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Election Commentary: (CAG)

Citizens for Accountable Government (CAG)

November 8

Voters will go to the poles in a few days and make important decisions about the future of Prior Lake. Every election is important, but this one is especially so, and that’s why I’m writing. Citizens for Accountable Government (CAG) is about issues and public policy, not a particular political party or candidates. That’s why I joined and have been active in this organization and supported its work for the past eight years.

This is an opinion piece. It doesn’t represent the formal position of CAG and its steering committee—even though I serve on that committee. These are issues that are important to me, and that’s why I’m writing about them. They’re issues that I would urge you to keep in mind when you look at the candidates and their position statements before you vote for city council and school board on November 8th.

Growth and Development

“Change is in the nature of all things.” It’s inevitable and it happens, but change isn’t uniformly good, nor is it always for the best. Humans are imperfect creatures and sometimes make unwise choices. Our city council and the city staff are a case in point especially when it comes to issues of growth and development and long range plans. Economic development has consequences; often unintended. For that reason it has to be sustainable and very carefully managed. That doesn’t mean blithely signing on to a 2040 vision and letting it become a self-fulfilling prophecy.

Consider, for example, the environmental dangers posed to the watershed and the quality of Spring and Prior Lakes—not to mention the water supply itself. The aquifer that supplies our drinking water has fallen 40 feet since the 1950’s. That water is hundreds, if not thousands of years old—going back to the last glacial age. It will take hundreds of years to recharge.

Consider, too, the costs, and who pays for the infrastructure and operating expense that comes with development. Contrary to what some officials would have us believe, development doesn’t pay for itself. Rather, it creates additional obligations that have to be met, both short and long term. I’ve called it a Ponzi scheme and it means higher taxes and/or encouraging still more development to cover the costs of past development projects. The alternative is to grow incrementally, raise impact fees and shift more of the infrastructure costs —roads, sewer, schools, and the additional operating expense—police, fire etc—to developers, not current taxpayers. That’s the only way development pays for itself.

And then there’s our quality of life—our small town feel. We have a 2040 vision and long-range plan promoted by city hall that puts that “small town feel” at risk. In fact, the two are mutually exclusive. Just ask downtown businesses and residents in neighborhoods that were, or are now under threat, Pleasant Street, Mushtown Road, Rutgers/Highway 42, Stemmer Ridge, and Rolling Oaks Circle. Existing businesses, homes and neighborhoods should take precedence over 2040 visions. We need sustainable development that puts existing businesses, neighborhoods, and people first.

School District:

By any measure we have a good school district with topnotch teachers and programs. They deserve our support. Unfortunately, that isn’t the case with the current school board and it’s decision to select and retain a consultant without following bidding procedures and an open, documented selection process that’s the norm in other government agencies and the private sector. That company, Nexus Solutions, has already been paid almost $9 million for consulting costs that were not a part of the original agreement with the District and do not include any on site labor or material costs for projects in its scope of work. Two incumbent board members have been brave enough to call this into question. One board member courageously voted no on the proposed referendum, and voters subsequently rejected the referendum, itself. Voters need to ask the position of the candidates on this issue and make an informed decision. There should be an audit and a public investigation of the process that was followed by the board, along with an open rebidding of the consultant contract before the next referendum comes before voters.

Before you vote:

Think about what you want Prior Lake to be and the future of our school district before you vote. Talk with your neighbors and friends and above all question the candidates and demand accountability from them on these issues. A great deal is at stake.

John Diers