1. Please provide a brief biography:
I was born in 1969, grew up in Duluth, and graduated from Carleton College in 1991 with a
B.A. in Philosophy. I started writing professionally in high school, and used my freelance writing
and editing career to pay my way through college. Before graduating college I began my publishing
company, Atlas Games, which my wife, Michelle, and I still run today. We moved to Maplewood in 2001,
and have two children. I was elected to the city council in 2007. Among my council roles, I serve as
President of the Maplewood Economic Development Authority, liaison to the Planning Commission, and
as a member of the executive committee of the Suburban Rate Authority.
2. Why are you running for a seat on the City Council?
I ran for office four years ago because Maplewood faced a leadership crisis. My top goal,
which we achieved, was to re-establish solid management for the city by recruiting an experienced,
professional city manager. In spite of a very challenging economy and the elimination of funding
from the state, we've maintained Maplewood's city services, held our general fund budget almost
flat, and restrained the growth in our long-term debt. During my predecessor's tenure, our city
became embroiled in such a number of costly and avoidable lawsuits that Maplewood was subjected to
special conditions and higher deductibles in order to retain insurance coverage. Our improved track
record, since I joined the council, has resulted in those special conditions being removed, and
insurance terms returning to normal. We've even earned an upgraded bond rating, and have earned the
credibility to build partnerships such as our award-winning joint recreation program with North
Saint Paul and the East Metro Fire Safety Training Center included in the recent bonding bill. I
find the role of councilmember to be challenging and rewarding, and I would like to continue to
serve my community.
3. Please list any endorsements you have received:
Maplewood DFL Party, IBEW Local 110
4. What is the biggest challenge facing the City of Maplewood and how would you propose
I would describe the biggest challenge as sustainable long-term financial planning. In the
four years I've been on the council, we've had to react to a series of fiscal blows - unallotment,
the loss of Market Value Homestead Credit, and the plummeting of revenues from various fees (such as
building permits) due to the weakness in the general economy and construction/development in
particular. When you have to make mid-year adjustments, or when you learn a state credit is not
going to be paid only days before the end of the fiscal year, the least disruptive adjustments tend
to be delays of maintenance and capital projects in addition to depleting reserves and fund
balances. In the long term, we can't continue like this; we need to plan and set aside money for
large expenses like fire truck replacement and building repairs. Otherwise we will face a crisis in
the future when unavoidable, major expenses suddenly appear and must be paid for by drastic cuts or
tax increases. At our goal-setting retreat earlier this year, the city council agreed that in our
capital improvement plan and budget we had to start making the changes, including some significant
shifts in funding from operating budget to capital assets, in order to avoid financial shocks in the
5. If you are elected, what would be your top three priorities?
(1) Maintain quality city services, (2) minimize increases in taxes and fees, and (3) maintain a
process that both encourages public engagement and keeps us on the right side of the laws that may
apply to the decisions we face.
6. What role should the City play in attracting and retaining jobs?
The foremost role of the city is to foster a community that is a desirable place to live and
work, by balancing city services and amenities with the cost to our citizens in taxes and fees.
During my term, Maplewood created an advisory Business and Economic Development Commission and an
Economic Development Authority, of which I was elected President. The EDA recently agreed, working
with the Saint Paul Port Authority, to provide a loan to St. John's Hospital to fund energy
efficiency improvements. As the loan is paid back, a portion of the interest will be used to fund
future activities of the EDA, such as a revolving loan fund for business development and expansion.
7. Do you support tax incentives for businesses that create jobs in Maplewood?
I am willing to consider them on a case-by-case basis. For example, I have voted in favor of
tax increment financing for two senior housing developments. In general philosophy, I don't want to
get involved in bidding wars with other communities; I do want to facilitate development that could
not occur without assistance, and that will have other benefits for our community (e.g., cleaning up
a contaminated site, improving a blighted neighborhood, or helping the private sector offer services
needed by our residents).
8. Of all the different services provided by City government, what do you believe are
the most essential?
City government needs to provide the public infrastructure and basic services that make
urban life possible: police, fire, public works (including street construction, repair and plowing).
In the metro area, of course, what would otherwise be essential city government services (such as
sanitary sewer) are provided by the Met Council across many municipalities; and we also have the
ability to work in collaboration with other municipalities, as for example in the case of the Saint
Paul Regional Water Service as our city's primary water utility. In my service on the council, I've
also come to appreciate the essential role of city government in land use. When we live in close
proximity to one another, as is the essence of city life, the way we use our private land can have a
big impact on the ability of neighbors to use their own property as they would like and ultimately
the value of that property. To me, zoning and other land use regulations should be viewed as a way
to fairly mediate the competing interests of different property owners.
9. What new services should the City provide?
On principle, I believe we must always be cautious in growing the size and scope of
government. When we find that there is a compelling need or benefit, we should look whenever
possible to partner with other government entities or the private sector to provide service as
efficiently as possible. One potential new service the City of Maplewood might provide is organized
trash collection. I have been closely involved in the study and planning on this issue. Our city
council recently approved the release of a Request for Proposals, inviting haulers to make proposals
for city-wide or district-based service of Maplewood; they may propose as individual haulers, or in
teams. After we have actual competitive proposals in hand to evaluate, and thus firm prices and
other contractual details to compare with our current system, the city council will make the
decision on whether the benefits of organized collection outweigh the costs. Private haulers would
still provide the service, bill customers, etc. Comparing what Maplewood residents pay today to what
residents of nearby cities with organized hauling pay, it looks to me like a well-implemented
organized system could save our residents hundreds of thousands of dollars per year by using market
forces and competition more effectively.
10. What services currently provided by the City should be reduced or eliminated?
I think we need to question city programs and services on an ongoing basis, and particularly
keep watch for duplication of what other government entities do. For example, consider tattoo/body
art establishments; new state regulations established licensing by the Department of Health,
effective January 2011. Cities can maintain their own licensing standards that meet or exceed state
law's requirements, but I see this as one area where we can reduce the administrative obligations of
our city with no impact on the health and safety of our residents.
11. How do you view the current business environment in Maplewood? What changes would
you like to see to improve it?
In general, I think Maplewood is an attactive place to do business. We have a thriving
retail sector, notably around the Maplewood Mall; thriving health care service and related
businesses around St. John's Hospital; and of course the world headquarters of 3M. We also have some
challenges. I'm concerned about the property tax burden on our businesses, and the volatility caused
by declines in property values. (The falling of residential values compared to commercial has
shifted more of the tax burden to businesses.) I wish we could see reform of the fiscal disparities
formula, which redistributes so much of the tax revenue from our commercial/industrial tax base to
other communities - meaning that we have to charge more taxes in order to provide the city services,
from police to well-maintained roads, that those businesses require. However, fixing fiscal
disparities would depend on action at the legislature, and tends to be opposed by the communities
that are net recipients of the program. In some areas, our city has not always been as
business-friendly as I think we should be. As an example, I was in the minority in voting against
the temporary and window sign ordinance, which I felt was unnecessarily restrictive.
12. Do you support the current plan that would build a new Minnesota Vikings Stadium on
the site of the former Twin Cities Army Ammunition Plant (TCAAP) in Arden Hills? Why or why
Our city council unanimously passed a resolution opposing the current funding plan. While
Arden Hills sounds like a good location, and certainly the TCAAP site is unlikely ever to be
developed without government assistance, the proposed financing mechanism of a half cent sales tax
in Ramsey County only would be an unfair burden on our Maplewood retailers. I see it as a potential
barrier to economic development in our city, if investors are given the choice for example of
locating a new store in Maplewood or across the street in Washington County where their customers
would pay less for the same products simply due to a lower tax rate. Lowering the attractiveness of
our commercial property base to a group of potential investors can't be good for a real estate
sector that is already struggling to hold onto its value in this economy.
13. Many communities and government entities in the East Metro work together to provide
services more efficiently and cost effectively (See Shared Services Survey attached to original
Questionnaire email). Do you believe that Maplewood uses these types of partnerships appropriately?
Are there any specific areas where you think additional sharing of services should be used or
Our city has many more shared service arrangements than were indicated in that survey; I
think our city staff thought they were only supposed to list the ones newly implemented. For
example, we provide police service to the city of Landfall; we are part of the Ramsey-Washington
Suburban Cable Commission; our recreation department provides lifeguard service for other cities'
beaches; we have won two awards this year for our join recreation programming with North Saint Paul;
we recently signed an agreement with the City of Roseville for cooperation in information
technology; our public works department regularly shares specialized equipment with or borrows from
other cities; and so on. A major recent development is that the state bonding bill includes funding
for the East Metro Fire Safety Training Center to be built in Maplewood, to more effectively and
affordably serve public safety training needs for communities across the east Metro. Looking
forward, we clearly need to develop even more joint powers agreements and shared service
arrangements, and expand the ones we have (for example, by extending our recreation programming to
additional cities). For Maplewood, I see a particular need in the area of our fire department,
because of the odd shape of our community. If we could ultimately move toward a regional fire
district, I believe that could maintain or improve fire protection across a number of east metro
communities while reducing costs.
14. Is there anything else you would like to add?
I have appreciated the times that the Chamber has represented the views of the business
community to us in our deliberations, as for example on the topic of our sign ordinances, and also
its publicizing of things like our call for volunteers to serve when we established our Business &
Economic Development Commission.
© Copyright Saint Paul Area Chamber of Commerce 2011
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