consultants are sandburs

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

ANOKA COUNTY - Peter Bodley of ABC Newspapers recently wrote, "Anoka County HRA approved Habitat for Humanity allocation."

Without a link in the item to any County or Habitat for Humanity online webpage giving detail of proposals under discussion the item is something of an empty glass; not half empty, not half full, but lacking in some meaningful detail. It seems a practice of ABC Newspapers to not provide links, and it is a troublesome thing among otherwise exemplary reporting. After all there is no other newspaper source (actual or ostensible) which is of nearly comparable scope and quality. Hence, being in such a vacuum, giving links online would truly be a positive change in the papers' reporting protocol.

Here, in part, is what Bodley's report says in opening paragraphs:

A month after questioning Habitat for Humanity policy on single-family home ownership projects, the Anoka County Housing and Redevelopment Authority unanimously approved a $247,804 reallocation of federal HOME affordable housing dollars for one of its proposals.

At its September meeting, the housing authority tabled the Habitat for Humanity request to fund a scattered sites, new construction, single-family home ownership program from the proposed 2014 Twin Cities Habitat or Humanity Huset Park townhomes development, which was canceled after the Columbia Heights City Council rejected the proposal.

One concern centered on the fact that Susan Haigh, who is president and chief executive officer of Twin Cities Habitat for Humanity is also chairperson of the Metropolitan Council, and HRA members saw a conflict of interest in that.

[...] At one point during the September meeting, a motion was made to deny the request, but County Commissioner Scott Schulte, who chairs the HRA, which comprises six of the seven Anoka County Board members, offered a motion to table to get more information from Habitat for Humanity about its intentions.

[italics added]

A challenge for readers: Stop here, and try to find on the recently revised Anoka County website who is on the county HRA.

Navigate that exceptional site, see for yourself, what your luck is in getting there, to some simple basic information you might want or need to know.

Good luck, if you try it.

Fighting the thing in ways never necessary before the county paid good taxpayer money to have a consultant/contractor horse up the site to where it's downright awful, I finally found the page. I am wondering and trying to find out from my board rep, who decided on changing the website to such an unituitive thing, how the contractor was chosen (and by whom), and the actual cost to county taxpayers that was paid the chosen contractor for making the thing so very much worse.

(Don't just talk about waste, go to that website and experience it firsthand.)

Okay. For readers declining the enlightening experience of navigating the new county website, here is the page link:

Six board members are on the county HRA, while the "Management Committee" is composed of five. The latter committee members are:

Matt Look
Scott Schulte
Robyn West
Julie Braastad
Carol LeDoux

with Sivarajah a "trustee," but not on the committee, that information is known; odd man out being Kordiak.

God only knows who chairs the management committee, but Schulte is identified as chair of the HRA and may chair both.

Bodley's report continues in part:

At the HRA Management Committee meeting Oct. 14, a representative from Habitat for Humanity explained the project and the HRA also received a letter from Haigh dated Oct. 13 in which she said Habitat for Humanity projects mirror community needs.

“Based on the community needs of Anoka County and available resources, Habitat would be thrilled to continue to partner with Anoka County in the development of scattered sites, new construction homes,” she wrote.

According to Schulte, Habitat for Humanity officials have heard the HRA’s concerns, but the agency’s scattered sites proposal is a good project.

“Habitat for Humanity is on the right track with its scattered sites projects,” Schulte said.

Readers, ask yourself, wouldn't it be nice to know without stress or effort, as part of the report, what in the world the "scattered sites projects" entails? This seems to be it, the in a nutshell version, as settled so far, from the report:

According to Kate Thunstrom, county community development manager, the money would fund housing on two or three properties in the county, but their locations had not yet been identified.

As Republicans, the county reps felt the need for political sniping at a Dayton appointee - they could not resist being themselves that way:

But he [Schulte] said the HRA would be writing a letter to the Habitat for Humanity Board expressing its concern about the “perceived or real conflict of interest” of Haigh being head of Habitat for Humanity as well as chairperson of the Metropolitan Council to “let them know exactly how we feel.”


It is when "they" do such sniping that knowing the full makeup of the group, besides Schulte who is mentioned, is most helpful and relevant as information omitted from the report.

LAST: Any reader wishing to submit a comment in defense of the quality of the revisions to the county website is invited and urged to do so, (however sparse such invited commentary may prove to be).


Wes Volkenant said...

Very prescient choice of blog commentary, in light of Haigh's decision to step down from the Met Council, announced yesterday.

eric zaetsch said...

Thanks, Wes. Without the heads up I missed the news. That likely is the case for some readers.

For readers, two of several online story links about this mooting of Anoka County HRA [Board of Commissioners] criticisms:



It is interesting that Haigh picked the less politically charged duty roster for continued attention.


Also, Wes - Unless you revise and extend your comment, the presumption will be that your choice to offer no defense (or criticism) of the county's website revision carries no implication beyond your focus being elsewhere.

The hope is still that some words in defense of the county website change will be offered, by somebody.

eric zaetsch said...

Now, given the Haigh resignation from Met Council, the question is, "Who might be appointed to the empty seat at the head of the table?"

One thought - present Met Council member Ed Reynoso, who lives in Anoka County and is familiar with county board members and county issues. Perhaps he'd be a Met Council head who the County Board GOP majority might enjoy working with more than with Heigh while she was heading things.

Possibly so, possibly not.

I'd enjoy seeing Dayton giving that appointment a try.

Wouldn't you?

Wes Volkenant said...


I don't think you'll find me being the voice of compliments to too many of the current Anoka County Commissioners, nor too many of their Administrative choices.

So no, I'm not a fan of difficult to navigate public web sites, such as the Anoka County HRA information pages, which were not intuitive, nor very informative.

I work for Hennepin County. They're using "Share Point" for their software technology - I'm not a huge fan of trying to navigate the internal pages for employees, and the one external site I use regularly, the Hennepin County Library site, is much harder now, to search and browse for books, especially from the "My Account" page.

On the other hand, I like using the Anoka County Library site, and haven't had web access issues with it.

And big props to the Customer Service I received from the County Transportation Department. They recently did extensive work on Hanson Blvd. in Andover north of Andover City Hall in connection with the 161st Ave. intersection. I'd inquired about 10 years ago after right-turn lanes into our neighborhoods off busy Hanson. When I called this fall, after the road got torn up, I received a very detailed and informative reply about the plans - which were indeed taking into account right turn lanes - and even a pass-by lane for where left turns into the neighborhood would go. And they actually finished that work in the week before the first snow hit, making our trip home - and out of the neighborhood, much safer. This was a job well done by Anoka County!

eric zaetsch said...

Wes - I can agree fully about the library having an exemplary website. It has been implemented to be responsive to anticipated user need. It appears to be a COTS solution that enables tailoring to individual town/county circumstances. Also, I admit that implementing an entire county website is a harder task because it has to cover more comprehensive ground. I just wonder about how the contractor for the revision was chosen, what the expectations were going into the change, and why, in looking at the deliverables from the contractor any change was made. What they had was better than what they got.

Back to the library, we all should hope that the collective Board will to squeeze pennies until Lincoln bleeds and cries will not cripple library quality.