Victor Summa

Candidate for Council-At-Large (2-year term)

summaI have served on the Planning Commission, and currently serve on the Charter Commission and the EDA.  I have sought seats on the City Council ... and today I seek to fill the 2 year At Large vacancy  

For the the thirteen years I have lived here, I have invested energy devoted to understanding the political and economic issues that  challenge Northfield. I believe it is the perspective of those years that allows me to bring a balanced understanding to these economic and governance issues.

Through my voice on the Planning Commission and EDA,  I have demonstrated a realistic attitude about development pegged to the Northfield's assets. My vision is pragmatic, rooted in ideals for growth based on sustainable concepts, driven by community needs, for community benefit.

I believe that the economic development of this community will come from innovative entrepreneurs seeing Northfield’s potential. Northfield is not a venue ripe for industrial development.  It has become a residential haven with understandable needs for economic support from diverse and perhaps atypical business concepts. Good growth here, is a matter of matching the community strengths with appropriate development of the future.  Northfield's community based assets can and should drive development that "fits".

This perspective, and the willingness to seriously engage in an effort devoted to that outcome, is what I can bring to this election - that, and the 40 year history of a moderate business man and a determined dreamer... who has always been willing to work to make the dream come true.

Make no mistake, Northfield is in near crisis.  Conventional growth pressures, coupled with budget deficiencies, and global conditions, make the thoughtful policy guidance of city processes more important today than any time in the past.

We need city councilors who are not hesitant, but willing to work hard to sift through the rhetoric, consider new imperatives, the bring the kind of policy change necessary.  

While coping with inevitable “change”, we must honor the overarching structure of our agreed to city government, and the corresponding goals of the community.  This means while bringing social and economic goals to reality we honor and preserve our City Charter, and our Comprehensive Plan. We expect our City Council to determine guiding policy, and use the professional expertise of the City Staff for the implementation of that policy.

In my long career in Public Television and other media, as a producer  of socially significant programs, I have developed a devoted sense of working  for the community's greater good, and managing public monies.  I consider myself an informed and progressive thinker ... who is within reach of the public's ideals. My Communications background on exploring and facilitating public policy issues, determined to make them work  for the greater common good... is a sincere  and positive quality.

A resident of 13 years, I have immersed myself in the public process.  I'm  guaranteeing nothing more than a willingness to work long and hard for progress based on existing assets.  My promise is  that I am willing to hold myself and the governing group responsible for producing tangible results, sticking with time lines and achieving objectives ... all in a fiscally responsible way.

I consistently have spoken for the greater good and now, more than ever, feel that Northfield needs my voice .... and,  I need its vote.

Return to Election 2008 page.

Responses to questions submitted by Northfield.org participants:

1. Have you had experience as a landlord of rental properties? What do you think about the current rental ordinance? Would you recommend changes? What enforcement mechanisms do you recommend?

Experienced landlord? Yes. We are residents of Northfield initially as the purchasers of the Dahl House, currently home of River City Books. It also has five downtown second floor apartments.

The Ordinance includes ALL rentals, but is essentially the product of a need to control rental homes in R1 and R2 zones. The problem came to the City Council when owner/occupants of single family homes in these zones, finding conditions of many rental dwellings negative manner impacting their life. Debris, improper and offensive conduct, too many vehicles parked illegally, etc.

Those and other" tenant" activities and life styles, were simply getting out of control. This and the City's inability to enforce its rules was unacceptable.

One has to ask, why staff allowed this situation to be exacerbated for decades.

It is interesting to note that now, even after almost 2 years and 70,000 dollars later, the current Council and the Current staff, still haven't got it together.

In a bureaucratic meltdown of process ... the staff and the council messed around with time and money, trying to reinvent the wheel, and passed a unconstitutional law!

SEE the recent MN Supreme Court ruling on like ordinances.

Had the council really listened to Don McGee's original complaint, they might have merely given tooth to existing rules, and found ways to hold tenants and Landlords responsible.

Meanwhile the bureaucratic mishaps continue ... and much of that is the manner of staff's pursuit of the enforcement of their errant ordinance. In my opinion, they've yet to adequately define what is a block ... as in: "limiting rental housing in a block."

Clearly, owner/occupants of homes, have legitimate concern about the conditions of their neighborhoods, as these neighborhoods seem to be spiraling out of control based on the conduct of some landlord and some tenant behavior.

Changes? I'd first address the process of the council's work on this issue. I'd advocate for a council sub committee to take this on as a policy discussion, and bring forward a WORKABLE PLAN.

Oddly enough, Mayor Lansing asked this of Councilor Pokorney and Community Development Director, O'Connel. Unfortunately their haphazard effort came back with ill advised ideas that caused a firestorm of citizen protest ... first from McGee's gropu, next from a second neighborhood group, and then from landlords. Meanwhile the council was wallowing in political correctness, saying: “this isn't a college student issue” ... and among other ridiculous ideas, recommended paving over lawns to provide off street parking.

It's not WHAT to do ... it's HOW TO DO IT! A subcommittee to continue an on-going policy discussion, including the 20% rule, implement the Rental Code Board of Appeals (Reduce or eliminate that fee!) and use enforcement mechanisms: fines ... levied at occupant's behavior and if appropriate, Landlord's violations.

2. What will you do to help ensure the economic vitality of our downtown area? What vision do you have for what Northfield should be like in ten or twenty years?

The EDA's economic development plan identifies the downtown as a vital asset in the struggle to bring industrial development to Northfield to increase our tax base.

Financial development supporting the downtown FOR THE BENEFIT OF THE COMMUNITY is itself an even more vital need. While the Council has directed staff and EDA to address the importance of development (annexation and infill sites) for the greater good, clearly the value of the downtown (socially and economically) is an overarching asset to leverage that development... and therefore it is reasonable to look at that enhancement as a price conscious first step.

Prudent thinking would drive the consideration that maintaining and improving the existing DT is less costly, has broader community benefit and .. .will influence industrial development in a more effective way that almost any other growth device we might employe.

Additionally, supporting the DT is a task that already has the support of the DT property owners and businesses ... both IN PLACE now as partners in solving this crisis, while annexation and infill development require marketing the town to the cost conscious and elusive developer.

While annexation and infill development offer tax base increases for the future ... to insure there is a future, the DT must thrive.

Having said all that, I must point out, especially in these critical times, any development expenditure must be analyzed carefully as to its cost benefits.

My 10 to 20 year vision of Northfield is more a hope ... that it change (i.e. increased size, magnitude of activity, as center of commerce, etc.) in thoughtful and tasteful ways. I'm not an isolationist. I want Northfield to fill OUT. So, invite and support thoughtful growth. I have the political will to lead Northfield's to develop in green and sustainable ways ... and insure it becomes a small town role model for these and other socially significant issues ... and I certainly hope that the colleges and the growth are closely linked philosophically.

3. What are the particular skills you bring to the council? What are the most important personal attributes a council member can bring to the table?

Years of progressive thinking and a career devoted to finding the greater good solution. That, and a sense that the goal of the elected official is to work to communicate with the citizens ... and to implement the choices that are best for the community and the tax payer's dollar. A willingness to struggle with the inevitable conflicts while keeping focus on the needs of the community regardless of personal choices you might harbor ... and to realize, the issues are global ... not limited to neighborhood interests.

What personal attributes a council member can bring to the table? For me these are: Openness, strong background in basic community affairs. A clear understanding of the varied roles of staff and councilor. A devotion to the full job .. transparency in process and inclusive community involvement. Dedication to the community's sense of self. Above all, years of experience doing public projects using public dollars.

4. Can you identify an area where you will need further information or experience before you can be an effective council member?

Budget.

Changing budgetary regulations, TIF process, Job-z programs, etc., make expertise in this area critical.

First, one must have a grasp of the vernacular. Jargon and blind faith in staff simply won't “CUT IT”.

Next, understand the financial department's methods and tools used in its work ... and know how to guide that department in bringing back community benefited answers. Best practices might not always fit the goals of the City. Thinking “outside the box” might be better.

A direct link, Council to Financial, with no Administrative barriers, would serve the process and community well. I'm an advocate of moving the Financial Department directly under the authority of the Council. Too frequently other staff goals seem to drive the financial pursuits of the City. While Northfield's past financial personnel may have done an excellent job, in recent years as the financial crisis heated up, the Council needed to have a stronger and more functional relationship with the professionals. Boilerplate power point presentations, confusing spread sheets, jargon, doesn't work.

In addition to a tighter relationship with the Financial Department, both Council and Charter Commission should look at establishing a Financial Advisory Board. This board like the Panning Commission would work with the staff to ferret out the best answers.

Lansing's administration took the first step in that direction when it created the CIP Council discussions. While we have moved to better financial policies, we are still far from a safe position. Today's crises make that even more imperative.

NOTE: I do not associate the Rate Search debacle (missing millions) to any of the above view.

As to the question, regarding becoming an effective council member ... I believe my stated position shows me to be an effective potential councilor. Realizing the need for such change make me a smarter councilor.

5. What role does the city play in developing a sustainable energy supply for its citizens? What plans should be set in place?

The Recent Energy Task force presentation on this topic was stunning. Not only did it address these issues from a global perspective but its observations as to the local impact and preferred stance was defining.

SIDE NOTE: Once again illustrating the value of local input and the need for strengthening Boards and Commission's roles in our governance process.

Development in energy wise technology ... as always ... money is the principle barrier. I would put these issues at the top of the flexible Capital Improvement Program. While meaningful change may still be far off for technological reasons, prudent planning for tomorrow is critical. I'd slice off a big hunk of the 530 annexation acres and find someway to get the EDA working with the EC (Energy Commission) to bring energy related projects and business development to Northfield.

A quick review of the Energy Task Force presentation illustrates the need for this kind of creative thinking, for our survival. The task force presentation is an example of how proactive effort and thinking can not only help in solving the world crises ... but at the same time help stabilize our own community. As to plans to be set in place, this is the work of the EC ... with the support of the CC (City Council).

6. What is the state of relations between the city and its major employers, particularly the two colleges and Malt-o-Meal? How should these relationships be improved and sustained?

Wow! Provocative question. Thank you for this.

First, I'd add to the list. 2 colleges, Malt-o-Meal ... and the School district and the hospital.

Very interesting ... as here are the five entities that drive much of the spending, earning and conventional development in the community.

Arguably, each of these has a particular concern in Northfield's further industrial development. These five are either assets to the ambiance and the tone of the town ... or they are significant in being major facets of the human infrastructure of the town.

In either case, these five, plus the City Council are much of what Northfield literally is.

Clearly the colleges have a stake and a concern in any future development.

Are we a city of spewing smoke stacks, or a city of education and high tech industrial parks?

The services of the City, the hospital and the school district generate much that attracts development here. Arguably much more than TIF here, or a low interest loan there!

I can't speak to the state of the relationship between these five and the city council. But I can echo the implicit message in your question. These are critical relationships. What I'd advocate for is a summit ... an ongoing dialogue where cards are put on the table.

Hang your Minnesota Nice hat at the door and come in and talk “NEEDS” and methods.

Too much “backdoor” ... too much fear of spilling the milk. Too much distraction over issues of which non-profit is NOT paying what in property taxes. While at first glance the $73,000 each college gives to the City is low when you factor in police and fire and hospital and general services ... Look again.

Do the numbers ... what's the value of their presence here? Millions in real dollars: payroll and expenditures. More in incalculable value.

Do you really want to tax the churches? Then maybe we should privatize the library and let that service charge market rate.

The relationship between the City and these entities should be strengthened by talking and working together. Small minds are our biggest liability. In the end, the city's role is to merely maintains the infrastructure.

7. As a candidate, what are your top two or three priorities for the next two years?

I have a 730 day plan, because that's the length of my term. 

Because Northfield is in crisis, 

1. Work with community organization to bring council selection to the priority level it should be.

2. Strengthen the people's voice in government .. making sure that it is the government of, for, and by the people.  Charter Commission work on the form of the structure and strengthening the role of the Boards and Commissions is critical.  This is a direct move to reframe what is yours.

3. Stabilize the financial  situation.  Work to bring realistic goals to the CIP discussion.   Tighten the city's belt.  Spend money wisely ... and in these difficult times .. make plans for tomorrow. Real plans with real implementation schedules based on real cost benefit analyses. 

4. More council meetings.  More Boards and Commission involvement. Fewer consultants and a Northfield First senior staff.

5. Push the EDA to make real inroads in meaningful attainable development.  

6. I believe we need a “boot strap “ council.  I'd curtail attending the big fancy conferences ... and start to dig our way up and out right here at home.  

7. Cut fat in the city budget.  Start with salaries and job titles.  and, not those that clean toilets and floors.

8. A dress code for Council meetings.  

8. What steps should be taken to ensure that the city employs talented and motivated public servants?

Determine which of these potential employees want to be here for the same reasons many of us are. Hire locally when ever possible. Develop local relationships. This is a full time job ... 24/7!

If your head and heart aren't going to be here .. then it is likely we don't want your body just 9 to 5.

In recent years. City Administrators played the “grow the staff” game. The door not only swung in .. as Administrators flew out ... but the staff went round and round. Some really good people went with the “next guy's” purge .. others really worked the Peter Principle to the max. We need a litmus test for hires. If the excitement of working in this community ... arguably one with great potential ... if that challenge and a reasonable salary aren't enough to attract you and keep you, knowing you are contributing to the development of a significant place at a significant time ... then you're probably not right for the job.

Frankly, I feel the council has too little involvement in the hiring process. It doesn't stop there: The EDA has no voice in the EDA director. The Plan Commission no voice in the Community Development director. As to the City Administrator .. a Task force ... composed of the Boards and Commission Chairs and other leaders (preferably not the usual suspects) with a defining voice should play in that decison.

9. How do you think the council should go about hiring the permanent city administrator?

SEE PREVIOUS ANSWER.

10. What will you do to try to recover the missing 2.3 million city dollars.

Unfortunate as it may be, the facts seem to be it is lost! While there are ongoing investigations (Post Office, FBI and local authorities) we (Northfield) have been told by our staff that all avenues for recovery are being addressed, but, hope of any meaningful recovery is dim. As a Councilor, I will pursue this question through the reasonable channels available. If there seems to be some area of redress that we are not using, I will seek some action accordingly. If you are any members of the Public have specific questions or suggestions, if elected, I would welcome hearing those.

11. Northfield and Dundas share a sewer plant that may be approaching its capacity. In an effort to not find out in 2012 that we "broke the plant" in 2010, the Dundas planning commission and city council have in place a simple worksheet that is used to evaluate every platting request to see if it would make us exceed the capacity. This should keep us from finding out after the fact that we have overpromised this growth-limiting resource to developers. This simple analysis will also let us not have to go to taxpayers and have them subsidize other people's profits in an unjust way. As a city council person, are you willing to ask for and use this question of capacity BEFORE you consider and approve new growth?

ABSOLUTELY.

Request: Will the writer come to the Open Mic and state this concern at the appropriate time?

12. Given the fatal traffic accident that occurred at Jefferson Parkway and Division Street, if elected how would you prioritize the concern over the safety of this intersection against the other infrastructure plans?

Highest priority.

I'm not certain a stop light works best, Surely digital read out speed signs should be considered. I find these quite effective. I've spoken with MN Dot about these devices and a ball park figure for these is 100 K if hard wired to the electric system.. 50 thousand if solar powered. Seems like a reasonable amount of money to spend to save lives.

Realizing the deaths occurred when schools were not in session ... and considering the published theory, that sun light blinded the driver of the vehicle ... and very real neighborhood concerns, If crossing guards are not working this intersection at times when the students are using it, they should be. School district?

But, I've heard some say the children will cross 246 further south, circumventing the intersection, crossing at an even more dangerous point mid block.

I suspect the digital speed signs would help in this situation too.

Stringent controls should be in place to keep that from happening. this intersection must be made safe.

13. What is your plan for integrating the working poor into the economic growth potential of our community?

To narrow my response, I'd like your definition of “working poor” and  “economic growth potential” of our community.”

Wikipedia defines it as:  Working poor is a term used to describe individuals and families who maintain regular employment but remain in relative poverty due to low levels of pay and dependent expenses. The working poor are often distinguished from paupers, poor who are supported by government aid or charity.

A little more research revealed the following:  working poor are persons in the labor
force for at least 27 weeks who lived below the poverty level— this was higher for women (6.1 percent) than for men (4.8 percent).

Various ethnic characteristics were also understandably expressed.

Assuming the above comes close to your definition, I'd offer the following.

Rice County and the Northfield area working poor: are likely minority families struggling to make ends meet. They are likely unmarried women raising children ... and find work only with great difficulty, and far less than full time, and are dependent on social programs for much of their needs.

How adequate are the programs (County and Municipal) that are in place to provide for these people?

The provocative issue this question raises is how needs identified by your question fold into all other socially significant issues covered by previous questions, in this forum?

Forced by this question to examine this issue is really tough, begging the question: do we throw out all the other plans until this need is met?

No.  Clearly the community's “greater good” must be addressed in all the needs expressed earlier, and as well now, with this final question.

Here are  few cursory observations:

Northfield has a few public agencies dealing with these working poor issues.

  • Community Action Center (CAC)
  • Housing and Rehabilitation Agency (HRA)
  • Any program in any department of the City: i.e. Library, that makes some special provision to serve these people.
  • Transportation services, etc.
  • CDBG programs, etc.

Additionally, there are private efforts:  i.e.  The Manger Inn,  Thursday's Table, Fifth Bridge, etc. and various church related programs.  Supporting all the above is a clearly  a city  responsibility.  How, is the question?
Here is a possible plan: 

Regardless of what municipal project we advance, ( Library, Safety Center, Liquor Store, City Hall renovation, Way Park Development, Cannon River Bridge etc.) we should consider a program that has a de facto add-on to the budget planning for each of these. 

Develop a program that studies specifics (how to do) and then mandates a percent of all CIP project budget's be added to the bottom line of funding legislation for each such CIP project.

Those add-on dollars are captured and placed into a Special Fund: The Angel Fund, (TAF) held there, then on an as-needed-basis are accessed by City Council action. 

EXAMPLE:  We  issue G.O. bonds (or other financial mechanisms) for project amounts, Say 5 million dollars.  An automatic “add-on” of .03 tenthes of a percent is include for the “Angel fund”  In the case of the 5 million the add on would be $15,000.

Stringent guidelines and fail safe mechanisms are put in place to protect and insure the TAF is not misused.

This is the most restricted of all restricted funds.

The economic growth potential portion of your questions is a similar program addressing small business growth and unique employment opportunities for those  caught in the circumstances of the “Working Poor.

Using some of the TAF, we will develop low/no interest loan program and training programs, interfacing with existing agencies (i.e. CAC NEC, LEC, HRA, EDA) providing cash funding and support services seen as needs to address this specific facet of the rescue program

Northfield has a program addressing these kinds of opportunities:

The Latino Enterprise Center, (LEC) is a partnering organization with the Northfield Enterprise Center, (NEC) a program currently funded by the EDA.  While the LEC is only peripherally associated with the NEC, and there is no funding cross over (other than office space needs) the LEC is an example of focusing on economic growth potential for persons  of a unique group and/or caught in the working poor circumstances. 

This reference to the LEC is as an example only.  The LEC is a private operation having no direct link to the City government.  While the NEC is also a private not-for-profit, it is funded and is the creation of the EDA

FULL DISCLOSURE:  Neither the LEC or the NEC have been contacted at this writing in the preparation of this plan.


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