consultants are sandburs

Saturday, September 13, 2014

RAMSEY - Some things need to be exhaustively hammered through thick heads, and there might be hurt feelings, but when there is a need ... [UPDATED]

This post is a follow-up primarily to the comments and post, here.

A particular anonymous [big surprise, eh] comment drew attention, and relates to the "thick heads" part of the headline, the commenter stating:

We wouldn't have all the empty space if stupid Strommen and her other idiots wouldn't have voted for the fancy City Hall we would have all the road repairs and improments done with money to spare right now. And you are also an idiot because you voted for her in 2012.

I posted my immediate thoughts in response, while not noting until now the non sequitur nature of saying that spending on the city hall led to the empty space; implying all would be fully built out but for spending on the city hall. That view of things is not merely unintuitive, it is plain stupid. There simply would have been more empty space, since the city hall building takes up space there which, if absent, would add more. And causation of present "empty space" had multiple dimensions apart from whether the city hall was or was not built, when proposed, when finished; e.g., reporting here. Something needing reemphasis only for the thick headed, but it's written, now, so moving on ...

Randy Baucous took offense at the initial comment and yesterday posted a proposed comment which is instead set out here:

Randy Backous

2:20 PM (20 hours ago)

to me
Randy Backous has left a new comment on your post "RAMSEY: City Hall office rental space is available...":

Anonymous is probably the same guy (or one of his supporters) who voted for a Landform contract that just required us to pay Landform $163,000 and $47,000 for projects that somebody else brought to us.

They keep bitching about city hall, but at least that decision was made in a booming economy. Ramsey, Look, McGlone and Wise hired a guy to manipulate the free market during a severe recession and agreed to pay him $15,000 a month, plus expenses, plus exclusive rights to all engineering work within The COR - and who knows how much we overpaid for that work - plus 2% of the capitalized cost of anything built in The COR up to FIVE YEARS after the termination of the contract. We reduced that to 15 months instead of terminating his contract when it was up for renewal. (I voted to term the contract immediately, of course rather than renegotiate.) I don't blame Landform for this of course. They were doing what they should – looking out for their business. But the four council members who voted for this were either in over their heads or were not being fiscally responsible. Here is the actual contract. Read it and weep.

People don't realize that this contract requires us to pay 2% on the value of the land, building and all of the infrastructure and other improvements. That means that if a $15,000,000 building is put up, Landform gets 2% of that, or $300,000 in addition to everything else. Of course, all we ever got from the supporters of this contract was, "that's a better deal than hiring somebody." Not even close.

All we ever got from Landform was, "it's a bad economy," or "Ramsey has a bad reputation." I asked, "if there are hurdles you can't overcome, why are you here?" In the end, Landform brought us nothing other than his own business partner and even that deal had to be heavily subsidized in order to work. Our Economic Development Manager made way more incentive compensation for Landform than Landform made for Landform. I'm losing track because he's bringing in so much but I can get the numbers for you.

Not once did the “marine combat veteran” step up to the podium to complain about any of this. Not once. Why? Because he is getting all of his information and marching orders from them, which explains why I saw Wayne at Jeff Wise's house the night I was elected along with Matt Look, Bob Ramsey, Colin McGlone, Jeff Wise and yes, DARREN LAZAN. I suppose they thought I would buy in which is why they invited me, but I left quickly. I reported it to the League of Minnesota Cities but they told me they are allowed to meet in social situations as long as they don't discuss city business. It still stinks to high heavens to me. These are the same people supporting the "marine combat veteran" and the same ones whose signs he he hung his signs from. They are one big happy family and I had to laugh and hold my nose at the same time when they cried about “good ole boys clubs” during the last election. Be careful who you vote for.

After contacting Backous to confirm the comment as his and intended for publication we discussed a number of things off record, but on record and in response to inquiry, and Backous can correct me if I misrecall the discussion, he indicated JUNGBAUER was not at the meeting he describes, TOSSEY was not there although elected at the same time as Backous, DAVE ELVIG was there but left early, and JOHN DEHEN and DAVE JEFFREY as other serving council members were not there. Backous also noted he still recalls surprise at seeing Wayne and Maria Buchholz there, being guests invited to the event along with the already named individuals.

click image to read detail
More recently, there are indications of Matt Look paying specific attention to details of the Wayne Buchholz candidacy, with the left side image capture having been taken July 3, 2014, from Facebook, Maria Buchholz' page and not Wayne's campaign page (and with Look-related content believed to possibly have since been edited/scrubbed away).

It appears as if Look is/was inciting Buchholz to ignore federal law; but those seeing Buchholz signs around with stars replacing the anchor-globe-eagle Dept. of Defense trademarked badge, will know the candidate did not follow the stand-your-ground-and-don't-give-up-the-fight advice.

This is Matt Look, the officeholder who took an oath of office to uphold the Constitution and laws of the land, saying, some you like and obey, but big guy, when you don't ... they're "stupid rules/laws" ... so march to your own drummer, which hopefully is a viewpoint which does not carry over as thinking in mind during discharge of official county duties and services, on behalf of County Board District 1, and indeed, on behalf of all citizens of the entire county.

Civil disobedience was fine for Ghandi, but Ghandi did not seek office and a comfortable public paycheck while advocating it. But few of us are Ghandis. Ditto, Martin Luther King, but few of us are Kings.

As to the Landform/Lazan contract, the pattern which I call original sin, an initial contract valued at twenty-three thousand dollars - for professional services under fifty thousand hence not having to be put out for competitive bid, morphing into the form Backous has written about, a pattern can be followed from back in 2009, by readers - I hope these links work well - here, here, here, here and in the extended material here, especially at subsequent pages here and most especially, here et seq. to here.

With, early in the process in mid-2009, there being a Ramsey Town Center Steering Committee on which Kris Williams served, and with the committee working then in harmony with Lazan/Landform, a hope for voters is that candidate Williams will flesh out her current view of harmony or disharmony with the course of events Lazan/Landform contracting took from summer and autum of 2009 times. (2009 is from before Backous and Tossey were elected and serving on council and during the gap in Strommen's service terms.)

QUICK UPDATE: The initiating comment to which Backous responded should be thought of in context of what really is Ramsey's economic development page reflecting about how current Ramsey officials are approaching things, including utilizing on a commission only basis a clearly competent, licensed real estate broker, a professional where professional skills are needed. And delivered, as any reader can verify.

This is not an effort at marketing real estate by any person/entity lacking a brokerage license. CBRE is for real. As is their brokerage license.

FURTHER UPDATE: Blogger, the Google engine behind this and other blogs has a comment defect, i.e., not preserving paragraphing a comment author submits, and truncating comments. However, with comments moderated the service emails the full comment for review on whether to publish or not. Crude insults and name calling irrelevant to a post is screened out, and it was my cause to shift to moderating comments. That said, Randy Backous submitted a follow-up statement, set out next:

Your posting of my comments is accurate and my eyes have never been opened more quickly and clearly as when I walked into that party and saw all of these people together. I was a naïve fool before that night. That night defined my purpose during my whole term and opened my eyes to the hypocrisy of some of the local “fiscal conservatives” calling for transparency and limited government – neither of which they provided themselves. I called them on it; all of them and staff as well for pandering to them.

They were surprised by my behavior. I was treated as an outcast because I crossed the party. I’m still a Republican and always will be but after witnessing some of the intelligent individuals I formerly admired turn a blind eye for the sake of the party to what was clearly happening under their noses, I know I still have a lot of work to do.

Wayne never complained about the Landform deal. He has never complained about the hundreds of thousands of dollars still bleeding out to Landform to this day. Why? His Principals mean more to him than his principles perhaps?

I’m tired of these “patriots” waving their flag over there so you don’t notice what they’re doing over here. I’m tired of them complaining about the nickels and dimes in order to distract you from the millions they are wasting. Somehow I’ve got to get people to open their eyes and see what happened right here in little old Ramsey. I promise you I will. If it can happen here, what the hell is going on in Minneapolis, Chicago, New York?

Cronyism and corruption crosses party lines so we have to start looking into the mirrors and being honest with ourselves and calling people onto the carpet even if they’re on “our side.” We have to start valuing principles over Principals.

In a like sense, I have been critical of Obama for his healthcare alterations being insufficient and too intentionally accommodating to the health insurance/health industry mega-powers; and I have criticized Dayton for not taxing the rich beyond a token step, despite his promise. Incrementalism, than saying "Well we addressed that last term" is the key human condition standing in the way of a fuller response by government to needs. The incremental minimum wage situation now at play, preelection, is another example where Democrat officials need to be called out. Private sector effort for fair wages has put into a stark contrast the feeble official responses where there are any to the erosion of citizen buying power nationwide, with movement by aware workers such as the $15 in '15 effort in Seattle, which now has support across Lake Washington to expand within that entire metro area, and as being advanced by fast food wage increase effort presently active.

We do not now have single payer healthcare nationally and we do not now have the rich more fairly taxed in Minnesota (nor nationally) and we are about to be sucked into more Middle East warfare because the Saudis will not fight when they can induce surrogates to put lives at risks for their purposes and policies.

And that last thing is bipartisan. Oil industry having its hand in things. Adopting a "We the people" slogan might assuage dissatisfaction some feel. But sloganing such as that, or "Occupy," will not by itself get sound change, and some may see it being co-opted by politicians not attuned to it - popular sovereignty - being a real goal, but rather viewing it as a tool of rhetoric to set or entrench a position in officialdom pecking orders. All that fits with Randy's points.

____________FURTHER UPDATE_____________
CBRE is not Landform, that point was made previously. Curious readers might enjoy knowing who Flaherty's firm picked back in 2011 to broker in the nationwide commercial retail market their flagship Indianapolis property development, "Cosmopolitan on the Canal."

This image. I think the approach was a solicitation of offers for buying an equity participation share in the site, (presuming an offer to buy the whole thing would have worked if someone made an offer Flaherty could not refuse). Something like that, rather than a plain vanilla listing at a set asking price. Compare CBRE online items from Q2-2011 ["unpriced"] with Q3-2011 "UNDER CONTRACT" for the Cosmopolitan on the Canal rental housing thing.

[updated] Web search yielded detail, Indianapolis Business Journal, in June 2011 reporting:

The owner of downtown's Cosmopolitan on the Canal has put the property up for sale, calling it "unequivocally the city’s finest residential asset."

Indianapolis-based Flaherty & Collins Properties finished the high-end, 218-unit apartment community in 2010, and it is already 98-percent occupied.

The local office of CB Richard Ellis is marketing the property to investors without an asking price, seeking either to sell it outright or to bring in an equity partner. The project, which is bordered by the Central Canal, Senate Avenue, Michigan Street and North Street, cost more than $33 million to build.

Also on the block: An adjacent, triangle-shaped parcel bordered by Michigan Street and Senate and Indiana avenues. The property could accommodate a second Cosmopolitan phase with 162 additional apartment units and 5,365 square feet of commercial space at a cost of about $24 million.

Flaherty & Collins' preference is to retain an ownership interest in the property and bring in an equity partner, said CEO David M. Flaherty. The company has several deals in the works and would like to free up some capital.

The Cosmopolitan should command a premium valuation and could attract a new-to-market buyer, Flaherty said.

"There is no more trophy property on the multifamily side than this, and multifamily is the preferred property type today," Flaherty said. "From a desirability perspective, it would be way up there."

Whatever else is to be said, Flaherty chose CBRE, and Flaherty is no dummy, witness how he got City of Ramsey to put more skin at risk in the game than he did, in building his Ramsey rental by the rails.

Reader help requested, I am not a regular Facebook user, so is that thread in the image still intact, or altered? Please leave a comment.


Ryan Bakke said...

Comments from Backous constantly have me wanting to go full throttle at the next Ward 1 primary so I don't have to comment quietly and basically meaninglessly from the sideline while candidates with a personal agenda recklessly spend our hard earned tax dollars. I fully believe that there is an intertwined web of self-righteous money grabbing that goes on in politics even at the lowest levels like city government and I simply can't figure out who the wizard behind the curtain is that is playing these politicians like puppets so the self-righteous can spend tax dollars as they seem fit (i.e. re-routing money to friends, to friends of friends, to wizards behind the curtain, etc. etc)? And what do these puppets get for voting the way they do anyways (kickbacks, personal favors, handys, etc.)? That’s an open question to anybody in our local government that reads this blog…who is the wizard? What drives the behind the scenes deal making? Is it political parties? Local big wigs? Very interested in opinions.
The aforementioned questions I’ve raised got me reminiscing...I remember applying and sitting in an "interview" to be a part of a city commission and I remember just freezing and laughing to myself as I listened to sitting council members interviewing me so they could critique my opinions on how I would advise them. This was definitely my first "ah hah" moment in regards to how this shit worked (and the first indication that I was in way over my head). These people actually wanted to see if I was the big giant floppy rag that they were looking for that would stroke their ego's and "reassure" the public that the councils ideas were being independently looked at by citizen representation. Unbeknownst to the interviewers I refused to play the game and instead of standing up and giving the whole process a big go fuck yourself like I should have done I just shut er down completely demoralized by the embarrassing process that I opened myself up to and thinking about how naïve I was to the fact that these fucking people don't care about the city they care about jerking off the wizard and whatever their own personal gain will be. And yeah yeah I know that’s an over generalization but I bet I could say that about a certain majority in that room that night and be damn close to right.
The bottom line is this all comes down to money and the fact that we continually overcomplicate a very simple process. Local governments should be in place to manage the basic needs of the local citizens (i.e. roads, public safety). You start giving self-serving people voting control over option based tax dollar spending and then you get the post COR Genesis boondoggle that was created when the city of Ramsey was fleeced for the second time by the self-righteous money grabbers. I mean there has to be some line out there that I can plagiarize, something like “If the self-righteous find a fatal flaw in the process they will exploit the shit out of it for their own gain”.
Unfortunately I don’t know what the answer is to rid our city of this nonsense. To run for office in this town you obviously need some dough and the backing of the powers that be (does that mean a political party?) so that opens you up to bullshit. You likely have to stroke egos and hob nob with the good ole boys and that definitely opens you up to bullshit. Why can’t a guy like me get a shot whose main agenda would be to avoid the bullshit and make the best possible decisions for the tax paying citizens of Ramsey? I don’t own a business in town, I’m not trying to help a buddy who has a business in town, I don’t know any of the big wigs in town, but my family now lives in this town and my neighbors and I want a steady trustworthy voice to do what’s best for our town. Obviously this is Utopian bullshit but for something as simple as local govt, utopia shouldn’t be all that far away.

I digress having once again answered nothing…just beyond frustrated with all of this.

eric zaetsch said...

Thank you, Ryan. Next cycle, not this one, it might be an interesting contest for county board, District 1. Along the dimensions you mention, there is sending people to DC, and what they do, or may be expected to do, on leaving office. The two remaining party candidates in CD6 have different backgrounds. And different personal auras. What voters do with that might be a surprise. However, down ticket voting often goes by who has the most yard and highway signs, who gets more name recognition that way, and the signs cost money even for those printing their own.

eric zaetsch said...

Ryan - One other observation. Memory fades, but I believe it was a Planning Commission vacancy I applied for, back in James Norman days, and the personnel committee interviewing troika was Pattiann Kurak, Todd Cook, and the third person's identity I do not recall. It struck me as Pattiann with two of the three votes locked in as hers. We discussed my feelings about crabgrass and sandburs and I did not get appointed. I forget who did. It is hard to respect the process unless you believe you can respect the people. And I was not surprised by Norman and China. Even with people you respect and trust, there's possible slippage between the people you trust in the job and your own view of best process/goal pattern. I expect that local government might function best if a government view is public roads and public safety needs attention and people otherwise want to be left alone. If neighbors don't get along there are rules and the courts but if neighbors leave one another alone and don't make noise, they are okay. You flip the switch you want the lights to work, you turn the tap you want potable water to flow. Is Met Council needed for that? No, and my Happy Days are when I wake up and realize I did not die in my sleep, then looking out a window I can see what's there and understand it for what it is. Add in morning coffee and a working web connection. For that, really, I do not need a government with planners and a comp. plan, nor a planned town fall festival event. Other people have other viewpoints. ANY Growth that leaves large-lot parts of town intact and does not intrude sewer/water where unneeded, where large lots serve to keep other people at a distance; that to me is smart growth - and you don't need a degree from the Humphrey school to perceive that. James Norman, while Ramsey's city administrator, made me think of James J. Hill's train's name, for some reason, the name now given an Amtrak route between Chicago and the west coast.

Anonymous said...

I don't know about that BS that Backous is talking about. I see it in very simple terms, like dominos. One stupid decision lead to another and our Mayor( Ms Strommen )was at the starting line. I had to do a little research on Backous as I didn't know that much about him and this is what I found:
BACKOUS: The greatest concern is the development of The COR. I think when citizens are shown the numbers they will agree that their tax dollars were invested wisely. The land purchase allowed the city to take control over a development that was going nowhere and to get it moving. For an investment of $6.7 million for 155 acres of land ($2 million of which has already been recouped in sales) and $4 million for infrastructure (in addition to county and developer funds), Ramsey currently has $70 million in active development projects. Few places in the entire country can say that. This development will create jobs and property tax revenue in perpetuity which will decrease individual taxes. Approximately $400,000 in tax revenue and $200,000 to schools is already being generated annually.

Whether you agree with it or not, the fact remains that we are where we are and we have no choice but to move forward. We must remain positive and optimistic as we continue to re-brand, market and develop The COR. I’m concerned however that we do not attract developers via concessions. We must negotiate deals that maximize return to the city and hold consultants accountable. Anyone can give away land.
This is from his 2010 Question/answers from the Union newspaper.
So I think he is as much of the problem as the rest of them!

eric zaetsch said...

Readers: The original Anon. comment gave a hot link but Blogger in posting it left the URL as text, not a link. Try this:

That should toggle the linked report.

Anon. You did not comment about CBRE, and if you have any thoughts about that beyond your last paragraph, please leave a follow-up comment.

I do not see any contradiction in Backous saying what he said while running. It was before the meeting at Wise's home which he says was disillusioning, and he has consistently said that, unlike me, he liked from the beginning the Flaherty proposal and concept, but did not like the implementation.

The implementation was what it was, and now, short term in a supplier's rental market, the place is renting out. Long term, who knows?

Whether the Flaherty thing proves a long-term success, or a long-term problem, flaws in implementation will still be flaws.

The Backous statement of disillusionment fits with his choosing to not seek another term.

I find no fault in Randy's conduct, or decision making, or position changing over time.

There is the story each party tells from its side; the little girl seen with tiny new kittens asked by one from the other party what kind or kittens they were and her saying,"Your party, kittens."

Then two weeks later, same encounter and the politician asks, "How are my party's kittens doing," and the little girl says, "They're in the other party now that their eyes opened."

Finally Anon, last paragaph - who says?

Yes in an ideal world the distressed land will somehow generate demand soon, and will be sold top dollar, no subsidy. However ... that's the ideal world, not the real world. In an ideal world every restaurant meal would taste great too. Always served at just the right temperature, and we'd not have to wait long. Great wine list, low prices.

Then, one particular sentence bothers, "We must remain positive and optimistic as we continue to re-brand, market and develop The COR."

Besides, who says, who precisely do you have in mind as "we?"

I think rebranding was as dumb as dirt, after all, rename the Twins teams over the last three years and the fact remains they stunk up the field, whatever you call them.

"Rebranding" was wasted cash, not much by other measures, but wasted. The Ramsey Town Center is what it was, and what it still is, whatever euphemism you want to apply, "The COR" seeming particularly stupid as a name, to me.

Next, same sentence, the point of CBRE being onboard on commission only, not front loaded with city cash like Lazan/Landform was; is that THEY, not WE do the marketing.

WE run a city, doing what municipal governments should and must, which excludes land speculation.

Unload the land, as feasible. Get it into the tax base, and decisively get out of land development and speculation by council, with it leaving the bad taste it has; but ended.

Randy Backous said...


You sound as angry and frustrated as I am but younger and more apt to deal with it. Please get involved however you can.

The commission selection process you speak of under Ramsey was a sham and they didn’t even try to hide it. They had no shame. One of the questions was something like, “how will you react if the Council doesn’t follow your recommendation?” We were looking for commissioners who would gladly take time away from their families or other priorities and accept the fact that they would tell us what we wanted to hear or be terminated. Yah, sign me up.

There is one common denominator and if you don't know who that is by now, I have more work to do because you are paying attention way more than most. It's not the "boogieman" Jim Deal. I knew nothing about him when I ran and he didn’t come offering any support. He has demonstrated nothing but integrity to me. He has come to us with various offers which have asked for too much from the City. That’s what business people do (as was the case with Landform). However, we did our job and turned him down when appropriate and he went back to the drawing board or gave up on certain projects. He has never held it against us and we continue to have a good working relationship with his company.

The Common Denominator hates Jim Deal, however, because he chooses to give some of his earnings to democrats. I don’t support democrats but it’s none of my business if somebody else does. Isn’t that the spirit of a true Capitalist? All of the problems we have faced in Ramsey stem from this: the battle between The Common Denominator and Jim Deal; Republican vs. Democrat; good vs. evil, patriot vs. traitor and all that bullshit. People thrive on that garbage.

Unfortunately, some people in this area pledge allegiance to the Party instead of the USA and they either choose to conveniently hold their noses and look away from what they are clearly smelling and seeing for the sake of the Party or they simply want to go on with their daily lives and believe whatever The Common Denominator tells them.

I don’t look the other way. I would rather process what my actual experiences have been and come to my own conclusions. I see past the flag waving. I see the hypocrisy. I don’t give a damn about Party politics. Political Parties are just another Union to me and I despise Unions. Until somebody knocks The Common Denominator out of his office, and especially if the “marine combat veteran” is elected, the clown show in Ramsey will continue.

Randy Backous said...


Kudos for the research and yes, I said all of that and still stand by it. You failed in your research efforts however because you failed to link to the minutes of meeting after meeting in which I consistently said we did the correct thing to buy the land for pennies on the dollar to get it out of the court system, package it together and rebrand it. I have never wavered from that position and I have always given the past council credit for making that bold move.

However, I have always said that we failed from that point on in that we perverted the true purpose of our Housing and Redevelopment Authority (HRA) in order to hold the land and compete with the free market. HRAs are designed to put resources into distressed or blighted areas that drag down property values. HRAs allow a separate levy to residents which is not included in the published tax capacity rate of the city. Essentially, it is a hidden tax.

The prior council used the HRA as a tool to levy Ramsey residents (I believe one year it was as high as 5% of our annual budget) in order to fund development in The COR. Fees and expenses to Landform were paid from this as well as some staff salaries which should be in the general levy budget. Imagine setting up a hidden tax vehicle to pay hundreds of thousands of dollars to a guy you’re having drinks with at your election party. Yikes. Maybe you should do some research on that.

They also used inappropriate levels of TIF districts as a funding tool. TIF is a tool granted by the state legislature which allows cities to use the difference in property taxes created when something is built within that district in order to build infrastructure and other improvements for a period of time, typically 20 years. In theory, it’s a nice idea but in practice it strains city budgets because the city requires more police, fire, road maintenance, etc. but has less tax revenue to the general fund to provide those services.

This council reduced the size of the TIF district significantly, dissolved the HRA (no HRA levy in 2015, you’re welcome) and terminated the Landform contract. We hired a national broker with national contacts and set up a typical broker contract – 5% on the raw land value on what they sell, they pay their own expenses, no monthly “admin” fee, no getting paid unless they deliver and no hanging on for months or years after the termination of the contract. These are all things I pushed for and voted for so I don’t think I have been inconsistent in my positions. Your research seems to be a little inconsistent though and tips your hand as one of those looking the other way.