The inside story on Minnetrista local issues: This blog is to inform citizens and give them a perspective on matters of importance in Minnetrista, MN. Opinions posted here are my own and do not reflect official positions of any public body or official.
There are two candidates for mayor in Minnetrista in the general election, the incumbent and myself. If you’re like most people you probably don’t pay much attention to local government elections. I certainly didn’t until I was asked to run for the city council. What I’ve seen and experienced there is why I had to run. We need to restore trust in our leadership and transparency in our city government. Above is my video message to Minnetrista.
I have been a voice putting residents first:
Stopping Met Council restrictions from becoming city policy in our Comprehensive Plan
Adding the goal of reliable high-speed Internet to our strategic plan for all of Minnetrista
Pushing to end an unnecessary emergency order and for citizens to be able to speak before the council
Pressuring the city to appoint a party-balanced absentee ballot board – for the first time, bringing integrity to our elections
Exposing countless conflicts of interest in our city government.
I have never voted for an annual tax levy that would result in an increase in your city property taxes. There is ample growth in our community to provide revenue for city services to our new residents.
I have been a vocal proponent for competitive bidding and have often been the sole dissenting vote on contracts because of it.
I believe in the rule of law and holding our elected representatives accountable. How someone runs their campaign is reflective of how they will lead. We need new leadership in Minnetrista. Please donate to the Shannon Bruce for Mayor Committee. Put Minnetrista back in your hands!
Here’s a fun game for Minnetrista voters to play. Below is the donor list from Lisa Whalen’s pre-general mayoral campaign report totaling over $15,000. See if you can match up the highlighted individuals from Whalen’s trial exhibit, which shows those involved in setting up the illegal “Our Minnetrista” financial scheme, to her donor list. You’ll get bonus points for identifying other school board members, council members (or their spouses), and planning commission members (or spouses). Comment your results below and the winner with the most dots will be announced November 3.
A new housing development proposed in Minnetrista to be located north of CR110W and just west of Saunders Lake will be before the city’s planning commission tomorrow night, Monday, 10/25/2020, at 7pm (call in numbers below). The planning commission agenda shows the concept/sketch plan from Summergate Companies is the only item on the agenda.
I intend to call in and I encourage other residents that value our parks and open spaces to attend as well.
When a developer is forced to pay cash in lieu of providing land for parks the inevitable result is housing that is denser and of lesser quality in order to afford paying those fees.
I’m guessing Minnetrista residents would rather see the very generous allocation of lands in this development going to parks and open spaces than to see those spaces crammed with dense housing. It appears, however, the Parks Commission, at the direction of staff, is recommending cash in lieu:
“After review, the Parks Commission unanimously directed the Applicant to consider a hybrid, land dedication and cash-in-lieu, approach to the required park dedication as well as possible trail connections. If cash-in-lieu is considered, an appraisal should be required to determine fair market value.”
10/13/2020 Parks Commission meeting
If we are to preserve and protect the rural landscape and ambience of Minnetrista we must have policies that do just that and a mayor that values our parks and open spaces more than the cash balance in our parks fund which, btw, has over $1M balance at the moment.
I have been door knocking in Woodland Cove these past few days with Minnetrista city council candidate Ann MacGregor and finding most people we’ve talked with already know they have another great city council candidate as their neighbor in Woodland Cove, Cathleen Reffkin. Ms. Reffkin is well known as being active in the Woodland Cove HOA, her local church and Westonka Schools where her children attend.
Woodland Cove residents are excited to support someone from their development to be on the city council and happy to see a new face with business savvy and impressive credentials. A graduate of the University of Minnesota’s Carlson School of Management Reffkin holds a degree in Marketing and Insurance & Risk Management. Her work in that field helped her to develop, she says, “an understanding of how policy and risk management intersect. Another key skill I gained while working in insurance is the ability to bring people who have disparate, and often competing, interests together to compromise for mutual benefit.”
As a mother of three young children Reffkin is plugged in to our community’s schools and her approach to problem solving is a great example to them all, which is to do something rather than complain. “I am seeking office so I can make positive changes…I want our residents to have a beautiful place to live, work, and raise their families.”
Back in August when Minnetrista received its Coronavirus Relief Funds of $579K I wrote about the city’s plans to spend the bulk of the funds on previously budgeted (pre-pandemic) Public Safety payroll despite authorizing the document below stating the city would not use the funds on previously budgeted, non-COVID19 related expenses.
Since that time guidance from the feds and state have given local governments permission to presume that their public safety personnel were substantially dedicated to COVID19 related activities without documenting or justifying the expenditures, and, if they were, they can legally use the funds for those purposes regardless of when they were budgeted.
The fact is, however, that Minnetrista didn’t have Public Safety personnel substantially dedicated to COVID19 related activities, that is if you use the dictionary definition of “substantially.” When asked at a council meeting if he could show we did, our Director of Public Safety said “If I had to prove it, no.”
Many hours of discussions followed, some centered around the definition of “substantial” and exploring other ways to spend the funds on IT infrastructure to support remote access, school district needs, food shelf needs or support for employees or businesses in the community impacted by the lock downs. The council did ultimately decide to give $20K each to the Westonka Food Shelf and WeCAN which are legitimate uses of the funds.
The easiest thing to do, with the majority of the funds (roughly $500K), was to simply take the money and apply it to the city’s Public Safety payroll knowing the city wouldn’t need to document anything to prove the expenses were COVID related. I’m sure the Mayor and most of the Council figured the end (money in our reserve fund) justified the means (pretending Minnetrista had personnel substantially dedicated to COVID when it did not).
No doubt there will be criticism and claims made that I would have returned the funds to the county but that is not what I would have done and I stated that at our council meeting Monday night. If we had acted back in July when we first learned of this funding we could have, over the five months given (August thru December), spent these funds on a number of other legitimate things that could’ve helped our community work remotely, helped our schools, given funds to businesses or individuals impacted by the coronavirus lock down, purposes for which these relief funds were intended. It seemed to be a foregone conclusion on the part of staff and most of the council, however, that the easiest solution was best.
I know the city has needs and will find a good purpose for using the half million dollars now in our reserves. That is not the point. The point is I could not in good conscience, knowing the city did not have any personnel that had been substantially dedicated to COVID19 activities, say that we did. The resolution passed 4-1 and can be found on page 202 of the council agenda packet for 10/19/2020.
Others will claim it was a perfectly legal thing to do, and it probably was, but legal doesn’t always equate with principled or moral and I’ll leave readers to ponder that point.
The proposal for the ground mounted solar farm on the Ag Preserve parcel was soundly defeated last night at Minnetrista’s council meeting. At one point during the online meeting I counted 30 people on the call and the council received a steady stream of letters of opposition since the proposal appeared here on October 7.
The issue wasn’t around the pros or cons of solar energy production, it was about a 2015 ordinance, passed under the leadership of Lisa Whalen, that made ground mounted solar farms a “permitted use” on Minnetrista’s Ag Preserve parcels without requiring the notification of neighbors, establishing limits or defining other parameters around commercial/industrial uses and visual aesthetics.
The proposal came to the council with a recommendation from the Planning Commission to approve it. Minnetrista council candidate and planning commission member Damian Young voted, along with the entire planning commission to unanimously recommend it’s passage. It was clear from the contents of the council packet for Monday’s meeting that our city attorney had spent considerable time defending the proposal and justifying how it met all the requirements in order to be passed.
I have no doubt, absent resident involvement and their willingness to express their opposition, this proposal would likely have passed last night.
For now the council decided to place a moratorium on ground mounted solar farms on Ag Preserve parcels in order to have time to review the 2015 ordinance and either modify or rescind it.
Knowing what is coming before the council is necessary to protect residents’ interests. Citizen involvement in Minnetrista is important and makes a difference in how our city is governed. It’s not enough to merely post a 200 page council packet on the city’s website or put legal notices in small print in the local newspaper. Minnetrista needs to do a better job engaging and welcoming resident involvement instead of issuing veiled threats to council members that do.
I posted my concerns hereabout what appears to be a commercial/industrial ground mounted solar farm proposed to be located on an Ag Preserve parcel in Minnetrista. Some neighboring property owners were concerned they hadn’t been notified by the city and feared they might not be heard on the matter. I met with them and then notified residents via Nextdoor and Facebook about the proposal coming before the council tonight, Monday, October 19 at 7pm (Directions to Join the online meeting here).
Below is a post on Lisa Whalen for Mayor’s Facebook page this morning making a veiled threat that an open meeting law violation may have occurred by my engaging with residents.
Implying I may have violated the open meeting law by notifying people of this agenda item and the concerns I have about it is just an intimidation tactic which shows how closed and controlling this administration is. The term “open” as used in the “open meeting law” is meant to make sure decisions are not made behind closed doors by a quorum of council members. The only thing I’m guilty of here is making sure residents are aware of this agenda item. That is not a violation of being “open.” It is the very essence of being open.
Trying to silence those that see things differently has been a hallmark of Minnetrista’s current administration. Thank you Mayor Whalen for giving us such a great example of it.
I wrote previously about the ground-mounted solar farm proposal here located in Minnetrista on an Ag Preserve parcel on the NE corner of Highland Road West & CR 92. The council has received a number of emails from neighboring residents regarding the proposal. For those wishing to speak at the council’s “Persons to be heard” session Monday night during the virtual meeting (not at city hall) below is the call in information:
It’s not required but will speed up the meeting if those wishing to speak would send their names and telephone numbers (so you can be identified on the call) to our City Administrator Mike Barone, email: email@example.com
For those wishing to see the information provided to the council on this proposal, the council’s packet can be found here. The proposal agenda item begins on page 49.
Summergate Companies submitted a concept sketch plan to the Parks Commission at their meeting last night (Agenda Packet) for a Minnetrista housing development of approximately 200 homes located north of CR 110W, southwest of Saunders Lake, west of the existing Saunders Lake South development, and east of Halstead Drive.
The plan was presented along with a proposal, by one of the land owners, to sell a 28 acre parcel, just north of the proposed development, to Three Rivers Parks District. The 28 acre parcel is adjacent to Gale Woods Farm.
I was surprised staff was recommending, in lieu of the generous parks and open spaces designated in this development, that cash be required instead to go into the city’s Park Development Fund. Below is the staff recommendation from the agenda:
Recommended Action: Motion to direct the Applicant to submit a preliminary plat application, which includes a fair market land value appraisal, with the understanding that cash in lieu of land in the sum of 11% of the fair market value of the land will be required for the park dedication requirement.
This sketch plan is a model of providing plentiful natural open spaces and parks to future Minnetrista residents that will enjoy them and supports Minnetrista’s stated goal to protect the rural character of our community. The consequence of requiring cash in lieu of land is developers will fill in the open spaces and parks with houses to afford to pay the sum to the city. I don’t believe that is what residents want.
If Minnetrista wants to preserve parks and open space we need to encourage developers to do that, not discourage them by requiring cash-in-lieu of land when land is available, as in this case, and appropriately used in a development.
The Parks Commission ultimately made a motion to recommend a reduced amount of cash-in-lieu of land, given the generosity of an additional donation of 40 acres to Three Rivers Park District which hadn’t been considered in the formula for the development’s park dedication requirement. They also decided not to require a fair market value appraisal of the land and for the developer to submit a revised plan.
The next step is the city’s Planning Commission that will study a revised plan in November. Hopefully they will value Minnetrista’s parks and open spaces more than adding cash to Minnetrista’s Parks fund that currently has a pretty healthy balance of close to $1M (according to staff last night).
I don’t watch much TV so I had no idea who Leslie Knope was when I saw this post on mayoral candidate Lisa Whalen’s Facebook page this morning. So a quick search turned up this Wikipedia page. Evidently she’s a fictional character on the NBC sitcom Parks & Recreation.
Some exerpts from the Wikipedia page show the personality type of the character:
Personality – Leslie Knope
Leslie Knope is extremely cheerful, ambitious, hard-working and optimistic.
Although somewhat naive, she is intelligent, well-read, and has good intentions, but is not always successful in executing her goals.
She has a crush on former Vice President Joe Biden, and harbors an irrational hatred of public libraries, salads, and the wealthy neighboring town of Eagleton—which Leslie found out, to her sheer horror, was actually her birthplace.
Leslie views herself as a budding political star in the style of Hillary Clinton, Nancy Pelosi..
Although she is shown to be running for the city council as an independent, she joins the Democratic Party at some point, as she is approached by “Janet from the DNC” about a potential gubernatorial bid in the final season.
Yes, I’m afraid we have a “real life” Leslie Knope in our midst.