consultants are sandburs

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.

Thursday, October 18, 2007

Community National Bank of North Branch ---- Article 12: A sane "conflict of interest/code of ethics" policy sounds like a good idea for every entity.


It appears the Comptroller of Currency got the attention of Sandison and Peterson, Community National Bank insiders. The bank entered into a consent order, to cease and desist certain practices, and to institute sixteen specific reform articles.

Reported Oct. 18, by ECM papers, and Pioneer Press, with a start here, at the Comptroller's website if you want to secure a document copy. ROEs, Reports of Examination are not made public. The ECM article, by Patrick Tepoorten with assistance from Tammy Sakry, is the more comprehensive report. David Orrick, who did the summer series on the Ramsey Town Center, wrote for Pioneer Press.

Orrick noted:

Community National has seen its net operating income plummet. Annual income in 2004 was $3.12 million. This summer, that figure fell to $127,000 for the previous 12 months.

That's the kind of preformance that will get another kick from Dithers. Both papers reported that family insiders clogging up the Board of Directors would have to cease.

More things were required that every bank should do without a kick in the pants. The phrase, "Sober as a banker," is not about alcohol but about prudence and judgment.

Read both stories, for a fuller understanding. The Post Review [ECM] report listed the sixteen articles of reform the Comptroller required which were accepted by consent by the bank. I only excerpt one:

Article 12: The board must amend and demonstrate adherence to its “conflict of interest/code of ethics” policy. As part of the policy, no member of the board may advance personal or business interests at the expense of the bank; if an interest can be demonstrated, board members must disclose that information, and refrain from participating in board discussions regarding those matters, and recuse him or herself from voting on the matter.

We should have such a thing in the City of Ramsey Charter, right? Stop that kind of thing in its tracks if we did, right?

Well, we do. Kind of. Charter Sect. 12.3. With teeth as tough as a chicken. The cranial capacity of the same.

We need one with teeth. Making sense. It should forestall any official, on council, on staff, or on a board or commission from engaging in any public service activity where a conflict of interest exists. Conflict of interest can be defined more comprehensively than the old and ignored gross misdemeanor statute, Minn. Stat. 471.87, stating:

471.87 PUBLIC OFFICERS, INTEREST IN CONTRACT; PENALTY.Except as authorized in section 471.88, a public officer who is authorized to take part in any manner in making any sale, lease, or contract in official capacity shall not voluntarily have a personal financial interest in that sale, lease, or contract or personally benefit financially therefrom. Every public officer who violates this provision is guilty of a gross misdemeanor.
History: 1951 c 379 s 1; 1955 c 41 s 1; 1986 c 444

And in our Charter it should reach to promoting clear land speculation interests of close kin by blood or marriage, and to pierce through transparent transfers of title or such to get around something like a tie council vote by voting after a conflict has been "technically" removed and semi-sanitized. It is like getting off on a DUI or other offense on a technicality. The wrong's been done, even if there's a game of dodgeball at play.

Now, are you ready for this - our Ramsey Charter provision, as sound as if it had been drafted by the genius who wrote that ordinance text about if adjacent to public sewer/water and if your well or septic system fails you have to either hook up or assure your septic system meets standards. Yup, an ordinance that says exactly that, in case you ever have a well fail. Fix your septic system if you do.

Our Charter, and love it, this is Ramseying you (and are you there Dogbert?):

Section 12.3 City Officers Not to be Interested in Contracts. Except as otherwise permitted by state statutes, no officer of the city, who is authorized to take part in any manner in any contract with the city, shall voluntarily have a personal financial interest in such contract or personally benefit financially therefrom.

First, tell me what the consequences will be if you violate the provision? Right you get richer without any downside mentioned as imposed. Is it "Chance" or "Community Chest" on the MONOPOLY board that gives the "Get out of jail free" card?

And, "Welcome, Kurt Ulrich" as it says on the City website homepage. And as a kick in the bumstead, Kurt, we're pulling your salary. You have an employment contract that you are "authorized" to take part in with the city, and you have a financial interest and expect to benefit financially - to be paid a salary. So go find me a statute, or give up the paycheck, pal. Charter says so.

Uh, did they really mean that? It is what the language clearly states for now, and stated for years. But did they mean that? It is almost as if somebody intended to parallel the gross misdemeanor statute, but left out the word "making" and never missed it. Or it might have been dropped in an instance of typing or retyping; and never missed. Hard to say. Totally speculative.

Do you see the council wanting to look at and perhaps fix the lauguage? I don't for another eighteen years. Looking at all at conflict of interest seems to be bad manners, in Ramsey.

It's like, "Yo, boy, don't go kick that sleeping dog, ya hear. Hell to pay for too many, if you go and do that."

And then, there always can be friends helping friends, public land bought or sold at windfall terms. I've heard it happens in Oz when the Wizard's asleep. It seems a government should aim to curb that kind of abuse - to constrain or castigate those having a role in such things.

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Have we tried this one in Ramsey?

We may not be the conflict of interest capital of Minnesota after all. At least a challenger has shown up. We've done spousal and in-law conflict of interest, but have we tried sibling conflict of interest? Oct. 16, Strib reports online a council vote in Savage to replace woodland with Crabgrass.

A savage fight over the Savage Fen
David Peterson • • 612-673-4440

A group of neighbors is accusing the city of Savage of endangering a sensitive natural area by approving a housing development that is being proposed by the brother of one of its council members.

But city officials say those opponents just don't want to lose a pretty piece of wooded acreage outside their back doors.

At issue is the Savage Fen, a rare wetland that is the largest of its kind in Minnesota. It extends along much of the northern border of the city, not far from the Minnesota River.

Karl Bohn, a major landowner in the Savage area, is proposing a housing development called Dan Patch Trail, about a quarter-mile from the fen. The first phase, 51 units, has full approval; the other 70 have preliminary approval. An additional 100 or so units could follow later.

"This is a pretty significant piece of property environmentally," said Alexandra Klass, a University of Minnesota law professor of environmental law who is representing the neighbors. "For the city to say there are no environmental issues without looking is exactly what the law is intended to prevent."

An attempt in the late 1980s to develop the same area was not well-received by government agencies responsible for environmental oversight, she added.

The city's planning manager, Bryan Tucker, said the project has approval from the environmental agencies that had reservations decades ago. [Ah, Pawlenty; it is probably the same MPCA considering the Fen that sees no major problems with the idea of a former shooting range as a place for changeover housing use]

Neighbors note that Council Member Janet Williams, a candidate for mayor, is Bohn's sister.

Williams routinely discloses that tie as the issue comes up, stressing that she has no financial interest in the project and sees no reason not to vote on it. [Savage Mayor Tom] Brennan said it's no more troubling than another council member being the brother of the city's fire chief.

Interesting. They have a Mayor Tom, and a woman on council acting to advance land dealings of close family and wanting to run for and be mayor. It sounds as if it could be a soap opera plot because it is so unlikely to ever happen in real life, with implausibility being a key criterion for soap opera plots.

I guess the only variant yet to be tried is tag-team partners --- such as Ventura owning that green acres land in Maple Grove and wanting to see Adrian "Venus" Adonis on council.

I wonder if these people in Savage are relatives of lobbyists Ray Bohn and Jon Bohn, who have represented the "All Terrain Vehicle Association of Minnesota." Jon Bohn was a focal person in a 2006 Minnesota Sixth District campaign dispute while working last election on the Wetterling MN 6 congressional campaign until discharged after candidate Michele Bachmann complained publicly of an alleged effort to infiltrate her campaign for unfair advantage.

I recall a gravel hiking trail in the Cascades outside of North Bend, Washington, where a quiet ATV at a safe and sane speed was coming out of the mountians, a hunter hauling a bear out of the woods, proper tag on the ear and all, and where a noisy ATV is counterproductive to hunting goals. It made more sense than dragging the kill by hand for miles. Polaris advertises cautiously, notice the helmets in each photo, but then cowboys are cowboys are cowboys; and there has been dispute, complaint and compromise.

I believe lobbyist Jon Bohn presently has a role in or affiliation with the MN 6 campaign of lobbyist El Tinklenberg, who in representing Anoka Co Regional Rail Authority . That's the Yantos run Northstar rail effort that has local GOP legislative support, but Anoka County Watchdog has repeatedly criticized it as wasteful and illmanaged.

There is also Tinklenberg lobbying for a Hassan Mainstreet LLC, which may be linked to fostering the Development of Crabgrass on the other side of the River from Anoka County. One could say they're a "Stone's Throw" away, and read carefully and that "LIVE WORK PLAY" thing on that link is very, very scary.

We in Ramsey have heard that promotional "LIVE WORK PLAY" slogan before, and the post below features Dogbert - who I do not believe likes the phrase.

And we may hope that Republican legislator Joyce Peppin doesn't live in a glass house, since her Stone's Throw support and legislation looks to be competing with Ramsey's highway needs along Highway 10, with DFL candidate Tinklenberg looking to be working both sides ot the street in that "tension for funding" situation. Paid consulting for Ramsey, on Highway 10 development matters; lobbying for Hassan Mainstreet LLC, for a different and competing highway development project. He agrees with his friends I guess.

If it's a unified effort at working the levers to advance a new River Bridge, then Tinklenberg should say so. He should forthrightly indicate if advancing such projects is as much a cause for his hat in the ring as professed remorse and loathing over the Hwy 35 bridge collapse; per earlier press indications.

One has to wonder, what would the press have been told if Hatch and won and the bridge fell on schedule. Same thing? Same blame game? Not likely.

Certainly Molnau is an easy target now. [This link, p.14].

Even if it is Pawlenty ultimately pulling all the executive spending and tax-policy strings, Molnau is a convenient lightning rod for him. But Tinklenberg first is running against DFLer Bob Olson, and if successful on that, against GOP incumbent Michele Bachmann.

Not Molnau. Olson then possibly Bachmann.

One Hassan - Stone's Throw item, here. In discussing AUAR effort detail of the direction and scope of the project emerges. The indication is an intent to build, at a livlier highway intersection, a competing project much like Ramsey Town Center. Even including, as noted, the LIVE WORK PLAY badging and branding. How much of that is feasible, without market saturation, i.e., without one project's competition for buyers affecting another project adversely? Again, it appears as working both sides of a competitive situation but agreeing with friends.

Sunday, October 14, 2007

Bad judgment reaching South?

Over Sunday morning coffee, Oct. 14, I go to online Strib, and find this:

Headline = Missing: Downtown Bloomington. The poor folks of Bloomington apparently have no Town Center. Some want, in their wisdom, to fix that - and so the story goes. Read Strib, I only present their image and an admittedly slanted excerpting from a quite equivocal report. Read it soon, Strib has the habit of pulling stories in a week or two, into the access-for-pay Strib archives. But read it and think it over. Here's the excerpt:

Bloomington has had more than one contender for the title of city center ... but some still wish it had a bustling gathering place to call its own.

By Mary Jane Smetanka, Star Tribune
Last update: October 13, 2007 – 9:41 PM

Back when roads were made of dirt and shoppers loaded their dry goods into the backs of wagons, downtown Bloomington consisted of a general store, a Grange hall and a town hall at the dusty intersection of Old Shakopee Road and Penn Avenue. Ever since, "downtown Bloomington" has been a matter of perception.

Interestingly, it was the late '70s and early '80s when Ramsey first tarred the dirt roads in many neighborhoods, but wagons, other than SUVs, were gone by then. We trailed Bloomington that way, the dirt roads and the Met Council hookups. Strib continues ---

Bloomington officials want to change that with the carefully planned redevelopment of 150 acres that includes the Southtown shopping center, near the intersection of Interstates 494 and 35W. They hope the area -- by being close to transit and having a mix of multistory housing, shops, restaurants, offices and perhaps a park -- will become a destination for people who want to eat, shop and walk as well as those who want to live in a lively neighborhood.

"We've never really had a downtown in Bloomington," said City Council Member Steve Elkins. "If you asked someone to meet you in downtown Bloomington, where would you go? ... People are feeling there is no 'there' there. And we want a 'there' there.

There, there, Steve - It's okay. Just don't do something really stupid.

Strib reports, Bloomington might do just that, with advice from specialists, resuming with a quote from Steve ---

"Suburban communities that have never had downtowns feel like they're missing things. There's a longing for places that can foster and help community."

Steve, you cannot begin to guess how familiar that refrain sounds in Ramsey. Dogbert will be coming for you, be certain. Continuing and leaving out talk of "Excelsior & Grand" in St. Louis Park and with other excerpting ---

Last week, when Linda Johnson of Moorhead was asked at the Mall of America where downtown Bloomington was, she looked around and said, "Right here." If it's not the mall, she said, "I could not tell you how to find downtown Bloomington."

At Southtown, Edina resident Rosemary Dean said it seemed like any downtown should be farther away from the freeways. "To me, a downtown is more of a special area that draws you to it because it's a destination," she said.

Exactly so, said Larry Lee, Bloomington's director of community development. He calls Bloomington a "multi-nodal city." In other words, it has many downtowns.

"For my generation, it might be 98th and Lyndale, but for my daughter, it's the Mall of America," Lee said. "It's generational, and it's geographic."

One of the consultants [we know cousultants, they abound in Ramsey, like crabgrass] working on a study of the Southtown area, David Graham of ESG Architects, is adamant that the main goal is not to create a downtown. City officials want development to emphasize sustainability, quality streets, transit, a way to market the city and creative use of space. "But if it evolves [into a downtown] it makes sense, because of that location," he said.

Graham thinks the obsession with suburban town centers is partly nostalgic and is probably overdone. But it's also a reaction to suburbs that are aging and have a kind of sameness, "just roads and buildings." He said people want to be able to say, "This is the center of our place."

"Excelsior & Grand is less about being downtown St. Louis Park and more about just a great place to be," he said. "It's a destination."

Please read that David Graham quote outloud, several times until you get a good feeling for it. Also, it might be helpful to put that specialist, David Graham of ESG, into a persepctive we in Ramsey can understand. We should know exactly who he is when he talks of suburbanite peoples' "overdone" nostalgic yearning for the days of frontier railroad towns, the yearning to escape a present sense of sameness in the 'burbs: "Graham thinks the obsession with suburban town centers is partly nostalgic and is probably overdone. But it's also a reaction to suburbs that are aging and have a kind of sameness, 'just roads and buildings.' He said people want to be able to say, 'This is the center of our place.' "

"ESG" is Elness, Swenson Graham Architects Inc., aka Feges folks, with this in their trophy case, proving their excellence. See, here for more "because we say so" trophy-case proof of excellence, and here for more "because we say so" don't worry be happy double talk from Met Council, the folks who invented "because we say so" planner-speak, and including a pic showing a personification of double talk.

So we do not forget "rose-colored glasses" rhetoric, aka planner-speak, aka abuse of the English language, that first link given in the above paragraph, closed with this memorable Feges-like prose, italicized as in the original:

Jury Comments
“A beautiful dynamic is set up between the residential neighborhoods to one side and the city center and transit station to the other. This imminently [sic] livable plan is in the best tradition of town planning where home and work and civic spaces are more closely related and a sense of place is created.”

"Imminent" means close in time. "Eminent" means, roughly, special and outstanding in a positive way. And, spinning thoughts of outstanding, there is this pastel closing image giving "a beautiful dynamic" of a "sense of place," from here:

That certainly is a beautiful dynamic. You can just sense the place has a sense of place. One question: Is it imminent; or do you, like me, rely on track record and what's now on ground, to doubt it as imminent by any measure?

I quibble about Jim Deal and my thinking is his one Town Center building where his PSD LLC is headquartered looks cobbled together with more complexity than needed [in one sense, special and outstanding, but not eminent unless you like the blend of so many styles in one structure]. Yet I do not see the man as anyone's fool. I am almost certain we will not hear any of that sad rhetoric from him. It will be refreshing to have someone whose roots reach back to the Agriculture Department instead of ESG or Met Council, saying and doing things that are anchored with two feet on the ground and not with a head in the ozone layer - twilight zone of planner-speak. With an ag background, he's probably stepped more than once into piles of that rhetoric, while walking pastures.

Also, I wonder if that pastel watercolor pen-and-ink rendering is what Jim Deal has in mind as a view of success and the unsubsidized goal he would aim for if he buys the gamble at a fair price. I doubt he would turn that way to try to avoid the trap of suburban sameness, in things we call Ramsey. Jim Deal might even share a Dogbert sentiment about it and about the folks instrumental in marketing it to our council.

So Jim, cut a deal and take a shot. It's boring just sitting and waiting. Some people up for reelection next year may get antsy. They could do something that would have Dogbert after them after the fact. Forestall that by stepping up, Jim.

Bruce Nedegaard apparently drank the planner-speak Koolaid. He was on extensive medication when key decisions were made, but with a successful background of prudently building sound single-family upscale homes. Maybe it was the medication reaching to affect his judgment. Maybe just a gamble that failed.

Jim Deal --- there's cause to think he will not be hitting the Koolaid, and will be prudent and a careful skeptic instead. For example, I doubt there will be a bankruptcy court future for Deal, or Minnwest. I do not see Dogbert ever coming for Jim Deal, while Minnwest will eat a big part of its bad loan despite its hope to wiggle out and hand off acreage free of any Master Plan reach. There are those funky zoning abnormalities there for the bank and ultimate owner to face.

For now it appears no one besides Jim Deal has any taste for biting off the remaining lion's share of the venture. Either the bank sits an inordinate time for a bank to sit, hoping -&- waiting, or they get sense and agree to Deal's price and terms. Halloween, the next postponed foreclosure sale date, will perhaps have an answer. Probably not. The thing probably overwinters into next spring's construction period, with Minnwest hoping the housing market changes.

Friday, October 12, 2007

Who is paying for all this? Who is paying?

A photo of Ben Dover, the Ramsey taxpayer, perpetual tin smile across the street from the overbuilt $19.2 million City Hall (behind Ben in the color photo - behind the ramp in the b/w photo). That City Hall is a legend and legacy from the James Norman tenure - and from the councilmembers who voted with him - including all four up for reelection 2008, Jeffrey, Olson, Strommen and the mayor. Councilmembers who did not feel people should have a referendum over palace-building before all of it got done to them.

So, who is paying - Who else ever ends up paying when Ramsey spends, besides Smiling Ben?

Strib, Oct. 11, online headline, "Ramsey Town Center auction postponed one more time." (PiPress, its coverage, Oct. 12.

Is that news to anyone? What else is there to expect? Postponed to Halloween. What then? Same old, same old, it seems. Yet, what's interesting is this excerpt, at the end of this current Oct. 11, 2007, article:


The city recently won a lawsuit over a $3 million letter of credit from a bank that had guaranteed it for Nedegaard and will be able to use the money to continue building roads and other infrastructure, Trudgeon said.

But the anticipated tax base from Ramsey Town Center hasn't shown up, and now the city is trying to figure out how to pay for the $19.2 million new municipal center that was supposed to be paid for with taxes from new businesses.

Yeah, Ben, nice smile. Build more infrastructure with recoup dollars, let taxpayers eat all of the palatial City Hall cost. Makes a lot of sense, with it being a distressed project, etc.

Sink in more subsidy money. Don't help the taxpayers.

When Minnwest Bank keeps its laughable postponement game rolling, we can see it is a numbers game.

Now, the other quote of the day, Sarah McCann writing for Strib in the not too distant past, on March 16, 2005, story headlined, "Ramsey Thinks Big," this excerpt:

Who is paying for all this?

Ramsey Town Center LLC purchased the farmland for $31.5 million. The city is contributing $32 million in support for infrastructure, roads and regional improvements and public facilities.

Most of the Town Center is not eligible for tax-increment financing, in which taxes generated by a project pay off bonds. However, the $3.5 million in taxes that the project will generate each year will go to the city's general fund. The general fund will then help pay for the Town Center. Because the development will bring in such a large chunk of money each year, residents won't notice an increase in taxes, according to the city.

The appraised market value of the complete Town Center is projected at $1.1 billion. The county will help with $4.2 million for roads. In addition, there is money from the state, grants, assessments and other tax-increment financing districts in the city.

Since 2002 the Met Council has awarded the Town Center project three Livable Community Demonstration grants that total $3,373,756.

When is it going to be finished?


Sure, "according to the city." Pigs will fly too.

Met council tokens in three million and some change, and how much are Ben and the others hung out to dry on? The palace, the infrastructure, stuff in the ground at Town Center put there at taxpayer expense, chasing dreams and needing debt amortization day after day after day, while it all sits. $32 million, the article says. To pay for itself "according to the city." Yes, the beat goes on. And on, and on, and on. Yogi Berra's "Deja vu, all over again," from article to article, 2-1/2 years apart. And those Met Council dollars. They're not from Santa Claus. Met Council does not mint money. It taxes. So it is direct Ramsey tax money paid at the insinuation of a fraction of indirect Ramsey tax money. Tax cash chasing tax cash, with Ben left in the cold of winter, the heat of summer, to smile.

The Oct. 11 Strib article quotes Patrick Trudgeon, with whom I agree 100%:

"The city's view is we're not going to seriously talk about changes until they own the land," Trudgeon said.

Let that risk-taking entrepreneurial person step forward, willing to put HIS money at risk and not try to fleece taxpayers, and then, if he will pay down the assessments against the property so taxpayers get some kind of a quid-pro-quo break, he might be justified in seeking an altered set of plans and proposals.

NOTE: If he will pay down the assessments ... That is or should be an absolute precondition.

Ben the taxpayer has taken enough abuse on the palace thing. Give Ben a break, then ask for alterations. Nedegaard struck out. Batter up. The bank's done nothing deserving concessions, so let it deal with the result of its faulty loan policies and policing. Why in the world should taxpayers bail out the bank? By making concessions to them now, by making concessions to MinnWest ever?

Swap some concessions later, perhaps, for benefit to the taxpayers. Trudgeon is right about that. Give a little, take a little. After the bank's out of the loop.

And in closing and about not fleecing taxpayers:

Wouldn't it have been nice of Mr. Erhart to have sponsored something more favorable to Anoka County taxpayers than buying distressed land right next to the railroad tracks for the morgue at over half-a-million-dollars per acre?

That's a big time hit to the taxpayers. Is the county's morgue taxable property? Will it add one penny to the Ramsey tax base? Morgue jobs are largely in place and people will commute to Ramsey. No great foreseeable number of new jobs created here, via the morgue.

And putting it into the County minutes as a per square foot price, looks disingenuous. It makes it a bit harder for reading taxpayers to reckon it out at a per acre price. It looks as if that was the only intended reason for using per-square-foot language about buying 1.2 acres of raw land - obfuscation for no purpose beyond obfuscation - and why?

Per square foot pricing is the norm when talking about building space, not raw land.

If all the vacant Town Center acreage were all really worth that much, and the bank is foreclosing 150 acres of it on a $35 million debt, why would there have been any postponements?

There should be buyers tripping all over each other to buy at $35 million, if you can chop it up and sell it off for $500,000++ per acre.

Would a private party have paid over half-a-million-dollars per acre? Is the stuff there now with the "For Sale" signs going to draw that kind of cash per acre?

I guess the best answer might be the old folks home right next door to the morgue -- did they pay anything near to that per-acre amount when it was not tax dollars being squandered in a windfall to the parcel owner? I do not know. Is there anyone who will step forward from the Crest View venture and say? Or will the seller to Crest View discuss it publicly? Compare and contrast per acre price, adjacent parcels, sold about the same time? More questions than answers is what makes Ben smile.

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

CITIZEN HEROS PROVE you can fight the bastards in court and you might win.

Sewer and water got routed down your street as "improvements" and a humungo special assessment got assessed --- Are you totally screwed? Some citizen heros took Andover to court and won, see here and here. The cases are unpublished, hence not precedent, but they give us hope.

Monday, October 08, 2007

More DONE DEAL history - what DOES "developing city" mean - what were we told - WHO told us - WHOSE idea was all this mischief?



Last posting, just below, Nov. 2003 about "developing city" vagueness vs. explicit letter-writing about high density north of Trott Brook.

Why should "developing city" mean that at all, and who got hoodwinked besides Ben the Ramsey taxpayer? Who did the hoodwinking? We all got hoodwinked except for a cabal of insiders is my best guess - but I was not an insider to any conversations, so it's only a guess.

Go figure, based on the images as additional evidence: About a half year after the letter set out in the last post, an April 5, 2004 council worksession produced the minutes presented in the images [and again, click each image to enlarge and read, or open each page in a new tab or window - and please pay attention to who the players are as they are identified and how meeting dynamics developed - it is the evidence you have to infer motive and opportunity]:

To me that meeting conversation raises as many uncertainties as it dispels. More. What if the CAB pipe allotment is insufficient to meet north-end landowner greed and expectation - their visions of Kurakian profits dancing in their heads? Put some local treatment thing up and dump the sewer-water on land locally? That sounds exactly like the complaints from Met Council about private septic systems being a threat. Janus was the Greco-Roman God that was two-faced. It's Janus-like to me, that response. And it shows no regard for water availability. There are regions of the seven-county Metro region that are above a more productive aquifer - where growth channeling is more appropriate for that reason.

Why stick it to Ramsey? Ramsey is short on water. No more wells, DNR has said. Drink riverwater, so a few can reap dollars from their farmland? A "cash crop" so to speak? And we buy it for them with our taxes?

That's unfair to the rest of us when they want to fob their development costs - or any part of the cost - off onto general taxpayers.

When the home I live in was built it was no added cost to the north-enders. Nor to anyone else but the promoter chasing a profit. When they build homes out there, it should be symmetric. No cost to me or my neighbors. Quid pro quo. There are a host of homes and neighborhoods in Ramsey just like mine. Self sufficient from the first stick of lumber, and the first cinderblock on site. What's wrong with that spirit of self-sufficiency reaching north? Nothing, as far as I can tell.

Already people are being forced to pay higher taxes for a city hall no citizens really wanted very much. It there had been a referendum, that dislike for profligate spending would have been apparent.

And where are the promised shoppes and restaurants? How about a little good faith that way, before imposing yet more assessments for sewer-water, or more taxes?

I sure would like some of the stuff from that meeting spelled out clearly - up front, not by hemming and hawing then later being hit with big surprises.

I'd like sound, feasible protective things up front, such as having a Charter and Comprehensive Plan that each says my neighborhood, the Soderberg Addition, and other established homes will never be forced by Met Council to hook up. Not even with the Peterson Pipeline neighboring the Soderberg Additions (west of the gun club, south of Central Park) and Peterson wanting to charge others for costs of his profit pipeline. Ditto for the homes north of the gun club and Central Park, south of Trott Brook not being forced into paying the Peterson piper.

And, is the term "Peterson's Pipeline" at all inappropriate? Is it Ramsey's pipe?

That's one of the uncertainties. Those who get money from others hooking in, isn't that a key badge or indicia of ownership? Connexus owning the power grid, Qwest owning the phone grid?

A property right? You pay to play the developer's game, and if in the Peterson pipe's locale, that means pay Peterson as well as paying Ramsey and Met Council, the governmental entities?

A Strange Arrangement. I have a public data disclosure request in with the City to review that particular contract - see who has what "rights" to charge hookup fees, or to take a share of the hookup tithing.

Six of one. A half dozen of the other. Own it. Funnel off cash flow as if you did.

How's this, if Peterson's Pipeline precipitates growth beyond the capacity of existing wells to provide domestic water to dwellings, then Peterson can pay up front for the Mississippi riverwater treatment plant.

It sounds great to me. Then if anyone wants to hookup to the treatment plant water supply, without being forced to, he gets a share of the spoils??? Do the water plant the Ramsey way too?

I am not wholly negative - What I do like is the second image above, p.5 of the minutes containing the Steffen -&- Met Council committment explicitly within the minutes half way down the page; if the pipes are in the ground, "let people decide if they want to hookup." I recall Ms. Steffen phoning me earlier about the language and our having a discussion about it being in the minutes. She said she would check on it. That was summer-fall 2004 and the statement still stands unchaged since then.

Let's put it in an even more appropriate writing than a set of work session minutes. Let's put that Met Councilmember's committment down, in black-and-white, within the new 2008 Comp Plan. For the Met Council staff to read and approve it, stated that way -- it can and probably should be using that exact wording. "Comp. Planning" the statement will help make me a happier man - seeing that the wording is explicitly carried over into the Comp. Plan and then officially endorsed by Met. Council staff agreement. It is what Steffen said. She said what she meant. We know from experience she is not one to equivocate or to dissemble. Having her word about "let people decide if thy want to hookup" is reassuring. And it certainly helps. But let's "Comp Plan" it that way, anyway --- like buying insurance even when we do not expect the barn to burn down.

That language. In the Comp. Plan. Why not? The wording is simple. Is there any problem, taking a promise for what it is?

I see none.

We have to understand, it's not an absolute guarantee over all future time, yet having clear, terse, protectivie Charter and Comp Plan wording -- wording to protect existing homeowners and neighborhoods from density and assessment mayhem is, a far lot better than placing trust in some half-baked ordinance that says if a septic system or well fails with sewer/water available, a homeowner must assure the septic system meets prevailing standards or hook up [i.e., there's not a word, nothing, about what to do with a failed well]. Ordinances can be changed in an eyeblink.

Go figure. That one ordinance was passed in such haste that provision for a failed well was never written into it, nor cared about, apparently, as much as getting it passed quickly for reasons I can only guess at. There was an anti-Peterson Pipeline petition circulating at the time that ordinance got cobbled together.

So, those north-end or other folks wanting to profit - will they pay to play, as Peterson & cohorts did while routing their pipe for the gun club and cornfield?

Will they pay Peterson & cohorts, and are things set up so the Peterson faction can make a profit off of laying of city sewer main? I want to find out. The contract the City pursued for that pipe, and Peterson folks' exact continuing position when others want to hook into it, is public data -- anyone can request it be disclosed and the City is obligated to provide the document for inspection and copying. My request is pending.

Friday, October 05, 2007

The 2008 Comp Plan DONE DEAL threat --- One of the three reasons I would have tried to fire James Norman if elected last cycle in Ward 1.

The question is moot. Elvig won by a substantial margin. The question is moot also because Norman resigned effective Dec. 31, 2006, without a clear public presentation on record of his causes and motives, or none that I saw beyond wanting to pursue other interests.

Independent and apart from anything that might or might not have happened in China, I had three major interrelated problems with James Norman and his ways and means during his tenure as Ramsey's city administrator.

First - the port authority. That was handled without major notice to the people, who were the taxing target of the effort. The council ducked ever having any vote on the proposal, yet Norman nad Bonnie Balach took the thing to the legislature with only a handful of people, the finance committee at the time being chaired by Elvig, knowing of any effort whatsoever to establish a tax-happy Ramsey Port Authority.

I notice that the financing for the palatial [non-referendumed] City Hall was jiggled through the EDA, as bond issuer, with the City apparently on a long-term lease contract with its own EDA, in effect landlord-and-tenant posturing with itself, the City to pay the EDA rent which in turn then services the bond interest and amortization. Presumably a device to get around general obligation bonding caps the legislature, in its wisdom, imposes. What other reason might there be, but to end-run a legislated taxpayer protection? And to do it behind peoples' backs, i.e., with minimal notice in minutes or web-posted documents? And again I beleive all that was during the Elvig chairmanship of the finance committee.

Enough on Reason 1, the port authority. All of the handling of the City Hall thing, lack of a referendum but where at least on that the council did not entirely duck and cover, they could not because they had to approve the expenditures, that is Reason 2.

Reason 3. The accompanying images, with this as the numero uno example of the James Norman practice of not putting things in the agenda in advance or the entire story in minutes; something I regard as intentional, deceptive, and contrary to the text and spirit of Open Meeting Law of Minnesota. The matter was not on the agenda in advance, things were handed out at the end of a quite lengthy council session, only at the council table with no citizens' table copy provided, and the letter itself was not a part of what was handed out to council members when the council was asked to vote. Hiding mischief under a hat. Even if full letter text were then, that lately provided, it is not in the spirit of giving our councilmembers a full weekend to review agenda matters and crystalize opinion and objections.

This was too regular a practice even if it had only happened once. And particularly in this instance - in a crucial matter of community-wide interest and impact.

And this created the major part of what I regard as a most unfortunate DONE DEAL aspect of the 2008 Comprehensive Plan exercise that we all should know about while participating in that exercise. It cuts against: Notice. Sunshine. All that.

Now if any on the council knew in advance the content of the letter the images present [for my guess, see here, those individuals can deny it - and it's only a guess, nobody has shared with me info of having advance notice], but if any had advance notice I know of two who say they were startled to learn of the discrepancy and did not know the letter would be sent out saying what it did.

I obtained the letter via a public data disclosure request. "Public data disclosure request," is a device I encourage all citizens to take advantage of whenever they have questions of city officials (with the law requiring disclosure of most public data [not personnel matters, in general, which was the exception to public data disclosure offered as the reason why I was denied access to a letter I believe might have existed, written by an official with another metro-area governmental body concerning the China sister city program]). For instance, any citizen wanting to see the contract between John Peterson [and/or "Oakwood Land Development"] and City of Ramsey, has the right to do so, upon request. Heidi Nelson, so far, has coordinated the requests, with Amy Deitl assisting on any documentary review possible in digital form that can be attached and sent by email. They have been responsive and helpful, in meeting that duty, as a part of the good job Nelson has done as interim city administrator.

Anyway, upon inquiry, I had a letter copy provided me, and the letter text was unfamiliar to the two councilmembers I showed it to.

Click each page, or open it in a separate tab or window, to be able to read it. The crucial language in all this - the difference between what was disclosed to council at the meeting table [not earlier] per the text of the first page [without any actual attachment], and the letter text in the following two pages is clear in the highlights. And if you cannot see for yourself how that highlighted material shows two versions and how the discrepancy greatly impacts the entire 2008 Comp. Plan question, then you probably are not gaining much from reading anything I post.

Here are the pages - the short single page handed out at the meeting, first, then the two pages of the letter, as omitted from the minutes, but as sent:

NOW, in closing for anyone thinking they can fully trust online agenda and minutes, for the complete story without also remembering public data disclosure request rights as another tool; here is what is [inadequately] reflected in that record [and if you are rube enought to think all that letter did was provide "comment" then there is a very nice bridge in Brooklyn I would like to sell you]:

Thursday, October 04, 2007

ABC Newspapers publishes detail on sale of County Morgue site at Town Center

Friday's Anoka County Union probably will carry the same story, but it is posted online today, article by Peter Bodley, with much interesting info, Star News.

Purchase price for a 1.23 acre Town Center site, $627,774 or $510,385 per acre.

At that per acre land cost, expect a state of the art facility serving several counties besides Anoka County, by contract. The article indicates officials project a $7 million building cost. Not $19 million as spent on the Ramsey City Hall. But an awful lot, for a professional specialized building. At less than half the cost Ramsey taxpayers are stuck with, for City Hall.

Would a private firm have paid as much for 1.23 acres, or chosen a different location? It's a hypothetical. Taxpayer money, spent by the County is the fact. That is quite a lot, per acre. Jim Deal must be happy in selling off that parcel from his 26 +/- acres. I think it was a lot subdivided from the Deal purchase there but might be wrong. PSD LLC is his firm, and they have a number of parcels there for sale. Are they all at half-a-million per acre? Was this site special or aspects of the situation special?

Are the old folks home people paying anything near to that much per acre? What are the other parcels being listed for there? Why half-a-million as taxpayer expense for a very non-unique lot at a troubled site? I will email this link to the Anoka County Watchdog - they may have some information.

It seems extreme.

And then the comparison of building cost, for a multi-county service site; vs the City Hall. The people doing the City Hall without a referendum sure did overbuild.

Dinosaur extinction.

Two images:

There is a 2008 election where a majority of Ramsey council seats will be up for reelection. Wards 4 and 2, one at large seat, and mayor.

For those interested in the dinosaur extinction question, there are over a million Google returns, including one University of Vermont geology professor's favored extinction theory, with the lead photo a part.

Wednesday, October 03, 2007

KURT ULRICH. Ramsey Resident reports hiring of our new City Administrator.

Unless there is a change at some point soon, hopefully postponing any switch-over to beyond the 2008 elections and a new sitting 2009 council, Mr. Ulrich's position will change from City Administrator to City Manager - a change I disapprove of, favoring the weaker administrative head system -- stronger council system, that goes with having a "City Administrator" rather than a "City Manager." The last guy, to my thinking, had way too much actual power and used it unwisely, so that I hesitate to give the next guy more.

The October Ramsey Resident Newsletter, online and print versions, carry the lead page story on Mr. Ulrich - noting a formal reception Tues. Oct. 23, 3:30 - 5:30 pm, at City Hall. Some biographical background is given. Check the link for details.

Googling "Kurt Ulrich" gives much info about a German film actor named, surprisingly, Kurt Ulrich.

I then did a google = "Kurt Ulrich" minnesota

That, with Google or any other search engine, winnows the actor out of things.

I reviewed initial hits here [DNR days], and here [Mounds View days]. Generally uneventful stuff. The Mounds View strategic goals effort looks like the comparable stuff the Ramsey council and staff does that way. There shouldn't be much difference expected. "We want to give taxpayers the greatest possible bang for the buck, by having priorities ...". Proof is in the pudding. We wait. We see. I don't expect public data requests will be handled any less effectively than during the interim period - where responsiveness was exemplary from everything I saw. Public data law and open meeting law are our protections for having open government, in the sunshine, and it is always more an ideal to have fully open government, than an actuality day-to-day when officials having family land agendas always can be a complication. But the aim of public data and open meeting law is toward propriety.

And let's hope this guy puts the most interesting and crucial stuff on each meeting agenda at the start, so those attending or watching on TV need not watch a catalog of minutia before the real sausage gets made. That was a vexing thing with the last guy, and his use of last minute non-agenda'd things, handed out at the council table without copies for the citizen's copy table was an extreme and repeated insult. It insulted the council - not having advance time to think things over with the last-minute exercise repeated too often; and it was a general insult that citizen open meeting law rights were disrespected.

It is promising to have the search ended and I hope others agree with my thinking that the interim period with Heidi Nelson serving as lead administrator went well, and Ms. Nelson handled all I saw extremely well. I hope the new guy keeps that up. From all I see, he should work out better than the last one. Beyond faint praise, I expect Kurt Ulrich will do well. Again the planned welcoming session is:

Tues. Oct. 23, 3:30 - 5:30, Alexander Ramsey Room, City Hall.