Our friends at the Center of the American Experiment picked up the story about Minnetrista’s solar gardens on Ag Preserve land. As usual they did a better job than I could of laying it out: https://www.americanexperiment.org/2020/10/residents-opposition-leads-minnetrista-to-slap-moratorium-on-solar-projects/
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 here about 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:
To listen live to the Minnetrista City Council meeting, call +1 (872) 240-3212 and enter meeting Access Code 646-482-261 #, or join the meeting from your computer, tablet or smartphone by accessing the following: https://global.gotomeeting.com/join/646482261
New to GoToMeeting? Get the app now and be ready when your first meeting
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: firstname.lastname@example.org
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 repeatedly tries to put a positive spin on failure, even to the point where she will occasionally distort the truth in her own view.
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.
I met with some very concerned residents this morning on West Highland Road just east of CR92 to look at a 38 acre parcel zoned Agricultural Preserve that is a proposed site of what appears to be a commercial-industrial, ground mounted solar farm. I reviewed the September 28 Planning Commission meeting packet where it was addressed starting on page 24 and where a detailed site map appears on page 39 (also below):
I was somewhat surprised at the City Planner’s recommendation that appeared on page 27: “Recommended Action: Motion to recommend the City Council approve the requested site plan for a ground-mounted solar energy system …” and even more surprised to find out the Planning Commission had voted unanimously to recommend its approval to the city council. There was enough concern at that meeting, however, to make another motion, which passed, to ask the council for clarification about the intent of a 2015 ordinance that apparently allows this. The matter should be coming before the council likely as soon as October 19.
Interestingly in 2015 the Minnetrista city council, at the time, adopted an ordinance making ground mounted solar energy systems a “Permitted Use” on properties zoned Agriculture Preserve. On most other rural properties however (other than Ag Preserve) a conditional use permit is required for ground mounted solar energy systems.
My concerns about this specific proposal are many as I’ve outlined below:
- This appears to be a commercial or industrial use which directly conflicts with Ag Preserve zoning. Minnetrista’s history of granting properties the Ag Preserve status has always been to maintain the rural ambiance of our community and the preservation of agricultural land for farming, not to promote it’s use as an industrial or commercial eyesore.
- A “Permitted Use” doesn’t require the notification of surrounding properties but the size of this particular plan has already made neighboring residents concerned about its aesthetics and the impact of this use on the market valuation of their properties within its site line. I believe the council should discuss amending the 2015 ordinance, rescind it entirely or at least make these systems require a conditional use permit so impacted properties can weigh in.
- Other cities that have allowed ground mounted solar farms have experienced problems when the companies involved either dissolve or disappear leaving the city to dispose of out-dated systems that can’t be recycled or easily removed. It can end up being an expensive burden to the city. Requiring a deposit sufficient to pay for the complete removal of the system should be part of any systems the city allows.
Renewable energy production is something we all support but we also need to preserve our rural agricultural and farming communities and the beautiful landscapes we all so enjoy in Minnetrista.
Residents interested in being heard on this matter can send an email to Minnetrista’s City Administrator, Mike Barone: email@example.com requesting 3 minutes at the “Persons to be heard” part of the city council meeting when it is scheduled.
One of the broadband consultants I’ve been meeting with informed me of some GREAT news for Minnetrista today! I just checked and it’s available where I live and likely may be at your residence too.
No more slow DSL or cap-throttled satellite connections. From PC Magazine’s article Verizon Launches Unlimited 4G Home Internet for Rural Users: “Last week Verizon launched its own option across the US, and its prospect is more compelling because it’s much more widely available. Verizon’s rural home LTE is truly unlimited, with speeds averaging 25Mbps, the carrier said. It costs $40/month for people with Verizon Wireless service, and $60/month for people without. You need to buy a $240 router.”
Truly unlimited means NO CAPS! Check out Verizon’s LTE Coverage finder.
John Adams: “”Facts are stubborn things; and whatever may be our wishes, our inclinations, or the dictates of our passions, they cannot alter the state of facts and evidence.”
Last I checked it’s illegal for a school district to use taxpayer funded school resources to influence elections. That is exactly what has occurred. As I was door knocking on Sunday a resident disclosed she had received an email regarding the Minnetrista mayoral election from Westonka Public Schools discrediting my campaign. Below is the email Mr. Kevin Borg, Superintendent of Westonka Public Schools, sent on September 22, 2020 to “Key Communicators” in the Westonka community. The many false statements contained therein are highlighted and numbered with facts below.
Fact #1: Mr. Borg makes the claim the Shannon Bruce for Mayor committee stated the invoice in question was “sent to the district.” She never made a claim it was “sent” to the district, only that it was “invoiced” to the school’s account. In fact it never was sent to the school for payment. The printer created the Westonka School District invoice, showing campaign expenses on it for Lisa Whalen’s mayoral campaign but never sent it to the school district. Instead, the printer’s sales person, who incidentally was an active member of her campaign committee (according to subpoenaed emails) sent the invoice to the Treasurer of the YesWestonka political committee who arranged for it to be paid by Whalen’s campaign committee manager, David Kolb (ex-Minnetrista police chief). Emails subpoenaed from Whalen’s campaign finance violations trial support the facts above.
Fact #2: The statement “The Westonka School district received an invoice from Tandem Printing” is FALSE. See Fact #1. The school never received an invoice because payment on that invoice occurred outside of the school district with Whalen’s campaign committee (Our Minnetrista/Minnetrista411) paying it directly so it wouldn’t be discovered.
Fact #3: The contact person on the invoice, Bill Latour, was the Treasurer of the YesWestonka political committee which was tasked to promote the Westonka School District’s $22M bond referendum. He was not a school employee but was intimately involved in school district finances and worked closely with Mr. Borg. He was the person that placed the order with the printer instructing them to use the school’s account, but intending to pay for it with the Whalen campaign funds. Presumably this was done to evade paying sales tax and/or take advantage of the school’s discount or postage rates.
Fact #4: Mr. Borg’s claim “We contacted Tandem Printing to explain that the invoice was sent to Westonka Schools in error and would not be paid” is FALSE. See Fact #1 and Fact #3. The invoice was never sent to Westonka Schools. Subpoenaed emails show the printer’s sales person gave it to YesWestonka and it was subsequently paid by Whalen’s campaign committee (Our Minnetrista/Minnetrista411). Why would Mr. Borg claim to have contacted the printer in 2014 when the school district was unaware of the invoice until it was discovered in 2019 during the discovery phase of the lawsuit against Lisa Whalen and her campaign committee?
Fact #5: Mr. Borg claims his demand letter to the Shannon Bruce for Mayor Committee was prompted by a Youtube video released in August 2020. Mr. Borg was first made aware of the invoice in question in February of 2019. He was also aware of several social media posts that same year regarding the invoice subsequent to that date, all of which stated the same facts contained in the August video. After knowing about the invoice and ignoring it for over a year and a half he decided, two days before voting began for the Minnetrista mayoral election on September 16, 2020, to suddenly make claims of false statements by the Shannon Bruce for Mayor committee.
Fact #6: Mr. Borg claims his communication with Shannon Bruce was “private” when he had, in fact, copied the Westonka School Board on his email and one of them had subsequently provided it to Lisa Whalen’s campaign committee who used it, in addition to some of their own misrepresentations, in a post on social media, using the Westonka School logo, in an attempt to discredit the Shannon Bruce for Mayor campaign.
Fact #7: Mr. Borg attached his demand letter to Ms. Bruce to his “Key Communicators” email claiming it “outlines the facts” but, in fact it contains known false statements he knew at the time were untrue. He neglected to attach any of the email exchanges between himself and Shannon Bruce whereby she requested a meeting to share her evidence with him that would prove the video and prior social media posts were entirely factual. Mr. Borg refused the meeting and has never, on any occasion, contacted Shannon Bruce regarding these matters prior to his September 16 letter making false allegations against her campaign.
Fact #8: Mr. Borg claims his communication, timed two days before voting began in the Minnetrista mayoral election, was not politically motivated. What other conclusion can be drawn when he chose to ignore the matter for over a year and a half and then, suddenly, decided two days before voting begins that it was now time to address it? Why then, in his email to “Key Communicators” does he ask them to share this “news with others as appropriate” if not to discredit the Shannon Bruce for Mayor campaign?
There is a political machine at work here that has controlled Minnetrista for years and it not only includes the Mayor and her past campaign committee “Our Minnetrista/Minnetrista 411”, the YesWestonka political committee, several school board members, current and former council members, but sadly it now appears our own Westonka School Superintendent. I am saddened by that and what that means to our community.
It is illegal for a taxpayer funded public school to intentionally influence an election but that is exactly what has occurred in Mr. Borg’s communication to Westonka Schools “Key Communicators.” He has attempted to discredit a mayoral candidate with known falsehoods and unsubstantiated allegations designed to influence the Minnetrista mayoral election. Minnetrista has an opportunity to stop this abuse of power in our community.