Walk to School Day are intended to educate kids, parents, schools and the community about the benefits of walking to school: improving kids’ health, limiting pollution and environmental damage, and to create safer pedestrian routes to our schools.

Northfield’s Walk to School Day is a project of the Non-Motorized Transportation Task Force which I served on last year.  The City Council commissioned the Task Force for one year in May 2007 with this mission: To enable and promote walking, cycling, and other humanpowered activities as safe forms of transportation, thereby creating healthier, more vibrant, and more energy-efficient communities .”

In its 1st year – the Task Force was reauthorized for another year in August – the Task Force was very productive.  Its report to the council tells how it:

  • coordinated the first Walk to School Day for the Northfield Public Schools on October 3, 2007
  • Obtained $30,000 Safe Routes to School planning grant for the Northfield Public Schools
  • Provided input to the revisions of Comprehensive Plan, Transportation Plan, Parks, Open Space, and Trail System Master Plan and land use regulations

The Safe Routes to School grant will help the city and school district assess safety along routes to school such as mapping missing sidewalk connections and making recommendations for the intersection of Jefferson Parkway and Highway 246.  The grant is also intended to underwrite educational activities to improve safety near our schools.

Bill Ostrem is the Task Force’s chair, and leader in getting the group established.  His Northern Letter blog often includes information on bicycle and transportation issues.  His work is a great grass roots effort by Northfield people who are bicycle and pedestrian experts (and enthusiasts) coming together to help the city get things done.  My own contribution to the Task Force was more technical; I served on the Transportation Plan Technical Advisory Committee.  The Trans Plan does a much better job than previous plans in planning for “complete streets” streets for not only cars but transit, bicycles, pedestrians, young and old, – but it’s just a plan.  Unless the Council makes implementing its recommendations a priority, safer routes to school won’t happen quickly or consistently.  One of my priorities if elected is make sure the Plan gets followed and the input of citizen groups like the NonMotorized Transportation Task Force is heard.