Election day, 2012.
Just for the record I made no effort to get to the polls today, since I don’t know a thing about any of the school board candidates running, or for that matter even what’s on the ballot I don’t think I’m qualified to vote this time around. I’ll be sitting out.
I have some real trouble with the voting process here in Minnesota, and the fact that I don’t know what’s on the ballot is problem one. Seems to me that I should be able to go one line and download a copy of the my ballot before the election, so I know before the election who and what I’m going to be voting for. Truth be told when it comes to testy Soil and Water commissioners and school board candidate, I have no idea.
In California all registered voters received a copy of the ballot, in the mail, about 3 weeks prior to election. Maybe we have something on line in Minnesota, I couldn’t find it. Hey Mark Ritchie, you do a good job helping me find my polling place, be nice to know what I’m voting on when I get there, can you help a taxpayer out?
I don’t know if California still does this given their budget constraints.. but it was nice little perk that I’ve come to appreciate living here, where the only voter guides I get are from partisan sources which are full of lies and bullshit. In California we’d get a booklet, ballot would laid out in it, as a matter of fact it even looked like the real ballot so you could prefill it if you wanted to take it in with you. Also in the booklet 500 words or less from every local candidate about why they’re running and.. since California has a ballot initiative process, every initiative had a short pro and con statement and, one rebuttal to each statement. It was actually very helpful.
And the reason that California could mail these materials to every voter is that you had register to vote there, no less than 2 weeks prior to the election. Good news is you only had to do this once if you didn’t move or change your name or… change parties. Yes in California you had to register with a party which means in a primary only those folks pre-registered being in the party, get to vote on that party’s ballot. None of the hyjinx we have here where the other party floods the polls for a candidate they deem as beatable.
I’m seriously not a fan of motor voter laws where people can walk up the day of an election with an electric bill and a friend and vote. If you can’t figure out how to register two weeks prior, and believe me there’s voter registration drives in the mall, at your front door, at every community event, it’s not much a burden, but if you can’t figure it out I can’t imagine how you could figure out who to vote for. Democracy should have some minimum price of admission.
As long as I’m thinking about civics and government, another issue or thought that crosses my mind with some frequency, just how inefficient and bad our local governments have become in the suburbs. This is why I’m not lifting a finger to even try to vote. It’s also why, for the last 2 mayoral elections in Apple Valley I’ve written in my dog Giggs. Two elections ago, Giggs actually received several dozen votes from different precincts.. if only we had more time to campaign. (BTW, I won’t be running Giggs again. My poll judge friend has asked that we not run the dog because she had to stay late and count the dog votes)
In our small municipality we have our Mayor Mary. Mary has been elected three times in a row. Mostly because, she’s had no real competition running against her the last three times she’s ran. We had Lance the Spitter, the candidate with anger issues one election, the crazy libertarian last time, I can’t remember his name only that he was suggesting the elimination of public schools or something like that.. but no mainstream, serious candidates. Why? What qualified business person or management type, the sort who would run a good city hall, would run for Mayor? Pays squat, is a part time job and requires attendance at events during the day, when you have a real job.
Apple Valley isn’t unique. In Burnsville we have a mayor who has been trying to create a charming high density urban environment complete with a Performing Arts Center, to the tune of $20M. One year later the city is laying off employees and cutting services because of it’s performing arts funding deficit. All the while the Arts Center sits empty because apparently while the Mayor knows how to snatch public funds for pet projects, she doesn’t how to, or how to hire anyone who can actually book an act into a performance space, the thing sits empty all the time. Oh, and since the mayor lives in the charming urban core she’s doing all she can to keep property values up when she’s surrounded by empty units no one wants. One thing every suburb has to learn, some the hard way, you can’t buy charm. Ya just can’t build charm. You can build a quaint downtown, you can build pedestrian friendly, you can build antique looking store fronts like Main Street Disneyland. But you can’t build 100 year old buildings or charming where there was nothing. Sorry.
Why are all the little connected town all competing with each other anyway?
City Roll Call: South of the river we have, going from west to east; Savage, Burnsville, Apple Valley, Eagan, Rosemount, Farmington and Lakeville. Each of these burbs have their own fire departments, police departments, planning departments, sewer and water departments. And we have seven separate city governments and their associated city buildings and infrastructure; city halls and bureaucrats, you know, all the stuff that goes along with running a city, times seven.
For those of us who live here, the cities have in fact become one entity more or less. You have to have some local knowledge to know when you’re in Burnsville or if you’ve crossed the line into Apple Valley. Where does Eagan start, and why do you have Lakeville address, Apple Valley phone number and your kid goes to Rosemount high school?
Seems to me that at some point we should start talking about bucking tradition and merging these governments into one large unified suburb, something like Bloomington. Here’s my arguments:
- Efficiency. Take a look at the minutes from just about any Apple Valley City Council meeting, and ask “was it really worth the time and cost to hold this meeting?” In the private sector where meeting costs are tracked, 90% of what happens at a local city council meeting could be handled with a conference call. But.. our local politicians want to be involved, want to demonstrate their leadership, practice up on their Roberts Rules.. come on join the Lions if you want to do all that.
- Governance. In my town, Apple Valley, our local city council has approved a host of wasteful development projects which have made a lot of builders quite wealthy, but done nothing for the town. We have acres and acres of brownfields in Apple Valley, under utilized land in the heart of town land that is underutilized because developers have convinced the Mayor and council that we need more townhouses and shopping and dining on what used to be farmland, mostly across the street or down the road from center of town. Founders circle is a great example of a failed development. While Times Square, the original Apple Valley shopping center looks like something out of East LA these days, neglected. Behind Times Square, storage rentals and empty land.
Another example of stupid planning, how about a$5.0M dollar brand spank’n new city run liquor store on the edge of town that sits empty day after day. Its’ lovely inside, but it has to be losing money hand over fist, I’ve never seen a soul in there. And the folks that work there, city employees, nice enough but don’t know shit about wine or liquor. Is it really the business of the city to be in the liquor business and, if like every other city around here, must we build
I believe if we were able to look at the South Metro as one city, with one list of projects to prioritize we would have a better chance at avoiding financial black holes like an unneeded liquor store and a boondoggle like the Heart of the City project in Burnsville.
- Consolidated services. Police and fire services would be consolidated and I think would probably be more efficient. Emergencies and crime doesn’t respect the artificial city lines we’ve drawn, so lets do away with them. Consolidate street work, snow removal, inspections, park services.. it’s seem like a no brainer to me, unless I’m missing something.
Here’s the bottom line in my mind. These little towns historically were separated by geography, space, land etc. There were well defined borders, and maintaining their own services and city councils made sense. This is not longer the case. We’re one town for all intensive purposes, having all these services separate really serves no one except the petty bureaucrats who sit in our city chambers and pretend to govern.
One day, on election I hope I have a chance to vote my little town of existence as we consolidate with other towns into one political entity that matters.