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It’s Time for a Special Election, Chaska

Chaska Ward 2 City Council Member Greg Boe eked out a narrow 117-vote win in the race for State House District 47B on Election Day, meaning he will be forced to vacate his position for the final two years of his City Council term. This comes after Ward 4 Council Member Jay Rohe’s resignation in October. Both terms aren’t up for re-election until 2020.

With the pending vacancy in Ward 2 combined with the existing vacancy in Ward 4, the city is in unique circumstances.  It is not healthy for half of the city to be represented on the City Council by unelected Council Members for the next two years. It is critical that the replacement of these seats reflect the views of citizens in Wards 2 & 4.

The current composition of the Council only complicates the scenario. With three of four current members departing, it only makes it even more imperative to turn these decisions over to the citizens via special election.

These positions are elected for a reason. We have the time, resources, and capabilities to hold a special election. Per my non-lawyerly reading of election law, we could have new council members sat in time for the second council meeting in February, which realistically means at the most four council meetings with only three members. With the Planning Commission having relatively light agendas in October/November, it seems like there’s not a significant backlog of activity coming to the Council for final approval in January.  (I realize this can change quickly.) The costs of a special election are fractions of a percent of the city’s $16M general fund budget.

The city is already far along in the appointment process for Ward 4 – a process that began before the election results. I salute the Chaska residents who have stepped forward to be considered for appointment, and I thank them for their desire to serve. This effort is not about being devaluing them, but rather about putting the people of Ward 4 at the center of the conversation. Circumstances have changed, and wise leaders adjust when the situation changes.

In my time on the Chaska Park Board, one of the mantras we have heard and lived by – and one that has been echoed by the City Council — was making sure that “we did things right” even if that sometimes meant taking a little more time or even spending a little more money.  We don’t just pick the quickest, easiest or cheapest way when we can give our citizens something lasting and of value from choosing a different path. It’s our responsibility – and the City Council’s – to do the right thing for our city and there’s nothing they can do that has more value than giving the citizens their voice and their choice as to who will represent them.

A special election to fill the Ward 2 and Ward 4 vacancies is the right thing to do for the city of Chaska.

Don’t just take my word for it. 100+ Chaska residents have spoken up and signed their name to a petition just over the last two weeks to support a special election. They’ve raised their voices, I encourage you to listen to them, to join them, and tell the City Council:

Authorize a special election to fill the vacancies in Ward 2 and Ward 4.

If you agree, sign the petition at ChaskaSpecialElection.com! Join the Chaska Citizens for a Special Election Facebook group! And come to the City Council meeting on Monday, November 19 (7 p.m. at City Hall), where we will deliver the petition — and the message — in person to the Council!

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Endorsements: Stone, Wetterlin, and Laube for District 112 School Board

As a parent, I have struggled with the district’s rollout of standards-based grading and Empower. I wondered if I was alone, so I talked to some other parents, and discovered I wasn’t. Together, we started a group called Even Better Eastern Carver County Schools, devoted to making out schools, well, even better than they are today. Last spring, we did a survey that discovered that large numbers of parents (nearly half, in fact) were also struggling with Empower and standards-based grading.

Also last spring, students at Chanhassen and Chaska high schools organized to complain about their concerns with the rollout of personalized learning and Empower.

Finally, the district’s own community survey last year found that questions related to standards-based grading and Empower were (by far) the lowest scoring questions.

Three points of feedback from three different sources. All pointing in the same direction: there’s something wrong with how the district is rolling out standards-based grading and Empower. What has the response been?

Sadly, it’s been incremental changes only. Yes, there is some new functionality in Empower that is helpful. No, it’s still not “good”. Not even close.

Also sadly, the current school board does not appear to be sufficiently engaged in solving this problem. The system is blinking red, but no one is taking action. I’ve watched the meetings, and the only significant discussion on these issues took place in July, far too late to respond to what happened last year and make the sort of changes required for this year.

We need to step back, take a fresh look at the rollout approach and be prepared to fundamentally change directions. To do so, the School Board and district leadership are going to have to break out of their dependence on self-selected task forces and seek broader input from the community. None of the incumbent school board members have expressed a willingness to do what is needed to bring this process back to where it needs to be.

Fortunately, we have three qualified challengers who can bring a fresh set of eyes and new perspectives to our School Board.

Jenny Stone is a former District 112 teacher who left in part because of the district’s approach on some of these issues. Her performance at the League of Women Voters forum demonstrated a complete understanding of the sort of issues the Board will face over the next four years.

Delane Wetterlin is a former district employee who worked for years in our schools and understands what’s going on both in the classroom and behind-the-scenes. She is concerned about how we are measuring progress under standards-based grading, and vows to make improvements.

Cecilia Laube is the head of the district’s Special Education Advisory Committee (SEAC) and as a Chilean immigrant, she would provide a voice for diverse populations that is missing on the Board today.

All three of these candidates have prioritized improving school district communication as well, which is another area of serious concern.

And what about the fourth spot on the ballot? If you’re picking among the incumbents, I would urge a vote for either Fred Berg or Tim Klein. Berg is a retired teacher who could stand to regain some of the skeptical nature he showed before joining the Board eight years ago. Klein has shown a keen analytical eye, particularly on fiscal matters, that he should apply more critically to the issues discussed above.

Endorsement: Jon Grau for Chaska City Council, Ward 1

I’ve served with Jon Grau for the last eight years on the city’s Parks & Recreation Board. Jon has been the chair since 2016. Jon’s actions as a member and as the chairperson of that board have been in alignment with the four values he lists on his campaign page: Honesty, Transparency, Respect, and Service.

In our time on the Park Board, we’ve tackled a lot of significant projects, Firemen’s Park and the Dog Park preeminent among them. On these projects, Jon has sought to be a consensus-builder and he has always valued and prioritized public input.

We’ve dealt with the turmoil last year of the investigation of the Parks & Recreation department leadership. Jon was a steadying force as Chair during that time, working well with the interim leadership and the Board to make sure progress continued on our key priorities.

When I look at how Jon has campaigned for City Council this fall, a few things in particular impress me.

First, his emphasis on improving city communications. I was motivated to get involved with the Park Board because of poor communications from the city during the development of the original Veterans (now Sunset) Park. A decade later, some of the commonsense suggestions made by neighbors during that process still haven’t been implemented. We can and must do better. I believe Jon when he says that this will be a priority for him when he reaches the Council.

Second, Jon’s campaign has modeled how he would behave as a member of the Council. He’s done the work — knocking on over 1,000 doors by himself. If you listen to the League of Women Voters candidate forum, you’ll see he’s thought carefully about the issues. Jon has run an inclusive, forward-looking campaign respectful of Chaska’s values but looking to grow and make it great for future generations as well. Without dwelling on the issue, I would suggest that Jon’s opponent (and her supporters) haven’t always been at the same level.

Finally, Jon would provide a perspective to the Council that’s missing at the moment. Families with school-age children aren’t represented on the Council right now, and three of the four councilors (4/5 if you include the recently resigned Jay Rohe) have been there for nine years or more. Unfortunately, this has resulted in a Council that works well with itself, but is not as open to outside views and opinions (especially if they are dissenting) as they once were.  It’s time for some fresh views and new ideas.

Jon Grau will bring a much-needed openness to the Council, respecting and listening to all in our community. If you live in Ward 1, I encourage you to vote for Jon on Election Day.

Endorsement: Donzel Leggett for State House 47B

There are a lot of critical elections on the ballot in 2018. While the statewide races are getting all of the attention, there are extremely important local races as well. So, after a five-plus year hiatus, I’m dusting off the old blog to comment on some of these races.

The first race is the race for State House in District 47B.

For eight terms, this was a safely Republican seat in the hands of Rep. Joe Hoppe. But with Hoppe’s retirement, everything has changed, and this district which has shown signs of becoming more purple (supporting marriage equality and Amy Klobuchar in 2012) is suddenly on the map of races to watch.

The DFL has an incredibly qualified candidate in Donzel Leggett running this cycle. Donzel is a Vice President at General Mills, a former Purdue football player, a husband, and a father of four. By all the metrics — campaign fundraising, doors knocked, social media impact — Leggett has the most energized Legislative campaign seen in this area in quite some time.

Donzel is also a leaderHis positions on the issues are clear. Seriously! Click the links and listen to his own words.

Donzel promotes an inclusive, forward-looking vision for our community and our state. He’s criss-crossed the district this year, meeting people of all ideological stripes where they are. What other candidate in this district is holding open town hall meetings? (Joe Hoppe couldn’t even be bothered to do that after he had been elected!) Electing Donzel Leggett is critical to keeping this state and our community moving ahead.

There’s a clear choice on November 6. I’m picking Donzel Leggett for State House 47B, and you should too.

A quick note about Donzel’s opponent. For the last 15 years, I’ve lived in Chaska’s Ward 2. Since 2009, Greg Boe has been my City Council representative. I know Greg. I like Greg personally. And I’ve voted for Greg.

Greg has always seemed like a pretty moderate guy — some may not know that he caucused with Democrats back in the late-2000s/early-2010s. So it’s fair to say that seeing Greg line up behind Donald Trump — a guy who is the antithesis of Greg’s “Reasonable. Thoughtful. Respectful” slogan — has been a bit of a shock.

Even beyond this, Greg’s issue positions as described on his website are word-salady nonsense that are impossible to accomplish. Cut taxes, keep education a priority, build more roads and continue the GOP giveaway to heath insurers all at the same time? Good luck with that!

Many of his answers at the League of Women Voters forum are the same. Take for instance, these 90 seconds of him talking in circles on the minimum wage. How about this answer regarding education funding? Anyone able to discern an actual position there, because I can’t.

It’s sad that Greg — a three-term city councilor who has worked for 20 years in country government — appears to be that out of his depth on policy or he’s trying too hard to say something that sounds good to everybody. Neither explanation does his candidacy any favors.

Again: there’s a clear choice on November 6. I’m picking Donzel Leggett for State House 47B, and you should too.

Fixing the problem of NSA spying

There’s been lots of talk about the problem of NSA spying the last few days, and some partisan braying about it.  But the real question is: what do we do now?  The reality is that the majority of Congress stands overwhelmingly in favor of these programs, and Presidents of both parties have supported these programs, which makes it highly unlikely that they’re going to be stopped completely.  What are practical things that can be done to ensure that the privacy impacts of these programs are limited while still giving the government the data it needs to investigate potential terrorist plots?

Realistic policy options fall into two categories:  1.) reduce what data can be collected and 2.) improve transparency.

Reducing the data the NSA can collect

Changing the data the NSA can collect would require Congressional action to modify the relevant statutes in place (principally Section 215 of the PATRIOT Act), and three primary ideas for accomplishing this have come forward:

  1. Allow the data collection to continue but require a warrant based on probable cause to access any of the records for a U.S. citizen.  This approach was introduced as legislation by Sen. Rand Paul (R-Kentucky), and would raise the legal standard for accessing the collected data.
  2. Limit data collection to eliminate purely domestic calls.  Raised as an alternative to the 2008 FISA Amendments Act, this would limit the collection of data to calls where at least one of the callers was foreign, except in cases where a definitive connection to terrorist activity could result in a warrant to acquire that data.
  3. Limit data collection to a suspicion-based standard.  Instead of doing a dragnet of all calls made, data collection could only occur records based on a reasonable suspicion of terrorist activity — of someone suspected of being a terrorist or spy, someone called by a terrorist suspect, or potentially somewhat broader searches, such as calls made from a building where terrorist activity is suspected of taking place.

Improve transparency of current programs

If none of the options above are taken to limit the data collected, perhaps the least we could expect is a better understanding of what sort of data collection is being done in our name.  Here are some of the options available to accomplish this:

  1. Declassify Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court (FISC) decisions interpreting Section 215 of the PATRIOT Act.  Introduced today as a bill in the Senate by a bipartisan group of eight Senators, including Minnesota Sen. Al Franken, this bill would compel the release of these decisions, so the legal logic could be evaluated and debated.  President Obama could also choose to do this via executive order.
  2. Release more details about how these programs work.  Can the NSA listen in on calls?  If so, when and why?  What is the standard for accessing the collected call metadata?  How long is the data stored?  Has the data ever been accessed for “routine” police work, or is it access limited to solely terrorism/national security related issues?  How are the programs audited for potential abuse?
  3. Permit court challenges towards these programs to move forward.  Multiple lawsuits have been filed against the government over warrantless wiretapping and data collection, but all have failed to reach the trial phase.  This is because the government (under both the Bush and Obama Administrations) have fought these cases on a standing issue.  What this means is that the government has alleged that the persons bringing the lawsuit can’t prove that their data was collected or their calls listened to, so they can’t prove they were harmed by the activity.  With no harm, they don’t have standing to sue in court.  The Verizon allegations — which cover millions of Americans — may make it impossible for the Department of Justice to continue these sorts of claims going forward.  If the Administration feels they are on solid legal ground with these programs, they should allow these cases to go to trial and win them definitively.

None of these six ideas provide a definitive firewall between government and your personal data, but they are practical approaches that could work incrementally to improve the current situation.  Getting them accomplished, though, will require application of political pressure on politicians in both parties.  Calls and e-mails to your Senators and Representatives will help keep the ball moving forward.

Watching the Watchmen: the bipartisan failure on privacy

The revelations about the NSA spying program have set off a firestorm of partisan finger-pointing (such as this from late last week).  The reality, though, isn’t terribly complex.  Both parties are responsible for selling your privacy down the river with these sorts of programs.  There have been five key votes since 2001 that have been responsible for these programs.

The pattern shows that it doesn’t matter who’s in charge of the Presidency or Congress.  Washington D.C. will vote to take away your privacy, while fighting to make more and more of their actions secret.  The solution to this issue can’t be solved by switching which party is in charge — but rather by a sustained effort to keep pressure on both parties to do the right thing.  We must remain vigilant.

Below is a chart that shows the bipartisan failure on this issue, including votes by Minnesota’s Congressional delegation.  Click on the chart to see a larger version.

bipartisanfailure

Data sourced from THOMAS.gov

Ortman back from War College: firing wildly and with shiny tap-dance shoes

As we mentioned earlier in the week, State Senator (and possible U.S. Senate candidate) Julianne Ortman spent the week at the Army War College’s National Security Seminar.   Part of a new Army recruit’s basic training regimen includes learning how to shine shoes.  Well, it seems Ortman may have taken a lesson or two while there because she came back ready to attack and with shined-up and ready-to-go tap dancing shoes.

Earlier today, Ortman fired off several rounds of criticism at U.S. Senator Al Franken on Twitter, which was countered by myself and a few others — not to defend Franken (because he and the rest of Congress have a lot to answer for), but rather to ask Ortman what she would have done instead.  After all, it’s easy to criticize, but harder to advocate alternatives.   We saw this in effect during this legislative session’s budget battle, where Republicans never articulated an alternative budget.

Did Franken “hide” his knowledge of the NSA program?

Ortman’s initial attack against Franken called out the Senator for “hiding” the NSA program.  As a member of the Judiciary Committee, Franken had been briefed on the program to some level of detail.  Well, it is certainly true that Franken did not comment publicly on this topic until yesterday.  Why is that?  Because it was illegal for Franken to discuss it publicly. 

Section 215 of the PATRIOT Act modifies Section 501 (d) of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act as to say:

“No person shall disclose to any other person (other than those persons necessary to produce the tangible things under this section) that the Federal Bureau of Investigation has sought or obtained tangible things under this section.”

Even worse, the briefings that lawmakers received on such programs were subject to unusually stringent security.  Lawmakers were not allowed to take notes, staffers were not allowed to attend, and per the provisions of the law stated above, the lawmakers were prohibited from talking about the programs.

So did Franken “hide” his knowledge of the programs?  No.  Did he do enough to push back?  The record on that is unclear.  Two Democratic Senators, Ron Wyden of Oregon and Mark Udall of Colorado, have been pushing the limits on these programs, obliquely hinting that there was something afoot.

Ortman seems to be suggesting that Franken should have done more.  Perhaps that’s true.  But one can only imagine if Franken had violated the law and revealed details of a classified national security program.  I sincerely doubt that Ortman would be saluting his whistleblowing — rather, she’d be crying about Franken putting our national security at risk.

Ortman goes on to make an additional charge:  namely, that the PATRIOT Act didn’t authorize such programs.  Unfortunately, Ortman provides no basis to back up her claims that have any merit.  And, sadly, she tap-dances around any of the direct questions asked of her — would she have voted for the PATRIOT Act and FISA modifications?  What is her argument for why these programs were prohibited?  Where was her outrage when these programs were authorized under a Republican administration? Does she think Franken should have broken the law and spread details of these programs?

While I haven’t attended the National Security Seminar, I can only imagine such brazenly partisan behavior probably isn’t considered in our nation’s best interest.  Let’s hope that if Ortman does run against Franken that she finds some lines of attack that aren’t based in distortions and falsehoods.

Here’s the entire exchange, so you can judge for yourself:

A balancing act for District 112?

The Eastern Carver County School District (District 112) has put its E-8 and high school facility task forces on hold until fall, as the two groups wait for a refresh on demographic projections for the next decade.  A faster than expected recovery in residential construction as well as the Legislature’s recent approval of all-day kindergarten for all students may spark discussions of new facilities earlier than anticipated.

While specific decisions on boundaries and possible new school construction will now wait until 2014, the issues the task forces were wrestling with remain.  On the elementary school level, a permanent home needs to be found for La Academia (the District’s rapidly growing Spanish immersion program) and the Family Learning Center, overcrowding in the three western schools (Victoria, Clover Ridge, and East Union) has to be addressed, and a likely shortage in kindergarten rooms resulting from the Legislature’s approval of all-day kindergarten must be resolved.  At this level, the issues boil down to a numbers game — finding a way to make sure that there is sufficient building capacity to meet enrollment and then drawing boundaries in a way that make the most sense for the District as a whole.

On the high school level, the issue is more difficult and more philosophical.  There’s enough capacity in both high schools to last the District for the next decade.  Chanhassen High School has (and is projected to continue to have) higher enrollment than Chaska High School by 200-300 students and Chaska High’s population is significantly more diverse (on a percentage basis, there are nearly three times as many non-white students and students receiving free or reduced lunches compared to Chanhassen High).

Although the Chanhassen facility is newer, the two schools now essentially provide the same amenities, with the exception of a “black box” theater, after the District has invested nearly $3 million in renovations to Chaska High since 2011.

The feeder system for the two high schools is based strictly on city lines — something that was strongly promoted by city leaders in both Chanhassen and Chaska and is easy to explain and understand.  Could this change?  Well, it’s possible.  The unbalanced enrollment and demographics between the two high schools is an issue which some feel should be addressed.  Does drawing boundary lines based on city limits do the best service to all of the children served by the District?

How could things change?  Well, some have suggested moving away from city boundaries for the high schools and moving to an elementary-school based feeder program (3 or 4 elementary schools could be designated to feed into each high school).  Other thoughts on balancing include using different geographical boundaries to split the District among the two high schools.  But there’s also plenty of folks who would favor keeping things just as they are today.

What do you think?  Take the polls below, and leave your thoughts in the comments.

Ortman faces uphill climb in potential race against Franken

Public Policy Polling released the first detailed polling on the 2014 U.S. Senate race today.  It shows that U.S. Senator Al Franken is — as of today, anyway — in pretty good shape 17 months out from the election.

Franken currently holds a +9 in his job approval ratings (51% approve vs. 42% disapprove) which is a solid rating for an incumbent heading into a re-election campaign.  Franken also currently holds at least a 15-point lead against any of the possible challengers polled.  Businessman Mike McFadden (the only potential candidate who has publicly expressed interest in the race) and Hennepin County Sheriff Rich Stanek trail Franken by 15 points, while State Senator Julie Rosen trails by 16 and U.S. Representative Michele Bachmann, radio talk show host Jason Lewis, and Chanhassen’s own State Senator Julianne Ortman trail Franken by 17.

There’s not a lot of good news in the polling data for Ortman.  Ortman’s name recognition is low (80% didn’t know who she was), but among those who did know her, almost four times as many had an unfavorable opinion as had a favorable opinion.  Those numbers gave her the lowest favorability numbers among the potential candidates in the poll.  Worse, she had an unfavorable opinion among Republicans and self-identified conservatives who knew who she was.  Franken leads Ortman by 29 points among women and by four points among men (even though Franken polls -8 in job approval among men).  However, her low name recognition does give her the opportunity to introduce herself on her own terms to voters.

Numbers like these help explain why Ortman may have felt the need to take time from the end-of-session rush last week to try and blast Franken over the IRS investigations of Tea Party groups.  If she intends to run, she needs to drive name recognition and establish herself as a credible contender because based on the polling numbers and Franken’s formidable fundraising — it’s going to be an uphill battle.

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