consultants are sandburs

Wednesday, November 29, 2006

I can't believe it was just the one guy. Who else should walk the plank?

This summer, July 14, the Business Journal reported:

Mixing civic buildings and private developments
Minneapolis/St. Paul Business Journal - July 14, 2006
by Sam Black Staff Writer - (612) 288-2103

Back in 1998, when Ramsey city officials first considered a plan to build a 370-acre mixed-use project, no one even considered a public component, except for maybe a commuter rail train station.

But when the ribbon gets cut in October, the development will include a brand spanking new $16 million city hall and police station.

It wasn't until 2002 -- when the city was attempting to land a Metropolitan Council livable communities planning grant for the project headed by developer John Feges -- that City Administrator Jim Norman got the idea to move the growing suburb's cramped city hall into the development.

Over the past few years, Norman has become a huge advocate of putting civic buildings into mixed-use projects.

"I've come to believe it's critical," he said.


Well, okay, he was interviewed and defined his role and view of his own leadership in the Palace of Bureaucracy endeavor - where staff will soon be expanded to fill the space available - so don't let the doorknob hit you on the way out, Mr. Norman.

But really, it is a failure - a failed idea bad from the start to build a plastic imitation of an organically grown community - and should, like success, have all its "fathers" duly recognized.

Who engineered the Town Center Task Force's directions, and where are they now?

And how are people prospering off the land, and what part of the story does the answer to that question play in sixteen million being dropped into a building where the crystal-palace lobby seems as big or bigger than the former entire city hall? With such a good question, who will come forward with an answer?

And, "project headed by developer John Feges ..." the summer 2006 article says.

Did anyone really see John Feges as the deep pocket, taking this whole thing beyond a speculative posture and [apparently] spending real money for Kurak - Miless land, while a Kurak was on counsel and a Miless was on the charter commission? Bruce Nedegaard has been mentioned as key. Yet my recollection is hearing the Nedegaard name substantially before summer 2006, and yet the Feges name is still in the press - with the Norman name prominent in things.

Names such as Steffen, Kurak, Bauer, Elvig are not being reported.

Here is a question: Is Coburns happy being the only really substantial commercial venture in Town Center, or possibly feeling like a pioneer with an arrow in the back?

What promises may have been given Coburns, by whom? Is their liquor store prospering, and are the gas pumps drawing customers into the rest of the store, and vice versa? At least they have a nice paved convenient parking lot, there's that to be said. Miles from the costly ramp. Or it seems like miles, gazing at all that open space between the two, from the costly ramp across the area that could have been graveled for parking short term, toward the Coburn cluster; or from the cluster toward the Ramp -&- palace combine. And am I the only one to think that next to Coburns in the Coburn cluster the major tenant is, "For Lease?" It sure seems that "For Lease" has almost all the small shop spaces tied up, tidy and uncrowded inside with such things as merchandise or fixtures or working people.

But the paved parking lot IS convenient for the only real cause I've had to be going to Town Center, Coburns.

And who's profiting from the old city hall campus?

Would someone follow that money for me and give an answer? One of the consultants, or someone with insider knowledge?

Finally, go back to that opening Business Journal paragraph, "Back in 1998, when Ramsey city officials first considered a plan to build a 370-acre mixed-use project, no one even considered a public component, except for maybe a commuter rail train station."

Train station? What commuter rail train station? I suppose we do not need a station. Or we need a Port Authority to have a train station. Or there was a purpose from the start, where the station was a convient hat peg at the start. But things probably always stood to easily shift, but to always some way or another have a "place" to hang the hat.

As a wholly separate and unrelated observation; apart from any and all of the preceeding thoughts; I always liked the "badges" scene in Treasure of the Sierra Madre. Bandits firing away, mockingly saying, "Badges? We don't need no stinking badges." It's sort of a twisted but romantic concept. We have suitable fire power and don't need legitimacy - presuming "badges" in the scene stood for a legitimate hold on authority. An authority having a responsibility going with it. And requiring a sagacity and behavioral decency - a responsibility to be more than simple bandits. The gold, in the film, drove a wedge between the partners in the mining venture - extracting wealth from the raw land then falling into dispute among themselves over the wealth. Quite a film.

Quite a commentary on the human condition.


I may be the only one who finds it very offensive, but I sure doubt it.

Hopefully, it ends with James Norman's tenure as city administrator.

Going to meetings or being in city meeting rooms, there always are charts, boards, graphics about Town Center along the walls. Cluttering the room. OFFENSIVELY cluttering the room.

And propagandizing me. And I object strongly.

One request to the new council members, and the holdovers. Get the stuff out. Give it back to Bruce Nedegaard and his architectural toadies, and let them store their stuff in a barn somewhere.

But get it all out of my way, please.

It is like holding that false referendum on, "Would you like nice shops and restaurants," and giving instead crammed shared-wall housing that looks cheap and Lego-like, along Ramsey Blvd, at least, and like tarted-up boxes elsewhere at Town Center. It is ugly, and architecturally unsound; we all can see that and propaganda about some institutional award for the project while it's been nothing on the ground but an eyesore and failure is more propaganda we do not need and gain no benefit from its being given us. Open your eyes. Have a look. Decide for yourself.

And mayor and council -- please tell Nedegaard and crew to move that stuff out to their own workspaces. It offends.

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

TITLE: Rogers voted the TIF rascals out (or, we're No. 6). That's right, RAMSEY, is the number 6 "TIF Town" in Minnesota.

Tax Increment Finance is the cause of the business-relocation musical chairs of the suburbs-exurbs. It is all about Lunds boats leaving the Anoka Business Park when the TIF well there ran too dry for Lunds. It is about business ventures playing one town against the other. In short, it is good for businesses that want to see individual homeowners pay higher taxes so that the business ventures can dodge a taxing parity.

I am writing this for the homeowners already paying too big a share and facing the institution of a Pork Authority in Ramsey, i.e., for the homeowners who may have the capital chance to subsidize more at Town Center, rather than less.

A Pork Authority would be a whole new game in town, and we're number 6 already, on the list of those now TIF-gaming to the hilt.

Strib, Tuesday Nov. 28, reports:

Enough with the subsidies, Rogers' new officials say

Mike Kaszuba, Star Tribune
Last update: November 27, 2006 – 6:09 AM

Before Cabela's opened its doors last fall, the company was given as much as $5 million in public subsidies from the city. Still angry with that concession -- and others that make Rogers the leading city in Minnesota for public subsidies -- voters registered their displeasure three weeks ago by electing a slate of candidates who campaigned against the city's penchant for handing out public subsidies.

"They're still hopping mad about it," Paul Przybilla said of the Cabela's subsidy.

In January, Przybilla will become Rogers' new mayor after having successfully campaigned against the overuse of subsidies by this city of 6,000 residents on the northwest edge of the Twin Cities. Many businesses that got subsidies, he and others argued during the campaign, might have built in Rogers even without such support.

For more than two decades, Rogers has pushed the use of tax-increment financing, a complicated subsidy tool that channels property taxes from cities, counties and schools to help pay for the costs of the development, such as land acquisition and site preparation.

In the six years ending in 2005, Rogers led all major Minnesota cities in the use of the subsidy.

Twenty-seven percent of Rogers' total tax capacity, according to a study by the nonprofit Citizens League, had been captured by tax-increment financing during that period. [...] The average for the 54 largest municipal users of tax-increment financing was 9.5 percent, with Minneapolis at 15 percent.

[E]verything from Cabela's to Dairy Queen had received a subsidy.

For City Council Member-elect Steve Rauenhorst, enough was enough.

"There was a lot of -- I wouldn't say hostility -- but resentment on the idea the [city] was giving stuff away," said Rauenhorst, a laborer and another first-time office seeker. From now on, he said, "if people are expecting money when they come out here, sorry, it's not going to happen."

Przybilla, Rauenhorst and City Council Member Jamie Davis all won after stressing their opposition to public subsidies. They will form a new majority on the five-member council that already includes Scott Adams, a critic of the Cabela's subsidy.

At City Hall, the fallout from the election has already stirred a debate of what will happen next, and whether Rogers went too far in offering subsidies to businesses. Part of the post-election scrutiny has fallen on Gary Eitel, the 22-year city administrator and architect of much of the longtime public subsidy policy.

Eitel said Rogers' elections signaled a trend away from tax-increment financing that was already occurring in the city and elsewhere. Rogers, he said, had not created a new tax-increment development district in six years, and soon would be closing out three others.

But Rogers' record of giving subsidies, Eitel said, had over the years enabled a small city along Interstate Hwy. 94 best known for a truck stop -- Rogers had just 649 residents when Eitel began -- to blossom into a city with a tax base big enough to finance schools and parks. "I now have an industrial park that's 3 million square feet," Eitel said.

Well, they had to put up with their Eitel guy for 22 years, their City Administrator Eitel, and we've had our City Administrator James Norman (or Jim Norman if you want to be informal) for nine. And in that time, although we did not surpass Rogers, we did make number 6 - one of only six "TIF Towns" that tie up seventeen percent or more of the tax base as undertaxed - and if that seventeen percent is undertaxed we know what that makes the remaining 83% - that's right, 5/6 of Ramsey is overtaxed to make up for the TIF favoritism.

TIF favoritism applies for loan-brokered clients of a regional SBA loan brokerage that also has had a key person involved in advising Ramsey as, what else, a paid consultant. Right. Both sides of the street. An interesting question is who is on that SBA loan brokerage's board of directors, and under what terms and conditions. What would a thorough audit reveal?

Whatever an audit might additionally show, the table at the start of this post presents the Citizens League's totally impartial TIF Town data, the data tabulated and presented online by Strib.

Doesn't it make you proud to be able to be in the top six TIF Towns?

Look at all those fine high-paying jobs it's produced in Ramsey. My impression has been that businesses move in and largely keep intact their workforce that they had at their last location, but I could be wrong.

Am I wrong? Any Ramsey official or resident can post a comment about this, for clarity or for debate.

Saturday, November 18, 2006

Ramsey Crossings? Huh? Who's making a buck on that land?

I will call it "Ramsey Crossroads" as in blues singer Robert Johnson allegedly having sold his soul to the devil, at the crossroads in Rosedale, Mississippi. It is the stuff of legend.

But "Ramsey Crossroads," who's to own, for what, and who's to profit off the land deals?

Has it anything to do with the parallel questions about Ramsey's "Pork Authority" that seems to be at issue, below the radar, without anything official I can find?

Today, I read in yesterday's [Nov 17] Anoka County Union, p. 6A, that James Norman quit his job as city administrator, without any specific new job prospects; although he is one of six finalists for a vacant city manager job in Roseville. The story presently is NOT online at the ACU, where kindergarten and an if-it-bleeds-it-leads "body found at fire scene" story prevail on the online "front page" (the kind of non-news events that paper is famous for featuring while selling legal notice space to local government); so you've got to buy or borrow a print copy to read the glowing praise James Norman received from Mayor Thomas Gamec, Councilmember DAVID WAYNE ELVIG, and Councilmember David Jeffrey.

Neither Councilmember Olson nor Met Council member Steffen is quoted. Nor is Bruce Nedegaard or other Town Center dignataries, nor representatives of Coburns. There are more interesting people who could have been asked about the Norman period; e.g., the Kuraks.

And what of efforts to expand the Northwest sewer-water routing and hookups beyond the gun club and the more northerly cornfield - efforts associated with developer John Peterson?

How does expansion beyond directly-related Peterson projects affect the Peterson pocketbook? What's his contract with the City of Ramsey say about that, and why was the deal cut as it was? I do not know, I have not been a part of negotiations nor have I reviewed the document - but somebody has. Hopefully things have been done in a way fair to the city and city taxpayers.

With a new and aggressive State Auditor, Rebecca Otto, perhaps Ramsey's books may be looked at in a new way, and with greater than past scrutiny. It is the type of office where reputations can be built by ferreting out misconduct. Perhaps newly elected councilmembers would welcome and request such assistance. Indeed, what could more rapidly advance their personal learning curves now that Norman will not be there for them to directly question?

Is there one big knot to be untied; or a series of smaller simpler ones? What charter protections should we create? Is the last question related to and dependent on answers to all the other questions? It appears to be a developing story. We shall at least be able to see what of it was James Norman's story, and what of the remainder belongs to others. But will we see it too late to matter?

Thursday, November 16, 2006

Whether acting alone or with Council insider "help," Jim Norman's "Pork Authority" saddle-attempt for Ramsey proves we need better recall powers.


Luckily, the Ramsey Council has improved by adding two members to replace a pair of rubberstamp place holders. While we hope and await the new year, with new members John Dehen in Ward 3 and Matt Look at large taking office, we need to keep an eye on the lame duck period between election day and the new year. But that is not the complete answer.


The entire "Port Authority" effort, which in the absence of official explanations and 'fessing up to responsibility, shall be called the "Pork Authority," needs citizen awareness and questioning during citizen input about what happened and who the role players were.

And it needs a citizen vote to improve holding office holders and administrative officials accountable.

We cannot vote all the rascals out on the two year election cycle, and in off-year elections we do not even have a shot at a new majority. That means only one thing - stronger Recall powers.

While improving Recall charter provisions, citizens can gain greater power to act per initiative and referendum avenues, by seeing all is enhanced while reordering Recall procedures.

We need to fix the Charter to allow two "Recall" things - easier means to remove elected councilmembers, and creation of a new citizen power to remove unsatisfactory administrative officials.

Read that as Jim Norman. Presently, we have no means to "recall" or oust him from office, despite his presently appearing to have spearheaded Ramsey Pork Authority activity.

For now, there is no other role-player identified in the effort, if a search of online documents is to be believed. From the City website homepage I opened the LaserFiche "documents" and did an exact and fuzzy search for the term "port authority," and got zero hits. No document returned with that term flagged.


In addition to facts set out in an earlier posting here and here, consider these two compelling facts:

First, somebody coaxed Jim Abeler and Mike Jungbauer into sponsoring identically worded parallel house and senate bills; 84th Session, HF 3289 (posted March 8, 2006) and SF 3141 (posted March 13, 2006), each stating:

A bill for an act relating to local government; granting port authority powers to the city of Ramsey;proposing coding for new law in Minnesota Statutes, chapter 469. BE IT ENACTED BY THE LEGISLATURE OF THE STATE OF MINNESOTA:

Section 1. [469.0805] RAMSEY. The governing body of the city of Ramsey may exercise all the powers of a port authority provided by sections 469.048 to 469.068.

Second, we see that at least once Jim Norman even "testified" before a legislative committee about the Pork Authority, probably stating his planning and Ramsey's alleged "need" although the record seems scant; see, e.g., March 16, 2006, Minnesota House Local Government Committee Minutes, stating in a less than notoriously prominent manner:

HF3289 (Abeler) Ramsey; port authority powers granted.

PETERSON, Neil moved to recommend HF3289 pass and be re-referred to the Committee on Taxes.

The following provided testimony on and responded to the Committee’s questions regarding HF3289:

Representative Jim Abler; and Jim Norman, City Administrator, City of Ramsey, 15153 Nowthen Blvd NW, Ramsey, MN, 55303.

There being no further testimony, pro or con, the question reoccurred on the Peterson Motion to recommend HF3289 pass and be re-referred to the Committee on Taxes. THE MOTION PREVAILED.
So it was done to us. The who/how of Jim Norman showing up and no one else is clothed in mystery, and no contrary testimony was given because, presumably, neither Abeler nor Jungbauer knew of any opponents to the idea.

Please, everyone reading this, contact your ward councilmember and Strommen, the holdover at large member, Cook the lame duck at large member, and Matt Look, the new at large rep., and tell them what you think of such planning going on largely off-the-record and behind peoples' backs. To me it is a shameful thing where those responsible should be called to task.


And you may have felt protected.

Recall that simple bill sentence, "The governing body of the city of Ramsey may exercise all the powers of a port authority provided by sections 469.048 to 469.068."

That means the council being set to gain this power without formally ever passing a resolution or ordinance asking for it.

Nor was it mentioned by Ramsey officials it in any way for voters to catch wind of it to take precautionary steps, or to bring up the question during a televised citizens' input meeting segment or to weigh the situation at the ballot box.

Who is Jim Norman, doing these things as if he's king of Ramsey or some such?

And what's the risk? Well, look at it this way: What about the bill-referenced "sections 469.048 to 469.068" and taxpayer effects? There's more detail than in this short posting answer, but the gist of the following quote could make you swallow your dentures, so exercise due care:

469.060 General obligation bonds.

Subdivision 1. Power; procedure. A port authority
may issue bonds in the principal amount authorized by its city's
council. The bonds may be issued in anticipation of income from
any source. The bonds may be issued: (1) to secure funds
needed by the authority to pay for acquired property or (2) for
other purposes in sections 469.049, 469.050, and 469.058 to
469.068. The bonds must be in the amount and form and bear
interest at the rate set by the city council. Except as
otherwise provided in sections 469.048 to 469.068, the issuance
of the bonds is governed by chapter 475. The port authority
when issuing the bonds is a municipal corporation under chapter
475. Notwithstanding any contrary city charter provision or
any general or special law, the bonds may be issued and sold without
submission of the question to the electors of the city, provided
that the ordinance of the governing body of the city authorizing
issuance of the bonds by the port authority shall be subject to
any provisions in the city charter pertaining to the procedure
for referendum on ordinances enacted by the governing body.

Subd. 2. Outside debt limit. Bonds issued by the
port authority must not be included in the net debt of its city.
Money received under this section must not be included in a per
capita limit on taxing or spending in the port authority's
city's charter. The authority is also exempt from the limit.


Subd. 5. Pledge. The bonds must be secured by the
pledge of the full faith, credit, and resources of the issuing
port authority's city. The port authority may pledge the full
faith, credit, and resources of the city only if the city
specifically authorizes the authority to do so. The city
council must first decide whether the issuance of the bonds by
the authority is proper in each case and if so, the amount of
bonds to issue. The city council shall give specific consent in
an ordinance to the pledge of the city's full faith, credit, and
resources. The port authority shall pay the principal amount of
the bonds and the interest on it from taxes levied under this
section to make the payment or from authority income from any

Subd. 6. Tax levy. A port authority that issues
bonds under this section, shall, before issuing them, levy a tax
for each year on the taxable property in the authority's city.
The tax must be for at least five percent more than the amount
required to pay the principal and interest on the bonds as the
principal and interest mature. The tax must be levied annually
until the principal and interest are paid in full. [...]

Is there a two edged sword? Yes, that's right, there are only quite limited (but quite express) ways the charter can save taxpayers from gross abuse and we need to use them, pronto, for the handwriting on the wall is disturbing. What this means is we must be smart citizens.

But the expedient dodge of a charter election by opining that proposed charter changes are "unlawful" is curtailed because the statute explicitly requires that any "ordinance of the governing body of the city authorizing issuance of the bonds by the port authority shall be subject to any provisions in the city charter pertaining to the procedure for referendum on ordinances."

That means we should promptly begin an effort to streamline charter provisions giving citizens power under "provisions in the city charter pertaining to the procedure for referendum on ordinances."

We gain that certitude in direction, with limitations. We can specify our own destiny.

And if we do not, there's no limitation to the Pork Authority saddle taxpayers will potentially have to carry. Protections in other ways are experssly absent once a "Pork Authority" menace is created and set about its mischief and meanderings with an authorizing bonding ordinance.




Again, my bottom line long-term answer is for us to amend the charter.

We should specify comparably straightforward and easily met procedures for initiative, referendum and recall, as we enjoy under Minnesota statutory law providing for amending a city's home rule charter. We can make our "referendum on ordinances" charter provisions even easier to use, to be suitably protective of citizen rights. Unless the lame ducks have their way with us before we act (that lack of good faith always is possible) we can simplify signature and petition formats and requirements, mandate an election timeframe, and forestall mischief.


This is a developing story. I have yet to fully research bill progress and legislative actions last session; a damage assessment; and to review the law on "port authority" entities. That would disclose the potentials for abusive added taxes and added debt load on the city residents.

But even now - who is Jim Norman, and who does he think he is to go about lobbying for a "pork authority" without any formal council authorization by ordinance or resolution.

Why was there no prior ordinance or resolution for Norman's activity back in March 2006?

My guess, there was an election then a half year off, and the cowardly thing to do is to plan secretly but not disclose what's up, in order to not fare worse at the ballot box.

Things can only be inferred at this time, and there may be a wholly honorable explanation of things. But lacking any explanation for now it is fair to infer dishonorable possibilities.

Saturday, November 11, 2006

There Will be a Port Authority. The Debt Limit on Ramsey Citizens Will be Raised. We Will be Drinking River Water at Ever Greater Cost. Unless ...

Citizens of Ramsey can be proactive as well as reactive each election cycle. We can protect ourselves against arbitrary City actions, by amending our charter.

Consider first this simple "Port Authority" charter amendment we in Ramsey, as voters, can force to an election and pass:

The City shall not collect any tax or fee for a Port Authority, nor spend any city money for a Port Autority, nor issue any bonds or incur any other indebtedness in order to support Port Authority operations or capital improvement activity. The City shall not circumvent this provision by creating a port authority, in fact, and naming it something else to deflect attention.

To protect people against potential poisoning if housing gets built on contaminated land, and to give notice that pollutant monitoring may be advisible as with state programs on lead exposure, another two sentence separate amenement might also be voted on. Remember, lead poisoning is a concern to Minnesotans, as shown here, here, with many links here, and for medical pesonnel, here, and this mirrors a concern nationally, as shown for example, here and here. As these references show, childhood exposure is a great concern, and housing on polluted land poses a greater threat than work place exposure. Here is simple, protective, zero cost language, that could be put into effect as a charter amemdment:

As a matter of notice and public health protection the City shall require the recording of a notice to any purchaser of a home built on once contaminated land where the Minnesota Pollution Control Authority had required or supervised a clean-up effort. Relators shall be required to provide potential purchasers of any such home a copy of such notice at least seven calendar days before a closing; a potential purchaser may rescind the sale within such time period; and any provider of a purchase money mortgage shall be given such a notice on such a time frame and may in that time period reverse a loan committment.

Here is a charter provision that would finally and forceably forestall another worry of homeowners in many parts of Ramsey:

The City shall never force a homeowner to connect to municipal sewer and water unless: the City pays all hook-up fees or costs; the homeowner petitions to subdivide the property; the homeowner refuses to repair or upgrade a defective existing private sewage disposal system to meet generally prevailing standards for such systems within the state; or the homeowner refuses to repair or upgrade a defective existing well to statewide standards. In all instances a homeowner's pirvate well or sewage disposal system shall be presumed defect free with the burden of proof upon authorities to prove otherwise.

When it comes to the quality of what the City would pipe into our homes for us to drink and bathe in, there is concern, met by the two following related charter proposals which can each be separately proposed by citizen petition:

The City shall meet its urban water needs via deep wells into ground water aquifers of known quality and suitability. The City shall not in any instance withdraw river water and pipe it, treated or untreated, into our household water supply network nor pipe it directly or indirectly into our homes.

The City shall not spend in aggregate more than three million dollars for municipally supplied water treatment purposes. To raise this limit in the absence of a compelling order from State health authorities to upgrade water treatment for public health reasons, the City must hold a prior referendum for voter approval of any increase beyond the three million dollar limit imposed by charter.

Finally, here is perhaps the ultimate most important general potential separate charter amendment all Ramsey citizens should consider, to protect our interests against an overreaching city government:

Any increase in the City's debt limit shall require preapproval via referendum.

Taxpayers can protect themselves.

And the charter amendment process allows us to enact our protections and keep them in our hands, not surrendered to be overcome by any later preemptive acts of bureaucrats.

Because Ramsey is a charter city, self-protection via charter works best. A future council vote cannot disenfranchise a charter right. A public vote of citizens is needed to undo any rights we create for ourselves by charter.

Remember, a home rule charter city has undeniable jurisdiction over its taxing and spending.

Bottom line: If we choose, we can protect ourselves against any potential taxing, spending, or borrowing we, collectively, deem in advance to be unwise. We simply need to vote by referendum to impose reasonable restraints upon our council and city administration. The charter controls.

Thursday, November 09, 2006


A Ward 1 voter phoned yesterday wondering where local election results are posted. The Anoka County website gives all voting counts from within the County. The following information is transcribed and derived from their Ramsey Council results.


DAVID W. ELVIG 1323 -- 59 %
ERIC ZAETSCH 923 -- 41 %

Total 2249
Victory Margin 400 -- 18 %


JOHN P. DEHEN 930 -- 58 %
AL PEARSON 667 -- 41.5 %

Total 1606
Victory Margin 263 -- 16 %


TODD COOK 2762 -- 37 %
MATT LOOK 4621 -- 62 %

Total 7414
Victory Margin 1859 -- 25 %

Two challengers won, one incumbent was retained.

No race was close, but Ward 3 by absolute number
and by percentage had the closest margin.

For the 2004 Presidential Election, over 10,000 voted.
This election, turnout was less than 3/4 of that.


MAYOR GAMEC -- beginning of time to 2008
DAVID ELVIG -- 2003 to 2010 [WARD 1]
SARAH STROMMEN -- 2003 to 2008 [AT LARGE]
DAVID JEFFREY -- 2005 to 2008 [WARD 4]
MARY JO OLSON -- 2005 to 2008 [WARD 2]
JOHN DEHEN -- 2007 to 2010 [WARD 3]
MATT LOOK -- 2007 to 2010 [AT LARGE]

Next election cycle, the 2008 Presidential elections,
will have the Gamec, Strommen, Jeffrey, and Olson seats
up for reelection (or open if any incumbent does not run).

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

Many thanks.

To those of the 2200 Ward 1 voters who chose me, thank you. If 201 voters had turned their ballots the other way it would have been a clean sweep of the incumbents.

Now we must all support the two new council members, John P. Dehen and Matt Look, and wish them well in their effort to reform and better manage the City. There is much they can do, even when speaking out as a minority against a majority vote, or giving us contested votes with their reasoning, to replace the too frequent past pattern of unanimity.

Matt and John have my best wishes for success.

Tuesday, November 07, 2006

Election Day: Make it your "Referendum" for a change.

Today's Star Tribune, front page and business section, print and online, reports housing market doldrums here:

Home building keeps slowing

The Builders Association of the Twin Cities said Monday that home builders were issued 455 permits to build 871 units in October, a 47 percent decline in permits and a 44 percent decline in units from October 2005.

Curt Swanson, association president, attributed the permit decline partly to noncommittal deal hunters and said that "trying to time the market is near impossible."

Sales peaked in 2003 when 11,472 permits were issued to build 19,000 new units at a time when mortgage interest rates were slipping to the lowest point in a generation. That buying spree borrowed from future demand and drove home prices to record levels. Now, activity is at its slowest pace since the early 1990s.

And here:

Too many agents, too few buyers

Even as home sales have slid, the number of licensed agents and brokers has jumped 8.8 percent statewide between January 2005 and September 2006 to 40,930, according to the Minnesota Department of Commerce.

It's getting so crowded that hints to less-productive members are no longer subtle. In his association's fall member resource update, [Chris Galler, senior vice president of the Minnesota Association of Realtors] asks: "Is it time for a career adjustment?"

Meanwhile, new home construction has fallen to levels not seen since the early 1990s.

So, will the shared -wall end of the market tank further, or is it at a trough ready to rebound? How badly will a local glut affect those needing to sell and wanting to recover their built-up equity? Will we be both on the hook taxwise in the future, and on the hook if we have to sell into a slack market?

With these worries, why let City government now raise the debt ceiling for more activity at Town Center while the jury's still out and funds may already have been spent unwisely?

How much of a continued housing shake-out is yet to come?

And why did the planners and council members not anticipate and plan for downside Town Center risks?

They dismissed it as "negative thinking" and plunged headlong -- with your future tax dollars at risk whenever municipal debt is incurred.

"The new rooftops will pay for themselves" was an opinion hardly universally held.

It was saying, "Don't worry, be happy," with your tax dollars and not their money.

Land speculators were out for the quick kill, witness the Kurak activity from the council table on Town Center, and the Elvig activity to get sewer-water to the gun club where his father-in-law held a stake even before Elvig took office.

A truth about new rooftops and new taxpayers -- they, like us, would want something for their money. They, like us, would not want to pay something for nothing. That was the flaw in that "rooftops, rooftops, rooftops" theme.

The land speculators take their money up-front and the taxpayers service and retire debt.

VOTE SMART. Last night without benefit of the timely Strib items, I posted on downside risk, and I posted earlier on how it is not "child's play" to sell less-desirable housing in a glut market.

And finally in voting, ask yourself why YOU moved to Ramsey - and whether the planners and council are taking us away from the neighborhood charm and attraction that brought you here.

Monday, November 06, 2006

The "Dream Team" Strikes Out Big Time. Was it too much dreaming, and too little planning for downside risk?

The Dream - Seen through Rose Colored glasses,
by the Elvig Town Center Task Force.

Haas Steffen said, "I would call our task force the 'Dream Team.' This plan is what might be – it is not set in concrete. A lot of people contributing to this plan have had a dream. If you don't have a dream, someone else will drop one on you. What this dream will ultimately become depends on us here in Ramsey and on the economy."

Key dreamers, with rose-colored glasses toward "the economy."

Reality Looks More Like A Dead End Junction.
Do Not Throw Good Money After Bad.

If there's no arrearage then there's no power to foreclose.

FORECLOSURE: In an earlier post I suggested assessements against Town Center in arrears might be foreclosed, and such a step would be wise. In a second post, I suggested that nine million dollars might have been more wisely spent on road improvements.

Consider this a correction or qualification of the first posting. But I stand on the second one, that money was unwisely spent because fixing the traffic mess first is the better policy. It is bad policy to allow growth to worsen the traffic, and then trying to play catch up (to where we'd been before the growth worsened things). There is no reason to change that opinion.

On the question of a special assessment lien against property; if there is no current arrearage there is no right to foreclose. I post about this to avoid misunderstanding.

I have been told that special assessments may be paid over a period of years. They do not need to be paid in the year assessed, as is the case for regular real property taxes.

If Town Center developers are current then the City lacks a right or power to foreclose. I want to make that correction clear.

So, if there is a three million dollar letter of credit and a nine million dollar assessment against the entire property [except where deed releases apply for developed parts of the entire property such as Coburns], and that amount equals the total cost of City paid infrastructure - i.e., if the internal roadways and storm and sanitary sewer, water, and undergrounded electric and other utilities were installed and adjacent highway improvement assessments (if any) were all properly levied and the full total present exposure is at or less than $12 million (the constant $3 million letter of credit plus the liens) and the assessments stand in a first lien position ahead of mortgage lending, then security is sufficient.

However, if and when a tax arrearage triggers maturity of a right and power to forclose a lein, I still contend that foreclosing promptly in such an instance would be wisest.

Not knowing the lien status or the City's accrued rights to foreclose, if any, I presume things are now properly handled by the City.

Yet, if elected I would examine the books to confirm proper handling and to see if improprieties of any kind are apparent.

DEBT CEILING CONCERNS: Moreover, as a separate matter, I remain entirely unaware of any authority City Lobbyist Balach had to seek to have the debt limit taxpayers face raised, because nobody has yet given me notice of any council resolution or ordinance passed to authorize the City to approach the legislature during the last legislative session for a debt ceiling change.

See, Ramsey City Charter, Sect. 7.1 "Council to Control Finances." See also, the balance of Charter Chap. 7.

I renew my request for a person to come forward having information or contending Balach's lobbying was properly pre-authorized [i.e., conforming to Charter Chapter 3 setting "Council Procedures" requiring the City to act via resolutions or ordinances; see also, Charter Sections 6.1 and 6.3 indicating the City Administrator only has derivative, not inate power].

Any reader believing Balach was authorized to lobby for a debt ceiling increase as she did is again asked to post a comment explaining the basis for such thinking. I renew my previous request this way, and so far nobody has contacted me saying I am in error in any of my debt ceiling analysis.

Moreover, what offends me most - as with moving City Hall at great cost - this debt ceiling raise should have been put to a Referendum first, for voter approval.

Without citizens wanting it, neither the City Hall move nor the debt ceiling effort should have advanced.

It is your city and you can take back control. Make this election your "Referendum" for change.

Sunday, November 05, 2006

Shortfall, what tax shortfall? Why?

One of the audience questions at the League of Women Voters forum that caught me a bit unaware was, in substance but perhaps not an exact quote, "What do you suggest should be done about the City's current tax shortfall?"

My opponent responding first, talked of belt-tightening measures; and I agreed and also mentioned that there is charter authority to borrow short term to balance expenditures and revenue [See, Charter Sect. 7.11 & 7.12].

In responding to the question I overlooked the obvious counterquestion - the cause of my unawareness, "Shortfall, what shortfall, why a shortfall, how did a shortfall come about?"

So, I ask it now. What caused a shortfall in revenue?

Is some payment due the city in arrears; going uncollected while due; or was there the "rose colored glasses" syndrome at play, the City's forecasting being too optimistic in anticipating revenue from "new rooftops" or otherwise?

I do not know the answer.

I invite anyone with information or an explanation to post a comment.

Again, if elected the first thing I would do is go over the books.

Here's a novel idea.

How much traffic improvement could we buy with $9 million?

With Ward 1 incumbent DAVID WAYNE ELVIG admitting there's $9 million in unpaid assessments against Town Center, how much improvement against reckless growth's worsening of traffic could even a fraction of that $9 million buy for us along Highways 10 and 47?

Even if it's not much with matching funds from county, state, or federal grants or programs, mamma always said, "Something's better than nothing."

Why not foreclose them? That seems normal. Is there any reason "assessments" are not being collected at Town Center?

In a flyer, Ward 1 opponent DAVID WAYNE ELVIG claims for the millions and millions worth of citizen-financed infrastructure - roads, sanitary sewer, undergrounded power, and storm sewer at Town Center - the City's security is a $3 million letter of credit.

He adds, "and $9 Million of assessments against the properties, as collateral against any public investment in the Town Center."

When you, as a taxpayer-citizen get assessed a tax or fee, what happens?

Generally, you promptly within the year pay to stay.

Why does it appear to be different at Town Center?

My opponent says "assessments against the properties, as collateral...". This sounds like Ramsey giving a loan of taxpayer wealth to private profit-seekers. He does not say assessments due and owing and collectible, and why not?

What I see here is opponent DAVID WAYNE ELVIG admitting the City is not collecting some assessments against Town Center. The money, if paid, could be used for city purposes. Instead, he seems to be suggesting assessments have accumulated to multi-million dollar amounts but go unpaid. He never says there's a payment plan or schedule, or if they ever will be paid.

The normal remedy for unpaid assessments, unless there's some contract or "handshake" promises my opponent neglects to mention, is to foreclose.

The City needs money to provide current services. Your taxes could be lower if this other income stream is due and collected, since it could be spent to retar roads, pay for policing neighborhoods, and pay for fire response - as examples.

We could even use some of the $9 million cash to pay the salaries for the planners now on payroll, with greater numbers of employees anticipated from the size of the new city hall.

Indeed, the money could be spent now to give better shelter from the cold than the two open air park-and-ride bus kiosks now at the site of the city hall & ramp.

Bottom line question: Why not foreclose any unpaid assessments without delay? The City seems to deserve it.

Saturday, November 04, 2006

Where are the tax dollars going?

We're number one.

It is curious that the Wed. Sept. 28, 2005, Strib reported, "City taxes are on the rise," and noted that Ramsey taxes had increased more than any of the fourteen other Anoka County cities listed.

Ramsey taxes went up 22.4%, Ham Lake's rose more than 20%, and the next closest city was Andover at 13.2%; almost half the raise that our Council imposed.

What makes this curious is that some politicians are now claiming a host of things are being done without it coming from "your Ramsey tax dollars."

Curiously, no explanation is given where your Ramsey tax dollars are disappearing to, and if elected, the first thing I would do is look at the books.

Curiously, these same politicians now give us no explanation on whose tax dollars are being spent for such public purposes; or explaining how much things cost and how things get paid for.

That seems to be the correct thing to put in a couple of pages of factual text.

Besides "tax and spend" what do you do for government money? Borrow and spend? "Fee" and spend, as some would distinguish things? What's up?

There's no smoke and mirrors in stating: Project xxx cost $yyy, and our souces for paying are $aaaa and $bbbb, from county property taxes, Uncle Sam, state income taxes, whatever taxes and whatever other non-tax income there is. Met Council, like Ramsey, taxes and spends, but some of their taxes are called "fees" and applied by their set of rules.

Bottom line: In the past we've raised taxes more than others, with no real explanations given.

Friday, November 03, 2006

An Old Ramsey Home With Trees and a Preference

LISTENING POST: An open thread for input from Ramsey officials or Ramsey citizens. Post a comment about things on your mind.

I set almost no restrictions on this "Listening Post." Patently offensive comments will be removed. Please try to avoid defamatory remarks.

Otherwise it is free rein, for comments about my flyer, or for any thoughtful ideas you have for City improvements, to praise aspects of life in Ramsey, or to focus upon current or future City problems you envision.

You are encouraged to watch the thread and respond to earlier comments if you've something to add.

You are encouraged to use
THIS THREAD if you feel I have misstated anything in any post I place here or in the flyer I am distributing within the Ward 1 area. If you did not get the flyer and would like a copy emailed; the "View my complete profile" link to the left will link you over to my email, which is:

Please write EMAIL ME FLYER in the "Subject" header line.

Thank you for your comments.

Cheap looking UGLY housing, no matter how you look at it.

At your Town Center. Along Ramsey Blvd., between the new light at Hwy. 116, and the new light at Sunwood.

These shared-wall homes assault your sensibilities and gut feelings for good design.

They run north of the PACT school, you cross 116, and another cluster of different looking cheap-appearing shared-wall housing takes over. This is the new Ramsey. Somebody's dream. My view of a nightmare.

The first views are from the west looking east from Rhinestone [an appropriate name, a rhinestone is a fake diamond]. Some look from Ramsey westward. Finally some of the project architects taking credit, etc. showing a unity of theme and design.

Even using the Microsoft picture manager to "doctor" the pictures gives no help. However you slice and dice it, Emerald City from Oz, Masque of the Red Death, it comes out only one way. Shabby and ugly. Ugly.

Is anybody buying this stuff?

How can it sell, even in a hot market? Building it is one thing, selling it is not child's play.

More free pictures of where the millions have gone.

In order, top to bottom, with the first two giving you the chance to get the official names and official addresses: 1- CRYSTAL PALACE - and note the 8' tall doors, for scale with the lobby bigger than the existing council meeting room at the fire station; 2- BIG RAMP northwest corner; 3- BIG RAMP southeast corner; BIG RAMP looking south toward the two transit hub structures. Does it make you proud?

There were stories, besides "The Developer will pay for everything." Stories about what to expect vs. what has happened.

Here it is, Ramsey Municipal Parking, 7650 Sunwood Drive. You know it is so, because it says so on the side of the building. Also, note that spiffy stairway tower at the east [right] end of the BIG RAMP. It is bigger, I think, than the entire City Hall on Hwy 5 at Alpine. It goes to show.

It cost millions and millions of borrowed dollars. The City sold bonds. Investors bought the bonds. Citizens will pay down the bonds and will service the interest. It's all out of your taxes. So the picture is yours free. I put it into the public domain. No rights reserved. Yours for the download. Enjoy.

You paid for it all, get the picture free.

Note also the CRYSTAL PALACE, aka Ramsey Municipal Center, 7550 Sunwood Drive, barely visible to the east of the BIG RAMP (at the far right of the photo). You paid for it too. It also is a multi-million dollar unnecessary structure, like the ramp. Both easy to find, since both stand alone in the middle of a multi-acre vast empty space aka "Town Center."

Any photos of mine I publish here are yours free. Since you should get something for all the tax dollars things will cost you, you get pictures for free. What a deal. If you print the picture and bring it to City Hall [aka the CRYSTAL PALACE] I believe Jim Norman will autograph it for you; or will autograph a limited number since he is a busy man.

NOW, the next two pictures are not free, they're owned by Met Council, and are not mine to give you. Remember this?

And remember this, the cornfield the Kuraks sold for a fourteen million dollar profit while she sat on the Council?

Before sewer-water was made available the land could have been condemned for a fraction of that $90,000 - $100,000 per acre price the Kuraks obtained from a "limited liability company" spearheaded by a developer named Bruce Nedegaard. It could have been condemned, lock, stock and barrel, at its value w/o the sewer and water and w/o cozy zoning allowing acres on acres of ultra-dense housing.

The City decision makers did not go that route, however. The Kuraks made a bundle, and now developer Bruce Nedegaard is in the driver's seat, not you and your representatives, despite the money the City's plunged into it all. Does it make you wonder, whose Town Center project it's been from the start, after all, if you're not getting any real benefit from it except a shorter trip for groceries now with Coburns?

On Oct. 9, 2002, a month before the election where my opponent DAVID WAYNE ELVIG [full name for Google searching] ousted incumbent Terry Hendriksen, Met Council ran a posting touting Elvig and featuring his chairing the "Town Center Task Force." Since taking a council seat, he's chaired the Council's Public Works committee [as in building these Town Center boondoggles, ramp and palace]; he's chaired the Council's Finance committee [as in taking in taxes and deciding where the money's spent]; and has been awarded a spot on a Met Council land use planning board. Truly, an active man.

Elvig was featured in the 2002 pre-election Met Council post, along with his former Sunday School teacher, Natalie Steffen, Met Councilmember from and living in Ramsey.

While arguaby not aimed at influencing that election, Met Council's publication may have had such an effect, with rosy stories of promise and dreams where, "If you don't have a dream, someone else will drop one on you." Do you feel bonked now, at this point, by someone's dream turned nightmare, with you left wondering why your wallet's thinner?

Met Council touted many things, but without saying who would pick up the tab, how much it would cost Ramsey's taxpayers, whose profits were at stake, what other expectations Elvig and Met Council had of Ramsey for growth in other parts of the City, etc. Nor did it disclose that ultimately over 3100 new shared-wall housing units would be installed there with a consequent added stress on everyone's existing, severe, rush-hour commuting ride.

Moreover, a costly multimillion dollar water treatment plant now is being planned for Ramsey, forced upon us because of growth "dreams" exceeding capacity of our wells and the aquifer they reache into to supply the glut.

Drinking river water is Ramsey planners' answer. That is a subject for a separate post, because for now the Mississippi is not drought-stricken but some were here in the 1980's when it was.

And besides, who wants to drink river water, when the wells have been fully sufficient - and would continue to be - without Met Council inspired growth.

Excerpting of that 2002 pre-election Met Council web post reveals:

Even greater change may come from the planned Northstar commuter rail, the first of its kind planned for the Twin Cities region. Recognizing the increasing growth pressure, the city and the Metropolitan Council have joined hands on a novel development opportunity for a 275-acre vacant greenfield site with a southwest edge along Hwy. 10 and the proposed commuter rail.

Ramsey is designated as a future station site. In spring 2003, Mn/DOT will open a transit park-and-ride stop in Ramsey on a line from Elk River to Minneapolis.

In contrast to the highway-oriented jobs and retail progressing up Hwy. 10, Ramsey's proposed town center would fill a void where no strong local community gathering place exists today. The town center would be a walkable environment, oriented and connected to the community. It would include a small grocery store, anchoring small nearby shops, plus pockets of light industry surrounding internal courtyards. Key elements of the plan – the commuter rail station, grocery store, a new city hall and new community center – all would be within a five-minute walk. In fact, most of the development is accessible by a 10-minute straight-line walk.

"I would compare our task force effort to baking a cake. The effort blends several ingredients together – citizen input, a market study, city needs, and now the Calthorpe illustrative plan for a town center." [said] David Elvig, chair of the Ramsey Town Center Task Force.

Haas Steffen said, "I would call our task force the 'Dream Team.' This plan is what might be – it is not set in concrete. A lot of people contributing to this plan have had a dream. If you don't have a dream, someone else will drop one on you. What this dream will ultimately become depends on us here in Ramsey and on the economy."

Over the past 12 months, the Ramsey Town Center Task Force has received approximately 1,300 comments on the plan, according to task force chair, David Elvig.

And now the money's run out, there's no transit hub as in that "neato artist's rendering" above from the Met Council, and Ramsey's not now slated for a Northstar stop. There are two open-air bus stop stands. That's it.

David, I think you can now make it 1301 comments . The key-cutting woman at the kiosk on Main Street summed it up for me as, "We got screwed."

Photos - the candidates for Ramsey Ward 1


First, challenger, Eric Zaetsch.

Second, incumbent, David Elvig.

Zaetsch supplied his photo.

Elvig photo courtesy of Ramsey City Website.

Neither's good looking.

"Developers Are Crabgrass" - with the quotation marks.

fyi - for readers.

If you forget the spelling of my name to get the URL address typed correctly as:

you can simply Google, "Developers Are Crabgrass" -- but be sure to include the " ..." marks, or you get a host of off-point Google listings. The quotation marks are the equivalent of entering an exact term in the Google advanced search window.

No Northstar Stop.

They spent so much money they ran out. They hit the municipal debt ceiling limits. And there is a palace and a ramp in the middle of a big empty field where they could have graveled parking space for now. The Oct. 20, 2006 Anoka County Union, p.8A, tells me this is exactly what the non-arrogant responsible Anoka city leadership did, for now. We built a palace and a ramp in the middle of nowhere. And a bus stop. That is it. One place for a bus to come, stop, and go. Two semi-open bus kiosks. That's the transit "hub" we have to show for Council spending decisions.

The whole beginning promise of a focus for Town Center was as it being a transit hub; with Northstar, and a Northstar stop, and shops and restaurants and a hub building with services.

Thousands of high density housing units crammed there infiltrated into the story at a later point - just about as "The Developer will pay for everything," was exiting from City rhetoric.

Keep these three questions in mind.

These were the three advance questions the League of Women Voters gave Ramsey City Council candidates:

[1] Ramsey Town Center does not seem to be developing as originally planned. Should the original vision be continued or would you suggest changes? If so, what would they be?

[2] What changes would you like to see included in the Ramsey 2008 Comprehensive Plan?

[3] What do you think are two important issues facing the City of Ramsey and how do you propose to deal with them?
These excellent questions largely span the debate about the future of the City.

I shall be updating quite a bit, on facts and opinions, in the days before November 7.

From what I post you can know my views and how I think, and vote for or against me based on knowledge and not guesswork about who I am.

Meanwhile, each reader should think the above three questions over. Along with the personal question:

"Am I satisfied with the way the City council and administration have given me information about how money is being spent and am I satisfied with the voice in such decisions that I have been allowed."

My key points in running are that information flow is being "managed;" and citizens are not having a vote by referendum, when issues exactly ripe for referendum decision existed, and will continue to exist.

INFORMATION MANAGEMENT EXAMPLE: Not telling people about wanting the legislature to raise the City's debt limit, the amount of cash the Council can borrow and spend (with the citizens responsible for paying the principal back and servicing debt interest - from taxes).

LACK OF REFERENDUM: Wouldn't you like a vote on whether the debt ceiling gets raised?

Are taxpayers getting their money's worth?

I was having two keys cut at the kiosk along Main Stree in Anoka, west of Ferry Street, and I found out the woman cutting them lived in Ramsey. I asked, "What do you think about the Town Center and how it's moving along?"

Without hesitation the answer was direct. "We're getting screwed." Direct and to the point.

Consider how there has been much dissatisfaction with the County government for wanting to tax citizens for a sports stadium and shopping complex without giving folks a referendum.

Ramsey has the same problem. Do not doubt that for one minute. We had no referendum on the new palace and parking ramp. It simply got done "for" us. I went to that part of Town Center and photographed and looked. The foyer of the new palace looks bigger to me than the entire current, functional and adequate City Hall. Millions after millions of dollars spent without putting the question to a citizens' vote. I cannot undo that. But I can be a voice for referendums and restraint in the future.