Week in Review – April 2015, Week 4

The Crystal City Council had one work session, a council meeting, and citizen input time during April 2015 week 4 (week beginning April 20).

Citizen Input Time

During the non-summer months, the city council hosts Citizen Input time once per month.  Citizen input time is an open time for citizens to come in and bring up items of concern to the council.  It’s a much more relaxed and less formal setting than a regular council meeting, so that makes it a good time to just come and discuss whatever is on your mind.  During the summer months, we take the show on the road, so to speak, and attend community meetings in select parks.  You can find the schedule on the city’s website.

This month we heard from three residents.  One wanted to discuss an ongoing issue with a pond in her backyard, one wanted to discuss an unfortunate issue she experienced with a subcontractor for Centerpoint Energy related to the street reconstruction project, and one wanted to speak about some concerns he had with the maintenance of the road in front of his house.

City staff is continuing to work on the pond, followed up with Centerpoint regarding the issues with the contractor, and we have a crew looking into the road situation.

The council receives regular updates about ongoing issues which were brought forth by citizens during our regular work sessions every other Tuesday.  This is a new process we instituted this year to ensure no citizen concerns are falling through the cracks and going unaddressed.

Council Meeting Highlights

  • Moment of Silence - We began the meeting with a moment of silence for Barway Collins.  The mayor followed that up by thanking the Crystal Police Department, and especially Chief Stephanie Revering for their work to quickly resolve the case.
  • Lynn Haney Day – Mayor Adams declared May 8, 2015 Lynn Haney Day in Crystal.  Lynn is the President of the Crystal Frolics* and has been on the Parks Commission since 1997, volunteering countless hours to our city.  This was much deserved recognition for Lynn.  *In case you didn’t know, Crystal Frolics is a non-profit organization run by community volunteers.
  • Phase 14 Assessments – Tuesday’s meeting was when we held the official public hearing prior to setting the special assessment for the Phase 14 street reconstruction project.  Crystal is in phase 14 of 16 of a project that will reconstruct every street in the city- the project has been going on for many years.  We heard directly from about 10 residents, and a few more submitted letters.  There was a fairly clear consensus from the council and the crowd that after the final two phases are completed, the council will need to reconsider the policy of using special assessments for street construction.  I am not in favor of special assessments- I think they are a hidden tax.  I also struggle to understand (as did several residents) what our tax dollars go to if they aren’t used to maintain our roads.  However, I do not support changing course with only 3 phases out of 16 remaining, so we will have to get through these final 3 phases using the existing process.
  • Water Main – We passed a resolution saying that we would fund our share of the water main replacement project that will happen later this summer.  We have not yet decided where we’ll get the $1.6 million.  That discussion is ongoing.  All we said was that we’ll get it somewhere, which will allow the project to go forward.  I covered this topic in the work session section of my last review.

Work Session Highlights

Only one item on the agenda this week and that was a discussion of CenturyLink’s application to get a cable franchise that would serve Crystal (we’re in a franchise area that includes several surrounding cities) .  The open questions are 1) should CenturyLink be required to serve all residents of the area within 5 years, as the predecessor to the predecessor to the predecessor to Comcast was required to do in the 1980s?  and 2) What amount should CenturyLink be required to donate to support Channel 12 and NWCTV?  Comcast paid $300,000 when they signed their last 10 year agreement.  Ultimately these questions will be resolved by the Northwest Suburban Cable Communications Commission.  Crystal has two representatives on that commission.


The next council meeting is May 5.

You can watch the video of the council meeting here and find the agendas and meeting notes here.  Audio recording of work sessions can be found here. Check the city calendar for updated meeting dates, locations and times.

Week in Review – April 2015, Week 2

The Crystal City Council had three work sessions, a council meeting, and an EDA meeting during the second week of April, 2015.  In addition, there was a West Metro Fire Board meeting on Wednesday the 8th.

I’m continuing to play around with the format of my recaps to see what works best, so here goes.

Work Session Highlights

  • Blue Line Technical Issues – We met with Blue Line staff to discuss a report regarding some technical issues with the station that would be located in Crystal.  I had, and still have, serious concerns about the traffic impact that the Blue Line would bring to Crystal, especially in light of recent developments with freight rail.  The report from the Blue Line team did not adequately address my concerns.  This will be an ongoing process.
  • Phase 14 Street Reconstruction – We met with engineers to discuss the cost of the Phase 14 street reconstruction project.  This is happening in the north part of the city and is part of the ongoing street reconstruction program.  Costs are in line with what was expected.  Residents affected directly by this project are receiving communication from the city about what they need to do and when.
  • MAC Park – In what was the highlight of the week, a group of citizens came in and gave a presentation about MAC Park and what they would like to see done in the park in the short and long term.  It was really cool to see an organized group of citizens come in and have a very productive conversation with their elected officials.  They even brought a friend from Germany who wanted to see what an American city council was like!  We will be connecting them with the Parks commission to ensure their feedback is incorporated into the long range plan for the parks.
  • Water Main Funding – As you’re probably aware, we have a water main that needs emergency repairs.  It’s the one that created sinkholes in Robbinsdale twice in two years.  The pipe is currently not being used and we’re running without a backup.  We share our water system with New Hope and Golden Valley.  Our share of the cost to repair the main is about $1.5 million, and because this pipe was not expected to need replacement for many more years, we don’t have the $1.5 million in the bank saved up for this repair.  We do have money in other city funds so that we can essentially loan ourselves the money for the repair, but then we have to replenish these funds.  The logical place to come up with the additional funding is through an increase in water usage fees.  We’re currently looking at a few plans regarding how large the increase needs to be to cover the costs in a reasonable amount of time.  Stay tuned.
  • Advisory Commissions – We had the first of what will most likely be many conversations about how advisory commissions work in Crystal, which ones work, which ones don’t (and why), what the role of commissions is, and what this should all look like in the future.  We have homework, and are scheduling the next round of talks soon.  Bottom line, we want to make sure we have a clear understanding of the roles of commissions in our city, where our needs are, and make sure we’re meeting those needs.  Council member Dahl has done a ton of research on this topic in comparing what Crystal does to other cities, and in researching the history of various commissions.  In addition, Mayor Adams and I had a meeting this week in Shakopee, which has a very successful commissions program, to see what we could learn from them.

Council Meeting Highlights

  • Board of Appeal and Equalization Meeting – we held a Board of Appeal and Equalization Meeting, which is the first place you need to go if you want to appeal your property’s valuation or classification.  I wrote about that here.  We didn’t have any citizens petition the board directly this year.
  • Blue Line Committees – We appointed two citizens and two business representatives to two new committees created for the Blue Line project.  We had many great applicants for these positions.  We appointed John Slama and Denny Walsh as Crystal’s representatives to the Blue Line Extension Business Advisory Committee, and Justin Youngbluth and Gene Bakke as our representatives to the Community Advisory Committee.
  • Three Rivers Park Trail – We were presented with a resolution in support of Three Rivers applying for a grant from Hennepin County to complete the Bassett Creek Regional Trail.  Although this project has been going on for many years, this is the first time many members of the council have ever been involved with it, or have had to take a vote on it.  After some discussion with Three Rivers Park staff we voted to continue the motion until the next meeting so we had time as a council to engage with residents about the project before taking a vote.  In addition, council member Parsons and I have a meeting with Three Rivers next week to get some more information about the project.  We’ll take a final vote at either the next council meeting or the one after that.
  • Becker Park Improvements – We approved funding for cleaning and painting of the building at Becker Park, and for resurfacing of the tennis courts.  There was $75,000 in the budget this year for a new fence, but the fence ended up only costing about $30,000 (we were able to reuse the old poles).  With all three projects we are still under the $75k that was in the budget.

EDA Highlights

  • Lot Sales – We held two public hearings regarding sales of EDA owned lots to builders.  There were no public comments and both sales were approved.  That’s two more brand new houses on formerly empty lots in Crystal!
  • Lot Acquisition – We authorized staff to begin the process of acquiring a lot in Crystal that is currently owned by the County so the EDA can redevelop it.  If we acquire it, the lot could be used for either commercial purposes (a small office building) or for single family homes.

West Metro Fire Board

  • Capital Purchases – We approved the purchase of capital equipment that was in the budget for this year including a garage door, an air compressor, and turn out gear for the newly hired firefighters.
  • Budget – West Metro’s budget process starts very early because it needs to be approved by both the New Hope and Crystal city councils and figured into the city budgets.  The preliminary budget looks like a $67,000 increase which is about 3.4%.  Crystal would pay about half of that.  Budget talks will continue.  The budget must be approved by July 31.
  • Strategic Planning – The board discussed scheduling work sessions to complete strategic planning for West Metro.  We haven’t started the strategic planning yet- at this point we’re talking about how to develop the process for developing the strategic plan.  No word on if we’ll need a strategic plan for that.  I kid.  (Sort of.)  It’s important that there is clear vision for West Metro, but the added bureaucracy that comes with a shared department and the challenges of wrangling players from two cities is becoming very apparent.

The next council meeting is April 21, which also includes citizen input time.

You can watch the video of the council meeting here and find the agendas and meeting notes here.  Audio recording of work sessions can be found here. Check the city calendar for updated meeting dates, locations and times.

And for a different take on the meetings, check out council member Parson’s site.

“Citizen Connection Initiative” – The First 100 Days

April 16, 2015

Significant Progress Made Toward Goals; Work to Continue

Crystal, MN – In January 2015, incoming Crystal City Councilmembers Olga Parsons (Section II), Elizabeth Dahl (Ward 1) and Jeff Kolb (Ward 2) announced the creation of the “Citizen Connection Initiative,” a program designed to guide their priorities and decision making throughout their term in office.

April 16 represents 100 days since the three new council members were sworn in, and there is much progress to report on the initiative.

“We are pleased to announce that the Citizen Connection Initiative was embraced by most of our colleagues on the council, and with their support we have accomplished several of the initial goals we identified,” said Parsons.

Key initiatives already accomplished include:

  • Implementing new council rules to govern the council in a responsible manner
  • Implementing a new tracking system to monitor feedback from residents
  • Testing a new interview process for boards and commissions
  • Sending thank you notes to citizens who speak at council meetings
  • Began the Plain Language Initiative to streamline communications from the city to residents
  • Restructuring work sessions to include dedicated time to discuss issues raised by residents
  • Establishing an Ordinance Review Task Force to streamline outdated ordinances
  • Kept residents informed about key issues, such as the proposed rail connection, through various channels

“While we have accomplished many of our initial goals, there is still much work to be done, and we intend to keep the focus on serving the residents of Crystal and maintaining a customer service focus in the city” said Dahl.

Ongoing and upcoming initiatives include:

  • Reevaluating the structure and goals of city commissions and boards
  • More neighborhood meetings throughout the summer
  • A traffic symposium scheduled for this fall
  • A long term branding and communications strategy

“Our goal was to make the Crystal City Government more transparent, open, and responsive to its citizens, and I think we are making good progress,” said Kolb. “I look forward to building on our success over the next few years.”

As a reminder Initial steps to the Citizen Connection Initiative included a pledge by all three incoming councilmembers to do the following:

  • Maintain a personal website where they will post information about key votes made by the council
  • Maintain a Facebook presence where residents can interact with their representative
  • Post occasional updates to Nextdoor.com about relevant community meetings
  • Strive for a 72 hour or less response time to citizen inquiries

For more information on the Citizen Connection Initiative contact the individual councilmembers using the contact information below:

Olga Parsons

Elizabeth Dahl

Jeff Kolb