Another Park Board meeting marred by lack of honest discourse took place on October 20. Some highlights and lowlights of that meeting follow.
* The Standards & Conduct committee, consisting of [strangely only] 3 members, commissioners Carol Kummer, John Erwin and Bob Fine was called to order by chairman Kummer. It ostensibly would consider commissioner Vivian Mason’s letter of complaint about commissioner Walt Dziedzic’s assaultive misconduct at the August 18, 2004 meeting. In fact, it was a joke, worse than a kangaroo court.
First counsel Brian Rice spent a lengthy time reading aloud (with a severe lack of enunciation which made it difficult to understand what he was saying) from Mason’s Manual of Legislative Procedure used by the State Legislature regarding the meaning of “disorderly words.” Rice eventually renders an opinion that the committee or board is free to censure Dziedzic if they so choose.
Kummer then stated that Park Police chief Bradley Johnson says that no assault, battery or terrorism was committed by Dziedzic, a former-police officer and the Park Police department’s strongest supporter. “It’s nice to own the Park Police” commented an audience member at this point. [This is quite in contrast to several commissioners several members of the public in the audience present at that meeting who personally felt threatened with violence, including this writer.] Then Kummer allows Commissioners Dziedzic and Mason to speak.
Mason says she initially did not file a formal complaint but instead simply wrote a letter to Dziedzic asking for an apology, but not only was such not forthcoming, it would not even be mentioned.
Dziedzic refuses to speak saying he will let the record stand for itself. [considering that the record includes 2 separate video recordings of Dziedzic losing his temper and threatening commissioners with violent assaults, it seems one would only stand on such a record if one knew the fix was in and no punishment would be forthcoming]
Kummer thinks that Dziedzic’s views could have been expressed more delicately, but that they do not “rise” to the level of “disorderly words.”
Kummer allows commissioner Rochelle Berry Graves to speak, though she is not on this 3-person committee.
Berry Graves stated that she had felt directly threatened and intimidated by Dziedzic’s behavior, and was very disturbed and even had to visit a doctor as a result of the stress. She states she wants this behavior to stop. She states that this committee has taken action in the past when behavior put the Park Board in a bad light.
Bob Fine, in a classic example of blaming the victim for asking for her assault, makes a MOTION that turns the whole issue on its head. Taking his trademark insulting lecturing tone, he instead blames other commissioners for being disrespectful, “talking out of turn” [horrors!] and “berating the staff” [asking questions that the taxpayers they represent would want them to ask], and then claims that Dziedzic did not conduct himself in a disorderly way. Fine was NOT PRESENT at the August 18 meeting in question. [this must be the “best defense is a strong offense” methodology]
Commissioner John Erwin states that the board needs to define what precisely constitutes disorderly conduct, and that he personally believes that Dziedzic’s behavior was disorderly. He agrees the board has a problem, and asks where do we go from here? Do we make an example of Dziedzic? In a conciliatory move, he says he does not think making an example is the best choice and suggests that all members of the board need to work to improve relationships and respect.
Kummer allows commissioner Annie Young, who is not on the committee to speak.
Young, in a heartfelt emotional way apologizes for her lapses in speaking out of turn. She says she knew about the case in 1975 when Vivian Mason’s late husband Jack Mason was assaulted during a School Board meeting by a school employee at the time Dziedic made reference to it in his verbal assault and threat made during the August 18 meeting. In a very shaky voice, Young says she will commit herself to improving her behavior in following Robert’s Rules of Order, and that she does think that Dziedzic owes Mason an apology [note that Young was the person speaking immediately before Dziedzic began his violent outburst on August 17]. She repeats she will make a commitment if the other 8 commissioners will do so.
Kummer says something about looking into further meetings of this committee.
Erwin makes a Substitute Motion to Fine’s [ridiculous] Motion, recognizing that Dziedzic was disorderly but that the board take no further action.
Vote is taken: Erwin votes Yes; Kummer and Fine vote No. Fails 2 to 1.
Fine’s original motion is voted upon: Erwin votes No; Kummer and Fine vote Yes. Motion passes 2 to 1.
Fine quickly moves to adjourn. Committee adjourns.
[Public comments on this meeting of the Standards and Conduct committee, here below and also at the Star Tribune, here and here.]
* Cable TV broadcast begins
In President Jon Olson’s absence, Vice President John Erwin calls the regular meeting to order.
* Public Hearing on Special Assessments on properties along West Nokomis Parkway and Minnehaha Parkway.
Staff gives brief presentation on how the tax will work and on the projects being paid for.
No one from the public was present comment.
* Erwin recesses regular meeting to that Legal Review Committee can meet.
* Chair Bob Fine calls Legal Review Committee to order. The ostensible purpose of this committee is to review the quality and price of legal services provided to the Park Board.
Asst. Super. Don Siggelkow gave a brief overview of the Park Board’s expenditures and some comparisons to other cities. The vast majority of about $484,000 in legal and lobbying fees are paid to Brian Rice’s law firm. Maryann Campo was several tens of thousands for lobbying and Berkeley was paid about $40,000 for workers compensation. The balance was to Rice. The 5 [!] surveys sent to the 9 commissioners which were returned uniformly rated Rice highly. [one might ask where Rice was when the Park Board failed to get a performance bond written into the contract with The Fort, LLC, which would have avoided the multi-million dollar liens and litigation the Park Board now faces over the 201 building at Ft. Snelling]
Walt Dziedzic clarifies that only 5 of 9 surveys were returned. He says the services performed were “great.” “I’ll be making a motion to rehire Rice, Michels and Johnson…”
Fine says no motion is needed as the Park Board hires the counsel at the annual meeting held in January.
Carol Kummer mentions the city’s lobbyists.
Vivian Mason says the board needs to define clearly and separate legal services versus lobbying. She could not fill out the survey because had inadequate information about what services the legal counsel actually performed for the Park Board. She also mentions concern that there may be conflict of interest in legal advice from someone who also acts as a lobbyist for other clients.
John Erwin would also like to know more about what counsel did for Park Board, and asks if there is some way to have counsel make a presentation on how the legal fees are spent.
Marie Hauser asks Siggelkow a question involving basic arithmetic in calculating legal fees alone without lobbying fees.
Fine provides cover for Rice by claiming that client-attorney privilege makes it impossible for Rice to make a public presentation to the Park Board, etc. [ok, how about a private presentation to all of the commissioners? They are the client in this relationship, after all]
Mason would like the general categories in the survey explained as to what kinds of legal services might be performed in each on behalf of the Park Board.
Erwin asks if things are changing over time? Has price gone up or down? More legal problems or less, etc.
Fine says he will call this committee again at the first meeting in November and will hear a report from counsel [which of course will be of limited value to the commissioners if he can’t speak freely in public].
Dziedzic says “I’m sure Brian would be glad to come in” and suggests that Maryann Campo do the same.
Fine again points out this committee is only concerned with legal review, not lobbying.
Dziedzic says they go hand in hand.
* Committee adjourned.
* Chair Annie Young calls the Operations & Environment Committee to order.
* Staff gives a report on the Dutch Elm Disease problem and program. 2003 was the 3rd highest year, after 1977 (1st) and 1978 for the largest number of trees lost to Dutch elm. Among the results: there is a backlog of 8000 tree stumps which need to be ground before further planting at those locations can happen. This would cost an additional $700,000 if the money were available. As a result of the high volume, lots of overtime was worked and the contract with the union pays in compensatory time off instead of cash, so now they are short-handed until all the time off is used. This means routine tree trimming and such maintenance will be limited, resulting in possibly higher liability claims against Park Board when untrimmed trees fall on cars, etc. The program is already about $350,000 to $500,000 over budget. Asst. Super. Mike Schmidt says they have some ideas and plans, and they will be presenting them during the budget hearings in November.
* Dziedzic has a number of comments and questions. (1) He says he is impressed with the presentation. (2) He asks how Dutch Elm program is paid for at Gross Golf Course. Answer: removal costs come from the general forestry fund, not the gold course enterprise fund. The latter pays for trimming and planting only. (3) Do we sell any trees to lumberyards? Answer: No, but it is something being looked at for next year. (4) Comment on injection method of vaccinating trees? Answer: not something staff is recommending the Park Board get into right now, but it is a workable solution for private homeowners.
Hauser asks several questions: (1) What are the 10 hour days and compensatory time off? [Mike Schmidt did just describe this not more than a couple minutes ago.] Answer: we give time off instead of paying cash overtime as part of the union contract. (2) We need $300,000 to grind stumps. Does that mean we can’t plant if there is no money? Answer: Yes, in general. (3) We have both money and personnel issues, right? Answer: Yes.
Erwin praises the staff for an exemplary job on addressing the Dutch Elm disease problem. He asks how are the diseased trees found. Answer: 10 to 14 scouts during the growing season when trees have leaves.
Berry Graves asks if the bark is stripped from removed trees. Answer: No, grinding entire tree into small pieces is all that is necessary to stop the elm bark beetle from using the wood. (2) How will they deal with safety issues of untrimmed trees, in particular car accidents where stop signs are not visible because of untrimmed trees? Answer: Will have to deal with such situations on an emergency basis (upon notification of a problem).
* Presentation by staff on the Lowry Park “Seven Pools” fountain. Fountain has historically drained to storm sewer, which is wasteful of water and costs Park Board about $10,000 a year in sewer charges. Fountain is being changed at a cost of about $30,000 to use a recirculating pump, which should pay for itself in about 3 and a half years.
Mason comments that the Lowry Hill neighborhood is very pleased with the work and the cooperative effort between the neighborhood and the Park Board in getting this change made.
* Operations & Environment adjourned
* Erwin reconvenes the Regular Meeting for Public Open time.
* Ivan Syhaivsky(?) of 52xx West Lake Nokomis Parkway thanks the Park Board for all that they’ve done. He then questions why his special assessment is so high — “why you charge me so much?” [English is not his first language] He details the particulars of his property versus neighbors, and of a 6′ retaining wall belonging to the park[?] which has been repeatedly replaced and repaired. He gives figures which show his assessment is 6 to 4 times higher than his immediate neighbors. Why, he asks?
Erwin refers him to Siggelkow to find out.
Berry Graves comments they should be sure to check for an error.
Young moves that Regular Meeting be recessed so that Admin committee can meet, so that it’s item can get moved to full board.
* Hauser calls Administration & Finance Committee to order.
* Action Item 7.1 approving WSB & Associates to provide engineering and construction services for Victory Memorial Parkway bike trail for a fee not to exceed $154,950.
Young moves approval and move to full board.
Dziedzic asks if this amount is the entire bid? Answer: Yes.
Hauser asks if it was the lowest or best bid? Answer: Lowest.
[Member of the public comments that Dziedzic’s favorite company did not get the bid.]
* Hauser recesses Admin & Fin.
* Erwin reconvenes regular meeting.
* Hauser wants to add Mary Page (staff) to report on Superintendent search to agenda. Young moves this be done after reports. Approved.
** Reports of Officers
[Interim superintendent Jon Gurban is absent.]
Asst. Super. Rietkerk reports on obtaining a perpetual easement on 8 acres of CP Rail property near 47th and Osseo Road. Site has been cleaned up of contamination to 4′ below grade but they have to allow access to CP Rail in future for continuing testing. Park Board has no liability for existing pollution [in theory]. He also reports that Richfield Road, except a small detour up the hill, is now open after a long repaving project.
Asst. Super. Schmidt reports on the Minnesota Development Football League. The Park Board is waiving fees and rental fees, and will develop 2 football fields at Ft. Snelling for use by the League. [they’ve already spent over $16 million in capital costs at Ft. Snelling and it loses money each year, so how are they going to afford this, especially not charging for the usage?]
Dziedzic comments that the Football League is playing tonight at the Dome, should someone want to go see them.
Berry Graves remarks that she actually attended the Folwell game (which they won) last night at the Dome. She said the kids were hyped to be playing at the Dome.
Mary Page reports on Superintendent search. Applications were closed on October 8 and the Oldani Group had 25 applications as of the 15th. Oldani can present in person the 10 semi-finalists. November 30 and December 1 are scheduled for interviews and December 1 for public input. There is some talk about swapping a couple of dates so that things happen in a logical fashion.
** Consent Business
2.1, 2.2, and 2.3 moved and approved.
** Standing Committees
— Admin & Fin
7.1, 7.2, and 7.3 moved by Hauser and approved.
** Unfinished Business
8.1, 8.2, and 8.3, all resolutions requiring roll call vote, moved by Young. Approved on a roll call of 8 Aye, and 0 Nay.
* Discussion Item — Transition Team on the Planning Process
Deb Pilger (staff) and Jeff Shoenbauer (consultant) give presentation, and introduce about half a dozen staff members who are on the transition team. The hiring of district managers and some scheduled interviews is mentioned.
Shoenbauer says the focus is on “updating the project planning process.”
Young has several comments and questions: (1) Getting public input requires a variety of cultural efforts, not just the Latino Workshop mentioned by Shoenbauer. (2) Is concerned about the money going into this process; it does not seem to have numbers attached to it. (3) How will they fit sustainability into this process?
Shoenbauer says this is just a prototype for new and more initiatives, and they will continue, become a process and part of the organization.
Hauser says “a lot of this was really good.” Question: How does a commissioner or public member bring an idea froward?
Shoenbauer: commissioner goes through superintendent, a district manager, etc. [fails to answer the public member portion of question].
Hauser: Are front line staff included? (using a nursing analogy)
Shoenbauer: As Go-Team was, so is Transition Team. Involvement will radiate out from there.
Hauser: So front line staff will be included?
Shoenbauer: Yes, absolutely.
Erwin compliments staff on great work done and that he appreciates their efforts. He asks if this will make it into the new budget to be discussed on November 3.
Siggelkow answers that yes, budget will reflect staff changes.
Young asks how will the structure affect the board? They need to know by January.
** New Business
** Petitions & Communications
Mason received a letter on the use of the Wirth House, and a lot of e-mail and phone calls regarding Crown Hydro. She asks about a letter to interim super. Jon Gurban from Change, Inc. on June 1 regarding an agreement and would like a copy of it.
Kummer attended the 35W meeting regarding the bridge of Minnehaha Parkway and Blue Water meeting. She received a letter regarding the Walker Library and says that adjacent park land might be affected by development at the library location.
* Regular Meeting Adjourns
** Admin & Fin reconvened by Hauser
* Report on Fuji Ya site by asst. supers. Don Siggelkow and Mike Schmidt. History of site goes back to West River Road Parkway development. Park Board used Eminent Domain to take 2 parcels of land, 1 north and 1 south of the Fuji Ya site in order to build the road. The south site essentially took the Fuji Ya parking lot. As a result, Fuji Ya took Park Board to court to claim severance, that their business was killed by this taking and thus the Park Board must by them completely out. Fuji Ya prevailed in court and the Park Board was required to come up with additional money to pay for the rest of the property.
The property has been mostly vacant, only used for a short while by the Park Board. It’s an eyesore, vacant and deteriorating. The building is in bad shape. Lack of parking makes a viable restaurant business there not possible. There are restrictions on the title to the property which seem to require sale of property for it to be used(?). Some small amount of state money was involved in paying for it and the state has the restrictions(?).
Park Board staff has reached agreement on a proposal from Columbia Development LLC (aka Lucky Club LLC or Lucky Club LP or wholly- or partially owned by one of these two entities) to sell Columbia the land for $2.5 million. Appraisal values on the land came in between $2.35 million and $2.75 million. Due to potential problems with the property as a result of mill ruins under it, historic issues, etc. there is a $400,000 figure knocked off the top of the sale price. [not clear how, or why sale price is not just stated at the lower figure] A repurchase opportunity is mentioned [but is not clear]. Development proposal is called “in range.”
Park Board will get a 99-year lease on the lower level for parking. There are lots of contingencies written into the proposed agreement which allow Columbia or the Park Board to back out if certain things happen or go wrong.
* Jeff [missed last name, but a musician?] from Columbia Development presents his 16-unit townhouse development that will “resonate” with the downtown community, and takes questions. He has preliminary site plan and view sketches from designers/architects to see.
Young has questions about loss of parking and handicap accessibility at Mill Ruins Park across the Parkway from this site.
Erwin asks about potential Park facilities, e.g. restrooms and concessions along this long stretch of park land.
Fine says Park Board has spent about $3 million on this property to buy the business and asks if Park Board will now sell it for less ($2.5 million minus various subtractions)? [guess Fine was not paying attention to staff presentation]
Siggelkow answer: No, $3 million was for entire property, north and south parcels Park Board wanted plus Fuji Ya site in the middle they were required to buy. Only selling the middle piece, which they never wanted.
Fine asks about the $750,000 reduction in the price ($2.5 million – $750,000).
Answer: That’s what it would cost to develop the parking (which Columbia will build and lease to Park Board).
Kummer asks if Columbia has had preliminary discussions with SHPO [State Historic Preservation Office]. She claims SHPO did not want “one brick to be touched” with the Crown Hydro proposal. Why is this piece of property suddenly expendable [after ~20 years]?
Columbia answer: We are confident and we will just have to to see what happens. They didn’t want to talk to seriously with SHPO until they got further.
Young asks about contamination and other contingencies.
Siggelkow says Park Board and Columbia are aware of the issues. The land has sat for 20 years.
Erwin says if Park Board *sells* this land acquired through eminent domain, are we shooting ourselves in the foot with respect to the arguments the Park Board has made against Crown Hydro and its use of eminent domain to take property for the hydro plant.
[Erwin’s question is particularly interesting given that people from Crown Hydro have been attending Park Board meetings when they have not been on the agenda, and in fact, Bill Hawks (Crown Hydro’s main investor) and Rob Brown (Crown Hydro’s PR guy) are in the audience tonight. Further, the Columbia Development project had an initial agreement with the Park Board more than a year ago. Has Hawks now invested in Columbia Development to move it along in an effort to gain leverage for Crown Hydro?]
[More information on this piece of land at this link. ]
Dziedzic asks if the state will get money from the sale.
Siggelkow says the state had very little money in the purchase deal, and would probably not get involved, but the Park Board has an out if they do.
Dziedzic asks if they had an earlier proposal for this site.
Siggelkow says yes, with Lucky Club.
Dziedzic asks about potential for a restaurant at this location.
Columbia says it won’t work financially.
Fine asks why the Park Board bought this piece of land.
[Member of public audience asks if Fine is at the same meeting as the rest of us?]
Staff answers that it was a result of the West River Road Parkway route.
Hauser asks how many parking spots in portion leased to Park Board.
Columbia says 55 to 70, depending on configuration.
Hauser asks if some of the parking space could be used for food and drink concessions or restrooms.
Columbia notes that the Mill City Museum Cafe is only 100 yards away.
Young reiterates that the standing policy of the Park Board is that they do not sell land. Where will the money from this sale go?
Siggelkow answers that most of it will go into the land acquisition fund.
Schmidt notes that the Park Board never meant to buy this land and that it is a burden.
Dziedzic reiterates some aspects of the deal and remarks that he thinks it was a “slick deal” to get $4 million from the state(?) via Brian Rice via Phyllis Kahn to get the desired parcels for the parkway.
Young says they should be cautious…
Hauser cuts Young off.
Kummer wants to know why this piece of land was not incorporated into the Mill Ruins Park.
* Admin & Finance committee adjourns.