5 questions with Jim Adams
Crystal Mayor Jim Adams presides over what has been called the only majority-libertarian city government in America. Elected in 2012 with a background in financial accounting, real estate investing and construction, he quietly brought what he calls ‘common sense’ to the city.
Do you agree with the description that you and the council are libertarian?
We’ve been written up as being libertarian. We all have our own styles, but we are primarily non-partisan. We have our biases, and there’s no question they tend to be more liberty-oriented, more constitutional, and take a more common-sense approach to finances.
Describe the evolution of “liberty-oriented” thinking at the council.
Six years ago (former council member) Casey Peak and I were the first people elected who weren’t part of the Democratic Party. We wanted to start having conversations out loud and in public, which was a new concept to the council; transparency increased dramatically. We started recording the work sessions and made them accessible online. Two years after I was elected, every single incumbent on the council was defeated by a margin of almost two to one. I think one reason was because they had to put their positions on the table, creating more public debate.
What’s a good example that illustrates how you govern differently?
We handle finances very differently. We are trying to become a debt-free city. We don’t issue bonds anymore, and we’ve shone the light of truth on assessments. We were assessing for street reconstruction that started in the ‘90s, and finished up last year. We realized that in any bonded project one dollar goes to the bank, and two dollars go to the project. We’re not a particularly wealthy city. Our tax capacity is based off primarily single-family houses, which is the least profitable type of building to have in a city to levee against. We have to be very careful how we spend our money, and sending it to the bank is just not an option.
You’ve carried that philosophy over to buildings, as well.
We fought, kind of a bloody battle, over a public works building during the first couple years after I was elected. We had $10 million in capital funds saved for buildings, but people still wanted to bond for it. They said, “Interest rates are so low, it’s practically free.” I was able to show that if we bonded for the entire project, we would’ve almost paid $6 million more for a $13 million project … for “almost free” financing.
Your city is also trying to get its arms around city codes and regulations. How have you addressed them?
We put together a citizen task force to go through and make ordinances simpler and easier to understand. As it turned out, we had about 15 people who thought it would be really cool to read, rewrite and reorganize the codes. The group includes Libertarians, Democrats and Republicans, and there was no partisanship in the discussions. Their work has produced a more efficient, updated code than probably any municipality in the metro area. There were a lot of very simple fixes. It’s now legal to have a clothesline in the back of your house in Crystal. The pool table in the community center is now legal, since we had an old law that didn’t allow pool tables within 500 feet of any city building.