Tag Archives: Citizen Connection Initiative

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE – APRIL 16, 2015

“Citizen Connection Initiative” – The First 100 Days

Significant Progress Made Toward Goals; Work to Continue

Crystal, MN – In January 2015, incoming Crystal City Councilmembers Olga Parsons (Section II), Elizabeth Dahl (Ward 1) and Jeff Kolb (Ward 2) announced the creation of the “Citizen Connection Initiative,” a program designed to guide their priorities and decision making throughout their term in office.

April 16 represents 100 days since the three new council members were sworn in, and there is much progress to report on the initiative.

“We are pleased to announce that the Citizen Connection Initiative was embraced by most of our colleagues on the council, and with their support we have accomplished several of the initial goals we identified,” said Parsons.

Key initiatives already accomplished include:

• Implementing new council rules to govern the council in a responsible manner

• Implementing a new tracking system to monitor feedback from residents

• Testing a new interview process for boards and commissions

• Sending thank you notes to citizens who speak at council meetings

• Began the Plain Language Initiative to streamline communications from the city to residents

• Restructuring work sessions to include dedicated time to discuss issues raised by residents

• Establishing an Ordinance Review Task Force to streamline outdated ordinances

• Kept residents informed about key issues, such as the proposed rail connection, through various channels

“While we have accomplished many of our initial goals, there is still much work to be done, and we intend to keep the focus on serving the residents of Crystal and maintaining a customer service focus in the city” said Dahl.

Ongoing and upcoming initiatives include:

• Reevaluating the structure and goals of city commissions and boards

• More neighborhood meetings throughout the summer

• A traffic symposium scheduled for this fall

• A long term branding and communications strategy

“Our goal was to make the Crystal City Government more transparent, open, and responsive to its citizens, and I think we are making good progress,” said Kolb. “I look forward to building on our success over the next few years.”

As a reminder Initial steps to the Citizen Connection Initiative included a pledge by all three incoming councilmembers to do the following:

• Maintain a personal website where they will post information about key votes made by the council

• Maintain a Facebook presence where residents can interact with their representative

• Post occasional updates to Nextdoor.com about relevant community meetings

• Strive for a 72 hour or less response time to citizen inquiries

For more information on the Citizen Connection Initiative contact the individual councilmembers using the contact information below:

Olga Parsons

612-217-2337

olga.parsons@crystalmn.gov

www.olgaparsons.com

Elizabeth Dahl

612-567-3353

elizabeth.dahl@crystalmn.gov

www.dahlward1.com

Jeff Kolb

612-314-5652

jeff.kolb@crystalmn.gov

www.jeff-kolb.com

Our meeting kicked off at 6:30 with a short work session to discuss contributions to food shelves from charitable donations, and the distribution of charitable gambling funds.  Ten percent of charitable gambling profits must be contributed to local charities, and we decided to continue to award this money to NEAR and Prism food shelves.

The council convened the regular council meeting at 7:00pm.  Immediately following the roll call, we approved the agenda, meeting minutes from the previous sessions, and the consent agenda.  This is a fairly quick process, and we moved on to the Open Forum. One resident approached to speak about the proposed rail connection project, with comments and suggestions on rail safety issues.  Brief note about the Open Forum: The council welcomes residents during this time to speak about any issues important to them.  A person has three minutes to speak, and no topic may be addressed for more than ten minutes.  We hope that more residents take this opportunity to bring their opinions and concerns to the council.  For a more informal time with the council, consider attending our Citizen Input Time.

On to the Regular Agenda:

Mayor Adams read through disbursements over $25,000.  These payments are on file, and are available to the public for review.  Previously, all disbursements were part of the consent agenda, and for the sake of financial transparency and responsibility the council moved larger expenditures to the regular agenda.   We are able to discuss these items in depth, and move to approve, deny, or table them for further conversation.

At this time the council considered the second reading of a zoning ordinance amendment allowing impound lots with a conditional use permit, and a zoning ordinance amendment regarding businesses dealing with secondhand goods.   For more information on these you may read Council Member Kolb’s previous recap here.

The council approved a financing plan for the new Public Works facility (finally)!  This has been under consideration for over a year, with much discussion and debate.  The council had three financing options: Bonding, part bonding and part cash, and all cash.  Recently, our Financial Director provided the council with numbers detailing all three options.  The numbers were clear- if the city bonds any portion of the Public Works expense there will be a tax increase for our residents.  Any conversation about bonding was a conversation about how much of a tax increase is acceptable.  My answer was No Tax Increase, especially after seeing that cash was actually a smart and reasonable financing option.  Avoiding bonding was the original plan when this project was proposed, and I was pleased to see the numbers demonstrating why.  The estimated cost is $13,500,000, with the Major Building Replacement Fund contributing the majority of the funds.  We were left with a deficiency of a little over one million, and were able to cover that with an Internal Fund Loan, which is basically a "pencilled-in" transfer of money within the city's general account.  A city's budget is much like a family budget- one bank account, but several smaller funds, so transfering from one to another is a simple book-keeping task. The Economic Development Authority also contributed $650,000.  The city will build back its funds through the current tax levy, and I anticipate that this can be done in under three years.  Past discussions revolved around the fear that the city cannot sustain this expense, however, the information provided by our Financial Director shows that our budget is entirely capable of handling this project.  Cash financing keeps Crystal fiscally secure, avoids finance charges and increased taxes.  I am happy to say that the council voted 6-1 in favor of cash, with Council Member Libby voting nay in favor of bonding.

The last item on the Regular Agenda was adopting new council rules.  Council members Jeff Kolb and Casey Peak worked together with our city attorney and staff to create a revised version of the rules, and proposed it to the council for approval.  Some of the goals they maintained are: to clarify processes and expectations, and decrease conflict; to protect the rights of both the minority and majority; to put in place good government practices that will last beyond the existing council; and to balance formality with flexibility.  The council rules were unanimously approved, and will be publicly available at every council meeting.  It is important to have a clearly defined set of expectations, and I am grateful to Council Members Kolb and Peak for completing this important project.

An EDA session immediately followed the Regular Council meeting, and we voted to authorize the sale of a lot to a developer for a construction of a new house.  Fairly quick and easy!

During the following Work Session we discussed the process of appointing residents volunteering for advisory commissions.  We are beginning the interview process for the Blue Line LRT Committees, and need to decide on a process that is fair and easy to implement.  This process will also be used when we are interviewing residents for our city commissions.  After a lengthy discussion it was decided that each applicant will be interviewed individually, with the entire council present; ranked by each council member; and a decision will be made based on the overall score.  This conversation is part of a bigger discussion on Crystal’s citizen commissions- What commissions function well, and why?  What goals do we set for our commissions?  Do we have the right ones in place?  We are making progress by deciding on the interview process right now, and will continue to discuss how to improve our commissions in the future.

That’s all for Tuesday, March 3rd!  You can watch the council meeting here, and listen to the work session here.  Please don’t hesitate to contact me with any questions or concerns!

Reminder: Please consider attending Crystal's Freight Rail Open House tomorrow, Saturday, March 7th.  Click here for details!

Congressman Keith Ellison is having his own Rail Safety Open House on Wednesday, March 11th, from 6:30-8:00pm at the Crystal Community Center.

It appears that the current theme of our council is trains.  Our evening started off at 6:15pm with a special Bottineau Light Rail Transit presentation by the Corridor Management Committee. The Corridor Management Committee exists to advise the Met Council on all issues pertaining to the project, including design and construction.  The committee is made up of local elected officials, with Mayor Adams representing Crystal.  The members presenting were Hennepin County Commissioner Mike Opat, project manager Dan Soler, and Public Involvement representative Robin Caufman.  The main objective of their presentation was to illustrate the overall scope and status of the project, as well as plans for community outreach and education.

Some interesting points: The Federal Transportation Administration New Starts program is partially funding this $1 billion project.  The price tag is only an estimation at this point.  The FTA is involved in 12 other such projects throughout the U.S.  The rest of the financing burden falls on the State of Minnesota (10%), Hennepin County (10%), and Counties Transit Improvement Board (31%).  The Counties Transit Board consists of five counties- Anoka, Dakota, Hennepin, Ramsey, and Washington.  Their vision is to fund transit projects using money derived from the quarter cent sales tax, and the $20 per motor vehicle sales tax.  The individual breakdown of the involved entities is interesting to see- Hennepin County, State of Minnesota, Metropolitan Council, the CTIB, and the Federal Government.  Our challenge as a community is to make sure our voices are heard and respected throughout this process.  It’s easy to get lost underneath all this bureaucracy and big money.

What does this mean for Crystal?  Crystal is planned for one LRT station on Bass Lake Road and Cty 81, with the train passing through the BNSF tracks along Broadway.  Our involvement in this project is addressed in the Municipal Consent Process, outlined by Minnesota Statute 473.3994.  Crystal will have an opportunity to review and approve the design of the preliminary plans, including the location of LRT track and station, pedestrian trails, and other features.  Several months ago, our city staff compiled a list of safety and noise concerns, and asked the project managers to address these issues.  We need to make sure that these issues are not swept under the rug, are approached with respect and sincerity, and properly addressed before any plans are solidified.  Mayor Adams is currently representing Crystal as a member of the CMC, and I have been appointed as an alternate during Tuesday’s meeting.

What is the timeline?  The project is currently in the development stage, with the Municipal Consent Process taking place in 2016.  The Corridor Management Committee foresees construction in 2018-20, with projected passenger operations in 2021.

What can you do?  The Corridor Management Committee is currently recruiting Crystal residents to serve on the Community Advisory Committee, and members of the Crystal business community to serve on the Business Advisory Committee.  The committees will work in tandem with Corridor Management to advise the Met Council on the project.  Please contact me if you are interested, and I will provide the details!

These are some of the details as presented by the Corridor Management Committee.  I welcome your input on this issue.  This project has the potential to dramatically change the atmosphere of our town, and it is essential that your voice is heard and taken seriously during this time.

Now on to more trains- Canadian Pacific and BNSF freight connector track update: 

Our city staff is working hard to approach this problem from as many angles as possible to ensure that the negative impact of this project is lessened, if not entirely eliminated.  We also want to use this opportunity to push for establishment of official Quiet Zones.  Train horns are on top of the list of Crystal resident frustration.  Council member Kolb has written another thorough update on this project, you can read it here.

 Approval of Phase 14 North Lions Park Street Reconstruction Project:

The council passed a resolution approving plans and specifications, and ordering the advertisement for bids for Phase 14 North Lions Park Street Reconstruction Project.  I’ve attended the neighborhood meetings for this phase, and was able to see that the reception of this project is positive throughout the neighborhood.  Initially, residents were displeased about the proposed sidewalks.  They were, however, able to voice their concerns and have the project amended to exclude any unnecessary sidewalk plans.  The financing of this project will be through special assessments, and I have stated in the past that I do not favor this method.  Crystal is in the last stages of finishing a 20-year street reconstruction process, and it appears that the last three phases will go ahead as initially projected.  My plan is to reevaluate the financing of future street maintenance and reconstruction, and make sure that we have provisions in our budget to cover these expenses without the use of special assessments.  Special assessments are indeed a tax, and to tax our residents on top of the property taxes already paid is an excessive burden.

City Hall Safety Precautions:

Following the regular council meeting, we held a second work session addressing the recent attack in New Hope, and discussed our current security provisions in City Hall. With the input of our Police Chief, we thoroughly reviewed our current policy, and agreed on several new safety measures.  Per the advice of our city attorney, this conversation took place during a closed meeting, and the recording will not be published.  Due to previous situations that have occurred during our council meetings, city staff and council members understand the difficulty of dealing with a potentially violent and disruptive situation.  We are happy to make improvements that help keep everyone safe, while protecting the rights of individuals to freely participate in city government.

Citizen Connection Initiative:

The council is currently going through a period of prioritizing and goal setting.  We have identified a number of goals we would like to accomplish, focused mainly on increasing citizen participation, building community and preventing crime, reviewing the budget process, and increasing transparency and accountability.  We hope to have a concrete timeline and specific projects outlined in the next month or two, so we can continue to work on improving our city and engaging our residents in a meaningful and rewarding way.

That is all for now!  As always, please feel free to contact me with any questions, ideas, or concerns.  I’d love to hear from you!

Click here to watch the council meeting.

Click here to listen to the work sessions.

Time for a recap of the recent council meeting!  Tuesday evening kicked off at 6:00pm with Citizen Input time.  Citizen Input time is a half hour session designed for residents to come and speak to the council, mayor, and city staff about issues most important to them.  Unfortunately, this time has been under utilized in the past.  I hope that now more residents will take advantage of this opportunity to bring their concerns and ideas forward.  I would like to create a welcoming, relaxed, and conversational atmosphere, so residents can feel confident and at ease.  Please don’t hesitate to take advantage of this opportunity!  The next Citizen Input time will be on Tuesday, February 17th at 6:00pm.  Take a look at my calendar for more event dates and details.

Immediately after Citizen Input time we held the first work session.  The agenda consisted of just one item- to discuss the apparent plans of Canadian Pacific railroad for a new freight connector track leading to the BNSF line.  It appears that the railroad companies have been planning this project for several months, and have kept our community and city staff mostly in the dark.  The new track addition will run from the CP line near the Broadway Ave intersection, and lead to the BNSF line along Broadway Ave.  The objective of this is to relieve the high traffic CP line, and allow more trains to pass through the BNSF track, which is generally less utilized.  It appears that this project will directly affect several businesses located in the proposed new track area, forcing them to either relocate, or discontinue their operation entirely.  Also, there is a potential for longer and more frequent trains, greater traffic congestion and subsequent public safety issues, and more noise.  Overall, it appears that this does not bring any benefit to our community, and only creates more stress on an already train weary area.

So, how can the train companies plan such a project without appealing to the local community for input and approval?  How can they entirely exclude our city council and staff?  The Federal Surface Transportation Board and the U.S. Department of Transportation Federal Railroad Administration regulate the railroad industry.  Railroad companies are afforded many liberties, which include the ability to unilaterally carry out projects without any meaningful input from the local community.  At this point, the Federal Surface Transportation Board is conducting an Environmental Impact study, and will invite our “input” shortly after its completion.  Will our concerns be heard, and taken into serious consideration?  Will they amend their plans, and work with us to meet our public safety goals?  It's hard to tell.  It appears that Canadian Pacific and BNSF are entirely confident in their plans, and aim to complete the project in 2015.  The council agrees that we must advocate for our community, and we will take every opportunity to do so.  This story is unfolding, so stay tuned for further updates!

Now onto the Regular Council meeting, which convened at 7:00pm in the Council Chambers.  The highlight of the meeting was the presentation of the Outstanding Agency Award to the Crystal Police Department by the MN Office of Traffic Safety.  This award recognizes the department’s efforts to increase traffic safety in our city.  Crystal PD participates in the Towards Zero Deaths program that strives to eliminate traffic related fatalities in Minnesota.  Our community has achieved a zero death rate since 2011, and has one of the lowest crash rates in the state.  The installation of “blue lights” in our most dangerous intersections has helped achieve this goal.

The regular agenda also included the approval to purchase several new utility trucks- a truck and necessary equipment; trucks with plows; and a televising truck and trailer.  The expenditures were necessary, were well within the budget, and even left a sizeable surplus in the designated fund.

Following the Regular Council Meeting, we went on to the Economic Development Authority work session.  The outgoing community development director Patrick Peters talked us through the various functions of the EDA.  We received a map of the properties owned by the city of Crystal, talked through the timeline of selling these properties, and the possibilities of attracting new businesses to utilize some of the commercially zoned areas.

Our evening concluded with another work session.  We discussed the Citizen Connection Initiative- adding more ideas and goals to the list, and agreeing to prioritize our goals during February’s work session.  Speaking of which, take a look at this article recently published in the Sun Post!

This was my second full council meeting, and I feel like I am beginning to grasp the full scope of this job.  I love the feeling of anticipation for what’s to come, and the satisfaction of being able to help my fellow Crystal residents.  I am happy and honored to be in this position!

Click here to watch the council meeting.

Click here to listen to the work sessions.

Noodles3Off the topic of council meetings- my kids and I stopped for lunch at the new Noodles and Company this week.  Great food and ambiance, and the place was packed too!  It’s also cool to see the progress that’s being made on “de-malling” of the Broadway strip mall.  I am hopeful that our business district will continue to make improvements and Noodles2meet the needs of our community.  

Things I am looking forward to:  Beyond the Yellow Ribbon Bowling Fundraiser.  This event will be held at Doyle’s on Broadway, sign up starts at 10:30am, and all proceeds go to benefit the Veterans in our community.  Three games of bowling and lunch at the VFW are included.  Take a look at my calendar for details!

I am also going to the League of Minnesota Cities training seminar for newly elected council representatives the last week of January.

That’s all for this week.  As usual, I welcome your emails and phone calls with any ideas, questions, or concerns!