Mayor’s attempt to pay back friends?

Minnetrista’s road assessment policy is to assess property owners along a project route (gravel to paved or for reconstruction) 50% of the project cost with the remaining 50% paid by the city. The Sunnyfield Road reconstruction planned this year has only one property owner along the route, the Westonka School District. Mayor Whalen, at the council’s work session last night, thought they should get a break. She suggested only assessing them 20%.

Of course it couldn’t possibly be because members of the school board and Westonka School’s Superintendent were instrumental in her reelection (view story here). Maybe it’s because Whalen thinks Minnetrista residential property owners should be assessed more than a school district with a budget almost ten times that of the city and a much larger tax base over which to spread the cost? Or perhaps she doesn’t realize that school bus traffic and student/parent traffic are largely responsible for the road’s condition and much of that traffic comes from outside Minnetrista.

Yes, there have been exceptions to the city’s assessment rate on a few occasions in areas with low density but the majority of Minnetrista’s road projects are assessed at 50%. That is policy.

Both council members Reffkin and MacGregor responded to Whalen’s suggestion to lower the rate for the school with their opinion that the 50% policy should stand. Whalen kept pressing for her school district friends as council members Mortenson and Tschumperlin remained silent, ostensibly gauging the political wind direction. MacGregor finally proposed 40% in the spirit of compromise and Reffkin supported that although somewhat reluctantly.

Mortenson and Tschumperlin saw the compromise as palatable and indicated they could “probably” support it but Whalen kept pushing for her friends. She then said “What about 35%? Would any of you support 35%?” Ultimately Whalen’s valiant effort went unrewarded and the 40% rate prevailed for the school.

Got to give Whalen credit for standing up for her friends if not for Minnetrista taxpayers. Readers can listen to the recorded January 19 work session.

Minnetrista Internet service plan discussion Tuesday night

There are few topics more agitative in rural Minnetrista than internet service, especially now that its become a necessity for most of us to function at work, school, purchase goods and services or conduct business of any kind. It is an infrastructure as necessary as roads, water and sewer but isn’t seen that way by many rural cities and townships.

If the roads are blocked by an accident, snow, or natural disaster the city will rush resources to clear the roads but if internet services go down it’s not their concern. It should be. Access to high-speed internet is at the top of most home buyer’s lists these days and property values in Minnetrista will reflect that. Having a vibrant real estate market is important to the city’s financial health.

If potential buyers happen to check out social media sites like Nextdoor.com, however, they will find pages and pages of complaints about slow speeds, unreliable connections and nonexistent customer service from major providers in Minnetrista and surrounding area.

I’m hoping the discussion Tuesday night focuses on proactive things the city can do like removing obstacles to entry for internet service providers, establishing a fund as we’ve done for road maintenance to finance this critical infrastructure, and having a staff person attend the virtual meetings of the Minnesota Broadband Task Force to stay up to speed on the resources they offer rural areas. Inviting providers to Minnetrista without making changes to how we do business with them will not result in better internet services for anyone.

Hiring a consultant may sound like a great idea but many consultants have loyalties to specific providers or technologies and ferreting out those biases can be a challenge if you’re an outsider. Minnetrista would do well to find some savvy residents to help it in this endeavor if they really want to get something done. But that’s the question, do they?

Residents may download the work session packet for Tuesday night’s discussion and listen in by calling (872) 240-3412 and enter meeting Access Code 711-795-981 #, or join the meeting from your computer, tablet or smartphone by accessing the following: https://global.gotomeeting.com/join/711795981
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Minnetrista public hearing on local street improvements extended

There was a notice sent to Minnetrista residents affected by the 2021 local street improvements indicating a public hearing at last night’s council meeting but the notice didn’t have the correct access numbers and residents will be notified of another opportunity to attend a hearing in front of the city council, most likely the next scheduled meeting on January 19.

Residents can find call in numbers to all council work sessions and meetings in the council agendas and packets available here for 2021. Audio recordings of the meetings are also found there as well.

Minnetrista’s Parks and Planning Commissioners appointed

Last night, after interviewing candidates for openings on Minnetrista’s Parks Commission and Planning Commission, the city council made the following appointments:

Parks Commission (three year terms):
Sarah Hussain, Parks Commission (incumbent)
Hal Goldstein, Alternate #1 Parks Commission
Nancy Richeson, Alternate #2 Parks Commission

Planning Commission (four year terms):
Damian Young, Planning Commission (incumbent)
John Sturgess, Planning Commission

Candidate applications were provided in the council’s work session packet starting on page 2. The Parks Commission appointments vote was unanimous (5-0) but the Planning Commission vote on Mr. Young’s appointment was not with one dissenting vote (4-1), but a unanimous (5-0) vote on Mr. Sturgess.

Sarah Hussain, incumbent candidate for the Parks Commission, and Andrew Beitler, candidate for the Parks Commission were not present for the interviews.

Newly elected Council Member Cathleen Reffkin expressed concern over the fact that both incumbent Planning Commission members, Damian Young and Robert Rabin, recently voted to recommend approval of the ground mounted solar farm application on CR92 which residents widely opposed. That, she suggested, indicated the Planning Commission needs new commissioners more aligned with residents.

Who are the candidates for Minnetrista Parks and Planning Commissions?

Monday night will be a first for Minnetrista. For the first time city residents interested in serving on one of the city’s commissions will actually have an opportunity to compete for those seats against incumbents that have already served.

In the past the city council automatically reappointed any commission member that wished to serve another term after their term had expired, without notifying residents of the opportunity to apply for the expiring seat. That all changed during a heated council meeting on December 7 where the practice was exposed and criticized for shutting out resident involvement on the city’s Parks and Planning Commissions.

The reason given for not advertising the openings in the past had been these volunteer positions had been difficult to fill and when someone had served and was willing to continue it was best to hang onto them. Somehow, however, the commission seats were almost always full and when a vacancy occurred it was quickly filled.

The city received 8 applications for the 5 commission assignments: 1 vacant seat and 2 alternate seats for the Parks Commission; and 2 vacant seats for the Planning Commission. Candidates and their applications are listed (starting on page 2) in the council’s work session agenda for Monday night. Applicant names are below (*incumbent):

Andrew Beitler (Parks Commission)
Hal Goldstein (Parks or Planning Commission)
*Sarah Hussain (Parks Commission)
*Robert Rabin (Planning Commission)
Nancy Richeson (Parks Commission)
Paul Stone (Planning Commission)
John Sturgess (Planning Commission)
*Damian Young (Planning Commission)

It will be interesting to see if Monday’s interviews are just a pretense of fairness or if these new applicants actually have a chance at taking an incumbent’s commission seat. There are only 3 incumbents and 5 seats to fill so by default there will be at least two new appointees. I have a feeling at least one of them, Hal Goldstein, will be appointed because he was apparently recruited and applied back in October before there were even any openings. You can read about that here.

There are some impressive resumes from some of these applicants and I hope they are legitimately evaluated for what they have to offer the city. Minnetrista needs commissioners that think for themselves, have a genuine interest in city planning and will do the research and work to make good, reliable recommendations to the council.

Minnetrista opens applications for Planning and Parks Commissions

After a Monday night council meeting, where an issue was made of the fact that Minnetrista has historically reappointed commissioners when their terms expire without notifying the public and giving others the opportunity to serve, the city has posted a notice on their website announcing all open commission seats, expiring as well as vacated. The deadline to apply is December 21.

Below is the notice where an application appears at the bottom of their page:

Job Title: Parks Commission & Planning Commission
Department: Community Development
Hours: Volunteer
Start date: January 2021
Job Description:

Are you interested in getting more involved in your community?  If so, the City of Minnetrista is accepting applications for the volunteer positions of Parks Commissioner & Planning Commissioner.  There is currently one open seat and two open alternate seats on the Parks Commission and two open seats on the Planning Commission all for terms beginning in January of 2021.  Parks Commissioners serve a three (3) year term and meet on the second (2nd) Tuesday of each month, while Planning Commissioners serve a four (4) year term and meet on the fourth (4th) Monday of each month.

A Parks Commissioner works to ensure that the Parks, Trails and Open Space Plan is implemented by reviewing development applications on a case-by-case basis and the annual Parks Capital Improvement Plan.

A Planning Commissioner reviews all applications for development, variances, and other land use applications, while also reviewing proposed policy changes by making recommendations to the City Council for new or updated ordinances.

Alternate members for both the Parks Commission and the Planning Commission are treated the same as full time members in that they are sent the packet in advance of each scheduled meeting.  In the event a full time member cannot attend a meeting, an alternate member is selected to fill in for the absent full time member.

If you or someone you know are interested, please contact City Hall at 952-446-1660 or fill out the application below and send to Minnetrista@ci.minnetrista.mn.us. 

Applications are due by Monday December 21, 2020 at 4:00 P.M.

Update on Another rigged Minnetrista appointment

Ever notice how often chaos ensues when a subject comes up people don’t want to talk about? Claims that have absolutely no basis in fact or reality are made and no one questions anything. Monday night was one of those meetings.

The council had been presented with an application, filed on October 26, before there were any commission vacancies, for a resident to fill either a Parks Commission seat or a Planning Commission seat. There was also an agenda item that night for the council to reappoint 2 Planning Commission members and a Parks Commission member whose terms were expiring at year end. No public notice had been made to fill any of these vacated or expiring positions.

I made my concerns known to the city Administrator before our meeting and the result was the items were pulled from our agenda that evening. The following dialog between myself and Mayor Whalen took place at our work session as she insisted that it has been the city’s policy to advertise for all commission vacancies and expiring terms, despite the fact these agenda items for approving unadvertised commission appointments were on our agenda that very evening. Listen:

Minnetrista council worksession 12/7/2020

“That’s been our policy as well as our practice” Whalen stated as a bizarre dialog ensued claiming the terms “vacated” and “expired” have the same definition. They do not and I’m guessing most readers understand that but someone please tell our mayor. It will be interesting to see what kind of policy staff comes up with for advertising commission openings so they don’t have to advertise for all commission openings. Obfuscation is a specialty in Minnetrista local government.

Minnetrista votes themselves a raise

In the midst of extreme financial burdens in our community caused by “these challenging times” (a euphemism for tyrannical rule) where our neighbors have lost their businesses, lost their jobs and can’t pay their mortgages, our Mayor last night voted herself a 25% raise and the council a 33% increase in annual compensation.

It shouldn’t matter that surrounding cities like Orono, Medina and Wayzata all have compensation for their councils at, or lower than, Minnetrista’s level of $4,800 for mayor and $3,600 for council. A council member in Orono got wind of the proposed increase in Minnetrista and had this to say about it:

Orono Council meeting 12/7/2020

As with all increases in Minnetrista, whether they are fees, taxes, assessments, etc., we heard Mayor Whalen minimize it, as we always do, taking the increase and dividing it by either the number of people, parcels, households or whatever suits the desired outcome to portray the increase as inconsequential. I think someone needs to inform her about basic math and when you add a bunch of small numbers together the sum is always bigger than the parts.

When I consider the last four years of service on the city council, the amount I made probably works out to less than what I made on my first job babysitting. But serving on the council is just that. It is serving. It’s not a salaried job to supplement one’s income or to expect an equal exchange between what is given vs. gotten.

I guarantee my remarks last night will not make it into the council minutes so I will leave them here:

“I realize there is never a good time to increase our own council salaries but I also am sensitive to the very real financial difficulties people in our community are facing. I don’t think any of us do this for the money. It is a community service from my perspective and I trust it is for others. I can’t, in good conscience, increase council and the mayor’s compensation when I know my neighbors can’t pay their mortgage, have been laid off, or have had to close their businesses. I just can’t do that.”

As the last council meeting I attended I’m glad to have had the opportunity to vote No on this irresponsible and ill-timed proposal. The resolution to raise the compensation passed, however, 4-1.

Another rigged Minnetrista appointment

For those that haven’t followed Minnetrista’s political machine chicanery over the years this might come as a surprise but for those who have it will sound, disturbingly, familiar. Remember (here) in March 2018 when a Minnetrista council member announced she was moving and we discovered that two months prior to her announcement a replacement had already been chosen by the Our Minnetrista political committee?

They are at it again only this time it’s a bit more worrisome as the scheme highlights a pattern to shut out resident involvement in our local government.

On October 26, 2020, a full seven days prior to the Minnetrista election being decided, an application was filed by Minnetrista resident Hal Goldstein with the city to replace either Cathleen Reffkin on the city’s Parks Commission OR to replace Damian Young on the city’s Planning Commission. This application was filed a full week BEFORE the election. No notice of any commission vacancies had been made as of October 26 because there weren’t any vacancies as of October 26. Hmm..

Both Cathleen Reffkin, on the Parks Commission, and Damian Young, on the Planning Commission, were candidates in the election for city council. It was clear one of them would be elected and would vacate their commission appointment but the Minnetrista political machine was not going to take any chances that someone, not of their choosing, would apply for either one of the vacancies that could occur.

In our council work session packet for Monday night, December 7, 2020 at 5:30 pm, council members (or at least this council member) learned of the intention to not only interview Mr. Goldstein for this appointment but to appoint him officially at the council meeting following at 7pm. There have been no public notices made about any Minnetrista commission vacancies. I believe Minnetrista deserves to have these vacancies noticed publicly so anyone can apply for them to serve in their community.

As someone that does my homework on anything to do with council decisions I decided to look into Mr. Goldstein’s online presence to get a sense of who he is. I believe in researching candidates for public posts. His application is available to readers in the above work session packet link. Below are public posts made by Mr. Goldstein that anyone can see online:

If there is any question about what political party is in control of Minnetrista there shouldn’t be. Readers will no doubt hear cries of “hyper partisan conspiracy theories” from those involved because they don’t like it when they are exposed. Just remember, they’ve done it before, they are doing it now, and if you ignore it they will do it again.

Here is the information to attend the work session and council meeting Monday night:

Work Session meeting at 5:30pm, call +1 (872) 240-3412 and enter
meeting Access Code 903-087-973 #, or join the meeting from your computer, tablet or
smartphone by accessing the following: https://global.gotomeeting.com/join/903087973

City Council meeting, at 7:00 pm, call +1 (872) 240-3212 and enter meeting
Access Code 691-118-757 #, or join the meeting from your computer, tablet or smartphone by
accessing the following: https://global.gotomeeting.com/join/691118757

New to GoToMeeting? Get the app now and be ready when your first meeting
starts: https://global.gotomeeting.com/install/

History of a bad idea

Every bad idea starts somewhere. Minnetrista passed an ordinance in 2015 making ground mounted solar energy systems a “Permitted Use” on Ag Preserve parcels in the city and is now navigating possible litigation because of it. The purpose of the Agriculture Preserve zoning designation is to, obviously, preserve parcels for agricultural use. One would think that would preclude covering Ag Preserve lands with industrial ground mounted solar energy systems that make it impossible to grow anything. But no.

I started asking myself: How did this bad idea happen? Did a council member come up with it? Staff? An over zealous resident? Or was it initiated by some outside interest? Could our contracted city engineering firm, WSB Engineering, be involved somehow?

I asked the city’s planning department to send me some background and minutes of the meetings regarding the ordinance and this is what I found: A perfect example of outside interests influencing city policy in Minnetrista.

Below is a video from April 2015, several months prior to the ordinance being passed, where a representative from the company SolarStone made a presentation to the city council. Note about 5 minutes into the video he points out the “unique relationship, alliance, partnership” his company has with the city’s contract city engineering firm, WSB Engineering, that does their engineering, planning, environmental and construction services.” Well now, that explain$ a lot.

Perfect example of outside interests influencing city policy

Also note how Whalen just can’t wait to have it brought up at a future work session and when she asks the council if they want to do so and gets absolutely no response she just makes the statement



Also note how Whalen just can’t wait to have it brought up at a future work session and when she asks the council if they want to do so and gets absolutely no response she just announces, unilaterally, that they will schedule a work session to explore it more. And they did. And they passed the ordinance a few months later in July.