consultants are sandburs

Sunday, December 30, 2007

Watchdog Yearend WOOF Mentions Ramsey Town Center - And it is 100% TRUE.

Harold Hamilton's writing can state essential truths in ways that are hard to dispute or improve upon; hence, when as here he does that his Watchdog words, not mine, carry the theme:

Story #5: Ramsey Town Center Debacle.
Our number 5 story is still developing but is already on pace to go down as one of the biggest boondoggles in Anoka County history, and certainly the biggest at the municipal level.

The Ramsey Town Center debacle will stand as a cautionary tale to city councils around the nation for years to come. The Ramsey City Council essentially suffered from two major afflictions that helped doom the project.

The first was arrogance. Historically, Ramsey has been an exurb of large residential lots with a fair share of commercial and industrial real estate as well. The character of the city has been one of limited government, low taxes, and a general respect for the privacy of those who chose to live far from the urban core.

In a fit of hubris, the city council attempted to ignore the essence of the city’s culture and by fiat create a transit-oriented, high density, mixed use downtown in a city that had never had or wanted such a development.

The transit never came as there is no commuter rail station and the parking garage off Highway 10 is highly underutilized. There will likely never be any real demand for the high-density residential housing because high-density housing is only successful where there is a supporting infrastructure of transportation, retail, and other services within walking distance. Few people want to live in a condo and yet have to drive to buy a gallon of milk or drive 50 miles to work.

The second flaw was a lack of sophistication. While it will probably take years to conclude the investigations and lawsuits, it appears that the city council was taken in by grandiose promises and slick presentations of a new suburban utopia. In short, it looks like Ramsey got in over its head – fast.

"The second flaw was a lack of sophistication."

Just like good holiday candy, it's hard to stop with a single piece. This time excerpting rather than a total en banc copy:

Story #2: The County Board Evolves.
Revolution it probably isn’t, but there are definitely changes afoot at the Anoka County courthouse. Like the knuckle-dragging caveman who has become a refined 21st Century human, the Anoka County Board has turned in its Dan Erhart era wooden clubs and animal skins in exchange for top coats and civil discourse.

Yes, he got his train after years of futility. But he is no longer board chairman. And he didn’t get his football stadium.

Again, kudos to commissioners Rhonda Sivarajah and Robyn West for demonstrating the courage and commitment to principle that is needed to bring about change, especially on a county board where independent thinking had all but disappeared under Erhart’s leadership.

Story #1: Vikings Stadium Fails.
Hands down, the failed Vikings stadium effort was the biggest political story in the North Metro this year. In a classic David-vs.Goliath matchup, regular taxpayers triumphed over Zygi Wilf, Anoka County, and the hoards of special interests that spent millions trying to ram a taxpayer-funded stadium down our throats – without a voter referendum.

Like most Anoka County government mega-projects, the stadium chase was filled with its share of buffoonery and incompetence.

Perhaps most astounding was the fact that the county offered up a piece of real estate for a stadium without ever determining if the land could really support a stadium. Months into the project, the Army Corps of Engineers went public with its concerns about the vast number of wetlands on the site and the need for numerous environmental permits, even if the land itself could support a stadium. The Watchdog is left to surmise that the extent of the county’s soil testing was Erhart standing on the land like a pioneer of yore declaring “This is it!”

He says, "buffoonery and incompetence," and pick the picture this time, reader. Yeah, lots and lots of posibilities, that's why I just left it open that way.

And Erhart, "This is it," an image like Brigham Young. I wonder if the Erhart legacy will be more or at least a part of a Mountain Meadows Massacre one, rather than solely one of a finding of the promised land flowing with bounty and manna, for the man's core followers and believers.

But I'm not criticizing Dominating Dan, I am merely someone who's not been here as long as he or the Watchdog, reporting as much as agreeing with woofing by my friends.

And like that "no referendum" concept the Watchdog woofs over, stadium-style, we had a Norman Castle built here in Ramsey, down on Sunwood, next to the ramp that the first woofing item mentioned - and there was not a referendum over that lavishness in Tom's Town (who else was on council throughout the failed process, from genesis to developer-exodus, so name it after the man on watch).

Now, here's the kicker, and it was not a contractor or workman's error, it was there in the desktop model, planned from the beginning, intentionally started and finished precisely that way, as these pictures show - pick your word, bent, curved - your choice of terms:

For comparison, and back to woofing, here's a picture where you can see a dog's hind leg:

So, is the legacy we leave our children, a city hall "bent as a dog's hind leg?" A city hall "curved as a dog's hind leg?" How would you say it, Ben?

"___________ as a dog's hind leg."

Whatever, Ben, this next November, be sure to vote.

Showing up that way will sweep house better than a broom.

Monday, December 24, 2007

BUY Early - They Are Selling Out - The SLEAZE-o-METER. Limited supply, only one per family. Whether you caucus GOP or DFL, don't be without one.

It is a Civil Defense device, as the side badging in the photo demonstrates. It will protect your head, at caucus, if you feel there's any danger you will be believing things the party bosses and wannabes are spouting. And for your friends who caucus with the OTHER PARTY, they can use it too, because the knob under the handle adjusts sensitivity so that if caucus sleaze pins it out at one level, just dial a less sensitive range, and keep your political wannabes or the OTHER PARTY wannabes on-scale. At its most insensitive setting, rumor has it that it would not even pin-out at the Living Word Christian Center; and that was with each of the Hammonds having a preaching shot at pinning it, on test day. So rest assured, your candidate, the challenger, the front-runner or trailing candidate, none should pin it unless it, like you, is at caucus too sensitive - and if YOU cannot adjust, remember, the Sleaze-o-Meter can.

Now for something different - but the circle will be unbroken. However, first a test case to show you how it works - this archive item excerpted [emphasis added]:

Posted: 6/14/05
Former Transportation Commissioner Elwyn Tinklenberg announces candidacy for Sixth District Congress

by T.W. Budig
ECM capitol reporter

A resident of Blaine, Tinklenberg served on the Blaine City Council and for 10 years as mayor. A former Anoka County official, he came to Blaine as pastor of United Methodist Church.

His speech at the National Sports Center was laced with religious references.

The notion that government is inherently bad is part of an attempt to craft cynicism as the mother's milk of corruption and dishonesty, he explained. "Right now America is a well-oiled machine," said Tinklenberg. "It is working smoothly for the moneychangers who hope desperately that we will not notice that they have taken up residence in the Temple," he said.

Tinklenberg believes his political stances reflect the Sixth District.

He's a Pro Life Democrat.

So, tell me, was it the Pharisees or Sadducees in gospel times who had the greater number of regionwide consulting contracts and lobbying positions with the Roman occupation forces in the Holy Land? Or does it matter? Well, don't ask me - ask the Sleze-o-Meter. Here's the "Lobbyist-Consultant Tinklenberg audacity to call others moneychangers in the Temple" reading:

Yup. A 2.1. Not too bad on the "r/hr" ("reprehensibility-per-hour") scale. Not outstandingly sleazy. Middling. For a better idea, on the scale sensitivity selected, a -2- reading, that's about a "pot calling the kettle black" in qualitative vs. quantitative terms; while up to a -3- and it's "Let him who is among you without sin cast the first stone."

So, a 2.1, go figure it out.

It's original, it's portable, it's better than warm boots in the snow, it's the Sleaze-o-Meter protective device. You can have it on while watching TV. Dial your sensitivity, Masterpiece Theater, Fox News, Veg-o-matic ads, exercise equipment special segments, it will handle them all. And, well, no, it's not as pretty as an i-phone, but go price one of those hummers - then think it over, and it will do things your i-phone, your neighbor's i-phone cannot accomplish. Remember, one per family, batteries not included. And don't be fooled by imitations or other brands that say they are as good. There is only one. It's the original Sleaze-o-Meter, and nothing less. You'll be sorry if you bought an imitation, or voted for one - for sure you can be sorry about that and a Sleaze-o-Meter can help prevent that wasted believing vote - indeed, it can even pinpoint and identify the party bosses at caucus, the elderly, white, stern-faced, men, standing quietly in a bunch at the back of the caucus hall, it can home in on them all.

Sunday, December 23, 2007

Why I think El Tinklenberg is no better than pond scum; or why insult pond scum?

Read it, excepted from here, and see exactly who it is that wants to be the next Michele Bachmann phenomenon in Minnesota's Sixth District, where I live, in Ramsey:

City Council Workshop Minutes

Monday, January 8, 2007
Albertville City Hall 7:00 PM

PRESENT: Mayor Ron Klecker, Council members [...] City Administrator Larry Kruse, Assistant City Engineer Adam Nafstad, Elwyn Tinklenberg, Jodi Ruehle, S.E.H. Engineer’s Jaimison Sloboden, Scott McBride and Mark Durling

[...] Mayor Klecker called the meeting to order at 7:30 p.m.

I. Meeting Purpose and Overview

City Administrator Kruse presented opening comments stating that the purpose of the workshop was: to seek Council direction for an I-94 layout, which staff will take to the I-94 Implementation Task Force; to ask the Council to endorse this layout; and to seek Federal Funding. The Tinklenberg Group will update the Council on their efforts obtaining Federal Funding, and discuss their strategy for the 2007 funding cycle. SEH will review several layouts and seek concurrence on a preferred layout. SEH will discuss associated cost to complete a preliminary design or staff approved layout. Finally, the staff hopes to understand the Council’s expectation on Albertville’s financial involvement and share this with the I-94 Implementation Task Force.

Elwyn Tinklenberg stated an opportunity is coming in February for the City and I-94 Task Force to submit a project for Federal Funding. Tinklenberg emphasized that transportation funding remains very competitive and that due to a lack of funds, MnDOT is pretty much in a maintenance mode. The people that are the most successful are the ones that collaborate with multiple jurisdictions and work together. Tinklenberg proposed a fee of approximately $3,000 per month to promote the City’s project and keep it before decision makers.

[...] V. Council Discussion

Discussion was held on the various standard and hybrid layouts, which the Council rallied around supporting the $12 million dollar project.

[...] Consensus was reached regarding the following:

[...] 2) The Tinklenberg Group will proceed to seek Federal Funding for the I-94 Project at an estimated cost of $3,000 per month.

3) S.E.H. and the Tinklenberg Group will collaborate and put together a Public Involvement Plan whereby a newsletter or brochure will be sent to Albertville residents and specific business owners that would be assessed and affected by the proposed I-94 Project. In addition to the newsletter or brochure, the Albertville website can be used to convey project information. Several public information meetings will be held to inform the public. S.E.H and the Tinklenberg Group will put together a budget to accomplish this business.

4) Staff was directed to share the Council’s interest with the I-94 Task Force to pursue the $12 million dollar option with the goal to receive 50% Federal Funding and then to raise the remainder of the funds locally from State, County, Albertville and other partners.

[emphasis added] and here for what the public meeting revealed to citizens after the deal was cut in a work session about paying the Tinklenberg Groupies three grand a month for services, including keeping Albertville's chances "before decision makers" and, curiously, with the focus more on PR tub-thumping without the three grand a month being again mentioned:

City Council Meeting Minutes

February 5, 2007
Albertville City Hall 7:00 PM


Jodi Ruehle with the Tinklenberg Group reported that the I-94 Task Force met and what the Tinklenberg Group is proposing is to conduct open houses or workshops bringing together neighboring communities. The workshop would include SEH in some aspects to demonstrate the layouts and phases of implement.

Council inquired about the use of the $800,000 Federal Funds towards the construction or other costs associated with the process.

City Administrator Kruse stated that it would require a process of selecting the engineer to proceed to utilize the Federal Funds. Of the initial $800,000, the City has dedicated $600,000 towards the purchase of land; therefore leaving a balance of $200,000.

Kruse reported that staff recommends going forward with the project. A thorough and effective public involvement process should begin in February 2007 with the development of a plan over the course of several months ending in the fall of 2007. But in order to proceed, staff needs to get approval of the Plans and finalize the project to present to the State.

MOTION BY Council member Fay, seconded by Council member Wagner to approve the Tinklenberg Group and SEH, Inc. Public Involvement Proposal at a cost not to exceed $68,000, and on file in the office of the City Clerk. Motion carried unanimously.

[emphasis added]What is the man selling? Can you say, "opportunity?" Can you say, "opportunist?"

Rev. Tinklenberg ought to go preach in Mac Hammond's Living Well Christian Center, with the kind of living well approach to life, as he seems to have. But Bachmann's got a lock on the door over there, or seems to, just as she will have in the district if the DFL caucuses go with the union boss endorsements and think Tink. Can you imagine the NRCC hate mailings about the man's baggage, and how Brodkorb will be blogging? It will be a slaughter - and perhaps one of the nastiest elections in State history. Do you suppose there's any truth to the stories that he is Jim Oberstar's protege? With influence that way, on the House Transportation Committee? Again, what is the man selling, to get all those consulting contracts? Do you think the GOP will not be asking such questions on the ramp-up to November 2008?

Come let us work together, my fee is three grand ...

Give me a #$%&%&$ break.

Give me clean energy advocate Bob Olson. I agree with Blue Man about the Tinklenberg candidacy. A winning candidate will not be in it for what it can return to him. A winning candidate will be a candidate without baggage. The legacy of the Wellstone Bus, all that.

And if you do not think the Tinklenberg guy stands for the standard story stuff on growth is good and build a Town Center for your town too, look here. I suppose fertilizer is good for crabgrass, so heap it on.

Saturday, December 22, 2007

Articles about a dead appraiser named Renne, and Town Center. There also was the Tinklenberg Group arranging for Ramsey buying Highway 10 properties -

Renne did appraisals for at least two properties along Highway 10. Nedegaard was involved there too. Holding title, I believe. People are emailing and Google Alerts are returning Pioneer Press and Strib online stories - the feds have filed more detail, the Community National Bank principals from North Branch appear to be target people, Martinson who went to work for Jim Deal is mentioned. As a weekly, the ECM papers had a Ramsey Town Center item that was written for North Branch, I think, also carried by Anoka County Union. I don't have that link, but the story is online here; Patrick Tepoorten, posted Dec. 18, 2007 (It dealt with the new Minnwest Bank litigation that Strib and PiPress each also covered). The more recent reports, mentioning the Renne suicide and federal investigatory affidavits, are David Orrick and Nichole Garrison-Sprenger, Dec. 22, Pioneer Press; and Paul Levy and Lora Pabst, Strib, also Dec. 22; both online and each giving the most current story. Read them online. I will not, in this post excerpt much.

Just, a question for now, if you were a mortgagee, with Bruce Nedegaard as your mortgagor, would you wait over half a year to record the mortgage? If not, why not? That's a really, really, really interesting question, to me at least. And who, you may ask, would sit on a mortgage position that way and why? I wonder the same thing, but I have a "who" in mind, from a document I have seen, a satisfaction of mortgage; and a settlement statement. City files, public data disclosure request, anyone can ask, the law says the disclosure has to be given, for public data.

And I want to see negotiation papers, a full file, two properties; plus earnest money contracts, escrow instructions, title abstracts the City of Ramsey relied upon, and a complete settlement statement for each of the properties. Then I would hope the feds ask the same questions; and get disclosure of the escrow files, etc., things that might not be public data but might be of interest, given the Nedegaard focus, and Town Center and Renne appraisals being of concern. But that can await another post. Here's my only story excerpt, and guess why I think October 2005 is an interesting thing [perhaps it has to do with an unrecorded mortgage up to that point, but that's the only hint I will give for now]. Here's Strib:

It wasn't until a meeting in October 2005 that the participating banks learned that the Ramsey Town Center project had a serious credit problem, that the project was in default, and that the officials involved in Pentagon Credit paid back the secondary loans before the $35 million loan.

Here's a picture of a Norman Castle, in England [Wales, actually, but hey, for us, what's the difference, England's good enough, we're not Welsh]:

Now, for something totally different, a picture of our town's Norman Castle, in Town Center, aka "Ramsey Municipal Center" [with Ben the Ramsey taxpayer featured, as always smiling, perhaps at how Town Center stories get better and better] but we all know it is, at its core, from its origins, truly a Norman Castle:

Now here's a picture of a building at Town Center, one of two commercial ones I know of, this one diagonally across Sunwood Blvd. from the city's Norman Castle, aka "Ramsey Municipal Center":

Now here's a picture of the reflectorized window of that building's southwest corner; and that "community bank" soon to arrive back in August 2007 when the picture was taken, what's happened to it, why is it not here now; and do you suppose it was going to be a Community National Bank, as well as "community bank" and that might be a factor in the delay?

Your guess is as good as mine, but somebody knows more than I do; I will bet on that at 5-to-1 odds. Any takers?

And who do you suppose sat with an unrecorded mortgage for half a year, or am I reading that Satisfaction of Mortgage document incorrectly - mortgage dated March 29, 2005 but recorded October 28, 2005, around when that Strib article said something about a serious credit problem? And would a credit problem look less serious before that, if a mortgage existed but was being held, unrecorded? Held unrecorded by intent, or neglect and error? What intent could there be?

Good questions for some seasoned investigator or bank litigation attorney to ask, not for fools like Ben and me.

Friday, December 21, 2007

Images of two candidates - each in his turn.

Bob Olson

El Tinklenberg

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Natalie and the Magnificant Seven.

Election time is coming.

Too bad you cannot vote out the appointed Town Center lead duck.

Fixing Sunfish Blvd. between BNSF tracks and Highway 10.

Everyone else has an opinion.

My opinion is to say Bravo.

My opinion is that the mayor, Sarah Strommen, John Dehen, and David Elvig were fully correct and courageous in putting the public interest - public safety concern and the availability of funding not assured in the future - first in their view of proper priorities, in passing the City's coordinated position with Anoka County regarding the improvements to Sunfish, hard barrier and all.

I have been less than a cheerleader for Mayor Tomas Gamec and Councilmember David Elvig in the past. This time, I believe they deserve praise for not taking the easy way out, and bowing to special interest merchant pressure, something easy to have done, and instead favoring the clear public interest in safe, accident-free and adequate or above adequate roads, as Ramsey's population grows at its astounding present rate.

The growth was foreseeable, as was the need for major road improvements to meet the stress caused by that awful breakneck rate of growth. The rate of growth stinks, no doubt in my mind about that, but given that this council and earlier ones tolerated and fostered it in so many ways, letting a handful of merchants torpedo making a road safe would have been insult on top of injury.

I think Councilmembers Look and Olson were wrong, though I do not question their good intentions, only that they have their priorities wrong. I regret David Jeffrey was unable to go on record, one way or the other. Not that it would make a difference, there were four votes for the improvement - but just ---- to go on the record so we know next election what he thinks.

The error was probably in the past - a different council make-up than at present but with a few carryover members - when the land was developed beyond being a car lot as it was for years.

That was when anyone going into a profit-making intended venture, from then on, had to be aware of and have actual or implicit notice that roadway upgrading could happen.

Had they been on top of things with the landlord the presently impacted merchants could have negotiated an escape clause into their individual leases in the event road improvements cause accessibility impairment. It is not an uncommon thing for lessees to seek to achieve. The worry is foreseeable.

That said, the public interest trumps special interests. People should not be at risk of fender bender or fatal accidents, because a development was done in the past in a certain way. Change, for the better in protecting roadway and driver safety is good, not bad, and it is unfortunate that landlord and merchant tenants suffer.

But the world is not always fair. If relocation consideration is given impacted merchants, without subsidy to the landlord that took foreseeable risks in buying and/or developing the property, I would not call help to merchants an improper "subsidy" and would envision most Ramsey taxpayers probably agreeing.

Monday, December 10, 2007

Who wants/needs Gary Gruber's noise mess?

I don't.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Six of the twenty most exposed banks are in the Twin Cities. Will Pulte go broke? Will D.R. Horton? When was Nedegaard's loan nonperforming? Who knew?

This morning's online Pioneer Press has a look at the financial sector doldrums from a different perspective than failed mortgages - failed construction loans, instead - and if you don't know what a "construction loan" is, think "Bruce Nedegaard" or "John Peterson" for development loans, and then think of the actual home builders, particularly on "spec homes" [built on speculation vs. per a contract in advance with a particular purchaser]. Several builders might attain related construction loans within any particular development; and that is why there was a Master Development Agreement for Ramsey Town Center with only a small fraction of the building set to be done by Nedegaard's building firm.

See here, for a "line-of-credit" description of construction lending. Mortgages to home purchasers are long term credit. Loans to developers or builders are short-term working capital lending. The normal expectation is a construction loan will be cashed out from proceeds of the first purchaser's mortgage loan. The normal expectation for credit to a development is meeting some form of scheduled progress payments, as parts of the project get cashed out (i.e., what in the normal course of events would have been required of Nedegaard and his Ramsey Town Center LLC's borrowing -&- debt service). PiPress reports:

Housing slump stings area banks
Six from Twin Cities among 20 in the U.S. most exposed to failing construction loans
Pioneer Press
Article Last Updated: 11/13/2007 06:58:35 AM CST

An intensifying housing recession is zapping community banks across the Twin Cities - not with belly-up mortgages, but with failing construction loans for the housing behind them.

Since homebuyers slammed on the brakes, developers, builders and families across the region have been defaulting on construction loans for all manner of new housing, leaving community banks holding the bag.

Six of the 20 most-exposed banks in the country, ranked by the percent of overall bank assets that are in nonperforming construction loans, are based in the Twin Cities, according to New York-based investment rating agency Ratings. Nonperforming means the loans are unlikely to be repaid.

They are: Key Community Bank in Inver Grove Heights, Vision Bank in St. Louis Park, Citizens State Bank in Hudson, Wis., Community National Bank in North Branch, BankCherokee in St. Paul and Lake Community Bank in Long Lake.

We recognize that bank. They were the ones with Sandison and Peterson, bank officers dabbling on their personal account in an unlicensed title company with Bruce Nedegaard, when Nedegaard was on the hook, via RTC LLC, to that bank for millions. And they were the ones letting the security bleed out, piece by piece, without the principal of the debt being accordingly amortized.

So, you tell me, I'm ignorant of it, what's the definition of "a nonperforming loan."

Back to the PiPress reporting:

[D]evelopment deals became a bread-and-butter business for many of the small guys during the housing boom. It's not clear how many more shaky construction loans are coming due. With many developers and builders in dire straights [sic], the banks are changing course, with some targeting other commercial lending.

Failing construction loans at the six Twin Cities community banks ranged between 3.6 percent to 5.2 percent of the banks' total assets in the second quarter, according to Philip van Doorn, Ratings bank analyst who ranked the banks nationally based on call reports filed each quarter with the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp., which regulates banks.

Those are high concentrations of nonperforming assets - one FDIC official called the percentages "extreme" - although they represent just $37 million. By comparison, the ratio of nonperforming construction loans to total assets for all banks nationally was 0.06 percent in the second quarter.

That puzzles me, the $37 million number, where it came from. Nedegaard alone, in one deal with Community National Bank of North Branch, had that big an arrearage, so it seems like a low-ball number in any industry-wide context. Perhaps an error in reporting? Or editing error? Possibly, "billion" was meant. Resuming:

"I've been in the business 40 years, and I've not seen it like this," said Gene Haberman, president of Citizens State Bank in Hudson, which has $201 million in assets and nearly $10 million in construction loans unlikely to be repaid. "It was like a line was drawn in the sand, and all the building stopped. No one was prepared for that."

Nonperforming loans either are in default or have stopped accruing interest, but van Doorn's nonperforming count also likely includes many loans in foreclosure. Construction loans include commercial and residential construction.

To be sure, Citizens State Bank and the others are not failing and remain well capitalized, according to van Doorn's review. They all have tier-one leverage ratios - roughly a bank's core capital as a percent of total assets minus some liabilities - above the FDIC's required 5 percent.

Still, the high concentrations are troubling, particularly since the housing recession doesn't appear to have hit bottom and could worsen as more loans come due. Four of the six banks lost money in the second quarter, some because they beefed up loan loss provisions. At the very least, the failing loans and housing recession spell a rough patch for community banks as they change the way they do business.

[...] Haberman and the other bankers insist customers have no need to worry. They're working with their construction borrowers, they said, and the loans pose no threat to financial stability. They dismiss the trouble as a market issue.

If "working with their construction borrowers" is the term for what Community National Bank was doing with Nedegaard, myself, I'd worry.

I'd worry about mature experienced bankers who after years in business claim to be flumoxed by a market bubble bursting.

I'd worry as a banker about the way Nedegaard was allowed to continue, were I a banker in the loan consortium absorbing pieces of the Nedegaard lending activity that Community National packaged out.

I'd worry as someone with cash in such a bank as Community National. In a sock between the mattress and box springs might be safer for storing the cash than in some "banks" were it not for FDIC insurance for the first $100,000 on deposit and at risk in an institution. Anyone still with more than that in Community National, or with any CD holdings there not covered by FDIC protection, should consult his financial advisers quickly. Back to PiPress, with understatement featured:

Haberman and Marshall MacKay, president and CEO of the Independent Community Bankers of Minnesota, say banks may have become too casual with their real estate underwriting.

"I guess the obvious answer has to be yes, because if we knew what we now know, we would have put bigger margins in," Haberman said. "We followed traditional guidelines."

Others disagree standards got lax. The bankers didn't predict how quickly the high-cycle would end, they say.

That Citizens State Bank in Hudson popped out near the top of the list speaks to how the construction loan problems cut across a range of community banks. BankCherokee, Lake Community Bank (formerly State Bank of Long Lake) and Citizens State Bank all are 100-year-old institutions, not the kind of startup banks one might expect to be more vulnerable.

Such as Vision Bank. With assets of just $25 million, the St. Louis Park bank opened in 2005 specifically to fund commercial real estate deals. Brian Weimer, Vision's chief executive, said most of his trouble is one group loan, called a participation loan, that Vision Bank joined to finance a housing development that isn't in the construction phase yet. He wouldn't name the project.

Bad construction loans led Key Community Bank in Inver Grove Heights last year to shut down a residential real estate finance division it opened five years ago and cut back sharply on new housing construction loans. As of June, it still had about $4.6 million in bad construction loans. David Bjerknes, Key's senior vice president, said the bank has been "very effectively" working through the process to secure its collateral.

[... Then our poster child for bank woe] The troubles of another bank in the group are well known. Community National Bank in North Branch made headlines in July for its $35 million group loan to late developer Bruce Nedegaard for his failed Ramsey Town Center housing development. An attorney for that bank blamed the Ramsey Town Center deal for the bank's high concentration of bad construction loans.

FDIC regulators say they can't explain the cluster of failing construction loans in the Twin Cities. Federal banking regulators last year urged caution to small and midsized banks in managing risk.

Don't blame the project. Blame the guy(s) at the switch. Blame anyone who gave Nedegaard liquid cash during 2005 - 2006 without tying on strings. Pioneer Press earlier reported about money diverted into Swiss bank accounts. Probably in that time frame.

Letting that kind of mischief go on under your nose, does that sound like prudent banking to you?

Who else knew of the seriousness of the Nedegaard situation - his thinly capatilized meanderings into the Ramsey Town Center affairs, and all? Tammy Sakry reported City of Ramsey knew. James Norman appears to have told her that.

So what did our prudent city officials do to preserve the security of Ramsey Town Center park plans and promised millions of developer dollars for that precise park development purpose?

What did they know? When did they know it?

What did they do? When did they do it?

Who were the parties responsible, and what were their responsibilities to the City and its taxpayers? Who knew what and should have been communicating with others, (besides the Community National insiders and Nedegaard, who appear to deliberately have not communicated as much as I would expect other bankers in the package would have wanted)? City officials at fault? Only city officials? What about well paid consultants, what were their actions and responsibilities?

Such questions are something to examine in detail in future postings.

And will Pulte and D.R. Horton go broke? I doubt that for now, but how long will the housing market slump, what exposure do those mega-firms have in different housing sectors, what's their inventory control - how much built stock are they sitting on that they'd want to move and are they keeping some crew activity going to avoid layoffs and unemployment insurance spiraling - and the big question, what's their credit situation with their lenders and their situation with local affiliated builders to whom they may have given credit? Debt service without cash flow can erode liquidity quickly. As publicly traded companies Horton and Pulte had to do some reporting, it might be informative, but aggregated figures might not be enough to predict such things, depending upon the firms' exposures in different parts of the country, and depending on which regions are the worse markets now and over the next six months.

I took the above photo Aug. 21, 2007. There was Hovnanian effort then at Town Center, along the west side of Rhinestone near Hwy 116, the Symphony at Town Center effort.

Unfinished symphony, so far. But it is new shared-wall inventory. Hovnanian is building in 2007 and not sitting still, and I think building there is continuing now, this quarter. It could be a local-affiliate builder with working capital taking the risk, apart from the parent firm. But Hovnanian recently was reported as one of the nationwide builders facing trouble - or at least aggressively unloading inventory:

Hovnanian Orders Drop
By Nicholas Yulico Staff Reporter
11/6/2007 10:13 AM EST

Hovnanian Enterprises (HOV - Cramer's Take - Stockpickr - Rating) reported a 10% drop in quarterly new-home orders and said sales significantly deteriorated in October.

Some analysts now expect the Red Bank, N.J., homebuilder to implement another round of steep price cuts to clear its large inventory of houses. More than half of Hovnanian's orders in the recent quarter came during the company's heavily hyped "Deal of the Century" weekend sale.

For the fourth quarter ended Oct. 31, Hovnanian's contracts totaled 2,781 homes, down 10% from a year ago in the fourth quarter. Cancellations rose to 40% of contracts from 35% in the third quarter.

During the quarter, the company used cash flow from home sales to reduce its debt by $390 million.

Hovnanian attributed the increased cancellation rate to the tightening of mortgage underwriting standards, which has lead [sic] some customers to terminate their contracts due to an inability to obtain mortgage loans.

The results were better than expected, but more pain could lie ahead, according to Bank of America analyst Daniel Oppenheim. He expected a 25% year-over-year decline in orders.

"Sales likely fizzled after Hovnanian attempted to pull away incentives from its 'Deal of the Century' promotions the weekend of Sept. 14-16," Oppenheim said in a research note.

During the "Deal of the Century" sale, Hovnanian sold homes at fire sale prices to get rid of inventory. The company said after the sale that it had 1,700 contracts from the weekend.

"We expect that Hovnanian will reintroduce discounts similar or greater than before in order to maintain sales and generate positive cash, since competitors who matched its temporary promotions actually set new market prices," the analyst said.

I am not one to second guess a fortune 500 firm, but the discounting and promotions as reported seems to have been going on at Town Center, by Hovanian, with this photo also from Aug. 21. "Fire sale prices" indeed. It looks like used-car lot signage.

Friday, November 09, 2007

Is it the same "Jim Norman" as formerly worked for City of Ramsey?

Jim Norman

Owner, Norman & Associates

Greater Minneapolis-St. Paul Area

* Contact Directly
* Get introduced through a connection

Current * Owner at Norman & Associates

Past * Associate at The Tinklenberg Group

Education *** Minnesota State University, Mankato

Connections *** 2 connections

Industry ***Government Relations

Jim Norman’s Experience

*** Owner -- Norman & Associates

(Government Relations industry)
February 2007 — Present (10 months)

*** Associate

The Tinklenberg Group
(Government Relations industry)
2007 — 2007 (less than a year)

Jim Norman’s Education

* Minnesota State University, Mankato - 1973 — 1977

The photo is from City of Ramsey days, that James Norman for certain, from before he did any blonding of the hair, pictured in front of that dreadfully stupid signboard that gets left around city hall (past and present), and is tacky, bad propaganda that should have been given back to Bruce Nedegaard and the RTC LLC affiliated design crew well before the man died last fall.

That above text beside and under the photo is from linkedin, a web-community networking thing, I suppose.

It is a mystery but not a mystery - since the connection of Norman noted with lobbyist El Tinklenberg matches with the two of them as attendees at the Feb. 6, 2007, Rogers-Dayton-Hassan Township joint meeting over road and land development - a Crabgrass session. That was where lobbyist Tinklenberg apparently had Hassan Mainstreet LLC interests to advance, along with The Beard Group, present on behalf of the Stone's Throw dense housing + mixed use effort (competitive for new housing buyers in today's slumping market with the Ramsey Town Center dense housing + mixed use thing we're saddled with, thanks in large measure to James Norman, including the moving of city hall without any referendum on the wretched excess represented by that $19.2 million bonding-and-spending spree).

But if the "Jim Norman & Associates" individual is our ex-City Administrator - there is the mystery -- why that extensive course of dealing and experience is not listed and touted.

If it is the ex-Ramsey James Norman, who are those "Two connections?"

It does make sense that lobbyist Tinklenberg would affiliate James Norman onto his cash-business. Both have governmental "experience" related to the type of thing being proposed in Hassan Township & environs; and there's a massive roadway interchange project associated with Stone's Throw. It was while James Norman headed Ramsey's city staff that the City's consultancy contract was inked with The Tinklenberg Group - related to transportation issues of mapping and arranging buy-out terms and conditions along Highway 10 in Ramsey.

Sometimes it is not easy to scratch everywhere on one's back. An old saying arose from that fact. Friends help friends, and there has been woofing about "The Good Ol’ Boy network is alive and well."

And then this, from City of Oakdale Sept. 11, 2007, meeting minutes, p.2:


Mayor Sarrack opened the meeting up to the audience at this time.

Jim Norman introduced himself as the Interim Coordinator for the NorthEast Suburban Transit organization.

No other comments were heard.

If the most current NorthEast Suburban Transit info shows a James Norman in the NEST, that way, it is transit funded status - linked to Metropolitan Council, who the ex-Ramsey James Norman helped sell flushes, and MnDOT which lobbyist El Tinklenberg headed in the past and used as a springboard for his private-sector consultancy; The Tinklenberg Group - which does not rely upon its website to make its sales. A site like that is squatting on turf, locking in the name and little else. How long has Tinklenberg Group been on the consultancy payroll of Ramsey? And, that long and the website's still under construction? Huh? Why?

[UPDATE: Web search revealed here, that already in Sept. 2004, The Tinklenberg Group had its talons into the Ramsey fisc (i.e., was on a consulting contract) while his MnDOT resignation was Oct. 2002, so, unless the consultancy contract was in place well before that news article, at least the tires cooled from driving north from St. Paul before the consultancy in Ramsey was in place. A whois indicated El Tinklenberg as contact person, with the site registered April 8, 2004 (and no WayBack archive record) so within a half year of staking out the web name, Tinklenberg Group was in the press as a Ramsey consultant -&- news source.]

Go figure. Something sells Tinklenberg Group consultancy goods, and sells services of lobbyist El Tinklenberg, besides the quality of the website. What that is, is something known to Tinklenberg and those buying goods and services, but unknown to me.

I cannot see a single reason to hire or rely on the man for anything.

Yet the sale has been big-time and wide-ranging.

And with Beard Group fronting for the money people behind that Stone's Throw promotion, wouldn't it be interesting to know precisely whose money is behind Stone's Throw, and behind Hassan Mainstreet LLC, the client of lobbyist El Tinklenberg? You can bet the GOP will be interested in whose money it is, if lobbyist Tinklenberg gets the DFL endorsement ahead of clean-energy advocate, Bob Olson of St. Cloud; in the Minnesota Sixth District DFL caucuses when they pick the candidate to challenge GOP incumbent Michele Bachmann, whose campaign donor listings provide separate fodder for a host of "whose money" questionings.

The Tinklenberg Group's contract with Ramsey involved appraisal and other effort, for example, per RESOLUTION # HRA-05-09-004 in the Ramsey online documents, whereby the then council [pre 2006 election] sitting wearing their Housing Redevelopment Authority hats voted to have the CITY via HRA:

[...] establish a Redevelopment Project Area as described herein the Redevelopment Project Area in connection with the acquisition of certain properties for right-of-way purposes described as

Lots 2 and 3 Block 1 Deal Industrial Park Anoka County Minnesota

and adopting the Redevelopment Plan for the Redevelopment Project Area the Plan all pursuant to and in conformity with applicable law.

And if you on first blush, like me, think that meant millions of tax dollars [RALF tax money] going to Jim Deal, well, not exactly.

The story is more involved than that, and it may be the subject of a later separate Crabgrass posting and examination.

Monday, November 05, 2007

Cause for City and bank to sit tight, hunker down, and wait. Plus - what's fair, when "fair notice" should arguably be given?

Sitting Tight.

Precipitous action is usually ill-advised action; such as Ramsey getting sucked into the entire Town Center fiasco in the first place.

Now, let's consider a sit-tight response.

Strib reports that the housing market appears to not have bottomed out yet. Fall-winter is not the peak real estate dealing season. Those projecting the current housing market doldrums continuing at least to next summer are looking to have guessed right. Strib, at the start of the month reported:

Number of U.S. homes facing foreclosure doubles in third quarter
Associated Press
Last update: November 01, 2007 – 7:54 AM

LOS ANGELES— A soaring number of U.S. homeowners struggled to make mortgage payments in the third quarter, with properties in some stage of foreclosure more than doubling from the same time last year, a mortgage data company said today.

A total of 446,726 homes nationwide were targeted by some sort of foreclosure activity from July to September, up 100.1 percent from 223,233 properties in the year-ago period, according to Irvine-based RealtyTrac Inc.

Doubling of foreclosure rates nationwide is big news. And if the trend is your friend, your friend is saying sit tight and don't push real estate promotions since the market's gotten more sour, quarter-by-quarter:

The current figure was 33.9 percent higher than the 333,731 properties in foreclosure in the second quarter of this year.

There was one foreclosure filing for every 196 households in the nation during the most recent quarter, RealtyTrac said.

All but five states reported a year-over-year increase in foreclosure filings, which include notices of default, auction sale notices or bank repossessions, the company said.

A single property can sometimes receive more than one notice in a three-month period.

In all, 635,159 filings were reported in the third quarter, up 99.5 percent from the year-ago quarter and up 30 percent from the second quarter of this year.

RealtyTrac CEO James J. Saccacio said in a statement that August and September accounted for the highest monthly totals since the company began issuing foreclosure filing reports in January 2005.

"Given the number of loans due to reset through the middle of 2008, and the continuing weakness in home sales, we would expect foreclosure activity to remain high and even increase over the next year in many markets,'' he said.

Mortgage lenders are bracing for a flood of defaults as many adjustable-rate mortgages originated in 2005 and 2006 during the height of the housing market frenzy reset to higher interest rates.

The loans were initially attractive options for buyers because of their cheaper "teaser'' interest rates that kept monthly payments low, but even a small percentage increase can translate into a far higher payment.

With home sales in decline and prices down or flat in many regions, more homeowners are landing in foreclosure because they can't afford to sell their homes after falling behind on payments.

The three states with the highest foreclosure rates during the third quarter were Nevada, California and Florida, RealtyTrac said.

Nevada reported one foreclosure filing for every 61 households, with 16,817 filings on 12,982 properties.

That marked a 22.8 percent increase in filings from the previous quarter and a tripling from the year-ago quarter.

California led the nation in total foreclosure filings and reported one filing for every 88 households.

The state had 148,147 filings on 94,772 properties, an increase in filings of 36 percent from the previous quarter and nearly four times more than the year-ago period.

In Florida, there were 86,465 foreclosure filings on 60,992 properties during the third quarter, RealtyTrac said. Foreclosure filings rose 51.5 percent from the previous quarter and more than doubled from the same quarter last year.

Florida's foreclosure rate amounted to one filing for every 95 households, RealtyTrac said.

Rounding out the top 10 states in foreclosure rates were Michigan, Ohio, Colorado, Arizona, Georgia, Indiana and Texas.

So, Minnesota is not in the "ten worse" category, but leave statewide worry aside - where is Ramsey Town Center in comparison to those ten worse states? Worse percentage-wise than Nevada? Than Florida?

Fair Notice.

And is John Peterson's market niche doing better or worse than shared-wall high-density? Probably, if you look at the cornfield on Nowthen by Trott Brook, that has sprung up a new cash crop - lumber, not raw, but nailed together, etc.

But the gun club. I drove through there - one home being built on a cul-de-sac with swamp on three sides - but the rest as roadways and a couple of big pits. So, where was the lead-polluted part, and what's its status now? Should people buying there be given notice that the homes are built over a former hobby shooting range so that residents know to have blood lead levels monitored more closely than would be applicable for the general population? There's sense to having a City ordinance requiring such notice, as a matter of public health protection. Give notice, someone buys, they make a rational choice. Withhold notice, somebody buys, they have a right to feel hoodwinked by developer and city each turning a blind eye to the particularized risks of living atop a former hobby shooting range.

Is that, silence when there's good cause for notice, what our City, Ramsey, is all about? If so, whose interest is served by any such silence? Mine, yours, or Ben the Taxpayer's? Crabgrass probably propsers regardless of residual lead levels and risk, but then crabgrass is very adaptive and opportunistic. Given any chance it can grow as wild and unrestrained as allowed. The question is what to allow.

Town Center - If there are negotiations ---

If the bank wants to talk, and the council voted to consider talk, then the City as a first step should require disclosure of the "potential buyers" that Minnwest's spokesperson, Bushman, spoke of in general (but with a refusal to publicly identify them via the press). What thinking do each of them have, how compatible would any of them be with City aims, etc. Make up some litmus tests, and then do some litmus testing. Know who you might be dealing with. Before concession-making, not as an after the fact surprise.

There is no cause for the bank to expect it can buffer the City away from such potential development contacts, while asking the City for concessions. That would be unreasonable.

Also, it appears from Pioneer Press reporting that the Community National Bank was given an exclusive dealing franchise for banking in Town Center - a franchise that Jim Deal reportedly purchased, holds, and intends to enforce.

Hence, inquiry is suitable into what other exclusive dealings or franchises were given out by Nedegaard's RTC, LLC, and whether the bank in negotiations wishes to have ANY such arrangement honored while at the same time seeking major concessions from the City.

Again, that would be an unreasonable bank negotiation position to be rejected totally and unequivocally.

It there's to be rewriting, then a key question is, "What's now written," that EITHER side would like to keep and not give up.

If anything's on the table, everything should be.

A whole fresh cut of the cards and dealing of new hands all around would be proper. With no player keeping any aces up the sleeve to play later for raking in a humongo sized pot off the table, by surprise.

For instance, has anyone obtained "exclusive" rights to build a commuter rail station with restaruant space or retail outlets a part, and if so, who and under what terms? Has there been any franchise for retail of any kind awarded by Ramsey Town Center LLC that has survived bankruptcy to rear its ugly head? An interest in real property not recorded and revealed is different from personal property rights such as business franchise rights. Security interests not duly perfected are not binding on bona fide parties without notice. But what of franchise rights previously conveyed but not litigated as cliams before the bankruptcy court? What exactly was done, in bankruptcy court? What were outcomes, in terms of limits of court actions and judicial decision-making as well as in terms of affirmative decisions clearly made of record? The devil's in such details.


Avoid surprise. Pin down ALL relevant facts now. Pin down who is a real player, or real potential player, and what each would expect beyond what City and bank might consider in negotiation. It is part of working things out to know what things need attention, to be worked out.

Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Not a ghost of a chance of a Halloween Town Center sale.

But the ghost of Bruce Nedegaard reportedly lingers. Dave Orrick of Pioneer Press on Oct. 30, reported:

After being postponed three times, the sale had been scheduled for Wednesday, but this afternoon an official with Minnwest Bank, which holds the $35 million mortgage, said it wasn't going to happen.

The development was envisioned as a $1.3 billion housing and retail utopia, but it's been beset by delays, questionable financial dealings, bankruptcy and the death of its developer, Bruce Nedegaard. Since then, banks have been trying to get out of obligations described in his vision, while city of Ramsey officials have insisted they stick with it.

Earlier this month, city council members agreed to change their tack, but no accord has been reached. The sale will now be held in lat[e] November or early December.

Possibly there may be some tax write-off benefit by the bank finally ending its foolishness and doing something before year's end, if their fiscal year or quarterly tax situation would favor that. I have a Google alert set for "john feges" that recently provided a link to some PACT school records. It seems years ago that John Cairns was putting funny financing in place where the City of Ramsey arguably stepped across a bonding-related boundary it should not have, in assisting and enabling the PACT school promotion to advance.

Is that a part of "questionable financial dealings," to use the term Orrick wrote? I still have questions where it seemed smoke and mirrors were involved and there was a passing contention at the time that Town Center then stood as the equivalent of "blighted land." I recall at least one councilmember was offended enough by that characterization that it got dropped from transaction papers.

That's all a separate story, if posted here at all.

Just this: Perhaps Cairns and his law firm may have a role in fixing things they had a role in creating; Master Devleopment Agreement, document recording sequences, and all. Time is like an endless river that favors those willing to wait. I recall a fortune cookie that said, "An ounce of patience is worth a bushelful of brains." Let's hope the council has patience and brains, this time.

Irrational exuberance was the pre-groundbreaking theme.

Let's leave irrational exuberance, the dreams, and the rose-colored glasses in the pre-groundbreaking past.

Caution and patience should be the watchwords in current bargaining and planning.

That promising Chinese business venture must have gotten lost somehow amid all the shops and restaurants.

Where exactly is it, and where exactly is our Loudi sister-citer relationship?

Is there fence mending that way, on the agenda for our new City Administrator Kurt Ulrich?

P.7 of the May 2, 2006 council work session minutes even talked about a "Loudi Room" at the new City Hall. I have not seen it. Have you?

Valentine Day city council minutes, last year, p. 18-19:

Motion by Councilmember Elvig, seconded by Mayor Gamec, to ratify the recommendation of the Finance Committee in Case No. 2 and to enter into a consulting agreement with HSP & Associates for consulting and advisory services to locate a Chinese commercial interest in Ramsey for a not-to-exceed amount of $5,000, with consideration that there would be itemized billing that staff would review, and that there would not be any international travel involved.

Further discussion: Councilmember Elvig explained HSP & Associates is working on specific economic development opportunities, which is something that The Ramsey Foundation would not be working on. This is something that typically City staff or Economic Development Consultant Mulrooney would work on; it specifically relates to bringing business to town. This will include language and cultural barriers that staff would not be familiar with. Mayor Gamec stated the key is to use more consultants [...]

With caution, prudence, and patience, the local ship of state might right itself and come to port, at Port of Ramsey?

We love our officials, don't we? They are full of surprises. Would the mayor spend five thousand of his own money that way?

Monday, October 29, 2007

Trudgeon will help the Ulrich cutover. "Whatever problems are plaguing that project are not all of Pat Trudgeon's doings," the new bosses say.

Patrick Trudgeon will be working for Roseville. The new people did not feel he was responsible for Town Center's failure. That sounds correct.

Trudgeon worked on that funky zoning scheme in place there, but was NOT the prime architect nor instigator of the thing, and he surely had to salute a number of people including councilmembers past and present and the former city administrator.

Trudgeon neither beat the PR drums loudly, nor owned any part of the land, nor held any part of the developer's stake, while being a staff official working on the project. Nor did he have the most instrumental role in closing down the prior city hall for a palatial but isolated replacement effort, at a $19.2 million capital-cost sting to taxpayers.

Not a mere foot soldier, but not the decision maker when the bad decisions were being made. Not the foister, when the bad decisions were being foisted on the public.

He never promised me ANY shops and restaurants, anywhere. Nor did he even appear to have an actual role in such foisting, aka "sustained effort at promoting and marketing a high level of what in retrospect was clearly unjustified irrational exuberance."

Foisting and the euphimism for it.

Trudgeon's reach and fingerprints on things are less than others'. The project degenerated to a wait-and-mop-up status while he was on staff. Cause and effect guessing in Ramsey over how exactly that came about will be moot in any event, with respect to Trudgeon. Pioneer Press reported the change Oct. 26, with new duties to begin Nov. 26, in Roseville:

Roseville / City hires Ramsey development chief
Officials praise Trudgeon despite project disasters during his tenure
Pioneer Press -Article Last Updated: 10/26/2007 11:39:36 PM CDT

Patrick Trudgeon starts as Roseville's community development director Nov. 26. Trudgeon leaves Ramsey as the city is struggling to resuscitate an ambitious plan to create a downtown and housing development off U.S. 10. Much of the 322 acres remains undeveloped following the bankruptcy and death of the primary developer, Bruce Nedegaard, who envisioned a $1.3 billion, 2,800-home mixed-use project.

A Pioneer Press series this summer chronicled how the Ramsey Town Center's collapse included questionable financing, hundreds of thousands of dollars in Swiss bank accounts, and federal investigators looking for answers. Creditors lost millions of dollars.

Roseville's city manager and the mayor said they knew about the Ramsey Town Center project but still felt comfortable hiring Trudgeon.

"Whatever problems are plaguing that project are not all of Pat Trudgeon's doings," said Roseville City Manager Bill Malinen, who ultimately made the hiring decision. "Involvement in a project of that size is good experience."

Roseville Mayor Craig Klausing said he was interested in Trudgeon's role in the flagging Ramsey Town Square development. Trudgeon served as one of Ramsey's lead liaisons to the developer.

"I was aware of it," Klausing said. "I felt comfortable in talking to him that he had attributes and skills and could do a good job in Roseville. What happened in Ramsey was more of a product of things outside of his control."

As noted already, I agree with that characterization, and I felt Patrick was a good person to have working on the mop-up. The mop-up effort will be harder without his ongoing help. Committing to staying a full month to assist Kurt Ulrich's taking over as city administrator was a generous step.

Roseville City Manager Bill Malinen also, I believe, is relatively new to his job, having been City Administrator in Puyallup, Washington, previously and at Roseville for less than one year. The Roseville opening existed, as I recall, around the time Ramsey's prior city administrator resigned last fall.

Trudgeon was on City of North Branch Staff in 1999, prior to joining Ramsey planning staff. I wish Patrick well. See the Pioneer Press report for further detail.

For the record, apart from Patrick, an online Nov. 28, 2006 City of Roseville council record indicates Malinen was formerly at Linwood, Washington, not Puyallup. Also, his status is city manager, not city administrator, with a city manager form of government giving more power to the lead staff person. The same record indicates James Norman was one of five finalists for the Nov. 2006 Roseville city manager vacancy. See, here, for Roseville's city website report of the Trudgeon appointment.

Thursday, October 25, 2007

Sewer and water. Sobering numbers on comparative costs. Misc. impressions. Plus, have we a committment from Met Council as we want?

BOTTOM LINE: At yesterday's Oct. 24 Comp Plan session --- A stupendous and staggering difference in citizen cost.

First session - After splitting into separate groups most people ended up in the stuffy foyer but it was worth it.

From City Engineering head Brian Olson (with comparative input from others):





It is a humongo difference. It was a sobering disclosure. For all of us at that session who then voiced ideas about it. Upshot, a clear show-of-hands consensus was: Not me, Charlie.

That fit with a later session on the question of "benefit" from sewer/water adjacency, relative to the statutory restraint that no government assessment can exceed the benefit an improvement provides.

The consensus was, we want it clearly stated in the Comp Plan that "benefit" as a matter of Ramsey comprehensive planning policy shall be determined relative to the existing use of a single family property. Not as if some hypothetical land chop-up were to be wanted, to be allowed, and to happen with conjectural high-profit-taking from the subdivision chop-up.

Residents felt they should not be put between the rock and hard place of wanting to continue their lifestyle choices of years in the home they want to continue occupying without suffering a staggering financial hit or being forced by the magnitude of an assessment to gamble on a property chop-up and selling into some future uncertain market. No home owner wants that. Later, if there's a change of mind or of ownership, and subdivision permission is sought, then the new situation can be assessed at that point according to the request being made. That was second session, definition of "benefit" for Ramsey to choose to apply.

First session, in more detail, it was the overwhelming will of those participating that (without any hedging or equivocation), THE COMPREHENSIVE PLAN SHALL STATE:

1. No Ramsey home shall be forced to hook up if served by operating septic and well systems or if the homeowner chooses repair or upgrade of a defective well or septic to be able to continue without a forced hookup.

2. No assessment shall be levied for sewer and water when a homeowner has refused a hook up in favor of keeping a well-&-septic status quo.

3. Sewer and water availability to a developing property shall not be a cause or excuse for the developer to ignore the need for true density transition in order for the new housing to fit reasonably into the neighborhood. (There was a minority opinion that property rights of a developer or land holder were preemptive so that integrating flawlessly into a neighborhood need not be mandated. However, a strong show-of-hands majority favored compulsory density transitioning [in a meaningful and not superficial or cosmetic way as with present berming/screening provisions]). A strong majority felt all negative impacts of a development should be kept within a development and bourn by the developer without rights-of-way, etc., that could easily be kept within the development being forced onto neighboring parcels simply to yield higher development profit. (It makes sense that if any such costs or impacts are delocalized off the developing site by necessity, then cross-payment by the developer to the impacted home(s) should be a requirement, although this concept was not extensively discussed).

4. Clustering, if done, shall be true clustering to protect a permanant open space benefit, and not ghost platting for staged build-outs without protecting initial open areas via non-buildable land preservation status.

5. Sewer/water routing is understood to be most economical if pipes are laid through wetland because less depth of digging is required; however, every feasible civil engineering effort should be made to protect the wetland from permanant harm and drainage; and tree preservation and habitat concerns should always be considered as serious factors.

That is from memory, and a detail or two of the session notes might differ.

Those mandatory protections (including the "benefit to the property" standard from the second session) would mean the Met Council would receive and have to sign off on that collective will, because it's current posturing is that it does not coerce, and instead approves what communities want. Yeah, sure. If we stand firm we can test the truth of that.

The "PLAN SHALL STATE" terminology was generally regarded as the highest level of protection we could have against later mischief, and though not perfect it was far better than any lesser protective thing such as ordinance wording. People felt that anything less than that, less than clear Comp Plan language where Met Council would be having to sign off on the planning being structured that way, would be insufficient assurance against risk and duplicity --- with the present ordinance situation generally perceived as a cold comfort, so cold as to be highly uncomfortable, and really no actual comfort at all.

A $45,000 per-home Bumstead Boost for not understanding:

My feeling - any councilmember up for reelection who does not steadfastly and honestly support that feeling throughout the planning negotiations and process should be ousted from office by a compelling and forceful majority vote. Make the collective public feelings clear that way. Make the message forceful. Go as far as Lake Elmo did (if that is what's needed to knock sense into Met. Council) and go down fighting and not appeasing if that's the end result.

Bob Ramsey stopped by at the second "benefit" shall mean ... session, and he and I and the others there generally agreed about being grandfathered-in on existing homestead use being determinative for putting a bound on assessments, and that such "grandfathering" of existing use was within our general view of "property rights" where he and I had no disagreement. The mayor did not stop by.

How Peterson fronted cost for his pipe dreams.

There was some fairly substantial consensus at the two sessions, and across groups, that the Peterson Pipeline Paradigm should be used as a test of the resolve of the Crabgrassers, i.e., to see if they are willing to bear all their Crabgrass risk, and to face and allow an outcome from a balanced unbiased market.

Bob Ramsey and I appear to agree, and he can contradict me if I misunderstand, that subsidies jigger things in ways that market-impartiality might judge differently.

If a go/no go decision on a venture is contemplated by a Crabgrass coalition as too risky if unsubsidized, then project abandonment, not subsidy is the answer. At Town Center or elsewhere. I think our differences would be over where, on a continuum between two poles neither of us would argue for, the extremes being pure laziz faire or pure scoialization, a balance between private and public rights should be set in actual individual cases by good sense and without resort to generic terminology.

If it's only developer-speculator money at risk, not yours, it's also a little easier to stand and watch even what you think is a bad thing for neighborhoods and for the city.

At least your pocket's not being picked to subsidize profit-taking or to shift risks to you while you think the project stinks and the profit potential is boosted for Crabgrass out of your wealth, not theirs. Fairness and all that.

Peterson paid to play, just like you pay to play at Las Vegas. He did not say, "Do it for me, but with their cash." People at the session saw a compelling propriety to that concept.

The Hunts had their own parallel first-session family pow-wow. They came up with the idea that extending sewer-water to the vicinity of their lands was nonproblematic and as good an idea as slicing bread or putting beer in bottles. No downside they could think of.

While other groups considered the "Peterson Pipeling Paradigm" as beneficial it seemed to not occur to the Hunt clan I guess, for it was not on their session charting. They had no notation that others might feel if you want it for your land and benefit then you front the money it takes to route and install it and that is all part of your Crabgrass risk. That's how Peterson got it to the cornfield by Hwy 5 - Trott Brook. He paid. Good or bad for Ramsey can be debated, but at least the Peterson Pipeline Paradigm of having Crabgrass interests front Crabgrass costs and expenses without trying to socialize them to the citizenry in general, was viewed as better than the other way around, by most attendees.

The mayor was there at least half-way through and all the way to the end. On reflection I may cease referring to him generically as "the mayor" and call him, properly enough, "Town Center Tom." Or, "The Optimist, Town Center Tom." We shall see whether the idea sticks in future posts.

In closing, here again is the key concession, already made, publicly, and of record, by the Met. Council's direct policy-making representative who we know keeps her word:

In black-and-white and the committment couldn't be any more clearly stated than that.

See, here, for that page in its full three-page context.

She means what she says.

So,we have the approval already, and staff only needs to write it the way the citizen-session established as wanted in no uncertain terms. And vote out anyone on council trying to stand in the way. Recall exists for a reason, even for seats not up in the 2008 cycle.

That means we should have quite smooth saling through the process next summer when the plan's presented to Met. Council, about the time the Governor has his party's convention in the Twin Cities and wants all things governmental that are run by his appointees to sail smoothly.

Here's hoping that what was said clearly by Ms. Steffen at the April 5, 2004 work session is still as true as when it was then said - and that minutes will not at this late date be characterized as some form of unfortunate "misquoting."

Finally, a new final 2008 Comp Plan session will be added in the Dec. 2007 or Jan. 2008 timeframe. The Future of Ramsey Town Center. That gives months for Town Center uncertainties to stabilize. The idea was Bob Ramsey's and staff liked the idea.

My idea - put the morgue on barges on the Mississippi. Then - Call it The Port of Ramsey. That way we could have a Port Authority without bending truth too badly. Nobody at the meeting liked the idea.

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Bob Ramsey suggests, what about one further 2008 Comp Plan session - citizen opinions about the future of Town Center, as part of the Comp Plan.

Ramsey Town Center is a part of what comprehensive planning should consider; and it surely has been a major cash sink for city money over a period of years. Bob emailed me suggesting it should have a place in the sessions.

It seems like a fine idea, add one more session at the tail of the existing schedule and set that as the topic.

Bob Ramsey's email states:

How about using open space technology sessions to help decide what the town center should be? I like the idea about getting the citizens involved, but a referendum? What questions could possibly be asked on a ballot? How long would the ballot be? [...]

I like open space technology, I think it’s a great tool if implemented properly. I think we could [...] get a real sense about what people really want. What do you think?

All good points. I think enough of the idea to promote it. With fair attribution, of course.

We should do that. I think Ramsey planning staff would be amenable to another session, that topic, as part of 2008 Comprehensive Plan deliberation.

How to manage a referendum?

Problematic? Yes, but it would be something that could be done and done better than that earlier sorry exercise where a ballot question was, "Would you like nice shops and restaurants," and then the 60% affirmative vote was postured and paraded by some as if it were an affirmation of a $19.2 million city hall plunge; and a ratification in advance of hearing about 2400, 2800, however many new dense shared wall housing units were in the works.

What would a more balanced question have yielded by referendum? What would the response have been if the extravagant city hall thing had been put to a fairly worded referendum? Go figure why it was not.

Here's a cut at fair and simple referendum wording:

Would you prefer no further build-out of Ramsey Town Center until there are shops and restaurants first?

Should shops and restaruants be publicly or privately funded?

Should the City spend more on Town Center before letting citizens know the full total of how much is planned to be spent, and what the money would be spent for?

Would you rather see Town Center stay just as it is, or have more public investment there to attempt to advance the project if that would mean your taxes increase within five years by $100 per year?

That last one seems key - a what's it worth to YOU question - hold onto your money or not - and, is seeing the turkey try to fly worth an extra $500/year to you, or not (even if the increment over the next five years is staged and not a single shot $500 up front increase)? How much do the voting citizens think that thing is worth to them? Why not ask and find out? What could be fairer than asking? If people do not really want it, why do it to people as a cram down?

Some folks in Ramsey, I expect, want to hide from what the answers might be.

Yet, why not be fair and simple? Does anybody have any problem with that?

However, even absent any referendum, I think Bob Ramsey's suggestion should have little or no opposition. I see nothing wrong with an effort at trying to find out what people who are participating in the Comp. Plan sessions think about how Ramsey Town Center is to be part of the plan.

My suggestion is that the planners, at the start of tomorrow's scheduled sewer/water session ask for a show of hands over whether adding that one futher session would be good as a final single topic issue instead of capping the sessions with the transportation issue? Indeed, how Town Center evolves will have a profound effect on transportation - all those people between Highway 10 and the rest of us, and changes we already have seen on that stretch of Ramsey Blvd. - the two more lights between me and a destination kind of thing is an impact on all of the rest of us.

I think we should talk it out. Others might prove more willing than I would be to continue funding the arguably failed Town Center experiment.

Perhaps the mayor would show up. And stay until the session ended. Novelty would be nice sometime. Or if Bob Ramsey stays for all the sessions as he has, perhaps he should become mayor? If he'd take the job untying the Grodian knot he'd be inheriting without tying a more inextricable one, of a different "property rights" kind.

Finally - in terms of Gordian knots and surprises - it is nostalgia time, and we can reflect on how appealing our 2001 Comp Plan was, talking of a MUSA line and sane ways of doing things, like that.

It is one thing to cut the Gordian knot as Alexander did, and a wholly different thing to hack about as if there were one, when none exists as cause for anyone's intense hacking effort. So, then, why was MUSA hacked apart? It was nobody's problem. It made good sense. Who in the world benefitted from hacking that up?

Monday, October 22, 2007

In any bargaining with the bank, over the future of Ramsey Town Center, be honest about what is commercial and what is not.

If there will be bargaining with the bank now, as Pioneer Press has reported, it is an opportunity to get taxpayers off the hook for paying more subsidies at Ramsey Town Center.

If the city holds fast this time, for taxpayers to be excused from the ill-advised Phase II promises previously made, that result would be a public good.

But regarding Phase I -- do not lie about government spending at Town Center equaling "commercial" unless votes are being bought and sold.

The morgue and City Hall and the Ramp are governmental - paid for and to be maintained, as I understand the dumb promises made about the ramp, to be maintained by public funds. There is nothing commercial there. And there is no boost to tax base in any of it. No help for taxpayers having taxes go up and up year by year.

The old folks home is residential, not commercial, as is low income housing.

PACT school - it is not in our cherished public school tradition, it is a private school and if there are real estate taxes paid, then calling it commercial is probably more true than false.

And let's fund the traditional public schools properly while they are under discussion. Underfund them and get the ill-schooled ignorant greedy narrow-minded people we have enough of already, as adults where the schools failed previously.

So, in reckoning what percentage of spending and/or building has been "commercial" in Phase I, if it remains necessary to do that, then do not falsify facts in the process.

If commercial development at Town Center is inadequate to trigger developer Phase II rights under the existing Master Development Agreement, then honestly face that as a fact before jiggering the deal.

Hold a Referendum on any changes to the Master Development plans.

Phase II --- perhaps it is best if all of Phase II in its entirety is on the table, all open for revision. And best if any revision resulting from renegotiation is put to a review by citizens - by referendum - to approve or vote down any monkeying around with things the council wants to indulge in to attempt to further advance what clearly is a failed dream, of a handful.

A referendum. A simple concept where the folks being disadvantaged tax-wise to fund some cabal's palaces and dreams has a chance to vote stupidity down. Or to approve it.

A referendum on any material change. And then, once a new deal is done, hold to it. It is a developer interest chasing profit, against taxpayer interests in getting something like bang for the buck. Something besides the wastefulness so far shown by palace and ramp, standing there in glorified isolation.

And while things are in flux --- hold the three million as reserves, until the future is clarified. Don't let the money burn a hole in the public pocket. Be prudent for a change.

Finally, never forget, renegotiation is a two-way street.

Renegotiation is not a one-way street where bankers and wheeler-dealers get perks in greater amounts than the James Norman led council and staff allowed earlier.


Sunday, October 21, 2007

Sit on the Three Million. And don't give a thing to any player not willing to pay down existing assessments to benefit already disadvantaged taxpayers

Stay the course or abandon ship? Bail out like the crew in Joseph Conrad's Lord Jim, on the ship full of pilgrims in stormy seas?

Will Ramsey City government "cut and run," to use a phrase being bandied about in other contexts?

Is this new Ramsey policy? If so, don't leave taxpayers stranded in abandoning ship - be fair instead to their already plundered purses.

Dave Orrick of Pioneer Press reported days ago:

Ramsey wants talks on Town Center
Pioneer Press
Article Last Updated: 10/18/2007 12:17:37 AM CDT

At a workshop Tuesday night, City Council members unanimously agreed to open for discussion several key aspects of the initial vision agreed to in 2003 with project developer Bruce Nedegaard, who died last year days after being forced into bankruptcy.

"The city recognizes that the Town Center plan must change to accommodate changes in the marketplace," City Administrator Kurt Ulrich said Wednesday. At the same time, council members reaffirmed their commitment to the project's amenities, including pedestrian accommodations and aesthetic qualities.

The original dream for Town Center was that a virtual city would sprout from 322 acres of cornfields off U.S. 10 in Anoka County. About $1.3 billion in investment would provide shops, businesses, an entertainment district, parks and 2,800 new homes.

The reality is that it's mostly vacant, and Ramsey, while not on the hook for the millions in lost investments and loans, is left with nothing to show for anticipated permit revenue and tax income yet to materialize.

Several City Council members advocated for nearly a year that the city's vision was too strict and optimistic for any private developer to embrace in the current real estate slump, and Minnwest Corp., the lead bank with a claim to the land, agreed. But Mayor Tom Gamec and a majority of the council held firm.

Because of the impasse, Minnwest scheduled and canceled a sheriff's foreclosure auction three times.

It will be interesting when minutes come out on this, to see the usual "It was the consensus of Council to ..." without any explanation or detail. Or is the Kurt Ulrich era different from that of James Norman as city head honcho? Will the work session minutes now say something?

In this matter, I agree with the former position of "Mayor Gamec and a majority of the council" previously holding firm, and I have written this several times. Yet, mention of the mayor and a "majority" begs the question of naming names. Who's backing down now, and why? What is precipitating a change? What dynamics are at play between those who "advocated for nearly a year" for early concession making and the previous stay-the-course majority? Will we citizens ever have a full picture painted for us of the answers to such obvious and important questions?

In any event, sensible questions aside, with three million popped out of a court action from a Nedegaard escrow, for "infrastructure," don't sink it into the ground when you have a work session conclude that what the ground will look like is presently and not hypothetically open to change. Right now it's a rathole for money that may have to be respent if the plan becomes more sensible and taxpayer friendly than the present one. And why do this for the bank that only sat and failed to manage its Nedegaard lending prudently? Let them take the hit they deserve. Their eating their mistakes is their due, not Ben's.

Then, if holding the bank to absorb consequences of its actions and judgment, when a "White Knight" does emerge to put his own real money at risk, citizens can have him prove his bona fide good faith by seeing him paying assessments down before badgering Council and Staff for concessions and favors that might only further burden Ben and other Ramsey taxpayers.

With 2008 elections around the corner are we seeing a "Get this thing off the front burner now" mentality among the four seat-holders up for citizen balloting next fall? It is hard to not see that as an aspect of decision-making -- as in, stay the course having a political cost some might find uncomfortable.

Only they for certain know their own hearts and minds.

We know what they tell us, so we await clear and thorough meeting minutes for review.