Monday, May 18, 2009

Weekend in the Quetico

Last Friday a college buddy and I canoed into the Quetico for a long weekend of camping and trout fishing. An early-season canoe trip is a spring ritual, and spending time in canoe country helps me recalibrate.

Russ and I knew this was a short-trip, so we didn't overextend. A 90-minute paddle after leaving Prairie Portage took us to our two-night wilderness "home." Friday afternoon was pleasant but Saturday was brisk and bitter. A quarter-inch of ice formed in our cooking pot. Wind-whipped snow pelted us as we clung to the south shore of our campsite and hid from the northwest wind. We had camped here before and knew where to seek shelter from the mercurial May winds, and with some work we caught a few lake trout.

On Sunday afternoon, before we left Ely to return to Grand Rapids, we stopped to see my parents. They live on the north side of Shagawa Lake, and Russ and my other college friends have become sons to them. Visiting with Mom and Dad after a canoe trip has become part of the spring journey to the Northwoods. My mother proudly displays last fall's campaign sign outside the front picture window. The only eyes to see this sign, positioned so strategically, would be the deer that graze on the sunny south side of the house that faces the lake. Nevertheless, my mother proudly points out that she is ready for the next campaign.

It's another May canoe trip complete with a dose of maternal support and encouragement.

Saturday, May 9, 2009

Police patrol ride-along

As a new City Councilor, I was invited to participate in the Citizens Police Academy. For 2+ hours over seven consecutive weeks, a dozen citizens are provided a behind-the-scenes look at our police and other emergency services. What an experience!

Last night (the eve of Minnesota's fishing opener), I had the chance to ride along with Sergeant Brent Bradley of the GRPD. Sergeant Bradley is a 23-year veteran of the department, and with that experience comes insight and perspective. For 2.5 hours we criss-crossed Grand Rapids. We listened as one of Brent's colleagues stopped a speeding car on Highway 2. We locked the gates of two public parks. We watched as fishermen vied for coveted spots along the Mississippi River on the River Road just before midnight and the official start of the fishing season. Mostly the evening was quiet, which Brent assumed would be disappointing.

As a resident, I hope every night is quiet for Brent and his colleagues as they patrol our streets. Of course, they aren't. Brent provided a couple of stories from the recent past : a rock thrown through a front door at 2:30 am; a break-in at the Pokegama Golf Course; apprehending a drunk driver who nearly killed an innocent teenage driver; breaking up a knife fight. Most of Brent's stories paint a picture of caring public servants who provide assistance to people in need. Thankfully, most of the stories don't make the headlines.

But the job that Sergeant Bradley and his colleagues perform daily comes with hazards. He cautioned me as I entered the car at the beginning of the evening: "If things get serious, I'll drop you off at a gas station or convenience store and pick you up later. Otherwise, don't get out of the car if we stop." Brent tapped the Lexan pane behind the driver's seat: "It's not bullet proof, but you won't be able to break it by hitting it, either." Brent's bullet-proof vest, a piece of his uniform he never leaves home without, adds several pounds, keeps him warm even when it's not necessary, and will also slow down a bullet. He knows his life could be in jeopardy every time he punches the time clock.

We'll be deciding as a City Council later this year how much of our budget to cut and just where those cuts should be made. The Police Department is being asked to look for ways to reduce costs, just as every City department is being asked. An evening ride-along with one of our outstanding police sergeants certainly provides a perspective that a budget document can't deliver.

Sunday, May 3, 2009

Creating jobs for babies?

Here's a picture of our 16-month old grandson, Elliot, who visited about four weeks ago. (Elliot likes to whack things, and he's holding some pole or stick that was probably intercepted moments after the photo was taken.)
One of the reasons I decided to run for a seat on the Grand Rapids City Council was to help create jobs in our community. That campaign platform seemed to resonate with many people as I knocked on doors and introduced myself.
Since all politics is local, I was also thinking selfishly about the opportunity to create jobs for any of our three grown children, all of whom now live in fairly close proximity to one another in St. Paul. If they wanted to move to a good community to raise their families someday, the biggest challenge for most of them would be finding a job. Finding a meaningful, good job that offered competitive pay and benefits would be even better.

So while I am not a single-issue candidate, I will continue to champion investment in actions the City of Grand Rapids can take to increase the likelihood that good jobs can be created.

We also have to be a community that young families with babies like Elliot will want to live in. What makes our town a good place to live for young families? Probably more than anything else: other young families. And safe neighborhoods. Yards with trees. And interesting things to do. And people with shared interests. And amenities like the Reif Center, the YMCA, the sports complex, parks, biking trails, and much more.

Where is this going? I actually wanted to show a picture of the little person that reinforces our desire to have our children enjoy their lives in a community they love, just as we have. Of course it doesn't have to be Grand Rapids: it's their life. On the other hand, if it worked out that way, we'd be delighted.

Thursday, April 30, 2009

First 100 days

One of the questions I've been asked most frequently since taking the oath of office as a member of the Grand Rapids City Council in early January is whether or not I enjoy the work. I haven't faltered in my response. "Yes," I reply, "I'm having fun."

The first 100 days as a City Councilor have been spent learning about how the City government works:
  • the roles of the various deparment managers;
  • the complexity of the City's fund accounting system;
  • the maze of State rules and laws that outline our responsibilities as elected officials;
  • the do's and don'ts of complying with the Minnesota Open Meeting Law;
  • the process for advancing issues for discussion;
  • the pace of decision making;
  • and much more.

One of the most personally rewarding learnings has been getting to know my new colleagues on the City Council: Mayor Dale Adams, Gary McInerney, Dale Christy and Joe Chandler. Three of us are new, and Dale A. and Gary have patiently encouraged us as we've learned the ropes. Just as with any new team, we're becoming accustomed to how each other thinks and how we process information.

The City of Grand Rapids, like other communities throughout Minnesota, are sharing the pain of the State's massive budget deficit caused by the falling dominos of the world's faltering economy. Despite these challenges, I'm optimistic that we will work our way out of this problem while the local, state and national economies improve. Previous City Councils have made good choices about reserve funds, and our staff is keenly aware of the public mood. Relatively speaking, the City of Grand Rapids as an organization is in good shape.

I'll use this space to share my observations about Grand Rapids and some of the public policy choices we have. I look forward to feedback from neighbors, friends and other area residents as we work to make smart choices in City Hall.