consultants are sandburs

Tuesday, December 26, 2006

This just in, detail on the January 4 Planning Commission Meeting

Thanks to Pat Trudgeon on rapid and informative turnaround on email. I will post it all, starting with contact info, for anyone having questions now, or unable to attend the Jan. 4 meeting:

Patrick Trudgeon, AICP
Community Development Director
City of Ramsey
7550 Sunwood Dr. NW. (Note new address as of 10/30/06)
Ramsey, MN 55303
(763) 427-1410 [City Hall]
(763) 433-9843 [Direct]
(763) 427-5543 [Fax]
ptrudgeon@ci.ramsey.mn.us
www.ci.ramsey.mn.us

Thanks for copying me on your email to Amy Geisler regarding the proposed ordinance changes to the R-1 Rural Developing District. As Amy will be out of the office until the 27th, I wanted to acknowledge the receipt of your email. I will have Amy respond to your direct questions, but would like to give some background for you to have and share as you like.

As you may be aware, the development standards for the R-1 Rural Developing District have been a point of discussion since 2005. The Rural Developing District encompasses a large portion of the City and is located south and north of Trott Brook. (A graphic showing the boundaries of the Rural Developing District is located on our City website, here).

In February 2005 the City adopted a modified "cluster" subdivision ordinance. The reason I term it a modified cluster ordinance is that it is unlike other more traditional cluster ordinances found across the nation. Specifically, the Ramsey cluster ordinance did not require permanent preservation of open space and required development planning for the undeveloped areas of the development parcel. The Ramsey ordinance required new lots in the Rural Developing District in be clustered in smaller-sized lots (< 1 acre) and served by common septic systems. The remaining portions of the development land would remain undeveloped until such time municipal utilities, if ever, reached the development parcel.

When the City processed a couple of cluster subdivisions, it was clear that there was not agreement on whether the change was the best for the community. Concerns were raised by the general public, City Councilors, and Planning Commissioners regarding the ordinance. These concerns included lack of permanent open space, lot size and density and the functioning of the common septic systems.

On May 15, 2006, a moratorium on all new development in the Rural Developing District went into effect so that the City could look how development should occur in the Rural Developing District. The City Council has met several times since then to discuss what options were possible. The City Council could not come to a definite conclusion on what standards should govern the Rural Developing District. In the end, the Council decided that with the pending 2008 Comp Plan Update beginning later in 2007, that it would be best to receive large-scale community input on how the Rural Developing District should be regulated as well as looking at the broader context of the Rural Developing District as it related to the whole City. Given the fact that moratorium is set to expire on Feb. 15, 2007 and would allow for cluster subdivision in the Rural Development District, the City Council is thinking that the logical solution was to return to the 4-in-40, 10 acre minimum until such time the 2008 Comp Plan takes effect. You may recall that the Rural Developing District was governed by 4-in-40 from the early 90s to the beginning of 2002.

I know that you are a strong advocate for 2.5 acre lot sizes for portions of Ramsey. As you know, every development standard has pros and cons. Staff believes, and I am positive that the City Council would concur, that a full discussion of all possibilities (including 2.5 acre lot sizes) should be had as part of the 2008 Comprehensive Plan discussion. To make immediate changes to go to 2.5 acre lot sizes without knowing the community vision for Ramsey would be short-sighted and open for criticism. (We have been criticized in the past for making these types of decisions, so I would assume the same people who criticized us in the past would do the same if we rushed into 2.5 acres without knowledge of the 2008 Comp Plan).

Simply stated, 4-in-40 will provide development rights for those landowners who would like to exercise them until the 2008 Comp Plan is completed and the future of the Rural Developing District can be discussed as part of the overall community vision. There is nothing more to it than that.

As I know you plan on being in involved in 2008 Comp Plan, I don't need to stress to you the importance of that process and the significance of the document.

I would like to comment on your criticism on our notice given out to landowners in the Rural Developing District. I am sorry that you believe that we are trying to hide what we are doing. We are, in fact, using several avenues of communications to the public. We have met the statutory requirement of publishing the notice of public hearing at least 10 days prior to the hearing in our official newspaper, the Anoka Union. That is all we are required to do with this particular ordinance. But we did not stop there with the notice. We have sent notices to all property owners within the Rural Development District (several thousand) regarding the proposed changes. (This is what you apparently are referring to as the "notice"). We have put information on the City website's home page. We will put information in the upcoming Ramsey Resident received by every household. Although it will arrive at people's residences about the same time as the public hearing held by the Planning Commission, it will inform people of the changes being proposed and will allow them to contact the City Councilors if they so choose. The timing of the mailing is coincidental with the holidays and not purposeful. Since you have taken the time to read the notice and contact us, I am confident that others will.

Eric, thanks for your questions and Amy will respond to your questions once she is back in the office.
My earlier mention of the meeting notice and my questions that Pat refers to were posted here, and the only two developments I know of that took advantage of the 2-1/2 acre option are Tiger Meadows, an actually built situation on Hwy 83 north of the Armstrong Kennels turnoff, east side of the road; and Greg Bauer's Trapper's Ridge in the gun club neighborhood which was platted and involved a right-of-way and tree cutting situation, if I recall correctly, but I do not know if any actual development changes on ground were made or whether it was a ghost plat to lock in favorable 2-1/2 acre rights.

My recollection is that variance from a strict 2-1/2 acre requirement being applied might have been given in approving the Trapper's Ridge plat, but a check of the plat itself would be needed to postively confirm or disprove that impression. I recall attending one untelevised summer council work session where Pat Trudgeon accompanied Greg Bauer for discussions with counsel re Trapper's Ridge prior to the proposal going to the Planning Commission and before the cluster-and-ghost-plat requirements were imposed. For time frame, it was while Pattiann Kurak was on council, but I do not recall the exact date.

I have been told a few houses were done 2-1/2 acre on the west side of Ramsey Blvd, north of Alpine and south of the drainage ditch easement (i.e., south of the sewer trunk line serving the gun club), but that's hearsay. There may be others, which Pat Trudgeon and/or Amy Geisler can discuss at the Jan. 4 meeting as part of background briefing.

I do not know what path and greenway buffer rights were reserved by the city in the course of permitting the cornfield to be developed to urban density on the west side of Nowthen kitty-corner across from the Peterson home.

If 4-in-40 is instituted, vs. reverting to the 2-1/2 acre standard that applied before the cluster - ghost platting effort came about (i.e., the 2-1/2 acre situation that Tiger Meadows and Trapper's Ridge took advantage of while in effect), that might have an indirect effect on property owners when greenway easements and other positive preservation efforts are instituted.

Due process of law requires a fair price in negotiation or condemnation, whether for a right-of-way, a parcel, or some greenway easement; and if the reversion to a prior status quo is to 4-in-40 rather than to 2-1/2 acre lots, litigation could result if a landowner feels a less than optimal price is offered and that the situation was manipulated to cheapen easement rights prior to taking them. Pat Trudgeon is correct in saying people differ on what's best, but with the public data act going to all City documents even City email trails should be publicly reviewable (even without discovery applying in a litigation situation, where disclosure is quasi-public, depending upon what from discovery ends up offered as evidence in court files).

Things that work fine and deserve comment.

ANOKA COUNTY: First, I just renewed some books online with the Anoka County Library.

The new Rum River branch no longer is brand new, and the design is such that the slant of the winter sun made it hard for the check-out staff to see computer screens, but flat panel displays probably have made that less a problem.

Beyond that, the facility is great. It was encouraging last visit to see a number of young people there, so proximity to the school with the pedestrian overpass is a good feature. I see students there, and in the lobby waiting for a pickup ride home from family, all good, because reading at that age suggests it will continue into adulthood. The internet stations are upgraded to flat panels, sign-in is automated in software now (freeing reference desk staff time for other services), and student internet use and interest appears strong, which also is an encouraging sign.

The Rum River staff is always friendly and knowledgeable - and there is a steady effort at excellent service throughout the staff there. The county library board must be the start of the attitude that runs throughout the chain of public service at the libraries.

Their computer services - their online capabilities have been upgraded steadily and with well-thought-out software systems. Unlike Ramsey's LaserFiche record system the library's software is expedient and a joy to use. Interlibrary loans are now automated and MnLink is intuitive software that extends the "collection" into areas that are interesting to me but insufficiently popular in general for Anoka County to allocate any of its limited stack space and purchasing budget.

Let us hope the nature-reserve grassland character of the surrounding grounds is preserved, as protected urban greenspace, and not commercialized as some might advocate nor turned into ballfields; so that habitat is preserved - grassland and river bank habitat together - with walking trails with minimal impact compatible.

RAMSEY: Civil service at the working level, not necessarily at the top, is praiseworthy.

Those at reception desks will interrupt whatever they are doing to courteously help someone, and I have made public data requests which generally were handled expeditiously and always with good manners and friendliness.

When calling the cops, someone answers and takes information quickly and courteously. When looking at public works staff, they patch the roads, plow the snow, and with Engineering make proper decisions on new stop sign placement to make major road intersections safer.

Public Works, like Engineering, cannot be blamed for all those presently unnecessary lights on south Ramsey Blvd.

That's another matter.

The lights work fine and are maintained. It is a county highway and primarily a county responsibility. The policy decision to put those lights there now, etc., to move City Hall, etc., those things are bothersome.

But non-senior staff implements things (more than deciding) and Jim Norman is gone by January 1. That in my view is the single greatest improvement here in years. And Sylvia Frolik is staying, which is good too, for continuity to back when people were moving here because of the rural feel Ramsey then had, but is losing.

Ramsey's City Clerk, Jo Theiling, and Amy Dietl of the IT staff have been helpful in getting public data to me per requirements of the law, when I have requested access, and public works and police staff seem able and friendly, and helpful.

LaserFiche is worthless and as the interface provided to citizens for finding needles in the information haystack - that software is deserving only of hate and disdain; but there are decent, friendly and dedicated people in Ramsey and in County government. The ones who should prosper and advance are not always those that do. Planners are planners, and judged by that low standard ours are no worse than the half-wits doing the same thing at Met Council; while Engineering in Ramsey has been able and friendly in doing what policy makers have set as Engineering goals.

Perhaps the most important people for now in Ramsey are the building inspectors.

They are the ones that make sure, or try to make sure that Pulte and DR Horton do not screw up or cut too many important corners on that cheap housing getting thrown up at Town Center.

The inspectors are there to assure it is at least built soundly, regardless of it's ugly, tacky, tarted-up and unappealing aspects, which are outside of the inspectors' field of duty.

(I have found some interesting websites where people having difficulty with Pulte and Horton housing and community practices can post about their experiences, but that will be a seperately posted item, mentioned for now but w/o detail.)

Finally, my last two encounters with Ramsey police - first, I don't like or use cell phones, so losing my car keys and having a driver with a cell phone call 911; then having an officer arrive who allowed me to use his cell phone to call home where spare keys existed, and who stayed and helped me look at the area where I thought I had dropped the keys and offered to give a lift home because it was in Ramsey and not too far - that's worth mention. Second, Christmas Eve heading west on Alpine at about 3:30 pm, and having someone in a big red SUV blow the north bound stopsign on Hwy 5 at 55 mph (where had I taken my "turn" I'd have been broadsided driver side); then getting home and calling 911 suggesting some people still had not adjusted properly to traffic management change at that intersection, I got the impression that my concern was heard and that in the following few days there'd be attention to assure that traffic at the intersection was watched in the course of regular policing of the neighborhood.

Good folks, doing their job.

Sunday, December 24, 2006

A holiday reminder - the sovereign is the people - the officials are "public servants."

Ben, the eversmiling Ramsey taxpayer statue out in the cold across from the City Hall - Taj Majal palace is NOT what it's about. The sovereign is not Mayor Tom, or City Administrator Jim. It is US. Those of US who live here now, not those for which high-density housing is being built so that they may move here. WE are not to be sacrificed for the interests of those holding big parcels of raw land nor for any other special interests, be it the special interests of Oakwood Land Development or of Ramsey Town Center LLC; or others.

The Minnesota Constitution, up front, right after the preamble, in its ARTICLE 1, Section 1 is unambiguous:

OBJECT OF GOVERNMENT. Government is instituted for the security, benefit and protection of the people, in whom all political power is inherent, together with the right to alter, modify or reform government whenever required by the public good.

Remember that and fight to make it true. Especially the part about reforming when that fits the public interest. We are the public, and we are made to be like smiling Ben, only when we allow it.

What's fair, what isn't?

Everyone makes his own judgments, forms her own opinions.

What I see may have fair explanations. But what I see is Patti Kurak having sat on council and having gotten a windfall condemnation bonus when Hwy 116 was being put through Kurak land thus boosting the land's value. It was handled smoothly, perhaps fairly, the way the condemantion suit was shut down in a way that did not delay the Kurak closing with Ramsey Town Center LLC beyond a contract deadline. A big Kurak land profit resulted from the Town Center promotion. Committments for putting sewer/water to the property and allowing housing densities not previously authorized were a prelude to the profit-taking.

Sewer/water got routed to the gun club.

Jerry Bauer took his position in chain of title down, and Elvig, son-in-law Elvig, thereupon voted to break a tie to start the dominoes falling for that sewer/water routing step.

Now, there is this "Ramsey3" whatever it is. I think it has to do with acquiring greenway easements; a laudatory aim, in and of itself.

We also have an effort to revert to 4-in-40 north of Trott Brook, at the time this Ramsey3 is festering, back burner.

Land values would be less north of Trott Brook if 4-in-40 were reimposed, and costs of acquisition of greenway easements there would thus be managed indirectly into lower amounts, against the interests of those landowners out there not having nearness to a seat on council.

At the same time, land South of Trott Brook would benefit - increasing the number and eagerness of people neighboring the gun club to cash out their land there.

How would that affect the John Peterson bottom line, having new hook-ups to that sewer/water situation, the Northwest trunk that Peterson put some cash into routing?

City files and records are public data, and as such citizens have the right to demand that they be made available for inspection and copying. It's the law. Even computer files. Minn. Stat. Sect. 13.15, Subd. 3(b).

Go to City Hall and look at the contracts the City has with John Peterson and his Oakwood Land Development venture if you own land affected by the 4-in-40 proposition, and see what Peterson's position is when others hook up to "his" sewer and water trunk lines. And my understanding, which could be wrong, is that while originally the sewer/water routing was drawn to coincide [both services] at the gun club and the cornfield on Hwy 5, but not elsewhere along routing; the actual pipe in place was contiguously routed from gun club to cornfield, making all properties in between able to buy into a share of the sewer/water/housing density game, so that the exact routing of the pipes in ground might tell us an interesting story.

And in order to do all that, the wetlands that had developed from ditching allowed to go fallow have been adversely impacted, by ditching to aid dewatering during installation of trunk sewer piping, which led to and fostered gun club and cornfield ownership interest prosperity.

Who bought some of the bigger parcels in that gun club neighborhood, near to the gun club, before the sewer/water decision-making was finalized? Along the contiguous northward sewer/water routing lines running to the cornfield on Highway 5?

Some LLC, with "Sunfish" in the name, I believe, bought some land on Variolite, although I am not certain. I cannot find the identity of the principals in that firm from the Secretary of State's website, which does not list them in free public access records online. All I have is the following, and I am not sure I selected the proper LLC, but it is the one LLC with "Sunfish" in the name and in Ramsey, that much we ARE told:

Sunfish Land Development, LLC
6601 McKinley Str NW
Ramsey, MN, 55303
No Agent Filed

Who is that? Perhaps with a different party now in power in the Sec. of State office there may be informational gains for the public. Perhaps not. We shall see. I bet on the status quo remaining.

I have a hard time going online and looking at tax parcel taxpayers of record. Strangely, the county does not allow an online search by taxpayer name. It seems the most natural and logical way anyone would want to access the records. And it is not there, access that way.

So I am left to say I think it was the Sunfish Land Dev. LLC that bought some land on Variolite - or took title, I should say, somewhere there, but I cannot easily confirm that from online public data and am left wondering why. Someone with meat in the fire, perhaps facing a 4-in-40 reinstitution attempt might want to do a bit more investigation. I would gladly post any information anyone else determines.

BOTTOM LINE QUESTION: Is a reimposition of 4-in-40 a prelude to hosing people for purchase of greenway easements when the founding fathers carefully wrote into the Bill of Rights that there shall be no taking of private property without due process of law? What is "due process of law," if not being fair and giving a fair price? What's fair? What's Ramsey?

Saturday, December 23, 2006

WARNING - WARNING - WARNING: The BS meter is unpinned from zero, all the way to the nether end of scale.

A card came, unpostmarked, but yesterday, Friday, Dec. 22, 2006 -- on the eve of Christmas and New Year holidays starting.

From Our City. Timed that way. While you're looking the other way, they are wisely trash-canning the entire cluster nonsense, or suggesting it be done; but the stealth in it is unwisely going back to 4-in-40; not to the previous workable situation of 2-1/2 acre lots.

The mischief is on the city website, so have a look.

The contact "public servant" is: Amy Geisler (763) 433-9903 [and if you want responses in writing, email = ageisler@ci.ramsey.mn.us ]

Because I would like (and I have the right to expect and do expect) written answers from the contact "public servant" prior to the scheduled Thursday, Jan. 4, 2007, 7 pm meeting, I am emailing Ms. G. the following few simple questions.

I will post her response on this site, as soon as I clear it from my email.

MY FEW SIMPLE QUESTIONS:

1. Your proposed Ramsey Code Sect. 9.20.11 starts off talking about something called "the 2020 Metropolitan Urban Service Area (MUSA)," and this term is a mystery to me. What's it mean? Why is it in the code? What is the "2020 MUSA"? My impression is that all notion of a MUSA line was eliminated in order to cross Alpine with Sewer/water, so as to ultimately route same to gun club & northward to accommodate very specific developer interests. What's up, with that term?

2. What is the point of leaving 9.20.11 Subd. 2(d) "Townhome" language? Isn't that problematic, for that area, and suggesting PUD favoritism might be available to specifically favored developers up north there, as per favoritism in past sewer/water routing decision-making?

3. What's wrong with the Tiger Meadows answer? It seems to have been an ideal and perfect deveopment, with an attractive housing option not available per Town Center crowded circumstances, nor per Peterson crowded circumstances - something for people who do not like crowding. They do exist, to escape crowding is why many moved to Ramsey, Tiger Meadows was promptly sold out and probably would sell out quickly also in today's less-vigorous housing market. Unlike other inventory.

4. Who is advocating going back to the 4-in-40? Cluster housing - bad idea - sure get rid of it; but then --- who's benefited during its tenure, some have gotten approvals, etc.? Again, the question is favortism vs. the rest of us. Has that been a factor at play?

5. Regarding Subd. 2(g), What is "noncommercial horseboarding" and with other changes in city law re horses and their regulation, elimination of a specific board, etc., who would oversee and police "noncommercial horseboarding" whatever it is?

6. BOTTOM LINE QUESTION: Why not have more Tiger Meadows kind of development; instead of abandoning the brain-cramp idiocy of cluster housing; but not going back to what its passage torpedoed? 2=1/2 acre lots worked. It worked fine at Tiger Meadows. Former City Administrator James E. Norman tried to lean on the property owner there to do clustering, and thankfully the man had the backbone to say, in effect, "BS, Jim, I want no part of it and I insterad want to develop precisely in accordance with the Comp. Plan as it now stands." So you guys went and changed the plan so that such a sensible thing would not recur. And it was NICE and it worked FINE!

7. A collateral question: Why not some better kind of notice? Sending a little card over Christmas, when people are "looking the other way" for a change of this magnitude is suggestive that even though James Norman's leaving, his spirit and ways and means linger. Why not more notice for folks to think and talk to one another? Why this way, this style, still? IT LOOKS LIKE MORE OF THAT "TO US" INSTEAD OF "FOR US" OR "WITH US. " Do you disagree, and what's your explanation of the timing, if different from mine?
The history was, 4-in-40, for a long and disliked time. Then 2-1/2 acres were allowed, but when Tiger Meadows actually went and did it; the planner-think folk had the clustering brain cramp. Now, they admit it was error and a mess, but with the 2008 Comp. Plan beginning in swing, they jump us on tricky notice and go to this 4-in-40 again when the Met. Council apparently did NOT quell the 2-1/2 acre lots. This simply looks too much like a crass staff attempt to dictate what is a citizen decision process - determination of our 2008 Comp. Plan - OUR Plan - and I dislike that appearance very, very much and urge other citizens to challenge the methodology of city "public servants" as I am doing.

Friday, December 22, 2006

Thoughts on the council meeting I would like to see for the New Year. A Town Center Reality check.

During the election campaign incumbent candidate David Elvig at the League of Women Voters candidates forum told people that the Town Center had not failed and named several other shopping projects - not primarily housing projects but things like Riverdale - and how each took years and years.

Doubtlessly he is not preaching such a "patience" agenda to Coburns if they are experiencing monthly net negative cash flows as the open parking lot and cashier cutbacks suggest. Somewhere in all of this is a truth about success or failure.

The meeting agenda I would like to see would start with Coburns. Right now, they are all there is of merit at Town Center for people I know and talk to.

I am tan enough, don't have my nails done, drink coffee at home and can buy Subway sandwiches at the Industry Blvd. - Hwy. 47 strip mall area.

And Town Center housing is ugly and crowded together and holds no charm or magic for me. None whatsoever. Plus, I have seen bus stops before so don't bother with that.

But, let's hear from Coburns. Invite senior people from there to come in and talk.

They have to realize that the current housing market and demographics mean their present and near-term reliance is upon existing people in Ramsey - and our feelings of goodwill toward them.

Their shelving and promotional aims have to consider empty-nesters, etc., as well as larger families where two-for-the-price-of-one jumbo packaging is inappropriate for the one market segment while attractive to the other.

We adult-only older people are a market segment reached other ways. Candor, for instance.

Is Coburns satisfied with inventory turnover rates from the store, do they forecast breakeven months soon or are they even now at break even or profitable monthly volumes? Are they committed for the long haul and fully satisfied how they've been treated by the City and by promoters? Or do they have gripes we as citizens would want to know about?

Second, somebody should come in, same meeting, and explain who is now running the private promoter segment now that Bruce Nedegaard is dead and new management arrangements and financing may be in the works. With James E. Norman gone, there should be a recognition that new approaches, where more is told citizens at open and televised meetings is not only desirable, but expected. The person giving the explanation of what the private development people will be doing should be the head of that effort, not some functionary sent to blow smoke. We can tell the difference and deserve the respect of a responsible person showing up. Nedegaard, himself, never did. I found that troubling, and other citizens might have felt the same.

Third, someone from PACT school should show up and give us a candid community report - unless they feel they are separate and apart, and not a part of the community. They should divulge whether their enrollments are as projected or whether the slump at Town Center is putting them at risk.

Not that we expect any such representatives of three major Town Center interests to appear and ask for subsidy. But the aim instead would be that we should get a candid, thorough and wholly honest assessment.

Then, fourth, the city government can tell us about whether we really need any Port Authority, and if so why, as we already have spent enough there to wonder whether it's too vast a hole to fill up no matter how much public funds are dumped in. We need to be leveled with. If the entire Port Authority thing has any real advocates besides former city administrator Norman, those people should stand up and identify themselves. Bonnie Balach should be invited as should legislation sponsors, Mike Jungbauer and Jim Abeler.

Fifth, schedule a referendum on the Port Authority or abandon the idea entirely. Cease insulting voters as was done in all of the City Hall relocation adventures - something many in the City did not want or like. The methods of Jim Norman should be ended with his tenure.

With the comprehensive plan review upon us, to not start with reality and honesty about Town Center is to doom the review to be a failure, and more of the Norman approach to government will, as during his tenure, only make enemies.

Who is running the show now, at Ramsey Town Center LLC? Who now is pushing the lie of a "Port" and "Port Authority" in Ramsey?

Indeed, is Ramsey Town Center LLC still running the show? Are they even still a player?

With Bruce Nedegaard dead, who's driving the automobile now? Where is it headed?

Unless and until we know that - We the Taxpayers should expect our officials to show restraint and not move to bury us deeper in taxes and bond debt.

Who will step forward and say what those people - the Town Center private promoters aiming to profit greatly from the Town Center effort - will be doing and spending, how, for what, and under what timing schedules?

Taxpayers have been chumped enough already over Town Center spending for infrastructure and a palace for bureaucrats. Why should taxpayers chump themselves any further without answers, including a full and fair detailed roadmap being laid out, in advance and not being put out peicemeal with names such as "Sunwood Grand" which sounds like a casino or some such, and is wholly uninformative.

Put the full roadmap, once and for all, on the table for all of us to see and criticize, and modify, fix and repair, especially now with the key private player history?


Should we simply chump ourselves because Pat Trudgeon or the mayor says, "Trust me."?

I do not think so.

AGAIN: Where is the automobile being driven and who, now, is in the driver's seat with Bruce Nedegaard dead?

Start with that simple question.

Probably there's already an answer - or soon will be.

Let's hear it.

And for a bit of honesty to be thrown into the mix - let's have somebody from the council table admit Ramsey has no port; and that all notion of a port and a port authority is a sorry fiction (attributable mainly to James E. Norman) to load more tax and debt on the citizens - against their interests and without their having a referendum voice over it in advance of it being done to them.

Others went along with that "Port Authority" hoax, but for now let's lay it at the Norman doorstep, and with his resignation revisit the entire question - fairly, this time, and in the light of day and without stealth.

Zygi Wilf was told there has to be a referendum.

Now let's tell Tom Gamec the same thing.

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

Are they going to give notice when they sell dwellings at the Gun Club site?

It seems to me that consumers need to know the facts. That's fair and reasonable. Isn't it?

Big Question: Are they going to tell potential purchasers at the gun club site in writing:

[1] This home is built on part of a bloc of land that was polluted with lead.

[2] Lead is believed to be a severe human health risk, particularly to developing children. Studies suggest lead exposure may be a factor related to osteoporesis in adults, with the concern being greater for women. Resources on lead toxicity are online.

[3] We believe we cleaned it up before building.

[4] A state agency was satisfied with our cleanup effort before we were allowed to build housing here.

Is there anything wrong or false in these statements?

Is there any reason that consumers should NOT be told? Any good reason - not simply that it would be harder to move the inventory - that's a self-serving answer more than a public-serving one. Do you just call it "Sweet Bay Ridge" and sell it without written disclosure to unsuspecting consumers? Is that fair? Is that right?

There are express laws requiring disclosure regarding potential lead based paint exposure - so why not about possible ongoing soil contamination? Winds blow and dust rises. Airborne lead particulates form a major concern. A leading consumer information website on health impacts of lead notes:

The good news is that lead poisoning is preventable. Families need to be informed about the various sources of lead and need to be vigilant in preventing exposure. The National Safety Council is pleased to provide the following materials that we hope readers will use as resources to prevent lead poisoning.

[...]

Lead dust causes more lead poisonings than any other lead exposure. It is hard to see, because lead dust particles are of microscopic size. Millions of US homes built before 1978 contain lead dust. The dust test kits are easy to use and provide consumers with an inexpensive way to find out if they have a lead dust problem. Kits include instructions, tools to take two dust samples, and a postage-paid mailer to send samples to an EPA-certified lab for analysis.

That site even has a linked downloadable form for ordering a $30 lead dust test kit. If vigilence helps, and being informed leads to heightened vigilence, it seems to me that a responsible city government would require proper notice. You be the judge. What do you think?

Does lead in soil prevent crabgrass from prospering?

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Were we being directly lied to, or will the official answer be "changed circumstances?"

* * *
What GOOD would this do for you, if it's done under TIF?




I recall well the chairman of the Town Center Task Force promising that NEW rooftops will mean a bigger tax base, and that manna will flow from that as if from heaven.

Not those exact words, but that's the gist of the thought, which to me was a promise, regardless of intent of the speaker.

Now, if housing is going to be run through TIF, someone with expertise in this please explain to me, where is the immediate tax advantage to putting housing through TIF and those rooftops being an advantage to me or you during our remaining lifetimes? Remember, Bruce Nedegaard, Town Center sparkplug deveopment person is already dead now; and my understanding is if housing there - or perhaps at the Gun Club - is done through TIF there will be years before it effectively is taxed on the increment - yet that's precisely the advantage the chairman of the Town Center Task Force was alluding to and touting; while I am taking on years and wonder how many more I have.

How about you?

Didn't you hear those words as a promise of acting in accordance with them and not contrary - a promise not contemplating the intentional TIF-ing away the advantage being talked of - and promised? As in good faith being promised. Nothing less, as I heard and understood it.

THE POINT: I read of TIF housing-related mischief, from 2005, and I find it via Google in the papers of others, and not via LaserFiche search of the online papers of my city's government (and that makes me wonder about motivation or coincidence in the ongoing retrieval-difficulty LaserFiche has presented me with search among City documents online).

League of Minnesota Cities reports for 2005:

p.9

Omnibus Tax Act
Chapter 3 (First Special Session HF 138*) is the omnibus Tax Act. It contains two articles dealing with economic development issues. Article 7 is the economic development article.

Article 7. Economic development. Article 7 makes a number of changes to statute in the areas of business subsidy, JOBZ, and EDA authority.[...] It also includes special tax increment financing (TIF) law for the city of Ramsey and [...]

p.11

City of Ramsey tax increment financing. Section 17 authorizes the city of Ramsey to create a housing TIF district for the development of housing. This district could include parcels under the green acres deferred assessment program. Under general law, these parcels may only be included in economic development districts for certain manufacturing and warehousing projects and qualified housing districts. Effective July 14, 2005, and after the city’s compliance with Minn. Stat. 645.021.


Not only is TIF-ing of housing bad for us directly on Ramsey taxes, but indirectly it hits us twice.

First in financing Ramsey, second in taxing to pay for district schools. Rooftops add students, while TIF adds no tax base increment now when the students show up for instruction - and that means the added money to cover the cost increment has to come from higher rates on existing tax base - the new roofs add cost but not benefit when the new roofs are TIFF-ed.

How's that for an Alice in Wonderland version of cost-benefit balancing - for your benefit?

It lools raw to me. I see false promises in the past, where the speaking chairman of the Town Center Task Force would probably, if confronted, say it was erroneous prognostication.

You judge it.

Who is making money off of this stuff? Off of these shenanigans? That "green acres" language from the LMC suggests a direction to pursue. Who's doing green acre shelter in Ramsey?

Remember, "Follow the money" as the adage.


I do not know the feelings of any reader, but I sure would like to see the new Minnesota State Auditor have her office take a long hard look at following the money. It's in her official jurisdiction to do so, and citizens would benefit and not be hurt by seeing a fine-tooth-comb audit of the entire Ramsey circus show.


Monday, December 18, 2006

The Ramsey "Port Authority" proposal IS something beyond a scam to add on another property tax. There's the General Obligation bond authorization.


The Pork Authority proposal was not only aimed to allow another tax to be imposed on Ramsey taxpayers, there's the General Obligation bond authorization too, aimed to boost taxpayer financed city debt, without ordinary limits. Coming and going, in a way of speaking.
Click on image to enlarge it, or read line 48 on the online page, here.

That line 48 does summarize the bill as for, "City of Ramsey Port Authority to Issue GO Bonds not subject to net debt limit." If my understanding is correct, revenue bonds permit only bondholder recourse against revenue generated by a project; general obligation bonds pledge the full faith and credit of the City, for debt service and bond retirement.

Why are developers crabgrass? Ubiquity, perniciousness, invasiveness and uncontrolability.

Consider the gun club crowd. Every taxpayer in this state got taken down by that development promotion. Recall whose family was prominently in the chain of title to that land. Then development interests went afoot, responsible for the push to route sewer/water, via a council vote, to that project.

Well there's more. DEED, the Department of Employment and Economic Development, gave for that development promotion $25,000 of our money, state tax payer money, for them to profit more via avoiding paying $25,000 of developer money as a part of the site cleanup freight -- it was development interests avoiding privately paying from deveoper funds for studies prior to remediating past title holder polluting of the land via hobby shooting. Those in the chain of title - They'd the guns, the intent and the idle time to shoot. Lead all over where it fell, and, pure and simple taking money raised from us all, statewide, to help the few avoid a cost of doing business.

Here:

Cleanup Grants Spur More than $68 Million in New Development
Date: Wednesday, January 7, 2004
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE Contact: Meredith Udoibok
651/297-4132 Meredith.Udoibok@state.mn.us

Several Minnesota communities will transform land once considered unfit for development into flourishing new places to live and work thanks in part to more than $4 million in contaminated site cleanup grants from the Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development.

Seven projects in the Twin Cities metro area and one in Greater Minnesota qualified for the grants during this funding cycle. The sites are located in Minneapolis, St. Paul, Columbia Heights, New Brighton, Ramsey and Moorhead. Five of the grants are for site cleanup projects. Three others are “investigation” grants, which will be used to confirm and assess the level of pollution at the chosen sites.

[...]

City of Ramsey - St. Anthony Gun Club

$25,000 Investigation Grant
Investigate and assess a 120-acre site formerly used as a shooting range. Private developer Bay Hill plans to construct 159 single-family homes on the site, which is located at 16128 Variolite Street NW. The development is expected to increase the tax base by $646,898.
Local contact: James E. Norman, 763-427-1410

Well, read that last sentence. Don't let the doorknob hit you on the way out; James E. Norman.

Willie Sutton said he robbed banks because that's where the money is. If Willie Sutton were as bright and brassy as a developer these days he'd have been getting tax grant money from taxpayer pockets, and he'd probably have gotten a plaque and award from folks at city hall, instead of jail time. Crabgrass indeed.

If you really think the Ramsey "Port Authority" is something beyond a scam to add on another property tax, consider this ---


Click on image to read its text, or click here to read the online Adobe pdf version.


It sure appears and "reads" like another tax imposition to me. There are those numbers in there, and the words "increase" and "increased" plus, "shall levy a tax" in the very first line.

And, after all, this is the Minnesota Department of Revenue talking, not Santa or the Easter Bunny.

How close is too close? It is speculative, unless and until ...

Click on the images to enlarge.

The back side of City Hall.

Tracks are visible, beyond the bus kiosks and power-line poles.

With the Sunday, Dec. 17 BNSF 30-car derailment in Coon Rapids, the "headline" question applies. As does the answer. The question for many in Ramsey, is how close are things now? If you have not looked for yourself, photos are presented. You be the judge.

Finally, photograph perspectives can trick the eye, and I do not have measurements of actual setbacks from the tracks. Next time you go south, behind the ramp and building, have a look. If a train passes while you are there, figure what a derailment at that speed might do. Figure how you might find your auto if parked on the ramp ground floor when a derailment event occurs. Figure if you're on the sidewalk between a building and a derailing train. Remember the old saying that, "Discretion is the better part of valor," and that there is on-street parking on the north side of Sunwood, along the road by Ben the taxpayer which would put quite expensive but effective taxpayer-purchased structural shock absorbing mass between you and any derailing train. Perhaps someone might consider installing rail-side berming? Berming could be done, if there's funds left for Ramsey to be able to afford it.

Remember, the Coon Rapids derailment was at the Hansen Blvd. crossing where trains proceed substantially slower than through Ramsey.

Dec. 17th - 30 car derailment - BNSF tracks - Coon Rapids - THIS TIME - nonhazardous shipping containers - THIS TIME.


Dec. 17, 2006 Photo - Star Tribune.


No injuries or deaths, this time. Strib has the full article, which is extensively excerpted because of archive policies for "old Strib news":

About 30 containers from derailed rail cars spilled out near homes in Coon Rapids. A broken piece of track may be to blame; no one was hurt.

By Randy Furst, Star Tribune, 612-673-7382 • rfurst@startribune.com
Last update: December 17, 2006 – 10:07 PM

The booming sound of railroad cars plunging into each other at high speed rocked a Coon Rapids neighborhood Sunday morning.

"It sounded just like thunder," said Jerry Johnson, who lives next to the tracks. "The whole house shook."

He rushed outside to see six flat cars buckling, giant containers standing on end and spilling off the tracks with railroad ties flying in the air. "It was unbelievable," said Johnson.

The railroad line between Hanson and Egret Boulevards NW. was strewn with about 30 40-foot containers, each the size of a semitrailer. Hanson Boulevard, an artery through Coon Rapids, was shut down at the railroad intersection for about eight hours.

The derailment stopped rail traffic on the main line between Seattle and Chicago, the busiest line of the Burlington-Northern Santa Fe Railroad (BNSF).

Containers tumbled to both sides of the track, missing houses and power lines but landing near back yards. Some containers came within about a dozen feet of an apartment house garage.

The train carried no hazardous material and no one was hurt. "We were lucky on this one," a police dispatcher said.

"The investigation is focusing on a possible broken angle bar ... something that holds rail together on a track," said Steve Forsberg, a BNSF spokesman in Kansas City, Mo.

Track like 'spaghetti'

Sean Novack was sitting on a sofa with his wife, Cheryl, watching the movie "Wizard of Oz" when the derailment occurred. In the movie, Dorothy's house had just landed following the tornado when his house started to rattle. He jumped up and ran to the kitchen window to see the derailment.

"The track was being torn up and strewn across like spaghetti," he said. He rushed to another window and saw the back of the train still moving forward, pushing cars off the track. "It was quite spectacular."

John Piper, Coon Rapids fire marshal, walked through the brush alongside the track Sunday, taking photos of the wreck. "I've been with the city of Coon Rapids for 25 years and we've never had a derailment like this," he said.

A busy train route

Forsberg said that about 45 trains travel the route daily between Seattle and Chicago. While some trains were being diverted, most were delayed because there's a limit to how many trains can be detoured.

Crews brought in large cranes Sunday to clear away derailed cars and containers, with the top priority being to open one of the two tracks.

Forsberg said the BNSF hoped to clear the tracks by midnight, then begin repairing and replacing the damaged rails to get at least one track open by 8 a.m. today and the second between 3 and 5 p.m.

Although there were no hazardous materials aboard, some trains that run on the track carry hazardous materials, said Coon Rapids Fire Chief Tim Farmer.

Farmer said two workers were on the train, an engineer and a conductor, when the specially designed flat cars, known as intermodal cars with containers stacked two high, derailed at 9:38 a.m.

If it turns out damaged track was the cause of the wreck, Novack said, he would favor having all track in Coon Rapids inspected. "Sooner or later, the North Star line will be on this track, and we have to make sure this doesn't happen again if we have passengers riding on it on a daily basis," he said.

We haven't had one like this before the one official said. That means this is worse SO FAR, yet, it is probable that worse incidents will happen, as rail and ties age and train traffic inevitably increases. You wonder why anyone would put dense housing next to a ticking timebomb.

Just think of a series of liquified natural gas or liquified ammonia tanker-cars derailing around a built out densely populated Town Center. Or insecticide or herbicide spillage, from "approximately 30 cars."

Or a single car from Federal Cartridge, full of shotgun shells: It could level the Taj Majal and ramp to the ground and then tax dollars would have to buy yet another new grandiose building for bureaucrats and police.

It could spew more lead around a densely populated Town Center than ever needed or needs to be cleaned up at the Gun Club to remediate pollution there before putting in urban density housing - housing that is at a lower density than at Town Center.


That kind of possibility motivated, I believe, some past councilmember thinking about warehouse and other less dense commercial occupancy along the tracks -- that safety concern being even more eminent than wanting manufacturing and warehouse proximity to rail, or worry over noise tolerance/intolerance of residents next to speeding trains.

And is the school far enough away from harm's way?

Was there a safety flaw in the Town Center planning from the start - putting publicly owned and maintained buildings too close to the tracks? A hazard is always present, but not a problem until after the derailment crisis. Then everyone will second guess things.

Yet this is NOT a line of questions in hindsight.

I asked all of these questions in email and at citizens input at council meeting sessions before any of Town Center was ever built, at AUAR stages, and well before City Hall was moved from the convenient central roomy campus site at Alpine and Hwy 5. That move put taxpayer dollars on the ground and in harm's way, less safe than at the prior more sensible location.

Friday, December 15, 2006

With all the cash he stood to make I never figured why Koren Robinson did not simply hire a chauffeur.

Wikipedia explains "chauffeur:"

Very wealthy people sometimes employ chauffeurs to drive them in their own cars, and there are services offering limousines including chauffeurs for rent. This is very similar to but more luxurious than taking a taxicab.

So with the holidays approaching think about how dumb Koren Robinson was. The goose was laying golden eggs and he cooked his own goose.

IF YOU DRINK, DON'T DRIVE. This link.

IS THIS WHAT "RAMSEY3" IS ALL ABOUT? If so, stow the BS, and explain.

Is this what Ramsey3 is about? Possibly, in a sense, more or less; or not at all?

If so, it sounds exactly like consideration of the question, "What did you move here for?"

Profligate growth [sewer/water to the Gun Club being the poster child] has flown in the face of the "rural feel" the politicians have touted, but have honored in the breach all too often.

So, if this IS what the stealth package called "Ramsey3" is about it inspires two comments:

[1] Why package a good idea the same condescending and suspicious way Town Center was foisted off on people?

[2] The devil is in the details, so bypass the propaganda can the BS, this time, and get to the point. Shoot straight and the chance of hitting a target actually is better.

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Guest essayist - Noam Chomsky. In honor of James Norman's City Administratorship ending Dec. 31.

And in honor of others, including those having hyphenated last names.

Noam says:

Propaganda By Noam Chomsky

[L]et me begin by counter-posing two different conceptions of democracy. One conception of democracy has it that a democratic society is one in which the public has the means to participate in some meaningful way in the management of their own affairs and the means of information are open and free. If you look up democracy in the dictionary you'll get a definition something like that.

An alternative conception of democracy is that the public must be barred from managing their own affairs and the means of information must be kept narrowly and rigidly controlled. That may sound like an odd conception of democracy, but it's important to understand that it is the prevailing conception.

EARLY HISTORY OF PROPAGANDA

Let's begin with the first modern government propaganda operation. Woodrow Wilson was elected President in 1916 on the platform "Peace Without Victory." That was right in the middle of the First World War. The Wilson Administration was actually commietted to war and had to do something about it. They established a government propaganda commission, called the Creel Commission, which succeeded, within six months, in turning a pacifist population into a hysterical, war-mongering population which wanted to destroy everything German, tear the Germans limb from limb, go to war and save the world.

That was a major achievement, and it led to a further achievement. Right at that time and after the war the same techniques were used to whip up a hysterical Red Scare, as it was called, which succeeded pretty much in destroying unions and eliminating such dangerous problems as freedom of the press and freedom of political thought. There was very strong support from the media, from the business establishment, which in fact organized--pushed much of this work-- and it was in general a great success.

SPECTATOR DEMOCRACY

Another group that was impressed by these successes were liberal Democratic theorists and leading media figures, like, for example, Walter Lippmann, who was the dean of American journalists, a major foreign and domestic policy critic and also a major theorist of liberal democracy. If you take a look at his collected essays, you'll see that they're subtitled something like "A Progressive Theory of Liberal Democratic Thought." Lippmann was involved in these propaganda commissions and recognized their achivements. He argued that what he called a "revolution in the art of democracy," could be used to manufacture consent, that is, to bring about agreement on the part of the public for things that they didn't want by the new techniques of propaganda.

This is a view that goes back hundreds of years. In fact, it has very close resemblance to the Leninist conception that a vanguard of revolutionary intellectuals take state power, using popular revolutions as the force that brings them to state power, and then drive the stupid masses towards a future that they're too dumb and incompetent to envision themselves.

The liberal democratic theory and Marxism-Leninism are very close in their common ideological assumptions. I think that's one reason why people have found it so easy over the years to drift from one position to another without any particular sense of change. It's just a matter of assessing where power is.

Lippmann backed this up by a pretty elaborated theory of progressive democracy. He argued that in a properly-functioning democracy there are classes of citizens. There is first of all the class of citizens who have to take some active role in running general affairs. That's the specialized class.

Those others, who are out of the small group, the big majority of the population, they are what Lippmann called "the bewildered herd." We have to protect ourselves from the trampling and rage of the bewildered herd. Their function in a democracy, he said, is to be spectators, not participants in action. Occasionally they are allowed to lend their weight to one or another member of the specialized class. That's because it's a democracy and not a totalitarian state. That's called an election.

But once they've lent their weight to one or another member of the specialized class they're supposed to sink back and become spectators of action, but not participants.

The compelling moral principle is that the mass of the public is just too stupid to be able to understand things. If they try to participate in managing their own affairs, they're just going to cause trouble. Therefore it would be immoral and improper to permit them to do this.

Just remember, there is an unstated premise here. The unstate premise --and even the responsible men have to disguise this from themselves-- has to do with the question of how they get into the position where they have the authority to make decisions.

The way they do that, of course, is by serving people with real power. The people with real power are the ones who own the society, which is a pretty narrow group. If the specialized class can come along and say, I can serve your interests, then they'll be part of the executive group. Unless they can master that skill, they're not part of the specialized class.

The rest of the bewildered herd just has to be basically distracted. Turn their attention to something else. Keep them out of trouble.

This point of view has been developed by lots of other people. In fact, it's pretty conventional. For example, a leading contemporary theologian and foreign policy critic Reinhold Niebuhr, sometimes called "the theologian of the establishment," the guru of George Kennan and the Kennedy intellectuals and others, put it that "rationality is a very narrowly restricted skill." Most people are guided by just emotion and impulse.

Those of us who have rationality have to create necessary illusions and emotionally potent over-simplifications to keep the naive simpletons more or less on course. In the 1920's and early 1930's, Harold Lasswell, the founder of the modern field of communications and one of the leading American political scientists, explained that we should not succumb to "democratic dogmatisms" about men being the best judges of their own interests.

Therefore you have to turn to the techniques of propaganda. The logic is clear. Propaganda is to a democracy what the bludgeon is to a totalitarian state.

And so we were given a Town Center Task Force, and a Calthorp Study, and the public copy table at the side of the meeting room is ignored while last minute papers are handed around the council table. If one of the herd bellows, an additional copy is grudgingly made - with a lot of show.

And this new Ramsey3 is packaged and presented this way. We have a task force in the works there too, or that is my understanding.

It may be a great idea - much greater than Town Center failures - something that might preserve old Ramsey and the rural "feel," rather than threaten it as the Town Center malignancy and high density gun club housing deals etc. promise to do.

The point is, if Ramsey3 surprisingly turns out good it would be in spite of and not because of the condescending way it has so far been managed. If you package it the same as Town Center it will be more skeptically received than if it is honestly presented without smokescreening and bureauspeak but with simple fair and honest explanations - containing facts and getting to the point.

People who think otherwise would be those who subscribe to the "herd" theory Chomsky described. They should be weeded out to wend away with James Norman.

Try, for instance, to look at recent council agendas and minutes - not the multipage tomes James Norman constructs full of pages as numerous as snowflakes, for meetings, but the shorter items alleged to keep you informed - and tell me where you find, regarding the "Transition Team," who the people on that team are and what they will be doing.

You should feel like a herd animal, coming out of that exercise - and wondering where the "Port of Ramsey" is, for heavan's sake.

Read the entire Chomsky item if you like. The above is an extended excerpt. It is the nub.


Finally, on December 20, when your city's government holds that new Taj Majal open house, don't leave Ben alone across the street and out in the cold without stopping by to say hello.

Go over, visit with Ben, and think of your taxes while there. Moon the new building if that's your heartfelt taxpayer urge, while with Ben.

Monday, December 11, 2006

AGO 59a-30 (July 24, 1996)

By chance I came across AGO 59a-30, and it's worth a sentence or two. In 1996, Attorney General HH Humphrey III told the City of Richfield it could not manipulate council vacancies on its own, but that the Minnesota Constitution and Minnesota law required that council vacancies come about only as specified by law and then be filled by special election.

The citizens cannot be disenfranchised of a right to elect their representatives.

Hence the council in Ramsey cannot take that right away from you, not lawfully at least.

I understand they've law firms they can buy opinions from saying what they ask, but still, the Attorney General's opinions carry special weight - the weight of impartiality - whereas the Ramsey council purchased variety mirror the Ramsey council wishes - more or less.

Sleep a little better, as long as the law, i.e., the AGO, is followed.

For example, under it, Mayor Gamec could not resign mid-term with a sitting council member or other favored person appointed by the council "for" you instead of having a replacement elected in a special election, by you.

It just seems right that way anyway, doesn't it? Otherwise they preempt a ward, or the entire city's citizenry, and that's not the American way.

Saturday, December 09, 2006

Two of the "sparkplugs" are gone - causing more uncertainty - plus, campaign spending, conflict of interest, and why that much money?

Sparkplug Troika: One of the last posts in November was on propaganda, suggesting:

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.
Bruce Nedegaard died a few days after I wrote that, at age 58. It is a sobering thing to me as I am four years older. But there remain others to take custody of the offending "stuff".

However, Nedegaard's death substantially worsens uncertainty about Town Center.

The uncertainty contagion before his dying involved the general tanked housing market, shared-wall market oversaturation in Ramsey, higher mortgage rates, and the sheer unadulterated ugliness of lego-land stuff put across the road from Connexus. It worsened substantially from that with Nedegaard's death, and that's saying a lot.

In my view, three people - a troika - are most responsible for Town Center being in the predicament it is.

Neither of the Kuraks and neither of the Steffens are in that troika, although the Steffen-Met Council "Dream Team" has a role in the play.

Bruce Nedegaard
bought and was the promoter. He was key. James Norman already has been noted as declaring himself last summer to the business press as responsible for putting our city hall in there (and shamelessly overbuilding it into a palace for bureaucracy in the process). That was key. He'll be riding into the sunset at year's end, God bless, so he is the second departure.

That leaves David Elvig yet to depart. He is the remaining "sparkplug for what it is" figure. He was head of the Town Center Task Force. He headed the Finance Committee when the Town Center development contract was haggled over and inked. Ditto, when infrastructure and related bonding was being done (at a rate that would astound a drunken sailor and dwarf his spending). The Taj Majal has to be paid for after all. The PACT school bond-play counted against bonding limits. There was doing and redoing Ramsey Blvd. -- a snafu, as if it were not done right the first time and needed to be dug up after being paved, to be redone.

Somehow,
however, things were jiggered and juggled with all that other Town Center spending so sewer-water could be gotten to the gun club. It was forced there despite the "Message from David Elvig, Ramsey Town Center Task Force Chairman" saying "A master planned, properly balanced Town Center answers nearly every one of Ramsey's future growth needs." [emphasis added to weasel-word, "nearly"]. Apparently feeling the "need to be in front of and to help mentor" that routing, an effort started before he even was sworn into office as a council member.

David Elvig first abstained; then to break a 3-3 deadlock against the idea of pushing for sewer and water to the gun club a change of title to the gun club land was arranged and he cast the tie breaking vote setting the row of dominos falling [recall Pattiann Kurak drawing criticism for a comparable step]. Presumably Jerry Bauer and David Elvig discussed that outside of anything reported in council minutes. Jerry Bauer, after all, had been reported in past council minutes as "owner" of the gun club. David Elvig married his daughter many years ago. It would be a surprising situation if they had not had private planning discussions.

Conflict of interest is a question of opinion over how law fits facts. Your view of conflicts of interest might differ from mine.

Each of us probably differs to some degree in our thinking and from David Elvig's or Jerry Bauer's view of things (whatever the legal-&-ethical perspective might be that they share and/or differ on, among themselves).

To me there's conflict of interest misconduct. An appearance of impropriety in the gun club events and sequencing seems present. But form your own opinions. Watch and think.

Certainly the two of them, Bauer and Elvig, came less close to the wrong side of Minn. Stat. Sect. 471.87 than Pattiann Kurak did in her promoting city infrastructure investment in Town Center land from the council table. Cf. AGO 90e (Aug. 25, 1997). How "personal" is an intimate family interest in chain of title as a flawed "personal financial interest in a contract" and how "personal" would a financial benefit arising from a sewer-water routing contract need to be to fit the gross misdemeanor statute [MS Sect. 471.87]? Can an intervening [possibly only technical] change in land title between the time a contract is first proposed (or a first step is taken) and a contract's reduction from conditional bargaining to a done deal with pipe in the ground cleanse a conflict of interest taint? And, what standard of bona fides would govern such an intervening title-transfer event, and, factually, did gun club sewer-water dealings fit that bona fides measure or have unique factors weighing against the measure fitting? There may be no clearcut precedent for an answer.

Then there is election campaign spending. In November I posted here and here about Ramsey 2006 election results.

For that election, I spent a total of $370 as a Ward 1 candidate, and it looks as if my oponent, the successful candidate, incumbent David Elvig, may have spent 14 - 15 times as much. His disclosure was that $5335 was raised for his campaign; but he's disclosed, so far, only $479 in itemized expenditure. That leaves $4856 unaccounted for to balance income and expenditure. Either his campaign holds a substantial cash surplus or he spent more than reported as of Nov. 28, per city records as of that date. I have yet to see his final campaign disclosure affidavit.

$479 seems an appropriate amount, for only a ward seat. Fifteen times what I spent seems somehow excessive - spending $5335 would be staggering, if that indeed was what Elvig spent.

Why would anyone collect and/or spend that much for a Ramsey Council Ward 1 seat? Who would contribute that much? And why?

Does it possibly relate to land interests in the general Town Center neighborhood, and who owns what on the west side of Armstrong Blvd north of the tracks and might want or view it as desirable to have an intimately related friendly person remain on council, for any such reason? Is Ramsey Crossings and other neighboring planning something for which strong feelings cause large cash outlays, for a ward seat?

Somebody has to give me the answer.

I was not sitting at any table where my opponent discussed such things, and I could only presume who the contributors might be and what discussions they might have had with him.

What is uncertain is the future of Town Center - and most importantly - the future of public spending of taxpayer money there (and on the nether side of Armstrong). I would say "public subsidies," but that's a dimension of opinion where "public spending of taxpayer money" is a clear and adequate term, for now.

Time will tell a "subsidies" story on the west side of Armstrong, or lack of one.

We can only guess now. So keep your eyes and ears open, and stay duly skeptical. Some are quite extravagent with their own money. It is easier to be extravagant with other people's money. Wasting taxpayer money - throwing good money after bad for whatever motives or causes there may be of bad judgment, should be avoided if at all still feasible, in relation to Ramsey's Town Center as it so far stands and as it may yet be shoehorned around.

Ben the Ramsey taxpayer.




Yes, it is hard to miss seeing the palace and ramp. They are so large and dominate the open space around them. But have you seen the less conspicuous taxpayer statue across the street? That ever smiling happy-face Ramsey taxpayer, left out there in the cold, who bought the overly fancy stuff across the street. Or will be buying it with increasing property tax payments years into the future, over time.


I call the statue "Ben Dover, the Ramsey Taxpayer" and I wonder whether James Norman and Bonnie Balach commissioned it, while planning between them for legislation; or whether it was our council's message to us. Three false stone facade faces, a plain blank poured concrete facing on the back, and the prepetual happy face -- at least until rust sets in and the debt service is all paid and the principal bond amounts are amortized and the bonds retired.

I find it interesting the pictures of the Taj Majal being built (that had been prominently featured) now are all hard to find these days on the Ramsey website, after having been highlighted there for such a length of time. That was before the election, I recall. And mention of the $16 million + price tag or info about who's making money off the old convenient city campus at Hwy 5 and Alpine, that's also hard to find on the city's web pages these days. If you've links, post them as comments.

Until I posted these there were no pics online at all, of Ben.

When you drive by, everytime you drive by, keep your eye out for Ben. You are Ben. And have a nice holiday.

Plus this, online at the city website:

Please join us to celebrate the new Municipal Center at the Open House and Dedication Ceremony on December 20th from 3:00 pm to 7:00 pm. Tours of the new facility will be given and refreshments and cake will be provided.

Yes. Let them eat cake. Please go to the Open House. You can take simple cardboard hand lettered signs with you, saying "Wretched Excess" or "Lavish Beyond Need" or "Why a Taj Majal?" You can use the sports metaphor, and wear a paper bag on your head, labled "Ben," or just show up for the tour. The oppulence will enthrall you. And -- hope for good weather, to go outside, cross the street, and commune with the statue of Ben. Or if really busy, stay home and look in the mirror. But put on a happy face. That's what the Kuraks and Jerry Bauer and John Peterson over at the gun club will be doing - so why not you?

What wool are they intending to pull over our eyes this time?

Below is a whois excerpt for a website that I bet few citizens - if any - have any knowledge of, but which is aiming to "educate" us about OUR city. Go figure.

It's put up on the web by outsiders - it's slow as molassas in January [as with Laserfiche], and it's full of puffery that fails to get to the point. Pure bureau-speak.

That unpins my bullshit meter from zero immediately and into the "caution-what's-up" scale area.

Why don't these planner people talk plain English and get to the point?


A lot of distrust and hostility could be defused that way. It might even build credibility for a change.

Yet the meter's not pinned yet fully on the far side, and I reserve final judgment until an inquiry I have to Patrick Trudgeon is responded to. But the meter certainly is unpegged from zero and that's something I cannot undo; it's how it is; it's how this sort of thing works with someone simply wondering, "What's up, what's the point?"

The stealthy way things like this percolate to the public surface as complete and intact things like Athena from Zeus's forehead surely is a putoff, yet it's done that way time after time.

"Done deal" is another way to describe the impresssion this approach creates, with "sell to us" instead of "consult with us" coming to mind also.

However, with that first impression set by how its been presented and packaged so far, I await being proven wrong or whatever, and withhold final judgment - but I cannot help going in with "an attitude" when you treat me like a town fool, upfront, and everyone else is treated no differently. We voted the town fool out, or has that not yet registered in city hall?

See also, p.4 of 7 pages, Nov. 21, 2006 Council worksession agenda.

This new website lists the fine convenient old city hall address still, i.e., without updating it since last August to fit the move to the Taj Majal at Town Center; and then it blows such double-speak smoke at us, as this:

Open Space Technology, a highly successful method of engaging citizens in discussions concerning the most critical issues facing our city, will be used during the second phase of R3. Under the direction of an internationally recognized Open Space facilitator, participants will be able to raise issues that are most important to them and break out into smaller groups to envisage solutions. The findings and recommendations of these groups will be compiled into a single report, which will be available to all residents. Ultimately, these sessions will result in a broad community vision and working document that will address Ramsey’s growth until 2030.

In the final phase of R3, the city council, staff and commission members will use the vision created by the residents during the Open Space sessions to create a workable framework for the city’s future development. Ordinances and policies developed from this vision will ensure future development fosters a sense of community by emphasizing neighborhoods. The city will also continue to encourage resident input through OST sessions and surveys will measure the city’s success at implementing the vision.

"Engaging citizens" is "the second phase?" What in the world came first, the planning of the propaganda barrage? I don't know about you, but I don't want "an internationally recognized Open Space facilitator" as much as I want honest facts, getting to the point.

My vision is to not go behind peoples' backs to the legislature for stuff like this:

Minnesota Session Laws 2006 - Chapter 259

ARTICLE 9 PUBLIC FINANCE

[...]

Sec. 12. CITY OF RAMSEY; GENERAL OBLIGATION BONDS.
The governing body of the city of Ramsey or a development authority established by the city may issue general obligation bonds to pay for costs related to a project in an area within the city consisting of the property defined as outlot L, Ramsey Town Center Addition and lot 2, block 1, Ramsey Town Center Addition. Bonds issued under this section are not subject to the net debt limit of the city under Minnesota Statutes, section 475.53, or any other law or charter provision.

I'm sorry, but I see nothing wrong with objecting to this having been done, wondering how exactly it was done, and not knowing who did it to us and with what purposes other than to use the quoted authority which means TAXES ARE GOING TO ESCALATE BECAUSE SOMEONE SOMEHOW GOT THE LEGISLATURE TO GIVE THE RAMSEY CITY COUNCIL A BLANK CHECK. It's like having a loaded gun pointed at your head, and being able to say, only, "Huh?"

And be ready to do a browser "search" for the wording "city of ramsey" because it's long text, and hard to find that part of it dealing with the Ramsey Citizen's Blank Check to the council, by scrolling [if you download the Adobe pdf version of that legislation from the linked page, it is on p. 85 of 128 pages, if that helps you envision the needle-haystack dimensions of this mischief].

Then on top of that having happened, now we get: Ramsey3

Whatever that propaganda device is in detail, it's an insult to us. If it is not that, puffing as it does and telling us nothing of substance, what is it other than an insult? It sure sounds as if we'd better get the helmets ready to protect our heads from what's coming down.

Anyway, think for yourself. Check the website and form your opinion going in. Here's the whois info, indicating outside fingerprints of some kind:

Domain ID:D126906152-LROR
Domain Name:RAMSEY3.ORG
Created On:07-Aug-2006 18:01:50 UTC
Last Updated On:07-Oct-2006 03:47:42 UTC
Expiration Date:07-Aug-2009 18:01:50 UTC
Sponsoring Registrar:Domain People Inc. (R30-LROR)
Status:CLIENT TRANSFER PROHIBITED
Registrant ID:DP-5105515
Registrant Name:m Rice
Registrant Organization:m Rice
Registrant Street1:Box 583612
Registrant Street2:NA
Registrant Street3:
Registrant City:Minneapolis
Registrant State/Province:MN
Registrant Postal Code:55458
Registrant Country:US
Registrant Phone:+1.6126550035
Registrant Phone Ext.:
Registrant FAX:
Registrant FAX Ext.:
Registrant Email:domainadmin@thinkus.net
Admin ID:DP-5105516
Admin Name:m Rice
Admin Organization:m Rice
Admin Street1:Box 583612
Admin Street2:NA
Admin Street3:
Admin City:Minneapolis
Admin State/Province:MN
Admin Postal Code:55458
Admin Country:US
Admin Phone:+1.6126550035
Admin Phone Ext.:
Admin FAX:
Admin FAX Ext.:
Admin Email:domainadmin@thinkus.net
Tech ID:DP-5105518
Tech Name:Administrator DNS
Tech Organization:Administrator DNS
Tech Street1:1 N State Street
Tech Street2:NA
Tech Street3:
Tech City:Chicago
Tech State/Province:IL
Tech Postal Code:60602
Tech Country:US
Tech Phone:+1.3122362132
Tech Phone Ext.:
Tech FAX:
Tech FAX Ext.:
Tech Email:administrator@siteprotect.com
Name Server:NS2.THINKUS.NET
Name Server:NS1.THINKUS.NET

Who's that? What's up? Downloads offered, then a screen saying, "You do not have the correct permissions to download this file." I'm a citizen for Chirstsakes, what do you mean? We're the sovereign. Why cannot these bureaucrats get that straight???? Something about a "PPS Scoring Guidelines - Maple Grove Scoring Methodology for New Developments." What's that got to do with Ramsey? You tell me, I cannot download it.

Thursday, December 07, 2006

If you drink, don't drive.

Your City Police force IS watching. And they should be. Don't drive drunk, or carelessly or recklessly. I say so. The cops say so. Your councilmembers probably all say so, do as I say, etc.

Indeed, here's Notice - It's on the city website so don't say you were not warned:

SAFE AND SOBER ENFORCEMENT BULLETIN
The Ramsey Police Department will be putting extra officers on the streets during the month of December in order to snare the impaired. Please do not drink and drive. Have a safe and happy holiday season.
And the sobering facts about unsober drivers is they risk not only their own lives, but yours and mine when sharing the road with us - something a good family man would not do to the families of others. It simply sets a bad example for the city official, school teacher, pastor or scoutmaster to be doing wrong, that way. Young people can see such things and conclude it's "okay."

Look at the facts:

Minnesota Impaired Driving Fact Sheet
Source Minnesota Department of Public Safety Office ofTraffic Safety

The legal alcohol limit for drivers in Minnesota is 0.08. It is always illegal to drive while impaired. If a motorist's alcohol concentration is at 0.08 percent or higher it is a criminal offense with penalties ranging from misdemeanor to felony. It is also a violation of civil law that triggers automatic driver license revocation for a minimum of 90 days for a first time offense.

From 2001 to 2005 Minnesota averaged 601 traffic deaths per year 216 [36 percent per year] were impaired driving related.

Over the same five years there was an average of 34,000 impaired driving incidents each year that resulted from a DWI arrest translating to almost 100 DWI arrests a day.

In 2005 the Twin Cities metro area had 48 percent ofthe impaired driving incidents and the 80 county non metro area 52 percent.

In 2005 males accounted for 76 percent of impaired driving incidents.

Of all Minnesota residents 471,760 have aDWI on record. One in every eight persons in Minnesota with a driving record including those with a license and those with a license revoked, cancelled, etc. has aDWI. 201,424 [one in 19] have two or more incidents. 94,306 [one in 41] have three or more and 1,075 have 10 or more.

Most impaired driving offenders are first time offenders. Still many offenses are committed by persons with prior incidents on their record. In 2005 14,420 [39 percent ofviolators] had prior DWIs on record.

So, that's why I say no family man would do it. There is a gender pattern and women are less a problem. We all probably have been behind the wheel after a drink or more, but many of us so infrequently we have not been caught. To get caught you do it frequently. Or you couple it with other dangerous driving characteristics - road rage aggressiveness, reckless testing the envelope, or inattentiveness to the roadway and where police are upon it. Any way you gain an arrest and conviction, even by blind bad luck, it is a risk to the rest of us - and more a risk if an incident or two is due to frequent offending or driving wickedly when you get your snoot full.

You should no more tank up and drive than take alcohol with you while hunting. It's dangerous.

To get caught twice, the one in 19, you've a problem. And if you've had a careless-reckless ticket too - you are a clear and present menace to others. Period. End of story. Some, for several reasons, clean up their act or appear to - either changing behavior or ceasing to get caught or avoiding getting charged and convicted.

And even if you've beaten a conviction on a technicality - you did the crime.