Category Archives: Crystal City Council Meeting Recap

City Meeting Recap – June 2015 (First Half)

This recap covers the June 2 work sessions and Council Meeting, and the June 8 Planning Commission Meeting.

Work Session Highlights

  • Phase 15 Street Reconstruction – We discussed the Phase 15 street reconstruction project for the first of many times.  Crystal is currently in Phase 14 of a 16 phase project to reconstruct all of the streets in the city.  Phase 14 is in progress now, and 15 is scheduled for next year.  This was just a kick off of next year’s project including the preliminary project area.  The project will be located roughly around Twin Oaks Park in the North part of the city.
  • Electrical Permit Fees – We discussed making some adjustments to the process for electrical permit fees.  The fees have not been adjusted since 2010, and will raise by about 6% overall.  In addition, the permit process was simplified and the number of total permits required by residents was reduced.  New fees will go into effect on July 1 if approved at the next council meeting.
  • Security Measures for City Hall, the Community Center and the Council Chambers – Earlier this year, in response to the shooting at New Hope City Hall, the Police Chief reviewed the safety and security measures in place at city facilities.  Chief Revering came back to the council with the proposal of a few additional security measures including additional security cameras.
  • Liquor Law Changes – The council discussed changes necessary to our Liquor Laws to allow taprooms and to allow on-sale liquor at 8AM on Sundays (the Bloody Mary law).  These changes were recently approved by the legislature, but Crystal needs to change our laws to allow the activity in our city.  Proposed ordinance changes will be made at an upcoming council meeting.
  • Re-striping 81 – When Highway 81 was reconstructed it was made large enough to accommodate six lanes (three in each direction).  A previous iteration of the city council made Hennepin County agree to make the road only 4 lanes wide, and not expand to use all of the space until at least 2017, unless the current council overrode that decision.  To say it differently, the road was built for 6 lanes, but the Crystal city council only wanted to use 4 of them.  We instructed our staff to request that Hennepin County re-stripe the road to make use of all 6 lanes.  Re-striping could be in place this fall.

Council Meeting Highlights

  • Crystal Frolics – The consent agenda included many items for Crystal Frolics, including the fireworks permit, a permit to close off a small part of Bass Lake Road during the fireworks, and the liquor licenses for the event.
  • Code Review Task Force – The Council appointed 14 members to the Code Review Task Force.  The Task Force will be going through our thousands of pages of city code looking for items that can be removed, combined, or simplified.  The Task Force meets for the first time at the end of June.
  • Utilities Ordinance – We approved the first reading of a minor change to our utilities ordinance that would allow Century Link and Comcast to improve their services on existing poles without being required to bury the lines, provided that the project met a few conditions, including that the lines were all in back yards.  This change was requested by the utilities, and is currently in the process of being approved in neighboring suburbs.  New lines and lines in front yard would still need to be undergrounded if they were expanded.  We also required as part of the permit process that utilities communicate with homeowners if they are doing work in the right of way adjacent to their yards.

In The Community: Event Highlights

  • CBA Business Expo – I attended the Crystal Business Association’s first annual business expo at the Community Center on June 6.
  • Basset Creek Park Cleanup – The Crystal Fund for Community Progress sponsored a clean up of Bassett Creek Park on May 30.  Councilmember Olga Parsons and I took the area around the pond.  Overall the park was in really good shape, but we still found some trash in the long grass around the pond. (Picture above)
  • RiverTree School Shakespeare FestivalRiverTree School is a private school located in Ward 2 of Crystal, at 38th Ave and Vera Cruz.  The school put on a Shakespeare Festival on the last day of school, June 5.  It was a great time!  Councilmember Elizabeth Dahl has a daughter who attends the school.  I’ll make you click to see her in a slightly more formal getup than she usually wears at the council meetings.

In The Community:  Upcoming Events

  • 2015 Crystal Airport Open House – Father’s Day Weekend.  Great fun for the whole family.  Bring Dad!
  • Night to Unite – August 4. Download your application to host a party here.
  • Shred It At The Heathers – Shred your confidential documents for free with donations of food to the food shelf, Saturday June 20 at The Heathers.  Details here.

The next council meeting is June 16.

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.

City Meeting Recap – May 2015 (Second Half)

As usual, I’m continuing to play with the format of these updates.  I’m thinking now that I’ll try to do one twice per month, each one covering one Council Meeting, whatever work sessions and other meetings have not been covered yet, and any special events that I attended.  That’s the plan until next month, anyway. :)

This recap will cover the Work Sessions on May 14, 19, 20 and 28, the council meeting on May 19, the Arbor Day celebration on May 13, and the city bus tour on May 21.

Arbor Day

The city held its annual Arbor Day celebration on May 13 at Forest Park, which is right next to Forest School.  During the summer, the Parks Commission holds their meetings outside at various parks and invites neighbors to join them.  These community meetings are a great opportunity to hear from residents in an informal setting.  The night started with a cleanup of the park by volunteers, then Mayor Adams and I grilled up some hot dogs, we planted a tree in the park, and then the parks commission held their community meeting.

Bus Tour

Every other year or so the city holds a bus tour where the council, our legislators, some guests from New Hope, and members of our commissions are invited to attend.  The bus goes around the city and staff highlights current projects that are going on in the area, like street reconstructions, sewage pump replacements and playground equipment upgrades.  It’s safe to say the new playground equipment at Bassett Creek was a bigger hit with the crowd than the new sewage pump at pump station 2, but the latter is still quite important.  The bus tour is a great opportunity to go and see the projects we have been discussing, and it was a valuable experience.

Work Session Highlights

  • Funds and Fund Sources – As part of the preliminary budget discussions the council received an overview of the various funds in the city, what the balance of each fund is, and how the fund is replenished.
  • Traffic Symposium – We discussed plans for the Traffic Symposium we want to hold this fall.  During campaign season, I heard quite a few concerns about traffic- stop signs wanted, speeding through neighborhoods, etc. and so did the other two new council members.  So as part of our Citizens Connection Initiative we proposed an effort to address traffic concerns in the city in a holistic way rather than a piecemeal way.   More to come on this event as we get closer to the fall.
  • Street Parking – Another hot topic from campaign season.  I pledged to several residents that if I was elected I would bring up the topic of on-street overnight parking.  Many residents, especially in the Lee Park neighborhood expressed a desire to repeal the ban on overnight street parking.  We discussed this topic and came up with 3 potential approaches and will be seeking input on the 3 plans in the next few weeks.  The item will likely be on a council meeting agenda coming up so we can gather feedback before making a decision.
  • Commissions – We discussed commissions again, and outlined a proposal for some changes.  We’re working on creating a document that details the changes, and will be putting that out for feedback soon.
  • Blue Line Planning – A few weeks ago the Blue Line team presented to us at a work session, and the council raised several concerns about the proposed station design and placement, along with the impact on traffic.  The team addressed us again on May 14  with some updates.  I remain concerned about the traffic impact from the Blue Line, and think that running the train at street level is unacceptable.  In addition I don’t feel it is possible to accurately predict traffic patterns 25 years in the future, nor do I think the computer models that are used to “prove” how slick traffic will be are realistic.  What I do know is that in the short to medium term this project, if built, would have a massive negative effect on our city by bringing increased noise, dust, and delays from construction.  I remain unconvinced that the long term benefit would be worth the pain, and of course the massive cost to taxpayers.  That being said, if the project gets built anyway, we need to make sure it’s done right and that corners aren’t cut in an effort to artificially make the total cost look better.
  • Code Review Task Force – The council recently solicited applications for a Code Review Task Force that would look at our city code and suggest ordinances to repeal, replace, or simplify.  We had initially thought the task force would be about 10 people, but we received 14 applications and everyone was so good that we decided to increase the size to accommodate everyone.  I was extremely impressed with the group of applicants we got, and I am excited to see what they do once the task force gets up and running later this year.

Council Meeting Highlights

  • Housekeeping – The majority of agenda items were what I’d call “housekeeping” items- renewing our contract with the Hennepin County Assessor’s office, approving the next steps in the alley and street reconstruction projects, and some miscellaneous budgeted items for the public works facility.
  • Water Fee Increase – The big item on the agenda was the approval of an increase to the water rates to pay for the replacement of the broken water main.  As I covered before, the water main failed much sooner than expected, and needed to be replaced.  This is the pipe that caused sinkholes in Robbinsdale twice over the last few years.  In order to pay for the replacement we needed to come up with Crystal’s share of the cost.  It was originally estimated to be $1.6 million, but the bid came in at $1.2 million.  That led to a discussion of whether we should approve a lower rate increase (like 70 cents per 1000 gallons) or keep with the $1 per 1,000 gallons we had planned.  The rate increase will generate additional revenue to cover the cost of the repair, but it will take several years to generate the whole $1.2 million.  In the meantime we have to cover the cost of the whole repair up front using other city funds.  That’s OK- we do have the liquidity to make that work, but ultimately the whole $1.2 million will have to be generated.  It was my preference that we kept with the $1 per 1,000 gallon increase so that the repayment window was as short as possible.  The 70 cent plan would have lowered the average water bill by about $1 per month, but lengthened the repayment window.  I believe that the rate we put into effect was the most responsible decision for the city’s financial health, and puts us in a good position in the future without an undue burden on our residents.  One feature of the rate increase plan was that we would freeze the rates at their new amount for a period of two years- giving everyone a break from future increases for a while.  The new rate structure passed on a 6-1 vote, with Mayor Adams dissenting.

The next council meeting is June 2.

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 – May 2015, Week 2

The Crystal City Council had two work sessions, a Council Meeting, an EDA meeting, and a bus tour sponsored by the Parks Commission during May 2015 week 2 (week beginning May 3).

Work Session Highlights

  • Charter Commission – The council met with three candidates for an open position on the city’s Charter Commission.  The Charter Commission reviews potential changes to the city’s charter, which can kind of be thought of as the Constitution for the city. There were three applicants- two former council members, and a third who is currently a member of the Parks Commission.  This commission is unique, in that the council doesn’t select the members, but instead the selection is done by a judge.  The council still likes to meet with the applicants to learn a bit more about them and thank them for applying.  We were informed earlier this week that the judge had selected Nancy LaRoche (the aforementioned Parks Commissioner) as the new Charter Commissioner, so congratulations to Nancy.
  • Boulevards/Right-Of-Way – One of the most confusing things that I deal with, and something that I get a lot of questions on, is the right-of-way.  Since she did such a good job of recapping this discussion, I’ll excerpt from my colleague Olga Parsons’ recap:

    Per the request of several council members, we received a primer on the differences of public right-of-way, boulevards, easement, and private property.  This issue has surfaced several times since I have taken office, primarily as a question about trees located in the boulevard- who is responsible to take care of trees located in your front yard, but not exactly on your private property?  Why do some residents find new trees planted in their yard without their consent?  This issue is also at play with the planned Three Rivers Park District bike project.  Many people, myself included, are unsure exactly where their private property line is drawn.  The city and county are able to use a part of your front yard for their purpose, and this arrangement can be unwelcome and distressing to many residents.  Boulevards and Public Right of Way are city property, and are reserved for city and public use. Boulevard is generally the area between your property line and the curb, and Right of Way is the entire street (and sidewalk area).  Residents do not pay taxes on the this piece of land, but are responsible for the Boulevard’s upkeep (mowing the grass, shoveling, etc).

    This topic can be quite confusing, so if you have any questions, let me know.

  • Boulevard Trees - We also briefly discussed trees that are located in the boulevard- so technically on city property, but for all intents and purposes in your front yard.  This has been a hot topic of conversation, as Olga mentioned above.  Our city staff, led by our new City Engineer, is working on a proposal to clarify the polices related to boulevard trees, so more to come on that.
  • Water Main Repair Financing - I covered this about a month ago, but Crystal has to come up with an unplanned $1.5 million to repair the water main that runs under Robbinsdale.  This is the pipe that has broken twice in two years and created sinkholes in our neighboring city.  Several options were proposed, but the option that seemed to be preferred was a rate increase of $1 per 1000 gallons of water used to go into effect immediately, and then freezing water rates for 2 years.  We’ll be covering the upfront cost by moving some money from the sewer fund to the water fund, and then gradually paying back the funds over the next few years.  We looked at about 15 different proposals, and this one was the only one that didn’t put undue strain on the water fund.  I also like the certainty of knowing that rates will stay steady for the next few years.  We’ll be voting on the final plan to make it official at the next meeting.
  • Commissions - The council is continuing our ongoing conversations about city commissions.  The conversation will continue in about 2 weeks.  I would like to stress that no decisions have been made on anything, and that I am seeking feedback from anyone with an opinion on the topic.

Council Meeting Highlights

  • Pledge of Allegiance – I was contacted by Brian Lindahl, a Boy Scout who lives in Ward 2 and is working on a merit badge that requires him to discuss a current issue with an elected official.  We discussed the proposed rail connection prior to the meeting, and I invited him to lead us in the Pledge of Allegiance, which he skillfully did.
  • Police Awards – Police Chief Stephanie Revering presented two awards- one to Officer Tim Tourville who received the MADD award for efforts to decrease drunk driving, and one to Officer Mason Barland who won the Meritorious Service Award from the MN Chiefs of Police Association.  Congratulations to both!
  • Alley Construction Project – We held the public hearing for this year’s alley reconstruction project, which is part of a long term project to reconstruct all of the alleys in the city.  We heard from a few citizens during the public hearing.  This project will come up for two more votes before it is complete.
  • Three Rivers Trail – I’ll send you over to my colleague Elizabeth Dahl’s website for a recap of this, since and she did a great of summarizing what happened.  Almost all of the trail will go through Ward 1, which Elizabeth represents.

EDA Meeting Highlights

  • Only one item on the agenda- acceptance of an proposal by Novak-Flek to option a vacant lot for redevelopment.  Novak-Flek has developed several lots in Crystal, and are entering into an option agreement (basically reserving the lot) to develop later.

Parks Tour

On Wednesday, May 6 I joined the Parks Commission (and my wife, who currently chairs the commission) on a bus tour of eight of our city parks.  The commission is working on a long range plan for our parks, and this tour was an opportunity for them to visit the parks together and share some of their vision with members of the council.  The commission has a lot of work to do to ensure that our parks continue to meet the needs of our residents well into the future.  I am excited to see the long range plan they come up with.


The next council meeting is May 19, and the next work session is Tomorrow (May 14).

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 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.

Council Meeting Recap, March 17, 2015

The Crystal City Council held Citizen’s Input Time, two work sessions, an EDA meeting, and a council meeting on March 17, 2015.

Because of time restraints I’m going to do a slightly abbreviated recap this week, focusing on two of the major issues we discussed at the council meeting.  My colleague Olga Parsons did a more comprehensive recap and I’ll send you over to her site for more details.

I do want to point out before I start that this was a fairly unique meeting in that we had three members absent.  Two were sick, and one had planned out of town travel.  One of the absent members was Mayor Adams, which meant that council member Julie Deshler, who is Mayor Pro Tem this year, acted as mayor for this meeting.

The two major issues I want to discuss are tobacco/alcohol penalties, and a cooperative agreement with Hennepin County.

State law requires that stores that sell tobacco be licensed by a city, or in areas where cities don’t do the licensing, by the county.  The law also requires that at least annually, the city (or county) perform compliance checks to make sure stores are not selling to underage individuals.

When an individual sells tobacco to a person who is under age, the individual is personally charged with a crime. In addition to charging the seller with a crime personally, state law requires cities to charge an administrative penalty to the holder of the tobacco license.  The state law proscribes a minimum penalty, but allows cities to adopt their own, stricter penalties.

The laws governing alcohol are a bit different, but most cities, including Crystal, have implemented compliance checks and civil penalties for license holders who violate the laws regarding the sale of alcohol or tobacco to minors.

After the person who illegally sold the item has pled or been found guilty of the criminal act, the civil portion of the process is begun and the item will come before the city council.

The council has adopted guidelines for civil penalties by ordinance. The guidelines for a first violation are for a fine of up to $750, and loss of license for up to one day, and get more severe from there, ending with a revocation after the fourth violation within 36 months.  These are only guidelines.  The council has the discretion to adjust the penalties up or down based on the circumstances of each case, provided they don’t go lower than state law allows ($75 on a first tobacco offense).

There are a few instances where the council must act in what’s called a “quasi-judicial” manner, meaning that although council members are not judges in a court, they do act in a similar way.  They must have open minds, they can’t prejudge a matter, they must consider the circumstances of the matter in front of them, they can’t act in an arbitrary or capricious manner.  Considering civil penalties is one of those instances.

Both of the incidents in front of the council were first time offenders, one for tobacco, one for alcohol.  Both failed their compliance checks.  Both made significant changes to their business processes to ensure they would not make a second offense.  One owner (tobacco) changed store policy to not allow anyone under 21 in the store, and the other (alcohol) bought and installed new software that wouldn’t allow a sale to complete until a valid ID was swiped into the cash register.

I voted in favor of a $750 fine for each business.  This is 10 times the state minimum required for tobacco violations.  The council was unanimous on the tobacco violation, and had one dissenting vote on the alcohol violation, with Mayor Pro Tem Deshler preferring a one day suspension of the alcohol license in addition to the fine.

I was really on the fence about the alcohol violation, and almost supported the license suspension.  However, the mitigating measure implemented by the owner (requiring a swiped ID at the point of sale) seemed very likely to prevent a second offense.

The second item I want to discuss is the adoption of a cooperative agreement between the City of Crystal and Hennepin County on the purchase of land that would be involved in the proposed rail connection in Crystal.

Hennepin County announced on March 11 that they had secured a purchase agreement for the land in the 5100 block of West Broadway, where Thomas Auto Body and North Suburban Towing currently sit.  This is the land the railroad would need to acquire in order to build the connection.

However, there was a question about whether Hennepin County had the authority to purchase this land outright.  The attorneys at the county felt that they would have the authority if they purchased the land under a cooperative agreement as authorized under MN law in section 383B.79.

This meant that the county would not (and maybe could not) purchase the land if Crystal did not sign a cooperative agreement.

I had, and still have, several concerns about this approach.  For one, the city of Crystal did not cooperate in a material way with the county in the acquisition of the land.  The entire deal was done by the county, and Crystal council members and staff were notified of the deal at a public rail meeting at the same time everyone else was.  I didn’t want to have the city sign a document that overstated our role in the process.

My other major concern is that I wanted to make sure that it was perfectly clear that the county was responsible for this purchase, including the full cost of acquisition and any legal costs that may arise out of the purchase.  I fully expect a legal challenge in this case, and I wasn’t going to commit the citizens of Crystal to a potentially expensive legal battle without some serious discussions about it, which were not had before this agreement was presented to us.

The initial draft of the agreement that was presented for us to vote on did not include any explicit language regarding Crystal’s financial obligations.  In fact, the entire agreement was quite vague.

All of my colleagues that were present at the meeting expressed similar reservations, and it was clear that the agreement would not be accepted in its current format.

Because the county was saying they would not purchase the property until we signed the agreement, this was a time sensitive manner.  We voted to continue the meeting from Tuesday night until Thursday night and asked for a new draft of the agreement that addressed our concerns.

The document that was presented when we reconvened included a statement that explicitly addressed that Crystal has no financial or legal obligation toward the project.  It also included some other clarifying language to address our other concerns.

The proposed agreement was passed by the council unanimously (by the members present, we were still short two members due to travel and illness).

I do believe that the county’s acquisition of the land was a good tactical move as we attempt to negotiate through the situation with the railroad connection.  But that said, the acquisition is not a “silver bullet”.  The matter is not resolved, and most likely will not be for some time.

It will require the attention and focus of the citizens of Crystal to keep themselves, and their elected officials at all levels, engaged in this process until it is ultimately resolved.

Finally, I would like to take a moment to thank council member Juile Deshler for her great work this past week.  As I mentioned above Julie is the Mayor Pro Tem which means that she has to step up when the Mayor is unavailable.  While Jim was at home with a nasty case of pneumonia, Julie had to run two council meetings, a few work sessions, deliver a State of the City address, and testify down at the capitol on rail safety.   She encountered a big unexpected challenge and really stepped up to the task.  Thanks Julie!


Council Meeting Recap – March 3, 2015

The Crystal City Council held two work sessions, an EDA Meeting, and a council meeting on March 3, 2015.

The EDA meeting was quick, with only one agenda item, the approval of the sale of one lot owned by the EDA for the asking price.

At the first work session we discussed making charitable contributions to local food shelves.  By city ordinance, 10% of the net profits of any charitable gambling operation in in Crystal must be contributed to a fund administered by the city.  The city council will then make a decision on how to distribute any money in that fund.  There is about $1,500 in the fund this year.  In past years the council has designated those funds be split between NEAR and PRISM food shelves.  We decided to continue that tradition, so each organization will get a check for $750 from that fund.

At the council meeting, we considered the second reading of two ordinances, both of which were initially discussed at the February 17 meeting.  The first amends the zoning ordinance to allow impound lots as a conditional use in the Industrial (I-1) zone.  The second amends the ordinance regulating second hand goods dealers to clarify that a store selling refurbished appliances doesn’t count as a second hand goods dealer.   Both passed unanimously, as they did at the last meeting.

The next item was a resolution outlining how the city will finance the new Public Works facility.  The project was approved under the last council (before I joined) but despite extensive, often heated discussions about how to finance the project, the group ultimately never came to a clear consensus on the matter.

That meant when I joined the council I had to quickly get up to speed on the project.  I had followed the issue as an interested citizen, so I wasn’t starting from square one.  My initial thought was that we should bond (borrow) for a portion of the project, but after an in-depth review of the financing options (pay cash, bond for some portion, or bond for all of it) the cash option is the only one that made fiscal sense.

Bonding for any portion of the building would mean a tax increase.  Bonding for the entire building would mean a huge tax increase.  The concern with the all cash option was that we would leave the city vulnerable by spending down all of our available cash and potentially cause liquidity issues down the road.

Based on the numbers that I saw from our finance department, I did not feel that was a concern.  The major building fund had $10 million in it to contribute to this project.  The utilities fund is contributing $1 million, and the EDA is contributing $650,000.  The “gap” that we needed to cover ended up being about $1 million.

We will fund that gap with a short term loan from other city funds.  While that may sound a bit hokey (it did to me, hence my initial hesitation on the all cash plan), it makes more sense when you understand that the city doesn’t have a bunch of bank accounts.  There’s one big account, and we keep money segregated into different funds “on paper” only.  Ultimately, the money all comes from the citizens of Crystal.  It’s common to transfer money from one fund to another if the balances get out of whack (one fund too high, another too low) or if needs change (as they often do).  When you add up the money that is in all of the funds, I feel that there is enough liquidity to get us through even a major emergency scenario.  If I didn’t feel that way, I wouldn’t have supported the all cash option.

Ultimately, I expect a little less than half of the gap will be closed at the end of 2015 by funds that have already been levied on the citizens (not a new tax).  That leaves a sizable but manageable amount to replenish in 2016.  It’s feasible that the short term loans could be fully replenished by the end of 2016, and by choosing an all cash option we avoided several hundred thousand dollars in finance charges.

The resolution approving the all cash financing plan passed 6-1, with council member Laura Libby voting in the dissent.  She preferred a financing plan that would have bonded (borrowed) for the entire cost of the project.

The next part of the meeting was near and dear to my heart, the adoption of new council rules.  Although this sounds like the most boring topic on Earth, to me it’s actually really important.

I believe that a legislative body like the council needs a clear set of rules to operate under.  If everyone understands the rules (and follows them!) it will go a long way toward diffusing conflict before it happens, and will allow the body to continue to operate even during times when there is significant disagreement between members.

Council member Casey Peak and I worked together to draft a set of rules, which were then discussed with the council at a work session.  We adopted some suggested changes from our attorney, the staff, and the full council, and the end result was the product which passed last night.

We had some goals going into the process, and I think we accomplished them:

  • To establish a set of rules governing the internal operations of the council
  • To clarify processes and expectations, decreasing conflict
  • To protect the rights of both the minority and majority, and ensure every member is heard
  • To put in place good government practices that will last beyond the existing council
  • Balance formality with flexibility
  • Develop the minimum amount of rules necessary to accomplish the goals above, in the clearest language possible

While one council cannot (and shouldn’t be able to) bind a future council to anything, I do hope that future councils continue our example of keeping in place a fair and clear set of rules that allows all members to be heard.

In order for the rules to take place, we needed to both formally adopt the rules, and then amend the ordinance that governs council procedures to accommodate the new rules.  The rules were adopted unanimously, and the first reading of the ordinance passed unanimously as well.  The ordinance will be up for a second reading at the next meeting.

After the council meeting we went into a work session that dealt with the process for interviewing applicants to advisory commissions or committees.

The council has a full review of the commission process on our plan for later this year, but we need to interview applicants for the Blue Line LRT advisory committee very soon, so now was a good time to look at our interview process and make changes.  We’ll use the new process for these interviews, and we’ll tweak it if necessary during our full review of commissions.

We had an extensive and very thoughtful discussion on the process, which I won’t attempt to recreate here, since I’m already over 1,100 words.  :)

The process we adopted is:

  • All applicants will be interviewed.
  • Interviews will be conducted by the full council (plus the commission chair, if there is one), at a work session.  Applicants will be interviewed sequentially, not as a group.
  • After all of the interviews are complete, each council member will rank the applicants, the scores will be aggregated, and the highest ranked applicant will be appointed.
  • There will be an option to hold the position open and seek additional applicants, if a majority of the council agrees it is necessary.

I will say that we looked at practices used in other cities and are more or less adopting a fairly common process though each city has slight variations.

We have a work session tomorrow (Thursday March 5) focused on council goals and priorities, and another one next week (Thursday March 12) where we will hear from the Parks Commission, which has a very lovely, beautiful and talented chair, who also happens to be my wife.  (I put that in there not only because it’s true, but to see if she actually reads my recaps.)

The next council meeting is March 17.

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.

Council Meeting Recap – February 17, 2015

The Crystal City Council held Citizen Input Time, two work sessions, an EDA meeting, and a council meeting on February 17, 2015.

While trains dominated the discussion this week, this recap is going to skip discussion of anything involving trains.  Please see this post from councilmember Olga Parsons and/or this post from me for more details on that issue, including what you can do to help out.

Citizen Input Time is a time when citizens can come address the council on any topic in a more informal setting than during the council meeting.  There is usually a session scheduled once a month prior to a council meeting, except during the summer.  Check the schedule for upcoming dates.

We heard from three citizens at Citizen Input Time.  Two on the train issue, and one on an issue regarding a pond located near The Heathers.  Staff is following up on the pond issue, which has been ongoing.

At the first work session the Human Rights Commission presented their 2015 work plan.  We’ll have more on this soon as the  council discusses generally what our strategy will be regarding commissions.

Now, on to the regular meeting, which kicked off in an exciting way- with a proclamation from Mayor Adams that February 18, 2015 is Matt Borchers Day in Crystal.  Matt is an amazing young man who achieved the rare goal of earning all 139 Boy Scout merit badges before his eighteenth birthday.  Read more about Matt and his accomplishment here.

The next item on the agenda was a public hearing related to the allocation of Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) funds.  The CDBG is a federal program that has been in existence since the Ford administration.  Crystal receives about $100,000 each year from the federal government under this program, and we have some limited choices on how to allocate these funds.

Historically, Crystal has put all of our CDBG funding into a deferred home improvement loan program.  This allows residents who meet an income requirement to apply for a loan to improve their home. If they stay in their home for 15 years, the loan is forgiven.  If they sell, it must be paid back.

Demand for this program varies from year to year, but last year we ended with a waiting list of residents who wanted to take advantage of it.

We do have the discretion of allocating some of our CDBG funds to other limited purposes, such as certain social services organizations. Each year we do get some requests from organizations seeking part of Crystal’s CDBG allocation.  These organizations typically receive funding from the CDBG allocation of other cities, and want to also receive funding from Crystal.

There was discussion this year, as there was last year, to change our allocation to provide social services funding.  There are many great social services organizations that operate in our area, and they can each make a very compelling case for funding.

However, the deferred home improvement loan program has been working, and working well in Crystal since the 1980’s, and the goals of that program align with the intent of the CDBG program.   Other cities have not seen the same level of success with the loan program, and have ended the year with unspent funds.  In those situations, it may make sense to allocate to other programs, but that isn’t the reality in Crystal.  We have the opposite situation, where we don’t have enough funds to meet the demands of an established program.

There was a motion to change our allocation for 2015 to include social services funding, which failed 5-2.  The vote to allocate 100% of the CDBG funding to the deferred home improvement program passed 6-1.

We had a few non-controversial issues next, including approving the transfer of a liquor license to a new owner, appointing two new members of the planning commission, ordering a feasibility study for phase 8 of the alley reconstruction program, and authorizing the purchase of some planned equipment for the new public works facility.

Next we moved on to the consideration of a change in our zoning ordinance to allow impound lots as a conditional use in the industrial zone.  This was prompted by the rail project, which would take the land of North Suburban Towing, which has been operating an impound lot in Crystal for decades.

Our current zoning doesn’t allow impound lots anywhere in the city.  North Suburban Towing is allowed to stay where they are indefinitely because they are “grandfathered in”.  However with the railroad potentially taking their land, they would be forced to move, and our ordinances would prohibit them from relocating in Crystal.

So unless we change the ordinance we’d lose a long time business because they had to relocate through no fault of their own.

The new ordinance allows impound lots in our industrial zones, subject to a few restrictions including minimum lot size and fencing requirements.

The ordinance change was passed unanimously, and there will be a second reading in the next few weeks.  (All ordinance changes require two readings, giving the public multiple opportunities to weigh in.)

We also considered the change of the ordinance governing second hand goods dealers, as it was found that it would apply to a new business who wants to sell refurbished appliances, which was not the intent of the original law.  To solve the issue we listed refurbished appliances as an exception.  That change also passed unanimously.

That was the last item on the regular meeting agenda.

After that we had a quick EDA meeting where we authorized some plat changes to allow us to sell part of an irregularly shaped lot held by the city to the adjacent homeowners.  It basically takes a triangle shaped lot and makes it a rectangle.  We’d sell the other triangle pieces to the property owners who back up to the lot, making their lots more regularly shaped as well.

After the EDA meeting we went into a work session focused on trains.

The next meeting and Work Session will be Tuesday, March 3.

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.

Council Meeting Recap – February 3, 2015

The Crystal City Council had two work sessions, a regular council meeting, and an EDA meeting on February 3, 2015.

We started the night with a work session before the meeting which consisted of a presentation on the Bottineau Light Rail project from the Met Council.  I’ll have more on that later, as we’ll be seeking citizens to apply to an advisory committee for this project in the next few weeks.

From there we went into the regular council meeting.  The only two items on the agenda were a public hearing for a liquor license, and the approval of the plans for the phase 14 street reconstruction project.  The liquor license was really just a transfer from one owner to another, and the street project is the next phase in our long running project to re-do every street in Crystal.  The vote on the street project let the engineers put the project out for bids.

Both items passed unanimously.

After the council meeting there was an EDA meeting where we approved the sale of an EDA lot to a builder.  The builder is one who has built many houses on EDA lots in Crystal in the past.  I’m excited to get another house built on another empty lot.

After the EDA meeting we went into a jam-packed work session.

The first item up for discussion was amending our ordinance regulating second hand goods dealers.  A new business wants to move into town and sell used appliances, and the broad language in the ordinance could cause issues for them if it was interpreted as applying to them.  It seems the original intent of the ordinance was to regulate businesses dealing in used goods (think consignment shops), and not this type of business, so a proposal was made to update the ordinance.  Look for a public hearing on that coming up soon.

Next we talked about our procedures regarding disruptive meetings and dangerous situations in the council chambers.  Obviously this was brought up in light of the terrible situation in New Hope a few weeks ago.

Our police chief made a few proposals for changes to our procedures, and we will be looking into them.

This part of the meeting was closed under the exception to the open meeting law for security issues.  So that part of the meeting was audio recorded, but won’t be on the normal recording of the work session.

I will note that there was quite a bit of discussion by the council about making sure we balance making our meetings inviting to the public when we consider any new security measures.  It’s our desire that everyone feels safe at our meetings, but that we don’t place any perceived barriers between us and the public.  We want to make sure we don’t discourage anyone from attending council meetings.

Next we talked about changes to our procedures for appointing people to advisory commissions and boards.  We have a full-scale review of commissions, the application process, the interview process and commission structures on our goal list, so much more to come on this topic.

Next we discussed the goal setting process and prioritization of new initiatives for the upcoming year (or two).  We have an ongoing list of priorities and projects.  As homework we are all going to make sure our ideas are on the list and that we assign priorities to the items.  At a future meeting we will start adding timelines so that we can start crossing things off the list.

Finally, we distributed the first draft of our proposed council rules.  Adopting a formal set of rules for how the council will conduct business was identified as a top priority.  Council member Casey Peak and I worked together to draft a set of rules.  We will be discussing any changes to the draft at the next work session and will hopefully adopt them at the next council meeting.

The next Work Session is Thursday, February 12, and the next meeting is Tuesday, February 17.

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.

Council Meeting Recap – January 20, 2015

The Crystal City Council had a busy night on January 20, starting off with Citizen Input Time at 6:00, which was followed by 2 council work sessions, a council meeting, and an EDA work session.

One person spoke at Citizen Input Time- a landlord who owns a rental property in Crystal and had some issues with the renewal process.  The council and city staff will be looking into potential changes to the way we interact with property owners as a result of this conversation.

The first work session, held right before the meeting and after Citizen Input Time, dealt with a proposed railroad project in Crystal.  I will write about this in more detail later as I should have more information after another meeting tomorrow.

After the first work session we went to the regular council meeting.  We started with the presentation of the Outstanding Agency Award to the Crystal Police Department from from state’s Office of Traffic Safety.  CPD participates in the state’s Toward Zero Death traffic safety initiative and a representative of that program was on hand to explain about the program and the results.  We have had zero traffic fatalities in Crystal over the past few years, and deaths in MN are near an all time low.  In addition to accolades, CPD won a new piece of traffic safety equipment, called a “Lidar,” worth about $5,000.

During the regular agenda we approved the purchase of some replacement trucks for public works.  These were planned replacements of old trucks which were in the 2015 budget.

After the meeting we went into an Economic Development Authority (EDA) work session which was very productive.  We reviewed the 2014 annual report and the 2015 work plan (what the EDA did last year, and what it plans to do this year).

We also discussed in detail all of the lots which are owned by the EDA, and asked the staff to move a few of the lots from the “hold” list to active development.

There are many reasons why the EDA may obtain a lot- it could be a tax forfeiture, a regular purchase or even a donation.  Once the EDA obtains the lots we have to decide what to do with them.  The city has been holding on to a few lots since the bubble burst of 2008, but with the market coming back the EDA wanted to get as many of these lots developed as the market will allow.

After the EDA work session ended at about 9PM we had a short council work session to talk about council goals for 2015, including the Citizen Connection Initiative.

The next meeting is Tuesday February 3.

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.