CIVICS 101-A VIEW OF MOUNDS VIEW, MINNESOTA

The Mermaid

I attended the 6th annual Mounds View town hall meeting last night. Probably only my second appearance before council in 6 years. I guess that doesn’t make me any different from most residents of towns like this except for the fact I was on the city’s planning commission for many years back in the ’90’s. I also made a couple runs for city council during that time. Alas, I fell away from the operations part of the city, mostly out of frustration and disillusionment. I was so happy to get together with an old friend of mine, Barb Haake, a long time Mounds View resident, recipient of the Mounds View Citizenship Award last year for her many years of service to the city including stints on the council, planning commission, cable commission, airport commission, Rice Creek Watershed district commissioner, and she served us in the Minnesota House of Representatives. Barb and I were not often on the same side of the issues, but we have always enjoyed our mutual respect where we can discuss the issues without malice or rancour. In local government, political party affiliation is not an issue for serving. At this level we are simply serving our constituents. Barb, is a Republican, and served in the House as a Republican. I’ve never had a problem with that. As you all know, I’m a little to the left of most Republicans.

I stopped being involved in my city because of frustration. We are an older inner ring suburb of Minneapolis and Saint Paul. We are on the north side of the cities, generally considered the poorer of the suburban areas surrounding the Twin Cities. Our city, like the ones around us, began as working class residential areas. Our city features very small homes, many sub-one thousand square feet in size, and large treed lots, some as large as over one acre! As time has progressed, the base of the population in our town, didn’t really progress with it. They still had a view of “my home is my castle”. They have rejected government regulation and even taxation. As younger, more progressive thinking people began moving into these towns the way of thinking began changing. Mounds View, once known as the suburban town where it’s okay to put cars and trailers on blocks in the yard, has started to change, slowly. Since quitting my involvement with the city, I have noticed things changing, slowly. I campaigned on the premise that your home is your financial investment, and to treat it and your surrounding neighborhood accordingly. I was shouted down by the private property rights residents. They didn’t understand that when they let their property go to hell, it adversely affects the dollar values of all the homes in the neighborhood as well as diminishes the quality of life in our neighborhood. The wheels of civic government turn very slow.

We have a commercial sector in our town, the Highway 10 corridor. Since I have lived here, about 20 years, every few years the city commissions another study for what to do with it. Nothing, however ever changes. When I sat on the planning commission, I opposed and voted against all issues brought before us regarding residential development on Highway 10. Not only is it not safe for residents to be right on a four lane divided throughway, it hinders potential quality commercial development. Well, the council approved it anyway. We still have old eyesore properties on the highway that haven’t been dealt with. The residents at the meeting were asking why we don’t have any quality eateries? First off, the city can’t will companies to come in here and secondly, the Highway 10 is still an embarrassment to the city. What business would want to locate here?

While on the planning commission, I had two nicknames given to me by the residents; Mr. Edina and Mr. No. The property rights people called me Mr. Edina because I was trying to model a development track for Mounds View that would mirror what Edina did the prior two decades to make them one of the most desirable suburban communities in the United States. At the time, Mounds View residents had higher property taxes than Edina residents. Our residents couldn’t get the concept of pay me now, and save later, with the benefit being a much nicer community to live. They also coined the name Mr. No, because almost every request for variance by residents, I rejected. It was so bad, and I was on the losing end of so many of these property rights votes that I finally publically asked the question; Why have codes and ordinances in the first place if we keep rubber stamping these requests? I could never get the residents to understand the importance of codes and ordinances. They are to keep the community safe, appealing, and improve the property value for all of the investment holders, the home owners. The most appalling instance came years after I left the planning commission. A building permit was granted for a new home to be built in an established neighborhood. When a permit is issued, that means the city has reviewed the plans and approved the plans as shown by the builder. Sometime after construction began, foundation walls poured, floor joists in place and framing going up, a city inspector noticed the footprint or the house was several feet closer to the street than the approved plan had shown. Construction was ordered stopped until the situation was reviewed. The proposed resolution had the builder come first before the planning commission with a request for variance regarding the set-back from the street. Once past the planning commission, it would go to the council. Well, to be granted a variance, one must show or prove a “hardship”. The builder claimed his hardship was that the house was already under construction and the costs and time delays weren’t workable. The planning commission approved the variance and the council rubber stamped it. I was outraged! I actually went into city hall raised holy hell about it! Now, because of the gutless move by the city, the neighbor to the north is shadowed by this huge McMansion.

A big reason why progress is so slow in our town is the turn-over of the council and mayor. It seems every time a new regime comes in, they spend so much time undoing what the regime prior to theirs did. By the time they get going on their platform, it’s election time again. Trying to get things done in a small older suburban town is very difficult and time-consuming. We have a great city administrator, Jim Erickson, who has been with the city since I was on the planning commission years ago. Jim does a great job and tries to keep a flow or continuity going. Our city is based on a charter, which, in my opinion gives the residents way too much say and control. Our city for years has been a case of the inmates running the asylum! Why bother electing people to govern us if they have to keep answering to a small dysfunctional group of residents that only seem to want to call the shots. A city manager form of government is much more effective. The council and mayor set the vision and priorities and then have a competent city staff carry out the wishes of the council. We elect the officials to govern for us, not to be figure heads that must answer to a charter and/or a small group of citizens. This works more efficiently because issues are dealt with in a more timely fashion.

When I was active in the city over a decade ago, the hot issue was street reconstruction. We were shown many options for what needs to be done, and how it was going to be paid for. After a leading civil engineering firm educated us on the most practical way to reconstruct the streets was to do a curb and gutter installation. This was the most expensive method, but also the most functional and the longest lasting. In other words, the best value or bang for the buck. It would involve a combination of city and assessment funding. Well a group of residents got a petition together by the terms of the city charter, and pushed through the cheapest construction possible, a mill and overlay with no side protection for the asphalt. In our harsh tundra like climate, this is a stupid thing to do because of the frost and heave cycles and ground moisture, the road start crumbling from the edge in no time and soon the whole road is in bad shape. Well now, after years of debate, the city is embarking on a three-phase road reconstruction project using of all things, curb and gutter construction and funding by government sources and assessments. Didn’t I promote that years ago and was shot down as a big tax and spending liberal!

Small town government doesn’t really interest me anymore because it moves way too slow and is still pushed by loud minorities that get their way because they are loud. I have to give credit to the folks that serve on the council and as department heads in the city. I think it’s a thankless job. I do honor them for their commitment to the cause and the perseverance to do it daily. Residents can really be difficult to deal with. That’s my view of my town, a neat little town only twenty minutes from the Twin Cities. My interest are much more with national government and politics. I give state politics more attention when the state is led by a total idiot that has no concerns for the everyday Minnesotan. Then I focus more on the state level. I do long for Arne Carlson or Rudy Perpich to return to office! Anyway, thanks for the read today, and as always, I welcome your comments.

Cam Obert

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One Response to “CIVICS 101-A VIEW OF MOUNDS VIEW, MINNESOTA”

  1. Barbara Says:

    Cam:

    Good current history of Mounds View – I enjoyed reading it. I do have to say after all of these years I did not know you were a Democrat – another reason why it is great in Mounds View that we do not designate party affiliation when running for office.

    When there is no party designation a person can be elected to office and do what is best for the city (real “statesman/woman-ship”) and not just follow a “party line”. After all, we are pretty independent thinkers in Mounds View!! Something I really appreciate about our city…We are a very involved citizenry!!

    Barbara

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