Are you capable of making decisions for yourself? Are you mature enough, intelligent enough, wise enough to decide how you want to live? Or are you content to throw up your hands, sit back, and let others make all your life decisions for you? This is a question voters are being asked to decide for themselves in the United States, in Minnesota, and yes, right here in Shakopee.
In a representative democracy we elect citizens from among ourselves to represent us in government. Nothing wrong with that. Look, again, at the banner at the top of this page. However, the desires of our fellow citizens should never be completely ignored. We the people deserve a say in how we are governed. Both the Declaration of Independence and the U.S. Constitution are based upon that concept. Naturally, requiring a democratic ballot vote to approve every nitpicking issue to come up is an impossible nightmare of logistics, aside from the staggering cost. However, the smaller the community the easier it becomes to have referendums on important issues. The city of Shakopee is just such a community, and my opinion is any proposal involving a massive expenditure of money to be paid for with future tax increases should have input from those who will end up paying for it: We the People.
At this moment our mayor, the honorable Brad Tabke, Councilor Jay Whiting and Councilor Kathi Mocol are pushing for a $27.4 million expansion to the Community Center. We all like improvements in our community, I know I do. But my problem with this project is that one important factor in the governmental process is being complete left out of the decision-making equation: The citizens. The voters. We the people.
Voters should have a say at the ballot box, via referendum on such a large, 20-year expense, especially when we have not seen the school referendum impacts, Scott County sales tax Oct 1, school, county, city general levy increase, other jurisdictions increases, property value, and a community center bond sale increase without approval.
I think the timing is very poor (tax reasons above), I strongly believe community division will be the result from a process denying the people we serve the ability to be heard at the ballot box via referendum. I also think this decision was made back in October of 2014 during a school facilities meeting where Tabke crashed the meeting with a Power Point presentation of the project.
Even more disturbing, I believe the shocking firing of long-time City Manager Mark McNeill this past December was prompted by his reluctance to jump on Community Center expansion bus with Mayor Tabke and Councilors Kathi Mocol and Jay Whiting. If the city council was doing the right thing, transparently, there should be no concern with allowing the voters to get in on the decision. During the Dec 16, 2014 City Council Meeting (when the firing was formalized) I stated the following: "This action reaffirms my belief that the voters are the ultimate authority and last line of defense."
The excuse given for the firing was that McNeill allegedly didn't fit in with the "different direction" that WE (the City Council) were taking. Quite frankly I was confused about this "different direction" we were supposedly taking and said as much in an editorial published in the January 5, 2015 edition of the Shakopee Valley News online in which I said:
"We as a City Council have never discussed a “different direction” as a body nor have we allowed those we represent to participate in this discussion. I don’t know what this direction is and I certainly cannot represent the citizens on this direction unless we all (citizens and councilors) are allowed to participate. How can McNeill not fit something that does not yet exist?"
I wasn't the only one perplexed by the sudden dismissal of Mark McNeill. A few days later the Shakopee Valley News ran their own editorial about the matter in which they noted: "The ironies in the dismissal of Shakopee City Administrator Mark McNeill last month and what happened 19 years ago are startling and, we hope, revealing; we shall see if they are prophetic."
However, the administrative head-rolling was not over. This past April the services of long-time city community services director Michael Leek were deemed no longer needed. As noted in the Shakopee Valley News:
"The Shakopee City Council fired its second prominent official in four months Tuesday night, approving a separation agreement with Michael Leek, the city’s community development director for almost 19 years.
The City Council voted in favor of the agreement on a 3 to 2 vote, with Councilors Mike Luce and Matt Lehman dissenting."
And the outrages keep on coming. At the end of the July 21 City Council meeting, the mayor, supported by two members of the council, proposed dramatic changes in our form of city government, by increasing the mayoral term of office from two years to four years and by changing the date of future city elections to coincide with national elections. Since this proposal came up under "Other business" it could not be voted upon at that moment, but is scheduled to appear on the official agenda of a future council meeting, and if passed then, would take effect after January 1, 2016.
OK, so there may be some merit in debating whether or not we should make those changes. However, our current Mayor and two of our city council members have shown they are not inclined to include the public in any of their decision making. But here is the real kicker: Their proposal at that meeting also included a HUGE increase in the mayor's salary, from the current $15,000/year to $35,000/year. Excuse me?!? Oh yes. And, of course, there was NO mention of any intention to put such a proposal on the upcoming November election ballot so that we the people can have a voice in the matter.
The reason I'm making an election issue of the proposed Community Center expansion, the recent firings, and the proposed change in our city governmental structure and massive mayoral pay increase is because we, on the Council, are supposed to be representatives of the people and I am not convinced the majority of we the people agree with the current direction in which these projects are heading. Sure, I think the proposed Community Center improvements would be nice, however, I also think a better planned, phased approach would be much more manageable financially over a longer period of time IF the citizens agree.
We (YOU) the people (voters) in our collective voices (ballots) can make a difference, we can be the final authority, and we can be the line of defense against government actions not representative of the will of the people. Please Vote and visit my how to help page so your government better reflects you.
This site prepared and paid for by Matt Lehman, 815 8th Ave. East, Shakopee, MN 55379