Tag Archives: long meetings

Hey Duluth Politicians, I’m Still Paying Attention

20 Sep

Yes, Duluth, I’m still paying attention to you, even from afar. Here are a few thoughts on two issues that have been in the news back home recently.

The Proposed Lester Park Golf Course Development

One of the more interesting debates to surface has been about the fate of the Lester Park Golf Course (LPGC), the public course on the far east side for which the city has started fielding proposals from developers. The LPGC has operated at a loss in recent years, and with its superb views of Lake Superior and relatively undeveloped environs, it sits on an attractive piece of real estate. But this decision has, of course, spurred some backlash, with local historian Tony Dierckins rallying the troops in a series of posts over on Zenith City Online. (History of the course here, pointed critiques here.)

Before we get into the merits of this particular plan, Tony makes one point that is especially bothersome when he floats the notion that this somehow detracts from the plan to revitalize the west side. This is the sort of attitude that reinforces the east-west divide, turning development into a zero-sum game. There is plenty of room for development on both sides of Duluth; nothing should be off the table simply because it is on a certain side of the city. Imposing some sort of moratorium on east side development so the west side can play catch-up would be a heavy-handed tool that would likely just leave us with less of anything in the end. Closing LPGC would actually eliminate an east side amenity, and if (if!) it is indeed a profitable move, could free up some cash for the west side. Signs of flexibility and openness to creative ideas would be a positive for the city as a whole, and could improve the overall development climate. Though Duluthians should be proud that their city tends to stop and think before rushing to throw up every new plan placed before it in shiny wrapping, this mindset is exactly what gets Duluth a reputation for being stuck in the mud when it comes to development. There’s room for many different options.

I’m also not entirely sold on a number of his other defenses of LPGC. Yes, it’s public, and gives green access to golfers who can’t afford Northland or Ridgeview Country Clubs. But it’s also not a free amenity open to anyone, and calling a golf course ‘nature’ or an opportunity for serious physical activity is something of a stretch, especially in a city like Duluth. Golf courses are odd ducks in the planning world: they’re recreational, but very specific in purpose, and take up a lot of land area. Tony gives a massive job loss number, but it’s worth noting that many of them are seasonal and not exactly careers, such as caddying. These jobs are great for kids starting work and a few seasoned pros, of course, but it’s not comparable to closing a factory.

Tony’s financial numbers seem fishy at best. It’s certainly not the government’s job to subsidize golf at whatever cost, and if the market’s not there, the local golf community either needs to pony up or face reality. It may be a bit premature to throw LPGC under the bus—Tony does have a not-so-very-old quote from CAO Montgomery dismissing any financial concerns about the courses that needs an explanation—but things do need to add up here. Tony has a pretty clear personal interest in LPGC, and while there’s nothing wrong with that—I’d be putting out some prolific venting if the city, say, tried to do away with Fryberger Arena—let’s not pretend he’s laying out these facts without a clear agenda.

All of that said, barring an offer the city can’t refuse, I do think it would be shortsighted to just shut the place down and put up a new, strictly residential subdivision. Overcrowding at the Enger course would be a serious issue, as would the loss of a venue for major charitable events. Golf does have genuine cultural value, and generates some tourism. Weather might have played a role in recent financial struggles, and LPGC is also sadly burdened by the hopelessly arcane liquor sales ban that lives on in Lakeside. The public needs to learn a lot more about the course’s operations before it accepts that it just has to go.

The good news is that some of the proposals apparently do not involve the total loss of the golf course. Preserving 18 holes while allowing for some modest development might prove a sensible compromise. Ideally, any redevelopment will maintain some parkland and public access to the excellent views along LPGC, no matter what fate befalls the course. The ideal plan would also probably bring some space for business along with it, instead of isolating a group of houses out on a cul-du-sac off Lester River Road. I’m intrigued to see what comes out of this. Tell me more.

September School Board Meeting

Oh, yeah, that thing. I’m afraid it still exists, and is just as absurd as ever. I made it about halfway through the Youtube video before giving up. It started off as usual, with Members Johnston and Welty doing lots of grandstanding for entirely understandable reasons, as they still have not been given any clear path to get anything on the Board’s agenda. Chair Miernicki continues to be the greatest PR operation the minority could have dreamed of on their behalf, persistently bumbling through everything.

At one point, Member Johnston said that Chair Miernicki had told him that he was “scared” of him in an email, which is telling. Many adjectives could be applied to Member Johnston, a number of them not very nice, but “scary” is not really one of them. Years of battles have left the majority paranoid about the man, and even his more mundane critiques give rise to defensiveness. Everyone is so well-trained at taking those who they do not agree with in bad faith.

This fear of minority critiques came out later in the meeting, when Member Harala lost her cool and snapped at Member Welty for his (real, but fairly mundane) grandstanding on minority students’ poor test scores. So much for the one person on the majority who I thought was making a concerted effort to see things from the other side. Predictably, this sent Member Johnston off the rails with accusations of harassment and lack of care for minorities, in turn sending Chair Miernicki into justified indignance. After that bit of ugliness, I stopped watching. Member Johnston said the Board has done nothing for underserved groups, but this is patently false. Whatever one thinks of it, the Laura MacArthur curriculum flap is obviously an effort to cater directly to groups that need extra help in school, and from my time there onward, there has been a very concerted effort on the part of the East administration to directly engage with minority students. (In fact, there were even a few jokes in poor taste about how this was the only thing the administration cared about.) I doubt East is unique there. Just because it isn’t being announced with trumpets doesn’t mean it isn’t getting done. Its efficacy may be another story, though, and everyone seemed to be in violent agreement that this is a conversation worth having.

The trouble is that the conversation will likely go in the exact same direction. Members Welty and (especially) Johnston are full of depressing facts but short on solutions, in turn leading to defensiveness and qualifications from the rest. I’m all for the accurate reporting of the statistics, but just reading off the numbers does little to advance the conversation. Stupid as it may be, Members Johnston and Welty may have to cater to their colleagues’ fragile sensibilities if they really do want to have this conversation (which they already do somewhat with a lot of qualification), and some brevity might do them a world of good, too. Unfortunately, the success of Laura MacArthur may be leading some on the Board to believe that this is an easy problem to solve. Member Welty says he won’t be happy with mere incremental success, and the Board should obviously aim to do all it can, but in the end, I’d be relieved with some slow, steady progress. While he may just have been in a state after Member Harala’s outburst, Member Johnston’s suggestion that the achievement gap exists because people aren’t trying is just his bad faith reading of people he does not like. This is a brutally hard issue to fix.

The same could be said of the east-west divide, which also came up in relation to test scores after everyone got all of their hating on testing and No Child Left Behind out of the way. (If there’s one thing that seems to unite everyone in the room, and can even get Chair Miernicki to praise some of Marcia Stromgren’s words, it’s a hatred of tests.) The concerns about equity between East and Denfeld came up again, and while I’ve already said plenty on that, I’ll again point out what a bind the District is in as it tries to correct for some of these issues. The new curriculum director has his work cut out for him, though as I suggested in that past post, there are some creative ways to offer greater equity while also working within reality.

I’m not going to defend the Board’s existing efforts fully, though, and at their worst, some Members do sound like patronizing teachers when they acknowledge problems but do not share any further details, or dismiss them in facile ways. (See Chair Miernicki’s suggestion that, because something appears in the curriculum guide, this must automatically mean there is equal access to classes at both high schools. Please. And what is this nonsense about a full year of lifeskills—by far the most useless class I had in ISD 709, though that was perhaps related to the teacher—instead of offering Spanish at Lincoln Park?) It’s all part of the culture of secrecy inside the District. It may not look like it exists from inside the bubble, but it does, and it’s glaring. Read this DNT op ed and some of Harry’s correspondents for more details.

The public speaker session included Linda Puglisi’s jarring story of a pool rescue, once again showing the horrors of teachers trying to do the best they can with large class sizes. Another speaker hammered this theme home when discussing Lester Park, and I’ve heard similar stories out of Congdon. Not coincidentally, these schools are on the east side; in addition to serving the area of the city with the most young people, they are the ones families are trying to transfer into, often blackmailing the District with threats of withdrawal if they don’t get their way. Even so, class sizes are still a problem, despite a few added teachers here and there thanks to the levy money. This Board has some work to do, and it needs to do more than “have conversations”–though in some cases, it isn’t even doing that.

On that happy note, I’ll cut myself off. Writing about Duluth politics is cathartic. I miss it, in a twisted sort of way.

Holistic Government: Duluth City Council Notes, 7/21/14

21 Jul

It was a hot and sticky day in Duluth, but a decent crowd still made its way into the humid Council Chamber on Monday night. To kick off the proceedings, CAO Montgomery announced that all Council broadcasts are now closed-captioned, while Councilor Julsrud updated everyone on the Georgetown University Energy Prize, which will be awarded as part of a friendly competition between cities to reduce energy costs and change the culture around its consumption. (Hopefully having an illustrious alumnus in town will sway the committee.)

The Council began formal business with the host of resolutions that had been tabled the prior week, beginning with a move to again table the DECC casino plan. Next came the reappointment of several members of the Spirit Mountain board. Councilor Julsrud had held this one back because she’d originally had designs of splitting it up for votes on each individual, making good on her promise to “crack the whip” on Spirit Mountain’s financial management at a previous meeting. After further review, however, she declared herself confident in the “cultural shift” underway in Spirit’s leadership, and, after all four candidates got an endorsement from Spirit’s board chair, it passed unanimously.

Next up was the case of the Twins Bar, an East Hillside establishment whose liquor license was in danger due to excessive police calls and crime. Mr. Carl Green, who runs the bar, tried to plead his case, saying he’d already surrendered the license, disputing the number of police calls, charging racism, and threatening to sue. The Council, however, spoke with one voice, articulated by Councilors Gardner and Fosle: Mr. Green’s beef was not with the Council, which simply was there to authorize the “very clear” report from the Alcohol, Gambling, and Tobacco Comission. The Council meeting was “not a hearing,” Councilor Fosle explained, and Councilor Gardner spoke of the many complaints she’d received about the bar. The license was revoked unanimously.

Two Park Point residents spoke on the next resolution, which authorized St. Louis County to go forward with the sale of tax forfeit land on the Point. Both complained that past sales had been offered to the neighbors first; this one, which would sell the block-long properties in a single chunk, would like prove too expensive for residents and be snapped up by a developer. Councilor Gardner went to bat for them, drawing an explanation out of Mr. Mark Weber from the County as to the statutes surrounding the land. He was open to dividing the parcels, though this could be done at a later date; the Council, however, exercised caution, with Councilors Sipress and Fosle arguing in favor of tabling so as to allow further discussion and perhaps attach an amendment. It was tabled 8-1, with only Councilor Russ insisting on prompt action.

The longest debate of the night was about a plan to construct a city water main on 85th Avenue West, whose 13 houses are currently serviced by an often faulty private line. The whole process was a debacle: first there was grant money, then there wasn’t, then there was some for the 4 lowest-income households, and the city had to figure out how to assess the residents for the rest. CAO Montgomery recommended assessing everyone the same amount, since house tapped the water line once, while Councilor Fosle proposed an amendment that would instead charge by each property’s foot frontage on the street. There were six citizen speakers; four for the by-foot assessment, one for equal assessment, and one who appeared to oppose the plan entirely. Both sides agreed there was no good answer here, and people would feel jilted regardless; Councilor Fosle said that a majority got a somewhat better deal with his version. He’d done his due diligence and had figures ready for each household, which was enough to sway most of the Council; Councilor Julsrud was one of the few critics, and she came at it from a different direction, worrying that Councilor Fosle’s plan—which would require another return to the neighborhood for review—would only prolong an ugly process that had pitted neighbors against one another. It was a respectful and cautious debate in which established battle lines were irrelevant, and in the end the by-foot amendment passed 7-2, with Councilors Julsrud and Russ in opposition. The amended version then passed 8-1, with Councilor Julsrud as the lone ‘no.’

A discussion on the future of Hartley Nature Center also took a while. There were four citizen speakers, with three in favor and one railing against the disruption of habitat. Mr. Waylon Munch of the COGGS biking group talked about the compromise involved, and Hartley Nature Center Executive Director Tom O’Rourke spoke the importance of environmental education. While the group did not have an official representative at the meeting, he also noted the criticism of Hartley education programming sponsor Gender Matters, which objected to aspects of forest management and the possible restoration of Tischer Creek’s natural, un-dammed flowage.

When the Councilors took up the issue there was much bashing of the original redesign, which included paved trails and seemed to go way too far toward recreation. There was also much happy talk about experiences in Hartley, with Councilor Gardner reminiscing on going berry-picking in Hartley Field (when it was still called that) with her grandmother, Councilor Julsrud waxing about moonlight skis and getting in a Joni Mitchell reference, and President Krug saying that all of her experiences with Hartley involved getting lost. The Hartley Field reference showed how much the site has changed over the years, reminding everyone that humans are indeed a part of the natural habitat, too; Councilor Larson spoke of “stewardship” (an excellent word), and Councilor Sipress thanked people for speaking up and being passionate about parks so as to arrive at a plan most people liked. Councilor Fosle thanked the Hartley staff, and the resolution passed unanimously.

The final resolution on the agenda authorized a consultant to do a review on the main branch of the Duluth Public Library facility; as Councilor Larson explained, it has its issues, from a bad h-vac system to safety concerns to general architectural weirdness. She heartily endorsed the consultant, which pleased Councilors Gardner and Sipress after the criticism of the Hartley consultant; Councilor Julsrud went further than most in saying she wouldn’t mind seeing the thing torn down. Councilor Fosle alone thought the library had architectural merit, and while he supported the resolution, he did warn the Council that they were likely to get a “fancy book” asking them to spend lots of money they probably didn’t have on a redesign. It passed 9-0.

The Council pushed through its ordinances with some scattered debate but no serious disagreement. Matching funds for West Duluth tourism projects passed unanimously, while Councilor Fosle was happy to hear that a sewer-lining process was nearing its close. An ordinance eliminating the redundant posting of rental notices in owners’ homes also sailed through, and while Councilor Fosle wanted more answers and ultimately voted against the plan to annex a portion of Midway Township (mostly parkland), it passed without any other objections. At the end, Councilor Fosle thanked the Councilors and other city staffers for their support in recent weeks, as his granddaughter underwent surgery to remove a lobe in her lung. (After a minor complication, she appears to be fine.)

Despite it being a long night in a room without air conditioning, this was a model city council meeting. Sure, it probably helped that there weren’t any life-or-death issues up on Monday night, but there was an interesting array of topics, and each one got its due diligence. There was serious debate, but general agreement in the end, and on many of the measures the debate transcended the issue at hand and took up broader principles. And yet things remained very even-handed and respectful; it seemed like everyone there genuinely enjoyed their work, even when it was difficult. Both the populist impulse for citizen representation and an interest in intelligent planning from a distance were well-represented, and there was also refreshingly little politicking or grandstanding. This is how local government should work.

I would say it’s a very balanced council, but the word “balanced” has always struck me as a bit lame, aspiring for equity for equity’s sake instead of a higher aim. It is also far from being politically balanced, and the lack of obvious left-versus-right issues on Monday probably helped the good vibes. Instead, I might offer up the word “holistic”: there was a thoroughness to the Council’s work that is not often seen in government, with the varying perspectives and recognition of broader strains of thought, all coming together into something coherent. For one night, at least, the Council deserves a lot of credit, and they now have themselves a midsummer break to rest on their laurels and head out to the beach (where their trips will, hopefully, not be interrupted by a bunch of ugly, piss-yellow signs that have cropped up in some areas). They’ve earned it, but they’ll have to be back at it before too long, and they’ve set a high bar that they ought to aim for again and again.

Art Johnston Under Siege: Duluth School Board Notes, 6/17/14

18 Jun

With a meeting that fell five minutes short of four hours, the ISD 709 School Board endured a grueling, painful marathon on Tuesday night. I’m only going to comment briefly on the meeting at the end of this post. Part of me is very frustrated that I have to do this, and that the circus surrounding one man overpowers the interest in the far more pressing affairs looming over the District. But it’s impossible to understand everything else that happened on Tuesday night without the overall context.

That looming bit of context, of course, was last week’s headline news: Member Art Johnston is under review for alleged improper conduct. I was unable to attend the special meeting due to the frustratingly short notice given to the public, and I have some reservations about saying too much, given that my only sources of information are hearsay and a paper of which I have a rather ambivalent opinion. Still, my initial reaction was much in line with the Duluth News Tribune’s editorial over the weekend: is this really necessary?

There were eight public speakers in Member Johnston’s defense, and in addition to a lot of other noise, they put forward one key criticism, best articulated by Ms. Denette Lynch: it seemed like a very poor use of the District’s resources to investigate something that seemed like a personal dispute between Member Johnston, Chair Miernicki, and Supt. Gronseth. The majority of the group came from the familiar crowd of Johnston supporters, that curious coalition of the sincere anti-Red Plan crowd and people who are affronted by any spending on education whatsoever. Member Welty had to talk one out of displaying his large “Fire Gronseth” sign, and the crowd of Johnston supporters, numbering perhaps twenty, whooped and laughed and cheered throughout the speeches. (Chair Miernicki made no effort to stop them, which would normally bother me no matter the topic, but given the delicacy of the power dynamic at play here, it was probably the right decision. Indeed, after five months of being rather unimpressed with Chair Miernicki’s leadership, I thought he started to come into his own on Tuesday night.)

Two speakers did stand out from the crowd. One, DFL activist Brad Clifford, put forth a broader defense of minority rights and the benefits of debate and dissention, quoting several prominent liberal politicians and saying the votes of the citizens of District Four (in favor of Johnston) ought to be respected. The other was Ms. Jane Bushey, Member Johnston’s partner, whose emotional speech jived with the general outline of the Reader account. She said “lies, accusations, and assumptions” from a Duluth East administrator had led to a request that she be moved elsewhere in the district, which HR had unquestioningly accepted. “I just want to do my job,” she said, condemning the “bullies” who were out to get her. Member Johnston’s conflict of interest in the affair and “abuse related to a staff member” constituted two of the charges against him, and are apparently the reason he sought out Chair Miernicki and Supt. Gronseth for a scolding at the Duluth East graduation.

Another charge that got plenty of mention was the alleged assault, as people indignantly wondered where the police report was. The problem here, I gather, is the awful legalese used in the accusations. In my reading of the charges, no one is technically accusing Member Johnston assault. He’s being accused of something that falls under the umbrella of “alleged assault or otherwise improper conduct.” Ditto for the “racist” accusation: the complete claim is “alleged racist or otherwise improper comments.” These are horrifically worded categories that—I presume—make the accusations sound far worse than they actually are. Knowing what I do of the incident, Member Johnston is accused of the “otherwise improper” actions. Any other claim couldn’t stand on two legs, and I doubt Supt. Gronseth and Chair Miernicki are dumb enough to push that far. Instead, they thought highly charged comments and apparent conflict of interest were enough to cross the line and launch the inquest.

The “otherwise improper” categories are obviously a legal grey area. Without knowing more, I still stand by my initial assessment: this seems like a needless distraction, and one that only empowers Member Johnston’s narrative of victimhood at the hands of the rest of the Board. What’s laughable about all of this, really, is Member Johnston’s powerlessness; sure, he can cause a stink and badger people with his questions, but when it comes to actual policy influence, his achievements are minimal. The investigation gives him a soapbox to gain more attention, drags out old fights in the negative PR, and works against the general trend of the past few months, in which Member Johnston had been more agreeable than in the past.

Still, two things struck me over the course of this meeting: the number of times that I agreed with the thrust of Member Johnston’s questions and comments (which was fairly often) and the fact that, in spite of that, he still had me cringing in exasperation every time he turned on his light. Before the meeting, I had some pre-written language ready that would have mounted a much more vigorous defense of his rights. But, after Tuesday’s display, I had to throw it out. I cannot use it in good conscience.

Part of this is a style problem. Brevity is not one of Member Johnston’s strong suits. He trails on and on, repeats himself unnecessarily, and when he doesn’t get answers he wants, he will continue to ask questions, knowing full well he won’t get the desired response. He seemed to relish every such opportunity on Tuesday, thus leading to the meeting’s absurd length. It’s his way of proving a point. It isn’t uncivil, per se, but it comes across as domineering and tiresome. It lacks all perspective, and it wears people down and makes them feel like they’re being scolded. Sure, he makes occasional overtures to finding common ground, but his comments are suffused with such a lack of trust of anyone else that it’s hard to find them wholly sincere. Again, this is not all his fault, but one wonders at what point the well becomes too poisoned to be of any use.

Moreover, he has an ally on the Board in Member Welty who, despite similar voting patterns, comes off entirely differently. He’s eloquent, and manages to maintain a sharp focus on the issues that most concern him (namely, the threat of standard operating debt) without belaboring the point. A well-honed opposition message has considerable potential, and based on Member Welty’s success, might even stand to do well in elections in places other than the most anti-establishment district in the city. It just isn’t correct for Member Johnston to act as if he is not part of his own problem.

Member Johnston’s failures don’t absolve the rest of the Board of its shortcomings. On Tuesday night, it came to light that he and Member Welty were having trouble getting things on the agenda, while majority Board members were not. While the Administration deserves some leeway in agenda creation if the items in question have already been beaten to death, the “minority rights” argument does pull significant weight. I voted for Harry Welty; I like good debate and serious questions. I do find it frustrating that the Administration can’t answer all of his questions, particularly the ones pertaining to the District’s long-term finances. He needs some people to work with him.

Sadly, the only one he has right now is someone whose personality has grown so large that it overwhelms everything else that happens. Despite the loss of an agreeable vote, I suspect Member Welty might actually be able to make more headway without the specter of Member Johnston’s outbursts looming over the Board. Member Johnston may think he’s shedding light in dark places, but in the end, his relentless questioning only serves to obscure the most pressing issues. He has got to learn how to choose his battles. His reaction is a microcosm of the whole anti-Red Plan movement that got him elected in the first place: it’s an eclectic group unified only by its opposition to something, and when it finds itself stonewalled by an imperious majority, we’re left with a lot of cathartic primal screaming that drowns out substance, leading to inevitable fracturing as everyone beats their own drums. The movement stays in the headlines, yet it achieves not a single one of its objectives. They’d rather go down kicking and screaming than be so audacious as to imagine a different paradigm. The few who hazard steps in that direction, like Member Welty, find themselves rather lonely.

In a rather fitting paradox, a discussion over The Civility Project’s nine tools of civility introduced for re-affirmation by the Board illustrated this problem best. Member Welty made a few reasonable critiques of the “subjectivity” of the whole thing, but concluded by saying he hoped it would help the District “find its better angels.” Member Johnston, after hitting a few similar notes, piled on from there, condemning left and right before attempting to haul Ms. Anita Stech, an advocate for the Civility Project, up to the podium for questioning, asking this poor woman to play judge and jury on past incidents in which he thought members of the Board had been uncivil to him. I agree that the project could be fairly empty in content if people are too locked into their views to take its points in good faith. But to expect a couple of community volunteers to wade into this mess is self-serving, and misses the point completely. (The parties in question would also be accused of partisanship the second they weighed in. Do we seriously want some self-appointed Civility Police roaming the city? Do people honestly think that would end well?) The whole special resolution was a reminder of a guideline, not a binding legal contract. (On the other end of the spectrum, Members Westholm and Seliga-Punyko raised some silly objections to Member Johnston’s ultimate attempt to include “honesty and care for other Board members” on the list, worrying about hijacking the civility people’s message. Thankfully, the majority of the Board saw that this was not worth fighting over, and passed the amendment 5-2 before the whole thing was approved unanimously.)

Perhaps this critique singles out Member Johnston when someone such as Member Seliga-Punyko is just as partisan, if not more so. She, however, has the luxury of being in the majority; she can bask in her victories without undue stress. To be an effective legislator, Member Johnston can’t just throw bombs; he needs to be able to work with his fellow Board members. To his credit, he’s tried at times. But he can’t revert to old form—not even when he gets accused of things on potentially trumped-up charges. That’s the burden of being the principled member of the minority: no matter how tempting it is to lash back, one must rise above the fray. If he can, excellent; let’s put this tiff behind us and build a better District. If not, I can’t say I’ll shed any tears if he gets the boot from the Board. He may not be the man who pulls the trigger, but he most definitely will have supplied the ammunition.

One last point: Member Johnston also seems to labor under the pretension that the incivility directed toward him is among the causes for the District’s enrollment struggles. Sure, the negative headlines don’t help, but on the list of reasons why people don’t enroll their kids in ISD 709, the plight of one cantankerous Board member is very, very far down the list. Another useful point to minority members who want to advance their cause: never over-inflate your own role in the drama. Your critics may want to make you (and not your platform) the story. Don’t let them. In doing so, you hand them the win. It’s not about you.

***

So, what did the Board do on Tuesday besides play out a drama over the representative of the Fourth District? It passed a budget, for one thing. Member Welty voted against it because of his lack of information on the long-term picture, and there was some aimless talk over whether it is better to use increased assets to rebuild the reserve fund (as Member Welty suggested) or simply injected straight back into the schools (Member Johnston). There was the aforementioned flap over how to get things on the agenda, with the majority voting down Johnston and Welty 5-2 in their effort to change things.

There was a constructive discussion in the Education Committee report on the evolving policies for students who have been bullied or sexually harassed, and Member Westholm was pleased to announce that staffing levels were the most stable he’d seen in all his years. (That’s a long time.) Member Johnston, upset with how an Administration re-shuffle had opened up the curriculum director position, voted against that particular item, which otherwise passed 6-1, and he got in his usual shtick about enrollment numbers. There was a repeat of the debate over the number of people needed to call a special meeting, with the same result as at the May meeting. Member Johnston also asked why a large number of Piedmont teachers had apparently applied to transfer schools, and Supt. Gronseth replied with a long list of reasons, from changes in leadership to opportunities in administration that had opened up. That wrapped up the meeting, a few minutes shy of 10:30. Why I do this to myself, I’m not entirely sure.

A Meeting of Epic Length: Duluth City Council Notes, 6/9/14

10 Jun

The Duluth City Council had a marathon for the ages on Monday night, enduring 4:20 of debate. (There’s a joke in there somewhere, but I won’t touch it.) There range of issues on the table ran the gamut, and in turn, there was a large, diverse crowd on hand to speak on many of the agenda items. For sanity’s sake I’m going to chop this post up by issue, rather than turn it into a dissertation; clarity will take priority over my aesthetic sensibilities so as to make sense of it all.

Introduction and Issues Inspiring Minimal Discussion

General community speakers included a Duluth East student announcing her presence and interest in more room for young people to participate in politics, a woman who worried about sinkholes, and a man with no apparent interest in being taken seriously. Councilor Fosle pulled a series of resolutions awarding parks grants and creating (or with the possibility of creating) new staffing positions so he could vote against them; they all passed, 8-1. There were no reports or updates on general issues of any significance, and nothing came off the consent agenda that hadn’t already been pulled.

Street Light Fees

First up was a plan to sunset the city’s unpopular street light fee, which had been tabled at the previous meeting. The resolution and related ordinance on the agenda aimed to phase out the fee by the end of 2018, but Councilor Fosle, the fee’s most vocal opponent, moved an amendment to slide that date up to 2015, repeating his stance that the fee constituted a double-tax. The amendment generated zero momentum; while Councilors Russ, Spiress, and Krug were sympathetic, they said the city couldn’t cut out that revenue so quickly without finding a replacement for lost revenue. The amendment failed, 1-8.

Supporters of the fee’s elimination then made their case. Councilor Gardner said the 2018 deadline was a long enough time frame to find an alternative, and Councilor Sipress explained his philosophical opposition to fees, which he called the “most unfair” type of tax. He later expressed support for a property tax increase to cover lost fee money, and several other Councilors signed on to that plan. Councilor Fosle did not, but he also joined the war against fees, reminding the audience of the time when Duluth made late night TV jokes for an aborted plan to impose a fee to fund fire departments and law enforcement.

Councilor Filipovich dissented, saying the discussion should be part of the annual budget process, and Councilor Larson worried about passing the burden off on future Councils and possible cuts to “quality of life services” such as libraries. The most vocal opposition, however, came from CAO Montgomery, who was as pointed as he has ever been. He was fine with the discussion, but said it should be part of the budget process, and that the lack of a funding plan ran counter to the “path to financial predictability and stability” that the administration has so desperately sought. A levy increase to cover the resultant shortfall “would not be modest,” and the city only had so much wiggle room in the amount it can levy while still covering everything else. President Krug agreed that it was “not responsible,” and thought the issue was being used to “teach a lesson on fees.”

Councilor Julsrud “completely disagree[d].” Fees, she insisted, are a “short-term fix,” not a long-term piece of the budget, and she said basic services should come through the levy. In the end, her logic prevailed by the narrowest of margins: the repeal of the fee passed 5-4, with Councilors Fosle, Gardner, Julsrud, Russ, and Sipress making up the piecemeal coalition.

Street Repair Fees

The Council then moved from one fee to another and took up a proposed fee to pay for street repairs. There were nine citizen speakers on the topic, all opposed, though they came at it from different angles. Some, like Councilor Sipress in the previous exchange, claimed a fee was an unfair and regressive; others, such as Mr. Joe Kleiman, preferred a fee since it spread the burden, but opposed the heavier toll this particular fee would impose upon businesses. One speaker had issues with the process, and another suggested the city strong-arm the Fon Du Luth Casino into submission so as to regain its lost revenue.

Councilor Gardner then moved to introduce an amendment, which aimed to lessen the amount of double-taxing by limiting the assessment in the first year of the fee. There was much confusion over the language of the amendment, which led to an agonizingly long bureaucratic exchange, as amendments were made to the amendment and amendments made to the amendment to the amendment before all of the amendments were pulled and one clean one was put forward. Councilor Julsrud was its most vocal opponent, wondering about costs and saying it was only “a drop in the bucket” of the larger street picture. CAO Montgomery likewise grumbled about lost revenue, but while it would involve work, he said the amendment was “doable” when pressed by Councilor Filipovich. The amendment passed 5-4, with Councilors Filipovich, Fosle, Gardner, Hanson, and Krug in support. This change was substantial enough that the ordinance must be read before the Council again at the next meeting, so the attached resolution was thus tabled as well.

Spirit Mountain

In a brief but blunt discussion, Councilor Julsrud used a resolution aiming to increase Spirit Mountain’s line of credit to “crack the whip” on its management. She complained about all of the red ink in its financials and said that “weather can’t be a repeated excuse” for an institution that must necessarily deal with winter weather. Councilor Hanson read a letter from a constituent that took Spirit Mountain to task for its failure to make payments in recent years, and noted the drastic increase in its credit limit. CAO Montgomery tried to explain the situation some, citing the particularly harsh winter as a problem, and talked up the fiscal chops of Spirit’s incoming director. Everyone echoed each other a lot, Councilor Fosle suggested they give the new director some time before grilling her, and Councilor Hanson made several abuses of figurative language. The resolution passed unanimously.

Instant Runoff Voting (IRV)

One might think that electoral systems would not be an issue that inspires heated manifestos and bitter divisions. One would be wrong.

First, Councilor Sipress introduced an amendment that altered the language of the resolution, toning down its explicit recommendation for adopting IRV and simply asking the charter commission to study it. It also removed a timeline that sought to fast-track the charter change for a November ballot initiative. The Councilors noted that the 60 day allowance for charter commission review would likely allow enough time to get the measure on the ballot this fall if approved, so Councilor Sipress’s amendment passed fairly easily. Only Councilor Fosle spoke against it, calling it a “safeguard for a flawed system.”

Eleven citizen speakers came forward on IRV. Seven, including five locals and two people from FairVote Minnesota, an IRV advocacy group, spoke in favor of its implementation. They claimed a wide array of benefits, including greater representation of underrepresented groups, the elimination of high-cost and low-turnout primaries, and relative simplicity once voters are educated. Several also pointed to the success of the 2013 Minneapolis mayoral elections, which they said had been “more civil” due to the need for candidates to court second choice votes.

Three UMD math and statistics professors also spoke on the issue, and gave a somewhat less rosy picture of IRV. They said that, despite the shiny packaging, IRV does not perform as well under scrutiny. They cited flaws in the algorithm that lead to “voter regret,” IRV’s tendency to lock in two-party systems, and data from several cities with more extensive experience than Minneapolis that had moved away from IRV. They recommended further discussion of possible alternatives and offered to further educate the public. (One has offered to meet with me, so there will be some follow-up on this in the not-so-distant future.) A final speaker in opposition (unaffiliated with the professors) worried about the fast pace of implementation and thought the elderly and disabled would struggle to make sense of IRV.

Despite the easy passage of Councilor Sipress’s amendment, several Councilors still had strong reservations about implementing IRV. (It took a while before Councilor Hanson brought it up, but it was clear that the Council’s flailing attempt to use IRV back in February was hanging over the debate.) Councilor Julsrud mounted a defense of the primary system, saying it used highly engaged citizens to weed candidates who are not serious, and that IRV’s large election fields tend to favor “big personalities.” She suggested any move to IRV should be made in conjunction with the school board and the county so as to avoid confusion. Councilor Filipovich said he became “more skeptical” the more he learned about IRV, and that there was a fundamental question of how people’s votes are counted at play. Several Councilors also disliked the process, saying it should come from citizen demand rather than from above, and that there was no demand for change or explanation of “why now.” (This strikes me as by far the weakest counterargument; there were clearly citizens in the room who supported IRV and were trying to get things moving, and this doesn’t seem like the sort of thing that needs a specific catalyst to get off the ground. If it’s properly vetted [an important ‘if’] and people approve, then go for it.)

Councilor Gardner took exception to these objections. If people really wanted to learn more, she said, they should send the recommendation on to the charter commission and let it do the work. This was their opportunity to learn more, she claimed, and it would be “closed-minded” to cut off the debate with a ‘no’ vote. Councilor Larson concurred, and insisted the conversation on IRV needed to continue.

As the debate went on, the Council’s professionalism went out the window. Councilor Fosle went into loose cannon mode, intimating that someone must be making money off the scheme to implement IRV; he also shot off about the number of speakers from Minneapolis, claiming he does not represent them. (Councilor Hanson repeated this; President Krug, an IRV champion, indignantly offered to provide addresses for all of the speakers.) Councilor Filipovich spoke far more pointedly that usual in opposition to IRV; while within the bounds of regular Council debate, President Krug tried to hurry him along, ostensibly because it was a long night and his comments weren’t all specific to the narrow intent of the resolution. Councilor Hanson continued to push her buttons with an attempt to ask questions, and while I agree that his debating style is often scattered, aimless and even grating at times (regardless of the issue), one got the clear sense that President Krug’s frustration with him had as much to do with his stance as with his method.

Councilor Hanson and President Krug traded barbs, with Hanson saying he felt like he was “being scolded by a schoolteacher,” Krug cutting him off, and Hanson saying this proved his point. The push for IRV failed 4-5, with support from Councilors Gardner, Krug, Larson, and Sipress. After the vote, President Krug topped everything off with a silly, grandstanding speech, saying “shame on you, Councilors,” for voting the proposal down, and that “you’ll have to sleep with that tonight.” Whatever the merits of a case, telling one’s colleagues that they should be ashamed of themselves has got to be among the most counterproductive options available after one has lost a close vote. President Krug leads the Council with authority, and there is much to be said for that, but she has shown an occasional tendency to allow her opinions to color her leadership and use her presidency as a bully pulpit. Her outburst at the end only confirmed this sneaking suspicion. I think (and hope) this is just an unintentional display of passion, but no matter what, it is both obvious and painful to watch. There is enough blame to go around, though: the Council lost its sense of perspective on this one.

Clayton-Jackson-McGhie Memorial Landmark Status

It was past 10:30 by the time the Council started in on an ordinance that would preserve the Clayton-Jackson-McGhie Memorial as a heritage preservation landmark, but seven speakers stuck around to support granting it that status. They cited its role as a gathering site, its importance in soothing past wounds, and its stimulation of reflection. Mr. David Woodward of the Heritage Preservation Commission explained in detail how the memorial qualified due to its place in a historic district and symbolic value, despite its relative newness. Councilor Gardner was most struck by the comments of Mr. Roger Grégoire, who said he knew of no other memorial of this type in the world, and applauded Duluth’s “extraordinary” efforts to seek “redemption.” In a vintage display of Duluthianism, if there is such a thing, Councilor Gardner said the process to establish the memorial “just seemed very natural.” The ordinance passed unanimously.  (A special Patient Cycle Award goes to speaker Portia Johnson’s teenage son, who stayed by her side through the entire night without any signs of restlessness.)

Rockridge Zoning and Conclusion

The one last thing on the agenda of some note was the re-zoning of the former Rockridge Elementary site. Mr. Mark Irving, a neighbor, stuck out the entire night to thank all parties for their work in finding a solution for everyone. It passed unanimously and without debate, prompting a sigh and a laugh from Mr. Kerry Leider of the School District, who had waited it out in the chance that something did come up. After that, I was the only person left in the audience chamber, doodling deliriously as the Council plowed through a heap of unanimously approved ordinances. In the closing comments, there was one final back-and-forth on the handling of the IRV debate between Councilor Fosle and President Krug, with Fosle saying Robert’s Rules of Order had not been followed, Krug saying the Council has a precedent of not following them religiously, and Fosle concluding by saying, “but we don’t cut people off, either.” That did cut off the debate, though, and everyone headed for the exits in exhaustion.

Planning Park Point: Duluth City Council Notes, 5/27/14

28 May

I’ve sat through a year’s worth of Duluth City Council meetings now, and in that time, there has been plenty of tedium and mundane small-town political talk that inspires little community interest. There are some nights, however, when the community turns out in force to weigh in on a certain issue, and when the gravity of the debate can overwhelm those involved. Monday night was one of those nights.

It was standing room only in the Council Chamber, and yours truly was wedged between a whole bunch of people wearing caution tape and an unsympathetic armrest at the end of the pew. At least 20 employees from the city’s Public Works and Utilities departments lined the edges of the room, dressed in their blue uniforms; their speaker, Phil Fournier, gave a very brief demand that the City honor its contract and discuss seniority issues. (This took the Council by surprise, and both Mr. Fournier and CAO Montgomery promised to share their sides of the story.) There was also a long Committee of the Whole meeting before the formal meeting, in which the Development Authority, supported by a host of developers, gave their initial pitch for a hotel and related redevelopment along the currently vacant Pier B by Bayfront Park.

The real drama on Monday, though, all had to do with the Park Point small area plan. This plan, tabled at the previous meeting, had been separated into four individual resolutions. The most contentious of their number moved the current S-curve—the point at which the main flow of traffic shifts off Lake Avenue and on to Minnesota Avenue—from 13th Street to 8th Street. The second was an alternative to the first, which left the S-curve as is but made changes to 8th Street and Minnesota Ave. between 8th and 13th Streets to accommodate more traffic. While there were a variety of reasons given for the proposed changes, the most prominent involved further development along Minnesota Ave., as a hotel is about to open there, and there is potential for further expansion. (Still, any official changes would not take place until “at least 2021,” according to Community Development Manager Keith Hamre.) The third was a relatively benign resolution on utilities infrastructure, and the fourth provided more detail on public waterfront accesses, designating three “tier one” beach accesses for heavy public use at Franklin Park, Lafayette Square, and the beachouse and eight negotiable “tier two” accesses along both sides of the Point designed with locals in mind. To further clarify the tier two accesses, Councilor Gardner added a pair of amendments, one which barred these accesses from being advertised, and one that called for more discussion on the location of the access points.

(Full disclosure before I go any further: I have a family member who lives between the Lift Bridge and the S-curve, though said family member is a renter and is unlikely to still be living in this location when any proposed plan would go into effect, and has not voiced a strong opinion on the plan.)

There were nineteen speakers on the various Park Point resolutions, and only one, Garner Moffat, the first speaker and a member of the Planning Commission, was in support of them. He said the proposals were a reasonable compromise, and also offered several alternatives for the Council to choose from. The other eighteen, while united in their opposition, made for a diverse cast; they ranged from the indignant (Mr. Mike Medlin) to the questioning (Mr. Burke Edgerton) to those concerned about safety (Ms. Melanie Goldish) to the humorous (Mr. Roy Marlow). The phrase “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” made several appearances, and several people wondered why current Minnesota Avenue tenants such as the Army Corps of Engineers had not been consulted. A few worried that an S-curve closer to the Lift Bridge would cause more congestion, as people wouldn’t be able to see what was going on; others noted that the alternative plan to simply alter the streets had been last-minute and poorly vetted. Many cited deep roots on Park Point, sharing personal and family histories dating back to the day the first carriage crossed the Lift Bridge. While the tone was largely respectful—several speakers, including Mr. Bill Burns, thanked the Council for its responsiveness to questions and willingness to visit the affected area—it was obvious that any changes would have to be forced past an army of angry residents.

After the overwhelming display of opposition, someone had to take up the unenviable task of defending the plan, and Councilor Gardner seized the opportunity. She said the plan was the result of a year and a half of hard work, was “halfway decent,” and sought to preserve the neighborhood near the bridge in the event of future construction, not destroy it. She pointed out that keeping things the same may not be possible if traffic continues to increase on the Point—which it likely will—and that it was her goal to route traffic toward commercial activity. Her suggestion that opposition to the plan was not as uniform as it seemed because proponents were scared of speaking out inspired some derisive laughter and comments from the crowd. President Krug rose to her feet, banged her gavel, demanded respect after the Council had respected the citizens’ views, and said she would order any further rabble-rousers to leave; a handful of people promptly left.  (While I don’t doubt that the majority of people who care do not support the re-design, the reaction pretty much proved Councilor Gardner’s point. Who would want to endure that sort of reception?)

Most of the Councilors were respectful of the planning process, but slowly raised doubts. Even Councilor Sipress, who supported creating a small area plan for re-routing the S-curve, made it clear he would not vote for such a change if it came before the Council in the near future. Councilor Russ said her research suggested a change would not devalue affected houses if and when the city had to seize them to reroute traffic, but still was skeptical. The most pointed critic, unsurprisingly, was Councilor Fosle, who said the changes would put citizens in a “stranglehold” and that the city should not do anything until it is a “must.” He also made the suggestion (welcomed by Mr. Hamre) that the city convert the little-used tot lot at Franklin Park into a parking lot so as to accommodate more people at the 13th Street beach. President Krug suggested another such ad hoc fix, saying street parking on Lake Avenue north of the S-curve could be moved to the lake side of the avenue to make it easier to turn out of the side streets leading away from the development on Minnesota Avenue.

The debate also went to the core of several Councilors’ beliefs. “This is exactly why I ran for the Council,” said Councilor Fosle at the start of his comments. Councilor Julsrud asked deep questions, wondering “what does leadership look like?” in situations such as these. In this case, she declared, something that caused so much “consternation” ought to be sent back to the administration. Councilor Filipovich repeated his oft-used line on how “decisions are made by those who show up,” and both he and Councilor Russ pointed out that it could be brought back even if voted down. Councilor Sipress defended the very notion of long-term planning, making it clear he was no fan of extensive Park Point development, but that a re-routed S-curve would be a sensible contingency in the event of a future “traffic catastrophe” if the development continued. Councilor Larson, who is normally relentlessly positive, questioned the cost of the project. President Krug, who rarely goes against recommendations of city staff, came out in opposition, worrying about the narrow vote in the Planning Commission and the abruptness of the rerouted curve. Only Councilor Hanson kept his silence, though his votes—four ‘nos’—made his opinions abundantly clear.

In the end, the plan to re-route the S-curve failed 2-6-1, with Councilors Gardner and Sipress in support; Councilor Julsrud abstained, saying she didn’t want to vote against a good plan but wanted further discussion, and would rather it had been tabled. The alternative plan to widen streets drew even less support, with Council Russ as the lone ‘yes’ vote, and Councilor Julsrud again abstaining. The piecemeal approach to the plan did produce some results, though, as the utility infrastructure resolution and the shorefront access routes both passed 7-2, with Councilors Fosle and Hanson in opposition. Exhausted but mostly satisfied, the Park Pointers made their way to the exits.

The Council, however, soldiered on, and while it tabled everything related to a possible street repair fee to next meeting so that the resolutions would come up at the same time as several related ordinances, there were a few speakers who stuck it out to voice their displeasure. Ms. Bev Massey wondered what the citizens would be taxed for next time, while a Mr. Woods (presented without first name) lashed out about unanswered questions and financial mismanagement. Most everything else sailed through unanimously and with minimal debate, though Councilor Fosle did lodge his usual protest vote against the purchase of a new, expensive vehicle.

After the three-hour marathon, the Council pulled things together. Councilor Larson was happy to announce that Council meetings are now live streamed online (mwahaha, now they’ll never be rid of me), and Councilor Fosle invited everyone to an ATV training later in the week. Then, finally, the Councilors could exhale—at least until they take up street repairs in two weeks.

It was not a night that made it easy to maintain perspective. The Park Point plan was an issue that could seem like a life-or-death issue for some, and a silly waste of time for others. Perhaps it’s a display of civic engagement at its finest, and the power of people to make their voices heard; perhaps it’s NIMBYism at its worst, with a mob shouting down a fairly cautious and forward-thinking plan. It’s a reminder that democracy is never clean and efficient, for good or ill, and while I’m one of the bigger proponents of local-level politics you’ll find, it was also a reminder that these town meetings are often not idyllic exercises in harmonious community-building. It’s hard, it’s controversial, and someone is going to come away unhappy in the end.

Still, smart politicians know how to ride the waves of public sentiment, and the Council did so relatively well on Monday. It was never made entirely clear why the plan was necessary at this particular point in time—surely if current traffic patterns prove unsustainable, changes could be made in the future with or without a 2014 small area plan—and the hurry to push it through doomed things from the start. While a careful review suggested the plan wasn’t half as malicious as several of the speakers made it out to be, it had lost in the court of public opinion before it ever really came forward, and was effectively dead upon arrival. I’m not sure that more public engagement was necessarily the answer here—the public was obviously pretty engaged, and the people most affected were never going to be made happy. That said, the Council was wise to pull the issue apart into separate pieces and salvage some discussions for future planning, particularly on the beach access questions, which even the vocally opposed Councilor Fosle noted contained good “safeguards” for citizen input. Between those discussions and the eternal allure of further development along Park Point, these issues are never going to die. Future Councils will simply have to navigate these choppy waters as things develop, and ideally, Monday night’s concessions coupled with a handful of successful resolutions will be enough to sustain the necessary dialogue.

Let’s Argue About Downtown Housing: Duluth City Council Notes, 5/12/14

13 May

City Hall was, apparently, the place to be in Duluth on Monday night. Most of the residents of Park Point relocated themselves to the Council Chamber, with a number wearing red “danger” tape armbands in protest of the proposed small area plan for the spit of land; it looked to be the most raucous crowd in years. President Krug, however, decided to deprive us of all the drama by announcing the plan would be tabled before the meeting even started. The Park Pointers moved their powwow out into the hallway, though a sizeable crowd remained in the chamber. The tabling of the measure meant we only had to deal with a 2-hour, 45-minute meeting instead of going past midnight.

As has been the case recently, there was a substantial, eclectic group of citizen speakers. Two came to talk up a “meet on the street” sort of block party planned for 3rd St. in Lincoln Park on July 13, where they hoped to build community; another highlighted a few events related to Bus, Bike, and Walk Month. A familiar visitor also came up to demand further information on the direction of the conversation on street repair, repeating his opposition to any tax increases to pay for it.

There was a whole heap of resolutions related to the new maurices Tower in Downtown Duluth. (Useless grammatical fact for the day: maurices is not capitalized.) They all passed unanimously, though President Krug abstained due to personal connections, and there was much celebration of the project and all of its ancillary benefits. Two Councilors, despite noting their general leeriness of excessing Tax Increment Finance (TIF) Districts, said this was very good use of TIF Districts.

The highlights of the night were three requests to endorse housing projects seeking state low-income housing credits for downtown developments. Planning Director Keith Hamre explained that they amounted to ten-year tax credits, and Councilor Larson added that this was an application process that did not cost the city, but instead asked the Council to endorse project readiness.

The first plan on the docket was the redevelopment of the existing Gateway Tower, and it was the least controversial of the three. Councilor Julsrud noted that maintaining the Gateway was much cheaper than building things from scratch, while Councilor Filipovich pointed out its “sheer mass size,” with 150 units in the building, including 50 for low-income housing. Councilor Gardner expressed tepid support due to some concerns about the management, while Councilor Folse foresaw nothing but debt. Councilor Hanson claimed he was unable to “do due diligence” on the project based on the information presented, and said the plan was “not firm in foundation.” Carla Schneider, the deputy director of the Housing and Redevelopment Authority, tried to explain how the ownership consortium would work, but failed to convince Councilor Hanson it was “shovel ready,” and he joined Councilor Fosle in opposition. The plan passed, 7-2.

Next up was a proposal to redevelop the historic Burnham Apartments, better known as the old county jail located behind Government Plaza, into low-income housing. On this project, the Councilors were almost all of one mind: the design required a lot more work before it would earn Council support. Councilor Larson said she hadn’t seen much of anything on it before tonight, while Councilor Gardner voiced concerns about the location. Still, the Councilors had kind words for the developer, a Mr. Grant Carlson, and invited him to work with them to produce a better future plan for his property. Councilor Fosle added that he’d been a “big meanie” who’d voted to have the building torn down some years before, but was pleasantly surprised there was interest in using it now; Councilor Hanson thought enough of Mr. Carlson that he ventured to be the lone vote in favor of the plan, which failed, 8-1.

The final and most controversial project involved the burned-out Pastoret Terrace, better known as the old Kozy Bar. A plan by the same developer (led by former city planner Mike Conlan) failed the previous year; this modified plan had considerably more “workforce housing” than last year’s, which was primarily low-income units. Given the building’s history and place in its neighborhood, there were plenty of strong opinions; as Councilor Gardner noted, the corner of First Street and Second Avenue East has been a “problem since 1918.” Councilor Sipress reminded everyone of the building’s architectural value, while Councilor Fosle again insisted that he would never support anything owned by Eric Ringsred, as Mr. Ringsred had once suggested the City was culpable for his business partner’s suicide. Councilor Julsrud echoed the worries about Mr. Ringsred, saying the past did not predict a happy future; as much as she wanted to be hopeful and see something “literally rise from the ashes” on that site, she said that “we can hope all we want, but we’re the City Council, not a church.”

There were concerns about the project’s role in a broader vision for downtown Duluth as well. CAO Montgomery said the Administration would prefer market-rate housing on the site, and posed a broader question on the concentration of housing downtown. Councilor Hanson picked up on this theme, saying low-income housing was far too heavily concentrated in that area; “is that all we have going for us?” he asked, and wondered about the impact on the police. He also shared a “personal antidote” [sic] about what he saw as inconsistent standards in the city’s evaluation of blighted properties.

The project’s chief defender was Councilor Gardner, who commended the developers for having their “ducks in a row” this time around. She said the Pastoret building was in jeopardy after several harsh winters in its burned-out state, and that its developers ought to be held to the same standards as the others. She noted that the immediate neighborhood was “practically dead,” and bemoaned some of the unsavory activities taking place at the Clayton-Jackson-McGhie Memorial across the street. Councilor Filipovich joined her in exhorting the Council to pass the plan, noting it was their big chance to revitalize the corner, and that the LLC in charge of the project had a “proven track record.” Councilor Sipress noted that there was plenty of focus on low-income and more upscale housing in Duluth, but that the working class was largely being left out, and the majority of the Pastoret units, aimed at single individuals making 25 to 30 thousand dollars a year, would help fill that need.

There was an amendment to give this particular a top priority tag; this was mostly forgotten as the Councilors rushed to debate the merits of the project, and in the end it ultimately failed 6-3, with Councilor Larson explaining that it might be “confusing,” and that the state should do its due diligence to vet the projects. The project itself passed by a 6-3 margin, with Councilors Fosle, Julsrud, and Hanson in opposition.

There was also a pair of items on the agenda that were not immediate City Council business, per se: a resolution supporting the Women’s Economic Security Act (WESA) moving through the state legislature, and another taking a stand against a proposed Canadian nuclear waste facility near Lake Huron (thus potentially polluting the Great Lakes). Both issues brought out several passionate speakers who all asked the Council to move the initiatives forward. The resolutions prompted the expected grumblings from Councilor Fosle, who said they were out of the Council’s jurisdiction, and would be better advocated by direct personal letter; while he’d play along tonight, he said, he’d never support such a measure again. The WESA was made somewhat more confusing by the fact that it had already been signed into law the day before by Governor Dayton; for her part, Councilor Gardner claimed it did not go far enough in expanding things such as child care and sick leave. Still, it brought out some impassioned defenses by several Councilors, including a personal antidote (sorry) from Councilor Julsrud, who told of her father’s refusal to allow her to work in the family construction business when she was 18. Councilor Sipress told of the process behind the nuclear waste resolution, saying Duluth would be one of many Great Lakes cities and organizations to join the protest, and that it would be passed along to numerous Canadian governmental and regulatory bodies during a required comment period, not “tossed in a wastebasket,” as Councilor Fosle said it would. The WESA resolution passed unanimously, and only President Krug voted against the nuclear waste resolution, labeling it “too broad.”

By the end of the meeting President Krug was trying to hustle things through to end the long night, and even Councilor Gardner was “running out of words.” A grant related to something called “tactical urbanism” was deemed “cool” and passed unanimously, as did a couple of land transfers and a thrilling sprinkler ordinance. Councilor Larson took a brief moment to talk up many things happening at the library, including a functioning elevator (hooray!), a new digital microfilm machine, and a novel seed library idea.

Despite everyone’s exhaustion, there was a lengthy and rather contentious comment period at the end that involved much muttering. Councilor Larson updated everyone on the city’s street repair plan, explaining that it was an $8.50 per month fee that will sunset, and that the unpopular street light fee will also be phased out. This had CAO Montgomery wondering how exactly the Council planned to replace these funds if they seriously wanted to focus on road repair, leading Councilor Gardner to scoff at the notion that the city couldn’t come up with those $2.1 million over three years. In response, CAO Montgomery warned that this was turning into the casino issue all over again.

This also led to a spat between President Krug and Councilor Hanson, who was frustrated by what he believed to be a lack of information and transparency in the whole street planning process. He said the council was “not inclusive,” with people leading certain projects while others were left out, and wanted to know where he could get his questions answered. President Krug, tired of it all, gave a halfhearted lecture before finally pushing everyone to the exits. (It was, frankly, a difficult meeting for Councilor Hanson, who gave the impression that he was in over his head on several issues. To his credit, he is aware of this, and seems to want to do something about it.)

To wrap things up, I apologize for any typos, as I wrote most of this while also watching the Wild game and intermittently yelling things and hyperventilating. Damn you, Patrick Kane.

In Which the Councilors Talk for a Very Long Time About Lots of Different Things: Duluth City Council Notes, 12/9/13

10 Dec

On Monday night, scores of Duluthians braved brutal roads to attend a three-hour marathon city council meeting. It was the largest crowd I’ve seen yet, even after the thirty or so high school kids—there on behalf of the Duluth delegation of Youth in Government, as one of their number explained as the sole citizen general speaker—cleared out after the first few issues. No one spoke in a public hearing on the budget, and CAO Montgomery was happy to announce that southbound I-35 would re-open this Wednesday, following extensive repairs. Councilor Larson also plugged two events rescheduled after last week’s snowstorm, a community development public hearing for today (Tuesday) and the Libations at the Library fundraiser this Wednesday at 6:30. (I’ll give that one a strong endorsement.)

Councilors pulled two items off the consent agenda, and Councilor Fosle was confused for confusing reasons over why a third item had been pulled, but once that was over with, it passed unanimously. Councilor Gardner’s pulled resolution concerned an agreement with a law firm for legal services in grievance arbitration with unions; she wanted to know where this money would go, as she’d heard on the news that some of it might go to a case involving a Duluth police officer recently acquitted on charges of brutality for this. (Warning: violent video.) Councilor Fosle took her concerns a step further and made it quite clear he wanted the officer removed, and somehow this became grounds for voting against the resolution. A citizen speaker came up (rather unusually) in the midst of this discussion to say that outside legal help would be a good idea in this case due to perceived conflicts of interest. This prompted CAO Montgomery to give some history on past outside legal help in arbitration cases, saying the city has moved to keep them internal in recent years, and only uses the outside law firm when it needs specific help. This satisfied everyone but Councilor Fosle, and it passed, 8-1.

Next up was a return to the debate over whether to use Community Investment Trust (CIT) funds to service street debts, a proposal that twice failed to reach the necessary 7-vote supermajority needed when Garry Krause was on the Council. He has since been replaced by Councilor Hanson, however, and he made his intentions clear right off the bat, breaking the silence of his first two Council meetings to introduce an amendment guaranteeing that any funds from a court settlement with the Fon Du Luth Casino would go back into the CIT. While technically a redundant amendment due to city charter stipulations, the Councilors liked its clarity, and, after some wrangling about the wording that Atty. Johnson settled, the amendment passed unanimously. The actual vote generated a little more debate, as Councilors Fosle and Stauber reiterated their opposition, with Councilor Stauber noting that the city’s bond rating has actually improved in recent months despite the measure sitting in traction. Councilor Gardner and CAO Montgomery had immediate rebuttals, saying the rating agencies had specifically noted this measure’s likely passage as a reason. Councilor Hartman pointed out that the CIT is designed to pay for streets and is nowhere near as liquid as the general fund, while Councilor Hanson talked about the amount of thought he had put into the issue before deciding to support it. The measure passed, 7-2.

The Council then moved on to a resolution exploring the feasibility of creating an ATV trail in Duluth. ATVs have been banned on city public land since 2004, but now a group of ATVers, with help from Councilor Fosle, is looking for a place to ride in town. There were six citizen speakers on the issue. Four were from the ATV community, and gave various reasons to support the measure; one was disabled and could not hike city trails well, another talked about efforts to train young people (whose illegal usage of ATVs was at the root of the initial ban) in responsible ATVing and new legislation that has gone into place, and several talked about the economic benefits of bringing in ATVs. A fifth speaker, a representative of the COGGS biking group, took no clear stance on the issue, but made it clear that he expected any ATV trail to go through rigorous assessments, and should not share an existing bike trail. The final speaker, Mr. Erik Viken of the Parks Board, asked for some clarification from Councilor Fosle, and said the ATVers should develop their own proposal rather than handing it to the Parks Board at this time, lest they place an undue burden on the Board.

Councilor Larson then introduced an amendment to focus the review to sites to the west of Cody Street. As Councilor Fosle explained, the likely site for the trail is the former DWP railroad line, which can certainly handle the impact of motorized vehicles; the amendment would allow the planners to focus on that specific area. Councilors Julsrud and Stauber expressed their opposition; both thought it neglected the rest of the city, while Councilor Julsrud added worries about the resolution’s vagueness and the burdens on the Parks Board when the city had already identified other priorities for parks. Councilor Krug declared herself open to being persuaded; Councilor Larson said focusing on the west side made sure the project would move forward, and Councilor Hanson pointed out that people will have to take ATVs to trailheads on trailers no matter where it is. The amendment passed, 7-2.

Discussion then moved on to the resolution proper, and Councilor Fosle insisted that these were merely baby steps. Councilor Stauber, hoping this would be a gateway to further ATV trail-building, announced his support as well. Despite reservations over ATVs, Councilors Hartman and Gardner said it was only fair that the city go ahead with the feasibility study; the “city has a mandate to represent everyone,” including ATV riders, Councilor Krug added. Speaking more pointedly than usual, CAO Montgomery said that if this really is a gateway to broader ATV usage in the city, environmental damage caused by illegally-ridden ATVs is very real, and that the trail is unlikely to change this fact. He said local ATV groups must rein rogue riders in, noting that snowmobile groups had successfully done so in the past, so it is possible. Councilor Julsrud reiterated her points about priorities, but was the lone ‘no’ vote, as the resolution passed, 8-1.

One of the ATV people spoke on the next issue as well, which asked the state to raise a speed limit on rural St. Louis River Road. Councilor Fosle took up the cause, and found supporters in Councilors Stauber and Gardner; given the road’s location and apparent usage, they thought the 30 MPH speed limit unusually low. CAO Montgomery did not recommend approval, however, saying that city engineers and police both had their reasons for the lower limit. The rest of the Council agreed, saying their process ought to be respected, and deferred to the experts. The resolution failed, 6-3; Councilor Fosle asked if roads could be annexed to neighboring communities, and got a ‘yes’ out of Atty. Johnson.

Six hardy speakers had waited out the discussions for the next Council issue, which was a proposal that restored the Heritage Preservation Commission’s (HPC) ability to bestow historic landmark status on local buildings. All six supported the ordinance; their most convincing speaker was Mr. Tony Dierckins of Zenith City Online, who told the Council not to be “afraid of landmark status.” He said the HPC was merely an advisory committee to the Planning Commission and the Council, which had final say, and that owners could always appeal. Ms. Caroline Sundquist added that threats of lawsuits were overblown, as HPCs’ authority to bestow historic status has been upheld time and time again in courts.

Councilor Gardner then expressed her support, saying the original removal was an error that had to be fixed. She worried about the city losing its status to certify historic sites, and pointed out several projects that had benefitted from landmark designation, such as Sacred Heart, Fitgers, and Tycoons. Councilors Larson and Hartman agreed, while Councilor Stauber, though joking that his age made him well-aware of the importance of old things, did not. He said the HPC’s loss of authority was “no accident,” and that the administration had known what it was doing in stripping away its powers. He thought the HPC had gone too far in the past; any property owner not wanting historic status foisted on their building would have to “go on the defensive” and hire lawyers. The HPC’s role, he concluded, should be limited to working with owners in a cooperative way to establish historic status.

Councilor Fosle asked CAO Montgomery if this was an accurate portrayal of the administration’s past stance, and he said it largely was. He added that the administration was okay with the changes, so long as the Council understood that these processes require care. While there are obvious benefits to historic status, he added that they can sometimes add costs and tie things up. (This suggestion had the pro-HPC people in the audience throwing up their hands in disbelief.) Councilor Julsrud counseled a pragmatic approach, saying the Council should support the HPC unless it starts throwing around designations in an undisciplined way, in which case its status could be again revoked. The ordinance passed, 7-2, with Councilors Stauber and Fosle in opposition. The remaining ordinances passed unanimously, despite Councilor Larson’s joking threat to filibuster one of them just to make the meeting drag on even longer; one of the ordinances in question adapted a historic church for use as a dance studio.

Despite a lengthy meeting with plenty of debate, the Council saved its biggest fireworks for the comment section at the end of the night. Councilor Gardner reminded the Councilors that anyone hoping to be Council President or Vice President in 2014 had to declare their candidacy by the end of the next meeting. Councilors Fosle and Larson promptly threw their hats in the ring for VP, while Councilor Krug said she would seek the presidency; Councilor Julsrud said she would wait until 2015, despite having had several people encourage her to go for it. Councilor Krug asked CAO Montgomery for an update on plans to annex part of Rice Lake Township; he assured her that they were merely in a conversation stage, and that the township will certainly vote on the measure if it moves forward. The measure would be nonbinding, though he said he had no interest in a hostile takeover.

Councilor Fosle made his opposition to the annexation immediately clear, saying he’d be at a Rice Lake town hall meeting the next night to “tell them the truth”: that Duluth is just trying to add population for government aid purposes, and that this would saddle them with all sorts of new fees and taxes. “There’s more going on here,” he said, not for the first time. This drew an upset reaction from CAO Montgomery, who said that it’s “not all conspiracies and black helicopters.” He insisted that the township’s residents would be consulted, and that their taxes would be lower in the end. He lived in a township, he said, and understood the emotions at play in the debate. Councilor Gardner likewise lashed out at Councilor Fosle, saying it was “not appropriate” for councilors to attend township meetings and try to influence an emotional discussion. She reminded Councilor Fosle that he is a representative of the city, and that he should not pretend otherwise by referring to the city government as “you guys,” thus excluding himself.

Councilor Krug apologized for bringing up the annexation debate, though she was nonetheless happy to see dialogue, while Councilor Julsrud offered cautious support for annexation, hoping rationality would prevail over emotion. Councilor Fosle got the last word, simpering that the Council’s reaction had already “let me know that I don’t stand a chance at being Vice President.” He insisted these were just the facts, not a conspiracy theory, and that CAO Montgomery and people like him moved to townships to escape the big government found in cities.

On that cheery and friendly note, the Council wrapped up its business. It’s hard to sum up such a busy night in a few short words, but it was largely a productive meeting, with many predictable sparring lines, and also a few mild surprise stances. Councilor Fosle’s busy night, I think, showed why he should not be in Council leadership, though I don’t necessarily say that as a condemnation: the man is an eternal insurgent, and is most effective when lobbing bombs from places where people don’t necessarily expect. I think it’s healthy to have that on the Council, but probably not in a leadership position, especially since he has few allies. The efficient Councilor Krug and consensus-building Councilor Larson are probably better-suited for leadership roles.

The final meeting of the year takes place next Monday, and will also be the final meeting for the outgoing Councilors Hartman and Stauber. I’ll wrap up the year and say a few words about them in next week’s write-up.

A Bad Night for E-Cigarettes, Bond Debt Resolutions, and Brevity: Duluth City Council Notes, 9/9/13

10 Sep

First off, it’s primary election day…if you’re a Duluth resident and you haven’t voted yet, you have until 8:00. Get out and vote! I’ll have some comments on the results either later tonight or tomorrow afternoon.

A substantial crowd was on hand on a rather disgusting, drizzly Duluth night on Monday, and the Council tried to put its best side forward, with all its gentlemen donning more formal wear than usual (save Councilor Fosle, who wore his regular black polo shirt uniform). Many of the issues introduced or unresolved at the last meeting were back on the agenda, leading to a very long night (and, thus, a very long blog post summary). Councilor Krause opened the meeting by announcing he would not retire until after the next meeting, a change that caused a lot of confusion later on as the Council tried to figure out a timeline to appoint a replacement.

After hearing from a speaker on the proposed Canal Park revitalization who also had some issues with street lights, the Council cleaned up the confusing road salt issue from the previous meeting, with Ms. Linda Ross Sellner again scrutinizing the funding practices and noting environmental damages caused by salt. Councilor Fosle concurred with her worries and hoped that more sand would be used in the future, and with her concern noted, the resolution passed, 9-0, as did the consent agenda.

President Boyle then moved the issue with the largest public interest to the top of the agenda, and no fewer than thirteen speakers came forward to address three ordinances that amended the City Code to regulate the sale and use of electronic cigarettes. Most of the speakers were in support of the regulations, and the anti-smoking crowd was well-organized and had solid public speakers. Several doctors, healthcare professionals, and members of the American Cancer Society came forward to decry e-cigarettes, expressing their worries about health, secondhand smoke, normalization of smoking around children, and the utility of e-cigs as a smoking cessation device. Three speakers countered them, however; one ranted about bad government regulating things excessively, one asked the Council to put things off until further evidence emerged, and Mr. Brian Annis—a leading advocate who aims to open an e-cig business—returned to cite several studies countering those mentioned by the opposition.

The first of the three amendments would also prove the most contentious, as it sought to eliminate a loophole in the Minnesota Clean Air Act that allows sampling of products in businesses. (The measure would also ban such establishments as hookah bars.) Councilor Krause, in search of a compromise, suggested an amendment with a very strict standard: only businesses with more than 80% of their sales on these products—basically, smoke shops—could allow sampling. This, he argued, would allow people to test the product before purchase, keep businesses in the city, and would not adversely affect children, as they are not allowed in such shops anyway.

However, it quickly became clear Councilor Krause’s amendment would face an uphill battle, as one of his potential supporters, Councilor Fosle, announced his refusal to endorse any attempt to regulate e-cigs at all. He accused the Council of a lack of faith in the state government (which is not as stringent in its restrictions) and made expert use of a red herring by saying the council should be more worried about children trying heroin and ecstasy instead of cigarettes. Councilor Gardner, on the other hand, did break away from the Council’s more liberal voting bloc and announced her support for the Krause amendment. Councilors Krug, Julsrud, and Larson said they would rather hold the line on the Clean Air Act, while President Boyle said he couldn’t support anything that marketed itself in a “cherry bubble gum cotton candy” flavor. The Krause amendment failed, 6-3, with Councilors Krause, Gardner, and Stauber in support of it.

With his amendment gone, Councilor Krause explained why he couldn’t support the ban on sampling. He emphasized property rights, saying private businesses should be able to ban e-cigs as they choose, but nothing more. He also made the point—on which all parties agreed—that existing research was inconclusive on the health effects, and that in the meantime, it made little sense to regulate something that might help people quit. Councilor Gardner agreed, and both pointed out the countless carcinogens and toxic substances we ingest in small quantities every day. Councilor Gardner (a former smoker herself) added that adults are allowed to enjoy silly flavors as well, and that they can make smokers feel less dirty about smoking as they try to quit. Councilors Larson and Julsrud shared a rather different theory of government, and insisted that the Council had an obligation to learn from past manipulations of marketers of tobacco-like products, and that e-cigs should be banned until proven healthy. The Council voted to close the sampling loophole, 6-3, with Councilors Fosle, Gardner, and Krause in opposition. Mr. Annis left the Chamber in defeat, and a loud noise could be heard from the hallway.

It was at this time that Councilor Gardner took the floor to deliver the most compelling speech I’ve seen since I began attending Council meetings. She conceded defeat, admitting that all of the e-cig restrictions “will pass, and you’ll all be happy,” but took issue with the tactics used by the anti-smoking lobby. The reliance on shame as a bludgeon, she insisted, did more harm than good to everyone involved. She noted that many smokers are poor and low-income people (often without health insurance) who are “humiliated” by anti-smoking campaigns, and claimed these are “polarizing” and “not a good way to change behavior.” She recalled her own adolescent self, and how she’d been attracted to things that were so stigmatized by the supposed do-gooders in the establishment, and wondered what would happen if the anti-smoking groups dropped their expensive shaming campaigns and instead focused their message on cessation devices. “Top-down changing ordinances are not the answer,” she said, saying they were reminiscent of the failed temperance movement. “If we’re a compassionate community, we need to think about this,” she concluded, adding that she felt better now that she’d finished her lecture. Her speech visibly affected several members of the Council and the audience, and one can only hope her words will not be forgotten.

Debate then went forward on the ban on e-cigs in public places, and Councilor Hartman was careful to note that this is not a ban on the product altogether, but merely an effort to regulate them like cigarettes, lest they become a “gateway;” Councilor Krug made similar point about the “slippery slope” of making exceptions to smoking restrictions. Councilor Krause called the measure ineffective, calling it a “band-aid” that could never rectify the “group, family, and cultural dynamics” that push people to take up smoking. Councilor Gardner largely agreed, but figured something was better than nothing, and voted for this measure; it passed, 7-2, with Councilors Krause and Fosle in opposition. The final resolution, a measure that treated the sale of e-cigs like regular cigarettes, passed 8-1, with Councilor Fosle being the lonely “no” vote. Councilor Stauber thanked Councilor Gardner for her comments and admitted that this was a “government intrusion,” and while he does not normally support them, he thought that this one was the right thing to do.

After nearly two hours on e-cigarettes, the Council then settled its tax measures for the coming year in the matter of minutes. The right-leaning bloc of Councilors Krause, Fosle, and Stauber raised a few objections, but Councilor Hartman was quick to point out the slight tax decrease, and most of the measures passed along the predictable 6-3 line. (Councilor Fosle also opposed park and bus funding measures that passed 8-1).

Next, the Council revisited the debate over servicing bond debt on street improvement (see last meeting’s notes for details).  Councilor Hartman had fine-tuned the language of the previous measure, this time making it clear that any funds from the casino settlement would be used to replenish the Community Investment Trust (CIT) fund, but the three conservatives once again refused to draw down the CIT any further. This time around Councilor Krause had his own counter-proposal, though his attempt at a compromise on the issue found even less traction than his stance on e-cigarette sampling, as it failed to attract any liberal votes or impress his two conservative colleagues. Sensing an impasse, Councilor Gardner tried to table the measures, but was voted down 5-4; forced to take a side, she continued her tour de force, demanding to know from CAO Montgomery just how much street repair interest on the CIT could fund. The answer was “less than a mile,” and Councilor Gardner rested her case, saying a gamble on the city’s credit rating was not worth less than a mile of road.

Councilor Julsrud was even more direct in her attacks on those defending the CIT, and lashed out at Councilor Krause for “playing politics” with the issue, a reference to things that must have been going on behind closed doors. Councilor Krause defended himself, again complained about the “betrayal” of the Administration that had said it would hold the line, and said he didn’t know how much CIT money the Council might need for streets in the future. Councilor Fosle griped that CAO Montgomery had claimed to be “open to proposals” but had shot them all down, and repeated his line of the night, which accused the city of excessive spending on “fancy, frilly stuff.” Twice during the meeting, Councilor Hartman effectively called his bluff: while Councilor Fosle claims to have a host of money-saving measures in mind to cut out the fancy frills, why haven’t they come before the Council? Still, both measures failed, leaving the debt service issue unresolved.

After the tedious debate over how to go about replacing Councilor Krause (in which Councilor Gardner again had an excellent line by agreeing that Krause’s replacement “shouldn’t be a flaming liberal like myself,” and instead agree with Krause on most issues, and Councilor Stauber did a lot of worrying over subverting the interests of the voters of District Four), Councilor Stauber tried to get the Council to veto an increase in natural gas rates. In a lengthy discourse, he complained that an outside firm had called for a lower rate than the Public Utilities Commission had supported, and that a newfound utilities surplus made the rate increase pointless. Councilor Julsrud commended Councilor Stauber for being “masterful at spinning things,” while Councilor Gardner called him “penny-wise and pound-foolish,” saying the increase amounted to roughly $1.05. Councilor Fosle had his usual complaints, Councilor Hartman had a rejoinder, and Councilor Julsrud said the rate increase would help build a reserve that would help to deal with “ever-changing capital needs.” Councilor Krug said the Council should listen to its commissions unless there is an “egregious” error in their work, while Councilor Krause countered that these taxing authorities often operate in vacuums and didn’t have a good sense of the big picture of city tax rates. The veto attempt failed, 6-3, with Councilors Stauber, Krause, and Fosle in support.

Exhausted, the Council did its best to hurry through most of its remaining business, though Councilor Fosle held up a few issues for comment, and was the lone ‘no’ vote against some legal fees (which Councilor Stauber said had been a “bad decision” but supported anyway). The longest debate was over a reconstruction design for Superior Street; Councilors Fosle and Krause worried about the lack of a funding mechanism, but Councilor Stauber said he was satisfied that the money was there, and Councilor Gardner expressed incredulity that anyone would hold up this project. The measure passed, 7-2. The rest of the agenda passed unanimously, Councilor Larson wished CAO Montgomery a happy birthday, and the Councilors and the four remaining audience members (including myself and two current Council candidates) were relieved to finally exit the chamber, three hours and fifty minutes after the start of the meeting.