My letter published today (December 13, 2017), in the Red Wing Republican Eagle
By global standards, Red Wing is a comfortable and safe place. It snows, and within hours the roads are plowed. Potable water, electricity, and gas are almost always available by just turning it on. Have a medical emergency, and a well-trained ambulance crew will show up promptly. There is a well-trained fire service. The streets are paved. One can walk around day or night without much fear of getting mugged, partly due to an effective police department. One could go on and on. We have a lot to be thankful for, that we shouldn’t take for granted.
On the other side of the coin, there are problems with how Red Wing is governed, that are limiting the political, economic, and intellectual development of the community. Examples:
The approval some months ago of a garbage incinerator ash mining scheme, although some residents strongly objected to it and there is no benefit to us to offset potential health hazards.
A proposed ordinance, supported by the City Council administrator, the Chief of Police, and four council members (Beise, Schulenberg, Hove, and Rehder) intended to further limit public participation in council meetings and provide legal cover for use of force against protesters. This proposal mocks a recent decision of the Minnesota Supreme Court and holds the City up to statewide ridicule.
Rapidly increasing taxation of residential properties, along with increasing fees for services such as water and sewer, that pose a threat to residents on fixed incomes. At the same time, unneeded and even harmful City expenditures can be identified. Examples: thousands of dollars for litigation against enforcement of clean water laws, and dues paid to organizations that lobby against the public interest. Over $500,000 for a new “recycling truck,” and $600,000 for new recycling bins, although the Public Works Department seems unable to provide meaningful data on present recycling rates or how those rates would be improved by this spending on new equipment. Over five million dollars is proposed to be spent on the expansion and rebuilding of the city waste “campus.” Some of the expenditures are needed, such as demolition of the old and never-should-have-been-built municipal incinerator and the building that burned this past summer. But much of this spending is connected to a scheme to cause all the garbage generated in Goodhue County to be ground up by the City and then incinerated in the City by Xcel Energy. There is no benefit to City residents from this and increased exposure to health-damaging air pollutants may be expected. Red Wing’s focus should be on increasing recycling, NOT propping up Xcel’s garbage incineration business as the expense of our health and pocketbooks. Many other examples of misguided spending could be cited.
The common threads here are that the public has not had meaningful input, it is unlikely that the public would support these items if it was consulted, and the City Council, supposedly the main vehicle for public input, too often acts as little more than a rubber stamp for City staff.
Many of these actions seem to benefit the interests of Xcel Energy rather than the residents of Red Wing.
My point is not to oppose public spending as such, but that budgeting should be prudent, transparent, and rationally connected to the real needs and responsibilities of our community.
Recently the City has hired a full time “public engagement” staffer. If the intent here is to start seriously listening and consulting with residents it may be beneficial. On the other hand, too often “public engagement” just means additional sales efforts for decision already made. if this turns out to be the case, additional resentment is likely as the talk is not walked.
For real progress, the city staff need to let go of their chokehold on decision-making and the City Council, along with various boards and commissions, needs to grow a collective backbone.