As a lifelong resident of the Mankato area, I have lived in North Mankato for the last 45 years. My family goes back to the founding of the city. My great grandfather, Wendel Hodapp, was North Mankato’s first mayor.
I became involved in City of North Mankato issues working first on changing the Marigold II project, and later working to create a nature park from the Tschohl property on Lor Ray Drive. Those projects caused me to become concerned about city priorities and particularly about the dismissive way city officials deal with citizen who bring issues forward.
Three years ago a developer proposed buying the Marigold 2 site for a six story 108 unit complex. He offered $1 for the site and requested TIF. Initially the city approved and gave the developer variances for the project. Citizens raised questions about the variance process and the appearance of the project but were ignored until a suit was brought that saved the entrance to North Mankato from a six story monstrosity. A different developer then came forward and offered the city $200,000 for the property and did not ask for TIF. Thankfully, the view of the bluff as you enter North Mankato was preserved, and the city got $200,000 rather than $1 for the property.
Two years ago a citizen’s group organized to help the city purchase the Tschohl property which was up for sale, for use as a nature park using it to connect lower and upper North Mankato. Sixty people attended a planning commission meeting, ninety attended a council meeting advocating for this project. In six months, the group raised $41,000 and secured a pledge of $100,000 over two years from an anonymous donor for the purchase. The city rejected participating in the proposal, claiming a lack of funds and an unwilling seller. No reasonable offer was ever made to the owner to explore a potential sale, and it was hard to believe the city’s claim of poverty when within a year the city spent $574,000 to build a parking lot for Belgrade businesses (with no citizen petitions or business contributions) as well as over $400,000 to construct the famous “Bike Trail to Nowhere.” It is not that a parking lot or a bike trail are bad ideas in themselves, it is a matter of priorities. The Tschohl property represents the last undeveloped bluff lot in the city, as well as being the last remnant of the century farm that was the origin of much of upper North Mankato. A parking lot can be built any time, but once potential parkland is commercially developed, that parkland and this piece of our heritage will be lost forever. This represents an egregious lack of long-term vision on the part of the city.
In the three years of attending council meetings I have seen numerous occasions in which citizens or groups of citizens have had their concerns dismissed. Over a three year period I personally brought the following issues forward to either individual council members, staff, or at formal council meetings and almost all were dealt with by silence.
- Re-establishment of a permanent citizen park board.
- Establishment of an Historic Preservation Commission as mandated by the 20/20 planning process that North Mankato signed on to ten years ago, but which North Mankato failed to implement.
- Establishment of a city code of ethics for council and city committees.
- Passage of an historic levy to aid in the preservation and promotion of North Mankato’s historical heritage
- Establishment of a city wide policy regulating amplified noise.
- Creation of a citizen design committee that involves neighborhoods in all future development projects so that new construction fits into existing neighborhoods.
- Education of city staff on proper tree pruning techniques in order to improve tree viability and streetscape appearance.
- Development of a creative solution to rental policy that would both regulate rentals and not deny homeowners the right to rent their properties.
There was there no discussion of the issues raised. In fact, there was often no comment at all, positive or negative. This is no way to run a city unless that is what you want to do…run a city, with no citizen “interference.” That is not my view of good government. Council, staff and administrators are to serve the people, not the other way around.
In the last three years I have also observed other citizens bring issues forward at council sessions only to meet a similar fate.
I want a better government, one that at least gives consideration to citizen ideas, one that has more vision for the city than just parking lots and Stalin-era apartment complexes. I want citizens to have as much voice as developers. I want divergent voices to be heard and responded to. I want development, but I want development to be compatible with the existing city scape and to be sustainable.
If you, the voter sees no problem with city government as it operates today, if you are not concerned about recent financial expenditures like:
- $574,000 for a parking lot for businesses with no business contribution.
- $400,000+ for a bike trail along highway 14 that will serve only a small fraction of the city’s population.
- $400,000 for a facelift to city hall that is already over budget two weeks into its construction.
If these priorities pose no problem for you, if you feel yourself well represented, if you feel that no change in the way city government operates is necessary, then I am not your candidate, vote for the status quo.
I want a government for North Mankato that prioritizes sustainability, that looks far into the future before making decisions about the present, and that builds the future while preserving the past. The choice in November will be up to the voters. In a democracy, you get the government you elect.
— Tom Hagen
— Tom Hagen
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