The city of Chaska faces some significant issues as we approach the 2008 elections. As a resident of Ward 2, we have our first truly contested election for City Council in quite some time. There is also a very real choice in the mayoral election. But before I talk about candidates, let’s talk about where the city is and where it needs to go.
The fundamental issue that I think needs to be addressed is how the city communicates with its residents. Whether it is the ballpark issue that residents in my neighborhood (Points West) dealt with, the decision regarding the new site for Southwest Christian High School, the emergency room at 41 and new 212, sign policies downtown, the purchase of the Ohnsorg property, there are a lot of people who feel like the city isn’t communicating openly with them. And there also many who feel like the Council, the various Commissions, and certain members of the Staff that aren’t particularly responsive to concerns that are raised.
It’s imperative for the leaders of the city to address these concerns. A significantly more robust notification policy is a must. Additionally, the city must upgrade its website. It is ridiculous in 2008 that the city cannot post meeting agendas and minutes on its website in a timely fashion. Our neighbors in Chanhassen have 10 years of history available on their website. Plus, they have the full packets available to the councils and commissions, often including scanned maps and drawings.
And, oh by the way, the city of Chaska owns and operates an internet service provider, so this should really be easy. What’s clear is that no one at the city is making it a priority to make it easy for citizens to keep track of what their officials are doing with their money and on their behalf.
That’s a failing of everyone involved with city government, but in particular the current Council and Mayor. Improving communications should also be a key attribute in evaluating candidates for the new City Administrator. (Why hasn’t this come up at all in any of the campaign events?) We should be looking for candidates who have ideas to communicate better and track records of actually doing it.
Downtown development is, per usual, a major topic of discussion in the campaign. However, the relentless call to expect downtown Chaska to be equivalent to Excelsior or Stillwater is misguided. I don’t believe that is likely to be the case, for two primary reasons. First, the connection to the water. When you walk downtown in either of those two other cities, you are not separated from the water by a 10-20 foot high levee. The one location where we can have some sort of connection — Fireman’s Park — is tied up in red tape and sharp, but valid, disagreements about how that corner should be used. Second, downtown Chaska has two major roads cutting through its heart. Traffic is always going to be a major issue (even after the new 41 river crossing).
That doesn’t mean that we give up on downtown Chaska. It’s important to continue to do the right things to make sure that we don’t lose the history and the “feel” of downtown. But in terms of making downtown Chaska a “destination” — we need to first focus on making downtown Chaska a destination for locals. Businesses and restaurants are failing in downtown Chaska first and foremost because residents aren’t using them.
How do we ensure that residents come down the hill to use downtown? There are several ways. Let’s continue to make downtown Chaska a great place to have a business. We need to look again at sign policies for our stores and restaurants. We need to work on controlling traffic on the busy roads. If we need to post police officers on 41 to ensure that pedestrians can cross the street, we should do it. We have a wonderful opportunity to work with the EdCampus — perhaps some sort of small business incubator program could be set up to encourage entrepreneurs to locate in downtown Chaska. The development of Chaska Township needs to be deliberate and planfulto tie that area in to the northwest side of downtown. These steps will help downtown Chaska be all that it can be.
It’s also important to stay focused on other areas of the city as well. It’s crucial that the Bio Zone fulfill its potential, and the city must be aggressive in pursuing businesses to be a part of that area. Traffic concerns exist in other parts of the city as well — increasing traffic on Engler and Huntermark, unpaved portions of McKnight/82nd Street, the ongoing construction on Lyman near Chanhassen High — that need to be addressed.