Category Archives: Duluth City Council

What the City Council giveth they can taketh away

The banner headline in yesterday’s DNT trumpeted the City’s brave attempt at transparency by replacing “street fees” from Duluth utility bills with honest to john property taxes. This was in anticipation of the Courts jumping in and forcing us to make the change…….well no matter the motivation, transparency is good.

But then the story explains that the City will tripple the “franchise fee” on Minnesota Power from one million to three million dollars. Those are disguised taxes too. Transparency only goes so far.

Everyone is saying the Planning Dept.’s decision to scuttle the DPSA High School has nothing to do with politics.

I find that very hard to believe:

Hamre said that if Edison had pushed forward with those requests, and the city planning commission followed the recommendation of planning staff — which was that they reject the applications — the developer’s only recourse would have been to appeal the decision to the Duluth City Council. If the council chose to uphold rather than overturn the planning commission decision, no further requests from the applicant would be eligible for consideration until a year had passed.

Such an outcome would have forced Edison to push back its plans to open the new school, serving grades 8 through 12, in the fall of 2017.

Why can’t the School Board do this?

For the past couple years I’ve repeatedly whined that the School Board ought to make emails sent to it part of the public domain.

The Trib’s Education reporter, Jana Hollingsworth, told me that she was able to access email to the Duluth City Council. I’ve never bothered to check out how to access that email but now I know its true and that the City archives such email. I couldn’t remember sending an email to the City but out of idle curiosity I googled my name and discovered a link to the City of Duluth.

This email of mine generated a little tempest in a teapot. Its email b on this page.

Singin with Councilor Anderson

I had four glorious hours of something fun. My daughter went with me over to St. Scholastica’s Mitchell Auditorum today and spent the day singing four choral pieces for the MPR Bring the Sing. Close to 200 others showed up and we were recorded perhaps for later listening along with some area choirs and then we accompanied Gaelynn Lee in the song that won her NPR’s Tiny Desk Concert.

No politics, just good old singing. I sat with Duluth’s new City Councilor Gary Anderson who I’ve developed a pretty cordial relationship with. He has a great mellow voice but I chided him when I found out he isn’t currently singing with any choirs. It was a small world because he recognized one of our church’s former youth choir members who now sings with the Twin Cities Gay Men’s Chorus. There were folks from all over who traveled to Duluth. We sounded great.

BTW – was pleased to read about Gary’s participation in the embarrassing “retreat” of our City Councilors who picked apart their missing colleague Jay Fosle. John Ramos wrote a cringe worthy description of the production in which Anderson is one of the few participants who doesn’t sound like a buzzard slurping up a dead carcass. (In one of my emails today I urged my fellow school board members to hold such a “retreat” so that we could get to know each other better. I would hope we would conduct ourselves less disgracefully than some of our City Councilors.)

The jovial Memphis bred conductor Tesfa Xzgyllayomgbaloough (some damned African name) encouraged us at one point to get out our cell phones and take pictures of the occasion to share on Facebook. I took one but then nervously looked back at my music to make sure I wasn’t making any mistakes.

Gary Anderson pulled out cell and took a selfie of the two of us. Maybe he’ll post it on Facebook. We haven’t friended ourselves so I’ll never know if he has the courage or temerity to be seen in my company online or not.

A libertarian comes back to bite.

My Buddy (the libertarian) weighed in on the last post:

Harry:

But didn’t Camus write about this in The Myth of Sisyphus? Jeez. If people aren’t bugged by long hair, they get bugged by high tangles of nondescript vegetation?

[Your Buddy]

http://lincolndemocrat.com/?p=14411

Thirteen years ago when I noted this lawn I felt a little guilty doing it. America has been cursed with lawn perfectionism for a century and its led to a huge laying on of fertilizer causing much environmental damage. That said Kriss’s lawn is a wonder to behold. Its not a lawn that promotes butterflies and native plants that I can see. It looks a bit like a lawn in a house that is tax forfeit.

I made my comment in 2002 more to twit the unions who were welcoming a Green Party candidate into their fold. I was still a Republican thirteen years ago. I’ve met Kriss at political gatherings and I’ve got to say her eccentricities, gentle as they are, did not remind me of Henry David Thoreau. Neglect is not the same as benign neglect. Sometimes its just neglect.

Thirteen years ago a neighbor complained to me bitterly about her yard. This election season another has gone a step further and written a letter to the editor about it. One of the hallmarks of a good city councilor is heeding the concerns of fellow citizens not thumbing their noses at their conformity.

And yet, thumbing one’s nose at ill considered conformity can be a mark of a thoughtful and even courageous person. It will be interesting to see if Kriss rises to the occasion as she pushes her mossy boulder up the campaign trail to the City Council.

Doing the right thing

It was reported tonight that Council President Linda Krug stepped down from her post after suffering a great deal of criticism for her recent running of Council Meetings. Mayor Ness said he believes it is a first for the City Council.

I did much the same thing in 1998 when I resigned as Chair of the School Board but after four months not ten like Councilor Krug. The circumstances were different (this is how I explained it a short time afterward) (this is some additional detail I wrote five years ago) and I did so with an attempt at levity that got me mentioned national attention. Linda did it little awkwardly but with genuine remorse. I admire her humility.

Its bed time. I’ve wanted to blog something fearful all day and I had a passel of posts in mind. Instead I had to spend my day cleaning up after 14 guys from Superior Construction saved my bacon but tracked half of Duluth into my basement to make sure 4th Street and 21st Avenue didn’t become an Olympic Ice skating venue this winter.

During our District’s “Annual Report to the Community” presentation at Lincoln Middle School tonight I suggested to Supt. Gronseth that we ought to get together for a talk next week. If we set a date it will be our first one-on-one meeting in over seven months. I don’t want to jinx it by being quite as finger happy on the blog as I’ve lusted to be for the past couple of very busy days.

I’ve begun meeting with potential 2015 school board candidates in earnest. I’ve found out how the Minnesota Department of Education keeps its pulse on the Federal Title One funding. I dismantled Jabba the Hutt. I got halfway started cleaning up a basement that looks and smells like a rock quarry. I dug a post hole down to a huge void that needs to be filled with about five yards of sand before a sink hole opens up and swallows the strawberry plants I have labored over for the past couple years. I’ve got a lot on my mind but I hope this late night post helps clears it enough so I can get the good night’s sleep that would really be useful before I drive my Chevy to the shop tomorrow to have three long neglected recall warnings addressed. I’ve scheduled another political meeting during the repair. Maybe after all that I’ll find time to read the last four day’s worth of News Tribunes that have been gathering dust in my office.

My horselaugh of the day

Woke up listening to NPR’s election coverage when I heard Claudia burst into a loud laugh from a couple rooms away. I knew it wasn’t from the story being aired so I was curious what she found so funny. She walked into view with the Tribune laid it on the piano and showed me the Lindstrom cartoon. I added my horselaugh to hers.

I sure wish the Trib put Steve’s cartoons on their website with their opinion columns.

The Civility folks must be having conniptions.

Now I’m ready to face my day at the Minnesota Dept. of Education.

I’ve got the day to myself

And I intend to put it to use filing.

Claudia and my daughter are making a day of it in the Twin Cities to find a wedding dress. My daughter is a victim of the Princess Bride bankruptcy. She ordered a gown and put half down only to discover that the Bride had been locked out of her castle up on Decker Rd across from the Mall.

I’ve begun spreading out my files on the queen beds in two rooms and hope to make a serious dent in the paperwork. While I’m at it I’m attacking the small tasks that I find in the paper piles. I’ll have to stop for a special (if that’s the right word) school board meeting at three to pass judgement on a proposed expulsion of a student.

I think 709 is having a hard time with challenging kids now. I put in a call to a local resource for such kids and offered my services as a teacher or something. I’m hoping to get a clearer picture of just what the needs are related to them and just possibly insights on how our schools can do better by them.

Welcome back to the new readers who seem to be checking out my rebirth as a blogger. I’ve got a big series to post when I can dedicated the time to them on Charter Schools. I plan to cover a lot of territory and do it in bite sized bits. But first to filing.

Oh yeah, I didn’t have the courage to face Claudia with the news I’d put my name in for the City Council vacancy. I wasn’t sure I could even be allowed to serve both the School Board and the Council because twenty years ago local eccentric Davey Jones gave the town’s leading citizens a heart attack when he filed for to elective offices in the same election. As I recall the case went immediately to the State Supreme Court which ruled he could do both. I’ve always wondered if it was the most reasoned opinion they ever handed down. They are both part time jobs and although the idea of Davy occupying even one of them was rather awful to contemplate I saw no reason why local voters should not put a person in both positions. Maybe the Supreme Court would have allowed it if the candidate had gotten elected to one position and decided not to step down from the other.

Well, I think it would have been regarded as a kind of exhibitionism had I filed and probably justifiably.On the other hand I have always felt there is a vast gulf between our local governments that needs to be bridged. Shouldn’t more tax money be going into City infrastructure than our schools? Can’t the County Goverment and City work more cooperatively. How better to bridge that gulf than an elected official serving on both simultaneously? Well, that was my rationalization for thinking about applying.

I know that I’m putting a lot of time into the School Board and this first year will be a busy one. I’ve got the ego for two elective offices. I may not have the drive to do justice to both. Now if I were Teddy Roosevelt that wouldn’t be a problem. I’m up to his charge up San Juan Hill in the Doris Kearns Goodwin book. Just reading about him tires me out.

Howie

I went to some song and dance meeting at 8AM this morning to talk about healthy schools. I probably scared the bejesus out of attendees (who were outnumbered by candidates for public office) because candidates for public office aren’t supposed to speak as though they were John the Baptist. That only gets your head served up on a platter.

It was productive in several ways relating to the School Board that had nothing to do with the topic. Instead it was because of the interactions I had with other school board candidates. That will lead in short order to some new posts which I have decided to call “What Would You Do?”

That will come later as I have lawnsigns to put up if the rain holds off a little longer. But that does leave me with one anecdote.

Long time followers will know that I once beat up the current City Council candidate Howie Hanson on the blog over the Red Plan. I won’t link to the post but industrius readers can always plug the name into the search engine to see what I wrote. In substance I criticized the School District for giving Howie a nice payment for advertising school activities on the Internet. I claimed at the time it was Superintendent Dixon’s way of bribing potential critics into zipping their lip about the Red Plan.

Well I saw Howie as I headed into the health forum. When I saw him I joked that it appeared his election to the City Council had become a foregone conclusion. He said he knew and sort of apologized explaining that he felt really bad about it. I just laughed and joked I was jealous. (His opponent Gary Krause, formerly of the School Board, has announced he will not remain on the City Council although his name is still on the ballot.)

Howie made a point to tell me that I had been right. He said that he had figured out after the fact that buying off critics is exactly what Dr. Dixon had been doing. He felt bad about that too.

Good for Howie. I give credit to anyone who owns up to embarrassing details like this. That bodes well for the City should non-candidate Gary Krause fail to pull off an upset.

I endorse this editorial

As one of the nine School Board members who created and or protected the “ten percent reserve” which ended up at about $23 million in 2007 I endorse this DNT Editorial about how the City of Duluth should handle its unobligated reserves:

There are two obvious sources of cash to pay the bill. One is the $21 million sitting in reserve in the city’s Community Investment Trust, the source for making such payments in the past. The trust was built over the years with the city’s share of revenues from the Fond-du-Luth Casino downtown. But the city’s share of those revenues has been cut off, as has been well-publicized, and the trust has dwindled from about $50 million. While some of the drawdown has been by design (too much cash in such a reserve isn’t financially healthy, either, as it can crimp a city’s ability to borrow and win state and federal aid), a trio of city councilors has stated clearly, they don’t want the fund to be drawn down any further, certainly not below a healthy $20 million.

The other source the city could tap to pay the bill is an unobligated reserve in the city’s general fund. But that’s an option that has Montgomery waving red flags at the City Council and at anyone else who’ll listen. Tapping that fund just to pay a bill is precisely the sort of action that could get the city’s AA bond rating downgraded to A. Those who determine bond ratings specifically have told Montgomery that. It’s on the list of ways to be downgraded.

Tapping the general fund reserve for an emergency like last summer’s flood is one thing. Bonding companies understand having to do that. But using it to pay a bill that comes around every year is quite another thing.

The Duluth School Board has, since Dr. Dixon encouraged the School Board to open a vein, been drawing down the School District’s reserve to the tune of three million a year to pay off the lenders of Red Plan Bonds or to put in operations. The bonds will be repaid over a course of twenty years. This is the last year bond payments can be paid from the fund before even more has to be pulled from school operations (the classroom) to do the job. After Dixon’s run on the reserve is over we will have to take three million out of the classroom to pay the bondholders.

The City Council would be wise to avoid the School Board’s example.

Pavement and rain

I got a call Monday asking me if I could help our fellow Presbyterians at Westminster Prez over on Grand Ave next to Denfeld High School. When I was on the School Board the Church’s pastor opened up the church daily for Denfeld kids who were loitering around the neighborhood to give them an outlet that would keep them safe while playing basketball in the church gym.

Since the June flooding the City has posted the church building as off limits due to the massive internal flooding and destruction it suffered. Because of that the small congregation had to postpone a clean up until Sunday. They were still mopping up mud and water when I arrived at 11:30am yesterday. The not so faint odor of mud, mold and sewage was in the air when I descended to the basement. The walls had a water line at about five feet and almost nothing that was at that level could be rescued save a few mostly plastic tables and perhaps some folding chairs. That meant that fifty years worth of accumulated church stuff used for funerals weddings and inumerable youth and holiday celebrations had to be hauled up into a dumpster above ground. The church floors were heaved up from the water pressure. One looked like a whale had breached it being about two feet higher at the center of the room than by the room’s walls. The water rushing up from this volcano took a right turn and smashed down the plaster wall of another room across the hallway. It was impressive.

The clothes of the men who had gotten to the church early in the morning were pretty well slathered with mud. I was pretty prissy about handling things but you can be sure all my cloths went into the wash immediately upon my return home.

The City of Duluth has communicated to the church that it takes no responsibility for the church’s trashing. I think that may be more of a negotiating stance than actual reality. The City says that a culvert built years ago by private entities absolves them of responsibility. The City has been forcing homeowners to put in sump pumps for several years including my home. The City also approved the massive paving of new and expanded paved parking lots for the Red Plan expansion of Denfeld High School. I presume the city’s engineers had to have some familiarity with the hydrological implications for any building resting over the culvert. Anyone living in Duluth for the last decade has seen rainstorms pop manhole covers on streets below the hill pretty regularly. I found one in Chester Creek below the Ninth Street Bridge a few days ago when I took a hike along the stream bed.

All that pavement would have funneled water instantly under the church no matter who built the culvert. Westminster is owned not by the small local congregation but by the Presbyterian Church USA. It will have the national church’s attorney’s to deal with and they should be formidable. If the the City is dinged for the Church’s repair it will be yet one more unanticipated expense of the Red Plan. It will fall on the City’s tab not the School Districts but it will come out of the pockets of the same taxpayer’s who are already paying for the Red Plan .

The wrong horseshoe

I can’t really believe what I heard recently – that our new East High school only has one janitor. I had heard that rather than cut teachers to pay for the Red Plan the School Board had drastically cut custodial staff. For a couple years classrooms have only been swept two times a week. It was once a daily occurance and anyone who has been in a classroom after a day of having been visited by 150 kids can easily see the necessity.

But, of course, it hasn’t just been the support staff that has been cut.

When I served on the School Board we had managed to pare students to much smaller numbers per teacher. In the elementary grades it was a rare classroom that had more then 26 kids in it. And then the experts at JCI helped design new schools. They did so with our old enrollment and classroom numbers in mind. That meant classrooms with small numbers of kids like in the Pre-Red Plan days. That meant that in the brand spanking new Lester Park School they installed 28 lockers for children per classroom. classrooms that now contain an impossible 36 kids in them.

That’s what might have been expected when, out of faith in our Napoleonic new Superintendent, our School Board gambled $5 million a year for twenty years from its classroom budget on bonds to pay for brick and mortar.

I’ll bet Keith Dixon never read any history. If he had he might have found this story instructive.

So might City Councilman Jeff Anderson when Ordean residents came to the City Council to explain that the Red Plan had not taken into account the parking needs of a new school of 1600 students and asked for a serious investigation of zoning needs and traffic impacts.

Here’s the famous map showing the size of Napoleon’s army from the time 400,000 left for Russia until its 10,000 survivors returned.

Making a “good plan into a great plan.”

Loren Martell, still licking his wounds from losing to a clueless incumbent, offers his latest critique of the Red Plan and the Board that brought it into being. The $500 we personally gave Loren’s campaign was the best money I’ve ever donated in a political campaign…..except for the $100 donated to Obama. Sometimes the voters are better informed.

Spending half of the reserve down in a single year shows what the District will have to do to maintain its current classroom spending when they’ve spent the rest of the reserve down in a year or so.

That is an unsustainable level of deficit spending. Its obvious to me that the District has been covering up its insolvency for some time to protect the Board members and District from criticism in advance of the recent elections. Much larger cuts should have been made all along as it became apparent that there were no energy savings (thank you JCI) to be had and that the “efficiencies” in operational costs were a mirage.

I woke to an email which seems to have been riffing off my threat/promise to run for Congress. It refers to my post on City Councilor and Congressional Candidate Jeff Anderson:

I also do not believe you would be swayed by lobbyists.
This in regards to the red plan.

After attending several council meetings there seemed to be the impression that a few councilors had had coffee with some red plan supporters.
Probably not in itself a bad thing, but did they ever extend that consideration to LDV?
Cuneo used their popular phrase “make a good plan into a great plan” when granting them every variance that came before the council.

They also hid behind their decisions stating that they were two separate government bodies and so could not interfere in district business.

But now the city is taking the lead on the disposal of Central!

BTW Councilor Sharla Gardner is misinformed. She said Duluth was the third largest Minnesota city in a story in the DNT today. Rochester took our place a couple years ago but I don’t blame her for living in the past.

Suddenly the City is all over Central High School

A bitter emailer comments on the City’s plans for the Duluth School District’s excess property:

The city stood quietly by when the school district was changing the face of Duluth forever with the rationalization that they were two separate entities and so could not intrude on each other, so why now is the city taking the lead to find a use for Central?

Did they perhaps have hopes for some commercial use of this property and so did nothing when citizens asked for their help?

Are they taking a page from the JCI/Dixon play book and holding community meetings so they can turn around and say “you had your chance for input”?

Something I couldn’t write when my blog was down

I couldn’t have said it better than this letter writer did in the DNT:

This letter is about the property tax issue. I had to replace my siding last year because I had rain water running down inside my walls. As a reward for being a diligent homeowner, the city raised my property value by $12,000.

Then the state eliminated the homestead tax credit.

The School Board has no concept of reality. After forcing its expensive Red Plan on us taxpayers, every election year, it seems, it has the audacity to keep asking for more money on top of the huge budget the district already has. I pay for other people’s children to attend the most modern, state-of-the-art schools while I live in a shack I can barely afford.

Now the city wants us to pay more in property taxes for libraries and parks. Sure, new park equipment and branch libraries would be nice. But they are luxuries, not necessities, and not worth the $2.6 million in property tax increases. The main library won’t be closed, so people who are looking for a job can still use those computers or the computers at Job Services.

I haven’t had a pay raise in three years, and my health-care and pension costs have increased. I don’t have a cell phone, Internet, cable TV or newspaper. I avoid doing anything that costs money. I realize I am blessed to still have a job and a home. That does not mean I can afford to take on more of the burden for those who don’t.

With all the foreclosures, there are fewer of us to shoulder the tax burden for the rest. We homeowners have to say enough is enough. Please vote “no” to any property tax increase.

Carmelle La Tour

Duluth

Virgil’s swing…

…is not a miss. Only his Budgeteer column is missing from the DNT’s online site. That’s too bad.

He points out that the public employee union is pushing hard for City Council candidates. Once seated the councilors will determine how much union members are paid. At a time of diminishing Government services this is troubling.

Coincidentally I got a call a week ago from a surveyer not identifying himself asking me if I had decided upon any city council candidates. When I identified the one I Considering the source the suggestion might have cost both candidates votes from our household.

Like Mr. Swing I have no use for Wisconsin Governor Walker’s heavy handedness. That doesn’t mean that public employee’s political power is not excessive. It is, and it will probably continue to cripple Duluth.

Happy Labor Day!

As the Red Planners kept reminding us…

…our leaders were elected to make such decisions.

A short, sour and altogether honest assessment of some of our current City Fathers, several of whom are about to retire from the City Council:

It is quite interesting to read and hear our mayor and legislators complaining about threatened cuts to Local Government Aid, something they can’t vote on as its fate is in the hands of the Minnesota Legislature. Maybe now they have an idea how Duluthians felt when they were denied an opportunity to vote on the Red Plan — and the mayor and other elected leaders were silent.

Allen Willman
Duluth

From the Past

Sent to me by an email friend:

News Tribune

Feb. 23, 1971

* Members of the Duluth School Board were asked yesterday to support legislation to increase the state sales tax from 3 percent to 4 percent. The request came from Duluth Councilman Leo McDonnell, president of the League of Minnesota Municipalities, which is recommending the proposal.

* Duluth city and school officials agreed last night to delay construction of a pedestrian overpass on Central Entrance to serve the new Central High School. They decided more study is needed to determine whether it is the best solution.

This non plusses me too

In addition to Sunday liquor sales for Minnesota Senator Reinert will also introduce legislation to take the Aquarium monkey off the Duluth City Council’s back and put it on UMD’s back.

The Aquarium has soldiered along in part by competing against Duluth restaurants which host parties and receptions. It hasn’t exactly lived up to the initial hype as the world’s preeminent museum dedicated to telling the world about our Great Lakes. I think that getting UMD involved in the Aquarium is a good idea. I’m not sure that hiding the Aquarium’s shaky finances by transferring the responsibility for them to a state entity will improve the Aquarium. Maybe this transfer will help compensate Duluth for the loss of Local Governmental Aid.

I’ll bet that Roger’s former colleagues on the City Council would welcome this transfer if Roger should manage to accomplish it. It would be one less reminder of a City Council gamble that has yet to pay off.

Roger will apparently busy himself with minutia after unexpectedly finding himself in the State Senate’s minority after the DFL’s shellacking.