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As I See It: Disappointed, but not surprised

Crosslake is back in the running for the Most Precipitous Negative Action Contemplated And/Or Taken by a City Council Award.

Nisswa held the front-runner position for its handling of the matter involving that city’s chief of police until this past week. In Crosslake, it is the Planning and Zoning (P&Z) Department headed up by Mr. Ken Anderson that’s next on the chopping block — or was already guillotined this past Tuesday evening (as a memory jogger, Step One was the clumsy and unprofessional coerced resignation of Mr. Tom Swenson).

First, here’s some background and history. I may be foggy on the dates and times, but not on the essential facts. Mr. Anderson has been a target of the Crosslake Realtors and most of the city business community since he was hired. The reason for that appears to be his overzealous application of the city’s ordinances. Little secret: Two city council members are Realtors who could easily have a conflict of interest in this matter.

The powers that be in Crosslake and in much of small-town America do not want anyone who is overly professional in carrying out his or her duties. They want someone who is more malleable, sensitive and willing to bend or ignore the rules when folks come in and want to build a mansion on a postage stamp. They don’t see why business should have to meet standards for handicap accessibility and services. They want to put up as many signs as they wish wherever they wish. They don’t like lighting standards and restrictions. They don’t want to have to worry about parking, but the city better pave their roads and plow what they have paved.

One of the current city council members has been actively working for Mr. Anderson’s dismissal for years. In the spring of 2011, the mayor and Mr. John Moengen clumsily introduced a proposal/plan to save money by contracting out the P&Z function to Crow Wing County that had the basic impact of feces in a punchbowl.

The public’s reaction was not good as the mayor quickly tap-danced and back-pedaled around the issue and stated that this was only an issue being studied and that P&Z would stay in Crosslake. He just hoped we would ignore the “actual makeup of Planning and Zoning.”

It was also during this timeframe that the famous, “I don’t know what Planning and Zoning does,” statement was made and repeated by the mayor and Mr. Moengen.

I’ve always been impressed when a person actually admits to not knowing something, unless it is something you would expect them to know as a vital part of their job as policy makers for our city.

Speaking of the policy makers, when I was on the city P&Z Commission, on numerous occasions we asked the city council for policy guidance and direction in regard to interpretation and revision of the City Code. In nearly every instance, the council punted the ball, obfuscated or tabled actions rather than provide concrete direction or make a hard (or any) decision.

Let’s fast forward to this year and the request to the county to have Mr. Chris Pence do an assessment of Crosslake’s P&Z office. In his May 2013 report Mr. Pence made 31 recommendations that required action by the city council and the Crosslake P&Z staff. To my knowledge, the council has not directed implementation of any of the recommendations — least of all those directed at the council itself.

Much has been made of the “award-winning” Land Services Department at the county. The awards recognized the county for consolidating five agencies into one, which doesn’t seem to bear in any manner to our small city staff, and the “substantial and unprecedented overhaul of its land use ordinance.”

Now that does bear directly on our city, but again our city council has never formally directed a rewrite of the City Code; it has only whined about it or what it might cost to have it done.

A few months ago, council members Wessels and Heacox, along with the city administrator and attorney were appointed to meet with Crow Wing County Land Services to discuss implementation of Mr. Pence’s 31 recommendations and report back to the council (and I assume the public).

I believe our two council members overstepped their bounds. To wit, last week, a copy of a formal agreement with Crow Wing County to provide P&Z services to Crosslake along with other documentation as soon as possible upon approval was distributed to some city personnel. The council package contained misleading financial figures and the statement of tasks seems to take power away from the city.

One wonders how many of the Open Meeting Law provisions were violated in order for this proposal to have gotten to this state without any public knowledge or input. Either that, or the people involved overstepped their bounds and authority in negotiating this agreement.

Or is Crow Wing County trying to downsize and hand off the excess personnel to Crosslake and its taxpayers?

At the Sept. 23 council meeting, the mayor appeared frustrated at the demands of the public to be heard on this issue, stating it was a “council issue” and implying the public had no right to question the council’s actions or motives in an open forum.

The council needs a refresher course on communication and might need Civics 101 again.

Actions speak louder than words and it appears the majority of the city council is prepared to give the raised single digit to the citizens of the city once again. I know this sounds pretty ugly, but what I’ve seen over the last 2 3/4 years has been far uglier, in my humble opinion.

Shouldn’t our elected leaders be above the venal and petty at the behest of a small group of people and use the prism of what is best for the city as a whole for basing their decisions? Maybe the concepts of “best value” might be explored instead of using the “cheapest” solution as a method of execution.

Of course, no respect was given to Tom Swenson, so why should they change now?

Well, that’s the way I see it.

Denton (Denny) Newman Jr.
I've worked at the Brainerd Dispatch with various duties since Dec. 7, 1983. Starting off as an Ad Designer and currently Director of Audience Development. The Dispatch has been an interesting and challenging place to work. I'm fortunate to have made many friends, both co-workers and customers.
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