Saturday, January 31, 2015

Has the Lino Lakes City Council Jumped the Shark?

Editorial published in MinnPost | 11/17/14

During the waning days of the long-running TV series "Happy Days," a game-changing episode aired in which a water-skiing Fonz jumped over a shark. The stunt, intended to boost ratings, instead merely demonstrated the lengths to which some will go in order to keep a worn out idea afloat.
In Lino Lakes, our City Council is taking it to extremes and may finally have undone itself.
Early this year, in an amazing display of hubris, the mayor and City Council voted unanimously to leave the Centennial Fire District, a 30-year-old, well-functioning fire and rescue organization. An article from the Quad Press, referring to Jeff Karlson, Lino Lakes city administrator, stated, "his research suggests the city will pay significantly more" (after the split). This time the City Council may have gone too far.

City Council attorney Joseph Langel stated that, in his legal opinion, the council made an "administrative" (as opposed to a "legislative") decision, and thus had the right to deny a required 750-signature petition requesting the fire district measure be put to a vote by the people this November. The explanation for this move is even more telling. The council says they pay 70 percent of the cost of the fire district while using 70 percent of the services, but have only 33 percent of the voting power. So the decision is all about the City Council’s level of power, not about the quality of service or the needs of those being served. The council has spent our tax dollars on attorneys' fees to fight anyone who disagrees with it. 

The Centennial Fire Relief Association engaged attorney Eric Kaardal to file a lawsuit in Anoka County Court on Aug. 18, citing that City Council actions clearly demonstrate that because in truth it acted in its "legislative" and not "administrative" capacity, it therefore does not have a constitutional right to deny the petition. This summer Anoka County District Court Judge Tammi Fredrickson ruled in the City Council’s favor, but the fight is not over yet.

Divisive actions

This behavior by the City Council follows previous decisions of a dubious nature that divide the community rather than bring it together for a common purpose. On the same night the council unanimously chose to scrub the petition for a ballot measure, it also unanimously chose to deny action from the Charter Commission requesting a vote on a city ward system for Lino Lakes. 

Other community-discordant actions by the mayor and City Council :
  • Ongoing disagreements that have created tension with the Charter Commission. 
  • In a recent City Council meeting the mayor disrespectfully referred to some charter commissioners as "troublemakers" without objection by anyone. 
  • In January of this year the City of Lino Lakes was found guilty of violating campaign-finance reporting requirements by a three-member panel of judges while promoting a Charter Amendment (see the blog "Pursuing Truth in Lino Lakes").
  • The council’s continuing insistence that the City Charter’s requirement for a vote on all road construction assessments is the reason there have been no road improvements. In fact only one road in the 32-year history of the charter was denied by voters in three different elections because it asked for far too many improvements to be paid for by homeowners through assessments. One would think that it's time to move on to other road projects, but that idea was not broached until this year.
  • The City Council finally did decide to initiate other road projects; when asked by citizens to outline specific road improvements in specific locations, it failed to do so.
  • Its failure to meet directly with members of the Centennial Fire District to explain the fire protection plan and ask for input.
  • It has damaged its relations with the City of Centerville (partners in Centennial Fire Department).
  • It has damaged its relations with the City of Circle Pines (partners in the Centennial Fire Department).
The friction between the Lino Lakes City Council and many in the community is not new. As far back as 2008, the city gave audience to Dustin Deets, a consultant who handed out a document during a council work session outlining "Brainstorming Preparation Considerations." Deets was paid over $9,000 of our tax dollars to consult the City Council in what was ostensibly a "campaign" to stop the city from being "controlled by the Charter." Suggestions include "Lull and confuse pro-charter supporters with extended period of silence." This suggestion does not promote comity, trust or respect between The Lino Lakes City Council, the Charter Commission and the citizens of our city even though the charter was enacted by the people in a landslide election in 1982.

This same City Council engendered statewide infamy in the summer of 2010 when it adopted an "English only" policy. The American Physiological Association states: "English-only is socially divisive and poses a threat to the human welfare that psychologists espouse in the The American Psychological Association's "Ethical Principles of Psychologists for government interaction with its citizens." I would submit this "English Only" law is, at best, an example of a solution in pursuit of a problem. 

Is it true when Councilman Dave Roeser at the Aug. 11 City Council meeting said that he wants to work with citizens to solve the city’s problems? The answer is clear. Almost everyone who has tried to work with the City Council's unanimous mandates learns that either you agree with them or you're in a fight.

What can be done to support the firefighters’ efforts to keep the integrity of the Centennial Fire District? Go to their Facebook page

Lino Lakes citizens are also urged to vote every chance they get, to replace the City Council with a governing body that truly represents the best interests of our community.

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