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City Councilor’s Blog Encourages More Citizen Watchdogs

Online government watchdog groups usually get started by concerned citizens aiming to put pressure on elected officials. But a new Facebook page started by a concerned elected official in the Twin Cities suburb of Minnetrista aims to encourage citizens to get more involved at City Hall.

The “Minnestrista governance blog” by City Councilor Shannon Bruce bills itself as a place to get up to speed “about local government issues and how they impact citizens.”

This blog is to inform citizens and give them a perspective on matters of civic importance in Minnetrista. Opinions posted here are my own and do not reflect official positions of the city of Minnetrista. Some people are worried you might not be able to figure that out for yourself.

The blog highlights items on the city’s wish list, big and small.

Does Minnetrista need to spend millions on a new city master campus that includes a $2M-$3M Public Works expansion? An amphitheater ($500K)? Boardwalks over wetlands for environmental education? Dog parks? An ornamental entrance gateway into a new loop drive ($1.1M)? A city hall expansion ($1-$2M)? These are all options proposed in three different versions of a city master campus plan.

Rather than lobby for more government and spending, Bruce arms residents with information that could be used to press city officials to hold the line.

When we discussed this plan at the July 17, 2017 council meeting, I expressed concern over the costs. When I asked how this would be paid for the Mayor responded “Well, there are grants and a lot of a number of different ways…partnerships…” So I replied “So taxpayers are not going to have to pay for any of this?” and then Finance Director Brian Grimm confirmed that bonding would likely be required. I already knew that but what interested me was the Mayor’s response. Does she really think taxpayers believe they won’t have to pay for this?

In August, Bruce gave her constituents a heads up on a proposed property tax increase in time to weigh in with her colleagues.

It’s that time of year when cities are deciding on their preliminary tax levy (what you’ll pay on your property tax bill). Unfortunately there is only one Minnetrista councilmember so far that doesn’t want to see an increase in your city property taxes over last year. Minnetrista is considering a 4.8%-5% increase despite having a surplus two years in a row and millions being added to its tax base.

Bruce lost the battle to stave off a 5.43 percent property tax increase. But so far, she’s slowed down momentum on a multi-million dollar proposed new city campus.

The more debt we acquire the more your tax dollars are spent on interest instead of city services. We’ve reached a point where Minnetrista MUST grow in order to pay the debt service on its revenue bonds and if it doesn’t, current residents will have to pick up the tab. Say goodbye to the rural character of Minnetrista and hello to suburban sprawl.

The master campus plan didn’t get adopted at the July 17 meeting because of objections raised by both me and Council Member Molitor. It will be back on the agenda very soon so keep an eye out. Contact your council members to let them know your concerns about adopting a master campus plan because the way these things roll, once the plan is adopted, the credit card is as good as swiped.

There is one drawback. Bruce’s interpretation of the Minnesota Open Meeting Law led her to prohibiting comments from constituents. But it might be a way of motivating more citizens to show up in person at City Hall.

As a city council member this public blog will not accept comments because of Minnesota open meeting laws that prohibit two-way communication dealing with city matters with other council members outside of public meetings. If you have comments you’re encouraged to attend city work sessions (where the real work happens but is never recorded) and council meetings.

But nothing prevents Minnetrista governance blog from sharing city officials’ emails, including her own.

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