John Diers November 1, 2014
There are two seats up for election on the Prior Lake City Council and three candidates. Next Tuesday voters will choose among the three. The candidates come from different backgrounds, education and life experiences and have different skills. One is an incumbent. We should be grateful to all of them for their willingness to take a job that pays virtually nothing but comes with plenty of controversy, criticism and very little gratitude. All are qualified, but there is one quality that I’m looking for when I make my choice. It’s skepticism and a willingness to ask tough, perhaps uncomfortable, questions. Here’s why:
I’ve lived in Prior Lake for nine years, a relatively short time compared to my neighbors. I’m not familiar with the history and the people and personalities behind all the issues confronting the current city council. However, I spent most of a career that spanned nearly 40 years working with, and for, policymaking bodies in the public sector. In that time I came to know many public officials. The ones that were especially effective, and I respected the most, were ever wary of what they were told by staff. They had a good grasp of the policy making process and their role in making decisions and clearly understood that they were responsible and accountable to the public, and that the staff worked for them, not the other way around. There was always a healthy tension in the room whenever issues were presented and discussed. It had very little to do with their experience and expertise in government affairs and public transit, or a long resume of public sector job experience. It was intuitive. Some of the most effective people were new and came from outside government. They had more questions than answers and no allegiance to the staff agenda, or the status quo, but they knew how to get at the truth. They came with an open mind and a questioning attitude. They made good decisions and good policy.
We need these qualities in our local officials. Their absence brought us the Main Avenue-Highway 21 debacle, expensive streetlights and signage, an overbuilt city hall, along with a plethora of consultants and long range plans and studies promoting dubious, expensive projects, often at the behest of developers and special interests. Ask who among our elected officials has ever questioned and challenged the push for unsustainable development that degrades our environment and quality of life and adds to the need for public services and higher taxes to pay for them? Ask the residents of Rolling Oaks Circle who were facing $800,000 assessments so a developer could build expensive homes on adjoining undeveloped land, or downtown businesses and nearby neighborhoods that are threatened, today, by city and county plans to close Main Avenue at Highway 21, all to accommodate more cars, traffic congestion, and still more development and sprawl.
There is an undercurrent of mistrust of city government, and it’s justified given recent events. Recall the city staff’s failure to accurately post the city manager’s salary, or its failure to inform the residents on Stemmer Ridge Road of its plan to turn their street into a through route to the casino, or the botched proposal to expand dockage at Boudin’s Bay. Then there are the homeowners along Mushtown Road who were annexed by the city and were assured by city management at the time that sewer and water and road improvements would be made only if residents supported them. Today these homeowners face $27,000 assessments, plus hookup charges. Ask them if they trust their city government.
There’s more. Why did city management call for a hike in the tax levy and threaten cuts in services if it didn’t get its way? Why did the council vote to support a 10 percent levy increase, citing increased costs, when the national inflation rate is 1.7 percent? Why do some elected officials want more development, which drives up costs and taxes, while claiming that development is good and pays for itself?
These are tough questions and answers to them are needed, but first, and more important, take a careful look at the three candidates and their statements at the open forum and their responses to questions as reported in the Prior Lake American. Which two, among the three, will proactively represent the public and ask questions of city staff and challenge the status quo? Think about it, make your decision, and, then, above all, go to the polls and vote.