Not right or left – local!

I know there are high school students volunteering as election judges, staffing phone banks, walking or riding with candidates as they meet with people all across our community. Hats off to our young people and their participation in democracy!

Here’s the work of three Northfield High School students, Chen Ye, Nathan Dahlen, and Logan Regnier, who created a campaign video. Take a look at their creative work!  


Keeping Bees

I stopped by the house of a beekeeper yesterday afternoon. I had never thought about our road shoulders as critical habitat for bees. Particularly as corn and soybean growers take out fence-line growth and move more acres to cropland, there are fewer sources of food for bees. So when Rice County remade CSAH 1 and planted a variety of plants, that was good for bees. And what’s good for bees is good for food and fruit and flowers – good for all of us.

Bees are struggling with recurring infestations of mites, and they need all the help they can get from us. From the beekeeper’s card:

Honey bees are in decline for many reasons including invasive parasites, habitat loss and overuse of pesticides. There are simple ways you can help bees ‘stand on their own six feet’.

Plant bee friendly flowers
Reduce pesticide use
Support local beekeepers


Levers of the Great Machine

A few years ago, in an effort to document the road easements within Bridgewater Township and to preserve the old books, we scanned all the historical township records. One never knows where some small action will lead.

Since then, a hardworking group of volunteers has been meeting in the town hall, working to transcribe all the old records. Here is their latest find – a reflection on local government:

(W.D. Stewart, Bridgewater Township Clerk, 1859)

To My Successor in Office

Dear sir in as much as my term of Office has now expired and the duties of my Office been performed, But with what correctness I leave you and others to judge, hoping that you will make the allowance for my inexperience, in the performance of public dutie [sic] which are sometimes somewhat intricate.

I found the papers of the town in rather a loose condition, but with a degree of performance.  I have succeeded in geting [sic] them in a more compact form

I now most cheerfully submit the Books and papers into your hands hopeing that your Clerkship may prove an table pastime [sic] for you.  And also hoping that in your intercourse with the people of the town of Bridgewater you may be able to give them good and wise counsel both in public and private life

I have been a silent spectator and observer of the many carectors [sic] that are daily brot [sic] in contact with each others, And often observe actions promted [sic] by some Evil Selfish motives.  And at other times remarks are made through more hollow minded Foolishness as a lack of good sense 

And I often observe with what eager anxiety some people and even some old people watch the leaver with which the Machine of government is moved.  Sometimes great efforts are made to turn the Machine with leavers that are not suitable. And sometimes men get hold of the leavers and worker them with great violence with but little regard to consequences.  The inevitable  result would be ruinous to any kind of machine.  And would require great efforts of experienced men to repair the injury to injudiciously wrought.

Takeing [sic] this view of the matter I exhort you to be sure that you get hold of the right leaver with which the great machine is moved, the principle leavers for this kind of a machine should be selected from the best material our town affords.



Last week the county’s preliminary budget was presented, comparing other Minnesota counties with Rice County.

Rice County vs Dakota County 2012

  • Per Capita Tax: $294.05 vs $324.68 
  • Rank: 87 vs 85
  • Total levy: $18,860,781 vs $20,825,624 (if Dakota were the same size as Rice)

Keeping our county’s coveted last place in 2012 in comparison with Dakota County was a difference of about $31 per capita. $31 would have brought the $2 million dollars that the county highway engineer estimates is needed annually to rebuild the 350 miles of roads designed in the 1950’s. Or create network connectivity and IT infrastructure to rework the way the county does business in a time of mounting retirements (there are 9 staff openings currently) – building a data-driven operation. It would have kept deputies on patrol from having to work overtime when another was sick, and adequately fund a beleaguered court system that has burned through October’s budget by the end of July, and a host of other improvements.

Just a note…it would not have been needed to fix the social services fiasco and hire four financial service workers. The director of Social Services already had that in his budget with cost shifting. Some things are just “not about the money.”







Pick your Poison

There are 350 miles of county roads in Rice County. Nearly all of these roads were designed in the 1950s, when traffic patterns and farm equipment and operations were very different than they are today.

then...Image     and now..    Image

The Rice County budget has money for routine maintenance – snowplowing and pothole filling (though not much in the way of ditch maintenance). The state aid highway fund provides some support for the 150 miles of CSAH roads, but there are zero dollars in the county operating budget for reworking 200 miles of our CR county road system. So what are the options?

Rice County could let the county roads fall apart, become increasingly unsafe, and kill or injure more people who drive the roads or try to walk or bicycle on non-existent road shoulders. OK, now you know my bias. If we agree we should avoid that, what could we do?

Rice County could raise property taxes and put it in the operating budget. The county highway engineer figures $2,000,000 per year would provide enough money to keep our roads from completely deteriorating This tax falls most heavily on commercial, industrial and farming operations, though it’s cars that generate most of the road traffic. So are property taxes the fairest way?

Rice County could bond. Why not? Interest rates are relatively low and remaking a road is a 15-20 year investment.This is what the county board did in 2009, when it realized they had  budgeted no operating funds. The revenues from this bond end in 2012.  A new bond would mean we could pay $2 million for the roads annually in our property taxes plus interest. Is that a deal?

Rice County could enact a wheelage tax. The county could request the state legislature to allow it to enact a wheelage tax.  A wheelage tax of about $25 would bring about $1,500,000 for remaking roads, and would fall primarily to city residents. But if you think about it, in and around cities and rural residential neighborhoods – where there is more traffic and more density – is where inadequate and unsafe road design is most apparent.

(Just a note – some folks I’ve met when going door to door would welcome a bicycle wheelage tax too – to help pay for the bike trails in our communities. And a local blog notes some cities have enacted a utilities franchise tax.)

Rice County could levy a sales tax for roads. A fraction of a penny sales tax could also bring in money for roads. In these shaky economic times, retail stores would worry it would drive customers to stores in other counties. And it would be viewed as a regressive tax, affecting the poor more heavily than the rich. But on the other hand, people use those old and unsafe roads to get to the stores and markets in our cities.

What do you think?

Sometimes it’s just not partisan


At the Rice County Commissioner’s meeting this morning Jake Gillen, my opponent, spoke out against the Voter ID amendment on the ballot this Fall. I couldn’t agree more.

The Voter ID amendment is undoubtedly the most partisan issue facing Rice County right now. The amendment does not address any of the biggest election process issues – it does not address misidentification, coercion, or collusion and fraud in absentee voting. It doesn’t keep someone from voting at two different polling places. Nor does it keep felons still on probation from voting. It doesn’t create an updated polling list, or any of a number of things that might be helpful in improving our elections.

And you know what? It’s a local issue.What it does to is creates bottlenecks and extraordinary staffing needs. It creates an entirely new and separate provisional balloting system. It creates delays in finalizing a vote. And it pushes all the cost to township, city and county governments.That’s why the Minnesota Association of Townships, the Minnesota Association of Counties and the Association of Cities all spoke against it.

When it comes to local government, we don’t need no stinking unfunded mandates from either party.

Wired (or wireless)

One of the keys to economic development in Rice County is internet connectivity. We have so many small, healthy, growing companies that have real potential based in rural homesteads, we could foster real growth by wiring our county. And with the Northfield Schools iPad project, we also support our children’s education if we can get everyone connected. We don’t need two classes of kids – those with access and those without. At one of my recent coffee’s, someone said his neighbor had better internet connectivity in Azerbaijan than he had in his own home in Bridgewater Township.

While the county’s 2012 budget for the Economic Development department identifies county broadband as a mid-term goal, the only activity noted is to talk with the county’s IT department, and it is not listed on the IT department annual goals. As competent as staff are, this initiative needs leadership and energy behind it to move us forward.

Do we have a county map of areas of connectivity? dead zones? limited or slow access? Do we know the current providers? The funding possibilities? I grew up in Kansas City, where Google is wiring the community. Why not us?

Wiring Rice County needs a public/private dialogue and solutions to move us forward. It’s important for our economy and important for our kids. 

Rice County, we can do better.