And we’re off!

And they’re off!

Tuesday night was the first Council meeting of 2011 and I’d say we’re off at a gallop.

First on the agenda, swearing in our new Council members: Suzie Nakasian, Ward 1 and Patrick Gainey, Ward 4.  I am delighted to have these two thoughtful people join the Council.  Thank you to our departing Councilmembers, Jon Denison and Jim Pokorney for giving up so many evenings to do good work for Northfield.

The highlights from last night:

Board and commission appointments: Appointments (appointed by the mayor and approved by the Council) to boards and commissions are routine beginning-of-the-year actions, usually.  So, this item was on the consent agenda.

Until I asked to move it to the regular agenda. My rationale?  The Council has planned to discuss boards and commissions and consider how to change, add, subtract, restructure the groups we need to more effectively use the talent in the community and give the Council the advice it needs.

We haven’t followed through.  The Council first considered evaluating (and possibly restructuring) boards and commissions back in 2009 when I took office.  This effort fizzled as the Council got distracted with other issues, but this issue has bubbled up occasionally; it is currently on the draft “to do” list.  Then at the end of 2010, Erica Zweifel put the EDA on the agenda by proposing the Council take over the EDA functions.

My move was intended to seize the new year/councilor enthusiasm (Councilor Nakasian put it ever so nicely: the “plasticity of the moment”) to stress how important I think these boards are and to ask the Council to act sooner to make these groups effective and efficient: I did not (and stated as much) wish to attempt to block any individuals Mayor Rossing chose for boards.  The final result: Appointments were made to all boards except the EDA (5-2 vote, no votes by EDA appointees Mary Rossing and Rhonda Pownell) and next week’s work session will be even more important for setting the Council’s work plan for  2011.

Community events: How the City supports, encourages, and participates in community events (or doesn’t) like the Defeat of Jesse James Days Celebration, Taste of Northfield, Winter Walk, Vintage Band Festival and more is part of the economically healthy community dialogue for me.  You know, the conversation we haven’t had yet at the Council level.  Unfortunately, we got ourselves in a rut last year (read my summary here) and we’re still trying to climb out.

The Council approved in-kind grant support for 2011 to match 2010 levels of support ($32,000 + up to an additional $10,000 to be absorbed by affected departments) but I still don’t think we’ve reached either procedural predictability for event organizers or Council clarity about our intentions.   Upon the mere suggestion that the EDA might be a funding source for events which are important economic development drivers, the Mayor was quite clear this was not a direction she wished to travel.  The Council, not just the Mayor, needs to discuss economic development soon and make some thoughtful, long term policy for what we hope will be an economically healthy Northfield.

What I really regret about this entire issue is the good will the City has lost by making it so difficult for event organizers to do good things in and for Northfield. By focusing on the cost of events, we have lost sight of the benefits (both economic and otherwise).

We also received some updates

  • GreenStep Cities program (the City agreed to participate in this program back in June).  Much to be said about this one (much of it part of that economically healthy communities and big picture budget discussions), but it will have to wait for a future post.  In the meantime, read about the program and thank Erica Zweifel for leading this effort.
  • Business Park Master Plan – we approved  a “time line” (more like a couple of time points) for adopting this plan – wait for more in February.

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