Over at the Chaska Herald website, a bit of a brouhaha has broken out over the Chaska Building Center development and the downtown business climate in general. And, to what extent Mayor Windschitl should be held responsible as we start to wind up towards election season.
I don’t have any personal animus towards the Mayor. I do wish that he (and the rest of the Council) would get more serious about downtown and other reforms that could make the city work better for its residents. With that in mind, here are the specific things I want the Mayor and Council to pursue:
Transparency and Accountability
No conflicts of interest: Candidates for Mayor and City Council should voluntarily release a Financial Interest form similar to the one required of state legislative candidates. This will enable voters – before the election – to be aware of potential conflicts of interest.
Use technology to improve transparency: Live streaming and archived video of City Council meetings should be available, and all Commission meetings (if not live-streamed as well) should be archived and available for viewing online.
No changes to the Mayor’s Term: As long as the city remains on the ward system for electing the City Council, the Mayor’s term should remain at two years. The ward system limits city-wide accountability for the Council, and as such the Mayor needs to be held closely accountable to all of the city’s voters.
Make it simple: A Budget Summary, with key tables that show differences in revenue and expenses and a brief explanation of key drivers, should not only be posted online, but mailed to each residence every year. Proposed tax and fee increases should be similarly (and simply) explained with sufficient notice for public comment.
Reflect real world realities: City employees received raises in 2010 despite a near $1 million revenue shortfall and a tanking economy with national unemployment around 10% and wage growth stalled. While we all respect the diligent service that city employees provide, the budget needs to reflect the reality of the larger economy. We need to bring the best of private sector management techniques to the operations of city government, allowing for a lean, responsive organization.
Communicate With Residents
A modern website: While significant progress has been made over the last two years to make the city’s website more functional, there is still much work left to be done. Agendas should be posted at least one week in advance (and updated as necessary before the meeting) and minutes need to be posted in a timely fashion. Additional interactivity would be helpful as well. There’s no reason that there can’t be a city blog maintained by the Administrator and department heads to give pertinent information and insight into the “why” and “how” regarding important decisions.
Updated and published notification policies: Over recent years, many residents across the city have felt burned by the current haphazard process the city uses to notify residents of actions or development occurring near their neighborhoods. Notification policies need to be revised, updated, and published, so that all residents are clear about what the city will (and will not) do to keep you informed of projects that may impact your neighborhood.
Vision AND Action: The Downtown Master Planning Process is a worthy effort. However, we must ensure that end product of that process is more than a gauzy vision of what we want downtown Chaska to be. Instead, we need a strategy with an actionable plan and specific goals and benchmarks for evaluating its success.
Protect Historic Athletic Park: It is vital that the city pull out all the stops to protect Historic Athletic Park and the greater downtown area from the negative impacts of the new proposed MN-41 river crossing.
Make progress on critical developments: It is crucial to the success of downtown Chaska that redevelopment on the former Ohnsorg and Chaska Building Center sites is completed, and completed in a way that reflects their pivotal gateway locations to downtown.